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We Can Be Heroes, Er Superheroes?

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Supergirl Season 2 Reviews: Episode 10, “We Can Be Heroes”

She’s baaaack! That’s right, Livewire has returned to Supergirl and we couldn’t be more thrilled to see her. We (Gretchen and Elizabeth) think that Livewire is an excellent nemesis for our girl in blue, even if it makes us miss Cat Grant more (*sniff*). Plus we get all the space family feels. And M’gann. Our precious M’gann. And Sanvers fluff.

Awwww

Quick Recap

Training montage with Kara and Mon El (the new DEO has some sweet training facilities); yay Kara getting to be a superhero mentor! Maggie and some fellow officers find some baddies Guardian left in a trash pile, but James got shot taking them down, so Winn tells him it’s time to tell Kara. M’gann has a seizure in her cell, but when J’onn goes to check on her, she screams until the glass shatters and faints. Alex agrees to run tests and J’onn is totes not worried about her okay? Livewire is in therapy—it’s not helping. A guard frees an inmate and they both attack the therapist to get to Livewire. Alex tells J’onn that M’gann is dying psychologically and asks him to do the mind meld to save her, but he refuses. Kara complains about Livewire to James, who advises Kara against letting Mon El help her. They see Livewire attack the NCPD on one of his monitors in his office, only when Kara and Mon El arrive it turns out not to be her after all. It’s the guard and inmate. Kara tells Mon El to protect the cops, but he chooses to help her instead. Thankfully, the Guardian shows up to protect the cops. When he’s knocked out, Kara takes off his helmet to discover James underneath. Cue the awkward confessions. James explains that he was never meant to live in Superman’s shadow, but Kara wants to protect him because he’s human. James points out that Mon El put people in danger and that Kara should not get to decide who gets to be a hero. Kara says she’s going to stop him.

You’re right, Livewire. Mon El’s ‘supersuit’ was rather blah. Why did he have orange tinted glasses?

Back at the DEO, Alex reminds J’onn that M’gann helped him, but he doesn’t want to help her because he might end up forgiving her. Kara confronts Mon El about his recklessness and asks him point blank if he’s doing it because he likes her. He denies it. She goes to find Livewire, who we see in the next shot is strapped down in a chair in some basement with Lab Man. At the DEO, security footage tells them Livewire was captured, not freed, and Winn lies about knowing where she is so he and James can track her down themselves, only Mon El overhears.

J’onn attempts the mind meld with M’gann with Kara and Alex to support him. M’gann is trapped in her memory of the day she broke ranks. J’onn processes her experiences with her, forgives her, and brings her back (cue ugly sobbing). Livewire learns that Lab Man is making copies of her to turn into super soldiers. Guardian shows up to rescue her? Capture her? Mon El joins the fray. Winn calls Kara to rescue the boys, whom Lab Man had taken captive. She rescues the boys and frees Livewire. Livewire and Kara team up (!!) to take down Lab Man and Kara lets Livewire go to spare his life. J’onn threatens to fire Winn if he ever lies again, but not before complimenting him and Guardian. Kara decides she can’t support James and Winn putting themselves in danger, but she won’t stop them. M’gann tells J’onn that White Martians are coming to get her. Mon El confesses his feelings for Kara but understands she doesn’t feel the same way and wants to move on.

Best Quote: “Forgiveness isn’t something you give to somebody who’s hurt you, forgiveness is something that you give to yourself.”—Alex Danvers

Thoughts & Feelings

We’re going to start with our fave Kryptonian puppy. Tonight felt…off. Gretchen’s initial reaction was ‘out of character’. Since when does Kara tell human beings they can’t be heroes? After talking about it, it felt more clear to both of us that what she actually means is that humans can’t be superheroes, as in they are soft, squishy, and mortal. Kara’s dialogue seems to support this theory, but it is just that; we are not in the writers heads, unfortunately. But she did have an “I’m a hero, powers or no” scene last episode, for heaven’s sake. Turning right around to tell James he can’t be a hero because he’s a human didn’t make sense, especially when viewed in the context of the rest of the season.

By the end of the episode she sounds more like what we’d expect. She doesn’t see the need for James and Winn to put themselves in danger when she already saw them as heroes doing what they were doing before. Which is precisely what we’ve been saying this whole time. James’ and Winn’s decision to be superheroes flies in the face of the show’s message that “we can be heroes” without needing to be superheroes. And if James doesn’t want to be the guy behind the desk maybe he should quit Catco so someone else can give it the attention it needs.

