SUMMARY: Supergirl fights Reactron, Cat Grant throws a party, and Clark Kent uses emoticons.
Superman References: 31
Syd: Welcome to Tales from the Krypton, where Margaret and I just watched episode 3 of Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen Featuring Supergirl, where Jimmy is now officially the only good thing in the series.
Margaret: And where everything is Tell and not Show. The entire episode is in dialogue and nothing is in action.
Syd: Given the state of the action, maybe they should have more dialogue. Then again, given the state of the dialogue, maybe not. So I remember from last week that you were so excited to see the interview between Cat Grant and Supergirl. How did that work out for you?
Margaret: There was this huge build-up last week to something that seemed like it would be interesting. We could see these two characters interact in an actual equal manner. One of them is very powerful physically and the other is powerful in the world of the media.
Syd: It’s could have been this series’ equivalent of Byrne-era Superman and Lex Luthor – playing off of different ideas of what power means. The whole interview was really deflating for me because I know how obsessed the writers are with the Superman movies, and I was sure that they would subvert Lois Lane’s famous interview with Superman by having Supergirl interviewed by an adversary instead of a romantic interest. What if Lex Luthor conducted the interview instead of Lois Lane? I was ready to see Supergirl have to think on her feet and nimbly avoid rhetorical traps, but instead she got three questions in before getting frustrated and leaving. Instead of a battle of wits between two worthy opponents, we saw another example of something that the writers are convinced Supergirl just isn’t as good at as Superman. Every reboot of Superman has to show the point when he’s young and inexperienced and they never play him up as being in over his head the way this series has with Kara. They aren’t even showing her as being differently skilled or wet-behind-the-ears the way Superman or Spider-Man was at her age – what they’re showing is that she’s just not as good.
Margaret: The way they’re going about this is really dumb. They’re trying to underline everything by saying, “This is Not Superman’s story; this is my story. It doesn’t matter what Superman does; it matters what I’m doing.” But the first thing you learn in screenwriting class is, “Show, Don’t Tell.” A horrible script tells you something in dialogue that should have been shown. This entire series is telling. They want to remind you this show is about Supergirl and not Superman, even though 90% of the scenes are about Superman, so they just have Kara say it. That doesn’t do anything. It just underlines the point that nothing they do backs up what they say. It drives me crazy.
Syd: In the next scene, Kara is eating sticky buns. A waitress asks how she can eat so many buns and stay so thin and she says, “I’m an alien.” I bring this up because I’m starting to read this show’s sense of humour as a personal attack. Couldn’t they get Peter David to punch up the script?
Margaret: The dialogue is so creaking. You can see the words on the page.
Syd: What I thought was actually hilarious was that Alex has this talk with Supergirl where she scolds her for telling too many people her secret identity, but then they cut to Win talking to Kara in public about being Supergirl in the middle of an office, with all of the extras within earshot.
Margaret: It’s funny to me that their super secret lair now is on a floor of a media empire. Isn’t that a little conspicuous? What if someone is going to need that office at some point? That person is going to walk in and find the Supergirl Lair. They don’t own it. All I can think of is these three employees are always going to a floor they have no business on and then every once in awhile Supergirl comes out of there.
Syd: Then, we get to the worst dialogue in the world. Apparently there is a brand of coffee called Bulletproof. This prompts Cat to just say, “Bulletproof.” Even if that is a brand of coffee, that’s a weird thing to say out of nowhere. And then Kara’s reaction is, “Are you asking if I’m bulletproof?” Even if you are bulletproof, that’s a fucking weird thing to say. If someone has a random outburst, you don’t assume they’re talking about you specifically. If someone said, “Guitar,” I wouldn’t assume they were asking if I play guitar, even though I do. What’s worse than the jokes are the attempts to sound relevant, like in the scene where Cat Grant is tearing into Supergirl for being a Millenial. I keep picturing the writers as these slightly too old people desperately trying to convince each other they’re still hip.
They’re trying to stick it to old people who complain about Millennials, except that the person who wrote this doesn’t seem to understand what the complaints about Millenials are. I guess that this person took a screenwriting class and thought they had to tie this social commentary into the main conflict between Cat and Kara but all that meant was that the social commentary didn’t make sense and they didn’t actually deal with the main conflict.
