Supergirl – Season 6 Episode 9
Supergirl tackles the issue of corruption in the prison system while Kelly makes a decision that will help her overcome her limitations and help people more definitively.
Last week it was climate change being tackled by this show and this week it’s corruption in the prison system as well as corruption in the systems that govern society in general. The commitment to addressing large scale societal issues in this show is admirable and framing it through the lens of super powered characters being able to influence change that isn’t immediately possible in the real world is a strong idea as it capitalises on the primal nature of what makes superhero stories so enduring. Many people read comics, watch the movies or watch these TV shows to be inspired by the characters featured as they use their extraordinary abilities to accomplish impossible deeds. Sometimes that will be saving people from a disaster of some sort but it can also be saving people from a system that isn’t set up to support them.
The lack of subtlety on this show is something I’ve mentioned before and I’m of the opinion that one of the most appealing things about it is that it tackles a given issue in a really overt way. There may be a lack of sophistication in how the overall thesis is presented but at the same time there’s a real clarity to what is being covered that fits in with the straightforward moralising of Kara as a character. Depending on your reaction to it this will either be a systemic problem that means you can’t connect with the show or a feature that you adore but either way it’s woven into its DNA so your enjoyment will hinge on whether that works for you. For me personally it largely works though it’s not without its flaws.
This episode highlights the flaws in the overall approach Supergirl takes. In this case the show bites off far more than it can chew with the chosen issue. Corruption in the prison system and the setup behind it is a massively complicated issue with so many associated elements that it would be impossible to tackle it meaningfully in a single episode of television. This episode does try to frame it as Kara becoming aware of a singular case and taking steps to fix it before promising to address the larger problem in the future but there’s also the suggestion that a solution has been found because of the action taken around this singular case.
The missteps are around Kara’s attitude to prisons in general. She follows up on an article she wrote about Warden Wyatt Kote (Tom Jackson) and a prison reform program where inmates are helped to become productive members of society through gaining different skills and becoming proficient at various jobs. It’s something that sounds good in theory and is certainly far more productive than allowing people to be consumed by a broken system where incarceration makes criminals worse but there are real world concerns around similar programs that the episode completely fails to address. It isn’t something I’m going to detail heavily in this review as I am far from an authority on the subject so will largely only analyse what the episode presents but the issue itself is massively cut down to something that appears manageable in a single episode of television which strips away any complexity.
In fairness to this episode it doesn’t set out to address how widespread the issue is, instead opting to use this one prison and its corrupt Warden as something of a case study to make the muddled point. Anyone who has seen TV before will be able to deduce that the Warden is corrupt right from the first scene he appears because it has already been established that something is suspicious about this particular prison and the economy of characters means that he’s the only suspect. Kara fails to see this which makes some degree of sense since she has always been motivated to believe the best in people though by this point experience should have tempered her naivety. It would have been far more realistic to recognise the Warden as being an obvious suspect but not wanting to believe it because of the merit she finds in the program itself. It would show how much Kara has grown without sacrificing her optimism. Having her end the episode disappointed that Warden Kote failed to live up to what she expected from him could have been poignant if handled correctly.
Kara’s belief in the Warden being a genuine force for good is in keeping with her well cultivated optimism but it also reveals further weaknesses in the character in terms of her approach to journalism. It isn’t the first time she has taken a story at face value and failed to do the work to actually understand what the facts are though she show never addresses this as a mistake. In this case she only spoke to the Warden who was happy to extol the virtues of the program he created while hiding what he was truly getting out of it. It takes almost no time to uncover the corruption by following the money which should be grounds to point out to Kara that she isn’t very good at her job as she routinely does the minimum of research and runs with whatever that turns up.
It uncomfortably positions her as a character who is so desperate to find good in whatever she covers that she doesn’t bother digging deep enough to see if it’s a veneer hiding greed or injustice. This runs counter to who she is as a person as the show continually highlights that she goes after the truth passionately so it’s yet another failure in the writing of Kara the journalist; something the show has never gotten right. Unfortunately when attached to a complex issue like prison corruption it makes Kara look nothing short of incompetent which might be interesting if it were deliberate but it quite clearly isn’t.
