written by Dayna Abel, Jason Froikin and Cara Russell
SPOILER WARNINGS ARE IN EFFECT
This is genuinely difficult for me to write. It’s not because of writer’s block or anything like that, but because I am desperate to believe in the goodness and compassion that Supergirl stands for while simultaneously seeing those things punished by our own shiny new fascist administration. I can’t remain apolitical in this reviews anymore, not when I have to wake up every morning, wonder what tyrannical thing happened while I was asleep, and have at least one answer.
I would like to be as good a person as Kara Zor-El. But the fact is that I’m not. I certainly try my best, but I don’t have the kind of endless well of compassion that she has – even for her villains. Nevertheless, recognizing my own faults and limitations only strengthens my admiration for this heroine who, despite her fictional status, has a heart capable of compassion for all who have been hurt and wronged. Despite the evil that Livewire has done to others, Supergirl is quick to defend her from torture at the hands of…look, I bet you didn’t get the scientist’s name either. It’s been a long day, let me slide on this one.
Even the show’s writers defy and resist the attacks on our compassion, using the mad scientist to echo Trump’s condemnation of Hillary Clinton from the debates: “Such a nasty woman,” he smirks at a captive, tortured Livewire. For about half a second there, I was cheering for Livewire. I don’t believe Kara did the right thing in letting her go just because she didn’t kill one guy, but I was able to recognize that even when evil is done to evil people, it is not justifiable.
Meanwhile, in the B-plot, M’gann is dying after being psychically attacked, and Alex tries to convince J’onn to mentally bond with her in order to try to save her. Once again, David Harewood pulls J’onn’s rawest emotions out of him and shows them to us in all their naked imperfection. J’onn’s entire race was destroyed by the White Martians. He initially refuses to share minds with M’gann, knowing she would have his memories as much as he would have hers. “I will not give her my daughter’s smiles!” he rages at Alex. Good job there, David. I didn’t need all that extra saline in my eyes anyway.
“Hate is all someone like me has when everything they love is taken from them,” J’onn says to Alex. “I don’t want to forgive her. If I don’t hate…” he trails off, letting the viewers fill in the blanks. So much is said in that moment of silence. He has to hate M’gann and her people, otherwise he’s betraying the memory of his family, his entire race. He has to demonize them, because if there is good in the White Martians, then it means he can’t justify his hate anymore. He won’t have anything left. Thing is, though, is that forgiving M’gann is not forgiving the crimes of the White Martians who did unrepentantly kill his people. Forgiveness does not and should not extend to those who cannot – will not – show remorse. It’s a line I’ve drawn for myself, and I feel as though J’onn may have understood that when it came down to making the moral choice.
Forgiving M’gann and accepting her repentance, her friendship, does not mean he has betrayed his family. On the contrary. Keeping that hate alive meant that he would be killing them over and over again in his memories, their deaths forever intertwined with his need for rage and revenge. In turn, he felt the pain M’gann felt when she realized how frightened of her that innocent child was. She finally realized the pain she was causing others, and turned her back on her orders at great risk to her own life. M’gann defied those orders because they were wrong, even knowing her own people would turn against her.
Supergirl is a window into a better world. It is so, so needed, because with the constant glorification of hate all around us – from the lowly Twitter egg all the way up to the White House – there must be a message of hope and kindness. We must have heroes in our fiction when reality refuses to provide.
* * *
Early in this week’s episode, Livewire brought up a question: what is power? That question echoed throughout the entire episode. There was a little trickery used on the part of the writers when Livewire compared herself to a god – because we viewers tend to label her as evil just for saying that.
But then the writers turned the tables on us. Livewire wasn’t the bad guy – she was the victim. This was an episode that challenged our very ideas of good and evil, and Supergirl’s as well. She learns fast, though, and embraced that grey area, giving Livewire a chance to turn herself around. That makes Supergirl now have more in common with Batman than Superman, although since she’s much less adversarial than Batman, she might be collecting allies.
Maybe because she realized she wasn’t 100% “good guy” in this episode, either. She pinned the blame on Livewire without knowing all of the facts, threatened her friend James Olsen for playing vigilante without her blessing, and pushed Mon-El around quite a bit. She claimed to be protecting them, but hailing back to the beginning of the episode, it was too easy to make that connection with someone playing god. Fortunately, having a conscience meant that she eventually realized that and tried to make amends.
Then there was the third character who qualified for playing god for some time now: Martian Manhunter. He kept M’gann locked up for quite a while out of fear and hatred, and never once truly listened. He simply believed he knew better. This episode, he finally saw the error of his ways, but I personally have to applaud M’gann’s patience for not turning into what Martian Manhunter claimed she would become, even though his own behavior could have justified her doing exactly that.
Between this week’s and last week’s episode, the two together make a pretty good mini-arc for those viewers who might be new to the series and want a little taste of what it’s been like and what’s to come in the near future. It’s good to do that from time to time in our Netflix and on-demand world, because new viewers can “test drive” the series, go back and watch all the past episodes, and then enjoy the rest of the series.
* * *
I’ve watched this week’s episode of Supergirl four times and I still am not quite certain I understood what I was supposed to be viewing.
The Good: Maggie and Alex are adorable, full stop. J’onn and M’gann work through their issues with each other when M’gann becomes ill and J’onn has the opportunity to save her by joining minds. Both of them come out of it a little less damaged. I also fully empathize with Winn, who is stuck being pulled in a lot of opposing directions with his various obligations. It really hit home for me. I’m tired too, Winn. I also enjoyed Livewire, although I find it suspect her fixation is solely on Supergirl instead of half on Cat Grant (who ordered Livewire into the accident which gave her powers in the first place).
The Bad: everything else. James is finally forced to admit to Kara he is Guardian – after he gets injured. Spoiler: it doesn’t go well.
Mon-El graduates from “superhero kindergarten” with Kara’s blessing, even though he didn’t exactly take her lessons to heart – they’re just a means to be close to her. Kara knows this. James has been telling her since Mon-El showed up, not to mention Mon-El fully admitted it near the end of the episode. But Kara accepts this because even though Mon-El puts her welfare above heroism, “he can’t be hurt”. This is a world where the most badass character is Alex “I have a Kryptonite sword and dropkick alien criminals for funsies” Danvers, but any other human in a suit is a liability and has no potential to be anything but. This is also the world where Mon-El has been kidnapped, sickened, trapped and generally been a liability whether it’s through his direct fault or plain ignorance despite his abilities. For real guys, I would’ve gotten on board if Kara had just said “Hey James, I actually like you and I’m afraid you’ll be hurt, but Mon-El’s disposable and I can use an extra pair of hands”. It worked in Ant-Man. Instead, our heroine is screwing with two guys in an attraction triad where all the chemistry is coming from the disposable whipping boy who is probably just getting used.
It feels like no one knows what to do with a cheery, light, positive character, and they’re working hard to make her as dark and twisty as possible and call it depth. It could be a growth arc, but it feels much less like an arc and more like an implosion. Everyone deserves better, especially us, the viewers.
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