At the same time, Kara literally just found out that her two best friends were lying to her for months. She knows what aliens and bad guys they faced. She knows they could have been hurt or killed. Of course she’s going to overreact a little and feel protective. Not to mention that she almost lost J’onn, M’gann, Mon El, and the entire alien population of National City in “Medusa”. And, you know, she lost her planet. Losing people is a sore spot for her, as is people lying to her. Remember dealing with that all of S1? Alex, her mother, J’onn, her father—none of that has gone away. Alex did try to warn James about Kara not taking lying lightly, yet he chose to keep lying anyway. But really, James shouldn’t need to be warned; it’s not like he wasn’t there when all of this was going on in season one. He remembers how Kara reacted. He shouldn’t need Alex to spell it out for him.

As if that weren’t enough emotional struggle for Kara in one day, she gets Mon El confessing his feelings for her. She’s been here before. That pained look on her face (which Elizabeth felt deep in her soul… Like same girl. Same.) was most likely her reliving what happened with Winn in S1 when he said he had feelings for her and she didn’t reciprocate. Girl can’t catch a break. Every single male her age on the show has been a romantic interest. This isn’t entirely surprising, as Kara is a warm, happy, intelligent, beautiful woman who lights up the world like sunlight. But as far as tropes go, this is yet another one that desperately needs to get its sticky fingers off our favorite show. Can we just cool it for a while with the gentlemen suitors? Please. Kara doesn’t need a romantic interest right now. Give her a break from men throwing themselves at her please. And then maybe make Supercorp happen. Or Superwire. Or Superlane. Obviously we have a slight bias here, but we mean this genuinely: we don’t care if the wlw ships never sail, we are just 200% over Kara having to beat off romantic suitors with a stick. Let her live.

Speaking of Mon El, lordy where to even start tonight. He continues to not listen to Kara like a petulant child, even after she tells him multiples times to protect the cops and leave her be. Were this a one time deal, we might be willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and say he’s ‘overcome’ with feelings. But this is a pattern with Mon El. No matter how frequently he professes to care about and for Kara, he refuses to respect her. Because part of respecting her is learning to let her ‘no’ be ‘no’ and her ‘go away’ be ‘go away. He’s not being romantic, he’s being a paternalistic asshole. Then he tries to convince her that him kissing her is all in her head. Yay gaslighting. So loving.

We were hopeful that the final scene would be him coming over to apologize and admit he wasn’t ready. But no, we get yet another scene of a young man word vomiting his feelings onto a clearly uncomfortable Kara. Hats off to Melissa Benoist for nailing that deeply uncomfortable body language; she looks ready to crawl out of her own skin just to get out of the conversation. We struggled to get through this scene the first time through because we were deeply worried it was going to end with a kiss; it was genuinely distressing to watch.

The conversation also entirely misses the point. The issue was never that he lied about kissing her (or lied about remembering, though these are both their own separate issues. Don’t think for a second we are cool with either of these things). It was his lack of respect, his failure to listen to her, his apologies and promises to do better that never amounted to any visible change in his behavior toward her. Those are the things Mon El ought to be apologizing for, in addition to lying. His monologue amounted to “sorry I lied about kissing you and didn’t listen to you, but I like you, so it’s fine. And hey, I know you don’t like me so let’s just move on. Teamwork!” At least we got an awkward high-five out of it.

More awkward that the fist bump last week.

This ‘lol he’s so awkward’ persona and goofy culture clash antics don’t make up for his selfishness, and quite frankly they are getting more grating and unbelievable by the minute. We are both 200% done with this plot that wore out its welcome six episodes ago. We desperately hope this episode is the end of it. Yet again, we dare to dream.

On to the good end of the feels spectrum: J’onn and M’gann. Gretchen has been desperate for this interaction for weeks, and it lived up to all of her expectations. There is so much potential for impact in the story of forgiving someone partly responsible for the death of your race and culture. Our only frustration is that it didn’t get more screentime over the season. Supergirl is about forgiveness and second chances.

