Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Supergirl 403: Man Of Steel

Supergirl episode 403, titled 'Man of Steel', aired earlier this week and was a very interesting episode for this show. I am going to very intrigued to gather up all the reviews of this episode to see where consensus falls.

First off, this is an episode completely dedicated to the villain. It shows us how Benjamin Lockwood, upstanding and open-minded family man was radicalized into becoming Agent Liberty. Our main characters are present but often as ancillaries to their scenes, more as a way to showcase how they impacted Lockwood's descent. Now some might call this a sympathetic look at the villain. But for me it was more of an opening for a redemption arc. This isn't me forgiving Liberty or understanding him. He is the villain in this piece right now, burning down factories and killing innocents. And the show certainly had a pretty clear message on toxic masculinity. He isn't sympathetic. He isn't misunderstood. He is a person twisted into something horrible by fear, hatem and circumstance. He is evil.

But already in two episodes we see how one of this season's themes is Kara as an inspiration of hope, a beacon of truth. We hear Alex say Supergirl can change people's minds. There is no doubt in my mind that the season finale is going to be Supergirl changing Agent Liberty's mind, or maybe his followers' minds. For us to believe that Kara can break through, we need to understand his roots.

As daring as this villain's episode was, it was just as impressive regarding the internal continuity of the show. Lockwood's story starts with a reference to Supergirl's 'Hope' speech from season one's finale and meanders through the big events of the first three seasons. From Alex's long hair and claiming to be an FBI agent to shots of Cat Grant to seeing James as acting CEO to wardrobe continuity, the Supergirl staff just nailed it. This show has a history that can be leaned on so why not do it. I was amazed.

The message of the episode is clear. But it is well-told and nuanced, not ham-fisted. I appreciated that.

On to the show.

We start in the present day in the immediate aftermath of the Graves' dispersal of Kryptonite in the atmosphere. The DEO's Kryptonite alarm shows how the whole world is effected. Succumbing to K-poisoning, Kara plummets from the sky. In that condition, the fall would be fatal.

The only person who can save her is J'onn, which pulls him away from the 'Earth First' rally before he can investigate Agent Liberty more.

He is able to save her over the Nevada desert, bringing her back into the DEO. There isn't much they can do but try to stabilize her, bathing her in yellow sun rays and putting on the anti-Kryptonite 
shield  that Winn converted to help Supergirl fight Metallo.

I love how the lead dispersal unit and the anti-Kryptonite shield are utilized. As I said, the show really leans into its history.

We then flash back to 2 years ago.

We meet the Lockwoods, Benjamin Lockwood (who will become Agent Liberty), his wife and son, and his father, an old school steel mill owner.

Two years ago, in the aftermath of myriad, the father Sam is watching a replay of Supergirl's Hope speech  from season one.

The father is clearly a bigot. He calls aliens 'roaches', the equivalent of whatever slur you want to insert here. It is offensive enough that Ben and his wife tell him that language like that isn't allowed in the house.

But Sam isn't done. The aliens are like roaches to him, infesting a place they don't belong. For example, a rival mill has opened nearby, this one using alien workers and Nth metal. The Nth metal has enhanced properties so more contracts are going to them. Sam's 'American steel' is outdated. The mill is doing statue commissions to make ends meet.

When Ben says that the father could update his factory (and maybe the father's old thoughts?), Sam says his educated son is being condescending. It is a decent side-swipe at the 'educated elite' argument often seen in politics these days.

But Ben is really an upstanding guy here. When the steel workers block a truck trying to leave from the alien metal mill, Ben tries to defuse the situation. In the confrontation, Ben is wounded by an alien protecting himself. It leads to a riot where the aliens are pummeled.

So, at least at first, Ben is an open-minded guy. Perhaps if his father took the advice to update the mill things would have stopped there.

With the riot full on, Supergirl and Alex arrive.

We truly are 2 years in the past. Alex has long hair. She says she is working for the DEO. Even though Ben was wounded by the alien, she seems to chastise the workers. She says Supergirl went easy on them. When Ben tries to tell her that they are good people who are afraid, she walks away.

Moreover, J'onn as Hank Henshaw talks to the father and says that the steel workers are completely at fault. This was an assault. Ben was injured in self-defense. It inflames Sam. After all, he now knows Supergirl is working with the government. A conspiracy theory starts to formulate. The government perhaps are silencing people who aren't toeing the line.