Margaret: The article itself was a red herring. It didn’t go anywhere.
Syd: So, they go to Department of Extranormal Operations. We now know the full name because they printed it at the bottom of the screen.
Margaret: That’s the only way we found out about it, because otherwise we’d still be calling it the Henry Henshaw Evil Cybernetic Organization, which is a fine name, but not quite as succinct.
Syd: Supergirl saves a bus and the Monster of the Week, Reactron, shows up so they can punch each other in the arms. As I have often done in real fights.
Margaret: And when you have bad fight choreographers.
Syd: Reactron is a Supergirl villain from her early 80’s rebooted series – which is not to be confused with the company-wide reboot a few years later that wrote Supergirl out of the universe entirely. DC loves its reboots. After the latter reboot, Reactron rekilled Kara’s parents.
Syd: They were brought back post-Crisis and then he killed them.
Margaret: So, he’s just fridging people left and right. He succeeds in the comics and attempts it in the show.
Syd: His motivation was to kill Supergirl so Superman would feel loss. This is something that you see in comics all the time – a villain will kill someone close to the superhero as motivation. The problem is, I have never once seen a villain who wanted to kill Supergirl to get at Superman. At least, it’s never happened in a good comic or I would remember it. Supergirl is a superhero herself, you don’t need Superman as a motivator.
Margaret: The fridging of female characters who would otherwise have their own stories for the progression of a male’s story is well established. The intention seemed to be that they were going to attempt to fridge Supergirl, but that’s impossible because she’s the main character. It seemed like they were trying for a role reversal, but that’s impossible with this trope. The reason he’s targeting Kara is not because of her. He’s only going after her because of Superman, so the writers ignored Supergirl’s power in favor of Superman’s. Now all her importance comes from Superman, not herself. They took away her agency.
Syd: There is a recurring theme in Supergirl comics that Supergirl will do something to impress Superman, or to prove to people that she is as worthy as Superman. The difference is that these stories are meant to ultimately prove Supergirl’s worth. The problem with this story is that Kara’s own agency completely doesn’t matter, what matters to people is Superman, what motives the villain is Superman, and what motivates Kara is Superman.
Margaret: It really bothers me that again and again all of the plot points are linked into Superman when they should be about Supergirl.
Syd: Then, she talks to the DEO and they say, “This is out of our jurisdiction because Reactron is not an alien.” That’s completely understandable, but then why can’t Supergirl fight him on her own time? I can’t think of any superhero that needs an agency’s permission to fight evil. Even Nick Fury, who is the Director of SHIELD, has solo stories where he goes off on his own to fight someone. You don’t even have to bring it up, because that’s what a hero does! That is the most basic thing: if you are a hero as part of some job you have, then how you show that you have your own agency is taking on a case that the agency doesn’t want to handle and tackling it on your own. This was their opportunity to do that and they’re like, nope.
Margaret: Exactly! It would have been far more interesting for them to say, “Okay, you can do this on your own, you’re not our agent. But, you can’t have our support. We can’t give you any of our intelligence, any back up. If you do this, you’re doing it solo.” If they would have just made that point, it would have had some sort of payoff.
Syd: Right! If she had done the job solo and succeeded, then evil cyborg said, “Oh, I didn’t think you had it in you,” then I would have said, “Well done, Supergirl script.”
Margaret: Then, you would have built up the blocks of that making sense. The DEO is about extraterrestrials, they can’t do superhumans: that’s what Supergirl is for. She goes out without help. She says “Fine,” goes out on her own and gets knocked around a bit. She gets back up again she defeats him on her own with the help of her friends because they do believe in her! That would been amazing.
Syd: If by your friends, you’re excluding Alex. Because you can’t have any agency involvement.
Margaret: They could have Alex do it without DEO sanction. That, I’m okay with.
Syd: Which they tried to do in the episode, but it rang false.
Margaret: It rang false because they didn’t set it up properly in the beginning.
Syd: True. They had that one scene where they had the evil cyborg eyes.
