SUMMARY: When caught in a lie by her boss, Supergirl decides to get out of her predicament through further deceit. Meanwhile, James unsuccessfully tries to figure out a supervillain’s scheme.
WARNING: This blog contains spoilers for Jessica Jones. The sections with spoilers have been marked with SPOILER, so that you can skip over them and get your Supergirl commentary without ruining Jessica Jones plot points.
Syd: Welcome to Episode 9 of Supergirl, where the military is bad news, but secret paramilitary organizations are AOK.
Margaret: Not only that, they are the idealistic way to go. They have faith. That’s why they’re so secret.
Syd: You might notice something different about the tone of this entry. That’s because during the two-week break from Supergirl, Margaret and I watched Jessica Jones, and after that, it feels hard watching something as depressing as Supergirl. To people who judge a show’s tone and moral philosophy mostly by its color palette, it probably sounds like I’m just being a contrarian – “Up is down! Black is white! Jessica Jones is life-affirming!” but I mean it sincerely. Supergirl is not a carefree and fun show. Like Jessica Jones, it has murder, mind control, mental and emotional manipulation, unhealthy familial relationships, and a shady, frightening government conspiracy. Unlike Jessica Jones – which is mostly about coping with and overcoming the evil in your life – Supergirl is mostly about finding easy solutions to immediate problems while ignoring the bigger ones.
Margaret: I felt similarly. At the end of every Jessica Jones episode, there were times when I felt overwhelmed by how heavy what just went down was, but I never asked myself, “Why am I watching this?” After watching Jessica Jones and the interesting and heartfelt way that they dealt with important and difficult issues that didn’t feel pandering or like it was talking down to anyone, the way Supergirl handles things and the way it expects that we won’t understand concepts makes me feel more depressed.
Syd: So this episode picks up where we left off with the fight between the Phantom Zone prisoners and the D.E.O. The first line of dialogue really signaled what we were in for in this episode: “You’re Non – Astra’s husband!” It really is a mark of great writing when you can so masterfully capture the way real people talk. It reminds me of my own reunions with family members, where I often say, “You’re Sara, my brother’s wife! And there is my uncle’s sister!”
Margaret: During the break, everyone forgets your relationship to that person, so you need to remind everyone else in the room about it and why that matters to the conversation you are about to have.
Syd: And you can tell Kara has a cordial relationship with Non, because she doesn’t call him her cousin’s father’s brother’s wife’s sister’s husband.
Margaret: This is network television – I don’t want to say it’s big-budget, but they have some money. They have real VFX in here, but when I was watching this fight scene, all I could think of was, “The fight scenes on Jessica Jones were so much better!” They’re dealing with the same sort of thing – two super-powered characters fighting with each other. But, even when it’s Jessica Jones fighting regular people, it’s far more believable than whatever this was. There was a plane that came between them. That’s great, but there was never any tension there, nor any thought that this would matter. It’s just like, “Here’s our action sequence! You wanted it! Now you got it!”
Syd: After the fight, Non takes J’onn J’onzz – who is still disguised as Hank Henshaw – captive. Lexwell Lord is inconsolable. He says to Alex, “The days of us partnering up are over!” When exactly were those days?
Margaret: They worked together once or twice. I don’t see how that was a partnership. Mostly, he just flirted with her over awkward fake dinners, trying to get her trust and now all of a sudden he says, “Those days are over!” and Alex is like, “Sure. I’m fine with that.”
Syd: Alex is made the acting head of the D.E.O. in Hank’s absence.
Margaret: They had a throw-away line explaining that Hank classified the succession order for the entire D.E.O., and when they said that, I thought, “What the hell are you talking about?” Don’t you think the person who is going to take over the D.E.O. should know that in times of emergency they’re going to be in charge?
Syd: Well, if they did that, everyone would just murder the people ahead of them in line. It’s called a Klingon Promotion.
Margaret: That makes sense in such an idealistic agency.
Syd: Secrecy is important for the smooth operation of any organization and it helps build trust. In order for this episode to make any sense, we have to believe that someone finding out your true identity or goals would be a catastrophe for some reason that the show never explains.
