SUMMARY: When an earthquake hits National City, Kara continues to be a superhero despite temporarily losing her powers. Alex and Hank track down a psychic alien. Nothing else important happens.
SUPERMAN COUNT: 7
Margaret: Tonight we watched episode 7 of Supergirl, called “Human for a Day,” but that’s not really true.
Syd: Even without her powers, she’s still an alien and it didn’t last the whole day, so this episode lies to you twice before it even starts. Then we have the intro, which has the line where Kara says, “An accident forced me to reveal my powers,” which is a minor thing, but it bugs me that every episode they frame her superhero career as something she was forced into rather than something she chose. It implies that if her sister weren’t on a crashing plane, she never would have used her powers to help others. It denigrates her character and I don’t know why they would choose to put it that way when introducing her.
Margaret: D.C. seems to be running rampant with the idea of the reluctant hero. Despite the fact that it’s not actually what happened, they’re trying to say, “She didn’t even want to be a hero to begin with,” which is kind of true, but it was her decision to say, “No, this is what I want. I don’t want to be a regular person. I want to live up to my fullest potential.”
Syd: So the episode opens with Kara talking with her A.I. hologram mother.
Margaret: We just said last week that we didn’t want this thing back in our lives.
Syd: I was just thinking that we don’t talk enough about how the regular cast of this show really does an exemplary job. Everyone is great. We trash Win’s character a lot, but the truth is Jeremy Jordan is doing a good job. Really, the only actor we have a problem with is the one who plays Aunt General Astra, and that’s just because she’s horrible.
Margaret: It’s even worse when they make her be a hologram. For some reason, her acting choice for being a hologram is to be completely monotone. It’s like an improv actress who has not done anything before who is told to be a robot.
Syd: I’d say it’s more like a ten year old who’s told to be a robot.
Margaret: “Meep Morp. You must recharge your Kryptonian life cells. Beep boop. I am a robot.”
Syd: Kara goes into work with a cold so that Cat Grant has something to yell at her about to show what a mean boss she is. She J. Jonah Jamesons hard and shows less humanity than the A.I. hologram for the rest of the episode.
Margaret: She had some!
Syd: No she didn’t.
Margaret: Yes she did! That exchange between Supergirl and Cat at the end wasn’t a character moment?
Syd: That was a character moment for Kara, not for Cat.
Margaret: It was a character moment for both of them! Do you think it’s not a character moment that Cat for the first time ever takes someone else’s advice and praise and actually looks up to Supergirl? When Supergirl gives the line, “I believed you,” Cat didn’t say, “Of course you should have.” She has a very genuine smile like she took that to heart. I took that as a character moment. That was a scene I loved about this show. They finally had a moment of Supergirl and Cat being equals. Instead of Cat giving Supergirl the advice to buck up, it was reversed.
Syd: I had nothing against that scene, but it was completely passive on Cat’s part. At that point, Cat already had her hero moment giving the speech on TV, and they wouldn’t even let her have that without implying that she had selfish reasons behind it. We didn’t see Cat being affected by her talk with Supergirl. If it was meant as character development for Cat, then we will see how it affects her going forward, but I have no confidence that it will.
Margaret: There are certain things that carry through. They felt the need to revert her to Pilot Cat to a certain extent so they could show the growth at the end of the episode as opposed to letting it carry through throughout the season. Any episode could be someone’s first, so everything has to be reintroduced in the first fifteen minutes before acting like any character development happened the week before.
Syd: Next we are introduced to the Monster of the Week. Jemm is his name. No one else is the same. Jemm is his name. This is the most useless Monster of the Week we have seen. He had absolutely no bearing on the story. His purpose was to bring Alex and Henshaw’s conflict to a head, but it felt so flat and artificial. She could have just confronted him without there being any monster. Instead we see how paranoia makes Alex overreact to everything and just be terrible at her job.