The plot plays out in a somewhat haphazard way with the eventual reveal that Warden Kote is exploiting Alien inmates for his own purposes. As always the Alien angle is an allegory for any persecuted group you can name and Orlando (Jhaleil Swaby) being black is surely no accident. He makes an impassioned point about the system being stacked against him and having no trust in it. He speaks of what desperation drove him to do and the end result being that he ended up in a corrupt prison where he was exploited. It’s hard to disagree with what he says because it has the weight of the real world behind it but the show pivots away from that by having Kara actively campaign for him to go back to prison. She says she understands his point of view because she too is an alien which brings in another problem with the show that consistently goes unaddressed. Kara is an alien but she enjoys a greater sense of privilege because she looks Human and is conventionally attractive so there is less emphasis on her being an alien than there is for one that looks less Human. She also presents as Human with the Kara Danvers identity because of the conceit the show builds itself around but there’s a hypocrisy associated with her relating to other aliens because of this.
Orlando also looks Human but he’s black which means that he routinely faces persecution for that reason. It has been previously addressed that J’Onn learned a lot seeing the world through the eyes of a black man and the show hasn’t been shy in addressing racism in the past whether it be against aliens or Humans so Orlando’s stance resonates powerfully on two fronts. Kara’s stance is in favour of the system even though she recognises it isn’t designed to support Orlando or those like him. She promises to do everything she can to make sure their voices are heard and things change which is arguably fine for this singular case and ends up working out for Orlando but the show would rather pretend that this isn’t a systemic issue running rampant through the entire prison system as well as beyond it despite Kara directly referencing that things are difficult for those the system isn’t designed for. There’s a major lack of sophistication and there’s implied bias -however unconscious- on the part of Kara and Alex that goes unaddressed. This could have been a hard hitting plot about Kara, Alex and other characters becoming aware of their own unconscious bias and looking to improve but instead they double down on supporting authorities that are clearly corrupt.
Kara going on the record as Supergirl should be a celebrated moment within the context of the show as Supergirl is actively standing for something and giving voice to those who don’t have one but the words she says reinforce the problematic writing this episode continually exhibits. She talks about the system being broken and those in power abusing it. She continues to support the program that was so easily corrupted and seems to accept that the new oversight will be better. Once again she does this at face value at least as far as the episode is concerned which paints her as frustratingly naive. Within the parameters of the story being told in this very episode Kara is ignoring facts and almost turning a blind eye to a widespread issue instead of using her influence to combat it. It’s great to see Kara realising that Supergirl has power beyond her Kryptonian abilities but the framing is all wrong.
This ties into Andrea assigning Kara and William the task of putting together profiles on Team Supergirl so the public can see the people behind the costumes. It’s a transparent popularity grab to combat CatCo’s waning relevance and it comes across as more of a nuisance than anything else. To the episode’s credit William -and to a lesser extent Kara- find a way to give Andrea what she wants while continuing to work on stories they feel passionate about. In this case the two objectives align so there’s no real conflict other than Andrea periodically reminding them that they need to be prioritising it.
Kara’s plot also ties into Kelly’s contribution to the episode through Orlando’s brother, Joey (Aiden Stoxx). He is living in a group home under the care of an unfit foster parent. It shines a light on the same corruption issue experienced by Orlando though stops short of highlighting that they are singular examples of a widely corrupt system that needs to be fixed from the ground up. In fairness the story isn’t about that as it’s a vehicle to send Kelly down the path of becoming Guardian in her brother’s stead. Her reasoning for deciding to become a vigilante feels unique to her and Alex offering her support by pledging to train her makes a lot of sense especially when considering Kelly’s anxiety over Alex regularly putting herself in danger depicted in prior episodes. She approaches the Joey situation with the expected empathy and recognises a clear injustice that has to be dealt with. Through this she recognises that people like Joey and Orlando need a hero who will fight for them and stand up to a corrupt system. It’s a far more organic motivation than James being jealous that all of his friends were either superheroes or superhero adjacent as Kelly has a cause she wants to fight for while understanding that there’s only so much she can do in her civilian identity. Is it one costumed hero too many on a show saturated with them? Maybe, but her transition into that role is earned at least for now.
