Supergirl – Season 1 Episode 16
Supergirl returns –sorry I couldn’t resist- from a short break with an episode that has Kara’s personality altered by exposure to Red Kryptonite.
There are many variations of Kryptonite in Superman lore and the red variety has arguably the widest variation. In the comics each piece has a unique effect on Superman, in Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman it makes him incredibly apathetic and in Smallville it made him behave recklessly as he acted on his every urge with no moral filter to stop him.
Supergirl is closer to the Smallville version than anything else which is a good way to go for a TV show I think. If we’re used to a character acting a certain way throughout the show then having them act very differently outside of their control creates many dramatic possibilities that are great to explore.
Kara has worked really hard to build a positive reputation for herself both at work and as Supergirl. She wears the shield with pride and uses it to inspire others. Viewers are reminded of that in the opening minutes of the episode when she takes time out of her day to stop a little girl being bullied. Supergirl is the kind of hero who won’t stand for people being picked on. Maybe it lays the whole “no job too small” idea a little thick but it gets the point across and remains consistent with Kara’s behaviour since the first episode.
Cat’s appearance on a show called “The Talk” reminds us of what Supergirl stands for in another way. Cat Grant has been her biggest public supporter since her first appearance and continues to stand by her decision to do so. This scene was completely cringeworthy and unnecessary as it relays pretty much the same information as Supergirl stopping a little girl be picked on in a more clumsy way. It was also painful to watch which really didn’t help.
We are also reminded of Kara’s relationship with the important people in her life from her acceptance of Winn’s casual relationship with Siobhan after she catches them in the act to her respect for James when she decides to give him the space he needs after his breakup with Lucy. There’s also a reminder of the playful sisterly bond she has with Alex so there are plenty of reminders of the kind of person Kara is before her Red Kryptonite fuelled transformation. In many ways this is unnecessary in an ongoing series but most of it feels organic enough to be the opening for almost any episode of Supergirl. The consistency in the characterisation is one of the main strengths this show has so doing a quick summary of that before turning it on its head is reasonably effective setup.
Once Kara is exposed to Red Kryptonite the episode completely shifts gears and really doesn’t hold back. Like in Smallville, the effects of Red Kryptonite intensify over time so the changes are fairly slight initially with her dressing differently and acting more assertive around the office before they worsen to the point that Kara is a threat to those around her. Her battle with the K’hund (Gary Kasper) is the first real indication that the effects are getting out of control as she uses him as an outlet for all of her rage and frustration by essentially humiliating him with an effortless show of strength that lets him know that he isn’t worth her time. She even lets him go because he isn’t worth capturing as far as she’s concerned and doesn’t care when he escapes. This is a significant change in Kara as she would normally torture herself if she was unable to capture a dangerous alien who could hurt more people before he’s caught. She could easily have caught him but lets him go and doesn’t really care who else he might hurt.
Her impulsive attitude worsens when she makes Cat aware of Siobhan trying to sell a story to the Daily Planet to secure a job there. Cat’s reaction is to fire Siobhan which makes Kara indirectly responsible for Siobhan’s future villainous role. I say indirectly responsible as Kara only takes advantage of something that is already there so in many ways Siobhan is responsible for betraying Cat, Kara’s role is making sure that she is found out but the fault does lie with Siobhan for being duplicitous in the first place. I could see Kara acting on this information if she wasn’t on Red Kryptonite but I don’t think she would be so underhanded about it and she would certainly regret what she did once she saw the result of that.
Since Kara is dealing with unresolved feelings for James it’s expected that this would play out in this episode as she attempts to seduce him when she invites him out clubbing with Winn in tow. James’ reaction was really interesting as he spurs her advances while being completely unphased by the outfit designed to entice him. James is definitely attracted to Kara but that attraction is more based on her personality than anything physical. I’m sure he’s physically attracted to her as well but that’s not as important as the person she is. The selfish, angry and malicious Kara isn’t someone he wants to be around
When she is at the height of her exposure Kara says some really unflattering things to Alex. Kara accuses her of being so jealous that she forced Kara to live in her shadow with conservative clothing advice as well as encouraging her to hide her powers from the world. Alex is taken aback by the accusation probably because she can’t disagree with it. While she doesn’t really resent Kara there must be an element of jealousy to their relationship that remains buried but is definitely there. Alex might not have been consciously sabotaging Kara but on some level she may have wanted to make herself seem more impressive to others than her super powered adopted sister. This is a very natural and human way for someone to behave as it can be difficult to completely bury envy even when that feeling is directed at someone close. The home truth of Alex only being where she is in her career because of her proximity to Kara hits hard as well. Alex knows that the Red Kryptonite is only allowing Kara to say what she really feels on some level so it’s not as if she is making things up just to be hurtful.