Margaret: For no reason!
Syd: They had that one scene where his eyes glow and I’m like, “Oh! He’s going to do something evil! They’re trying to build up his evil side plot.” And — nothing.
Margaret: I thought they were trying to build it up that he was going to kill Alex at some point. Because they do the ‘does anyone else know about this?’ “No, sir.” ‘Good.’
Syd: I didn’t get that.
Margaret: Well, I got the hint that they were trying to be clever with a false reveal and failing. It’s one of the many aborted subplots this episode where they start in a direction only for them to abandon it completely, so all you can think is, “Why did they include that?”
Syd: Which leads into the next scene where Cat has writer’s block and blames it on sound from the vent and Kara doesn’t hear anything and she has superhearing. It reminded me of that awful Superman movie where Lois Lane can’t spell. It’s one of those wacky things to show that she’s great, but she’s also flawed. But, that’s not what this show is about, right?
Margaret: I don’t think they want it to be, but it’s like that article in the New Yorker which quotes a screenwriter about how to make a female character “relatable” and “palatable” to the audience and she says, ‘You have to defeat her at the beginning. It’s a conscious thing I do—abuse and break her, strip her of her dignity, and then she gets to live out our fantasies and have fun. It’s as simple as making the girl cry, fifteen minutes into the movie.’ Or you make her a klutz. That’s how you make a woman relatable. She has to have one flaw, but it has to be adorable and quirky. Otherwise everyone is going to hate her or think she’s a bitch. It’s the Skylar effect from Breaking Bad. So, I think that’s what they’re trying to do: give Cat Grant that weird quirk. Because Cat Grant right now – which I like – is a hard woman with no soft curves. And now they have to show her writing block quirks.
Syd: If it’s just the one scene, I can forgive it, but I feel like this is a direction they’re taking the series and I dread it.
Next, they had a red flag moment, which they recovered from nicely. I was angry when Jimmy says they should call Clark to help with Reactron. I’m like, “Are you fucking kidding me?” This is the guy who has been on board from the beginning. He’s stood up for Kara and believed in her every step of the way. Where is this shift coming from? Then, later in the episode, he explains that his reflex was that every time he was in trouble he would call on Superman and it had become a crutch that he was trying to get rid of. This was just a great explanation and exploration of Jimmy’s character. That is kind of amazing that they are building this character that way – that what I thought was a derailment of him no longer being supportive, is actually a development of this character, that he’s working to overcome his dependency. They actually turned that around. And that’s the one scene I liked.
Margaret: Me too! The second one I liked is in the same vein. I really liked the scene of Cat Grant dancing with Maxwell Lord.
Syd: That’s the same scene! That’s one scene. There is one scene we liked! We liked the party scene. I mean, we liked two segments of the party scene because there were other parts that were awful.
Margaret: There really were. But, back to James, I don’t really know the character. The only thing I really know about him is what I’ve gotten from the show. I knew who he was, before this, but that’s about it. So, I don’t know if that’s actually his reflex in a greater context. But, when he says it, I totally believe that. They already established his reliance on Superman in the last episode and Kara telling him that it’s okay to call on your friends for help. So, he has to learn how to be his own person and call for help when he needs it, but not rely solely on Superman or on Kara. I like that development. It’s only been three episodes, so it’s a shorter character build for me, but I like that this is the way they’re taking that character. And it rings very true.
Syd: After Jimmy suggests calling Clark, Win says ‘Clark?! Clark Kent is Superman?!’ That was the one bit of humor that actually landed. I refer to Seanbaby’s measure of laughitudinalness: you take how many things make you laugh minus how many jokes make you question your will to live, so this is still in negative territory as a total, but there was one thing that made me laugh.
Margaret: I liked that, too, because it was also dealing with Alex saying, “You can’t tell your identity to everyone all the time.” And then, Jimmy is the one who reveals that Clark Kent is Superman minutes later. The Win character, though, is something we should talk about.
Syd: He’s terrible. They already have Jimmy, why do they need another character who knows her identity? They have two humans helping her out and one of them is a real character.
