Warning: This article contains spoilers for Tuesday's episode of The Flash, "Masquerade."
The seed for this week's Cecile-centric episode of The Flash was simple: "Cecile is going to spend some time in the Thinker's chair," says her portrayer, Danielle Nicolet, recalling how showrunner Eric Wallace first pitched the episode to her during hiatus last year. But as the COVID-19 pandemic wore on, the installment transformed into something deeper and more purposeful.
"It kind of evolved into being really conscious about the fact that we need to really support the notion of mental health awareness on the show," Nicolet tells EW, "and put the message out there to the kids and families, most importantly, that watch us together that mental health is important; anxiety and depression are [things] we all suffer with, even people you think are perfectly strong and always have it together; and that we need to take care of ourselves and not be afraid to tell the truth when we're struggling. And if we don't, we can manifest that in really challenging ways."
Bettina Strauss/The CW Danielle Nicolet on 'The Flash'
That theme was directly tied to what the episode, "Masquerade," revealed about the empath and metahuman defense attorney's past. In the hour, an anxious and frightened Cecile was trapped inside her own mind, which took the shape of a psychiatric facility, after Psycho-Pirate's mask possessed her. Barry (Grant Gustin) wound up there too after the possessed Cecile whammied him, thereby making it easier for her to steal the mask from a museum.
"[This was] the rare occasion on a television show as a series regular that you get to really have like a one-on-one [scene that is] truly just focused on the material and get to play the emotions with another actor who is just as committed to the craft as you are. It was really great," Nicolet says of working so closely with Gustin. "Grant and I felt like we were shooting a movie together for those handful of the days we were in the hospital set. All we did on those days were those scenes. For us, it was just really exciting. We were shooting a horror movie, which is what it felt like."
In order to escape their prison, Cecile had to share her deepest secret: Her mind ressembled like a psychiatric institution because she spent time in one many years ago, after she had a breakdown following her mother's death. She never told anyone, including Joe (Jesse L. Martin), because she felt ashamed. That confession helped her regain control of her mind and break free.
"I loved it," Nicolet says of learning this new piece of information about Cecile's backstory. "For me, it was such a joy to explore this really defining period in Cecile's history and in her psychology, and ultimately in her relationship with her power. Because part of her suppressing her shame about having had mental health issues in the past also meant her suppressing her power. The journey through this episode is the end of her doing that."
She adds: "It was very relatable to deal with issues of anxiety and depression, mental health issues. I grew up with a mother who struggled with mental health issues, so it hit home for me in a big way, and I really wanted to honor the importance of acknowledging that anxiety and depression are very real. I think it was just so not terribly dissimilar to Cecile. I needed to just allow myself to feel my feelings."
The CW Candice Patton and Danielle Nicolet on 'The Flash'
On the flip side, the actress also enjoyed playing the episode's big bad in the real world. The mind-controlled Cecile tricked Team Flash into helping her steal the mask, and then the mask forced her to commandeer the Thinker's chair to amplify its powers. "It was really fun, and it was a joy to reach into my comedy background a little bit and get to play those little moments," Nicolet says. "We dropped lots of little Easter eggs just to see if anyone would notice - [like] the necklace that possessed Cecile is wearing is a tribal necklace that is very similar to one of the ones we see while Chester is explaining the history of the Psycho-Pirate mask. And the fact that she's dressed a little darker than Cecile normally would be and her hair is different."
After defeating Psycho-Pirate's mask, Cecile decided to tell Joe the truth. Looking ahead at the rest of the season, Cecile will become more confident with her powers now that this weight has been lifted.
"When she has that moment with herself where she recognizes her power and that she's not afraid of it anymore, that's what will continue forward - Cecile really leveling up in her power and not living in fear of it, and not living in fear of being a metahuman," Nicolet says. "There's no more half-stepping for her. She is clear on who she is and she's proud of it. She kind of finds her seat of power in this episode, and she will be moving forward with that."
The Flash airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on the CW.