‘The Flash’ Star Danielle Panabaker on Directing a Ralph-Centric Episode and ‘Crisis on Infinite Earths’Grace
*Beware that SPOILERS are discussed*
In the latest episode of The CW series The Flash, entitled “License to Elongate,” Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) has turned his attention to preparing Ralph Dibney, aka Elongated Man (Hartley Sawyer), for life after Crisis and without The Flash. Their Bond-like adventures lead to some crazy hijinks, a game of Mahjong, a room full of criminals and some hilarity, all making for a very fun episode, expertly directed by cast member Danielle Panabaker (who plays both Caitlin Snow and Killer Frost).
After a recent screening of Episode 606, held at the offices of The CW, actor/director Danielle Panabaker and showrunner Eric Wallace answered questions about the need for a moment of levity before more darkness roles in, paying homage to James Bond, the challenges in this particular episode, more Ralph-centric episodes, the possibility of love for both Caitlin and Frost, the two-part mid-season finale, and how all roads are leading to the big crossover event, “Crisis on Infinite Earths.”
Question: What can you say to preview this episode?
DANIELLE PANABAKER: This is really Barry and Ralph’s episode. Barry’s preparing all the different members of Team Flash for life after Crisis, and this is his opportunity to prepare Ralph for life after Crisis. It leads them outside of Central City to try to find more information about Sue Dearbon. And along the way, lessons are learned by both characters.
How was directing this episode different to directing, the first time you did it?
PANABAKER: This time was different. I was a little more confident this time, for sure, having done it once before. The fun thing about The Flash, particularly this season, is that every episode really has its own flavor. They’ve been really distinct and unique, and to get to play with a lot of the Bond homages was really fun for me, in this one. This episode has less special effects than “Godspeed” did, so it’s a different skill set, to get to do more with the stunts, and that sort of thing.
Which scene was the most challenging to direct, in this episode?
PANABAKER: When you break it down, it takes almost two weeks to shoot an episode, and every day has its challenge. Initially, when I first took a look at it, I would have said most of Act 5 ‘cause it’s a big sequence, but I prepped it in a specific way, in four parts. When you break it down like that, and we shot it in that way, as well, it ended up being less complicated than I made it out to be in my head.
ERIC WALLACE: From my perspective, one of the most complex scenes in the edit room was having three people around a table, talking. It’s very hard, especially in a Bond movie. Casino Royale is one of my favorite ones. I’m a Bond fanatic. The introduction of Remington Meister, playing Mahjong.
PANABAKER: With that [scene], I wanted to Barry to be in the middle of those two. There’s the dynamic between Ralph and Remington, and they’re really having this banter, and there’s Barry, almost in the middle, ping-ponging back and forth between the two of them, a little bit like a fish out of water, which is unusual for Barry. Oftentimes, he’s our hero and he’s the one in charge. So, physically placing him in the middle, and then also covering those different eye lines, was [a challenge], but it was fun. The boys were having so much fun with the scene and with the material, and were really taking their time with it. That becomes easy, at that point. You’re not pulling anything out of anyone. They’re giving so much, just freely.
It’s not often that you see Barry be the one who’s screwing up the plan. How fun was it to play with that idea?
PANABAKER: Grant’s so incredibly talented, and particularly this season, as they’re preparing for Crisis, we haven’t gotten to see a ton of levity from him. When he eats the terrible tasting hors d’oeuvre, to really lean into the comedy there was fun for him. There were some stunts that I had not intended for him to do, and he got on stage and was like, “Can I do that?” And I was like, “That’s not up to me.” So, I think he was really enjoying himself enjoyable.
How enjoyable was it to include some meta-humor, like calling out the Mortal Kombat mask?
WALLACE: We sit in the writers’ room and we’re the geekiest people in the world. It’s great. There were so many Bond jokes that we had to cut out of the script ‘cause it just would have been embarrassing, at that point. We said, “All right, let’s do one or two specific ones.” But with that Mortal Kombat joke, half the room are Mortal Kombat fanatics, so look for more of those. There will be at least one a season, from now on.