So Ben tries to stop the racist assault, is injured, branded a villain, and sees Supergirl fighting his friends who are just trying to survive. It is his first step down a dark path.

Later, Ben goes to LCorp and somehow gets face time with Lena. She has canceled a contract with his father's steel mill to get Nth metal steel instead. Again, she tells Ben that the factory should update. But new machines would cost millions the mill doesn't have. The march of progress has to move on.

Again, the workers are wrong for all they did. Ben actually tried to stop them.

The flashback shifts to 14 months earlier. We see that Ben is a history professor at National City University. He sees that his dry erase board is made with LCorp Nth metal steel and it spurs him further down the path. He talks about how progress ends up hurting whoever it leaves behind. He agrees that the Alien Amnesty act is progress (his old thinking) but that some Americans are worse off.

At home, the news talks of an investigation into Biomax  a call back to the second season. Meanwhile the father has had to close the steel mill because of the 'roaches' (this time said by Ben's son). Again, Ben is angry at the use of that message.

But things change. Queen Rhea appears on screen to discuss the Daxamite invasion. The family has to shelter in place. With supplies running out, they have to make a decision. The father says it is time for Ben to be a man and fight for what is theirs. When Ben's son says that Supergirl will come and save them, we see how far Ben has changed. He says that Supergirl is an alien and won't help humans.

With water low, they decide to make a run for it. Unfortunately before they leave, they see J'onn and a Daxamite fall into and ultimately destroy their home. Between fire and errant blasts, the family are lucky to escape alive. With the American flag on fire, it is clear the family has now lost everything.

Then 12 months earlier, we cut to CatCo to see the Cat speech where she announces working for the President. Ben arrives to talk to James hoping CatCo will write more stories about how the alien invasion is effecting the common family. Home insurance doesn't cover alien invasions. The Lockwood home is lost. James says that CatCo has done balanced reporting but it often is buried in the paper. What I like is that James does say that he thinks Lockwood makes good points. So maybe there was a third chance at changing Lockwood's descent?

But before the conversation can continue Lena calls James. Remember she is now running CatCo. Just like that Lockwood's conspiracy theories get ratcheted up. Lena gives business to aliens. Now Lena controls the media which reports about aliens. You can see how someone looking for something nefarious could reach a wrong conclusion.

Now cutting to six months ago, we see how Lockwood's history class has become a pulpit for his hate. He tries to talk about Nativism, a desire to keep a nation's culture strong, but it descends into xenophobia. It is completely awkward and cringe-worthy. And in a class filled with alien students (including one who could be from Starhaven), it comes off as appropriately terrible. They get up and leave.

Shortly thereafter, Lockwood is fired for his politicalization of his class. He counters that campus's should be safe spaces for free speech and the differing of opinions but it doesn't matter. He is fired. So nice for the writers to bring in campus protests and free speech into the mix.

Lockwood assumes it is the Star Haven-ish student and follows her to the alien bar where he confronts her, violently. Luckily Kara is there because it is Karaoke night. Getting between Ben and the student, she defuses the situation telling him to walk on. I love how he assumes she is human and tries to get to her that way. But she'll have no part of it. Lockwood storms off talking about Earth traitors.

In perhaps the deepest continuity cut, we see Kara decide here to sing Beastie Boys. In the famous  Karaoke  episode from last season, we see her do just that. Heck, the show runners put her in the same outfit here. Now that is leaning into history!

And I love Kara being an ally and protecting this girl. It is similar to Nia defending Brainy last episode.

Now 4 months ago, we see a much more disheveled Lockwood handing out pamphlets about the government conspiracy to use the FBI and Supergirl to round up political enemies. This isn't the polished professor. This looks like a zealot.

His attempt to spread his credo is interrupted by Alura fighting with Kara  to defeat the Kryptonian witches.  It is very Snyder-like with Lockwood running through the collapsing city like Bruce Wayne does in Metropolis at the beginning of Batman v Superman.

In the disaster, the father goes missing. Ben discovers him in the old steel mill, pinned by a fallen girder. Ben isn't strong enough (like an alien) to lift the wreckage. The dad knows he is dying. He wanted to die here, the place he considers his home. His last words are pleading with Ben to be the man he was raised to be. (Again, it is said like a bad thing, I suppose to hit the 'toxic masculinity' bit again.) Of course, this will be blamed on aliens even though the dad went there, it seems, with a death wish.

