SUMMARY: Cat Grant struggles to reconnect with her son Adam, who has a much easier time connecting with Kara. J’onn saves a racist Senator from a fellow Martian. The audience learns a lesson about tolerance, unless they are paying attention.
“As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.” – Mike Godwin
Syd: Welcome to Tales from the Krypton, where we just watched episode 11 of Supergirl. The show’s creators must have been dissatisfied with the fans’ reaction to the last episode – which was actually one of their better ones – so they released this episode, which makes the previous one seem like a masterpiece by comparison.
Margaret: The funny thing is, I was fine with the last episode. I thought that it did some interesting things and I liked that. This episode just infuriated me. Let’s go back to last week.
Syd: Two episodes ago, I posited the perhaps controversial opinion that Jessica Jones is less grim, more life-affirming, and more inspirational than Supergirl. I can no longer see that viewpoint as controversial. Jessica Jones belongs to a category of television and film that doesn’t show a genocide onscreen. Certainly, it is a broad category, but it is one to which the first season of Supergirl inexplicably doesn’t belong.
This episode begins with Melissa Benoist in voiceover reading a letter that is ostensibly from a mother to a child, which is weird, because Benoist’s character Kara doesn’t have a child – that we know about – but it turns out that she had forged a letter from Cat to her estranged son Adam.
Margaret: Holy shit, that is so horrible of her. I can’t begin to express it. You have absolutely no right to do that. It’s so ridiculous that anyone would think that is okay.
Syd: Couldn’t she have contacted Adam without any deceit involved to tell him that his mother misses him or urged Cat to reach out to Adam?
Margaret: That would have been fine! Instead she pretends to be Cat! That is so fucked up!
Syd: When Cat finds out, she is livid and she fires Kara.
Margaret: As she should.
Syd: Then for some reason, like the other times she has fired Kara, it doesn’t stick, which doesn’t make sense without Cat being a weak-willed pushover. As I have been saying for the past two episodes, I don’t think we are supposed to see Cat as a real person or consider her perspective. Kara is the protagonist, so we have to empathize with her and take her side even when she is completely in the wrong. The writers have abandoned any of the dignity they had granted Cat in previous episodes. It’s amazing how transparent this show is about which characters get to be people and which characters are treated as devices and I am saddened by how hard they are pushing J’onn as a member of the “real characters” list while Cat has been written off.
Margaret: At the same time, I think Cat belongs on that list, but the problem is that as she is Kara’s employer, the writers are forced to make her a plot device and other times, they are course correcting that. The plot where she is understandably sad about not seeing her son grow up is them trying to make us feel sorry for and identify with Cat Grant. Unfortunately, they have this whole inexplicable thing at the beginning where she definitely should have fired Kara and she can’t because Kara needs to continue working at Catco for the whole show to work. There are certain things that are constrained by the plot that they never think through. If Kara had just written the letter as herself, it would have made this episode not as horrible and horrifying.
Syd: No, the episode was horrible and horrifying for completely different reasons. This subplot that they started and ended the episode on is nice to talk about before we get into the really horrible main plot.
Margaret: From the standpoint of not talking about that, we definitely should talk about the fact that Kara continually – especially in this episode – decides that what she wants is best and her view of the world is how it should be. She is incredibly selfish and for an alien who can destroy human beings, that is pretty scary. That is a horrifying implication of this episode. If she had decided not to enforce her will upon Cat and make this happen without her consent, that would have been different. Should could have called or written a letter to Adam and told him that his mother is so wrapped up in guilt that she feels that she cannot reach out to her son and then let him decide. That would have made it seem like Supergirl is an optimistic person who cares about people rather than a dictator who is deciding to force her will on other people. Supergirl doesn’t have a mother, she wishes she had her mother here, so therefore she is going to force Cat and Adam to have a relationship, because that is what she wants. It’s the same way that in the last episode, her coming out as an alien was fantastic, so therefore J’onn should come out as an alien. It’s a continual thing throughout this entire series where because she is our protagonist and she is supposedly so optimistic, we should want what she wants, but the way she goes about these things that are supposedly idealistic is kind of horrible.
I just caught up on Arrow, and it is such a stark contrast to me, because Oliver Queen often does things like where it’s his will being enforced and that’s the way it should be because he is the protagonist and he knows best, but both the show and all of the characters around him say, “Oliver, you’re being crazy right now. Let’s think about this.” And yet, with Supergirl, they never challenge her. It’s crazy to me that they have all the same ideas of, “I know best,” but on the show that is “dark” and Batman-esque, everyone says, “We should think this through and talk about this as a group because you are being a crazy dictator,” but on Supergirl, they say, “Because of Supergirl, we have hope!”
Syd: I can’t speak for Arrow, but Supergirl is possibly the most depressing show I have watched regularly, and, yes, I loved the third season of Moral Orel.
Margaret: I haven’t seen that.
Syd: You totally should. Since Supergirl has inoculated you against depressing bleakness, you won’t even notice that it’s sad and can fixate on how beautiful it is.
So Adam flirts with Kara by asking about her employer, and when talking with his mother, Adam refers to Kara as her cheerleader. I now know which lunch table the writers sat at in high school, considering this is the second time in as many episodes that they have referred to Supergirl as a cheerleader.
Margaret: A blonde cheerleader, no less.
Syd: Look, I have seen Supergirl in a cheerleader’s uniform and there is nothing wrong with that, but it shouldn’t be something that this show is so fixated on.
Margaret: I’m sure they’ve written cheerleader!Supergirl fan fictions.
Syd: Kara sees Win getting into an elevator and tries to start a conversation, but Win politely declines.
Margaret: As he said in the last episode, he can’t be friends with her right now, and she utterly disregards his wishes.
Syd: Win is being the mature one.
Margaret: Whoever thought I would be defending Win Schott? The entire series, I have severely disliked this character and gone out of my way to assume he was being a douchebag even when he’s done good things. This episode, I’m like, no, Kara, stop being a dick. He told you he needed space and then because you don’t like space you’ve decided that maybe he’s ready. No! That is not your decision to make. I’m sorry that you miss your best friend, but he specifically told you that in order for him to heal after a traumatic experience, he needs space from you and in order for you two to ever be friends again, you have to respect his wishes. God damn it, Kara, this episode, I really dislike all of your decisions. I don’t think there was one decision she made that I was okay with.
Syd: Since we are talking about the scenes sequentially, here is where we are introduced to this episode’s clusterfuck of a monster-of-the-week. Senator Miranda Crane – who is essentially a stand-in for Donald Trump and every xenophobic, racist politician but mostly Donald Trump – is in town giving an anti-alien speech, where she advocates building a dome (instead of a fence, get it?). They ironically cast a woman of color as Donald Trump, which might have been an attempt at saying something, but it failed. Cat gives a speech to introduce this character where she says that she detests bigots, hippies, and aliens in that order. It’s like that old joke, “The only thing I hate more than racists is Mexicans.” Are we supposed to think Cat is racist?
Margaret: I don’t know. It’s like the old Jedi saying, “Only a Sith deals in absolutes.”
Syd: The problem is that we are supposed to hate Senator Crane for her anti-alien prejudice, but Cat’s anti-alien comment goes completely unremarked upon. Cat detesting aliens is thrown out very matter-of-factly, especially considering how much she usually supports Supergirl.
Margaret: Maybe they were trying to say she doesn’t hate aliens and they did it wrong? I don’t know. It made no sense. We have talked multiple times about how this show should stop trying to be topical. At best, it seems out of touch and at worst, it’s actually offensive.
Syd: Cat even has a line where she says that the more bigots talk, the more they sabotage themselves. How can the character be wiser than the writers writing for her? They don’t need to create a straw man version of Donald Trump to make her say stupid things. Trump says plenty of stupid things on his own.
