Syd: Welcome to a special bonus edition of Tales from the Krypton, where we will try to break down where each Supergirl character is 13 episodes in.
Margaret: CBS’s original order for the series was 13 episodes. It wasn’t until after the first few episodes had aired that 7 more episodes were added to the season. Everything after the 13th episode wasn’t planned until after some of the season had aired.
Syd: I’m pretty sure they didn’t plan out the full 13 episodes when they were first ordered. A lot of the past few episodes seemed like they were made up as the show went along.
Margaret: We don’t think they’ve planned anything very far ahead.
Winslow “Win”? “Winn”? Schott, Jr.
Syd: We’ll start with a little correction. We have been shortening Winslow’s name to “Win” – spelled like something he rarely does – because it’s what we heard people calling him and because it’s the first syllable of “Winslow.” That makes sense, right?
Margaret: But on IMDB, his name is “Winn,” which doesn’t make any sense. “Winslow” only has one n. This is like shortening “until” to “till.” Why would you do that? Maybe this is the way real life people named Winslow spell it? I don’t know, because I don’t know anyone named Winslow.
Syd: Well, it’s more likely that we got it wrong than they did, so going forward, we’re adding the extra n. This is a bold and dynamic move for the blog.
Margaret: Henceforth, “Win” will be “Winn.” It’s a good thing we don’t have to talk about him too much. This season, they had a good character arc for him, but they just dragged it out too long for it to completely repair his initial introduction. Winn had one of my favorite character moments. Unfortunately, it was just kind of walked back.
Syd: As we are introduced to him, Winn is Kara’s best friend, and, as often happens, he has developed a crush on his best friend, and there was a lot of talk about “The Friend Zone,” which is something that grew old around 1995 when the Friends episode that originated the term was being rerun.
Margaret: This is perfectly normal behavior – for 13 year-olds.
Syd: Winn is a nice guy, both in the sense of being a generally agreeable person and in the trilby-tipping beta male sense of “nice guy” that is so easy to make fun of.
Margaret: They start him out as the typical 90’s best friend who has a crush on the girl and will make her mixtapes or whatever and hopes against hope that she’ll see him as the boyfriend he knows he could be and then resents her when she doesn’t. Then, when his father confronts him, he realizes that he has been burying his emotions and that is a really shitty thing to do to her and to himself. He decides to grow from that and takes steps towards that, but then in two episodes, it’s done.
Syd: He’s essentially back to where he started from. He’s in the same position, with the same relationships to the other characters. He’s still best friends – and just friends – with Kara. Winn was never really considered as a romantic interest for her, so her knowing he had a crush on her didn’t make much difference. It was such an unsatisfying resolution, especially after two episodes where it looked like the status quo would have been shook up or at least Winn could have changed as a person.
Margaret: It was interesting, at least, that they explored it and then called attention to the fact that it was unhealthy, because there are very few times in TV or movies where the love-sick romantic interest waiting for the main character to look their way is called out as being unhealthy or stalkerish.
Syd: He is not called stalkerish. You are giving the show too much credit. I think the direction they went with him was fairly conventional. If he were the main character on the show, I think it would be expected that he would get the girl as a prize just for being such a swell guy, but a supporting character not getting together with the protagonist he has a crush on is nothing we haven’t seen before. Xander didn’t get together with Buffy. Helga didn’t get together with Arnold – and she was clearly shown as unhealthy and stalkerish.
Margaret: But Winn does say that the way he had been acting was unfair to Kara and it’s unusual for a character – especially a main character we are supposed to be rooting for – to admit that about himself. The honest feelings conversation was something I really liked. If only it had happened earlier or they had actually followed through with it. As it was, it was too little too late.
Syd: My problem with Winn was that however emotionally honest that episode was, he wasn’t a big enough character for it to matter to the show as a whole. In the episode where he was barely present because he was distancing himself from Kara, you didn’t feel his absence at all. He could have dropped out of the show entirely, and the show would just go on as usual. I think the show overestimated the value of Winn’s role.
Margaret: And people liking him.
Syd: He doesn’t have much of a purpose on the show outside of his crush on Kara. They tried to give him a niche as the tech guy, but he only occasionally does anything technical.
Margaret: It doesn’t make a difference. They don’t focus enough on that being a thing for it to matter. It’s interesting for me having watched Arrow. They tried to make Winn a male Felicity Smoak – the awkward techie of the group. Felicity was fun and silly and an interesting character even in her first few appearances, so they expanded her role. She wasn’t initially supposed to be Oliver Queen’s love interest, she was just someone the main characters could turn to when they wanted something done. That’s what they should have done for Winslow Schott if they wanted him to fill the same role. He should have just been the geeky tech guy that Supergirl called on when she needed something done with computers.
