Thursday, September 23, 2021

Supergirl Show 612: Blind Spots

Supergirl episode 612, titled Blind Spots, aired this week and dealt primarily with racism, discrimination, and the difficulty people of color have getting others to see the problem. Blind Spots is an appropriate title.

As a middle-aged white male, it is hard for me to comment on the topic too much. I try to be the best ally I can be. But obviously I can't empathize with the issues being discussed here. And it will be hard to criticize the execution of this episode with it potentially sounding like I am criticizing the message. I would never do the latter. As such, don't expect too much commentary here. It will me more like a plot synopsis rather than a deep dive.

I will say a couple of things up front. 

This was definitely a 'tell me' social episode, not a 'show me'. There are actually some nice subtle ways that disparity and inequality are shown in this episode, like the councilwoman literally siphoning off the life of the disenfranchised. But a lot of this is in your face. That can work sometimes. 

Second, the Super Friends aren't aware that Nyxly's powers aren't working. They are trying to stop her from putting together a potentially universe-destroying weapon, trillions of lives at stake. So while noble, Kelly yelling at her friends for not helping the 20-odd people sick in the hospital seems a bit short-sighted. But I guess that was the point of this episode. That sometimes you need to see the trees and not the forest.

This was thought-provoking, and maybe conversation-provoking for families watching it. 

The episode has us seeing what happens to  those primarily affected by the destruction of the Ormfell building. Kelly sees the building collapse and rushes to pull some young children she knows from the rubble.

We already hear what sounds like a terrible life for that area of town. Even if they call 911, ambulances won't get to that section of town in time. It is better to rush the critically ill kids to the ED in cars than to wait for the EMS. That doesn't sound right but it is one brick in the wall of inequality we are going to be presented here.

The city hospital is overwhelmed by the disaster, without respirators and staffing. The hospital in the Ormfell area is underfunded. (In a real disaster, EMS would see what each hospital can handle and disperse the wounded appropriately. This is one of the problems of driving by car.) Those caught in the building collapse have respiratory distress from inhaling particulate matter.

When Councilwoman Rankin is brought to this hospital, she is disgusted and asks the ambulance drivers to take her away. She says it is so there will be more room for the community. But her tone says she wants to go to a fancier place.

Kelly calls Alex asking for help but the team is working on the Nyxly case. The best she can do is ask other doc friends to send equipment. (I think the show uses the word 'respirator' rather than 'ventilator'.)

In the fancy hospital (the exam room looks like a hotel), Rankin demands to be given an experimental medication called RP-90. She will cut off funding and grants to this hospital unless she get it.

Meanwhile Kelly is truly shaken by this whole event. She is seeing suffering and no one seeming to care. No one wants to take the extra steps to help. She calls James crying, saying she is exhausted.

Rankin is handed the medicine and self-administers. She  begins to glow blue in areas. But after the medication, she feels better and seems to heal. 
I do feel like I can comment on this subplot.
Lena is still in Newfoundland trying to learn magic, speaking words and causing flame to erupt.
She gets a text about the Ormfell and rushes to return home to help her friends.

This is an insane subplot. Lena speaking magic? 
It also felt a bit like Luke leaving Dagobah before completing his training.

I really think this is an insane turn for Lena. But here we are.
Remember, Nyxly is trying to find totems to build this deadly magical weapon to rewrite the universe. Our heroes realize they can't track Nyxly because the power dampening cuff blunts her energy signature. Brainy does think that perhaps they can instead track Mxy's signature. They'll need some tech from the DEO desert facility. 

I am glad to see the continuity of the DEO's other facilities mentioned.
Kelly continues to run into obstacles as she tries to help those suffering in the taxed hospitals. Even CatCo is running stories on how traffic is impacted by the disaster rather than folks dying in the hospital. But Andrea says she knows what her demographic wants.

Kelly seems even more despondent when John Diggle arrives. James sent him. He reminds her that she wants to help the people who live in the Heights. And the best way to do that is keep looking. So they head to the fallen Ormfell.

Nice to see Diggle.

Councilwoman Rankin might be the quintessential villain for this show. She is almost giddy that she no longer has a commitment to affordable housing with the Ormfell destroyed. She can think about bringing in corporations again.

She says she would kill for a sandwich and her aide dies as a sandwich appears. She seems to have absorbed some of the magic powers and wants to transform the entire neighborhood with her newfound power.
Brainy builds Baltorian scanners that can find 5th dimensional energy. 

It turns out the building absorbed the magical energy itself. Those in the hospital inhaled the magical dust. If the heroes can absorb enough of the 5th dimensional energy, they can use the DEO tech to find Mxy.

As a side benefit, absorbing the energy from the people will most likely cure them as well.

Even though the council voted for more affordable housing last episode, Rankin thinks she can call for a new vote. She uses her magic to create piles of cash to bribe another council member. 

However, it seems using the magic hurts the hospital victims from the Heights.

So that is a nice subtle reference about corruption hurting the disenfranchised. 

But having all politicians be corrupt, accepting literally bands of money, seems a bit over the top.

Kelly can't seem to convince the heroes to take a moment away from their Nyxly hunt to help her. Kara even says that if they rescue Mxy he can repair things quickly, returning it to the way it was.

