Supergirl – Season 3 Episode 5
Supergirl deals with the consequences of the lead bomb used to stop the Daxamite invasion in last season’s finale by putting Lena in the public firing line.
Little has been said about the Daxamite invasion since it happened which is bizarre when you really think about it. A citywide alien invasion would be something that would linger for a long time. A lead based solution would come under significant public scrutiny despite how safe it apparently was so it’s curious that it has taken this long to come up.
Lena takes the focus in this episode and rightly so since she was the one who modified the device to stop the problem. When kids start turning up sick all over the city Morgan Edge takes the opportunity to drag Lena’s name through the mud by blaming her. Edge knows exactly what he’s doing by appealing to the public’s natural inclination to rally against the suffering of children. Couple this with the fact that the Luthor name is an easy one to cast doubt on and it results in a really volatile situation for Lena.
This episode uses Lena’s perspective to tackle a number of interesting modern issues. One of these is how fickle public opinion is when it comes to the demonisation of celebrities. Despite how much good Lena has done for the city and all the positive work she has done to rehabilitate her family name it only takes suspicions to be lobbied at her for the benefit of the doubt to disappear. It has never been explicitly established that Lena is well liked by the public but it hasn’t been stated that she is hated either so even neutral public opinion is something positive given the reputation of other members of her family. It’s sadly realistic for the court of public opinion to write her off so quickly despite their being no evidence that she’s guilty. The people escalate to chanting “lock her up” very quickly.
Unfortunately, not enough is done with this which is makes it difficult to see National City as being a real city with communities that react to information in different ways. Morgan Edge appealing to the judgemental side of people is all well and good but the conflict felt focused on Edge and Lena rather than broadening it to include public perception. Once Lena is proven innocent there’s no real sense of whether the people have forgiven her or not. For someone who is characterised as being a public figure there should be more effort put into exploring what people think of her.
The power of the media is something else the episode touches on. As the head of a media company Lena’s presence creates the potential for a conflict of interest as people may think that CatCo are reluctant to print the truth. This is similarly underdeveloped other than Lena agreeing to step down until the current crisis is over. Will this be enough to preserve CatCo’s reputation? No stance is taken on this one way or another.
Some conflict between business and the integrity of the media is explored when James questions Lena’s decision to publish an advert disguised as an article. He’s on the side of honour, integrity and truth where Lena sees the magazine as a business that needs paying customers to continue existing. She points out that articles like that are a necessary evil when trying to remain afloat. Both sides of the argument are equally valid and it’s interesting to see James on the side of idealism with Lena on the side of realism.
This was a great episode for Lena and Katie McGrath gets to deliver some of her finest work in this role yet. Lena is so often characterised as confident, put together and more than a little ruthless but much of this melts away once her world starts to collapse beneath her feet. The fact that she may be inadvertently responsible for putting children in mortal danger weighs heavily on her. At first she’s confident about weathering a PR nightmare because it isn’t the first time she has had to do it and she’s sure that she’s right. Eventually when it starts to look more likely that her device is the cause of the sick children she begins to unravel and clearly feels incredibly guilty about what she did. She’s willing to give up and accept that she did something really bad that has awful consequences. Her arc involves her regaining that confidence and realising that people actually do believe in her which happens when Kara encourages her not to give up.
Katie McGrath delivers a wonderfully moving performance showing Lena at complete rock bottom and resigned to her guilt. It’s something we haven’t seen from this character before so the vulnerability has definite emotional impact. There are some aspects that don’t quite work such as the scene where Lena pulls a gun on Morgan Edge. I understand that the intention was to show that it’s not so easy to silence her inner Luthor but it just feels excessive. Morgan Edge is also a little too one note to be truly engaging as an antagonist; Adrian Pasdar does the best with what he has but ends up feeling like a pantomime villain once again.
Lena being out of commission allows Kara and Sam to work together to get to the bottom of the situation. Their scenes together are great as they bounce off each other well. There is even some discussion of the fact that they are both adopted which gives them more common ground. It’s a good episode for Kara who gets to do some actual investigative reporting; something we have seen almost none of. She is portrayed as being resourceful, intelligent and methodical in the way she approaches finding out the truth. Kara doesn’t jump to any conclusions and is focused on finding the evidence required to clear her friend’s name.