Syd: So maybe the showrunners’ logic was that because Felicity became a fan-favorite love interest for her show’s protagonist, that they would jump right in with Winn as a potential suitor and trusted confidant, instead of developing the character and seeing where he fit in the world. It became another example of this show’s tendency to tell and not show, in that Kara so often says that she needs Winn and she doesn’t know what she would do without him, but we never really see her rely on him in any significant way. No one has ever said, “If only Winn Schott were here!”
Margaret: You never even see Kara confide in Winn, other than the “I’m Her!” moment from the pilot – and that was the worst, because it spoiled what could have otherwise been a very touching moment. The only time she confided in him was a misstep. Every time after that when she needs someone to talk to, she goes to Alex. She doesn’t need Winn – she has a sister.
Syd: That’s true. If all of those scenes of Kara eating ice cream and watching TV on the couch with Alex had been with Winn instead, it would have really justified his presence on the show.
Margaret: Then when she didn’t have anyone to confide in when Winn wasn’t there, you would have felt his loss.
Syd: In many ways, this show would be better if Alex weren’t on it.
Margaret: I want them to have a sisterly relationship, because I like that as a female viewer, but Alex as a character is kind of garbage.
Syd: Alex is important to the show as a second female character in the main cast who is a peer to Kara and for no other reason. What most defines her character is that she is the most affectedly hypermasculine character on the show.
Margaret: I completely agree. In the last episode, she kicked in Kara’s door instead of using a key or picking the lock. She has to have a key to Kara’s apartment, she’s let herself in a few times. But instead of being rational, now she has to replace her sister’s front door because she needed a dramatic entrance.
Syd: There was a moment in the seventh episode where Alex turns a gun on Hank Henshaw and it was shocking and it seemed to be inconsistent with portraying her as a good guy, but taken in the context of her portrayal overall, it is very true to her character. She is a reckless, impulsive, mean, aggressive, violent bastard. She lets her fists do the talking and they’re prone to histrionics. The problem is that the show never calls these things out as negative and conversely, compassion and sensitivity are not really shown as effective for conflict resolution.
Margaret: I think they were trying to do that somewhat with Kara. She is certainly a more typically feminine person as Kara, but as Supergirl, since she’s been trained by Alex, she takes on Alex’s viewpoint far too often. If they did this right, you could have Alex as this hypermasculine person who fucks up all the time by being too forceful and have Supergirl be the one who thinks things through and talks things out and have her be more feminine and be the hero. It would be an interesting commentary on gender roles.
Syd: They wouldn’t even have to show aggression as wrong in itself, so long as there was a strong counterpoint to it. Now that you mention it, maybe they did intend to have Supergirl be the softer yin to Alex’s hard-edged yang, but I wouldn’t have known because they’re both terribly violent and the extent of Supergirl’s compassion is not killing people and, even then, only some of the time. They did have the episode where Supergirl lost her powers and had to talk down a convenience store robber and it was really sweet, but then the next episode when she had her powers back, she was right back to punching and destroying buildings. It gave the overall impression that talking things through is a last resort when you have exhausted all violent options. So with that being your base level for a down-to-earth, relatable character, when they want to show Alex as being really tough, they have her going completely off the deep end and they never call her out on it.
Margaret: They want everyone to think, “She’s kickass!”
Syd: But this “kickass”ness is expressed through her assaulting an unarmed prisoner – repeatedly. People get touchy when you call out a woman for being too macho, so let me make it clear that the shit Alex pulls isn’t ok for men, either. Batman is an out-of-control lunatic, too. That interrogation scene with the Joker in The Dark Knight is not how law enforcement works in a just society. You can’t have someone who is ostensibly on the side of law and order (who isn’t really a law enforcement official) getting so emotionally worked up that she assaults people who pose no threat to her.
Margaret: She’s the Jack Bauer of Supergirl.
Syd: It’s laughable because fellow hypermasculine caricature Sam Lane gets called out for torturing Astra, but it’s no worse than what Alex does to Lexwell.
Margaret: Well, we know we can’t like Sam Lane because he doesn’t like James Olsen and therefore must be a terrible person. At least Alex likes James Olsen.
James “Jimmy” Olsen
Margaret: James started out as one of my favorite characters.
Syd: He is still my favorite.
Margaret: Cat is my favorite. It used to be that any time James and Kara were together, it was my favorite scene of the episode. Those two actors have such good chemistry together and the characters seemed very interesting and I liked how they were approaching how they were interested in each other. Then as the show goes on, it gets more muddled down with the fact that he should be with Lucy, despite the fact that the show really wants him to be with Kara. It turns his character on its head and turns him into someone way more duplicitous, which I don’t like.
Syd: There’s a lot to unpack about Jimmy. I should start by addressing his name.
