The Prisoner’s Dilemma

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SUMMARY: A former Phantom Zone prison guard is tracking down and executing his former inmates.  James confronts Kara about the unethical imprisonment of the one prisoner that the public knows about, but none of the prisoners the public doesn’t know.  Cat Grant finally hires a new assistant who is good at her job.


Syd: Welcome to Episode 14 of Supergirl, where you shall have no other god before the Status Quo.

Margaret: You may question the Status Quo, but the Status Quo rules all.

Syd: Before we start, there were some little world-building Easter eggs you might have noticed in this episode – like when Supergirl references some other town where masks are in vogue or when Alex mentions an intergalactic bounty hunter.  The geekier among us know what the writers are hinting at – Boba Fett is going to be on the show!

Margaret: Oh my God, I would be so excited if they announced that Boba Fett was going to be on the show, but unfortunately, that can never be because Star Wars is owned by Disney.  That’s ABC.

Syd: Damn, you’re right.  If they put him on this show, they’d have to change him so he wouldn’t be recognizable to lawyers and they’d call him something dumb like “Lobo.”

Margaret: Oh. I don’t know what “Lobo” is, but I feel like that’s a reference to something.

Syd: End of bit.

Margaret: Though, also, when Supergirl had that line about the other town where they wear masks, I thought they meant Gotham and you thought they meant Central City.

Syd: Or it could be Star City.  It could be pretty much anywhere but Metropolis – or maybe Opal City depending if goggles count.

Margaret: But since they bring up Man of Steel and Superman so often, I figured they had to have meant Gotham.

Syd: I’m sure that’s what the audience was meant to think.

Margaret: Yay, cross-promotion!

Syd: Yay, corporate synergy!

Margaret: Oh, Jack Donaghy, why?

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Syd: The episode begins with the Danvers sisters sitting on the couch talking about the traumatic events of the previous episode and Kara says, “You know the really messed up part?  I miss Astra.”  The correct response to that would have been, “No, the really messed up part is that you think that’s messed up.”

Margaret: Well, I can kind of see from her point of view, because the way the show frames her, Astra is kind of the bad guy, despite the fact that she saved Kara’s life multiple times.  I understand what she’s trying to say from the audience’s point of view, maybe, but from Kara’s point of view, no, that’s not messed up – she was your aunt.

Syd: It’s implied that Kara doesn’t initially mourn Astra because she’s a bad guy, but if they’re really pushing the point of view that there is black and white morality in this world and you’re either a good guy or a bad guy, then Kara is definitely not on the good guy side of that equation.  She should not endorse that viewpoint.

Margaret: Well, if you’re doing black and white morality, nobody thinks they’re on the black side.  The problem is that the only good thing about the Krypton dream sequence from the Black Mercy was that it led to a sweet moment where Kara told Astra that in her true vision of what she wanted most, she was part of her family.  That was really nice and a fitting end to Astra, so when Kara says it’s messed up that she misses her, it feels dishonest, because deep down, she wants Astra to be part of her family.

Syd: So they went out of their way to negate the nice moment.

Margaret: I know.  They keep doing that.

Syd: That’s not the last time that will happen this episode.  So, the Kryptonians have a funeral for Astra at the end of which Non threatens Kara’s life, but he doesn’t seem really sincere about wanting to kill anyone.  He could have killed her right then and there or even waited until the next day, if he didn’t want to ruin the moment.

Margaret: No, there is a two-week mourning period that is the Kryptonian standard between killing people.

Syd: Oh, that’s right.  You’re not allowed to kill people when you’re in mourning. I forgot that established Kryptonian tradition.

Margaret: There is a well known Kryptonian law that you are not allowed in Murder Town for two weeks after a family member dies.  Any other time, all bets are off.  It was nice of him to invite Kara to the funeral, though.

Syd: I really thought he was putting some effort into mending fences between them, so I was kind of surprised when he threatened to kill her afterwards.

Margaret: I thought he was going to recruit her.  That would have been a perfect time for him to say, “You see now that we are one.  We are sending off your aunt because we care about her.  Join my cause.  Let’s save the Earth.”  But because the show is so set on him being the bad guy, he can’t do the thing that seems the most logical.

