Supergirl – Season 4 Episode 14
“Stand and Deliver”
Supergirl explores how powerful public opinion and peaceful protest can be in bringing about change during times of great societal tension.
The anti-alien arc this season has been a really interesting problem for Kara to deal with as it means there isn’t an end of level boss to defeat in order to make everything all better again. It’s a far more intangible problem than usual because it’s caused by beliefs held by people and made worse by manipulation of the narrative by those who have influence. Ben Lockwood being appointed as Director of Alien Affairs is about the worst thing that could have happened in terms of keeping the peace as his ability to rile people up has been well established.
Ben Lockwood’s first platform in this position is to repeal the Alien Amnesty Act which goes to show how dangerous he can be when put in a position of power. Instead of spreading hate speech about how dangerous aliens can be in order to rally more people to his cause he is now actively campaigning to remove all of their rights and actually has the power to make that happen. This is a terrifying prospect and makes for another commentary on the current climate. Supergirl is a science fiction TV show and it’s making use of the sci-fi trappings to explore our world through that lens. It does so with a complete lack of subtlety but that can also be effective as it means that there is no ambiguity around what the show is trying to say.
Naturally, Supergirl and its main characters are unabashed progressives who use their powers to promote the message that everyone -be they alien or Human- is created equal. Every action taken by the main characters is in service of that idea and they are faced with a constant barrage of opposition to that through the actions of the antagonists. This basically frames progressivism as “the good” and opposition to that as “the bad”. It’s a simplification of the issue into the standard hero vs. villain narrative common to many superhero stories and it absolutely does work for the purposes of what this show is trying to achieve.
Arguably this stance has the potential to alienate some viewers as there isn’t a lot of nuance on the anti-alien side so there’s no way a balanced viewpoint can be put across. Ben Lockwood is intelligent, charismatic and frames his arguments well but he’s still “wrong” because Kara thinks he is and she’s our protagonist. I would call this a flaw if the show was trying to pretend to be balanced but the writers are exploring the idea that regressive thinking ends up being detrimental to society as a whole. For those who think differently this isn’t going to be the show for them. In fairness it’s no different to what Supergirl has always done though this is a lot more concentrated than it has been previously. It also ties into the CW’s cheesily presented mission statement “Open to All“.
Lockwood’s campaign to repeal the Alien Amnesty Act provokes a passionate reaction in the form of a march organised online by Brainy under the pseudonym “American Alien”. The reveal of the identity is framed as a surprise though it’s painfully obvious as soon as it’s mentioned given his behaviour. The aim is the same as any other peaceful protest; to make a point through sheer numbers championing an ideal that is under threat in some way and highlighting that there is no danger posed by those involved in the march.
The existence of the march allows Kara to consider her role in this ongoing situation and what Supergirl stands for. At first she thinks that she should patrol the route of the march to make sure that everyone is safe which makes her somewhat ignorant to what she truly represents in this situation. Brainy delivers an impassioned speech about the power that brings change about and how everyone should be empowered to stand up so that they are heard. He believes that Supergirl being part of the match sends a powerful message much more impactful than her overseeing the march itself. It isn’t enough to change her mind at this point but it definitely does factor into her thinking.
Supergirl might be a hero that all can rally behind but her identity as “Kara Zor’El – Refugee from Krypton” is more significant here and there’s a particular moment where she comes to that realisation. A heckler makes his negative feelings about aliens clear as they walk past him but reacts positively to the appearance of Kara as Supergirl who reminds him that she’s also an alien but he doesn’t see her the same because she’s a hero who protects people so in his mind she’s nothing like the other aliens. Kara simply responds with the admission that she’s exactly like them which makes for a personal realisation on her part and causes her to rethink her perspective on the situation.
She returns wearing Kryptonian robes and leads the march as Kara Zor’El rather than Supergirl. Putting aside the potential problems of people within earshot hearing the woman who looks and sounds like Kara Danvers introducing herself as Kara Zor’El this is a really powerful statement on Kara’s part. Instead of being the bridge between the two sides of the conflict as she has been trying to up until this point she is now taking a stand with her fellow aliens as she is, at her core, a refugee who has been welcomed by Earth and feels that all aliens should be afforded the same opportunities. Of course there’s a larger discussion to be had about how Kara lives a civilian life where she pretends to be Human in order to protect herself and those she cares about. This suggests that she isn’t entirely confident about taking a stand with her fellow aliens and dilutes the message somewhat but it’s still a strong showing of leadership on Kara’s part in a way different from the norm. I’m still eager for the show to address the fact that Kara still hides behind the facade of humanity in order to have something of a normal life.