Margaret: They just assume that we know.
Syd: Kara is insistent that they get Hank back saying, “Unless Hank has superpowers you didn’t tell me about, we need to rescue him!” which would have been the perfect time for Alex to tell her about his superpowers. It is really creepy both how much Alex trusts J’onn and how little she trusts Kara.
Margaret: That’s flipped as of two episodes ago, when she was willing to die to expose Hank Henshaw and what he may have done to her father.
Syd: And all she found out about Hank in that episode was that he was really a martian. He could be an evil martian as easily as an evil human.
Margaret: He said he tried to save her father, but we don’t know that’s true.
Syd: Next, Kara talks to Aunt General Astra, who makes a wonderful observation about human nature. It’s one of those aphorisms that, like all great pearls of wisdom, you may not have thought of yourself, but once it’s said, it clarifies so much about humanity. She says, “Humans are fond of their Kryptonite toys.” That just perfectly illuminates the human condition! When I was a child playing with my Kryptonite toys, it never occurred to me how uniquely human that experience was.
Margaret: Well, Kryptonians can’t play with Kryptonite toys.
Syd: That’s right! Even with all of their power, they envy us our ability to play with Kryptonite toys.
Margaret: Exactly. All of the dialogue on this episode was particularly terrible.
Syd: Astra reveals to Kara that she specifically ordered Non not to kill her, which Kara is unconvinced by. It’s weird because even if Astra ordered Non not to kill Kara, there were plenty of other people that he could have killed but chose not to – like Lexwell and Alex and J’onn. He clearly doesn’t want to kill people. I don’t think Non is a bad guy.
Margaret: I think he’s a dick.
Margaret: He killed some Kryptonians.
Syd: But that was in service of a cause that I am now convinced was worthy. He was trying to save Krypton, which clearly needed saving, considering that once Non was gone, Krypton didn’t even last a year. We know he was right that Krypton was doomed. We don’t know that he could have saved the planet, but we do know that he wants to and that he doesn’t want to kill anyone.
Margaret: Either that or that he’s really bad at killing people.
Syd: If that’s the case, then Kryptonians are really weak.
Margaret: At least they are against other Kryptonians.
Syd: Next, we are treated to a reenactment of Zod’s trial scene from Superman: The Movie by much worse actors. Here we learn of the old Kryptonian proverb, “Blood bonds us all,” which sounds pretty kinky.
Margaret: Have you heard that before? Is that an actual Kryptonian proverb?
Syd: You know that Krypton isn’t a real planet, right?
Margaret: Well, I thought maybe they said it in some Superman or Supergirl comic. I didn’t know if they were harkening back to something.
Syd: I don’t remember reading it before. If you can think of any situation where that phrase would sound profound, let me know.
Margaret: There are some pretty stupid comic book phrases that seemed profound at the time.
Syd: I don’t know. I think the ones that were profound at the time still work. “With great power, there must come great responsibility” holds up, as does, “People fear and hate what they don’t understand.”
Margaret: I meant things that they wanted to be profound but weren’t. Comic book writing, to me, is more story based, not dialogue based. I find the dialogue very stylized.
Syd: That depends on what writers you read. You’ve been reading a lot of Brian Michael Bendis, haven’t you?
Margaret: That might be it.
Syd: I think Bendis is a good writer, but I hate his dialogue. I would rather read a synopsis of any of his stories than actually read the story, because I think his dialogue is so artless.
Margaret: Well, I was just reading Alias, so my perception could be colored.
Syd: But the dialogue on Jessica Jones was really great.
Margaret: That dialogue was fantastic! The difference between the dialogue on this show and Jessica Jones just drives me crazy.
Syd: I rag on Bendis sometimes, but he never wrote anything as bad as this episode.
Margaret: There is not a subtle bone in any of their bodies. Everything has to be written out and then underlined and then bolded and then they put an exclamation point after it in case you didn’t realize that’s what they meant.
Syd: So, remember when I said that Alex was the director of the D.E.O. in Hank’s absence? Well, forget that, because Sam Lane comes in and tells her that he’s in charge now by the President’s order. So that was fun while it lasted.