Syd: Then they have the scene at the D.E.O.  The most important thing to me in this scene was Kara saying, “We’re at war.  We’re going to have to do a lot of things we don’t want to do.”  Is that what she really thinks?  If what the D.E.O. is doing can be called war, then anything can and that can be used to justify any of the shady things they do and that’s terrifying.

Margaret:I think she was subtly making a threat to Hank, because he killed Astra.  I don’t know.  That whole scene was weird.

Syd: That moment just reminded me of too many ugly moments from real life and that sort of thing is becoming more of a problem for me each episode.  Later in this episode, Jimmy compares the D.E.O.’s prison to Guantanamo Bay, which seems obvious, because everyone has made the connection between this show and the War on Terror, but it’s really disturbing when the people who are being held up as heroes to us are making the same mistakes the U.S. government has and, even after addressing it directly, by the end of the episode they show no sign of stopping.  It’s not like it ever would have been acceptable, as no human should ever be in favor of torture or violating another person’s human rights, but with what has been going on in America, now is not the time for a show to even implicitly endorse police brutality or racial profiling.  When I see a federal agent beating an unarmed man who has already surrendered, that’s not cool.  When I see a government agency that exists to target a specific race – even a fictional one – that’s a fucking red flag.  I don’t accept the D.E.O. as heroes and I wish this show didn’t keep asking me to.

Margaret: It’s strange, because I think that’s exactly what this episode was trying to combat.  You literally have a police officer as the bad guy who is killing people, because he feels that is what he needs to do to protect people and he’s the bad guy.  However, they’re not thinking of the cultural implications of what they’re doing.

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Syd: Well, they have the bad guy who is a former prison guard who is killing people not because they are suspected of a crime, but because they were already prisoners of a planet that was destroyed, which is a bit removed from a police brutality metaphor.  What’s more of a direct parallel is the D.E.O. posing as law enforcement officials to kidnap and beat people they suspect of crimes – and that’s worse because we are told they are the good guys.

Margaret: Yes, but I think they were trying to draw the parallels on both levels.  What was the guard’s name, again?

Syd: Trapper Keeper.

Margaret: Is that actually his name?

Syd: No, it’s Master Jailer.

Margaret: I like Trapper Keeper better.  What they were doing when they brought him in was to show a parallel between the D.E.O. and Trapper Keeper, because he is somebody who decides that these aliens are guilty and must be killed and the D.E.O. also decides that the aliens they apprehend are guilty without trial or due process and they imprison them indefinitely.  What I thought they were trying to do was to make Kara see that this guy was not that different from the D.E.O.

Syd: I think that parallel was deliberate, but the episode, and the entire series, is made unsatisfying when resolving the conflict doesn’t involve taking any steps to reform the D.E.O., so the parallels remain valid at the end of the episode.

So, next they talk to “Maxwell Lord,” who is still imprisoned illegally.  Kara makes the point that they can’t let him go because he would reveal all of their secrets, basically conceding that they are only holding him there for selfish reasons.  Lexwell shouts at her, “Without me, you’d be dead!” and I thought, “You know, he’s right.”

Margaret: Yes, he is very right.

Syd: It is so hard to try to watch this show and accept it on its own terms when the guy they want us to believe is the villain is so right and the supposed heroes are so wrong.  It’s not even like it’s ambiguous – they’re just on the wrong side.

Margaret: It’s true.  The worst thing Lexwell has done – that we know of – is he experimented on six women who died to make Bizarro and that’s pretty bad. At the same time, his justification is that humans need someone on their side who has Supergirl’s powers.  In the world of the show where the D.E.O. is right, that is just as right.  The D.E.O. routinely kills and imprisons people who they feel are wrong, so they don’t have the moral high ground, because they have done just as bad as he has.

Syd: Or from my perspective, they are both wrong.  I shouldn’t have to take sides between amoral killers, and if I want to watch bad people being awful to each other, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is at least funnier.