But Kelly wants it even better. Why shouldn't it be better than it was?

Nia realizes that maybe the group is thinking on too grand a scale. She gives Kelly her Baltorian scanner to keep digging.

At the hospital, the doctors are now implicated in not caring. Orlando says no nurse or doctor is listening to him when he says Joey is getting worse. 

The scanner Kelly holds starts pinging and points to Councilwoman Rankin who is giving a quick statement outside the hospital. 

Rankin says despite being in the wreck herself she feels fine. (She almost sounds like a COVID denier here.) She says that people like those in the Heights should not let their own weakness hold them back. They need to lift themselves up by the bootstraps. The implication is clear. Don't expect help ... do it yourself.

Incensed, Orlando confronts her saying she got to go and get 'fancy treatments' and how the system keeps him and those like him down.

Rankin runs off and now Kelly decides to confront her ... but as the Guardian.

A fight ensues. Diggle hits Rankin's security detail. Rankin and Guardian brawl with Rankin using her powers to create a sledge hammer and fight.

In the end, Rankin teleports away but leaves some wisps of hair behind in Kelly's hand.

Back at the Watchtower, Kelly finally loses her patience with her friends. She is upset and uses a lot of powerful phrases. 'You don't see me.' 'I am yelling into a void'.

While her people are suffering, the super friends are too busy. She wonders where is the outrage. She says people will die, without hope, because the Super Friends can't spare a second. 

Again, I don't know if these folks working hard to save the entire world should face Kelly's wrath. But part of this is that they don't even register the problem. And Kelly can't hold it in anymore.

I do like that Nia tells the team they should give Kelly some time to process. I am sure that Nia has faced her own discrimination in the past. Makes sense for her to know what to do.
Diggle talks to her again. 
She feels like one person fighting a system which has held down her people for centuries. Diggle has carried his racial trauma like breath.

But she can't let her exhaustion stop the fight. It has to invigorate it. She has to become a hero for those who look like her, advocating for them.
Kara arrives and apologizes for not having recognized the problem. 
Kelly just wants her to know the problem exists because people have no hope. They have no hope in the police, in hospitals, or in superheoes. They have lost hope. 

Kelly can't keep pushing down her trauma and smiling. She has to face it. And she needs Supergirl to help now. Because the people dying today don't care about the heroes saving tomorrow.

Supergirl feels guilty for not helping more. Kelly says guilt is an inactive emotion. She needs action. And she needs Supergirl to acknowledge that even she has blind spots. Supergirl will miss things that are outside her life experience.

It is hard for me to see Supergirl being dressed down for not being enough of an ally given all she has done for social justice these last two years. But again, perhaps that is the point of this episode.
One person hurting is Alex who feels she is losing Kelly because she can't understand what Kelly is feeling.

We get a balcony scene where J'onn says wearing the face of a black man made him feel more alien than being an alien.

Finally, it all comes together. Brainy figures out that the gene therapy medication mixed with the 5th dimensional energy has made Rankin a sort of siphon. She is draining the ill people of their energy to empower her 5th dimensional powers.

Brainy can make a device to drain out Rankin's energy and put it back into the people. But this will use all the energy they have acquired so they can't find Mxy if they do it. Everyone agrees they have to do it; the universe will have to wait to be rescued.

And Brainy agrees to make Kelly flashier, improved armor.

But he informs her that while the 31st century is better, racism and discrimination still exists then. 

He believes in her. And is happy to help.
Back at the Ormfell, Rankin says she will use her powers to sweep away the useless and make the are perfect.

The Superfriends arrive with the new Guardian in tow. They gang will stop Rankin's property destruction. Guardian convinces Orlando that she can be trusted and he needs to bring the sick Heights victims outside. They need to be within her sight line to drain the power from Rankin and transfer it to the ill.

I love the gold aspects of the new uniform. I am trying to decide if the new helmet looks a little Thanagarian? Or like the Phantom of the Paradise?

At the very least, in this episode, Supergirl gets into the action.

She engages with Rankin, throwing some haymakers, and getting close enough to grapple so Kelly can shoot the device draining the energy and returning it to the Heights victims.

Alas, this also repowers the Mxy ball Nyxly has. She can now start tracking down the totems.

Thankfully with the 5th dimensional energy removed/returned/removed (?), all the ill begin feeling better.

In a rare bit of humor in this very heavy episode, Brainy moves among the crowd reminding everyone to eat their vegetables before he is dragged away by Nia.

Rankin is arrested for all her misdeeds and The Guardian wonders if maybe recently freed ex-convict Orlando wouldn't be perfect for the vacant council seat as someone who has lived this life and can represent.

And then we see the power of representation as already some young women of color pretend to be The Guardian.

There are still lessons to be learned though.

Diggle tells Kelly to be a hero for the people, not a hero to the people.

Supergirl again apologizes for not recognizingthe scope of the problem. Kelly says as long as they fight oppression together, all will be well.

Some subplots get nudged along. Nyxly has found the courage totem. And Lena receives her mother's grimoire in the mail.
And then a closing scene concentrating on Alex and Kelly. We see how racism in the world has been part of Kelly, based on the books and shirt she is wearing.