Margaret: And the other one is a poor man’s male Felicity Smoak. This showrunner seems to love the awkward techy character, and has a need to put it in every one of his shows. In Arrow, it was Felicity. She was the non-fighty hacker character, but she also had a purpose of becoming the audience’s stand in and had a good chemistry with the rest of the cast. Win just seems useless and annoying.
Syd: I don’t know if what you said about Felicity is true, but I agree about Win because I hate him. And speaking of strange turns of characters, they’re turning Maxwell Lord into Dr. House. Maxwell Lord, to me, is a good character to use as a corporate douchebag and I feel like they want to use him that way. But they also had to make him the smartest, most competent guy at his company.
Margaret: Does that make him douchebag Tony Stark?
Syd: Po-tay-to, Po-tah-to. It’s like these people have never heard of the Peter Principle or never worked in an office. Do these people think that their Network Executives are the best storytellers? Running a tech business doesn’t necessarily make you the most technically competent person there. This archetype is as obnoxious as it is unnecessary to the story.
Margaret: The only reason they needed him to be a super mechanic was so that he would be kidnapped by Reactron.
Syd: You don’t need Maxwell Lord spouting this meaningless science jargon all the time.
Margaret: The reason they said they needed him was because his suit was failing. But, they could have used any other reason to kidnap him. What would have actually made me like him as a character was if he had just been a competent liar.
Syd: Yes! That would have been way better! If he actually didn’t know anything about science, but when he got kidnapped, he pretended to know things to stall and keep himself alive to be rescued, that would have made him a way more interesting character.
Then Kara gives a speech that doesn’t make sense about how she’s going to do what her cousin never does and talk to Reactron. This is puzzling considering how dead set she was against talking to alien supervillains in the last episode, or at least it would have been if she ever did talk to him. Why does Kara sympathize with this guy but not with her aunt?
By the way, Aunt General Astra wasn’t in this episode, so until it’s proven otherwise, I will assume she’s working on her puppy shelter.
Supergirl goes to confront Reactron. Instead of a dialogue, she gets knocked out and Superman comes to save her and that is the worst thing in the show.
Margaret: When that happened, I was so mad.
Syd: I was livid. I’m not even sure how to begin talking about how bad this was. We’ve seen so many young Superman TV shows and movies and comics where Superman is in some sort of insurmountable situation and he has to find some way out. That is how a hero proves herself and inspires an audience, but they couldn’t let Supergirl do that and it was infuriating. I could understand for the first episode. It was a craven and lazy move, but I understood it. The majority of your audience is Superman fans, so maybe you want to put in some fan service, but the people who are still tuning in after three episodes are on board with the idea of Supergirl as a solo hero and maybe you should provide some service for them.
Margaret: Right, when you’re making a Supergirl show for Superman fans, it’s different than when you’re making an Arrow show for Batman fans. At least in Arrow they don’t talk about the Dark Knight in Gotham twenty times every episode. He’s a stand in for Batman, no other discussion necessary.
Syd: They want us to think that Supergirl is redeemed at the end when she defeats Reactron, but what we’re shown is a situation where we have no reason to believe that she would have survived had a Better superhero not bailed her out. I would like to think that had Superman not come, she could have overcome the threat the same way Superman did every time Reactron almost killed him, but we’ll never know.
Margaret: I understand, I think, what they’re trying to do, which is to address the old question of, “If she’s really in an impossible situation, why doesn’t she call Superman?” But you can address that in a far better and more mature way than showing her fail and having Superman save her.
Syd: I feel like in every shared universe with multiple heroes, there is always the sort of fan who will ask that, and sometimes the writers will have a line or two of dialogue about the other heroes being busy, but mostly the way to handle that is to have your hero be so capable and likeable enough that the audience doesn’t want to see an interloper come in and handle her problems for her.
Margaret: It’s the same thing we were talking about earlier with the Avengers. Why weren’t the Avengers called in to help Tony Stark or Thor in their movies? In those cases, those dudes could handle it. And it’s always frickin’ dudes in superhero movies. Then when Supergirl finally gets her own show, she needs to be saved by Superman. To put it mildly, that’s a total bummer.
