Supergirl: “Truth, Justice and the American Way” breaks into some bigger thematic ground

“Truth, Justice, and the American Way” isn’t a perfect episode, but it is on the excellent side for this series, mostly because it finally deals with some of the larger issues that are almost implicit in the premise of Supergirl. The ethical issues surrounding Supergirl’s work with the DEO and her own vigilante fighting for justice have been building all season, and things finally come to something of a head this week. Though the episode isn’t without some hiccups, it’s great to see it being more thematically ambitious.

First, though, the episode almost gets bogged down in HR issues. This week we find Kara back at the office, where she has to deal with some competition in the form of a second assistant that Cat has hired to take up some of the slack for Kara, who has been very flaky recently. I hate everything about this storyline so, so much. Yes, Kara has been flaky, and yes, she drove Cat’s son away, but it’s incredibly unprofessional for Cat to punish Kara like this, especially as publicly as she does here. I also despise that all of Kara’s relationships with women are so fraught, and it sucks that the show has introduced yet another woman for Kara to contend with.

Sure, Siobhan is aggressively unlikeable, but I even hate that framing of things. Siobhan is ambitious, and she is competitive with Kara, but this is a dynamic being fostered by Cat Grant, who is at her most petty and manipulative in her dealings with Kara this week—and all of these women are written that way. By the time you add in Lucy Lane, who is getting suspicious and jealous of her boyfriend’s relationship with Supergirl, CatCo has become a toxic mess for Kara to navigate in. Even outside of her day job, she’s dealing with her aunt Astra’s death, and she doesn’t even know yet that Alex is keeping a pretty big secret from her.

Admittedly, it’s not just Kara’s relationships with women that are on the rocks. She and Winn are still not talking much; she’s so angry with Hank over Astra that she is having trouble working with him; and James just gave her an ultimatum. However, in an ostensibly feminist show, it would be nice to see Kara able to have even one good, healthy relationship with another woman. Instead, the show’s writers seem determined to trot out every tired, catty, bitchy stereotype about women’s interpersonal relationships that they can fit into a single episode. This has been an ongoing problem for the show, but this week all of Kara’s relationships seem to be at nadirs, which makes the problem that much more pronounced and unpleasant to watch.

The real meat of “Truth, Justice, and the American Way” is, or ought to be if he didn’t have to share so much time with Kara’s office tribulations, the villain of the week. In an interesting change of pace, this week’s villain isn’t an inmate of Fort Rozz—he’s one of the guards, and he’s systematically hunting down and executing former inmates without regard to their present circumstances or even their original crimes and sentences. This is set up as a counterpoint to what Supergirl and the DEO are doing, and specifically to their indefinite detention of Maxwell Lord, who isn’t even an alien and probably ought to have some rights or something as an American citizen. Master Jailer is probably the best idea the show has had yet for a villain, but the execution of his story could definitely have been better.

As I already mentioned, this story—which deals with some of the show’s heavier ethical issues, namely the legality and, well, justice of extrajudicial justice—shares far too much time with material that doesn’t really fit together with it. The conclusions reached by the end of the hour feel almost glib, and Kara is portrayed as almost foolishly naïve rather than principled. The questions asked in the episode are worthwhile and certainly deeper than most of the other themes so far this season, but the answers just aren’t quite satisfactory. Still, it’s a step in a good direction for the show, and I would actually love to see this become a recurring theme to be examined in more depth in the future.

Miscellaneous thoughts:

  • Hated Kara’s astonishment that Cat could pronounce Siobhan. There’s not really any comparison between “Kara”—a name that can be mispronounced in many irritating and disrespectful ways—and “Siobhan”—which can only be mispronounced in ways that make the mispronouncer look ignorant.
  • This episode wasn’t terribly dark, really, but it was remarkably light on humor, which gave it a weird tone.
  • I was surprised that they went with a couple of straight up Gitmo references when talking about what Supergirl and the DEO do. It’s interesting to see what real-world things get worked into the show.
  • “It’s under the floor” was beyond words stupid. I mean, they didn’t even look for a cellar or anything first, and bad stuff is always underground. Get it together, Alex.

 

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