This won't be the typical 'recap and commentary' show review that I usually run here. Because this week's episode was so powerful, it needed a different sort of piece. So settle in for more of an opinion piece than a recap.
Episode 16 of Supergirl, titled 'Falling', aired this week and was one of the strongest episodes of the season. And, while I seem to say it every week, this was my favorite episode of all. I say that as a long-suffering Supergirl fan. I say that as an older comic reader who actually longs for the days when superheroes were heroic and good and didn't have feet of clay. I say that as someone who bemoans the fact that there are people out there whose only exposure to Superman is the city-wrecking, neck-snapping one from Man of Steel. Because this episode seems to be dealing with all of these feelings of mine and on all levels.
As a long-standing Supergirl fan, I have always understood the complexity of her character. People who read this blog will know that I speak of how she needs to be bright and optimistic. She needs to see the best in people and thirst for justice. But she also is young and learning. She can be fierce, maybe even hot-headed, when she sees a wrong that needs to be righted. She has to strive to be worthy of the S-shield of her family and cousin. And she might feel a little unworthy of it. On top of that, she has this absolutely tragic background which she submerges internally so that her brightness isn't dimmed. She is all those things mixed into one. She is someone growing, with self-doubts, but always looking to learn and do what's right.
Unfortunately, there is a segment of people who only think of the beginning parts of that paragraph. They complain that Supergirl is too perfect, too sunny, too sweet. They don't know or don't care about the other elements of her character. They say she is cartoonish and saccharine.
In the comics, those 'complaints' have led DC to publish versions of Supergirl which are unrecognizable. She has been cold, dark, aloof, angry, uncaring, arrogant. No new fans showed up. Old fans felt wronged. The books floundered. The character was rehabilitated.
Now you might say, what does any of this have to do with the show.
Well, from the beginning the same criticisms of Supergirl's character have plagued the show. Even before it aired, it was felt to be too sunny, too much like a romantic comedy, too sweet, too generic, too two-dimensional, too silly. Compared to the grim, dark, psycho-drama of Jessica Jones, this was a kid's show. People felt that the message of feminism and 'girl power' were overly simplistic and too on the nose. Lost in those criticisms were the finer points of the show. That Supergirl was a symbol of hope in a weary world. That people like narcissistic Cat Grant, self-doubting Winn, quasi-evil Max Lord, and cold, calculating Alex could be changed by that.
Whether this episode was an intentional response to that criticism or not, what we got in 'Falling' was a revelation. You want a dark, brooding, angry Supergirl. Let's shove one down your throat and see if you like it. And let's make sure that viewers know that there are undercurrents in this show that are being explored even if you don't know it. But most importantly, let's actually show what the aftermath of a 'grim and gritty' life would be - no friends, mistrusted, alienated, friends literally imprisoned.
A side theme is that we see just how difficult this life Kara leads is. Let's show you how easy it would be for any of the things in her life (tragic early childhood, overworked at 2 jobs, fighting family, etc) to overwhelm her and make her negative. And then let's remind you that she hasn't allowed it to. She has remained bright and caring, hoping to spare others her pain. Maybe she needs to unburden herself of some of these feelings though. Maybe she needs to lean on others. Maybe her relationships need more work, even though they are strong.
That is a lot of stuff to unpack for this one episode.
The show starts with Cat making a national talk show appearance talking about how Supergirl is a true hero, inspiring, and has something to teach everyone. We see how fire fighters and little girls look up to her.
But then, effected by the Red Kryptonite, Kara undergoes a slow descent into anger and madness. And no one is untouched.
She scoffs at the DEO staff, spinning her chair and throwing barbs at Hank. She lets a Khund alien escape because he is below her regard. She uses Cat's elevator. She maneuvers to get Siobhan fired.
She even goes off on how J'onn yells at her and puts her out on the front line in danger while he hides his powers. How can he honor his race if he doesn't show it.