Syd: The readers can’t tell how buzzed I am right now, because I had to drink quite a bit to get through this episode. I could not take this horrible episode. Then immediately after the worst scene, they have to add insult to injury. Supergirl comes to after being unconscious for two hours and asks where Superman is and is told that he had to take care of a volcano in the South Pacific. They just needed to rub in that while Supergirl can’t entirely take care of her hometown, Superman has the whole world covered. Why didn’t they just make a Superman show if they love him so much?
Margaret: I have no opinion on Superman. I don’t really give a rat’s ass about him. I understand people who like Superman and I understand people who like Batman.
Syd: I don’t understand people who like Batman.
Margaret: The underdog is always more interesting to me, though. Building a character is far more interesting to me than having one established. What I really like about Supergirl is that they are trying to build her as a character. What I hate about Supergirl is that building her as a character is completely and utterly reliant upon the name of Superman and she never has her own moment of finding herself yet.
Syd: Supergirl gives a speech about how nobody will respect her if she has to fall back on her cousin, but if the writers don’t let her fly solo, what can she do?
Margaret: I’m drinking now.
Syd: This is important character development for us.
Margaret: If the series continues this way, we should record how many drinks we need to get through each episode.
Syd: So at last we reach the party scene.
Margaret: That’s where there is some interesting character development, including some great sexual tension between Maxwell Lord and Cat Grant.
Syd: I was not expecting that, but I was so into it. They had this interplay that worked astonishingly well, especially since this was Maxwell Lord not in this übermensch science guy persona they’ve dumped on him, but the smug rich douche persona that this actor can really sell. As two powerful businessmen, Lord and Grant were on an almost level playing field and it was so satisfying when Cat took the upper hand.
Margaret: Those two characters have a lot of chemistry together. It’s something I’m interested in seeing. I don’t know how they’re going to keep putting them together, but of course they will.
Syd: You don’t set up something like that and then not play around with it.
Margaret: They might not with this series. The entire B story was so flat and useless, I wouldn’t be surprised if it never came up again.
Syd: With their tendency to Tell Not Show, maybe next episode we’ll find out they slept together after Lord is killed.
Margaret: In the same scene they had that really gross interplay between Win and Kara.
Syd: He’s such a creep! So, the story goes that Kara shows up late and frazzled and Cat is somewhat miffed. Then, Win steps in and covers for her, and when Cat is gone, he says she could repay him by dancing with him.
Margaret: That’s supposed to be cute, but it really, really isn’t. The only way that wouldn’t be creepy would be if they hadn’t established the unrequited love triangle bullshit happening underneath everything. It’s clear that he wants to dance because he really likes her and she doesn’t realize because she’s so friggin’ clueless. He’s the Nice Guy of this show.
Syd: By “Nice Guy,” you don’t mean just a man who is amicable, but “Nice Guy” in a more tipping-a-fedora-and-saying,-”M’Lady” way.
Margaret: Had the dance been with a friend who was just having fun, it would have been less creepy, but it’s because he expects something from her that it just made me feel gross. Then came the dance with James and Kara.
Syd: So if we take the scene as a whole, is it still good, even with the Win dance as part of it?
Margaret: Yes, because it’s two to one.
Syd: I don’t think it adds up that way. I think there wasn’t really a scene we liked.
Margaret: I don’t know. It’s funny because every scene we really like is always an exchange between James and Kara.
Syd: Jimmy is flat-out carrying this show.
Margaret: The real heroic moment of the episode didn’t come from Kara, but from James.
Syd: You mean Jimmy.
Margaret: He earned the right to be called James by coming out from under the cape of Superman.
Syd: And yet I still won’t. Reactron comes back and knocks over a column, which is going to fall on Win, but Supergirl catches it and saves him, so she’s on the back foot. Then Jimmy comes over and says, “You want to hurt Superman? Well, I’m the closest thing he has to a best friend.” So Jimmy is clearly not giving himself enough credit.