Margaret: When they set it up, at first I thought, “If Alex releases this mind-reading alien so she can find out about Hank Henshaw, I will fucking quit this show.” Then later when she says, “Meet me in the control room,” I thought, “If she gives Hank Henshaw over to this alien, I’m going to stop watching the series.” I think it says something that I don’t have enough faith in the characters to not make stupid decisions that I truly was dreading those choices. They took the lesser of the evils when she takes on the alien by herself, but that’s still a horrible idea! Doesn’t she study these people? Doesn’t she know her guns aren’t going to work on him?
Syd: She keeps thinking that Henshaw is suddenly going to turn and start killing people. All of your experience hunting monsters with him without being killed still applies. If you work with someone for two years and then you find out something about him, that doesn’t mean he’s going to start acting differently.
Margaret: He’s been the same person for the past two years.
Syd: In the monster hunting scenes, they kind of do a riff on Alien with Jemm being a mindless killing machine, which is weird because his whole hook is supposed to be that he’s psychic.
Margaret: It never really came into play at all.
Syd: He only used his telepathy once and it was on a random guy whom he immediately kills. So his psychic powers end up being completely inconsequential.
Margaret: In a plot where you don’t trust anyone, the reason you introduce a psychic character in a superhero show is so you can get somebody under psychic thrall, so you can work through it and break the psychic link. Then you can have the heartfelt moment at the end when they say, “These are our true selves!” But the psychic powers had absolutely no bearing. They should have just had another Sabretooth.
Syd: There must have been a draft of the script where Jemm found out Henshaw’s secret. Also, I’m not entirely convinced that they had decided on what Henshaw’s secret was when they made the earlier episodes.
Margaret: I’m not sure either.
Syd: Then we get the female gaze moment where Jimmy takes off his shirt and goes to work topless.
Margaret: Since this was a moment apparently for me to ogle his arms, I am going to do it the justice of saying he has some very nice arms.
Syd: This is a way they haven’t pandered to us yet.
Margaret: It’s true! It’s weird and wonderful that they’ve never male gazed any of the female characters, but we do get the female gaze of James. I like that I got to see his arms because they were very nice, however at the same time, it was kind of unnecessary. That’s the same sort of thing guys say all the time about the male gaze – “It’s nice to look at.” I feel like I’m doing a disservice, but at the same time, evening the odds?
Syd: There is the point of view that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. This really had no story impact at all. Ostensibly, he took off his shirt to bandage a broken arm of Kara’s, but it was clearly unnecessary and included for prurient interest. If it had been the other way around, we wouldn’t be having this conversation, or at least we would have it with a completely different tone, so this does say something about what attitudes the show has toward gender dynamics. But mostly, we just saw Jimmy with his shirt off.
Margaret: Well, not totally with his shirt off. He had an undershirt. I feel like male nudity is a different beast from female nudity, just because female nudity and especially toplessness is so overdone. If it’s a PG13 movie, you’re going to see at least one boob, as opposed to male nudity. You will definitely get shirtless men, but you don’t get as much full nudity.
Syd: You’re saying that you want more men’s butts.
Syd: It is true that women’s butts are absolutely everywhere. Maybe men’s butts don’t get as much attention because of homophobia. There’s a perception that men’s butts are gay.
Margaret: “If we show male butts, they’re going to want to put something in there.” Because they assume that all people in the audience are male.
Syd: So there’s an earthquake and Supergirl, not having her powers, can’t help with the rescue effort, prompting Maxwell Lord to go on television to call Supergirl unreliable. Cat says, “He’s using this as a branding opportunity,” so she starts trying to get some counterprogramming out to protect her “Supergirl” brand and I’m not sure if we’re supposed to think that Max is mind-blowingly egotistical or Cat is.
Margaret: I think we are supposed to side with Cat because when they first show Maxwell helping people, he’s doing a publicity shot. He’s saying, “I want people to know who to turn to in times of crisis instead of Supergirl.”
Syd: I’m not sure he’s being insincere or even self-serving. He gives a whole speech about how it’s important for humans to be helped by humans and how Supergirl makes people complacent and she will limit human potential. Depending on the writer, it is usually assumed that these are things that Lex Luthor genuinely believes in. Maybe he believes these things for selfish reasons, but he does think it is right that people not trust nor rely on Supergirl. I’m willing to believe that Lexwell is not trying to push his brand so much as his species.