Tonight, J’onn faced his anger and hate and it felt honest and true-to-life. His initial resistance to helping her because she’s a war criminal evolves into his reluctant admission that he doesn’t want to share his good memories with her. The mindmeld is an incredibly intimate and vulnerable act. J’onn does not want to open himself up that much with his enemy. But it’s more even than that. The vulnerability goes both ways. She would see him, but he would also see her. And he doesn’t want to see her as a person, someone with the potential for both good and evil.

“I don’t want to forgive her…hate becomes your reason for living when you’ve lost everything that you love. If I find that there was some good in their kind. If I don’t hate her…”

…Then what does he have left? That’s the unfinished sentence. He doesn’t want, or even know how, to give his hate up without losing a piece of himself.

Yet deep down, he already knows that she is not who she thinks she is. He knows that she risked uncovering her own identity to save his life. When prompted by Alex, he begrudgingly admits that he ‘suspects’ the truth of her helping his people on Mars. You’re not fooling us, space dad, you know. Which is what makes this arc so compelling; J’onn is fighting himself, his instincts, his fear, and his very reasonable hatred of the race that committed a genocide of which he is the sole survivor. His resistance is compellingly raw and very real. We’ve both felt this way at some point about people who have hurt us.

It makes his choice to help M’gann that much more moving. His tenderness in reaching out to her while she was reliving the day she broke ranks broke us. He let her be honest, be in pain, be vulnerable with him. She confessed both her greatest act of compassion—saving a Green Martian child—and another that probably causes her great inner turmoil—killing her own people. She’s baring her soul to him, and in that moment, he reaches out to her to bring her back. He could crush her, but he chooses compassion instead. Rather than let the pain and trauma win, he chooses empathy. It’s one of our favorite stories to see told, so excuse us while we go ugly sob in the corner for a while.

Can we also say how triggering it must have been for him to be there? This is literally his worst nightmare. Yet, he willingly stays in a memory that causes himself great pain to help bring her home. J’onn uses pretty classic therapy skills with her, too. He reminds her that this is a memory and they’re safe. He asks her questions and reminds her what is true. Both Sharon Leal and David Harewood act the shit out of their scenes this episode, too. M’gann has so much internalized guilt (ugggh, kill us). Protect M’gann M’orzz and give her happiness 2k17.

That brings us to the Guardian. And hoo boy do we have a lot to say. First off, James has a point about Mon El. Everything he says about Mon El not being heroic, about him being selfish and reckless is absolutely true. And we do feel bad for him that Kara overlooks the Guardian, who could actually be a good team-member for her, in favor of Mon El. Who isn’t. We don’t disagree often on Supergirl, but we do have enough of a difference of opinion on James’ arc to warrant us briefly unfusing to talk about it individually.

***

Gretchen: I’m less vociferous in my dislike of the character. I see it as wasted potential and a glaring example of remarkably poor attention to detail in the writing. There seem to be multiple aims with this arc: 1) give James a superhero journey, and 2) give him an arc that brings him into more contact with the DEO since Catco is being de-emphasized. While I am ambivalent about the first, it could have worked in theory. Maybe. I still can’t decide. There’s too much toxic masculinity wrapped up in it’s execution that I can’t distinguish that from how it could have been done otherwise. The second is a reasonable aim and one that I laud. They’re trying to keep James from being sidelined, though I could think of better ways to have done it.

However, the choice to drag out the Guardian arc to 10 episodes was poor. It dragged the season down and stole valuable time from other important arcs. If they had given us this conversation between Kara and James in episode 4, I would have been much less salty about how this played out. The other poor writing choice was to script James in such a way that he came across as vain, self-aggrandizing, and arrogant. His confession that he did this to help people rings hollow when he’s pitching articles about himself to Snapper. It was entirely in line with the James of S1, but not with his scripting this season.

And that’s why, to me, this is less about hating the character and more about being frustrated with the poor writing choices that led to the character assassination of a character I was emotionally invested in up until I saw where this arc was going. I’m disappointed and frustrated with the writers, not the character. And I do kind of see what they were going for, especially after tonight. That doesn’t make it’s execution not complete shit, though. Because it was. I see what they intended, and they utterly failed to bring it to life for me. I’m not entirely done with him though. There is window of opportunity left for me to salvage his character from it’s assassination, but it’s rapidly closing. Come on writers, do better.