Margaret: Though I think what they’re trying to say is that Superman doesn’t really have “friends.” They have shown again and again on this show that Clark keeps people at a distance. He never saw Kara again after dropping her off with her parents. He only talks to people on AIM. He keeps himself separate. That is how Kara is different. So when James says that he’s the closest thing Superman has to a best friend, he’s saying that because Superman doesn’t really rely on friends.
Syd: Then they have the boringest fight scene of all of the boring fight scenes in this show, where she beats Reactron with magical lead.
Margaret: They have not had a credible fight scene yet. Good fight choreographers are very expensive and they blew all their budget on bad visual effects. You would think the fights would be better when everyone has superpowers. That should be interesting and fun. You have all of these options, but you have to pay people to make them happen and it doesn’t look like they’re willing to do that.
Syd: I don’t even demand that much from the fight scenes. Even bad special effects are better than watching two people punch each other’s forearms. They could just scratch lasers into the film to give the impression that something interesting was happening and my imagination will fill in the rest.
Margaret: So Supergirl defeats Reactron – yay – and she goes to talk to James and they have a nice little moment and it looks like they’re about to kiss, but they don’t. And then I fucking hate this next development…
Syd: LUCY LANE SHOWS UP!
Margaret: I’m taking another drink. I HATE love triangles and this is more than just one love triangle. They already have the Win/Kara/James love triangle and now they’re adding a relationship between James and Lucy. This is love triangles upon love triangles. It’s turtles all the way down!
Syd: I think this is hilarious because I think Lucy Lane is hilarious in and of herself. I hope that she is just as loathsome as she was during the Silver Age.
Margaret: I don’t know anything about her character. All I know is that she is an ex of James’ and she showed up just when Kara was about to run in and have a heartfelt moment and tell James exactly how she feels. Then there’s the ex and I don’t give a flying fuck about her.
Syd: That’s because you have no empathy. Lucy gave a speech to James about how far she had to come from Metropolis to see Jimmy and she was having her heartfelt moment where she lays her heart on the line and now she has to compete with Supergirl.
Margaret: This isn’t the Lucy Lane Show! We’re supposed to identify with Kara! I’ve read interviews where they’ve said this isn’t going to be your typical love triangle or whatever.
Syd: Oh geez, I am more scared of an atypical love triangle than a typical one.
Margaret: I’m scared of any goddamn love triangle, because it always ruins one of the characters involved and it’s usually the one that you liked. On Arrow, I love Felicity as a character, but in last season they had a stupid love triangle between Ray Palmer, Felicity, and Oliver Queen. It turned all of Felicity’s character development into relationship drama. Before, she was the moral conscience to the series, after it she was only focused on Oliver. Every single episode she was crying or being put in a position where the audience hated her because there was nowhere else for that story to go. You knew she was going to end up with Oliver. Making Ray a sweet guy that she screws over in the end just makes it worse.
Syd: There is a good chance that this triangle will not ruin any good characters – just Win Schott and Lucy Lane. And you know what? Shipping is crucial to the Supergirl experience. So far we only have Jimmy, unless you count Win.
Margaret: Fuck that guy.
Syd: But if they keep bringing in more people, it could start getting fun. They could bring in Jerro or Brainiac 5 or Captain Boomerang. I love that they’re starting to play with the shipping angle after two very sparse episodes. This is my only hope for the series, since they’ve whizzed the superhero story down their legs. They did show in the party scene that this series might be able to do relationships well.
Margaret: That seems to be the only thing they can do well. It’s clear they can’t do action. It’s clear they can’t do snappy dialogue. The only scenes that have sung at all in the series are the ones between James and Kara. Those are the only ones that have any heart to them. The only thing they have is shipping, so they better not fuck it up.
GRADING THE EPISODE
Syd: This would have been a complete failure were it not for the shipping. In most respects, this is an F, but I kind of want to see where the relationships go.
Margaret: I understand that. Like I was into Arrow for the abs and I was into the Flash for silly superhero stuff, I’m into Supergirl for the shipping as well. There is a distinct angle for all of these shows where I think, “Ok, that’s what I’ll stick around for and hopefully it will get good.” Arrow was tolerable for the first season, but the second season was actually really good. So I’m hoping it takes way less time for Supergirl to actually get good, because this is worse than Arrow was first season.