Margaret: And they aren’t going to trump him. You can’t beat his own insanity. Just let him implode himself.
Syd: He’s going to be irrelevant in a few months anyway.
Margaret: So then Donald Trump is attacked by a White Martian.
Syd: You could just say “a Martian.” It doesn’t matter what color she is.
Margaret: They very specifically say that it does.
Syd: One thing that this show doesn’t establish is if in this world – which is nothing like any comic book or television show I have seen deal with the DC Universe Martians – the white and green Martians are different species. They are shaped about the same. They are both flying telepathic shapeshifters. They speak the same language. I think they’re just different races.
Margaret: I am not defending their racism. It’s a Martian.
Syd: So Supergirl saves the Senator, but it turns out the “Senator” she saved was really the Martian disguised as the Senator. Now the Martian is in the D.E.O. looking for J’onn J’onzz, because White Martians are compelled to kill Green Martians for reasons that are never explained.
Margaret: They don’t need reasons. It’s bigotry. It is a heavy-handed metaphor.
Syd: I’m not saying that bigotry is rational, but it is usually rationalized. Here, Martian history and culture is treated as irrelevant, when, to the Martians, that should be the most relevant thing. You would think that Martians would be talking about their cultural background and why the conflict between them is important, the way real racists do. It’s why White Power is a thing.
Margaret: The writers would prefer to do the obvious thing, rather than have the conflict mean something.
Syd: Because trying to understand where racists are coming from is a waste of time. They are evil and inhuman.
Margaret: Not only that, they are easily identified as evil and wrong by their skin color and by everything that they say and do. There is nothing subtle about racism. Didn’t you know?
Syd: Of course. Racism is an external, physical struggle, not something systemic and certainly not something that you can identify and work to correct in yourself. Racism means actively trying to kill another race – at least, that is the most prevalent form of racism in our society today.
Margaret: That makes me want to talk about Agent Carter.
Syd: Later. So J’onn can’t deal with the problem alone, because he’s afraid of exposing himself as a Martian. If it’s discovered that the head of the D.E.O. is an alien, then Sam Lane would supposedly take control of it, which we are led to believe is a bad thing. J’onn already runs an organization whose only purpose is to kill or imprison aliens with no thought given to rehabilitation. What does he think Sam Lane will do that is worse?
Margaret: They have established that Sam Lane is a douchebag.
Syd: He is a douchebag, but he is as determined as anyone else to capture and exterminate aliens. He would fit right in at the D.E.O.
Margaret: But he does it with prejudice! He tortured Astra!
Syd: But Alex said she was ready to kill Astra. That’s worse than torture.
Margaret: I don’t think anyone at the D.E.O. realizes that they’re evil and Sam Lane doesn’t realize that The Day the Earth Stood Still is fiction.
Syd: J’onn J’onzz is no less hateful than Sam Lane, he’s just less stupid.
Margaret: And supposedly he’s on the side of good, or at least on the side of the protagonist.
Syd: The Senator, who is secretly a Martian looking for the other Martian she has to kill, starts talking about how they have to find any alien spies who might be in the D.E.O. I know the writers didn’t mean anything by that line, but the idea of alien spies infiltrating the U.S. Government raises a whole slew of questions about this world, not the least of which is how J’onn knows that none of the other D.E.O. agents are aliens. What political interactions have the U.S. Government had with which extraterrestrial societies? What interests do the aliens have with Earth? The Phantom Zone prisoners in particular have the option of leaving at any time and going to another habitable world, so why have they chosen to stay on Earth? Why are the aliens keeping their activities secret? Why are the world’s governments keeping the aliens’ activities secret? Are there other governments that aliens may have already infiltrated or possibly conquered? What safeguards are in place to make sure they don’t?
