Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Supergirl 1x14 Review: "Truth, Justice and the American Way" (A Battle of Values) [Contributor: Deborah MacArthur]

“Truth, Justice and the American Way”
Original Airdate: February 22, 2016

In this week’s Supergirl, the show explores a common theme in superhero stories: grey morality and the righteousness of those with power. Just because a person with super strength and the ability to fly has the opportunity to stop a potentially dangerous individuals, does that give them the right to act outside of the law in order to do so? If you read or watch enough superhero-themed media, you’ll find this same story repeated over and over again, generally with the conclusion that basic human rights — the right for a person to be judged fairly for their crimes in a court of law — outweigh the possibility that something could go wrong, and the wrongdoer could go free. Supergirl is really no different, as our Kryptonian hero takes on the subjects of ethics, values, and truth at various points throughout the episode.

Sometimes, the answer is clear-cut and direct (No, Kara, you should not keep Maxwell Lord imprisoned without a trial just because you think he’s going to get away with his crimes, it doesn’t matter how much of a douche he is!) but other times, not so much (Should Hank stop lying to Kara about who really killed Astra? The world may never know!) and that’s realistic. One can’t always rely on a murder-happy alien prison guard to illustrate why working outside the legal system to dole out justice is a bad thing.

I like it when a show puts a full theme on an episode and allows the viewers pick out the moments — inside the main plot or outside of it — that apply to that theme, even in the smallest degrees. Problems arise when writers feel they have to be more heavy-handed to get the point across, but having themes and layers can, when done right, elevate an episode of a television program and encourage more “active viewing” in the audience. I think “Truth, Justice and the American Way” falls somewhere between the two: not so heavy-handed that I found myself rolling my eyes and screaming “We get it!” at the TV screen, but not what one would call overly subtle, either.

I mean, the title of the episode is “Truth, Justice and the American Way,” for goodness’ sake.


The main Supergirl-related issue in this week’s episode is Kara’s less-than-legal imprisonment of Maxwell Lord (who, it seems, is only just starting to be missed by the general public — not as popular as you once thought, eh, Max?) in DEO headquarters. Kara thinks she has the right to hold him without due process because she knows that the likelihood of him going to jail, considering his connections and access to top-notch lawyers, is very low. Kara and Team know he did wrong, they have the power and opportunity to keep him from doing more wrong, so why not do the whole world a favor and lock him up until he wastes away in the DEO basement? Kara thinks it’s fair, since she knows she’s doing things with good intentions.

(Hey, Kara? Rumor has it there’s a certain road paved with those...)

But the A-plot is here to shed a light on Kara’s indifference to the justice system, in the form of a Fort Rozz guard gone rogue! Well, he technically hasn’t gone rogue, I guess? He’s just really extreme about his duties in making sure Fort Rozz prisoners are punished for their crimes, even though Fort Rozz doesn’t actually exist anymore and he’s definitely no longer beholden to his employment contract. Master Jailer hunts down the prisoners that escaped when Fort Rozz crashed on Earth and laser-guillotines them, even if they’re living fairly simple and non-criminal lives, as is the case with one drug smuggler who got a job as a professor and seemed to be pretty peaceful.

While trying to stop Master Jailer from killing more people, Kara gets captured by him herself. Imprisoned in a cell with a light that mimics the red sun of Krypton, Kara is powerless to stop her jailer from sentencing her new professor friend to death. Oh, and she’s going to die, too, although I have no idea how Master Jailer plans to transfer Kara from the “red sun” cell to the chopping block without Kara getting her powers back immediately.

Kara also has to just stand there and listen to Master Jailer talk about her mother, whose grasp on crime and punishment was more along the lines of Master Jailer’s than Kara would have assumed. Apparently, to Alura Zor-El, no crime was too small for a nice, long stay at a maximum security pan-dimensional prison. This, plus some stuff we learned about Alura in previous episodes, isn’t exactly painting a pretty picture of the late Lady Zor-El, but again, Kara has to face the idea of right and wrong and the possibility of her mother’s judgement not necessarily being the “right” kind of judgement.