Syd: Right – Jimmy. I can understand the rationale of him wanting to reinvent himself in a new location, perhaps because “Jimmy” seems too juvenile or that his identity is too strongly tied to Superman. If he’s being honest, though, and he really wants to no longer be only known for being friends with Superman, then putting himself in a position where he’s only known for being friends with Supergirl is a lateral move at best. He’s setting himself up for failure working for a famous Daily Planet writer and hanging out with another superpowered alien just like he was in Metropolis. Obviously, if he were a real person, I would respect his wish to be called James, but he isn’t. He isn’t just a character, either. “Jimmy Olsen” is a brand. It’s the name on the cover of his comic book series. The version of Jimmy Olsen on this show is one of the few characters whose portrayal is actually a credit to the character’s established mythology from other media and it doesn’t feel right to divorce him from that brand.
Margaret: I can understand that. I also think the reason he is so closely involved with the character is because he is actually a well known Superman character.
Syd: Yes, that’s why he’s on this show.
Margaret: What this show really wants to do is to make this a Superman show that just happens to feature Supergirl and Jimmy Olsen is the best way to do that, because instead of having him be a sidekick to Superman, he’s kind of a partner to Supergirl.
Syd: I’ve often said that Jimmy is the real hero of this show, which makes sense, because from the outset, he has experience as a superhero and Supergirl doesn’t. This is another example of how this show would be better if Alex weren’t on it. If they had Jimmy be Supergirl’s mentor the way Cat was Kara’s, it would have provided opportunities for the two of them to learn from each other and grow as people and it wouldn’t seem like Jimmy was constantly upstaging her by being more courageous and heroic. Instead we see Supergirl looking up to Alex as her superhero mentor, which means that Supergirl is taking after an atrocious role model while Jimmy is just a better hero than her.
Margaret: It’s not that we don’t need Alex, it’s that we don’t need the D.E.O. The reason Alex is a bad character is because she is an agent of what is essentially a criminal organization. I like that they have a sister character and I think they could have had Alex as a sister and a support system, which would be better than her being a secret agent. It would make more sense for them to dispose of Winn. They could have Alex as the sister be someone who is interested in science and have her take on the Felicity role as well as the emotional support. Then you have two female characters who rely on each other as well as Cat Grant as Kara’s female mentor and have James Olsen guide her through being a hero. I think that would be a solid, interesting base – you’d have a woman who is equal to Kara as well as male and female mentors. That’s interesting not only for the characters but for the gender dynamics.
Syd: I completely agree. That would have been a much better setup for this show. Getting back to Jimmy, I’m really interested in the romantic angle between Jimmy and Kara. It’s the only plot thread that I can hook onto and watch intently without getting angry at it. So, even though I know he’s going to betray Lucy, I want to see how it happens. I can’t criticize the show for that, because it’s the one thing on the show that has my interest in a positive way. As I said before, I’m in it for the shipping – to the extent that I’m “in it” at all, which seems to be diminishing each episode.
Margaret: I could see that. I criticize that not as entertainment, but because come on, James.
Syd: Right, it does reflect poorly on his character.
Syd: But, then again, he hasn’t acted on it. I am fascinated because this show has such a strong interest in trying to get us to like all of the characters that it has declared the good guys. The writers aren’t always very good at getting my sympathy, but they always make the effort to tell us who are and aren’t good guys. I still want to believe that the writers aren’t as stupid as their writing usually makes them sound and that they know that Jimmy abandoning Lucy – whom he loves and has been shown to have a deep connection with – for another woman is going to show him in a bad light and turn off a segment of the audience. I think they’re going to try to pull this off in a tasteful way and I’m excited to see what they think of as a satisfactory resolution that their audience will approve of.
Margaret: A lot of people are really invested in Jimmy. They’re not going to commit character assassination on him.
Syd: The problem is that Jimmy getting together with Kara will inevitably leave Lucy in the lurch.
Margaret: Go Team Lucy!
Syd: Lucy Lane has been an unexpected bright spot on this show
Margaret: I completely agree. When she first showed up, I thought I was going to hate her. She did not show up well. She was James’ ex trying to get back together with him, but then it turned out that it was really James who was at fault for what was going on. She shows herself to be really invested in the relationship. She stands up for James against her father and turns her back on a job she’s had for years because it’s corrupt and she doesn’t think it’s morally right. She’s the only character who actually does this.
Syd: It’s amazing, because most of the characters in this show are involved with one morally corrupt organization or another, but Lucy is the only one who actually does something about it.
Margaret: And now she is working for Cat Grant and Cat Grant respects her. I love the scenes with the two of them. I also loved the scene where Cat barked an order at Lucy and she said, “That’s not how the law works.” It was cute. Every time she shows up, I like it. I like Lucy. So I don’t want her to be shoved to the side because of the Red String of Destiny.
Syd: I couldn’t agree more. It was sad to me as a charter member of Team Lucy that they provided an out to the Jimmy/Kara relationship by bringing in Melissa Benoist’s real life husband to be Kara’s romantic interest and it only lasted for two episodes.