These personality change episodes are often disposable as the normal structure tends to have the character acting erratically so that they can later repair the damage caused to their relationships once they return to their old self. That isn’t the case here as there are some heavy consequences to Kara’s actions. The most significant consequences come when she attacks Cat Grant by throwing her off a roof and catching her just before she hits the ground to prove how powerful she is and to send a message that Cat should fear her. Cat is forced to publically denounce her as a hero despite not really wanting to. Winn and James try to convince her that Supergirl will eventually be alright but Cat challenges them to convince her that Supergirl isn’t a threat. Both James and Winn can’t do that so Cat has to make the public aware. I like that they are committed to being honest with the public in their role as journalists and don’t let their personal attachments get in the way of that.
Cat’s message to the public intercut with the reactions of the people works really well. Seeing the little girl that Kara helped at the beginning of the episode discard her homemade Supergirl costume is a powerful scene as it shows her supporters giving up on her. All of the work Kara has done to win over the public as Supergirl has been undone in a short space of time and it’s difficult to watch. The implications this will have over the rest of the season should prove interesting.
Kara’s scene with Cat at the end of the episode where she apologises for what she has done and isn’t sure what to do next is a morbid note to end on but shows how strong the relationship between these characters is. When she needs guidance she still goes to Cat who doesn’t have any answers or a quick fix for her this time. It’s a sour note to end on but an effective one.
Mellissa Benoist gives a great performance throughout this episode as she expertly plays the gradual transition from Kara acting selfishly to becoming more of a villain. It’s interesting how her wardrobe changes with her personality culminating in an outfit reminiscent of the one worn by the other Kryptonians on the show. Her final outfit represents the end of her transition and the height of her threat level. Benoist does a great job playing Kara as cold and uncompromising as well as her lack of empathy as she mocks Alex’s tears. She is definitely convincing playing a Kara who is the complete opposite of what we expect.
As a direct contrast her performance of the despair Kara feels when she is freed from the influence of Red Kryptonite is also excellent. She may be back to her old self but the bubbly optimism has gone and has been replaced with uncertainty over how she can rebuild her reputation. It’s a moving scene that is wonderfully played by Melissa Benoist. It will take a while for her to reclaim the faith her friends and the public have in her. Her scene with James identifies that there are lingering issues around her feelings for him that will complicate their friendship over the coming episodes. A lot of damage has been done and it will be difficult to repair.
This was a big episode for J’Onn as Kara calls him out on hiding who he really is to make his life easier when he is just as strong as she is and could be doing more to help with his abilities. This pays off when he reveals himself to save Alex from Kara which has the consequence of him being arrested by the DEO and his cover completely blown. It’s a choice he makes to protect Alex and clearly not one he regrets but it puts J’Onn in a difficult position as he can no longer run the DEO and keep the organisation operating in the way that it has. This will give Kara another thing to agonise about.
Maxwell Lord’s appearance felt completely out of place in this episode. He was on hand to make the magical cure gun and confess to being responsible for Kara’s transformation. His plan to create synthetic Kryptonite to take on Non’s army is a good one but I would have been happy being left with the revelation of Lord being responsible for it for a later episode. He is so casually apologetic about being responsible for it that it really doesn’t fit with his character or the tone of the episode. Maxwell Lord being free and knowing Kara’s secret is still something that needs to be dealt with as the threat he represents is still unclear.
The DEO’s attempt to bring down Kara was confusing as well since they used conventional weapons against her when they would know better than anyone that they wouldn’t work. Where were the Kryptonite darts or knives that they always seem to have handy? They had to be underequipped to create drama in the fight scene otherwise Kara wouldn’t be a threat. At least the Martian Manhunter vs. Supergirl fight was visually impressive so that made up for it in some way. I can’t help but wonder why nobody considered contacting Superman when Kara went rogue, at the very least James should have suggested that.
An excellent episode overall with a couple of elements that bring it down slightly. Cat Grant’s appearance on “The Talk” and Maxwell Lord being added to the episode felt pointless and cringeworthy in the case of Cat being on “The Talk” but the change in Kara’s personality was wonderfully played by Melissa Benoist and the gradual transition from acting more assertive to outright villainy was believably written. The fact that the way she acts has consequence that will have an effect on the coming episode shows that the personality shift wasn’t a disposable plot that doesn’t mean anything in the overall scope of the series.