Margaret: I think that you can do that but still think that the best way to do that is to brand yourself, to say, “You shouldn’t rely on Supergirl, you should rely on Maxwell Lord.” It can be both at the same time. They definitely had the Sean Penn angle of publicly helping while posing for pictures.
Syd: Why did they call this character Maxwell Lord when he’s clearly Lex Luthor? Maxwell Lord is already the name of a character from Justice League comics who is nothing like the character on this show. It’s like if they had a sailor on the show with hypertrophied forearms and a corncob pipe who got stronger by eating spinach and called him Donald Duck. It doesn’t come off as a fresh take on a character so much as one of those mislabeled bootleg toys.
Margaret: It’s very similar to how they did Arrow, where they just picked names from the comic to be stand-ins for Batman. In the same way, these are just stand-ins for Superman. So you need to have a Lex Luthor. You need to have the editor, who in this case is more J. Jonah Jameson than Perry White. And then you have James Olsen.
Syd: Except that on this show, it’s more like Win is Jimmy and Jimmy is Lois Lane.
Margaret: You should know by now that none of the characters’ names matter.
Syd: So, then Lexwell is helping someone who needs medical attention and he mentioned that he went through med school in a year. He is either lying or he went to a terrible med school. This is one of those idiotic things that Hollywood writers believe about smart people – that they can pick up anything immediately and can be an expert in every field – regardless of academic requirements or what experience is necessary to even be competent at a skill. The fact that they think it is possible to go through med school in a year shows that the writers are not smart themselves, they don’t know any smart people, and they didn’t bother to do any research into what smart people are like.
Margaret: I was annoyed because I was thinking, “How do you know all this bullshit after a year of med school?” That’s crazy!
Syd: So Cat enlists Win’s help to get her counterprogramming up and running, despite not knowing who Win is.
Margaret: It’s kind of funny. Throughout the entire series, whenever Win is brought up, she always says, “Who?”
Syd: They have a running joke in this episode that she keeps getting his name wrong. Can we start calling him Wick, too?
Margaret: Only if we call him John Wick.
Syd: No, that makes him sound too cool. So while they’re setting up a live feed, she makes reference to formerly having an award-winning talk show, which makes me wonder how long Superman has been going on in this universe. On the way from gossip columnist to the head of a media empire, she had a successful career as a television personality – each of these things takes a significant amount of time to develop, right? Or maybe everything is quick in this universe. Med school takes a year. A successful talk show takes a year to develop. Building a media empire is another year. You’re dead by forty.
Margaret: When I set up my media empire, it really only took six months.
Syd: But you’re smart, so that makes sense. So then we have the worst scene of the episode, where there is a holdup at a convenience store and Supergirl has to go in as Supergirl despite not having powers. This trope of the hero losing his powers is one of the biggest cliches of the superhero genre. You’ve seen it in Superman II, Spiderman II, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Doctor Who, Smallville, etc. It happens all the time. The problem is, when they use it to show that the hero really is a hero even without powers, it feels so disingenuous. There’s a reason why I read Superman comics and not Clark Kent comics. I want to see someone who does amazing things. Besides which, I don’t count it against any person who can do amazing things if they are naturally talented. That would be stupid and spiteful. The fact that we all have different abilities is one of the most wonderful things about people. You don’t need to be brought down to someone else’s level to show you are better than them. Then you have scenes like this when Supergirl stops a hold up despite not having superpowers and it works out well and we’re supposed to say, “Oh, that was so noble and brave of her.” No, that was stupid of her! She could have gotten killed. There is so much potential good that she can do and she can’t do any of it if she’s killed doing something needless. Superheroes in general tend to glorify vigilante justice, but that’s not the image of heroism real world people need. When they say you should act like a hero even if you’re powerless, that means you should be doing what Cat Grant is doing, not what Kara is doing. Kara is setting a bad example.
