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Supergirl Explores the Depths of Kara’s Trauma in ‘Triggers’

Supergirl Season 3 Reviews: Episode 2, “Triggers”

Welcome back, Superfriends! This week’s episode of Supergirl is easily the heaviest they’ve done in the series, but that’s why this is our favorite show on television. When Supergirl goes for the heavy stuff, it really shines, and if this is an indication of the season to come, then this is a far more mature and subtle approach than any other DCTV show has taken, including Supergirl’s previous seasons. It’s well shot, well scripted, subtle, and sensitive to the content. It discusses the concept of triggers in a way that surpasses many more serious dramas, and while the tone of the show has darkened a bit, it’s still Supergirl. It’s the show you know and love, it’s just gotten its things together and grown up a little. And we consider this a very welcome change.

You’ll probably notice that this recap is shorter than the previous one by a significant margin. This will be consistent going forward, as we realized we often have so much to say about a given episode of this show, it’s better suited for entirely separate articles in some cases. Stay tuned Superfriends, if longer analysis pieces are your thing, they will be coming very soon.

Recap

This week in “Kara needs a break”, we face off with metahuman Psy (Yael Grobglas) who is a really, very not nice lady. Let’s jump in.

We start the episode with a contrast montage. Samantha and her daughter Ruby getting ready for school, and it’s sweet and joyful. You can tell how much this mother/daughter duo loves each other, which is just seeding the inevitable drowning in feels bucket Kori will need as Samantha slowly becomes Reign.

Elsewhere, Kara is getting ready and finds a copy of Romeo and Juliet that Mon-El had been reading through and making notes on. Oh. Ouch. Buckle up, Kara, your day isn’t getting any better.

Lena, the new boss of Catco decides she wants to try a hands-on management style to the surprise of James. He was obviously not expecting her to be at Catco on a daily basis or to approach it like she does with LCorp business. Kara gives her a welcoming present but has to fly off for a crime alert when Lena asks her for the investigative files on Morgan Edge.

Kori sidenote: Lena, no you don’t. James, stop her, that’s a conflict of interest!

Back to the action. Psy has been robbing banks all over the midwest ever since her powers manifested, and now she’s set up shop in National City. Supergirl goes to save the day and is whammied herself in a bank vault. It’s a nice touch for Maggie to know to clear everyone out of the building when she see’s Supergirl fallen in the bank vault and not herself.

At the DEO, J’onn is able to pick up the leftover psychic energy lingering around Kara’s mind and deduces that Psy is using a fear-based attack to incapacitate her victims. But our wonder puppy isn’t deterred, she’s going hunting for a psychic.

Annnnnd gets whammied again. J’onn tries to protect her, but Psy’s incredibly strong (obviously if she can even penetrate a Kryptonian mind), and whammies Kara yet again. This time, Kara stays down.

Samantha has problems of her own, as her daughter has punched a classmate in the face. Ruby is hellbent in proving her mother has superpowers after Sam saved her in the last episode, and Sam implores her to let it go. Ruby does as any teenager and sneaks out. For pizza naturally, you little rebel you.

Back at CatCo, Lena’s twigging on Kara’s absences and they have a little spat. Lena, like Cat, is no dummy, she just hasn’t completely connected the dots yet. However, this does put a new kink in Kara’s ability to do derring-do when the need arises.

Also, James. Lena. We ship it. What are the kids calling this, GuardCorp? Do good things, you two. Do good things.

But back to Kara, our poor baby. She has a panic attack in the elevator and busts out of it as Supergirl. Winn, whom she’s confided in on exactly what Psy is making her relive is trying to make a dampener for her post haste. Until Alex confronts him and big sisters him into talking.

Cut to special Danvers Sisters moment #1. Alex comes in and finds Kara meditating in Kryptonian. So far the callbacks to Kara’s heritage are a very nice treat this season. It felt like we got away from that somewhat in season two, so nice course correction thus far. Kara opens up about how everything that made her happy seems to be gone or ruined, and Supergirl is the only thing she can count on now, and Psy can’t even let her have that. Alex reminds Kara that she’ll always have her big sister, and they hug.

Meanwhile, Ruby sees Psy hitting another heist and tells her mom to come save her. And then walks right into danger. Sam pulls up just in time to see Ruby fall and nearly be crushed by rubble and runs to her. Then the giant wrecking ball snaps and plummets towards them. Sam throws her arm up and BOOM. They’re saved by Supergirl.