Alex seems completely broken, sad and ashamed. Alex just wants to be an ally.

And Kelly says she wants that but she also needs time to process everything.

The show ends on that note.

I am glad that a show like Supergirl feels brave enough to try and cover heavy topics like this. I think when it works well, these things can be powerful. I learned a lot from Star Trek as a kid.

I'd love to hear what others think.


Anonymous said...

I'm not sure with remaining episodes hovering in the low double digits what good there is in reconfiguring The Guardian of all characters at this point? We are not talking about a fan-favorite by any means. Unless of course it's because with Black Lightning wrapped Berlanti et al, needs an African American Hero in play and the rights to Cyborg are tied up.
I wonder if she and Alex will migrate over to "Legends of Tomorrow" when it's done? Its the kind of casual decision thats the hallmark of the Berlantiverse.
As for the affordable housing storyline, its one of those fundamental issues that truly unsettle people, its got all those unstable issues, legacies, land ownership,"the character of neighborhoods", prosperity, so no doubt they are all getting triggered on twitter even as I write this. But I'll give the showrunners credit though, "They went there", whether or not that was good idea with the sun setting on Supergirl on the CW and in the general context of a superheroine show at all, is another debate.
In the limited use of the title character, the excessive attention on her sister's latest romance, this really felt like a mid 5th season episode...not much of the key plotline was advanced.
I do however think we need to recapitulate Supergirl as someone who is usually stuck in the outermost problem ring, contending with whether or not the city with be obliterated, two rings behind that, lies the issue of affordable housing, its not that Supergirl doesn't care, but if that outer ring is breached it all ends in Mass Murder on a Cosmic Scale. There is a reason why her attention is usually elsewhere....
But, so be it, "Ride Or Die" is my motto on Tuesday Nights.



Scrimmage said...

It's one thing for the show to tackle complex social issues in a format that's not particularly well-suited for such topics, but does it HAVE to be so BORING?? Talk about a SNOOZER!

All this angst over ONE freakin' building??? Did these show runners NOT see all the collateral damage done to the real estate in downtown Metropolis in “Man Of Steel!” (2013)? That sort of thing happens all the time in this genre, but superhero stories rarely get bogged down trying to answer questions about how “ordinary people” would deal with such extraordinary events if they ever happened in something resembling “real life.”

As a minor supporting character, who was never a part of the official DC canon, Kelly Olsen lacks the gravitas to lecture Supergirl about anything. From what I can tell, she and her brother, James – both successful, highly educated professionals – don't appear to have ever been oppressed at all. On the contrary, they seem to have taken full advantage of the opportunities this country offers, to follow their dreams to become whatever they wanted to be. Isn't THAT just as important of a message for Kelly to send to “people who look like me” as it is for her to become some masked vigilante with a tricked up shield? If she can overcome whatever obstacles life put in her way, why can't everybody follow her example?

As for the “new” Guardian...

Brainiac 5, incorporating 31st Century technology into Kelly's spiffy new uniform? I thought that was a big, time-travel no-no! Besides that, the idea that sparring a few rounds with her girlfriend is going to transform an academic psychiatrist into a bargain basement Batwoman is patently absurd. She's going to NEED all the future tech she can get her hands on, to save her from getting her lightly armored ass handed to her on a regular basis.

The rest to the show was instantly forgettable, which probably explains why I've already forgotten about it. I think it was just some more mumbo-jumbo about tracking Nyxly's 5th Dimensional energy, and Lena becoming DC's version of the Scarlet Witch. Wake me up, if anything exciting – or even mildly interesting – comes out of that stuff.

Professor Feetlebaum said...

Another thrill packed episode in the amazing adventures of Guardian/ Dreamer/ Brainiac 5/ Martian Manhunter/ Sentinel, and oh yes, before we forget, Supergirl!

It does seem a little late in the game to be introducing a new Guardian into the mix. Does Kelly have to become a costumed hero to be an inspiration to other young women of color? I can't help but wonder if Berlanti and all might be considering a "Mayberry RFD" situation here, where Kara leaves town, but some of the other cast members continue on in a spin-off/ continuation.

Anonymous said...

The actress who portrays Kelly also wrote this week's ep. So that explains why she suddenly brow beats Supergirl so much and seems to have become the lead of the ep.

In the interviews leading up to this ep, the actress says that she wanted allies to recognise that they have blind spots too and to be become more proactive in helping people. And that's why she used Supergirl since Kara is the character we identify mostly with.

That is fine. But I don't know how straight up attacking Supergirl is going to help with that. If we see the best of ourselves in Supergirl then just suddenly berating her isn't going to help at all.

People are going to go on the defensive over Kara and themselves. And that's what I saw happening on the Reddit Supergirl sub. I think the ep would have been successful if Supergirl was used as an ally.

Because otherwise I think the writes have effectively alienated a lot of people from their cause.

Anonymous said...

I take it back, I loved this episode, at least Supergirl took a stand on affordable housing, the comic book version out this week, that Supergirl seems perfectly fine with breaching the US Constitution's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments.