Supergirl – Season 4 Episode 18
“Crime and Punishment”
Supergirl deals with the aftermath of the previous episode as Kara considers her place in the current state of affairs.
Public opinion is a very fickle thing and the biggest challenge for Kara at the moment is altering the perception the public have of her after Lex Luthor staged a very brutal attack on the White House using her Russian duplicate. Supergirl has dealt with shifting public opinion before in a very similar way but the scope of what is happening here is much more significant and it’s clear that forgiveness won’t come so easily this time out.
I’m reminded of a line in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice in regards to Superman and what he represents where someone says that “every act is a political act”. It’s designed to reference Superman doing things he feels are helpful across the world without really considering the wider implications of them. The intentions are noble but there’s a lack of awareness of the deeper political complexities that exist in our world. In theory this naive approach forms an arc for Superman in that film but that’s a discussion for another time. My point in this case is that the same applies to Kara and this has very much become the story this season as the framework has been built around equality, the victimisation of minorities and political unrest caused by clashing agendas. With Superman gone Kara has become an important symbol of inclusion for all of the aliens on Earth but her behaviour is fairly naive and clumsy.
This is specifically called out by the prisoner occupying the cell opposite Lex, Steve Lomeli (Willie Garson) who specifically points out to Kara that she doesn’t actually help anyone as Supergirl because there’s no finesse to the way she goes about it. It has been mentioned before that her interference ends up destroying necessary evidence required to bring justice to those she works to stop and this is something that Steve picks up on. He also expresses concern that the Government will stop as nothing to bring her down even if that means that innocent people are caught in the crossfire. These words force Kara to take a look at the way she acts and seriously think about what it is she’s actually accomplishing at this point. It remains to be seen if this growth will extend to more careful heroics in the future but for now it’s a fascinating commentary on superheroes and what they represent to the world that they live in.
An intriguing counter to this is built into the setup of this show. In Kara’s civilian identity she’s a journalist and Steve acts as an example of how powerful that role can be. Steve detests Supergirl but deeply respects Kara Danvers who is a famous media voice as far as he’s concerned. Based on the lack of attention given to Kara the journalist it’s a bit of a stretch but the fact that she has to be told by Steve that she is someone that people both respect and listen to speaks volumes about how wrong headed her approach has been up until this point. This makes it clear that she has been prioritising being a superhero over her journalism job which suggests that she values that a lot less probably because the perceived benefits of actions taken are a lot less immediate. Steve is a great example of how effective she can be as a journalist as the crime that landed him in prison is leaking classified documents that implicate the Government in illegal drone warfare. This means that he was imprisoned for doing the right thing in order to silence him and prevent him from releasing other secrets. For Kara he acts as the embodiment of how powerful telling the truth can be so she ends up making the decision to retire the Supergirl persona for a while and concentrate on using her influence as a reporter to feed into the ongoing alien conversation. Naturally none of this is in any way subtle but nothing on Supergirl ever is. A message doesn’t have to be subtle in order to be well told as this plot evidences.
I would have liked to see the episode dive further into the injustice of Steve’s incarceration and explore whether it happens to be true or not but sadly the focus is firmly on what this means for Kara. Perhaps she will try to return the favour and point out Government corruption in order to have him set free at some point in the future. For now he supplies the needed information on Lex Luthor just at the right point while also putting Kara in her place which is probably enough for one episode even if he amounts to little more than a plot device with a lot of untapped potential.
The episode plays with perception in other ways when Kara tries to save a man from a burning car and is subsequently attacked by angry people with guns who blame her for the attack on the White House and want to settle the score in their own way. No attempt is made to deliver commentary on gun control here but it’s clear that their frivolous attack on Kara makes the situation more dangerous. It’s a bizarre scene as people should surely be aware that Supergirl can’t be hurt with bullets so it’s unclear what the angry mob hoped to achieve by this. The aim of the scene is clear but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. Much more effective is the brief discussion she has with the man he saves who is confused by her helping him after attacking the White House. The interaction isn’t a hostile one as he is still happy to be alive but he makes sure to tell Supergirl that her actions robbed his daughter of a hero that she once looked up to and that wounds her more than anything else. Obviously the attack wasn’t her fault but people seeing her as a threat isn’t something she can currently get around because there is overwhelming evidence that implicates her.