Basically, Master Jailer is judge, jury, and executioner and his brand of no-nonsense murder-justice has fallen into Kara’s life at the most narratively opportune time to show her that people with power should still adhere to the law and not assume command over the way punishment is handed out. I have a feeling that Kara saw a bit of what she could become when she was captured and locked up by the Master Jailer and almost witnessed his brand of “justice,” and the good timing of the DEO’s rescue provided her with an opportunity to make things right, especially in combination with some of the stuff her friends told her. Most helpful, I think, was James Olsen, who delivered a terrific speech to Kara about the importance of values and how she’s more than just a vigilante: She’s a symbol for good, a figure that others should want to look up to and emulate. Her decisions matter, her approach to justice matters, and her ability to choose right over wrong — even if it means trusting a flawed system — matters.


It’s not all about the grey morality of justice this week, though! White lies and the value of truth play a part, too — mostly in Kara’s personal life, as she’s dealing with the aftermath of her aunt Astra’s death. If you recall, Alex killed Astra as the latter was about to kill Hank, and then Hank took the blame because he thought that Kara would hate her sister for killing one of the only blood relatives she has left. Hank is lying to Kara about who really killed Astra in order to protect her relationship with Alex, but lying is still wrong, isn’t it? Even if it’s done with the best intentions?

But here’s the thing that’s bothering me about this storyline: Is keeping the truth from Kara actually helping anything? I could be mistaken about her character, but I would think Kara capable of understanding the situation that led to her aunt’s death without too much damage coming to her relationship with Alex. Alex’s decision to kill Astra was a split-second one that happened because Astra was definitely seconds from killing Hank. There was no negotiating with her or appealing to her own evolving morality. But, no — Hank thinks that he needs to lie to Kara about this. The result is that Kara no longer trusts Hank — despite knowing that, regardless of who was doing the actual killing, Astra was killed to save someone else on the team, and Alex is stuck feeling guilty.

Oh yeah, and the other plotline with a “truth” theme: James and Lucy have a fight because James Olsen is an awful liar and can’t keep the fact that he’s associated (however loosely) with the DEO a secret from his reporter girlfriend. For some reason, this tiny element of the overall episode culminates in James asking Kara if he can tell Lucy the truth about Kara being Supergirl, because he thinks that Lucy’s mad because James is lying to her. But she’s not, and I guess the episode forgot that the whole reason why Lucy was upset in that scene wasn’t because of the lying, but because she doesn’t like James putting his superfriends ahead of their relationship. Supergirl’s identity wasn’t a factor at all, which means the final “DUN DUN DUN!” moment where he asks Kara’s permission to tell her about Supergirl makes no sense. Oops!

  • Siobhan Smythe (super-identity: Silver Banshee, in the comics) makes an appearance here as Kara’s rival for Cat Grant’s affections but her role in the episode didn’t fit with the overall theme, save for her inability to keep a secret and keep out of other people's business. So she didn’t get a piece in the review. I’m sure I’ll get to talk more about her later, though. [Editor's Note: Played by the lovely Italia Ricci general amazing human being formerly of Chasing Life, and also almost-wife of a fantastic Amell — Robbie!]
  • The Kryptonian funeral prayer was pretty, and excellently delivered by Melissa Benoist.
  • “The next coffin shall be yours” might be the most awkward thing to say at a funeral.
  • “No, we’re just friends. No benefits... except the benefit of friendship.”
  • Cat Grant having a heart-to-heart with James Olsen was wonderful, but wow did that scene get dark fast.
  • I really loved the scene between James and Kara about how she uses her power, and how it’s easy for her — as a person with a lot of power — to fall into situations that aren’t necessarily ethical. There’s a huge difference between doing things for the ultimate good and doing things that adhere to good values.
  • "Ooh, I've wanted to catch a corrupt cop ever since we binge-watched The Wire."
  • The fight scenes in this episode were really great. I especially liked Kara’s spinning move against Master Jailer’s chains. And the headbutt! Overall, it was really cool.
  • “You’ve wasted your ammo.” “I didn’t. Here comes the sun.”
  • I kind of liked the Fort Rozz escapee-turned-professor? I wonder if we’ll see him again.
  • “Myriad” is a thing. A forbidden thing!
  • There’s no Oxford comma in the title of this episode and that hurts me. [Editor's Note: I am itching to put a comma in this title, and it's bugging me more than anything logically should that I cannot.]


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