Supergirl – Season 5 Episode 4
“In Plain Sight”
Supergirl says goodbye to a major character as J’Onn continues to deal with the threat of his brother and Kara learns more about William.
It was announced a while ago that Mehcad Brooks would be leaving the series in order to pursue his own projects that he needs additional time for. It’s no secret that the James character was badly sidelined throughout much of the run of the show so it was somewhat inevitable that he might be pushed out of the ensemble eventually. Once the love interest angle was ditched at the beginning of season 2 there seemed to be very little for the character to do that made much sense for him.
James’ exit is about him finding a way to make a difference to the lives of others in a way that differs significantly to how he has chosen to do so before. He and Kelly chose to hide out in Calvintown; the place they were both raised by their aunt when their father died. Why they would choose to hide out in a place so connected to their childhood is anyone’s guess as it seems to me to be a profoundly dumb idea but the decision is not about making sense, it’s about setting James up to make the decision that marks his departure.
On the surface very little about this plot makes any real sense. James and Kelly arrive in Calvintown to find it consumed by poverty and almost completely in service of a prison in its centre that symbolises corruption and exploitation. For whatever reason their aunt being nowhere to be seen isn’t addressed which definitely sticks out as the reason for going back to Calvintown seems to be seeing their aunt. In general the setup doesn’t work because it doesn’t make sense that neither of them would have any idea of how run down Calvintown had become since they left it. Perhaps if there had been a line of dialogue highlighting they had no idea it had become THIS bad it would have helped but as it sits all of this appears to have come from nowhere.
Much of the episode features James and Kelly exploring the town to see different examples of the economic ruin. This includes squatters sleeping in their aunts house, convenience store robberies and a jaded journalist who has been defeated by the town. More on that last one later. On their travels they befriend a young man named Simon (Jalen Thomas Brooks) who embodies everything this town has become through his desperation leading him to commit petty crimes. It’s clear that Simon is a good kid who has been forced to make questionable decisions in order to survive and that James sees a lot of himself in him for reasons that the episode doesn’t quite go into. One striking thing is that Simon remains the same throughout the episode; he is caught stealing from a convenience store and is seen pocketing food while Kelly heats up a pizza. This consistency shows that one simple act of kindness from a couple of well intentioned strangers isn’t enough to fix the problems he has because they are systemic and can’t be solved quite so easily. He also mentions his mother being in jail for no good reason other than cops, judges and lawyers seeking to keep the prison full in an effort to line their pockets.
This brings me to James’ conversation with his former mentor, Nelson Stuart (Paul Jarrett) about the state of the town. Nelson is very much a product of his surroundings and is resigned to the limited good that he can do with the resources he has. He makes reference to having to please his advertisers so that they continue to do business with him which will allow him to pay his employees. Basically his hands are tied by a corrupt system and he’s faced with having to make do with what he has. It’s not that he doesn’t want to do more but he lacks the resources James is used to in CatCo and the backup of heroes like Supergirl to help. In this case idealism simply isn’t enough and it’s something Nelson has had to learn to live with. He takes some comfort in knowing that James made it out of the town and made a name for himself which he sees as a personal success. This conversation is eye opening for James and it clearly informs his decision to leave National City.
When he announces that he’s leaving he mentions saving the world from his corner office; this makes for a very compelling statement that shows self awareness on the part of James and the writers to a large extent. There’s no denying that James is a good person with a strong desire to do good but he has always kept the problems that he helps deal with at a comfortable arm’s length because he was unwilling to consider giving up the comfort and privilege that he enjoys. There’s no reason he should consider making that level of sacrifice as he has worked hard to get where he is and has earned what he has. This is especially true considering he came from very humble beginnings and managed to find opportunities for himself. In short James is a remarkable success story that the show never really took advantage of but he comes to realise how far he has come in this episode and now decides that it’s time to give something back. He decides to buy the newspaper in Calvintown and use that as a platform to make things better. This is a great example of how privilege can be used to make a measurable difference in the lives of others. James has a lot to give and the desire to give it so that provides hope for the people of Calvintown who can now look to James as a symbol of what they can achieve. It’s a fitting exit and makes an inspiring point about heroism and what it takes in order to make a difference. It’s somewhat disappointing that James spends so little of his final appearance interacting with the rest of the cast but perhaps that’s telling of his overall significance to the show at this point.
