Supergirl – Season 1 Episode 14
“Truth, Justice, and the American Way”
Supergirl tackles the question of morality and explores Kara’s desire to do the right thing in relation to what the law states.
It’s all in the title; “Truth, Justice, and the American Way” s something that Superman is known to stand for and Supergirl traditionally embodies many of those same values. This is especially true in this version of the character but she is at the start of her journey as a hero and still figuring things out.
Defining exactly what she stands for is the main objective of this episode. Since the beginning of the season Kara has made a real effort to do the right thing and inspire others through her actions. She makes a lot of mistakes along the way but it can always be said that her heart is in the right place.
This episode flips that idea on its head and has her on the morally wrong side of the argument. The hot topic is the unlawful imprisonment of Maxwell Lord. He is unquestionably a bad person as evidenced by everything he has done. Kidnapping girls and experimenting on them until they die is but one of the horrible things he has done so there’s no arguing with the fact that he should be brought to justice.
What does justice mean? The episode asks this question of many of the characters. James is encouraged to confront Kara about it when Lucy finds out about the DEO and threatens to write a story about them. I suspect James is concerned that Lucy could end up locked in a cell for trying to expose them in the same way Lord is and questions the morality of such an action.
His conversation with Kara where he points out that Max deserves to be in prison but also should have the opportunity to answer for his crimes is really well done. Kara makes a solid argument about Lord being almost above the law because he has a lot of money and can hire the best lawyers to get him out of any legal trouble. Essentially, Kara has absolutely no faith in the system so won’t hand Lord over to it.
Both sides of the argument make good points and Kara is forced to think about what going along with that really means. It’s a broken system but trying to subvert it won’t really make it any better. Keeping Lord locked up in a prison that nobody even knows about arguably isn’t justice as his rights as a human being aren’t being observed. His lack of empathy for other people doesn’t mean that he shouldn’t be treated as one. It all comes down to the no argument of being no better than the person you’re trying to stop.
James grapples with doing the right thing throughout the episode. Having Lucy be jealous of his connection to Supergirl as the catalyst to start that thinking wasn’t the best setup as it connects the whole issue to the love triangle between Kara, Lucy and James. The show has been really good with not beating us over the head with the romantic subplots and approaching them in a mature way but I didn’t really believe that this would be the thing that makes James question the morality of the situation.
His pep talk from Cat where she tells him about a time she was in a position to expose a famous actor who was abusing his wife and failed was timely but came across as a bit extreme. Having the result of Cat’s failure to act be the death of an innocent woman was a bit over the top and wasn’t really needed to make the point. Calista Flockhart delivered her dialogue well and it does succeed in giving James the inspiration he needed to really push Kara to do the right thing.
The villain of the episode ties into the overall theme of justice. The Master Jailer (Jeff Branson) looked really cool and his mission to dispense his own definition of justice to the former prisoners of Fort Roz shows Kara a different perspective on doing the right thing. He is executing criminals because he feels that breaking the law negates your right to life which is a really extreme version of Kara going along with holding Maxwell Lord without trial. Of course she would never go on a killing spree of criminals but blurring that moral line is a very dangerous thing and can lead to an uncomfortable pattern of behaviour.
In terms of threat level the Master Jailer was fairly mixed. On one hand his merciless execution of a prisoner shows that he doesn’t hold back and when fighting Kara he more than holds his own but the fact that Alex is able to keep up with him in hand to hand combat puts a question mark on his effectiveness. Having him as a broadly physical threat without much development was exactly what was needed but I’m confused as to why time was wasted having him posing as a cop. I can see that the intention was to have someone tasked with upholding the law be the one taking it into his own hands but the idea wasn’t developed in any way making the whole thing a missed opportunity. I wonder if the intention was to create a comparison with the fan favourite character Lobo with the Master Jailer as the whole bounty hunter angle is very similar.
Some depth was added to the Fort Roz prisoner situation through Professor Luzano (Todd Sherry). He was imprisoned for smuggling drugs to pay for the treatment for one of his dying wives. Since escaping he has become a productive member of society and arguably atoned for his crimes. Up until this point there has been a blanket rule applied to the Fort Roz escapees. They are all dangerous and must be put back in a cage. It’s interesting to dig into the detail of why some of them find themselves in prison as it allows the show to explore whether the punishment fits the crime.