Margaret: In the real world, both of these organizations and people are terrible, but in their world both of them seemingly are good, except they want us to hate Maxwell Lord because he’s Lex Luthor.

Syd: We recognize him from Superman movies and know he’s bad news.

Margaret: Right, except he’s not bald.

Syd: Well, Gene Hackman wasn’t bald in Superman.  In fact, they often introduce Lex Luthor with hair in adaptations.  Jesse Eisenberg has hair in Dawn of Justice and Lex had hair in the first season of Lois and Clark.

Margaret: Didn’t he start out with hair on Smallville?

Syd: No, he lost his hair as a child, when Clark’s rocket crashed to Earth.  That way the main characters’ origins were linked.  That show was so much better made than Supergirl.  

Margaret: I never watched Smallville.  Could we watch that instead?

Syd: Maybe. Let’s get back to Supergirl.

Margaret: Cat Grant hired a new assistant instead of just firing Kara.

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Syd: You would think if she were going to hire someone to do Kara’s job, she would fire Kara.  She no longer needs Kara and Siobhan is clearly better at this job than Kara is.

Margaret: She is much more cutthroat.  She is much more in line with Cat Grant.

Syd: She is ambitious.  They’re trying to make her out to be a jerk, but I don’t care.  She even says, “I’m not here to make friends.”  I know what image they’re trying to evoke, but the fact is that I don’t think that they need to look down their nose on the ambitious character.  I know she’s going to end up doing something despicable because the show has told us how we’re supposed to feel about her, but I think if they wanted to treat her as a human, there is potential for her to be a cool addition to the show.

Margaret: What I was getting out of it was that women competing against other women for the same job is bad.

Syd: Isn’t Kara the one who sees Siobhan as a threat?

Margaret: Kara is already bad at her job – it’s a wonder she hasn’t been fired.  Kara isn’t really competing, she’s just limping along.  I kind of had a ::glurgh:: reaction to Siobhan  because I’ve often seen the trope where you have two women competing against each other instead of helping each other far too often.  I had the same reaction to Lucy at first, because she seemed to be doing that to Kara in her first episode. I don’t fault Siobhan for being ambitious, I fault her for sabotaging Kara for no other reason than because Kara is shitty at her job.

Syd: She wasn’t nice to Kara, but she didn’t really sabotage her.

Margaret: She did when she was doing the IMing thing, knowing that Kara would talk back to her.

Syd: So she was counting on Kara fucking up?  Kara could have just typed back at her or ignored her and there wouldn’t have been a scene.

Margaret: When you’re that much better at your job, you don’t need to rub it in the other person’s face – you just do your job.  You know?  It’s already been shown multiple times that Kara should have been fired.  So maybe I shouldn’t fault Siobhan, because Kara should be fired and it seems drastic measures are needed to make that happen.

Syd: I’m a little bit upset because I know whom Siobhan is based on – she’s a fairly prominent recurring Supergirl character in a few series – and they didn’t go with an Irish accent.  If they didn’t want someone to affect an accent, would it have been prohibitive to hire an Irish actor?  It kind of makes me uncomfortable in an adaptation of something with a multicultural cast when every character sounds American – or English if they’re foreign.  It bothers me that Magneto has an English accent in X-Men.

Margaret: He’s German, right?

Syd: Polish.

Margaret: Why doesn’t he have a Polish accent?

Syd: Maybe he learned English in England.  

Margaret: That’s something I never thought of.  It doesn’t bother me that Siobhan doesn’t have an Irish accent.  I would love it, because Irish accents are amazing, but since I didn’t know that the character was supposed to be Irish and I just like the name Siobhan, I was fine with it.

Syd: Well, I have a feeling about what they’re going to do with the character, and if they do, it’s going to be important that she’s Irish.  We’ll see if this is borne out in a few episodes, but I think it’s going to be important that she’s Irish.

Margaret: Maybe.