As all of this is going on Nia is seeing her mother and Nyxly in her dreams. Kara obviously hasn’t shared her experience with Nyxly with the team most likely because she believes that it’s a problem that won’t reappear. Establishing in the previous episode that Kara finds it difficult to discuss her experiences in the Phantom Zone justifies Nia falling into Nyxly’s trap. Nia is in a vulnerable position and has a lot of unresolved baggage with her mother so is an easy target for Nyxly’s tempting offer of allowing her 24 hours to work through her emotional issues in exchange for Nyxly’s freedom. She manipulates Nia by preying on that vulnerability and pushing the right buttons to get what she wants from her. It was always clear that Nia would eventually succumb to that temptation but her journey towards reaching that point was organic enough. The owl being used as a warning that Nia was conditioned to ignore by Nyxly and the constant wearing down of her resolve was nicely handled and continues this engaging emotional journey for Nia while further establishing that Nyxly is a credible emotional threat as well as a physical one.
A frustrating episode that bites off more than it can chew when it comes to exploring a complex issue and casts some of the characters in less than flattering lights. The problem with exploring the issue at hand isn’t the lack of subtlety or even Kara’s optimism that the program is a workable, the problem lies with how Kara’s inability to do her job as a journalist properly leads her to misjudge the situation entirely. She accepts what the Warden says at face value which is fine as she’s an optimistic character though her optimism should be tempered by life experience by this point. The minimum of investigation is all it takes to uncover the corruption but even at that Kara -and the episode- treats this as a singular case despite repeated mention that the system isn’t equipped to support certain groups. She talks as an alien despite the obvious privilege she enjoys because she looks Human, presents as Human in a concealed identity and is conventionally attractive. Orlando looks Human but he’s also black which means he routinely faces persecution on that basis; something the show has addressed through J’Onn in earlier seasons. Kara makes a case for trusting a system that let them down because she will act as the voice for those who have none which works in a singular case but the issue is far too widespread and Kara’s pro-authority stance implies bias that goes unaddressed. There was a lot of potential for this to be a story about Kara and Alex addressing biases they weren’t consciously aware of but instead they double down on supporting authorities that are clearly corrupt. The point being made is muddled and presents the characters in a less than flattering light.
Kelly’s journey towards becoming the new Guardian is certainly more organic than how James came to embrace the identity. She adopts the mantle to fight for those who need a hero to protect them and stand up to a corrupt system. It may be one costumed hero too many in a show saturated with them but her transition into the role is earned at least for now. Nia being manipulated by Nyxly in her dreams who uses her mother to prey on unresolved baggage works well. The owl being used as a warning that is then ignored was a nice touch and Nyxly is established as an emotional threat as well as a physical one.
- Kelly’s journey towards becoming Guardian being organic
- Nyxly’s believable manipulation of Nia
- the show biting off more than it can chew when it comes to addressing a complex issue
- showcasing how bad Kara is at her job of being a journalist
- Kara’s tone deaf and naive pro-authority stance
- once again failing to address the privilege Kara enjoys because she looks Human while sometimes presenting as one
- oversimplifying a complex issue
- painting the characters in a less than flattering light in their approach to it
What did you think? Select your rating in the “User Review” box below
User Review( votes)
We’d love to know your thoughts on this and anything else you might want to talk about. You can find us on Facebook and Twitter or just leave a comment in the comment section below. You’ll need an account for Disqus but it’s easy to set up. Don’t forget to share your rating in the “User Review” box
If you want to chat to me directly then I’m on Twitter as well.