Professor Luzano is an interesting case as his sentence was 18 years which has been served in the Phantom Zone. He understands why he was locked up and has learned from it so, for him the justice system has done its job. Kara realises this and lets him go free since he is no threat to anyone. It makes me wonder if there are any other escapees in a similar situation who could become an ally for Kara.
The resolution of the story had Maxwell Lord freed which makes sense from a moral perspective but the lack of doing anything to bring him to justice doesn’t. He could expose Kara’s secret identity to the world anytime he wants and Alex uses everything the DEO has on him as leverage to make sure that it doesn’t happen but Kara isn’t even in the room for that conversation. It would have been more powerful coming from her and would have given her a difficult choice to make. Is bringing him to justice more important than keeping her secret? There’s a strong debate to be had here as Lord is responsible for crimes against humanity but Supergirl’s identity being revealed to the world would make it very difficult to help people as well as bringing her family and friends under scrutiny. This could be a debate for a later episode but I would have liked to have Kara be visibly aware of the potential consequences of her decision.
Despite some choppy editing the action sequences were really well done. The hand to hand combat was really exciting to watch and made good use of Kara’s abilities. I’m glad to see her use her speed to her advantage when fighting someone at long last. Their final confrontation confused me as it looks like Kara could have killed him when she did that neck pinch. Of course she wouldn’t have but he is never seen again so that could have been made clearer. As an aside, Kara says “I thought masks were only big in that other city”. What could she have meant by that? Is there an active Batman in this universe or is the upcoming crossover with The Flash being foreshadowed?
Astra’s death was dealt with in some interesting ways. Non showed the first signs of depth when coming to Kara as a family member rather than an enemy. The funeral scene really showed the impact of Astra’s death and a rare softer side of Kryptonian culture. Kara remembers Krypton so knows what traditions to observe. This also gives a valid reason for Non’s absence since he is observing a traditional mourning period before he attacks again. I imagine his retaliation will be merciless.
Kara resents J’Onn for killing Astra and makes it apparent in her interactions with him. She doesn’t know how she can continue to work with him but doesn’t want to stop helping with alien threats. It’s something that she knows she has to get over but can’t imagine when that will be. The grudge that she bears against J’Onn gives an idea of how she might react to finding out that Alex was the one who killed Astra.
There’s a big ideological difference between J’Onn and Kara. He believes that killing is sometimes necessary. Even though he didn’t actually kill Astra he stands by the fact that Alex did it and is willing to assume the blame for that. Kara sincerely says that there is always another way and is unwilling to compromise on that. She also feels that with more time Astra could have been reasoned with but will now never get that opportunity. I like the way this is going and hope it remains strong as Melissa Benoist does a great job of bringing across Kara’s grief at the loss of her aunt.
The weakest aspect of the episode was Cat Grant’s passive aggressive hiring of a new assistant to pick up the slack from Kara. It seems a bit petty on Cat’s part and I don’t like that the relationship she and Kara had cultivated is being torn apart in this way. The whole story exists to have Siobhan Smythe (Italia Ricci) be a presence in the show before she becomes a villain. This is a good move and if it had been done with Livewire then it would have made her a stronger antagonist. Unfortunately the Siobhan story isn’t nearly as strong and just tends to get in the way of the better drama going on. I did like that she was someone that Kara couldn’t tolerate. Even her attempts to be nice have their limits.
I would say that this was one story too many and stole focus from the stronger elements of the episode. Setting up a villain before she becomes one is a good idea but this could have been vastly diminished without losing the point of these scenes.
There was some work done to set up a threat to take us to the end of the season. The reaction of the Alura hologram to the mention of Myriad sets that up as a really powerful threat of some sort. I predict it won’t be as exciting as the show wants it to be but we shall see.
A solid episode with a strong theme that isn’t explored quite as well as it could be. The ideas were interesting and I like the idea of Kara being on the wrong side of the moral coin but more could have been done to test her morality. I found that the Siobhan Smythe elements of the story dragged the narrative down as there was too much going on. From an action point of view the episode was really strong with some great hand to hand combat choreography.