Having her work with Lena to try and clear her name works really well because any scene shared between Melissa Benoist and Katie McGrath is a good one. Another reason it works is because Lena is the best person to understand how Kara feels at this point. She has had to deal with many accusations of committing horrible acts that she had nothing to do with so she knows exactly what Kara is going through at this point and points her in the direction of taking action to fix that problem. This involves using the prison Warden’s association with Lex as leverage to get a look at his cell and trying to find some sort of clue among what has been left behind. This makes for strong material for Lena who has to pour through her traumatic past from Lex’ perspective and be reminded of all the horrible things that he did when they were growing up. Katie McGrath plays this with so much revulsion as well as an unflappable determination to find a flaw in her brother’s plan and bring him to justice. In some ways her dynamic with Lex is defined by who is the smarter Luthor and Lena wants to prove that it’s her by making sure that he ends up back in prison before he can do too much damage.
Naturally Lex has a contingency plan in this scenario and sends in Otis to create havoc in the prison. I really like how this show uses Lex’ influence without him appearing and actually having this be effective. Otis is very much a blunt instrument and a really fun henchman antagonist with a memorable personality that makes enough impact in action sequences without needing to be a fully developed villain in his own right. His Metallo tech make him formidable for Kara and I like how he got the upper hand on her so quickly forcing her to think creatively about how to get out of the situation. Reverting to her civilian clothes and relying on his stupidity was a really clever touch and the slight spike in tension when it appeared he might have noticed the Kryptonite having an effect on her before having him notice something else and then talk about how selectively ignorant he is was excellently done.
The whole prison action sequence was well executed as well as it provides a different challenge for Kara who has to subdue people who are no match for her without hurting them while still being mindful of her need to protect Lena. The addition of the National Guard coming in guns blazing looking for her serves as a strong reinforcement of Steve’s points which makes the action in this episode feel relevant rather than an empty distraction to fill the action quota for the week.
Alex, Brainy and Colonel Haley’s role in the worsening situation creates more complications for them. Alex is once again torn between her responsibilities as Director of the DEO and her morality. Ben Lockwood wastes no time barging in looking for alien weaponry that can hurt Supergirl while also demanding that they summon her so that he and his men can ambush her in the name of justice. Thankfully protocol stalls them for a little while until a Presidential Order is granted which means that Alex has limited time to find a way to appeal to Colonel Haley to do what she feels is the right thing. It’s a difficult situation because Haley is so hard to read that it’s unclear what she feels is the right thing at any given moment. Her strict adherence to protocol also makes her very much an opponent in such scenarios.
Alex’ struggle brings her to Kelly who advises her to appeal to something that Haley cares about on a personal level while relating the perfect story to illustrate her point. This is something of a bizarre scene for a number of reasons. For one it’s bizarre that Alex would so casually reveal classified DEO secrets to someone she barely knows regardless of who they happen to be related to and for another, since when does Alex need to be told what the right thing is? She has always had an innate knowledge of that and has never needed anyone to be her moral compass before.This feels like a forced attempt to set up some sort of a romantic connection between these characters rather than providing a scene that proves impactful for Alex.
It does encourage her to use Haley’s daughter as leverage to encourage her to do the right thing which is called out as being exactly that by Haley who is disgusted that Alex would do that and warns her about how far she pushes things as potential foreshadowing of upcoming consequences for her confrontational attitude. For now there are no consequences as Haley does heed Alex’ words because she’s concerned what the current state of the country will mean for her daughter. She talks about how scared her daughter is and that her favourite teacher has gone missing which either means that he has been forced into hiding or that something awful has happened to him. The President declaring Martial Law, imposing a curfew and deputising the Children of Liberty are all very concerning actions that speak to a larger agenda that the current situation is being used as an excuse to further. Haley is likely aware of that and is very concerned but also feels that these actions aren’t in keeping with the service she has dedicated her life to. It’s a very complex situation and Colonel Haley’s interpretation of what she should do is fascinating.
Brainy’s issues come with deciding what to do about the Alien Registry that sits on the DEO servers. He knows that Lockwood coming to gain control of that database won’t be far off so has to decide whether it should be deleted to protect registered aliens or if that will end up making the situation worse. Running the numbers doesn’t help as there’s a 50/50 chance of either being true so he goes to Nia to see if she can dream up a solution. They have a brief yet intriguing conversation about using knowledge of the future and how it seems fine when it benefits Brainy like this but isn’t allowed when Nia wants to know about her descendants. It’s a point she makes but doesn’t pursue because there are bigger things at stake than that argument but it’s clear that this will be something that is revisited once the current crisis dies down.
