Supergirl: “Red Faced” is mostly an embarrassment

“Red Faced” is a big old mess of an episode that highlights literally every problem Supergirl has and showing almost none of its strengths. It could have been worse, but not by much, and it’s definitely dampened my excitement at the news that CBS has just expanded their order for the show by seven episodes.

I’ve complained from the beginning about Supergirl’s overly self-conscious feminism, but I’ve been hesitant so far to be too critical of it because, frankly, it’s mostly refreshing to see a show like this wear its feminist sensibilities on its sleeve, even if it is imperfectly executed. It’s always been heavy-handed with its Feminism 101 messaging, and the messages are often garbled, as with Cat Grant’s speech about the term “girl” in the pilot and all of “How Does She Do It?” which at least made up for its confusing ideas by being somewhat entertaining.

“Red Faced,” however, is an episode that seems to be desperately trying to make some kind of point but gets so bogged down under the weight of its own themes that it collapses under the pressure. It’s further hindered by several lackluster villains and a script that is almost entirely devoid of the show’s usual humor.

The episode starts off on the wrong foot to begin with, as Supergirl rescues a group of school children from being run down by a couple of road-raging douchebags. When one of the men takes a swing at her, she’s angry enough at their recklessness that she grabs the guy’s fist and twists it around, hurting him. Perhaps predictably, the media in National City blows this entirely out of proportion, and Kara finds herself in trouble with Hank Henshaw for not controlling her anger. It’s completely ludicrous, since Supergirl didn’t actually injure the dude, who did actually try to punch her (and had just almost killed like a dozen children). By the time Maxwell Lord (who has an opinion on everything) suggests putting a body cam on Supergirl, I was ready to punch this episode in the face, and that’s less than five minutes in.

At CatCo, we’re introduced to Cat Grant’s mother, who is a complete monster. I get the feeling that we’re supposed to find this old harridan funny, but she’s just unrelentingly terrible in every single possible way. The most unbelievable thing about this little diversion, though, is that this woman could get an invitation to a small, intimate dinner with Toni Morrison and Margaret Atwood. I can’t imagine either of them would tolerate this woman for more than thirty seconds. I suppose this gives us a little more context for Cat’s character, but the show’s writers think they’re being much cleverer than they actually are.

We see a lot more of Lucy Lane this week, and we also get to meet her father, an army general who supposedly wants Supergirl to help test out a new “anthropomorphic pseudo-entity” that’s being developed for military use. First of all, “anthropomorphic pseudo-entity” sounds absurd, and not in a funny way. Second of all, it’s quickly obvious that Red Tornado is actually being designed to fight Kryptonians. Finally, Red Tornado is the most boring monster-of-the-week yet; the stakes just never feel high enough to make it at all interesting.

All of this stuff is really just a way for the show to talk about anger—especially women’s anger, and the ways in which we are taught to suppress it and shamed for expressing it. Unfortunately, they begin with a straw man—Supergirl’s supposed outburst at the road rage guy in the beginning of the episode—progress through a series of non-escalating events that lead Kara to getting a tipsy after-school special-style lecture on the topic from Cat Grant, and then end the episode without really resolving anything.

The B-plot—James Olsen’s conflict with his girlfriend’s racist dad—supports and complements the Kara stuff, and this is even explicitly called out in a scene where Kara and James are going to punch things together to take out their frustrations. However, while I thought that it was smart to relate the similar oppression of women and black men, this is also never fully explored and also fails to have any satisfying resolution by the end of the episode.

Neither Kara nor James are fully able to express themselves, and the rewards they receive this week feel like consolation prizes. This is especially frustrating with James since, aside from his own reminder to Kara about the struggles black men face, the conflict he has with General Lane is never specifically related to racism. General Lane just doesn’t think James is good enough for Lucy. For reasons. Definitely not related to his vaguely racist and nationalist rhetoric elsewhere in the text. Right.

Frankly, it’s just a huge disappointment that the show would squander such potentially rich material. The ways in which women are discouraged from having and showing emotions could be mined for great drama, but “Red Faced” tries far too hard while being far too shallow at the same time. It’s the least fun I’ve had watching this show to date, piling dourness on top of an incoherent attempt at some kind of feminist statement.

Miscellaneous thoughts:

  • Please, please stop trying to make Alex Danvers and Maxwell Lord happen. Every time I see this guy on screen, I feel like I need to go take a shower.
  • Cat Grant is a much sloppier drunk than I would have expected. Although maybe she shouldn’t be drinking at all with the meds she’s on.
  • Speaking of women not being allowed to behave badly… the natural climax of all of Kara’s anger should have been her finally declaring her feelings to James and damn the consequences. They clearly have chemistry, and I would love to see Kara not be quite so perfectly good and honorable for once.
  • I do love that Supergirl doesn’t have to be pretty all the time. Yes, I know that she burrowed underground like a mole and came out totally unmussed this week (and the burrowing thing was cool), but we also got to see her being completely, inhumanly fearsome with her heat rays, and I loved it.
  • I’m calling it now: Jeremiah Danvers is definitely not dead.

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