Syd: When they brought in Cat Grant’s estranged son to be Kara’s new romantic interest, it provided some much-needed relief from the Winn/Kara/Jimmy love triangle.
Margaret: And those two characters had such great chemistry, too.
Syd: Unsurprisingly, Melissa Benoist actually has good chemistry with her husband. I would have been glad to see them together.
Margaret: That would have been very interesting. And as they were beginning to show, it would have brought an interesting dynamic to Cat and Kara’s relationship, because not only are they working together in a professional relationship, but Cat is starting to be nice to Kara, who she sees as an in to her estranged son, but she’s still Cat. That would have been interesting to see spread out over several episodes, instead of the two that we got.
Syd: In those two episodes of relationship between Kara and Adam, we only got one episode of Cat being nice to Kara and even then it wasn’t the whole episode.
Margaret: Instead, they squandered it. They squandered good chemistry and a potentially interesting character and a deeper relationship between two established characters, one of whom is my favorite. They keep introducing these story elements that could do such interesting things for everyone and then abandoning them for apparently no reason. It’s the same thing that happened when Cat Grant found out that Kara was Supergirl. That could have changed their dynamic for the rest of the series, but for unknown reasons, the walked it back an episode later. It makes no sense! Why?
Syd: They have a status quo to maintain.
Syd: Cat Grant was introduced as just a mean boss in the style of J. Jonah Jameson. However, unlike Jameson, who pushes the idea that Spider-Man is a menace, Cat champions Supergirl as a brand. Despite her tough love, Cat Grant is always on Supergirl’s side. This show has a tribalistic sense that the good guys or on one side and the bad guys are on the other. At one point, Cat Grant figured out that her assistant Kara was secretly Supergirl and at the time it didn’t even seem like a big deal to me – it was sort of a ceremonial initiation of Cat into the Supergirl Team, not a seismic shift in the show’s direction. However, in the next episode, when Kara goes all out on lying to Cat to try to deny that she was secretly Supergirl and ultimately succeeding through some really impressively underhanded deceit, it was made clear that Cat Grant is definitely not within the show’s monkeysphere. For those of us who were enjoying the excellent work Calista Flockhart was doing with the character, this was a stunning betrayal. This made it so Cat could never be part of the Team without radically adjusting the show’s ethos.
Margaret: If revealing Kara’s identity to Cat had stuck, it would have explained why Cat can’t fire Supergirl. There were multiple times when Kara should have been fired, but how can you fire Supergirl?
Syd: They had the chance to have Kara explain to Cat why she was working at Catco and have Cat allow her to continue working there on her terms. If you have Supergirl on a leash, why would you let her go? Then Cat wouldn’t be the paper tiger she’s shown as throughout the series. She is constantly threatening to fire Kara and then backing down at any opposition, which undermines her status as the only woman on this show in a real position of power.
Margaret: As it is, none of her decisions matter. It would have made far more sense if she forgave Kara because she knew Kara was a superhero, instead of for no reason. Even the thing that I thought was the most fireable offense – Kara forging a letter from Cat to Adam – happened after Cat learned Kara’s secret identity, so it could have been chalked up to alien shit or Supergirl trying to save the day, instead of Cat thinking, “My assistant just committed fraud. She should be summarily fired for gross incompetence and arrested.”
Syd: They have stuck with distancing Cat from the inner circle – most recently when Kara broke her son’s heart and Cat stated flatly that their relationship would be strictly professional from now on – obviating the need for writers to treat Cat like a real person. This new strictly professional status quo was not unforeseen, since it had been several episodes since we’d seen Cat give Kara one of her life lessons, but it’s sad because for the first few episodes, those scenes were often the highlight of the show.
Margaret: They really were. They were these bright points and it was often painful to get to them, but once you had the one-on-one between Cat and Kara, they were these nice character studies. Seeing the world through Cat’s eyes was great.
Syd: I’m really sad to see those scenes go. I understand that people generally don’t like being preached to and a lot of people probably find having the message of an episode spelled out for them annoying. However, the times when the show would take the time to actually talk about its themes and what to take away from them were the only times when the show seemed to have a purpose. That’s a really good thing to hold onto if you aren’t taken in by the action.
Margaret: And nobody is, because the action is terrible. It’s funny, I didn’t realize how long it had been since we’d had a Kara/Cat sit-down about what to do in a business situation. The last time we had a good one was the anger episode.
Syd: The anger episode was actually the episode we graded the highest. I went back and checked our top five:
- “Red Faced” (The Red Tornado Episode)
- “Stronger Together” (The Hellgramite Episode)
- “Childish Things” (The Toyman Episode)
- “Pilot” (The Vartox Episode)
- “How Does She Do It?” (The Lex Luthor Episode)
The Red Tornado one was the one I graded the highest. Margaret’s highest grade was for the Friendsgiving episode, “Livewire,” but my low grade knocked it out of the top five.
