Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Supergirl Episode 14: Truth, Justice, And The American Way

Supergirl Episode 14 aired this week. Titled "Truth, Justice, and the American Way", the episode is thought-provoking episode looking at the titular concepts but also security, safety, and what means you will use to get to specific ends.

The episode was directed by Lexi Alexander so you knew that the action sequences were going to be brilliant. And they are. But beyond that, Alexander does a great job with the camera, using shots and camera angles to emphasize the topics being covered. More on this in a bit.

Last episode ended with Supergirl telling her friends that the events of the recent past had made her miss the safety and comfort of Krypton. There was Cat trying to expose her, Maxwell Lord trying to kill her, the tragedy of Bizarro, and the tense relationship with Winn. Add to that the pain of ripping herself away from the fantasy world the Black Mercy gave her and the death of her Aunt Astra, and Kara has been put through the ringer. But instead of picking up from the happiness of pot stickers and ice cream, this episode brings a different tone and a darker Supergirl. Her pain has been great and so she is tempted to do whatever it takes to stop grief and loss. That temptation can lead to cruelty, or coarsening of ethics.

Is safety and security more important than freedom and justice? Is the world black and white? Or are there shades of gray? Are villains immutable? Are 'heroes' immaculate? And if you are as powerful as Supergirl, where do you draw the line?

These ideas are all played off this angry Kara. There is Hank and Alex dealing with the fallout of not telling the truth about Alex killing Astra. There is James and Cat talking about the importance of truth and goodness and values. In fact, this might be the best episode for James there has been. And there is the villain Master Jailer, someone repeats a lot of what Kara is saying in this issue but crosses a line. He is Kara nudged out of the light.

If I have any complaint about this episode is that it is too short. Like the themes of "For the girl who has everything", "Truth, Justice, and the American Way" could easily have been stretched over two episodes, giving the script and characters a chance to work their way through issues. Instead, we sort of rush to the end. I guess that is a compliment ... I want more.

On to the episode.

We do start in Kara's apartment with the Danvers sisters hanging out. Kara talks about how she is mourning Astra. She knows that Astra was starting to turn, was starting to see the light, until Hank snuffed her out.

Alex, for I think the third time, starts to tell Kara that she killed Astra but is interrupted before she can divulge the truth. Nothing good can come of this lie.

Too be honest, I have to agree with Kara that Astra seemed conflicted with what she and Non were doing. Astra was actually pretty helpful in recent episodes. That said, she was about to kill J'onn. It would be hard for Alex not to do what she did (although I wonder if Alex could have injured rather than kill Astra.)

Alex is interrupted by Non who asks Kara to lead the funeral ceremony for Astra. We get a lot of great Kryptonian culture here. Women lead these funeral rites. We hear a Kryptonian prayer to Rao. And we learn that there is a 2 week mourning period, a brief truce in this war.

When Kara tells the DEO this, it is clear that she is furious at Hank. This is an edgy Supergirl. She storms off from Hank to see Max Lord. Glaring at Lord she says she will keep him locked up because without him 'the world is a better place.' While that may be true, Lord's imprisonment isn't just.

There is a new character in the show as well. We meet Siobhan Smythe, Cat's new assistant.

Siobhan slithers through the episode and she is a great addition to the show, adding some friction to the CatCo scenes.

But there is a lot to like about her and how she is portrayed. Cat calls her Assistant #1. Cat pronounces her name correctly.

And Siobhan herself is wickedly evil. She's is a social climber. She wants to be the next Cat Grant and she'll do anything and step on anyone to get there. She flirts with James and winks at Winn. She tries to get under Kara's skin. She eavesdrops. It is a bit too stereotypical "Devil wears Prada" but knowing she's a demon helps me deal with it. Italia Ricci is wonderfully sinful.

Cat calls her group together. She intuits that Maxwell Lord is missing. Whether an affair or a kidnapping, she wants more information.

She asks James and Lucy to investigate. (I like James being Mr. Action.) This put James in an awkward position. He knows where Lord is. He knows Lord is being held against his will. He knows Lord is being denied his human rights. How can he be a journalist and rationalize this? How can he not report it.

Meanwhile we learn that the Master Jailer is hunting down Fort Rozz escapees. The DEO meets him when he takes an alien away that they were hunting.

In the Jailer's lair, the helpless and captured alien is decapitated. The Jailer says that if you are a criminal, if you break the law, you forfeit your right to exist. It is a brutal killing. But isn't Lord being locked in fishbowl denying him his right to exist?

He is what Kara would be if she took that last step.

Meanwhile James is still dealing with his conflicted ethics.

When Lucy mentions a shadowy government agency may have taken Lord, James slips that it is the DEO.

Lucy has caught him in a lie. And she knows that Supergirl must have told him about the DEO. She asks James if he is as close with Supergirl as he was with Superman. Or is he closer. Feeling betrayed, Lucy storms off.

Now at first I thought this was a jealous girlfriend plot. But I remembered that the first time these two split up it was because James put Superman first. This is just that problem with their relationship reborn.

But it also brought up two things.
One, it again brings up how James can be an agent of truth, a true journalist, and keep these horrible secrets.

More importantly, did this bring us one step closer to Superwoman??

The DEO figures out who the Jailer's next victim will be and head there to stop him.

At last we get a Lexi Alexander fight sequence and it is phenomenal. There are chains and flying and punches.

But there are also elbows and knees and head butts. It is awesome, watched and rewatched!

Unfortunately, the Jailer escapes with the alien in tow.

As awesome as that fight scene was, the scenes that follow made this episode for me.

Seeing that James is trying to deal with something, Cat gives him some advice. She tells him of a fluff story she wrote about a celebrity who she knew was abusing his wife. She buried that story and later the celebrity killed his wife. It has haunted her. As journalists they are driven to tell the truth but also to be good people. I love when Cat acts as a mentor. But I also like how we get some of her back story.

That spurs James to confront Kara about her recent acts and for holding Lord.

This is a great shot by Alexander. These two are about as far apart as you can be right now morally. And that is mirrored by the space between them. And the guns between them are a symbol of what separates them, this need for brute force to security.

And he pulls no punches. He says she is better than this. He says her S-shield means something to people, something she isn't right now. He talks about how the way she is acting is what makes people like Lord fear her. He says she is unrecognizable.

And when she counters that she'll do anything to keep the Earth safe, he remind her that she has to remember her values.

It is powerful and has showed how Supergirl has strayed a bit from the light. And that is also nicely echoed in the lighting of this scene.

It turns out the Jailer is acting as a police officer in National City. He was a guard on Fort Rozz and is stalking the escapees. He has beheaded a number of them. And when Supergirl confronts him again she is captured.

She is put in a red sun cage (a nice call back to the comics Jailer making cells specific to an opponent). And she meets the alien who was captured earlier. He became a drug dealer to afford medicines for his dying wife. He was captured and sentenced to 18 years of prison. He understood why Alura would do this and he served his time. But when he escaped, he tried to be better and became a professor. This is hardly someone who is putting Earth in peril. This isn't someone who needs to be beheaded.

What I love is the set up of the scene. It mirrors the James/Kara scene nicely. Now separated with the guillotine between them, Kara is hearing the other side of the story. She is the prisoner now. It is a great reflection.

The Master Jailer arrives to say that he loved Alura. He is on Earth to deliver punishment to anyone who sins. Fort Rozz was a paradise. And even if there is no death sentence on Krypton, he will rid Earth of these criminals. His justice is absolute. Again, these are close to the things Kara has said throughout this episode but a bit beyond. She could become him if she lost her way.

But I also love that Alura isn't this immaculate perfect woman. We keep hearing things that show how human she is.

The DEO figures out where the Jailer is. Alex arrives and stops the execution of the prisoner. And when it looks like the Jailer is going to kill Alex, she shoots through the roof letting the yellow sun bathe Kara and restore her power. (Alex says 'here comes the sun' which sounds like a line from Lethal Weapon. I love it.)

Maybe this also shows that Kara has seen the light because of this. She knows she can't be like the Jailer.

Freed of her cell, Supergirl makes short work of the Jailer.

Seeing a bit more clearly, Kara returns to the DEO and releases Maxwell Lord. She is better than him. It is the right thing to do. He scoffs at her, reminding us of his true colors too.

Whew, that is a lot of heavy lifting, bulldozing through the concepts of justice and how it is easy to fall into the subtle trap of 'might makes right'. I was happy to see Kara return to the more optimistic, inspirational hero. But this could have used even 30 more minutes to unpack it more deliberately.

There is a lot I'm glossing over. There is a nice Lobo reference early on. We learn the Danvers sisters binge watched The Wire. We even get a Robocop name drop. And I'll say it again ... this is James' strongest episode.

There is a little that is too on the nose. The prisoner being the most magnanimous person seemed to perfect but got the point across. Alex not initially seeing the glowing floorboards hiding the Jailer's prison made me question her ability as an agent.

But overall this was great. We added Siobhan. We jostled Lucy. We have Kara hating Hank. And Myriad is around the corner.


Anonymous said...

"More importantly, did this bring us one step closer to Superwoman??"


Anonymous said...

Good episode, even if it was stressful, good combat scenes and the emotional beats mirrored and paralleled the action nicely. This is definitely "Un Clunky" Supergirl writing. And when the writing is "un clunky" then the supporting performers and guest stars can all step up simple as that.
My only cavil is that when Kara finally subdued The Jailer it sure sounded like she had killed him....I don't think she did, but the editing and sound kinda suggested that.
Stuff like that needs to be carefully vetted IMHO.
If I had to call Endgame on This Season, I'm preparing for Myriad to be a uncreative letdown (lemme guess "Kryptonforming Earth", turning the sun red or some damn thing) but the reveal on "Who Killed Astra" (assuming no clunkiness) will be stellar and will likely put the sisters into some form of conflict as we segue into what we hope will be season two.

Anonymous said...

After watching this ep, wasn't hurting for stuff to think about, least of all the title. Think we can all agree,
when we hear the phrase "Truth, Justice, and the American Way," you can only think of Superman and all the Ideals
he makes us aspire to, and I thought that was beautifully pulled off in this epsiode, with the truths Jimmy is forced
to contemplate, and his reminding Supergirl of the S-Shield and what it means to people, to the "Absolute Justice"
Master Jailer embodied, contrasted with "Justice tempered with compassion" Supergirl realized at the end in releasing
Maxwell Lord, to the American Way embodied in detainee 24445's backstory of his fall from grace, to his escape, to
his search for redemption / doing something useful. BEAUTIFUL scripting by TPTB and and BEAUTIFUL acting by Todd
Sherry! I LOVED the lines "glad I didn't aquire the ability to fly," followed by Melissa's winning smile "Idunno,
I kinda love it."

Like the scene with Jimmy asking Kara's permission to reveal her secret identity to Lucy; I rather like Lucy alot and
want her to be on Team Supergirl as an ally and confidant, if only to counter the 1-dimensionality of General
Sam Lane.

Agree that Sioban TOTALLY steals the episode in how she makes a mess of "the order of things." Winn makes a very
good point about "That's Supergirl's line, it's okay for Kara Danvers to be upset. You broke your phone." Looking
forward to how much of an antagonist Silver Banshee is for Supergirl now!

Speaking of Silver Banshee, pictures of her, Livewire and Flash in Worlds Finest have been released... now I REALLY
can't wait till that episode broadcasts.


Anonymous said...

Kara has been to Starhaven--Dawnstar's homeworld?

Anonymous said...

Shouldn't Supergirl have the power of Super Grammar? In this episode, Kara, when talking about Cat said, "Her and I have been through a lot together." Atrocious for a TV show like this.

Anj said...

Thanks for the comments!

Forgot to talk about Starhaven! Thanks for reminding/posting.

I hope the Danvers sisters remain tight although it could be a heck of a season cliffhanger.

And I am interested in seeing where the Lucy plot goes!

Gene said...

"Italia Ricci is wonderfully sinful."

Siobhan's facial expressions while sending nasty instant messages to Kara was classic.

"And when it looks like the Jailer is going to kill Alex, she shoots through the roof letting the yellow sun bathe Kara and restore her power. (Alex says 'here comes the sun' which sounds like a line from Lethal Weapon. I love it.)"

That Beatles song came to mind after I heard Alex say that.

Did anyone else catch Kara's line about that "other hero wearing a mask in another town"? Wonder who could that be...

I hope Lexi Alexander comes back to direct more episodes.

Martin Gray said...

'I thought masks were only big in that other city' is the line, just checked - dang, I misheard 'masks' as 'bats'. Ah well, I did catch the Starhaven reference, recognised Trombus from Superboy #144 and ... well, I had to look up Todd Sherry on IMDB to get the Prof's name, as I don't think the show gave it - Professor Alphonse Luzano... bet that rings a bell!

I didn't like Jimmy being the one to make Kara see see sense, she had enough information to pull her morals up by the bootstraps. And he has no right to ask Kara for permission to bring Lucy into the loop, too many people know already, and her father is a Kara-hating lunatic.

I had to look up Lexi Alexander, no wonder the fight scenes were so good. And she nailed the emotions too.

Moosie Draper looked amazing in costume, he can come back. And as we had that LSH reference, he can bring Grimbor with him. And doesn't the implied Lobo fight with chains?

They really need to explain why Alex doesn't wear head armour like everyone else. It'd be especially stupid for her to continue being skull-naked after getting grazed here.

Plus, they know there's a war coming, we need a reference to Superman being off-planet or something, otherwise, why would he not be called in?

Also, while I don't wish him to become a DEO ex machina, they should at least address why Hank doesn't go green when Supergirl is in danger of losing her life.

The Call the Midwife reference made me laugh out loud.

Siobhan is excellent, so sly, but for goodness sake, they should've gotten an Irish actress (I would say a North American who can do Irish, but there ain't any).

What did I forget? Kara tells Jimmy she assumes Cat told him 'about this' and he says no, it was Siobhan... I don't recall her working anything out about the DEO or, God forbid, morality.

Anyway, terrific analysis and insight Anj, as always.

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