PANABAKER: The hard part of the job is that, on set, as a director, I encourage the actors to have fun, but then you go into the edit and it’s hard to kill your darlings and say goodbye to stuff that is so great, but isn’t necessarily serving this specific story. With the Chester montage, I could have had a seven-minute montage. I had so much fun shooting him. There was so much material. And I cut it down, in my cut that I gave to Eric, but I was like, “I know it’s too long. I just can’t decide what goes away. That’s your job.”
WALLACE: In fact, there’s an additional fight sequence, which [Danielle] shot really wonderfully, where Ralph and Barry are in the car, they see the thing, and they walk up. Right now, he says, “This is how we’re gonna suit up tonight.” Before that, Grant walked around the car, two guards found him, fisticuffs ensued, the whole nine yards. And then, Ralph came out and revealed that he had done some James Bond-ian Kung Fu, and he held up the suit. It was between that and more Chester, and Chester was funnier. It was one of those decision moments.
PANABAKER: In this episode, I think that’s what you need. You need the levity. You need that moment.
Will we see more of Chester, in the future?
WALLACE: Chester will return. We love Chester. Brandon McKnight, as an actor, is just a delightful person. I was up there on his first day of shooting on Episode 601, and he’s really committed. In Episode 601, the black hole episode with his first appearance, he basically just lays in a bed, the whole time, or taps, the whole time. He lay in that bed, the whole time. I was like, “Do you wanna swap out?” And he was like, “No, I’ve got this! I wanna be real and honest, for the other actors.” I was like, “You go, bro! I like you! We’re gonna break you back.”
PANABAKER: He’s so funny, has such great ideas, and is really a team player. He’s open to trying, and always brings something new and fresh. It’s great to have him on the show.
WALLACE: Plus, he’s a good audience identification character because it’s new for him. We’re a sixth season show, so we need somebody who this is all fresh and exciting to, and the audience can see all the fun stuff. So, he’ll be back. We’re working that out in the writers’ room now. He’s come out of the black hole and he’s alive, but what does he look like when he’s facing a bigger challenge? We’re trying to come up with that next story, as we speak.
Because she’s featured and such a fun character in this, might we see more of January?
WALLACE: No guarantees, but yes. You didn’t hear that from me, at all, but definitely. You might see quite a few people in that episode again. It doesn’t seem like it ‘cause this is the fun one, which we deliberately did before we go straight to crazy cuckoo dark town with Part 1 and Part 2 of the mid-season finale, which are not kid friendly, but we deliberately said, “Let’s do something super fun.” It was very actor chemistry heavy, between Hartley and Grant, out of costume. I thought it was the perfect [episode], to give [Danielle] the funny one where we let the actors act. I actually was up there, as the boss, checking out the director, and she is a terrific director. I can say that with confidence ‘cause I saw her in action. She was so prepared. She knew exactly what she was doing, with the shot construction, working with the DP, working with the actors, and having things cut in her head. I would not be surprised, at all, to see her directing many more episodes of the show. She just did a terrific job. I’m super happy.
PANABAKER: Thank you. I’m very grateful. I love it. I really do.
Will there be another Ralph-centric episode, this season?
WALLACE: Yes, big time. We’re shooting it right now. The casting announcement went out (with Natalie Dreyfuss being cast as Sue Dearbon), so that’s a really Ralph-centric episode, to put it mildly, that will pick up directly from this.
PANABAKER: I feel like a lot of this season has been giving all of the different characters their moment. Episode 605 was really Cisco’s episode, and he really had his time to shine. It’s been fun, for me, as an actor, to see that, this season. We have such a talented ensemble, and we’re really getting to see everybody get their moment.
WALLACE: It’s really interesting, this whole season, there’s stuff underneath stuff, in plain sight, that really all pays off, in the back half, especially in [Episode 606]. Remember what you see in the audience there. There might be people who have already filmed episodes, in ways that you don’t expect. Everything we’re doing, we’re trying to be circular and plant seeds. We’re playing the long game.