Margaret: I thought the Toyman episode was our favorite. In retrospect, the Red Tornado episode was one of the one of the more fun episodes, where we were laughing at things they wanted us to laugh at.
Syd: I think we gave higher grades before we had our hopes for the series crushed, so Toyman is remarkably high on the list, considering. Actually, the Toyman episode was a better episode on its own than we graded it, but at that point we had enough pattern recognition not to think of it as auguring well for the series like some of the earlier episodes.
Margaret: All hope was abandoned by then.
Kara “Supergirl” Danvers
Syd: There’s not much to the character. One of the best things about her is that she’s relatable. The struggles she goes through are things that everyone goes through at one time. For instance, when she thinks she’s lost her best friend because he had an unrequited crush on her, I was really touched that they showed her blaming herself, because, even though it’s irrational, it’s understandable. At the same time, she is very naive and inexperienced and I don’t know to what extent that’s part of her relatability and the writers saying, “She’s just like you, audience,” or to any older audience, “That’s what you were once like” and to what extent she’s supposed to be stupid.
Margaret: I think the problem is that it’s the exact opposite of The Big Bang Theory. Many of the characters and jokes are supposed to be nerdy and smart, but they in fact rely solely on the character trait ‘nerd’ and don’t show them actually being smart or even very nerdy. Sheldon says something about loving Spock, isn’t that hilarious and nerdy? They still need to appeal to the base audience, so the joke needs to be about something everyone gets. Everyone knows Star Trek and who Spock is, even if you haven’t seen the show.
I think they’re trying to do the opposite with Kara. They’re trying to show Kara as naive and alien, so they show her unable to do things that normal people would do. Not because they think she’s stupid, but so the audience will think, “I could have done that. Wow, she must be awkward if she can’t.” If they were trying to make her dumb, she wouldn’t have already known more than the Flash in the episode with the Red Tornado by flying the opposite direction to disperse it. I don’t think we’re supposed to read her as dumb.
Syd: That’s the problem. There are so many jokes that rely on her being a slow thinker, which I’m not sure is in line with what we’re supposed to think about her. For instance, when she’s describing Earth as, “This planet I’m also from,” that’s supposed to be a slip up that a normal person would make and not something comically stupid. It seems unfortunate for DC to make a headlining woman such a ditz.
Margaret: I would say she fucks up just about as much as the Flash in that regard. The Flash often does things that are dumb. He hasn’t had as bad dialogue, but he has done stupid awkward things that are at least on par. I wouldn’t say this has anything to do with Kara being a ditzy girl, because they’ve shown Barry being a ditzy boy.
Syd: As long as it is equitable among Greg Berlanti Shows, then I retract my complaint. That means that’s only the second worst thing about Supergirl. The worst thing about this character is that she’s a fucking thug. She is the enforcement arm of a human rights violating criminal organization.
Margaret: The worst thing about Kara, as we saw when she decided to take matters into her own hands with Cat’s son, is that she doesn’t care about other people’s feelings, justifications, will, or privacy. If she thinks something is the proper action and she thinks this is best for everyone, she is going to do it and everyone else will fall in line.
Syd: She reads her own press releases. She is very convinced that she is a beacon of hope, that she is a real hero. I think neither the character nor the writers have realized how little she’s done to justify that. Saving people’s lives doesn’t give you the right to impose your will.
Margaret: I completely agree. That part of the show is the worst tell don’t show. Multiple times the show tells us that Supergirl and hope has triumphed over evil and pessimism when the reality is that’s not the case.
Syd: It’s especially weird that they try to paint their messages as idealistic when at best the modus operandi of Supergirl is pragmatic. At best, she’s the kind of tough cop who plays by her own rules, but gets things done, goddammit. At worst she’s a fucking thug.
Margaret: But they don’t show her as that. They show her as a naive young girl that everyone has to adore.
Syd: They show Kara that way. When she is out of costume, they show her as a naive young girl. Once the costume comes on, she is an enforcer.
Margaret: And the media of the show don’t show her as that. They always clean up after her messes and say she did the right thing.
Syd: That only makes sense if they see her as Kara. As Kara, I could see them underestimating her in that way, but they only see her in costume, where she is a tough-as-nails, no-holds-barred enforcer who gets things done, goddammit. That is how she should be portrayed in the media.
Margaret: I mean, I haven’t seen Man of Steel, so I don’t know, but I feel like the way we see her is more tough badass, take no prisoners, same page as Superman. When you see Supergirl that way, you really should have a D.E.O. who isn’t working with the aliens. They should be thinking, “What do we do if these seemingly benevolent familial aliens turn against us?” That D.E.O. would actually make sense to me.