***

Elizabeth: At this point I can’t stand James and I’m counting down the seconds when he’s on my screen. While everything that he says about Mon El is objectively true, the fact that it’s coming from his mouth really kneecaps the impact. Almost everything he says to Kara in this episode is blatantly, ridiculously hypocritical when viewed in the context of his actions this season. Who he is now is completely divergent from who he was last season, and that is nobody’s fault but the writers. They took the character in this direction, and I’m sorry but I have to judge his merits based upon what he does on screen, not the idealistic version of him that can be constructed from his previous season’s characterization.

Even if I give him the benefit of the doubt and go along with the idea that this is how he feels like he can best be a ‘hero’ (and this is canon, guys, he says it outright), it doesn’t change the fact that he lied to Kara every step of the way despite there being no real compelling reason for him to do so. James pushes to have his own stories run by Catco, he bullies Winn and manipulates him into helping him, and he delays telling Kara the truth for episode after episode, even after promising both Alex and Winn he would come clean. He never does come clean. He gets caught, and then still has the audacity to act like he has a leg to stand on.

I know that we don’t want to lose James for a multitude of reasons that we’ve discussed before: MOC protagonist, his season one persona was amazing, his relationship with Kara is interracial, etc. But that James is gone, guys. This James is not a good character. I am furious that they destroyed his character, but that’s what happened, and I don’t know if this can be course corrected. I am feeling that cold rage in Kara’s eyes when her and James had it out in this episode.

Even on a second viewing, I feel the same way: I could not possibly be further away from James’ side of things, and if this is the path he wants to take then I’m not on board. You want to be a hero, James? Then find a venue that doesn’t already have a literal God protecting it along with a perfectly competent police department. Go run with Sara Lance for a while or pack your bags for Gotham, because National City does not need vigilantes.

***

We’re back. Ultimately, the problem isn’t that Kara ‘gets to decide who gets to be a hero.’ Really, the problem is that both characters are using the word ‘hero’ when they actually mean ‘superhero.’ This show used to be very good about making this distinction, but it completely dropped that with this episode and with most of Guardian’s arc. Did we not spend the entire first season and a big part of this one reinforcing over and over again the idea that being a hero has nothing to do with vigilantism and superhuman feats? So why are they conflating this language now? It undermines so much of what this show has stood for for two and a half seasons, and we’d like that to end.

Winn has been a bit of a yoyo personality the last few weeks. He called out James then turned around and teamed back up with him last week. His decision to (once again) lie to Kara so that he and Guardian could take out Livewire came way out of left field, too. We found it profoundly out of character the first time through, to the point that we was wondering if we had accidentally dozed off for a few minutes and missed a major plot beat. Upon second viewing, Winn’s motivation doesn’t seem any clearer. Is there a scene missing here where Winn explains himself? Because as it stands, it makes it seem like he’s mad at Kara and is doing this out of pettiness. Not that he’s necessarily above that, but it seems… unearned and unseeded. Your mileage may vary, but we were left feeling icy cold about this turn of events.

Livewire was pretty awesome, though. Kori may have made Gretchen into a Supergirl/Livewire (Superwire) shipper over the past week (it didn’t take much tbh, the joys of being a multishipper). This episode didn’t help with that at all. We can see them seeding a potential frenemy team up where Livewire helps Kara take down a bigger baddie. Come on, Livewire already has nicknames for Kara. That’s ‘names’ plural. And did you catch Winn’s “maybe she’ll turn all her girlfriends evil again”? We’re taking that as Livewire confirmed sapphic/wlw.

We really appreciate Kara calling her Livewire instead of Leslie, in the end, too. She might not think of Livewire as she perceives herself (as a ‘god’) but she’s willing to meet her partway there and respect her desired nomenclature. She respects Livewire’s new reality, a neat little queer coded interaction that’s even more meaningful in light of Alex’s recent arc. And at least Livewire listened to Kara. Sheesh. She could teach Mon El and Guardian a thing or two about how to communicate.

We got less Sanvers tonight and guess what? That’s just fine. They’re being cute and betting on Kara’s superhero antics. They banter. They got vegan ice cream. Not every episode is going to be focused on them, because there are other characters. Would we rather have Alex’s grossed out vegan ice cream face than see Mon El be a dillweed? 1000%. Maybe next time.