Margaret: I had a similar but opposite reaction. I didn’t like the scene because the editing was horrible and distracting. The cutting between Cat and Kara’s moments of truth could have been done much better and in a way that actually gave the two moments some breathing room. I did like part of the message, albeit shoved down our throats, that she was a hero because she actually solved something by talking down the person involved instead of starting out punching. However, the only reason why she did that is because she didn’t have powers. It would have meant far more if she looked at a situation with her powers and realized that maybe violence wasn’t the answer.
Syd: That actually isn’t the opposite. That is in addition. I was reminded of something that people always point out as a quintessential Superman moment in Morrison and Quitely’s All-Star Superman:
What’s great is that it’s a really touching moment of Superman saving someone not using incredible powers or violence. I did think the same thing as you, that being forced into a non-violent solution cheapens it. I’m not sure if they meant to show how conflicts can be resolved by treating people as human, because the fact is, based on everything we’ve seen of this character in previous episodes, if she had her powers, we have no reason to believe she wouldn’t have used violence.
Margaret: The circumstances made it feel like that, but with the intercutting of the Cat speech where she is saying to be your better self and be compassionate. You need to have hope and see hope in other people. I was hoping that was what they were doing. This will bring a new light to Supergirl and how she deals with other people, as opposed to her devolving into violence with only the barest hint of her attempting communication. But, then again, I don’t think they will take this lesson. They haven’t in any of the other episodes. I liked the fact that it was a message of hope. That’s what is supposed to be different about Supergirl. Both the show and Supergirl are more optimistic, but when it always devolves into violence, I don’t find that optimistic.
Syd: Right, I agree entirely.
Margaret: I would like the Supergirl that walks into a robbery with powers and talks someone down. That’s what I would like to see. So, that scene made me want to like it, but the implications surrounding it were just too far off the mark.
Syd: Also, every time they send the message, “You don’t need powers to be a superhero” is jarring, especially when in the very same episode they show how much better she is at saving everyone when she has her powers. She gets her powers back and only then does everything work out.
Margaret: It’s like the Eddie Izzard bit, that says “Guns don’t kill people, people do. But I think the gun helps.” It’s kind of the same thing with her superpowers. “You don’t need powers to help people,” but the powers really help you with that.
Syd: In this scene they also have the, “You are who you choose to be,” line to remind me that The Iron Giant is a Warner Brothers property. That was cute.
Margaret: Oh my God, if they ever make a live action Iron Giant movie, it will probably be terrible. I would still watch it but it would probably suck.
Syd: Then they had the moment with Jimmy, that I might have thought was nice if I weren’t angry at the episode at this point. The sentimentality of this episode couldn’t pull me out of how annoyed I was. It’s a shame because Mehcad Brooks was really selling this story – that his father gave him a camera before going off to war, then his father died and Jimmy kept snapping those pictures and I thought, “I wish this were a good enough scene to make me forget how dismal this episode is.”
Margaret: I really liked this scene. Brooks’ acting was so good. Him talking about when his father left and him never putting the camera down really made me sad. The strength of this show is whenever you put Melissa Benoist and Mehcad Brooks together, that’s a scene I’m going to like. They’re just so good together.
Syd: They have great chemistry. They play off of each other really well. I wanted to like that scene, but they’d have to do something pretty fantastic to make me like this episode.
Margaret: Then Win confronts Kara about flirting with James. He says, “You realize he has a girlfriend, Kara,” and that’s a legit point. But at the same time, that moment would be way better if it wasn’t coming from someone who has been in love with Kara from the beginning. It comes across as jealousy, when it should be a moral compass moment. You kind of have ulterior motives, dude. Anything you say is suspect.
Syd: Then he says, “The superhero never gets the guy.” What is this based on? How many superheroes does he know who haven’t gotten the guy?
Margaret: He just found out that Clark Kent was Superman and he doesn’t know any other superheroes.
Syd: And Superman did get the girl, so I have no idea what he’s talking about.
Margaret: It came off as petty and weird.
Syd: Later, he says to Kara, “I am never disappointed in Supergirl. I was disappointed in you.” He does know that Kara is Supergirl, right? He didn’t just forget?
Margaret: No, it was just a pointed, douchey jab. I hated that line, too, because he has no right to speak about pining after somebody you can’t have.