Syd: The showrunners didn’t put enough thought into world building. The show very transparently does their world building on an as-needed basis. They only provide details as you need them and it feels like this show doesn’t have a bible. If the showrunners had laid down the rules of this world, we would have a consistent sense of what the general public knows about aliens. In the first episode Kara tells Winn, “There’s no such things as aliens,” despite the fact that there is a prominent and popular alien in the news. They didn’t establish in that episode that the general public knew that Superman was an alien, but it was established two episodes later in Cat Grant’s Supergirl interview that the media and the general public know that both Superman and Supergirl are aliens. So, Kara denying the existence of aliens and thinking that’s a plausible lie makes sense if we assume that Kara is kind of dumb, but that is giving the writers the benefit of the doubt.
But maybe the only aliens people know about are from this one dead planet. Then, a few episodes later, J’onn J’onzz – a Martian – mentions in passing that he knows Superman. That means that Clark Kent, who is a reporter who we have been told in no uncertain times is on the side of truth, is aware that a planet that we are currently able to visit with our technology, is inhabited. But it was unclear whether he chose to reveal this newsworthy information to the world. A few episodes after that, you have a senator with an anti-alien-immigration platform. This means that not only does the public know about aliens who could potentially come to Earth, but someone could be elected on a platform that involves dealing with aliens. That means that how to deal with aliens outside of Superman and Supergirl is a hot button issue in this world. Then, this same senator gets publicly attacked by a Martian. Covering that up is no longer an option. These are things that should fundamentally change this world.
At that point, the preponderance of evidence is that aliens are a known thing in this world. So, why the fuck is the government’s response to aliens a secret? The D.E.O. should be publicly known. It doesn’t inspire any confidence in them that they feel the need to for secrecy.
Margaret: It’s the same sort of thought that led them to be okay with locking up Livewire, who is a random shock jock in a random city, but, Maxwell Lord, you arrest him without cause and there will be shit to pay.
Syd: Set aside the fact that they are not a law enforcement agency.
Margaret: They’re extra legal.
Syd: They’re not a law enforcement agency. Their questionably ethical mission is to identify and capture aliens. They don’t have the right to arrest anyone. If they take someone, that’s called kidnapping. So, the showrunners never really considered world building and the very fact that there are aliens changed this world. I think they were drawing from the trope in fiction where you have the secret government cover up of aliens, which exists in fiction as a way to explain how aliens could have contacted Earth and have the general public not know about it so you don’t have to deal with the repercussions of it. The problem is, that doesn’t work in a Superman story because an alien being publicly known is built into the premise.
Margaret: I think what was happening here is that they took Arrow and retooled it. Arrow was the first of the Berlanti Superhero shows and it just starts out with him being what is basically Batman. Then, as that grew popular, they added on the Flash, which meant that they had to deal with superpowers in a show that was attempting to be gritty and they handled it okay. For Supergirl, though, you’re not starting out with a rich kid who shoots arrows really well and building from that. You’re starting out with an alien who can fly and shoot fire from her eyes. You need to establish the world that she lives in because either they know about aliens or they don’t and that really matters. You can’t slowly build onto that when she’s already related to a well known alien. The world has to already be there for it to make sense.
Plus, it seems the reason they even had the DEO to begin with was to do a Monster of the Week. That way they can build up Kara’s character by introducing random characters that she can fight so no one feels bad about it. Recapturing dangerous aliens from an alien prison seems pretty morally fine.
Syd: Because you know if you just go to a jail and start beating up prisoners that’s fine. Just bring a baseball bat, it’ll be fine.
Margaret: But, then, they never follow through on that. It’s just some agency in charge of aliens when there are supposedly a ton of Phantom Zone prisoners out there that they never talk about. It now seems unnecessary and evil.
Syd: It’s also weird because when I saw the trailer I saw the D.E.O. as a means to an end. But they abandoned the Monster of the Week premise so quickly. The Phantom Zone criminals hardly ever show up. When they do, there’s no reason the D.E.O. has to deal with them. If they had written three episodes before they shot the pilot, I think they would have realized that the D.E.O. is an unnecessary step. If they had set up in the premise of the show that Phantom Zone criminals are on the loose, Supergirl doesn’t need to be part of an organization. I know the showrunners have seen Superman II – they make reference to it all the goddamn time. In that movie, Superman takes on the Phantom Zone criminals without an organization backing him up.
J’onn “Hank Henshaw” J’onzz
Syd: J’onn J’onzz is a malignant tumor that keeps growing and deforming the face of this show.
Margaret: I don’t want to think about J’onn J’onzz.