At the father's funeral, Ben gives a speech about never giving in to enemies. He won't let Lena set up a fund in his father's name. Aliens aren't people. They are the things which have systematically ruined his life.

Gone is the man who fought prejudice and had loftier ideals. Ben gets some of his father's old workers and goes and fire bombs the Nth metal factory. When the night manager comes out, they think they have accidentally injured a human.

But Lena's image inducer shorts revealing him to be the alien who accidentally injured Ben long ago. Ben snaps and beats the guy down with a pipe.
So who are the criminals here? It's the guys carrying molotovs and blowing up factories. Destruction of public property is against the law. Attacking people is against the law.

Suddenly, the guy who against hate speech and for equality has turned the corner. And you can see how if you look at all these events through a terrible lens, how this blaming aliens could be justified. But we also have seen opportunities for Lockwood to go down a different path.

At the very least, I was glad to see the writers showing how there were big alien threats which truly harmed this world.

And then we flash back to just two months ago, around the beginning of this season. The disheveled lunatic is gone. Instead we see a well dressed, well groomed, well spoken Lockwood on the city streets preaching his concerns about the government and aliens. He has become something of a charismatic leader now.

We even see how he can get followers. He runs into the dean who fired him. Her house was leveled by Reign. She is living in a college dorm. She apologizes to him for not understanding what he was going through.

He doesn't lash out at her like he did before. Instead he smiles and hands her a pamphlet, inviting her to his 'support group'.

Now that is creepy. We see how he has changed into this savior.

It isn't just talk. He gets picked up by Mercy who knows he has been hurting aliens over the last couple of months. She wants to work with him. She needs someone who is an orator to preach the word. She gives him the Agent Liberty suit and tells him about the Camp David attack.

I love this wrinkle. Mercy sought him out for his speaking skills, things we have seen here.

He heads to his father's old steel mill. Amidst those 'statue commissions' we heard about earlier, he finds a face he can wear, the bronze mask of Agent Liberty.

And that brings us up to date. Brilliant.

So how did this good man become bad? Or was he always bad?
I don't think he was. But fear and hate and blame can only twist you into something awful.

Back at the DEO it looks hopeless for Supergirl. She is too weak to be sent out of the atmosphere. If she stays in the atmosphere, she'll die.

Alex calls up Lena. Nearly breaking down, Alex thanks her for being there. And Lena says that people underestimate her but she cares. I am putting my nickel down. Lena knows Kara is Supergirl.

Somehow, Lena produces a micro-folded Iron Man suit which will produce a sterile internal environment while Supergirl is sealed inside. But why did Lena have this? And why with the S-shield? Was she preparing this all along?

Anyways, it will allow a faceless Supergirl to act next episode.

A villain origin episode showing the breakdown of a man by fear. Was it too sympathetic? Did it make him relatable? Did it show just how someone could get mired in conspiracy theories and go mad? At the very least, it is daring.

And, as I said at the beginning, it opens up the idea of Supergirl changing people in the finale, showing people the error in Lockwood's thinking.

So what did you think?


Anonymous said...

This was a pretty good episode for a show routinely plagued by far-to-rapid pacing and clunky writing, chiefly because it stuck fast to two mutually reinforcing concepts 1.) What happens to plain people in one of these "interstellar crisises" isn't always a neat happy ending 2.) All Great Villains are Heroes in their Own Minds, Usually Avenging Great Wrongs on Behalf of Many.
And that is "Agent Liberty" in a nutshell.
As to how Lena had a Sterile lifesaving anti-kryptonite suit she probably wanted to give her "friend" Kara a chance to get away alive should she have to k-irradiate the atmosphere to stave off another Kryptonian invasion. It's classic "Luthor type thinking".
My question is, how does our K-irradiated atmosphere affect Kara's Kaznian Duplicate? "Pseudo girl" as I like to call her...


Anonymous said...

This is the episode I was waiting for- to show the other side. Let me just say that I am glad the show isn't ignoring the canonical events which occurred. It does make sense why Ben became so and I do pity him. The scene where his house goes up in flames just as j'onn says 'you are safe now' was brilliantly ironical and made me feel for him. Although his father was misguided and was the example of a white supremacist- Mr Ben here has more shades which work within the show. So I find those calls of boycotting the episode just made up by delusionists who have no idea how to see the shades. Also there is an attempt going on to lower this episode's IMDb rating just because the show dared to do this- do vote it up everyone.