Margaret: It seemed like that was just showing how much Alex and J’onn – for some reason – now really care about each other and trust each other. If J’onn’s story is true, I can see why he would trust Alex, but I still don’t understand why Alex trusts him so much. It’s not just in the professional sense that they have to get him back because they don’t leave men behind, but it’s because he’s a comrade in arms
Syd: It doesn’t make much sense unless Alex is planning to blackmail J’onn, because she knows she can use him and she always has something over him if he ever gets out of line.
Margaret: That might explain why she didn’t want to tell Kara, because blackmail is no good if other people know about what’s going on.
Syd: That would have been a cool thing to explore in the one episode before Kara found out.
Margaret: But they didn’t, because this show is not interested in complexity. All it cares about is weird twists at random times that don’t really follow through.
Syd: In a good show, this episode could have been a three episode arc that explored each character’s reaction to a complex situation. Instead, it’s one episode that they rushed through to a conclusion that didn’t make sense, wasn’t satisfactory, and didn’t advance the overarching plot of the series in any way – in fact, it undid what progress was made in the previous episode.
Margaret: The problem is that they were trying to do both character building and world building at the same time and this is not a show that is able to do both in any way that makes sense. There are some shows that are very good at giving you a twist that expands the world, advances the main plot, and shows you something about the characters.
Syd: I can think of one example…
Margaret (SPOILER): In Jessica Jones, one moment that is incredibly high in both character development and moving the plot forward was after she had caught Kilgrave and he commands her to let him go. Despite his ability to command people to do what he tells them, she keeps holding onto him. That was an incredible moment for everything that was going on in the story. The series was building up to this and it means so much for Jessica and the state of the world. This is a moment that she had been dreading the entire time – worried that he would be able to control her again, but instead she realizes that he doesn’t have power over her any more. It’s very powerful for her as a character, but also for the story, because this creates a new dynamic where she’s the only one who is immune to him and it opens up a whole new ballgame.
Syd: Speaking of opening a whole new ballgame, on this show, they have to deal with the fact that, as of last episode, Cat Grant – Kara’s boss – knows that Kara is Supergirl and that completely changes their relationship in an exciting way. This creates so many new possibilities for what they can do on the show. How this show chooses to handle this development is by not handling it. Kara decides to continue to lie to Cat.
Margaret: For absolutely no reason.
Syd: There is no reason why she should do this, and it becomes more and more apparent as the episode wears on that it is in both of their best interests for Kara to come clean, but she doesn’t. She holds onto her deceit. I kind of want to fault her friends who already know her secret identity for encouraging her, but, really, I don’t think she let them in on her situation. She presented the situation as her secret identity being in danger, instead of the reality, which is that Cat doesn’t just suspect, she knows that Kara is Supergirl and when Cat first confronted her about it, she was super supportive. Cat only gets confrontational when Kara continues to lie to her and Cat knows she’s lying. I think that Kara’s failure to explain the whole situation to her friends was why no one thinks to suggest that they could use Cat as an ally, as she is clearly on Kara’s side.
Margaret: They could stop juggling Kara’s obligations as a superhero with her obligations as Cat’s assistant and use her media influence to their advantage.
Syd: After Cat uses a dumb rhetorical trap to try to trick Kara into admitting she’s Supergirl – which we don’t have to talk about, because it’s dumb – she tells Kara that she also fights for Truth, Justice, and the American Way in her own way, which was the perfect opportunity for Kara to explain that’s why she thinks working for Cat is so important. If Cat understood Kara’s point of view, there’s no reason to believe that Kara would no longer be able to operate as both Kara and Supergirl, considering that Cat has shown over and over that she completely supports both Kara and Supergirl. It’s not like Supergirl is protecting anyone by keeping her identity from Cat. Everyone she works with daily except Cat already knows. And, by the way, Supergirl and her friends are still operating out of an abandoned office in Cat’s building, which would no longer be a danger if Cat knew about it.
Margaret: Not only that, Cat has invested media interest in Supergirl, and they have shown time and time again that she is business minded. She’s not going to shoot herself in the foot by acting against Supergirl in a way that neither Supergirl nor she wants.
Syd: It’s deeper than that. She doesn’t just have a business interest in Supergirl. She believes in Supergirl and what Supergirl stands for. Kara not trusting Cat with her secret is so insulting and counterproductive, especially considering she trusted Win enough to tell him immediately.
Margaret: Not to mention that some of the best scenes in the show are when Cat Grant and Supergirl are talking to each other on the same level and acknowledging each other as equals. Now they’re never going to be able to have that, because, no matter what happens from here on out, Supergirl and Kara lied to Cat. It would take a long time for them to have a trusting relationship. Cat is a smart woman. She is going to find out how horribly she’s been lied to and what lengths Kara went to to cover this up and it’s going to be devastating.
Syd: And rightly so, because Cat had always been on her side, but she doesn’t show Cat a modicum of decency or respect. It’s infuriating. Even if Cat doesn’t get angry, I will.
Margaret: I agree.
Syd: And then Sam Lane interrogates and tortures Astra and it’s very timely and *yawn* the War on Terror zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
Margaret: We already mentioned that this show should not be talking about political issues, because they don’t do it well and it ends up being insulting.
Syd: Anyway, Lane reveals that he doesn’t trust aliens because he saw The Day the Earth Stood Still at a young age. I guess he doesn’t trust Jesus, either.
Margaret: He hates aliens because of a fictional story written by humans.
Syd: The alien in that movie was the good guy. Basically, they are presenting his tragic flaw as being that he doesn’t understand movies.
Margaret: He doesn’t understand the fact that movies aren’t real. This is Lois Lane’s father. It must kill him that his daughter is dating an alien.
Syd: Well, he doesn’t know that Clark Kent is an alien. But he does know that both of his daughters are dating employees of pro-alien propaganda newspapers.
Syd: Speaking of Lucy’s boyfriend Jimmy, we’re now at the part where he breaks into Lexwell’s office and tries to gather intel, and honestly, I didn’t mind this subplot. Win was in it and he wasn’t annoying. Jimmy did superhero stuff – and he was the only one in this episode who did anything brave and heroic, which is getting to be a pattern with this show. He may not have accomplished anything, but he’s the only one who is trying.
Margaret: It’s funny, because I like this subplot because it shows Win and James getting along, as opposed to the cattiness they were having before and it also shows Win actually being useful as well as making James more of a badass, which I like.
Syd: I’m not usually in favor of men ditching the ladies and going off to do things for themselves, and I don’t think it should be this show’s goal to make me want to see that.
Margaret: But it was clear that Kara shouldn’t have gone along. She freaked out about it as soon as they told her.
Syd: She did! She would have ruined their plan.
Syd: So Jimmy gets caught and punched by Lexwell, who they’re trying to turn into some sort of tough guy, which is weird. Then Lex delivers a true masterpiece of bad dialogue. I nearly wept, it was so beautifully awful: “My security system isn’t state of the art; it is the art.”
Margaret: It makes no sense.
Syd: The important thing about this scene is that I think whoever directed this episode has a black bondage fetish. There were two subplots that involved black men being tied up.
Margaret: I can’t link that to anything in Jessica Jones.
Syd: So, after Cat gives Kara an ultimatum that she either prove that she isn’t Supergirl or lose her job, Kara comes into her office and gives her a speech, saying, “This place is more important to me than you realize,” and tells Cat how much she values the guidance and advice she gave her. As someone who has lost jobs before, let me just point out that this is not a way to keep a job. Good for Cat for staying firm, since Kara obviously doesn’t value Cat enough to tell her the truth.
Margaret: The whole episode is Kara lying to Cat for seemingly no reason. There really isn’t any reason why Cat can’t know.
Syd: After that scene, Kara finds out that Lex had roughed Jimmy up and then let him go, despite the fact that he had caught Jimmy breaking into his building and could have had him arrested. This isn’t like with Non, where I just assume he’s not a bad guy. We know that Lex is evil, but now we know that he’s kind of dumb and really bad at being evil.
Margaret: Kara freaks out because she feels like she’s losing all of these things. They’re trying to make these connections between her losing her job and losing the ideal of who her mother was in her mind and now she can’t keep her pretend boyfriend safe. Under normal circumstances, you can kind of understand her freaking out about these things, but the line that they use is, “I have all of these powers, but I feel so powerless.” It’s another one of those horrible dialogue moments where all I could think of was Jessica Jones, who has superpowers that are similar to Kara’s – she’s super strong and she can kind of fly. I think she says she jumps really high and then she falls.
Syd: Let me interject while we’re on the subject of horrible dialogue and kind of flying – Cat has a snide line in this episode about Kara leaping buildings in a single bound, which makes sense to us because we know that was a line from a radio serial from before flight was one of Superman’s powers, but in Cat’s world, where Superman is a real person who can defy gravity, nobody would describe what he does as leaping. When you’re rebooting something as old and culturally influential as Superman into the present day, where things like phone booths and newspapers are increasingly uncommon, you have to put some thought when world building into how the culture would be different. This show should not be making reference to Superman’s 1940s radio show for the same reason it should not be talking about the Spin Doctors’ best-selling album or Christopher Reeve’s filmography.
Margaret (SPOILER): So,Jessica Jones has powers, but she actually has to deal with being powerless. She was mind raped. She was put in a position when none of her actions were of her own free will and she has to get over that. Not only that, but there is a part of the series after she tells Luke that she killed his wife and Luke, of course, is incredibly upset about this and he calls her a piece of shit. For that she is at fault and feels guilty and ashamed, so she goes on a drinking binge. She drops Trinity’s wife onto a subway track, then passes out in an elevator, and Malcolm puts her to bed after this horrible, horrible day and when she lies down, she is drenched in the blood of the annoying upstairs neighbor whose throat has been slit by evil David Tennant. Jessica Jones is strong not just physically, but strong in character, but realizing that anyone close to her, just by being in her orbit, can be killed, she loses her shit. That’s understandable and you can feel her complete and utter desperation and horror at the realization that she is powerless to stop the things going on around her. This was her being a powerful person who is powerless. Then I compare that situation to Kara, whose problems aren’t any less real, but they feel less impactful. We aren’t given any sort of idea of why these things should have any more meaning than a fleeting one – they’re important to her now, because they need it for the story, but so far nothing seems to carry over between episodes, so I can’t think this will carry on for the rest of the series, unlike the things that Jessica goes through.
Syd: Moreover, the things that Kara is terrified of losing are things that a normal adult will have lost at some point, then coped with and moved on. Even if things hadn’t wrapped up as neatly as they did by the end of the episode – if Kara had lost her job or found out that her mother made the wrong decision – that wouldn’t have been the end for her. That wouldn’t have been insurmountable. That could have been an opportunity for growth for her. She could have become stronger through that experience.
Margaret: The problem is that they have these things where you can understand why she would be frustrated – even as a moment of growth, you feel very lost. I can understand that, however they’re throwing these things at her that don’t seem to have any emotional impact other than them needing to have Kara feel something at that moment. There is no build-up; there are just these moments, as we’ve seen, without a path and then abandoned the next episode. There is no continual character arc. There is no emotional permanence like there is in Jessica Jones, where you can see why all of these things have happened and why she feels the way she does. In Kara’s situation, I want to say, “I can see how things are going fast for you. Maybe you should take a deep breath,” as opposed to what happens with Jessica, where you’re like, “Oh no, that’s fucked up, lady I completely understand why you’re unraveling.”
Syd: Then Kara finally confronts Astra and Astra is uncharacteristically contrite. She’s crestfallen and self-deprecating and she confides in Kara that even when Kara’s mother was sentencing her to exile, she never lost faith in her. The only way this scene makes sense from a character perspective is if Astra senses that Kara is emotionally vulnerable and she could manipulate her to escape her imprisonment. Up until this moment, Astra has been cocky and sure of her righteousness and made no bones about the fact that Kara’s mother was just an impediment to her plan. Then suddenly, she says one nice thing about Kara’s mother and Kara wants to negotiate with Non to exchange Astra for J’onn.