Is there a relationship on the horizon, for both Caitlin and Frost? Is there a “one true pairing” out there, for either or both of them?
PANABAKER: Those are two different questions. Last year, Ralph was the new kid and, in some ways, even with the fact that Killer Frost has technically been around for a couple of years, she feels like the new kid, this year. And it’s nice to get to see Ralph take the lessons that he’s learned and pass them on, even though you don’t necessarily instinctually think that Ralph is going to be the best teacher. But it’s been really fun to see this relationship between them, and you’ll see a little bit more of it in the coming episodes, as well. And then, personally, I think Caitlin’s one true pairing was Ronnie, and I still hold out hope that he maybe didn’t die in the particle accelerator explosion, even though I’m pretty sure that he did. I just love Robbie [Amell] and I love that character, and I do feel like they are meant to be together. Do we even think Killer Frost has a one true pairing? Let’s be honest, I can see Caitlin marrying Ronnie and living happily ever after. Do we see that for Killer Frost ? I don’t know if I do.
WALLACE: It’s funny because [Killer Frost] actually has a crush. It’s a running joke that always gets cut out of drafts, but Killer Frost is obsessed with The Breakfast Club. It’s her favorite movie, and she has a wild crush on the Judd Nelson character. We’ve had it in the script, multiple times, and it always gets lost on the cutting room floor. At some point, that’s gotta come out. So, maybe she has a type.
PANABAKER: I just don’t know if Killer Frost is ever really gonna be the type to settle down.
WALLACE: Yeah, I would agree.
PANABAKER: Or maybe we’ll meet her person, at some point. Who knows. It’ll be something fun to explore, for sure.
This episode shows Barry that he also matters, and that he’s more than just The Flash. Is that going to change his mind-set, going forward?
PANABAKER: That’s a really lovely lesson, and a part of this episode that I loved.
WALLACE: You’re gonna love next week’s episode. That exact question is asked.
You’ve been spending a lot of the season with everyone preparing to say goodbye to The Flash, but we know that this is a television series and Grant Gustin will likely be sticking around. What’s it like to balance that in the writers’ room, paying enough honest homage to the fact that these characters are grieving what they know to be true, but also realizing that you have to continue to move the storylines forward?
WALLACE: We’ve had to pay a ton of attention and be really honest in the writing. My mother passed away two years ago, and this entire season is very much about how what Ramsey is dealing with is what I’ve been dealing with. It’s incredibly personal. We talk about that a lot in the writers’ room, about dealing with grief and dealing with loss, because it’s something that’s so universal. And yes, Grant’s not going anywhere, obviously, but we still have to honor those emotions. For Killer Frost, especially, who’s almost like a newborn and adolescent, trying all of these things for the first time, she’s never tried grief. We’ve tried to have a moment for each character, and that all is gonna reach a head, in the two-part season finale. We’ve all taken our own personal baggage, quite frankly, in the writers’ room, and said, “Let the characters be as honest as we are to ourselves, amongst each other.” There are stories of other people’s grief, as well. Another one of the writers lost their parent within the last season, too. I remember pulling them aside and saying, “I wanna talk, man. I feel like crying, all the time.” It was the healthiest thing we could have ever done, and it went right into the scripts. I find that important, especially building up to Crisis, which is a life-and-death event, which we play very realistically, or as much as one can, when your lead character is wearing a red onesie.
The two-part mid-season finale is titled “The Last Temptation of Barry Allen.” How does the return of Michelle Harrison play into that?
WALLACE: Michelle Harrison called me up and said, “I’ve been doing this for awhile on this show, but we’re going to crazy town here. I’m kinda liking this.” And I said, “Thank you. Have fun.” It’s one of, if not her best performances, since she’s been on the show, all these years. She’s so good. There are a few moments in Part 1 of the mid-season finale, where Danielle, Grant, Candice [Patton], and everybody, went above the call of duty to bring something really special. I’m very proud of this run that we’re in right now.
The Flash airs on Tuesday nights on The CW.