written by Dayna Abel, Jason Froikin and Cara Russell
SPOILER WARNINGS ARE IN EFFECT
This is a great episode to examine in light of the imminent release of Batman v Superman, since that film will be addressing the concepts of justice and power, and the potential abuses of that power and whether it justifies pre-emptive strikes in the name of protection. (There’s obvious real-world parallels to be had for sure here, but I’d end up in a loud angry liberal rant and nobody wants that. I think.)
As Max, a regular human being, is being held without due process within the DEO, James becomes the central figure in an actual case of ethics in journalism. He knows about the DEO, he knows about Max, and he’s been tasked by Cat to investigate Max’s “disappearance.” This conflict of interest tears at him. Cat later tells him a story about a time she withheld a story which ended up in a woman’s death. “We don’t just want to be good journalists,” she tells him. “We want to be good people.” The right thing is obviously freeing Max, but Kara is angrily resistant. She believes the world is a better place without Max in it. And she may even be correct, but James rightfully points out that because Kara has the power to impose her will on ordinary people, it’s more important than ever that she not do so. Because then Max’s fears are completely justified. And in BvS, it’s the reasoning behind Batman’s drive to take out Superman – the potential abuse of power.
The complicated moral dilemma here is that yes, Max and Batman both have very good reasons to be afraid of unknowable, uncontrollable power in the hands of a single person. As James passionately explains to Kara, it becomes a battle of values. Both Clark and Kara have a massive responsibility to demonstrate that they are not a threat, but it’s understandable that some humans don’t know that. Fear has become the driving force behind Batman’s and Max’s hate, and we see how easily justice can become perverted into its own tyranny if taken too far. The Master Jailer refuses clemency for any criminal, no matter how small the crime. For him, all crime is punishable by death. “Justice must be absolute.” Ultimately, it comes down to a need for understanding – assurance that Clark and Kara are not threats because of their strong moral values, and assurance that humans will not react to their fears with their own brand of terror. In the end, the worst threat is absolutism and extremism. Heavy stuff for Supergirl.
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I can say that I called Non’s desire to tear the city apart. The way Chris Vance delivered the line “the next coffin will be yours” telegraphed all of the anger, pain, and coldness in Non’s soul so well that even with such cliché phrasing, the way it was said stuck with me throughout the remainder of the episode. Another interesting point presented in this episode was the implication that Kryptonian society was matriarchal. It means between Kara and Kal-El, Kara would be considered in charge by Krypton standards. Kind of flips the whole dynamic created in the comics on its head.
On the surface, everyone involved in this episode, one way or the other, stood for a kind of justice. The Master Jailer enforced the laws of his failed prison, though his enforcement was flawed by a no-pity and collateral-damage-is-okay attitude. Max Lord fights for freeing Earth from possibly aggressive aliens and doesn’t care who he has to cut down to reach his goal. Hank, Alex, and the DEO fight to protect Earth from alien aggressors, and does whatever it takes to reach that goal. Non and his soldiers fight to avoid extinction. Supergirl protects Earth and the city, and occasionally brings a dose of humanity with her. The question will be whether she can make it infectious among the others, or if she’ll become more like them.
The other theme of this episode was rivalry. The most obvious was Cat’s new assistant giving Kara trouble. But there were two other contributors to the theme, albeit a little harder to spot. There was the city police, who had something of a rivalry with the DEO. And although it looks like it may be concluding, a hidden rivalry from Lucy Lane who thought she had to compete with Supergirl for James Olsen. That last one led to James asking Kara if he could tell Lucy her secret – that she’s Supergirl. I can’t say for certain, but to me that feels like a bad idea. Everyone else who found out so far was part of Kara’s circle of friends. Lucy, not so much – so that could turn out badly.
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This week we are treated to an episode that feels very much like a filler, yet still manages to tie up quite a few plot threads and set the stage for what looks to be an epic series of interpersonal conflicts, making sure drama will remain high in episodes to come. Non sets aside his hatred and anger long enough to observe traditional Kryptonian funeral rites for Astra, while including Kara in sending her off. I’m continually impressed that the Kryptonian lore includes women in such prominent social positions and worth, while the comics have often taken a heavily male-dominated stance, from Kal-El’s perspective. I often wonder if the culture questions Kal-El sought to answer were ones he learned to ask from growing up on Earth, as I highly doubt Kal could put aside his hurt long enough to create a temporary truce as Non did, even if Non left Kara without any doubt that the truce was indeed temporary, and their only common link now dead.
Afterward, Kara returns to work after the stunning failures of the past two episodes just to find that she has a second – or rather, that she is the second of Cat Grant’s assistants, to the new Siobhan Smythe, an incredibly driven young woman who wishes to be Cat’s successor in the media world. Siobhan, while intentionally antagonizing Kara, also correctly sniffs out a close connection between Kara and James which leads to our next conflict. James has become increasingly uncomfortable with the (un)ethical practices of the DEO especially in relation to the imprisonment of Max Lord, and his torn loyalty between Kara, his job, and the journalistic duty to report on the truth as he knows it.
These ethics questions are mirrored by the baddie of the week, the Master Jailer, who has begun executing escaped Phantom Zone prisoners regardless of crime or rehabilitation. In the end, the Master Jailer is quickly defeated, Max Lord is freed (under threat of revelations of crimes committed if he reveals where he had been, from Alex), and Kara is in yet another sticky situation at work between Siobhan and James, who wishes to share her Supergirl secret with Lucy Lane so he can repair their relationship. We also get a teaser of the severity of “Myriad” when the Alura-construct threatens to self-destruct if Kara continues to ask about it – keep in mind, this is the same construct that said “anything you would ask of [your mother], you may ask of me”. All in all, I’m far more interested in finding out what is to come than I am in what actually happened this week, though I really do appreciate how these filler episodes are still filled with notable moments and work to forward and set up other plots.
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BONUS REVIEW: ADVENTURES OF SUPERGIRL #3 by Sterling Gates and Bengal
The Rampage story comes to a close as we get to see the motivations behind her blood feud with Alex. Rampage isn’t the most innocent victim, but her tale touches Kara’s heart and engenders some sympathy to her plight. But Rampage is still dangerous, and Alex rescuing Kara guns a-blazin’ is a great sight to behold. The Danvers sisters save the day, but at the cost of Kara wondering about other secrets Alex might be keeping from her. A great intro story and top-notch art from Bengal, and I’m eagerly awaiting the next chapter.
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