Syd: It’s very sad, because when they introduced Hank Henshaw, it seemed like they had an interesting twist in mind. And I made jokes about how he obviously was an evil cyborg like Hank Henshaw was in whatever Superman comic it was. But, the fact is, I wasn’t sure it was on the nose as him being a cyborg. We got enough of a sense that his secret was something sinister that once revealed was going to change the show. It was going to change the way people looked at the D.E.O. and actually make the D.E.O. relevant. If they had found out that the director of the D.E.O. was evil and that they had to stop the D.E.O. that would have given them a new source for monsters of the week. They would have this evil organization that has access to super powered alien prisoners.
Margaret: It’d be DC HYDRA!
Syd: It already is DC HYDRA, it’s just that the characters are unaware of it.
Margaret: Oh man, that means all our main characters are HYDRA.
Syd: If you’re actually paying attention, yes, they are! Instead, the twist is that the guy that was introduced as a good guy heading up the righteous alien hunting organization was, in fact, a good guy heading up a righteous alien hunting organization.
Margaret: The hint of him being evil multiple times was just a red herring.
Syd: If they had decided from the start to show Hank Henshaw as a good guy, he could have served the vital function of the angry chief who yells at Alex when she gets out of line and gives us some idea of what is acceptable conduct in this world. A single “You’re a loose cannon, Danvers!” after she killed Hellgramite would have gone a long way toward making Alex’s later actions seem less nightmarishly dystopian. By the fifth episode, though, the opportunity had passed. In order for him to stand for doing things By the Book, he would have to say, “You’re a loose cannon, Danvers! Also, everything this agency does is illegal, unethical, and frankly disturbing!”
As I said when it happened, and it has not become any less true, revealing that his real name is J’onn J’onzz and not Hank Henshaw changes nothing about the character. They could have introduced J’onn J’onzz as a separate character if it was so fucking important for them to include him. When it happened, I did notice they got some ink on that. People were writing: “Oh my God! Person that we recognize is on this show that we’ve heard of!” If they wanted that, they could have just introduced him as a different character.
Margaret: I think that would have been more interesting. Then, you’d have another alien who is a good guy and against the D.E.O. and then you would show the D.E.O. as perhaps not being as righteous as previously thought.
Syd: It’s not like when you find out that he has a different name he has a different personality. J’onn J’onzz acts the same way we’ve seen Hank Henshaw act before this. He’s the same character. Nothing at all changed except that he gets more screentime and people talk about him more. And he’s not interesting. The only thing that was interesting about him was that he might have been evil. So, now there is nothing interesting about him. Speaking maybe being evil, Lex Luthor.
Lex “Maxwell Lord” Luthor
Margaret: Lexwell. He could have been far more interesting as well.
Syd: It’s not the worst interpretation of Lex Luthor I’ve seen.
Margaret: It’s just that he’s called Maxwell Lord.
Syd: That’s basically immaterial. We know that because of the way Warner Brothers is structured they can’t use the name Lex Luthor. We aren’t owned by Warner Brothers, so we’re free to call him Lex Luthor. We don’t gain anything by calling him Maxwell Lord.
Margaret: I like calling him Lexwell.
Syd: Yes, we’ll continue to call him Lexwell. The point is, my favorite interpretations of Lex Luthor actually have him come off as charming to the outside world. You would understand why people would like him. The problem with this is that they wanted to make him absolutely detestable from the beginning. He’s a rich, white, privileged man who doesn’t trust the government. He is so easily identifiable as someone you’re supposed to hate, but the actor playing him is not bad at playing that. He is bad at being Robert Downey Jr. They are writing him as Tony Stark and Sherlock Holmes, which, if they had an actor who was Robert Downey Jr. and writers with the improvisational skills of Robert Downey Jr. would be fine. But, since they don’t, they shouldn’t be writing him that way.
As for the take on the character, I like the actor’s line delivery. He’s fine as a villain. I think the biggest problem is that I shouldn’t be rooting for him and I am.
Margaret: Because, as we have seen, he really shouldn’t trust the government.
Syd: In real life, you can have a debate about the necessity of government interference in private business because in real life there aren’t evil government agencies that kidnap prominent businessmen and brutally assault them.
Margaret: In the beginning, even, we were told that he had a good reason to distrust the government because of his parents’ death. So, from the beginning, he’s kind of the hero in that he became an orphan because his parents were killed by the government, which is why he rightfully doesn’t trust Alex or her agency to start, and then – instead of the show proving him wrong – Alex and the D.E.O. kidnap him, hold him indefinitely under no charges and then assault him for information. And yet, he still helps them! Constantly!
Syd: Yeah! Despite everything, he totally helps them anyway! I don’t want to say he’s a stand up dude, but he kind of is.
Margaret: He’s not a stand up dude, but he’s respectable.
Syd: He’s honorable. He’s not a good person, but he’s honorable. And that is one more positive quality than J’onn J’onzz has.
Margaret: And these are our heroes!