Randomness

  • “Behold ye mighty and despair”, nice Ozymandias quote Winn
  • Maggie and Alex placing bets on Kara’s superheroing is everything
  • The Sanvers lean is so cute.
  • We’re not sure if Kara knows that Maggie knows her secret identity, but we dig the awkward. Please give us Kara going out of her way to keep it secret while Maggie just snerks, and Alex feels bad, but also finds it funny.
  • Is Maggie vegan?
  • Ep 10 of S1 was the episode where Winn confessed his feelings to Kara and she turned him down. Is this an intentional parallel?
  • The “nasty woman” joke made us giggle
  • We wished they had mentioned Cat, just once would have been enough.
  • Curious that Mon El didn’t have an allergic reaction to being that near Guardian’s entirely-made-of-lead suit. Perhaps it has to be in his body?
  • It was really satisfying to see Mon El and The Guardian captured. Really satisfying.
  • We love Livewire’s sass; she has some great one-liners. Chief of which: “Y’know what I love? Little boys who think they can do a better job than the woman who’s an actual superhero.” Preach it.
  • No, Mon El, you are not the other superman.

In Conclusion

Overall, the episode was fine. It had a pretty equal mix of excellent, mediocre, and frustrating things. It’s mostly a filler/set-up episode for next week’s Martian invasion anyway, so we’re not that fussed. Every show has it’s ‘fine’, even a show that’s as overall excellent as Supergirl. The reliable excellence does mean episodes like this stand out a bit more, though. And it wasn’t horrible by any means. Space family is everything. Literally, everything. We’re hoping M’gann is fully team Super now, same with Maggie, who was hanging around the DEO like she belonged there. Cute, domestic Sanvers fluff is such a breath of fresh air when we’re frustrated with the menz on the show. Give us more of Alex and Maggie placing bets on Supergirl and talking about going over to each other’s places.

But the brilliance in the space family parts, and even the little bit of Sanvers cuteness, really shines an exposing spotlight on the rougher parts of the writing. Supergirl has never been a stranger to uneven writing issues, but this episode is probably the strongest example of this dissonance. It’s not bad, but it’s not anywhere close to what the show is capable of. We expect better.

One of the main problems with the writing inconsistency sits with how much Mon El’s storyline clashes with the otherwise subversive and fresh content the rest of the show presents. It feels so odd to have this bland, boring, obnoxious white guy and his trope-filled plot standing next to the Sanvers romance, Lena Luthor’s quest to do good, the space family dynamics, and the complex drama of James’ Guardian plotline. We keep asking ourselves: What is Mon El doing here? What meaningful content does he contribute to the plot and/or the characters that could not be done with another character, and done better?

We said last week that he is dead weight hanging off the plot’s neck, and this week is just more of the same. That ending scene in Kara’s apartment was excruciatingly long and just plain uncomfortable to watch. How many other things would we have loved to have instead of this albatross of a tropey, boring romance? Yes, Kara rejected him, but that may not stick. By God we hope it does, but we have no way of knowing; it could still develop into a real romance. And if it does, the Supergirl team is going to get some angry letters from us.

This is nothing against the actor. He plays the role well, at least. It’s more that the character is tired and bland, not that the actor is bad at playing him. We’ve given Mon El a lot of slack this season, but we are on the bleeding edge of our patience. We nearly had a heart attack when Kara lurched forward a little bit at the end of their conversation as if she might go in for a kiss. While it’s funny to see a ‘Straight Bait’ in the wild, we want it off our favorite show. We feel about as awkward around “Where’s My Hug” Mon El as Kara does. We’re halfway through the season, guys. He had his chance. We’re just over it. We’re so done. Please please please get him off our screens for a while and show us more of the characters we actually like.

Still no mention of Cadmus or the Luthors after “Medusa”. This isn’t the first time Supergirl has dropped a villain thread for a couple episodes to be taken up later (just look at Astra and Non in S1). But it would be nice to know how the Luthor ladies are doing right about now. Sneak previews tell us that the Luthors will be back with a vengeance in a couple of episodes, but of course we want it right now. Like right now. Can we have it beamed directly into our brains? We’d totally sign up for that.

Also, everyone really needs to stop having superhero conversations in public. We’re pretty sure everyone in National City knows who both The Guardian and Supergirl really are but they all pretend they don’t.


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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