She and Psy battle it out again, with Psy managing to overcome the dampening device and whammy Kara yet again. This time she realizes she’s hallucinating about Mon-El, who she sees alone and dying in the pod she sent him off Earth in. Alex arrives for the second special Danvers sisters moment and breaks Kara out of her no good, awful, very bad day vision and inspires her to go after Psy one more time.

Kara shakes the hallucination off and steels her resolve. The final confrontation with Psy goes much differently, as Psy blasts her again and again and monologues about how fear is the ultimate weapon.

Kori: Look, I know it’s crossing the sci-fi streams and all, but this would have been the perfect time for Kara to retort that “fear is the mind killer.”

Instead, Kara headbutts her and she’s taken into custody. Sam realizes that Ruby wants her to have superpowers because she thought Sam could have quit work and spent more time with her. She reassures Ruby that she’s the most important thing in her life. (That ugly sobbing you’re hearing is Kori. Again.)

We end the episode with Kara and Lena reconciling and then hugging. Kara admits that Lena was right, and she was struggling with the baggage from Mon-El more than she realized. Lena is the best friend ever and forgives her, and they hug. Can we also say a collective “awwwww” at Lena’s face when Kara told her she was a really good friend? Because awwwww. Also, surprise! Sam is going to be stepping in for Lena over at LCorp! How serendipitous!

We’re going to be BEST FRIENDS.

Now for the closing montage. Samantha is looking at her daughter in bed, and then goes to their garage area where she tries to bend a crowbar in half, and nothing happens. Confused, she lets it go.

Kara and Alex close with a movie night, The Wizard of Oz, and Alex admits that she and Maggie never decided on a DJ or a band for their wedding. Which now isn’t their only issue, because this episode dropped a bomb on who wants kids and who doesn’t.

Finally, we’re back to J’onn, alone at the bar when M’gann suddenly appears to him and implores him to come back to Mars, immediately. Guess we’re going to Mars next week!

Analysis

While this episode probably has the most on-the-nose title of the entire series thus far, it’s not an episode that would be easily titled anything else. That’s what this episode is about: triggers. It both talks about triggers in a context contained only to this single episode, and it also expands that concept to the show’s larger lore and its last episode.

Triggers are remarkably difficult to explain to someone who doesn’t experience them, or only experiences them in a way that didn’t result from negative trauma. They can, however, be expressed reasonably well in a visual medium. Something that is particularly difficult to express well is partially or fully disassociative episodes brought on by triggers, and Supergirl is not the show I would have expected to not only tackle this issue, but do it very very well.

Of course, I had been hoping for quite a long time that the show would cover this topic because Kara reasonably should have triggers. She’s experienced more trauma in a year than most people weather in a lifetime. She witnessed the end of an entire civilization, her own, with her own eyes at the age of 12 and consciously remembers this happening.

For a long time, especially in its first season, the show seemed really determined to make it appear like Kara wasn’t at all haunted by this. And it’s possible she wasn’t, in the sense that she had an excellent life and the Danvers provided a very supportive and enriching environment for Kara to thrive in on Earth. But having to send Mon-El away from earth was incredibly triggering, and suddenly all of these things that she (I’m guessing) assumed she had dealt with are coming back out, because she never actually dealt with them, she just compartmentalized them.

Last week I discussed that Kara was trying to separate the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ feelings in herself into either ‘human’ or ‘Kryptonian’ emotions, as a way of distancing herself from her trauma. When the Big Bad this week pulled at her darkest fears, we get an up close and personal view of what the real root of the trauma is; the deafening, claustrophobic silence of watching your entire world get destroyed in a tiny space pod.

I find this to be especially cleverly crafted because in the last episode Kara explains to Alex that Supergirl doesn’t have human weaknesses. She doesn’t mourn or get depressed or have panic attacks in Cat Grant’s elevator. But that’s part of why this episode is so effective. Watching Kara have a panic attack in that elevator while attempting to change into Supergirl was an incredibly hard to watch scene, partly because it did a very good job of simulating the physical sensation of a panic attack, but because we aren’t used to seeing Kara vulnerable unless she’s fighting literal gods and monsters.

