Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Supergirl 4x02 Review: "Fallout" (Tensions High) [Contributor: Deborah MacArthur]

Original Airdate: October 21, 2018 

In an interesting choice, this week’s Supergirl has no villain of the week. Instead, the show makes the wise decision to focus entirely on the events of last episode, including the escape of Mercy Graves, the reveal of the president as an alien, and how animosity toward aliens on Earth is growing. I’d actually be cool with the show foregoing minor villains entirely this season, because honestly? Their villain of the season is hatred. Bank-robbing aliens and metahumans who can control lightning just look a little silly in comparison.


Protests outside the White House! Okay, this episode’s pacing and utilization of primary characters is good — its political language? Not so much. The dialogue during the opening protest scenes are about as clunky as your average Facebook-shared political cartoon, except worse because extras (who are just trying their best, I’m sure) are actually saying the lines. Fighting amongst protestors breaks out. A car careens into a flagpole, dislodging it and sending it crashing into the crowd.

Before it can squash anyone, Supergirl swoops through and lifts the flagpole into the air. Old Glory still a-flapping in the breeze, Supergirl crams the flagpole into the concrete sidewalk outside the White House gates and poses next to it. “Now is the time to talk to each other, not fight,” she calls out to the dazed protestors, as the background music thrums. Hey! Hey, Supergirl — I see you, trying to win me over with classic cheesiness. I’m onto you, and I’m not that easy.

Since she’s definitely not an American-born citizen (seriously, how did that little fact slip past all the background checks?), President Wonder Woman must step down as Commander-in-Chief and leave the role for her Vice President, a man named Baker who toes the line between suspicious and charming when Supergirl talks to him later in the episode. As the DEO watches the president’s resignation address, one DEO soldier pipes up with a loud declaration that, as an alien who disguised herself as human, President Marsdin belongs in one of their holding cells. Um... The DEO was previously led by a Martian. How did an anti-alien person get through screening?

Speaking of the former director of the DEO, J’onn is heading the weakest storyline of the episode: his search for Fiona, who was killed last week. Maybe if we, the audience, had been given more time with Fiona — and if she disappeared without us seeing her actual death — J’onn’s story here would be more compelling. As it is, though, J’onn is on a mission to solve a mystery we already know the answer to, and it comes off like he’s been given “busy work.” Yeah, he stumbles into an anti-alien rally led by this season’s big bad, but we already knew about this season’s big bad and the episode’s already full of anti-alien rhetoric, so what’s the point?

Meanwhile, at CatCo, James Olsen is trying to keep neutral during the highly polarizing anti-alien wave sweeping the nation. He has good reasoning for it (he can’t draw attention to himself after the Guardian fiasco; CatCo’s job is to give people news, not opinions) but butts heads against the charmingly imploring Nia Nal, who wants him to write a Letter from the Editor about the current state of things.

Nia’s storyline in this episode crosses with Brainy’s storyline, as Nia goes in search of some coffee and Brainy in search of some disgusting, disgusting apple and olive pizza to boost morale at the DEO. They end up at the same pizzeria. While Brainy is waiting to pay for his pizzas, Mercy Graves hacks into Lena’s Image Inducer system and takes the tech that aliens use to look human offline. Once Brainy looks like his alien self, the pizzeria owner turns and orders employees to beat Brainy with baseball bats. Nia steps in to tell them to back off, which they do. Brainy is left with first-hand experience of primitive Earth prejudice, and Nia is left with strengthened resolve to get James to write that editorial piece. As a transgender woman, Nia has her own first-hand experience with primitive Earth prejudice, but she believes that standing up to injustice holds a mirror to the faces of bullies, and James should use his position of power to that effect.

When Lena locks Mercy out of the Image Inducer system during the Brainy situation, Mercy’s only option is to storm L-Corp and access it through the mainframe. She does that.

Kara just so happened to have been interviewing Lena about Mercy’s past with the Luthor family, so she ends up trapped in the L-Corp building along with Lena and Eve Teschmacher. The scenes with Lena and Kara, who is trying desperately to separate herself from Lena so she can change into Supergirl, are my personal highlight of the episode. Lena shows such hilariously logical concern for Kara while Kara fakes phone calls to hide her DEO earpiece and catches bullets. I do love the dynamic between Kara and Lena a lot, and these scenes shine with it.

After making their way through the L-Corp building, Lena and Kara end up in the place where Lena keeps all her sciency prototypes. Mercy’s already been around, having stolen a gun arm of the Lexosuit and situated herself in the room for the perfect villainous saunter. She spews some “you should be fighting the aliens because POWER!” nonsense at Lena, and this whole confrontation sorta underlines what’s wrong with Supergirl’s approach to a real-world problem of prejudice and needless hatred: it’s too simple.

Mercy wants to fight against aliens because she wants power and she likes being bad. Later on, Agent Jensen listens to the story of Brainy’s experience with bigotry and doesn’t feel compassion for someone he knows going through something awful, and he doesn’t feel any hope or empathy when he listens to Supergirl’s inspiring speech against bigotry on the news — he feels anger, and ugliness, because it’s very simple for the show to draw the line between good and bad with things like anger and ugliness.

Jensen is bad. He has ugly emotions and he helps Mercy and Otis escape, and they are also bad because they have ugly emotions. And yes, a lot of bigoted, awful people are simply bigoted, awful people who are just going to die angry, but a lot of other bigoted, awful people are... neighbors. Coworkers. Soccer moms at shopping malls who don’t go to rallies or hold protest signs or order bombs on the internet to kill the schoolmates they don’t like their kids hanging around. Supergirl doesn’t have the finesse to handle the truly insidious reality of prejudice, and the one time they might have gotten close — a CatCo employee making an anti-alien gibe at a coworker — the person’s empathy cuts in and she’s ashamed as soon as she realizes she hurt someone.

On Supergirl, there are people who make mistakes within the realm of prejudice — like the CatCo employee — but aren’t that bad, and there are people who hurl slurs in the streets and want to murder everyone who doesn’t look like them, and the latter are the true enemy. The approach is cartoonish, and considering that it’s loosely based on current events, that cartoonishness can be ethically dangerous. Painting bigotry with such a wide brush of “ugly-filled people who order bombs online” allows prejudiced people to look at it and go, “Well, at least I’m not like that,” ignoring that fact that “not like that” is still “that,” just quieter.

Anyway, Mercy and Otis have escaped. They use a device to spray kryptonite into the atmosphere, poisoning Kara as she’s flying and sending her plummeting to the ground.

Other Things:

  • Wait, Brainy’s using Lena’s Image Inducer and not like... future technology? I’m pretty sure he should be on a different network or something.
  • Okay, Kara’s ending speech kinda got me in that part of my heart that still believes in hope. Good work, show.
  • I like the little hints that Lena might be getting over her grudge against Supergirl. Also: I probably could’ve written another thousand words on Lena’s characterization in this episode and how she’s actually a morally (light) gray character written right, but people have to read these things! I’m not that cruel!


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