Syd: So Lucy and Jimmy are tasked with finding out what happened to Lexwell, whom Cat has noticed has gone missing.  Little do Lucy and Cat know that Jimmy already knows what happened to him.  Lucy makes the connection that there has been a secret government agency hanging around whatever they’re calling Lexcorp on this show.  Jimmy lets it slip that he knows about the D.E.O.  Lucy is suspicious of how close her boyfriend is to Supergirl.

Margaret: Her line is, “Are you as close with her as you are with him?  Closer?  Fool me once, right?” and then she leaves.  They have to be implying that James had an affair with Superman, right?

Syd: I thought that initially, but when I think about the scene what makes me think that they aren’t is that she was really upset, so if Jimmy had an affair with Clark and that really hurt her, she would not have been making jokes about it a few episodes earlier – calling Superman Jimmy’s boyfriend and things like that.

Margaret: That’s true, though maybe she was deflecting in the previous episodes and she never really caught them.  It does really seem like they are heavily implying that Clark Kent and James Olsen were totally doing it.

Syd: Yes, it does really seem like that’s the implication, and that would be the most interesting thing to happen on this show.

Margaret: That was where I started to have hope for this episode.  I thought, “Wow, if they’re really implying that, that’s kind of awesome.”  Regardless, I don’t blame Lucy for being pissed at James for keeping her in the dark when she has been very upfront and truthful with him.  It’s not even about keeping Kara’s identity a secret.  He can tell her about his involvement with Supergirl without outing Kara.

Syd: It does seem suspicious that he didn’t mention the D.E.O. to her until she brought it up.

Margaret: It does, especially when part of the reason she quit her last job was because the D.E.O. sucks and he knows this.

Syd: He seems very conflict averse and that’s becoming a problem for him.  That may be something they’ll have to address in a later episode.  This leads to Cat having a heart-to-heart talk with Jimmy about keeping secrets.  Apparently, when she was a gossip columnist, she found out that a celebrity she was profiling had abused his wife and she kept that secret.  Then she felt guilty when this celebrity ended up killing his wife because she knew that she could have prevented it.  This was actually a very nice scene.

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Margaret: It was a really good scene.  I think that now that Cat can’t do the one-on-ones with Kara, maybe she’ll start doing them with James.

Syd: I would be all for that.

Margaret: I want her to have those one-on-one scenes where she teaches somebody about life.  She has vast experience at what she does.  There’s a reason she has a media empire.

Syd: So what does she think Jimmy’s secret is?

Margaret: I’m pretty sure she thinks his secret is his crush on Kara.  She has brought that up with Kara multiple times.

Syd: She’s going to be really disappointed when she finds out what it really is.

Margaret: At this point, the only person who can expose the D.E.O. is Cat Grant.  That will justify why I’ve always loved her as a character.  She will find out, she will think back on the time when she didn’t do what needed to be done, and she will expose the D.E.O. Everyone on the show will hate her and I will go, “Yes! You have done what is right!”  Either that or Lucy will expose the D.E.O., everyone will hate her and they’ll use that as a way to split up her and James and we’ll never see her again.

Syd: Then what will happen to our precious status quo?  Secrets have to be kept for some goddamn reason that this fucking show refuses to explain.

Margaret: Then we have Kara’s conversation with James, which is basically the best scene that this show has ever had in my head.  It was finally distilling everything that has happened in the show and could have actually made up for all the shitty episodes where everything was wrong and they did everything horribly.  If they could have stuck the landing, this scene could have been the fulcrum of me fully backing Supergirl, because they took everything that has happened for the past 13 episodes of how all of these morally questionable things keep happening – Supergirl went from being this person who was naive and following people, but still kind of hopeful and she turned into the kind of person who says, “I do what needs to be done to keep the world safe.”  You said yourself in the recap that Kara is the tough cop who gets things done, goddammit, and she went there.  They stated it fully.  It felt like James was looking through the screen at us and saying all the things we had said before about how what’s going on at the D.E.O. is not right and she should be on his side and not the D.E.O.’s side.  I would like for the spirit of that scene to have carried on to the end of the episode where they could have actually done something.