But this is why they’re doing this arc. Benoist has recently opened up about her own struggles with mental disorders, as part of Chris Woods’ “I Don’t Mind” campaign, so I can’t imagine how difficult this must have been to shoot. But I also know why they did it, and the fact that part of the fandom has reacted with shock and anger that Kara could be susceptible to this is… worrying.

I don’t want to get too preachy about this on a Tuesday morning, but I feel it’s important enough to state: anyone can get depressed. Anyone can develop PTSD. Anyone can experience trauma and react badly to it. Kara being a superhero and a ball of sunshine under normal circumstances does not mean she is required to be one while under incredibly stressful and traumatizing ones.

The episode directly confronts that she feels guilt for not operating at 100%. It also confronts that the trigger in losing Mon-El isn’t just losing a lover, it’s that she had to put him in that pod. Kara had to willingly do to someone else something that was so traumatizing for her, it was the thing that the psychic villain was able to use to disable her completely. It touches on how she is pushing people away and lying about her state of mind. While she’s maybe smiling a little more this episode, she is still avoidant and pessimistic, and even cold at times.

Kara is not in a good place, you guys, and it’s going to take more than a pep talk from each of the Superfriends to help her recover from this. She’s clearly suffering from PTSD, which was likely well managed when she was younger as she grew up in a very stable home environment, but traumatic events trigger trauma. Losing Mon-El the way that she did brought these things to the surface.

We know that this isn’t an isolated incident either because when Alex brings up that Kara used to have panic attacks, Alex specifically refers to them as ‘episodes,’ implying it was a repetitive and common occurrence. And that’s another important thing that people don’t often talk about with mental illness: sometimes it comes and goes. Sometimes you get better, and then you’re not. Recovering from trauma is never a linear path: sometimes you go backward, too.

Are you okay, friend?

Speaking of moving backward, let’s talk a little bit about Sanvers before we go, shall we? Once again, I love me some Sanvers, but it is becoming more and more apparent that this engagement was an impulsive and bad idea. I know it’s great to see Sanvers all domestic and all that, but guys: the subject of kids has never come up for them. Which means they both just assumed it was a given, and well… how does that saying go? “When you assume, you make an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me.’”

If there’s one piece of advice I have to offer the younglings, it’s this: it’s okay to date someone for a really long time. In fact, you probably should, because otherwise, this exact kind of thing will happen to you as well. You need to know your future spouse’s views on these things. You need to know if they want kids. If so, you need to know how they want to raise those children (especially if you have different religious backgrounds or drastically different childhoods). You need to know what they’re like when they’re stressed to their breaking point, how they handle trauma, how they handle an emergency, how they handle their liquor, all of it.

You shouldn’t marry someone you don’t know very well. I don’t feel like I should have to say this explicitly, but it’s true. And it’s clear that Alex and Maggie don’t know each other well enough to get married. Does that suck? Yes, it does. But Lima is leaving the show. If the other options to write her off include classic winners such as killing her off or having her cheat, I drastically prefer this. The attention they’re paying to seeding it does a service to how important the relationship is to the audience. They want to make sure this doesn’t come out of nowhere, and thus far they’re doing a good job of it.

But that’s just my opinion, of course.

Closing Thoughts

Elizabeth: I love that Lena has such a clear sense of professional and personal boundaries despite not having much experience with this whole friendship thing. I feel like in a lesser show this conflict would have been handled very poorly but Supergirl pulls it off without making either Kara or Lena feel like the bad guy. Also, I love that all it takes for Alex to intimidate Winn into squealing is to stare at him intensely for a few moments until he folds like a cheap lawn chair. I just love this show so much guys, oh my god.

Kori: So many seeds are being sewn for Samantha/Reign, and Odette Annable is doing such a good job this season. And it’s only been two episodes. I’ve been excited for this since season two’s finale, and the layering thus far is only heightening my anticipation. This season is going to hurt. so. good. Not just for Reign, but Kara and Ruby as well.

Next time on Supergirl: Holy shit guys, Space Dad and Kara are going to Mars. Can it be Monday yet? We’ll see you all next Tuesday!


Images courtesy of the CW

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    Part time gamer, full time complainer. Gotta go fast cuz I’ve got ADHD! Nonbinary, they/them. El serves as a Managing Editor for The Fandomentals. You can find them on Twitter.

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