Syd: Supergirl’s aunt Astra from Krypton was on the show, but she’s dead so now it doesn’t matter. They had the potential for a plot point that Alex killed Kara’s aunt and J’onn took the blame for it. On a normal show would be something they could use at some point as a wedge to drive between Alex and Kara. But it’s not like she thinks a supervillain killed her aunt – she thinks one of her best friends killed her and she’s fine with it. It’s not going to be a point of high drama.
Margaret: They could still make it a point of high drama, it’s just not going to make any sense. That’s what they’ve done with multiple other plots.
Syd: There’s a certain class of supervillain whose motivation can be summed up as, “Yay crime!” Basically they are motivated by wanting to commit crimes. If they have any deeper motivations it’s because they want material wealth and believe that criminal pursuits are the way to go about getting them and that’s not actually a bad thing. That describes every villain from the sixties Batman series and most of the villains from Teen Titans. It’s a good way to do things if you don’t want to deal with a villain’s motivations and just want to set up a conflict. They just like crime. That would be smarter as a villainous motivation than the strategy they took with Non, which is: “We’ll think of it later.”
When they first set up that the Phantom Zone criminals had this scheme in place, they did frame it as them believing that they were saving the Earth. And back when I had hope for this show, that meant to me that they were building up a twist where we would find out that they were never the bad guys. Then it became, “Okay, they’re dragging out this twist a little too long.” And then it became, “Oh, there’s never going to be a twist.” I still believe that they are going to attempt some sort of twist when they reveal what the plan is, but it’s also clear that they didn’t have it planned out in advance. It’s frustrating because I don’t think they realize how much information we already have about what the plan couldn’t be.
We know they don’t want to kill anyone. They are impossibly strong, impossibly fast, so anyone they want dead would already be dead. They can’t be planning an assassination, or even killing on a mass scale. Even if they wanted to reduce Earth’s population by a third, they could easily do that. So, that is not their plan. Their plan cannot be gaining political power, because they’ve had ten years on this planet where they have all the power and they look just like the native inhabitants. If they wanted to infiltrate governments, they could have sovereignty by now. Maybe not a place like the United States as we’re supposed to believe that the DEO is effective enough to prevent that, but the D.E.O. has not been shown to be a worldwide organization. They could have taken over some country that the D.E.O. wasn’t watching at the time. And if they gained control of a country, the D.E.O. probably couldn’t stop them without exposing themselves.
Margaret: And the show has proven that that is something they inexplicably care a lot about: staying under the radar.
Syd: So, their plot isn’t a show of force and it isn’t gaining political power. Once you’ve seen Superman II and seen how three Kryptonians can take over the United States in an afternoon, I feel like any plan that is less far reaching than taking over the world is going to be a disappointment. And if it is just taking over the world, then why haven’t they done it already?
Margaret: I have no idea what they could be planning, but I’m sure that it’s going to be a disappointment. It’s clear that they haven’t really thought the whole thing through and have already boxed themselves into a corner. Whatever they’re going to reveal is most likely just whatever they came up with in the break between when they went to air and when they realized they were picked up for another seven episodes. I’m sure that’s why we’re getting a Flash crossover, too. It’s one thing I’m actually interested in, but I bet it’s just a filler episode.
Syd: Because they haven’t even had any of the characters wondering it, I know that they will never address why the Phantom Zone criminals have stayed on Earth. We know that they’re capable of space travel and we know there are other inhabited planets nearby. They consider Earth a primitive backwater, but they have stayed here for some reason.
Margaret: It’s the same omission like when we could have had Kara ask Astra multiple times what her plan was for Earth and even if Astra wouldn’t have told, we never even got that far.
Syd: We still haven’t even gotten the cliched, “I won’t give up my plan.” It’s exactly the opposite. Every time Kara has confronted Astra, Astra seemed to be dying to tell her about the peril the Earth is in and how she is going to save it and Kara never listened. Every time Supergirl comes around and starts talking to her, she only talks about her family. She never once talks about what the plan is, despite the fact that Astra would have loved to tell her about it if she would only ask. Though, apparently, she isn’t really dying to tell her because when she did die, she didn’t tell her.
Margaret: It makes no sense. The writers are scared to bring up the subject because they can’t hint too much about the plan is since they don’t even know what it is.
Syd: It just makes everyone seem incompetent. This is why Alex is the most threatening villain in the entire show. She actually accomplishes things. She accomplishes terrible things.
Margaret: She kills people. Kara does, too, though.
Syd: Yeah, but not as much. At least, when the topic of killing was brought up, Kara actually said that she doesn’t want to kill people before Alex ordered her to kill people. They do have that one scene where Supergirl says to Alex, “Superman doesn’t kill.”
Margaret: Which is kind of laughable if Man of Steel is canon.
Syd: I would be happier if Kara took Superman, whom she believes not to kill, as a role model rather than Alex, who is the worst.