Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Supergirl 1x16 Review: "Falling" (Seeing Red) [Contributor: Deborah MacArthur]

Original Airdate: March 14, 2016

Sigh. The adorable show full of fun and, occasionally, completely unremarkable and unimportant interpersonal battles couldn’t last, huh? They just had to throw in some Red Kryptonite and turn the status quo on its head. I suppose that it’s fitting — in terms of narrative progression, we are getting close to the point where the story should be at its darkest, in order for everything to be tentatively resolved (depending on how writers want to play out the first season of this show) before the big finale. But jeez, it’s just so uncomfortable to watch – and good, don’t get me wrong, this was a good and entertaining episode... but uncomfortable. There were some serious “watching an inevitable trainwreck” vibes going on here and, despite Kara being more powerful than a locomotive, she was not exactly in the position to stop the damage before it occurred. She was the damage.


We start off, weirdly, with Cat Grant really talking up Supergirl’s heroics: she’s making such a difference in the world and National City, she’s a friend, she’s strong, she’s brave, she’s “the kindest person [Cat’s] ever known.” Supergirl is such an ideal, she’s inspiring everyone around her to be at their best, and we could all learn so much from her. All of this is reinforced by Kara flying through the skies, scouting for danger like the hero she is, and then picking up an idle bit of schoolyard bullying. She stops to protect a little girl wearing a Supergirl costume from her classmate’s mockery, then informs the bullies that she’s “friends with all the nice girls.”

This whole opening sequence is building up how fundamentally good Kara is, and it’s bolstered by her actions in her everyday life as well her actions as a costumed hero. She’s fine with Winn fraternizing with Siobhan, even though Kara really doesn’t like Siobhan; she tries to cheer up James after he tells her he broke up with Lucy, even though she definitely has feelings for James; she confesses feeling guilt about the James/Lucy break-up, then brushes aside Alex’s insistence that Kara should totally get on that bus to Rebound Town, ASAP, because she wants to give him time to deal with things. All along the way, Kara is putting others before herself, sacrificing her own feelings (and time) to make sure the people around her are okay.

But things start to go wrong when, during a rescue mission from a fire, Kara gets exposed to red kryptonite (actually synthetic kryptonite created by Maxwell Lord, because he manages to ruin things even from off-screen). The next morning, Kara’s interests in doing anything that isn’t completely self-serving is falling towards nil. At first, her new go-getter approach to life seems refreshing and fun: she’s dressing noticeably different and showing up Siobhan as a better assistant to Cat for the first time since the other woman arrived. She’s self-assured and snappy and, while this is interesting and strange to the people who know her, there’s little cause for alarm.

Until Supergirl allows a Fort Rozz prisoner involved in a bank heist to escape, rather than delivering him to the DEO. Things go steadily downhill from there, culminating in Kara completely insulting James over his breakup with Lucy, getting Siobhan fired for trying to do her job (and going against Cat’s direct orders, of course, but still doing her job) and literally throwing Cat Grant off a balcony in a fit of contemptuous anger. After all of this, Kara gives Supergirl a new outfit — from where, I don’t really know — and it’s official that she’s gone completely off the rails when she actually makes Alex cry and Cat Grant publicly denounces her as a threat to National City.

With Maxwell Lord’s help in making a gun that reverses the effect of red kryptonite, Hank and Alex hope they can get Kara back in her right mind before she does too much damage (to the city, as well as to her own image) but in the meantime, the DEO has to actually fight its former ally. Hank Henshaw has to reveal himself as the alien J’onn J’onzz in order to stop Kara long enough for the others to get a shot off, then refuses to run from the DEO when he gets the chance. Things work out — Kara is stopped with Lord’s raygun and is returned to her former state — but Kara’s loaded with guilt, she’s damaged several relationships, and the whole city has turned against her.


When she wakes up, Kara is absolutely devastated by her actions. It's not the fact that she hurt her sister and her friends and threw her boss off a building that upsets her — it's the knowledge that she did these things because the desire (however minimal) to do them existed within her before the red kryptonite took her inhibitions away. The red kryptonite didn't make her evil, it just made her less guarded and less empathetic toward other people. It pulled those wicked thoughts she had — the same kind of wicked thoughts all humans have — to the surface, and made her act on them. Maybe Kara could have lied when she realized what had happened, told Alex that she never wanted to do any of the things she did and the synthetic kryptonite had inverted her personality in an extreme way, but she would have known the truth and it still would have hurt to know.