Now, while I understand the events of the Reign attack- because team SG truly was up against a huge threat. I do feel that the daxamites attack could have been avoided if Kara had sent Mon el and Rhea packing. So is Supergirl responsible in some way? Should we/show hold her responsible?

Also I find it appalling that the insurance doesn't cover alien attacks and yet people live there, that man telling 'we are going to gotham' in s2ep1 makes more sense now.

Overall interesting for sure and I loved it and I liked how he didn't become a monster because of one incident but over a period of time. (remember flash s4 and how one technological accident makes the man a villain, yeah that now seems more bullshit). Written by Derek simon, that man did a great job. I am glad everyone like it.

Anj said...

I was wondering about her clone too.

Maybe she is in that deep bunker we saw her digging, shielded by the Earth's crust, and breathing purified air that's pumped in?

Or, maybe being created by the harun-el protects her?

KET said...

"Maybe she is in that deep bunker we saw her digging, shielded by the Earth's crust, and breathing purified air that's pumped in?"

Yes, I feel it's safe to surmise that if she's still living underground, Kara 2.0 isn't being affected by above ground atmospheric changes that suddenly became very lethal to Kryptonians. Besides, show won't be placing much focus upon her until after December's crossover event, IIRC. Seems like there's plenty to deal with already, what with the Graves siblings and Agent Liberty stirring up the nation.

"As to how Lena had a Sterile lifesaving anti-kryptonite suit..."

...it had made a cameo appearance during the previous episode, when Lena and Mercy were dueling each other down in the lab. Probably was invented as a contingency plan, since Lena had been the one who tinker with making a lead dispersing bomb out of the original Kryptonite air dispersing one.

Overall another strong episode, which threw a lot of shade at Supergirl and the DEO for not providing adequate follow-up to acts of terrorism. Seems that Ben was partly justified in feeling frustrated and angry over his and his family's bad fortunes in the past couple of years.


Anonymous said...

Or, maybe being created by the harun-el protects her?

Yeah good theory there.

So lets see so far Supergirl's rap sheet this season is: she created her own private "Flashpoint" event and decanted her own personal super temporal paradox on the world, and she might be liable for obstruction of justice by keeping her yap shut as to the ex-president's space alien status. All of which have physical and catastrophic consequences but its the potential impact on her sterling reputation for chivalry & hopefulness that interests me.


Anonymous said...

Hello Anj,

Let me start off by saying thanks for posting your thoughts on this episode. I sincerely hope you continue
to do so. On the other, somehow I get the feeling that this episode will be the socalled "straw that breaks
the camel's back." On one hand, I think the writers genuinely tried to write Lockwood's backstory as a
complex, 3dimensional person with a family, a job, things he cares about, and this episode shows how things
are gradually stripped away one by one. On the other, as you noted Supergirl is a series that wears its
politics on its sleeve, and I suspect that's where all the hateon for this episode and Lockwood's portrayal
will come from. I'm hoping subseqent posts will be interesting and civil.

My immediate thoughts is that the callbacks to the show's internal continuity were great, and definitely helps
with the overall universe. And the karoke scene where Kara disarms Lockwood while subtly using her superstrength
against him put a smile on my face. Very Reeves-esque, and shows the S-shield doesn't always have to be overt.

The final scene with Alex, Lena, and the supersuit... LOVED Chyler's delivery of her plea to Lena to help, and
I'm still hoping for Lena to stay on Team Supergirl.

And I'm with JF, where does that leave the doppleganger Kara with the atmosphere seeded with kryptonite?

My only complaint is how Supergirl was basically a gueststar in her own show this episode. As I understand it,
it was done to accomodate Melissa B's schedule, but it kinda felt like reading a "Where's Waldo" version of
a Supergirl episode.


Nutation said...

I was slow; it took me a while to understand whose story this would turn out to be. Given that it was going to be a very unhappy story, they did well with it.

>Maybe she is in that deep bunker we saw her digging, shielded by the Earth's crust, and breathing purified air that's pumped in?

The fretting over how to protect Kara from green K was unconvincing. Any submarine, most mines or clean rooms would be safe. How many spaceships do they have on tap? We can easily mix pure oxygen and nitrogen and give her a place to stay.