Margaret: The way that I took her questions were the same way I would have taken Donald Trump asking things – as paranoia from a ridiculous person.
Syd: But if they were interested in world building, these could be the kinds of ideas they could address.
Margaret: You raise a good point that A) There could be another alien and B) What the fuck?
Syd: Supergirl finds out that the Senator was really an alien and the two of them have a fight scene that is followed by the absolute worst, dumbest, most senseless garbage that this show has ever stooped to. I don’t want to belabor the point, because the fact is there are no hard and fast rules about when and how it is appropriate to invoke the Holocaust in fiction. Genocide is a real thing in the world, and dealing with it and exploring how it happens and how people cope with it can be very moving and very powerful and important. That being said, because genocide is a real thing that is unimaginably horrible that real people alive today have lived through, it’s important not to invoke it lightly. If you don’t have the confidence to have an actor convey his emotional state through his performance alone, if you decide it is necessary to actually show concentration camps and mass graves on your insipid, puerile superhero show, you fucking well better have more to say than, “The bad guy sure is bad.” What were they thinking?
Margaret: They were thinking it was an easy way to get the audience’s sympathy for a character. I’m almost positive that is exactly what they were thinking. It’s horrible.
Syd: It’s insulting that they would think that in order for us to understand that J’onn is sad about being the last of his kind, they have to superficially draw imagery from real life atrocities, especially on a show where every episode starts with the main character’s planet being destroyed. They didn’t pull this bullshit with Superman. They didn’t make Zod into Space Hitler in order to give Superman II more weight. It would have been laughable if they had.
Margaret: The problem with that is that everyone knows Superman’s history. Most people don’t know J’onn J’onzz’s history. He’s not the most popular character in the DC lexicon, so they can pull bullshit like this.
Syd: Continuity is a trivial matter. In a new story, you can change Superman’s origin. Making J’onn a Holocaust survivor in this show doesn’t change anything essential about the character. It is clear, though, that the show runners didn’t consider how this change to his backstory affects what we were already told about the character. If he escaped from the camps, others could have, too. He doesn’t know if any other Green Martians still live on other planets. Even if he is the last Green Martian, he said he was the last Martian, which is patently untrue, because the White Martians are doing fine.
Margaret: There are thousands of White Martians, but he said he was the last Martian, because he considers his race the only “true” Martians.
Syd: I don’t count the population of Germany only by how many German Jews are left. And it doesn’t help that any time anyone refers to the White Martian, they refer to her as “it” or “that thing.” She is a sentient being that is every bit as much of a person as J’onn is. I don’t think they ever gave the White Martian a name. Could I just call her Megan?
Syd: Because every time they referred to this character as “it” or “that thing,” I couldn’t help but think of Miss Martian. That adorable character I loved in Young Justice is the same kind of unspeakable “thing” that this “thing” is.
Margaret: I don’t know. It still was pretty shitty. It felt like it needed to kill J’onn J’onzz simply because J’onn J’onzz existed.
Syd: Well, of course, Megan is a Nazi, but she’s still a person. I don’t refer to Heinrich Himmler as “it.” Last episode, I compared J’onn to an American Muslim trying to cover up the existence of Islam. That analogy is especially apt in this episode, because there are Muslims who want to kill white westerners, but fuck anyone who uses terrorism as an excuse to insult Islam or dehumanize Muslims.
Margaret: I don’t think that we should call her “it” or “that thing,” but I understand from J’onn’s point of view why he would vilify her and view her as evil incarnate.
Syd: But J’onn isn’t the only one who does it! The first one to refer to Megan as “it” was Kara. Then everyone else does it, too.
Margaret: I could see them taking cues from J’onn as to how to pronoun the White Martian, but if it’s Kara who starts that, then holy shit! That’s fucking crazy!
Syd: Kara is horrible in this episode.
Margaret: She has not made a good decision yet. Maybe Bizarro Supergirl is the superhero we need.