The decision Brainy makes occupies the middle ground between both possibilities. He deletes the database but keeps a copy of it in his own brain which makes him a significant target. Nia has a dream that shows Agent Liberty coming right for him which presumably indicates that he will be in the firing line once Lockwood finds out that he has it. This is definitely a noble heroic act where Brainy puts himself in danger for something he believes in but I found it a bit much that he self declared himself a hero after doing it. Despite that this is a great use of Brainy who is allowing himself to be personally involved in the events of the past which shows growth for him since the beginning of the season.
James’ PTSD continues to receive attention and it’s fairly mixed as plots go. His therapy session is definitely along the right lines as it starts to delve into how James feels about his PTSD. He still identifies as Guardian and feels that he should be strong enough to deal with his psychological issues because people look up to him as a protector so he thinks that he should be stronger than that. Part of the problem seems to be that he has an inflated opinion of himself and his effectiveness as Guardian which may be colouring his perception and making the issues work. It has never been made clear that Guardian is a hero that people look up to though this show does often establish things as truths without putting the work in so it could be the case and we’ve seen almost no evidence of it. If the writers stuck with this as a PTSD story then it could potentially be very effective but the reveal that it’s actually a symptom of his manifesting super powers is weak and unnecessary so this entire plot feels ill conceived. Kelly also comes across as very pushy in the name of being supportive at all points so the entire setup is too problematic.
A strong episode that makes excellent use of Kara’s impact on the world around her in both identities while making compelling points about following orders vs. doing the right thing between Alex and Colonel Haley. Kara’s conversations with Steve make really interesting points about how Kara conducts herself as Supergirl and how clumsy she normally is. He points out that the Government will stop at nothing to bring her down and innocent people will end up being caught in the crossfire. There is also the point about her actions destroying important evidence because she doesn’t appreciate the full scope of her actions that has been made before but seems more eloquent in this situation. It’s enough to make Kara reconsider how much good she is really doing and ultimately decide to lay low for a while as Supergirl is doing more harm than good. She is also encouraged to make more use of her role as a journalist as Steve has a lot of respect for her in that role so is willing to listen to her. It’s clear that she doesn’t value being a journalist as highly as she does being Supergirl and that is a mistake on her part so she has to change her outlook on that. If this carries into future episodes then it represents a massive shift in how Kara chooses to conduct herself. Kara and Lena working to get to the bottom of what Lex is up to is also really strong as Lena is in a position to empathise with Kara having experienced similar in the past while also providing strong material for Lena who is forced to dredge up the past. It also reinforces the Lex/Lena dynamic where they are both trying to prove who is the smarter Luthor. There is some well put together character driven action in this episode with Kara having to make creative use of her powers so that she doesn’t hurt those that aren’t a match for her. The addition of Otis also works really well as he is a lot of fun.
Ben Lockwood demanding that the DEO hand over alien weapons and summon Supergirl so that she can be brought to justice creates a difficult situation for Alex and Colonel Haley. Alex tries to appeal to her better nature even though Haley does things by the book to a fault so she goes to Kelly looking for advice and is urged to appeal to what is important to Haley. This part is unnecessary as Alex has never needed guidance on what the right thing is. She ends up using Haley’s daughter as leverage which is pointed out as being a low blow that may come back to haunt Alex in future but it’s enough for Haley to go with what she feels is right and not have Supergirl punished for a crime she didn’t commit. There is some insight into how Haley feels about the current state of affairs that shows she doesn’t always agree with the orders she is given. Brainy being conflicted over whether to delete the Alien Registry allows for some compelling banter between him and Nia around what to do with knowledge of the future. Nia doesn’t push the point because she knows that there are bigger things at play but makes it clear that it’s a conversation to be had at a more appropriate time. Brainy ultimately elects to compromise and keeps a copy of the registry in his own brain which of course makes him a target. The PTSD plot related to James is a mixed bag and feels like a missed opportunity as it appears to be a symptom of him developing super powers rather than being anything real. Kelly still comes across as pushy in this space as well so it’s very problematic.
- Kara coming to understand the true impact of her actions as Supergirl
- making good use of Kara’s role as a journalist and having her understand the importance of it
- strong material for Lena as she revisits her childhood through Lex’ journals
- well put together action sequences
- the value provided by the addition of Otis
- Alex appealing to Colonel Haley to do the right thing rather than follow orders
- Brainy’s dilemma over what to do about the registry
- Brainy self identifying as a hero
- Alex going to Kelly for advice despite never needing anyone to tell her what the right thing is before
- showing Kara as an influential journalist without bothering to set it up
- James’ PTSD actually acting as a plot about him gaining powers
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