Sam is similarly motivated to help Lena because she has apparently known her for a long time and owes her a lot. This is the first mention of a pre-existing relationship between them that begins prior to this season. I’d like to see this further explored to flesh out the really unlikely prospect of an unemployed single mother immediately taking Lena’s place at LCorp.
There is some subtext to Sam’s interactions with Kara specifically through the mention of them going swimming when they were younger. Kara mentions that she went swimming on Tuesdays and Thursdays where Sam went on Mondays and Wednesdays which seems innocuous enough as far as facts go but it strongly hints at the similarities and differences between these characters. It’s a subtle way of foreshadowing how their relationship might evolve.
Lena’s relaxing sisterly bonding scene with Sam and Kara is a really well played moment showing the chemistry the actors have with one another. It’s a bit soppy but their friendship also feels very real. There’s a tragic undercurrent to it knowing that Kara will eventually be in opposition to Sam in some way. It could be argued that Lena has that potential but I doubt she’s heading down the villainous route.
This episode regrettably marks the end of Alex and Maggie’s relationship. As has been teased in previous weeks the differing stance on having kids proves to be a deal breaker and they mutually agree to call it off to save more pain later on. It’s heart wrenching but in a good way. This relationship has been consistently compelling since it began so seeing it end feels like a massive loss for the show. It’s very common for the end of relationships to veer into the melodramatic but this doesn’t happen here. The scenes are full of melancholy as you might expect but there’s a maturity to it that makes it stand out. They aren’t splitting up because of death, infidelity or no longer loving one another; the relationship is ending because they want different things and aren’t willing to compromise.
As such the breakup feels necessary from a certain point of view and their scenes together are more about celebrating their connection while terminating it in an amicable way. They dance, they kiss and they sleep together one last time but it’s all in service of saying goodbye rather than a last ditch attempt to reconcile. The most impressive thing is that the breakup is sedate and dignified rather than being met with a passionate fanfare of some sort. A relationship ends and everyone behaves like an adult about it. Even Alex’s post-mortem with Kara is very low key.
The mechanics behind the breakup are somewhat problematic. I’ve mentioned in previous reviews that the differing position on having children is a conversation topic that should have come up long ago not mere weeks before the wedding though I have to temper this with the knowledge that the writers had this breakup forced upon them because Floriana Lima was unable to commit to a full season. That being said, what appears on the screen shouldn’t be judged by whatever happens behind the scenes so the reason still feels contrived. The actual handling of the breakup was well done and it is a connection that will definitely be missed though I’ll be interested to see what happens to Alex now that she is more comfortable within herself but isn’t in a relationship.
There’s some movement on Sam’s slow journey towards becoming an antagonist when she realises that she was shot and didn’t even notice. It’s reminiscent of Unbreakable and I like that Sam appears terrified of the changes happening to her because she doesn’t understand them and doesn’t really have anywhere to turn. This allows the focus to be on developing her as a character rather than concentrating on the villain story and it’s an approach that really works.
An interesting episode that doesn’t quite reach its full potential in exploring the ideas it presents. Lena being judged by the public is something that could have been developed more than it was as she is a public figure having her name dragged through the mud despite working so hard to rehabilitate the Luthor name. It doesn’t take much to get the public to turn on her it seems so it’s a shame the episode wasn’t more about that. Still, it was a great episode for Lena and Katie McGrath does an excellent job portraying her as vulnerable. It’s also a perfect opportunity for Sam and Kara to work together while Kara shows off some rare reporter skills in a really intelligent way.
There are some missteps such as Lena pulling a gun on Morgan Edge despite it not making sense for her to behave that way and Morgan Edge himself is a really limp villain with almost no discernible threat level. The Alex and Maggie breakup was handled with dignity rather than melodrama and everyone involved behaved like an adult which I really appreciate. Even taking into account the behind the scenes reasons for this particular plot point the whole thing does feel somewhat contrived but the way it was handled goes a long way towards making up for that.
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