The Malefic plot comes to a head in this episode in a few different ways. Last week brought the realisation that J’Onn was responsible for erasing all knowledge of Malefic from the collective Green Martian memory out of a desire to protect his father and himself from a painful truth. As the episode begins J’Onn has internalised this knowledge and has chosen not to confide in those closest to him which means he is being torn apart by the knowledge of what he has done and has no emotional support. His fear is that it will change how they see him and he will end up losing what he holds most dear. Malefic plays on this by incepting Alex and having her say the words he is most afraid of hearing. She calls him a monster and blames him for Kelly being in so much danger. I don’t believe that Alex would call J’Onn a monster under any circumstances but that’s not really her talking which means that the conversation is lacking in the necessary emotional weight. If Malefic had engineered a scenario whereby Alex learns the truth and she finds it hard to accept so confronts J’Onn it would have been so much better because it would have been Alex in conflict with J’Onn rather than Malefic using her as a puppet. It’s easy to see why J’Onn would accept this because this is currently how he sees himself so he lacks the clarity to consider the situation rationally and doesn’t have any additional perspectives because he keeps it all to himself.
As a stark contrast to his conversation with incepted Alex, Kara is much more sympathetic and understanding without excusing what J’Onn did. She doesn’t tell him that what he did was ok or necessary but she does tell him that one action doesn’t define who he is and that remembering what he did now gives him the chance to make things right as he has the power to make different choices now that he has the benefit of hindsight. Kara’s reaction is much more in line with what would be expected given the amount of time that has been spent developing these relationships and gives J’Onn the necessary perspective to move on in some way even if he will forever carry this guilt with him. It’s a great message about the importance of accountability and that mistakes don’t define who people are. Basically J’Onn has to hold himself accountable for what he has done in order to try to atone for it in whatever way he can.
It seems at this point that Malefic is so consumed by vengeance that he is unable to consider the possibility of forgiving J’Onn so anything said to him by way of apology falls on deaf ears. This means that team Supergirl have to go through with their plan of banishing him to the Phantom Zone because he is too dangerous to be allowed to roam free considering his efforts to destroy J’Onn and those closest to him. Lena exploits her position when helping Brainy to redirect Malefic from the Phantom Zone to her own prison for reasons that are unknown at this point though it probably has a lot to do with suppressing the emotions she considers negative. Perhaps this will help open Malefic up to seeing J’Onn’s point of view and allow the brothers to establish a dialogue in future or it could lead to Malefic becoming more dangerous. It’s very much up in the air and there’s still no hint of why The Monitor brought Malefic into the picture. In general part of the problem with this plot is how it came out of nowhere and how quickly it has been developed. It’s difficult to become fully invested in it despite the strength of David Harewood’s acting because it’s a relationship that has existed for a small number of episodes. If there was a slow burn development over a longer period of time then everything that happens would have greater emotional weight.
Lena’s contribution to the episode is minor but there is time to take advantage of the engaging dynamic that was created between her and Brainy who is distraught over the situation with Nia. He’s still struggling with how to behave around her because his intense personality has proven too much for her but he doesn’t know any other way to act so feels that their relationship is doomed as a result. Lena is there to apply the scientific method to his circular thought process and opens him up to the prospect of asking for help which allows him to be open with Nia and letting her help him work through these teething problems together. It’s a good use of the Lena/Brainy dynamic while allowing Lena’s duplicitous plot to progress in a small way.
Kara and Nia work together to investigate William and learn that he’s not actually married and appears to be involved in clandestine actions that paint him in a very villainous light. They continue to follow the clues using a mixture of their powers, skills and contacts until Kara eventually learns that William has only been pretending to be standoffish in order to maintain his cover and prevent people from wanting to get close to him. In reality he’s a nice guy who respects Kara a great deal and holds her writing skills in high regard. He tries to encourage her to stay away from the story he is a part of for her own safety and talks about how he thinks Andrea Rojas is involved in a massive criminal conspiracy. This was a decent enough reveal and adds depth to a character I found to be shallow and irritating before now but some of the dialogue was painful to listen to. Supergirl has been a victim of showing rather than telling when it comes to Kara’s skills as a journalist so it’s always laughable whenever someone compliments her on it since we haven’t actually seen much evidence of her being any good at her job beyond certain accolades that are given to her after the fact. It’s possible that William is being developed as a love interest for her which could be good or bad depending what the “real” him turns out to be like in the context of the show. It’s highly likely that he’s a part of the Leviathan plot as that matches with the idea of a conspiracy but time will tell if this builds to anything interesting.
A strong episode that delivers an appropriate exit for one of the characters while offering a fascinating exploration of what it takes to atone for mistakes. James’ exit felt right for the character and provided a compelling message about how privilege can be used to help others. It is best exemplified through James’ interaction with his former mentor who talks about doing the best he can with limited resources and highlighting that idealism isn’t enough on its own. James talks about saving the world from his corner office which makes for a hugely self aware statement about keeping problems at arm’s length and being unwilling to give up the comfort that comes with privilege. It’s not a bad thing especially when considering that James has earned everything he has. He has now chosen to use what he has to improve the lives of others. It’s a really nuanced portrayal of this idea and feels appropriate for James. The Malefic story comes to a head in various ways after J’Onn keeps what he learned about what he did to himself. He is confronted by the Incepted Alex who says everything he was most afraid of hearing which both works and doesn’t because it isn’t really what Alex thinks even if J’Onn believes it. If she had learned the truth from Malefic and had a similar conversation with J’Onn it would have been much better but loses weight because it isn’t really Alex. Kara’s reaction is much more interesting as she doesn’t excuse what he did and encourages him to do better in future now that he knows about it. It’s a strong statement about accountability and how best to move forward. Malefic is too consumed by vengeance to listen to what J’Onn has to say and see a way to forgive him but perhaps that can come later.
The Lena/Brainy dynamic is used to great effect when Lena appeals to Brainy using the scientific method to consider alternative options when it comes to dealing with Nia. Specifically she encourages him to ask for help to get him out of his circular thinking and opens his mind to a different possibility that fixes the relationship for now. The Lena/Brainy dynamic has always been engaging and this is another great example of it. Kara and Nia’s investigation of William allows the character to become more nuanced as a result. It turns out that his confrontational attitude has been an act to prevent people from wanting to get to know him because his current assignment is so dangerous. He doesn’t want to see anyone get hurt and warns Kara to stay away from the dangerous path he’s pursuing. During this conversation he praises Kara’s abilities as a journalist and preaches admiration for the way she does things. It’s always amusing whenever Kara’s journalism is praised because we still have little to no context for how good she actually is at the job but at least this puts William in a better position to develop as a character rather than a bland antagonist.
- an appropriate exit for James
- strong commentary on how privilege can be used to help others
- James’ self aware statement about his own privilege
- the interaction between James and his former mentor pointing out that idealism on its own isn’t enough
- J’Onn’s fear that he will be condemned for what he did to Malefic
- Kara’s nuanced reaction to J’Onn opening up to her
- a good use of the Brainy/Nia dynamic
- adding depth to William and setting him up for more compelling stories
- failing to address the current location of James and Kelly’s aunt
- the J’Onn and Malefic conflict feeling rushed
- J’Onn hearing the thing he fears the most from Alex losing weight because it’s not really her
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