Syd: My problem is that they are still pretending that Supergirl is an idealist.  Even in the middle of Jimmy telling Supergirl off, he says that the Supergirl he knows is better than this.  That’s patently untrue.  He’s coddling and patronizing her.  In reality, this is the way Supergirl has always been.  She is not doing anything different from what she has always done.  The point shouldn’t be, “You need to be who you really are,” the point should be, “You need to change.”  The fact that they didn’t hammer that home makes me think that they still don’t realize that Supergirl is not an idealist and if she wants to stand for ideals, then she has to change the way she does things.

Margaret: I was thinking more along the lines that Kara has been an idealist, but Supergirl has not. Supergirl does the things that “need to be done.”  Since James knows Supergirl as Kara – the sweet tripping-over-herself girl – he’s finally seeing her for what she does and saying, “You are not being who I know you to be” – as a person, not as a superhero, which would still mean that she has to change.

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Syd: I also have to disagree that if they had shown real change at the end of the episode that it would have made up for the last 13 episodes.  It just would have meant that there is hope going forward.  It would have cleaned the slate so that they could start doing a better show, but it wouldn’t have undone what the show was.  It was clear in the episodes leading up to this that the writers didn’t see anything wrong with what the D.E.O. was doing.  All of their despicable actions were shown as heroic.  Let’s not give them too much credit for course correction.

Margaret: What I was trying to say was that at least, if they had course corrected, that would have meant that they had seen that what they were doing was wrong and moving forward, if they would change that, I would give them a lot of credit for actually admitting a mistake and fixing it.  But, they didn’t.  They gave lip service to the idea that what they were doing was wrong, but never followed through, which is what they do with everything.  They flirt with very overreaching thoughts and plot arcs that would actually change things and make characters do things that were different from how they appeared in the pilot and then they go back on it. It’s frustrating.

Syd: One thing that’s weird is when the D.E.O. goes to confront the police about Trapper Keeper, one of the officers says to the other, “Another alien went missing.”  So the police know that there are aliens just out and about?

Margaret: I guess so.  There was a Senator who was elected on an anti-alien platform.

Syd: But we didn’t know how many specifics of this alien situation the general public knew about.  Apparently, people know that there are superpowered aliens wandering among them.  Realistically, most people’s position would be that the aliens should at least be exposed and identified, right?

Margaret: At that point, you’re getting into the mutant debate.

Syd: It’s just weird that this is something that is only being touched on now and again in the background instead of a big deal that is constantly all around them.  You’d think there would be some sort of outcry or panic, especially if these people know about the superpowered aliens, but don’t know that there is an organization specifically designated to deal with them.  The D.E.O. being secret is so dumb.

Margaret: While dealing with those issues would be interesting, I think the show’s decided that’s what the X-Men are for.

Syd: Then we get the action-heavy climax of the episode.  One of the cops turns out to be Trapper Keeper and he shoots Alex, but that’s too good to be true, because it turns out she was wearing a bulletproof vest.  

Margaret: Well, if you aren’t wearing a bulletproof vest into an active shooter situation, then you’re an idiot.  Alex isn’t an idiot, she’s just kind of evil.

Syd: Kara gets to know an intergalactic drug dealer whom Trapper Keeper wants to kill.

Margaret: He is basically the Jorah Mormont of Supergirl.  In Game of Thrones, Jorah had a wife who had expensive tastes, so he became a slaver to fund her lifestyle, and this guy had a wife who got sick, so he became a drug dealer and he was caught and exiled and now he feels like everything is ok.  If somebody starts calling him Bear, then everything would be complete.

Syd: So they defeat Trapper Keeper and apprehend him.

Margaret: No, she killed him.

Syd: Really?  I missed that.

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Margaret: She grabbed his throat and it made a snapping noise.  He’s dead.  Right before that moment she looked really angry, and I thought, “Wait, maybe this is the point where she’ll realize that she shouldn’t — oh, nope, she just killed him.”

Syd: Afterwards, Kara just lets Jorah go free and I don’t want to be too hard on the show for this, because it’s the right thing to do and it was a good counterbalance to the brutal murder we just saw, but it was really arbitrary.  The show doesn’t seem to understand that deciding to do the right thing isn’t the same thing as having any real accountability.

Margaret: It just goes to show that what Trapper Keeper said – “You are your mother’s daughter” – was completely true.  She is judge, jury, and executioner.  She decides who will live, who will die, and who will go free.  Then she decides to release Maxwell Lord.

Syd: Since the following scene didn’t show any mass graves on screen, I can’t call it the worst scene of the series and it’s amazing that the bar is so low, because this scene is atrocious.  I couldn’t imagine how a person could be on Supergirl’s side in this back-and-forth with Lexwell.  Lex asks why he’s being set free and Alex says, “Because she’s a better person than you are.”  First of all, no she isn’t and second of all, you can’t call yourself a good person while you’re gloating to a man you have belittled and physically abused for days.  She says it as if it’s some sort of proud distinction, being a better person than a supervillain.  That is the moral standard this show has set – with some cajoling and flattery, our hero can work her way up to be a better person than a murderer.  With some self-reflection and personal growth she can even be as much of a model citizen as Dexter Morgan or Judge Dredd.  The most obnoxious part is that the smug asshole saying this is the same person who kidnapped Lexwell in the first place and who doesn’t even achieve that standard.

Next, he asks what makes them think that he won’t just expose Kara and the D.E.O. and Kara says, “All I can hope for is that there is still some part of you that will listen to your better angels.”  She better hope that there isn’t, because his better angels will tell him to go to the press with what he knows.  Speaking truth to power is absolutely the right thing to do in this situation.

Margaret: That’s exactly what I thought when she said better angels, “No, that’s not what better angels do.”  The morally conscious thing to do is to shout to the hilltops about the D.E.O.  It’s exactly what Cat was saying to James, that she regrets caving in and not telling the truth every day.

Syd: Lexwell has a chance to save lives here, but he won’t because Alex threatened him with human prison.

Margaret: Despite the fact that he was just put into Extra Legal prison.

Syd: I’m not really sure that what the D.E.O. has on him would be admissible in court.  How did they obtain that?

Margaret: Besides which, he is so rich, he could probably buy his way out of it.  If you’re going by the idea that the D.E.O. is doing its thing because the courts can’t handle aliens or Maxwell Lord – which is why they kidnapped him in the first place – then threatening him with the courts doesn’t really do anything.  That’s why they didn’t just actually have him arrested.  So it makes absolutely no sense.

Syd: It’s just so frustrating, because this ending is designed to feel like character development and to seem like progress is being made if you aren’t really paying attention.  In reality, the D.E.O. goes back to normal and we get Lex Luthor back as a villain, so the status quo is restored.  

Margaret: When James was telling Kara, “You have to be better than this,” I felt like he was talking about the show.  At this point, I felt like the morality of the series was on the line, depending on how they ended that story arc.  I thought at the end, James would decide that he cannot work with Supergirl any more if she is going to continue to work with a criminal organization that imprisons people like Guantanamo Bay, as he rightly said.  Instead, at the end, he tells Kara that she makes him a better person.  So the morality of the show has failed.  The show has no interest in doing what is right and neither does Supergirl.

Syd: The episode ends with Kara getting in an argument with J’onn who she still thinks killed Astra.  J’onn says that there was no other way, and Kara says, “There’s always another way.”  I’m sure Hellgrammite and Thomas Morrow would love to hear about this “other way.”


Syd: This was a C-.

Margaret: This was a C.  I didn’t want to yell at it, I didn’t want to throw things at the screen, I was just disappointed.  I feel like a mom saying, “I’m not angry at you, Supergirl, I’m just disappointed.”

Syd: That’s what I said after the pilot.  At this point, I’m kind of angry.  There was no hope that this episode was going to be good, but it could have allowed future episodes to be good if they had shoved the series in the right direction.

Margaret: I came in hoping that there would be some course correction.  It didn’t start out that way, in the middle it seemed like it was getting there, then it was yanked away like Lucy pulling the ball away from Charlie Brown.


Syd: Good grief.

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