Margaret: Right. It would make sense if she were using Kara’s idealism in her weak moment when she wants something to happen. But that’s too smart for this show.
Syd: This show wants you to believe that anything a character says is automatically true – just like J’onn’s completely unverified story. So Supergirl stands up to General Lane and Lane’s men draw guns on the two women that bullets bounce off of.
Margaret: But Astra had Kryptonite handcuffs, so maybe she could be shot? But at the same time, Kara could just step in front of the bullets.
Syd: Or just take their guns.
Margaret: Or laser-eye them.
Syd: It’s amazing that the humans still think they have any chance at all against these aliens. Their naïveté trumps even Kara’s, and Kara was the one who got the hostage exchange to go through, despite the fact that she apparently forgot to ask what Astra’s plan is.
Margaret: The puppy shelter is still out there!
Syd: We find out in this scene that Astra has dozens of Kryptonians under her command, but their powerful hands would crush any puppies they tried to pet! Astra needs the humans’ help!
Margaret: Not to mention that if there are a couple dozen Kyrptonians ready to descend from the sky, why aren’t they just taking things over already?
Syd: I mean, we’ve seen in Superman II that just three Kryptonians can easily overrun the U.S. Government, but it’s been made clear in this episode that these aliens don’t want to hurt anybody. They have had ample opportunity to kill people and enforce their will on others, but that apparently isn’t part of their plan.
Margaret: As of right now, Superman and Supergirl are the only ones who can stand against them. They could just start taking over. Where did they come from? This is so crazy.
Syd: I think we’re supposed to believe that the Kryptonians would have started killing people if Astra hadn’t spoken up. She says, “There will be no more battles today,” and nobody thinks to ask, “When will there be battles?” Maybe they shouldn’t wait for the aliens to gain a strategic advantage to have this battle. Or maybe they could find out what the aliens’ goals are, so they can figure out if there ever need to be battles at all.
Margaret: They still are very secretive about that puppy shelter.
Syd: That’s not really true. Astra has been extremely forthcoming with information every time she wasn’t being punched or tortured. Kara just never let her get a word in edgewise.
Margaret: Maybe she’s a cat person.
Syd: Then we reach the end of the episode, where Kara finds out that J’onn is a martian and J’onn proves to her that he is trustworthy by helping her lie to Cat.
Margaret: That is the best way to show that you care. But now that she has seen Kara and Cat at the same time, once Cat figures out that Kara really is Supergirl, she will also know that there is someone who can shapeshift.
Syd: By the time Cat figures out that Kara lied to her again, the Manhunter from Mars is going to be publicly known, and nobody will ever question anything because everyone in this world is dumb.
GRADING THE EPISODE
Syd: This is an unqualified F.
Margaret: I know I’ve been trying to hold out hope that this show would get better or that there would be fun in trying to find the one scene that I like, but this episode had none of that and I just have to give it an F. After watching Jessica Jones, not comparing it to Supergirl has been very difficult. I know a lot of people have been – some would say unjustly – comparing Jessica Jones to Supergirl because they are two very different shows and two very different ways of approaching things. I had such high hopes for this show as well as Jessica Jones because they have put these characters out there as Kara being very optimistic and trying to find positive solutions and on the other side, there’s Jessica Jones, who seems outwardly pessimistic and solves things with violence.
Syd: But, of course, as we have noted in the past, as much as the show wants us to see her as idealistic, Supergirl usually resorts to violence whenever that is an option.
Margaret: And Jessica Jones, on the other hand, is always looking for a better solution – often going out of her way not to kill Kilgrave so that she could save Hope. That’s the problem that I am having. The dichotomy of these characters is important and should be more delineated. I want there to be a woman who is pessimistic and violent and a woman who is optimistic and nonviolent and nonvulgar. They are both very necessary and interesting characters for women.
Syd: The difference between Jessica Jones and Supergirl is that the first episode of Jessica Jones was about Jessica finding Hope and Supergirl has gone nine episode without finding hope.