In fact, I'm willing to bet that Kara's devotion to truth is what made her admit to Alex that she hadn't been "someone else" under the influence of Red K. She'd been herself, living out every horrible thought she'd ever had. Kara says that she'd never, ever hurt her or anyone — and Kara, in her right mind, never would — but she's already confessed that the terrible things she said and did do exist inside her, on some level. The same thing happens when Kara goes to apologize to James: She can't lie and say that Red K Kara was a complete fabrication or a bizarre flip of her personality. Instead, she tells him that the kernel of truth at the heart of her altered self was that she was jealous of Lucy. That there was, really, a part of her that thought and felt the things she'd only been able to own up to while on red kryptonite.

And the last bit of truth-telling comes when Supergirl stops off on Cat Grant's balcony and, sad and lonely, soliloquies on how much she really does love the city and the people in it. She apologizes to Cat and, unlike the previous apologies that had either been pushed aside awkwardly or outright rejected, it seems like Cat genuinely forgives her. That's pretty impressive, considering that Cat got thrown off the very balcony they’re standing on. I guess Cat recognizes that the Supergirl who had harshly criticized her and carelessly dropped her hundreds of feet was way, way different than the one talking about lights and loving people she's never even met for the stories they inspire in her mind.

This episode also explores how fleeting faith in heroes can be, as Supergirl's standing in National City falls immediately after Cat Grant announces that she's no longer to be trusted. Supergirl falters once, and the whole city gives up on her? As terrible as it is, this does seem like something that could happen (especially since Hank's locked up, so he can't pretend to be another Bizarro and fix Supergirl's image later). Still, how fickle is this city? They gave up on Supergirl so quickly. From a large scale perspective, Supergirl did nothing to them. She didn't blow up any buildings or kill tons of people or even use her superpowers to prank citizens for the fun of it. She threw Cat off a building and caught her in front of a crowd, but everything else she'd done wrong was private, or done as Kara. Yet, the whole city revoked her hero rights immediately? They trashed banners and threw away costumes in an instant, without so much a single (shown) sign of disbelief.

No wonder Kara was so crushed at the end. This experience not only caused her to mess up her relationships with her friends, ruin a woman's career, and learn some nasty things about her inner thoughts, but also proved that the city she loves and has sworn to protect doesn't love her as unconditionally as she loves it. They all gave up on her after one period of unexplained transgression, and no matter how hard she tries to win them back – and no matter if she actually wins them back — she'll always know deep down that they're just waiting for her to mess up again.

  • I’m weirdly uncomfortable with the idea of The Talk existing in the same reality as superheroes.
  • For someone generally pretty suave, James is so bad at hiding that he’s in love with Kara in that first scene together.
  • Ha! Alex accidentally gives away the episode’s plot by telling Kara she needs to “embrace what [she’s] feeling and be the ‘let him know’ girl” before it’s too late.
  • Fun fact: I’m pretty sure that the characteristics of red kryptonite removing inhibitions in Kryptonians was established by the show Smallville. Before that, red kryptonite exposure effects were inconsistent.
  • “Your mother —” “Sentenced you to Fort Rozz, ruined your life, blah blah. Heard the story. Wanna fight about it?” Early Red K Kara was actually pretty fun.
  • How hilarious was James’s freak-out when Kara almost takes off her glasses at the club? Like, No, Kara! That hunk of plastic is the only thing keeping the entire world from figuring out you’re Supergirl!
  • Ha! Maxwell Lord shows up at the DEO and instantly gets thrown back into his glass prison.
  • Look, I know they needed to do it for the drama, but I am 100% sure that Hank/J’onn could have fudged the truth a bit and not gotten captured by the DEO.
  • I really loved Cat Grant in this episode. She’s really a great boss whose ethics outweigh monetary gain, genuinely cares about Supergirl beyond how the image of the hero reflects on the person who named/”made” her, and is the only one who stays to listen — unflinchingly — to Supergirl’s apology, and openly forgives her without hesitation.
  • Also loved: Melissa Benoist’s acting chops, especially in the scene just after she wakes up. The horror/sorrow combination was so effective and heart-wrenchingly, beautifully done. The softer sadness when she talks about how much she loves National City was beautiful as well, and her twisted version of inhibitions-free Kara/Supergirl was equal parts frightening and entertaining.


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