Syd: Don’t even suggest that. Jimmy Olsen is the hero of this show.
Margaret: If we’re doing Supergirl, it needs to be another girl.
Syd: Then it’s Peggy Carter.
Margaret: Damn it, Syd, I’ve been saying that! And you told me I couldn’t talk about Agent Carter!
Syd: So let’s back away from that plotline. Kara confronts Adam in the hotel to talk to his mother and we get the worst line of dialogue in the episode. Kara is telling Adam how great Cat is and Adam says, “You talk about her as if she’s Supergirl.” Kara says, “In some ways she is.” How fucking egotistical is that of Supergirl? “In some ways she is every bit as good as I am!”
Margaret: I think I know what they were trying to say is that because she named Supergirl and believes in her, she is kind of Supergirl. But, come on.
Syd: No, that’s not what they were saying at all. They’re saying, “This woman who has striven so hard and accomplished so much is almost as good as Kara.”
So, then they track down Megan and Megan kidnaps Alex, yadda yadda yadda. The point is, ultimately, Supergirl and J’onn face off against Megan. During the fight, she gets knocked to the ground and turns into Senator Crane. Why?
Margaret: It’s the same reason why J’onn turned back into Hank Henshaw. It doesn’t make sense. That’s not their resting state.
Syd: Once everyone knows Megan is a Martian, there’s no reason for her to turn back into the Senator.
Margaret: It’s for the special effects budget. As soon as they need to interact with this person, they need the actor, not the CG model.
Syd: Supergirl convinces J’onn not to kill Megan and instead they just imprison her. It’s the right thing to do, ultimately, so it’s a better resolution than this episode led me to expect. Then, because this show can’t leave well enough alone, we find out that the fight seems to have cured J’onn’s survivor’s guilt. Then, Senator Crane decides that not all aliens are bad.
Margaret: Despite the fact that, if I were attacked and held captive by an alien, I probably wouldn’t switch around my viewpoint. I’d lean harder into it. I would still think all aliens are bad. Supergirl saving me doesn’t mean all aliens are okay.
Syd: They gave the Donald Trump subplot a pat resolution, even though that’s not really how racism works.
Margaret: No, it’s not.
Syd: This show wanted to do an episode on racism and didn’t do any sort of cursory examination about what racism is.
Margaret: Or how to properly discuss it or portray it and its ills.
Syd: So, if every black man saves a policeman’s life, then racism will be over, right?
Margaret: Well, isn’t that what Crash did? And that won an Oscar!
GRADING THE EPISODE
Margaret: An F. I just can’t.
Syd: Totally F. This was a D until it got to the Holocaust scene and then it just crashed and burned. It was even kind of amusing how cluelessly they tried to make a point about racism against a made-up race while they were also dehumanizing another made-up race. But I want to make it clear that I am not against this episode because it is “offensive” to Jews or Germans or Mexicans or Republicans or Muslims or refugees or any of the real-life people who are metaphorically represented in the story. I am against it because it is ghoulish and exploitive and dumb. It is morose and violent and it doesn’t earn any of the emotion it demands from its audience. It draws from so many relevant real world issues, but it doesn’t have a clear enough idea of what those issues are to make any sort of intelligent or clear statement about them.
Margaret: This is why I wanted to talk about Agent Carter a bit. It’s a show that can be just as goofy and silly as Supergirl. The interplay between Jarvis and Peggy is really wonderful and ridiculous. However, it also deals with feminism in a light that is both overt and subtle. There are problems with Agent Carter, but it doesn’t feel like that problem is that they are attempting to pander to demographics. Supergirl feels as if when they are addressing racism and feminism they are patting themselves on the back. How do we appeal to women? With lines about how women are so much better than men! How do we make a character’s past tragic and comment on racism? Let’s link it to the Holocaust. They go for the easy answers and the easy characterization to the detriment of the show and of the issues themselves. It just makes me angry.