For a more DC-universe approach, ship her off to Earth 2 for a while. At least they mentioned Argo City. Writing in the DC universe is so tough; there are all these crazy possibilities to consider and eliminate.

KET said...

"How many spaceships do they have on tap?"

Well, Brainy immediately nixed that idea, as he said that Supergirl was already too vulnerable from the poisoning to be transported into outer space (ala Mon-El), as the motion would kill her. However, the submarine idea might have been an alternative solution, if the DEO actually had one available at its disposal.


Jeremy said...

This was a bold, Netflix-style villain origin story that really worked for me. They showed a good man get radicalized, and even though he is wrong in what he's doing now, we can understand him a little better.

My only complaint here is the writers have a hard time handling Brainy. He could solve this whole season in five minutes, figure out Mercy's plans, unmask Ben, etc. So we have a very underpowered Brainy here and that is slightly annoying.

But damn this was a bold choice, to show that those who go down these dark paths don't start out as evil men and that experience can shape them.

I don't know if the writers confirmed this, but I think the episode is called "Man of Steel" not just because of Ben's background, but because we get to see what happens to ordinary folk in the aftermath of destructive battles between superhuman beings, and that is something that would be at home in MoS or BvS.

Scrimmage said...

Apparently, both this “Origin of Agent Liberty” episode, and the plot device of a “masked” Supergirl in the next episode were made necessary due to star Melissa Benoist's other obligations, but much like the similarly Benoist-less “Midvale” episode from season three, I thought “Man of Steel” was one of the best written episodes in the entire run of the show. That's not to say it was one of the best episodes overall, but the writing, specifically the way they crafted the story of a good man becoming radicalized in response to the decimation of his family and his life by forces beyond his control, was absolutely superb!

As Anj pointed out, the use of continuity with events from previous seasons to establish Lockwood's timeline was exceedingly well done. By giving us a ground's eye view, from his perspective, of how several, large scale battles between super powered aliens have devastated not only his life, but the lives of hundreds, if not thousands of innocent bystanders, the viewing audience can't HELP but relate to them, and by association the Lockwoods, a typically imperfect, “normal” Earth family.

I appreciated the effort to show that there were mistakes made on both sides that could've been avoided, such as the spontaneous attack on the Nth Metal truck, and its alien driver. We should not overlook the fact that, since the driver was unable to control the reflexive firing of his spikes (which I find hard to swallow, strictly on the basis of evolution), then the humans were RIGHT to consider him a significant danger to innocent people. Does that mean he deserved to have his brains bashed in with a pipe? Of course not! On the other hand, Sam Lockwood didn't deserve to lose his business, have his home destroyed, or to get killed when an alien attack destroyed his factory, just because he felt like his way of life was being threatened by uninvited, and unwelcome outsiders, and he expressed those opinions in less than politically correct ways.

Sam Lockwood was NOT an evil man, and neither was his son, Ben. Telling his son to “Be a man who fights for what he believes in,” with his dying breath is NOT a horrible legacy for a father to leave his son, in fact, it's admirable. If left to his own devices, Ben would've probably gone into politics to address the wrongs he saw in this “Brave New World,” but unfortunately, he was corrupted by the Graves, who recruited him to help them recruit others to their cause, and he was seduced by their far more radical, and violent approach to solving the “alien problem.”

Did this episode make Agent Liberty more sympathetic? No! He crossed a line when he committed, and there can NEVER be any justification for murder that, but it DID make his character's motivations more plausible, and it explained how he developed his ability to attract followers, as more and more displaced, disaffected, and ignored victims of alien activity flocked to his cause.

During a speech before the United Nations in 1987, President Ronald Reagan spoke about how the he believed the entire Human Race would come together as one people, united, if we were ever faced with an extraterrestrial threat. He said...

“Perhaps we need some outside universal threat to make us recognize this common bond. I occasionally think how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world.”

In Supergirl, we're seeing how Reagan's view of human unity in the face of an alien invasion might clash with those who feel the answer to the alien question is amnesty for all. As I said last week, the real problem is being able to tell friend from foe. The consequences of making just ONE mistake with beings as powerful as some of these aliens should not be so easily dismissed as xenophobia, especially when we've already seen that one, slightly pissed off Kryptonian could easily end us ALL!

Martin Gray said...

Great episode, superbly written and produced.

And yay, Porcupine Pete!