Things get ratcheted up when she aggressively flirts with Jimmy, tugging his arm roughly, and disparaging Lucy as a 'poor man's Lois Lane' with Daddy issues. All throughout this she is bathed in red lighting (nice effect).
And Melissa Benoist again shows here range her, sarcastically smiling, cackling, brooding, and wicked.
Cat knows that Supergirl let the Khund escape and asks her why.
And then Supergirl gives a speech that I feel was meant not only for Cat but for the critics of the show.
She talks of being branded as a Girl Scout, brave, kind, and strong. But that is stock characterization and two-dimensional. Every hero needs a dark side. It is, as if, all the opinions of Zach Snyder/Scott Lobdell/Dan Didio fans of the world were boiled down into a couple of sentences. It is all the complaints about this show that I have read on the internet.
But it isn't true. Because we know from prior episodes that Supergirl is struggling. We know she has a heavy heart about her life and her family. We know that she feels unsure of herself. We know all this because we see it. Comic fans have read it.
Cat responds elegantly that Supergirl has to be more than that. She is a symbol now. She has to represent the good in the world.
And that is about as clear a message as you can get.
But Kara has descended even lower.
There is a brutal scene with Alex where all of the feelings you think might be bubbling suddenly boil to the surface.
Kara talks about how she thinks Alex has been holding her back. Alex has cloaked Kara's beauty, made her not use her powers. And when Kara embraced Supergirl, she had to work for Alex, a way for Alex to retain control. But now Kara is free of her sister. And without Kara, Alex has no life. In fact, deep down, maybe Alex even hates Kara.
It is a gut-wrenching scene with Melissa Benoist delivering cold statements with surgical precision.
But again, we have known that some of this stuff has been there. We have heard Alex talk about how she resented Kara at first but has come to love her. We just haven't heard this from Kara's point of view.
Supergirl has unfortunately truly become evil. Cat has publicly denounced her as a villain. We even see her mimic the famous bar scene from Superman III.
The DEO, armed with a weapon that will cure Kara, head out into the city. Kara is smashing billboards and blowing up cars.
When it seems Supergirl is about to kill Alex, Hank sheds his human disguise and fights her as the Martian Manhunter. It is the best display of his powers I have seen. He phases in and out of the fight and pummels her until Alex can fire the ray that dissipates the Red K.
But Hank has been revealed and allows himself to be arrested by the DEO.
Benoist shows how remorseful Kara is. Every evil thought came out. She couldn't stop herself. She didn't mean anything. She loves her sister. But Alex knows there must have been some truth to those feelings. They need to work together to overcome all these things that have gone unsaid. The amount of emotion pouring from Benoist and Chyler Leigh is incredible. This scene is unbelievable.
I did like that Kara's first questions is if she killed anyone.
J'onn allowed himself to be caught because he wanted to keep the Danvers safe. It is a nice scene with Alex showing how they care for each other.
And she has a heart to heart with Cat. Supergirl knows she needs to regain the people's trust. And Cat knows with time she can.
Everything seems different at the end of this episode. Every relationship has changed. Everything is more out in the open. This will set the tone for the rest of the season.
But it all stems back to this criticism that before this episode Supergirl was two-dimensional and too much of a girl scout. Those words, spoken with venom by Supergirl, have to be a commentary on those who haven't been seeing the depth in Supergirl (either in the show or in the comics) that I know is there, that I see in her.
And so, if you can't see the subtlety in the characterization before this episode ...
If you can't look past the fact that Supergirl is a hero and an inspiration and a good soul in a cynical world...
If you can't see that she isn't this perfect light, that she has been struggling ...
Well then we'll hit you over the head with it in this episode. All this stuff has been bubbling under the surface, if not to this extreme. Now we'll spell it out for you.
Because sometimes, people don't know what they are missing. People don't see the complexity of Supergirl because they are blinded by her goodness. And that's a shame.
Who knows if we'll get a season two. But I can't have asked for more from this show.