Syd: Winslow Schott should not be giving anyone romantic advice in general.
Syd: Then Jimmy goes to save people who are trapped on a higher floor by climbing up an elevator shaft, then he falls down, which gives Kara enough adrenaline to get her powers back.
Margaret: She was way more upset about the father on the expressway dying. I really liked her utter loss at being unable to help that one person. At the same time, you would think that was when she would have gotten her powers back – when she was literally pleading to use her x-ray vision so she could save this dude. Those scenes should have been swapped. When James falls, somebody else could save him. Maybe Superman could come and save his boyfriend and then she should have pled to save the guy on the expressway. That should have been the actual cross, instead of this being another very selfish decision on Supergirl’s part.
Syd: Back to Alex. She confronts Hank Henshaw about her father’s death at the worst possible time. They are under alien attack and she picks that moment to turn a machine gun on Henshaw. Even if he is an evil cyborg, that is the wrong time to do that.
Margaret: You should use the evil cyborg to get out and then turn the gun on him.
Syd: But it doesn’t matter, because it turns out that Henshaw isn’t an evil cyborg after all, he’s John Jones: Manhunter from Mars.
Margaret: That’s actually a character I’ve heard of before.
Syd: Could I just say this is the dumbest fucking bullshit in the world?
Margaret: But why is it, though? I kind of like that he’s in this show, but all I know about him is that he is green, he is a shapeshifter, and he is the last manhunter from Mars..
Syd: In Guys and Dolls, if it turned out that Sky was really the clone of the original Obadiah Masterson, that would be surprising, but it wouldn’t change anything about the character or his motivations. Henshaw is still the same character even if he wasn’t born with the name “Hank Henshaw.” From Alex’s perspective, this doesn’t change the fact that Henshaw was hiding things from her the whole time and him being a martian doesn’t necessarily make him more trustworthy. All she has pieced together for sure is that two field agents went in search of an alien, they both died, and the alien took the place of one of them. It shouldn’t matter if he’s a cyborg, a martian, or just some guy who may be responsible for her father’s death. This is an Armin Tamzarian level twist. Comics geeks are just supposed to be creaming their pants because they love things they’ve heard of, but as we’ve established, having a familiar character’s name is meaningless.
Margaret: I guess this means we’re never going to have cyborg Superman?
Syd: Not unless the original Hank Henshaw isn’t really dead, but that’s fine. We don’t need evil cyborgs in this series. It’s not like I was excited for evil cyborgs. The only reason I recognized Hank Henshaw’s name was from Max Landis’ Death of Superman film.
Margaret: With Foggy Nelson as Doomsday.
Syd: And Elijah Wood as Hank Henshaw.
I’m not sure if it would be worse if they didn’t have this planned from the beginning and just sprung this because they needed a twist to resolve the Hank Henshaw subplot, or if they did have it planned and it didn’t occur to them that it doesn’t really make sense.
Margaret: You could have an alien run the D.E.O. and that would be fine, but an alien pretending to be a human running the D.E.O. is weird.
Syd: I don’t trust this fucking martian. He didn’t need to take Henshaw’s identity in order to protect Alex. He didn’t even need to keep his presence on Earth secret. People in this world accept a hero from Krypton, why not one from Mars? No matter what happened between him and Jeremiah in Peru, he still decided to take over the D.E.O. through duplicity instead of exposing it, and under his leadership, the organization is still shady as hell. The D.E.O. needs an Edward Snowden, not a J’onn J’onzz.
GRADING THE EPISODE
Margaret: I’m pretty sure I know what your grade is going to be. I’m still at a C.
Syd: For the first time, I’m giving an episode an F. It’s not that there’s nothing to like in it, but anything under 60% is a failure, and this episode is nowhere close to 60% good. This was awful.
Margaret: Maybe it’s just because I am so burned out this week that I was just like, “Yeah, ok, Supergirl, do what you gotta do.” There was a lot of groan-worthy stuff, but whatever. Maybe this is how people not analyzing it watch this show. There were a couple of scenes that I liked, so it’s not an F quality.
Syd: It was mostly painful to watch.
Margaret: This show is breaking you.