As you might expect the march does eventually turn violent thanks to Ben Lockwood’s hate speech inspiring the crowd to attack those who protest what he has to say. Kara does try to encourage the protestors not to stoop to that level but the arrival of Manchester Black and the remains of The Elite causes the situation to escalate when weapons are literally handed out with an invitation to use them on the prejudiced people around them. This results in a fairly chaotic sequence with bouts of violence interspersed with moments of well-being where aliens and Humans alike work to protect each other in an inspiring display of camaraderie. This suggests that people are easily led by rhetoric but when faced with the prospect of actually doing harm to another living being be they alien or Human their better nature wins out. Arguably this isn’t realistic but it fits with the hopeful tone this show has always tried to promote. In the world this show lives in there is violence caused by prejudice, hate speech, racism and all of the other negative things that exist in our world but the consistent through line is that people will become their best selves when tested in a lot of cases. This makes what Kara fights for completely worth it and allows the show to suggest that there is hope for the future in our own world no matter how unrealistic that might seem in a modern mindset. This is what should be promoted in a show where the lead character has the word “Super” in their name.
This is grounded by the problem not being solved by this one event. Yes it’s an encouraging step in the right direction for the focal characters but it’s far from the end of the battle. Ben Lockwood is forced to retract his plans to repeal the Alien Amnesty Act because it incites far too much dangerous behaviour which makes this a minor victory on the part of the heroes but they also can’t lose sight of the larger conflict being far from over as all that will happen now is Ben Lockwood will regroup before coming up with another plan that promotes his anti-alien agenda. He’s still a very powerful and influential figure in the legitimate government so it’s right for Team Supergirl to celebrate while doing what they can to be ready for what comes next.
Manchester Black and The Elite still fail to be engaging antagonists. They have very much been relegated to catalysts that allow certain things within the plot to happen. Menagerie is captured unceremoniously near the beginning of the episode as a training exercise for Dreamer and they are subsequently picked off one by one to be delivered to the DEO leaving only Manchester Black as the oppositional force.
It’s a shame they’re so underdeveloped as a team and as antagonists because there was a lot of potential for them to be almost a dark mirror for Team Supergirl. Breaking into the Fortress of Solitude to steal advanced alien tech to further their cause should have been a bigger deal than it was though it was admittedly cool to see the Dwarf Star material key and the suggestion of a baby Sun-Eater. Any visit to the Fortress of Solitude will always be enjoyed by me because it’s such a rich and varied location that can be used to make reference to comics lore in a really organic way even if it can be home to various plot devices that can either create or solve problems.
Part of the problem with this section of the episode is that it’s treated as if it’s simply another thing that happens to be going on rather than the plundering of some of the most dangerous objects in the galaxy. Ultimately all The Elite gets out of this is a holographic duplicate generator and a shield belt which hardly makes for the most formidable of tech. Both of those things could easily have been explained through Earth technology as well so the intended effect of this being a violation of Kara’s ties to her home planet and the acquisition of dangerous items is somewhat lost because there’s very little time spent on Kara reacting to it beyond it being an inconvenience.
Despite the weak characterisation the rivalry between Manchester Black and J’Onn is working really well. Manchester is going out of his way to push J’Onn’s buttons out of a desire to prove that if pushed far enough he will go down exactly the same path. The key scene in this is when J’Onn confronts him and Manchester counters the tactic of reminding him that Fiona would be ashamed of the way he’s acting before looping it back around to how J’Onn processes loss. Manchester Black doesn’t seem to understand why J’Onn isn’t more vengeful considering the losses he has experienced and he isn’t ready to understand why that is quite yet so it’s left as an open question to be pondered in a later encounter. It’s meant to be something for J’Onn to ponder as well as he’s at a crossroads on his own personal journey that could lead to him going down a dark path instead of finding the balance that he’s looking for. His final scene where he appears to embrace being a Manhunter in the context of his pursuit of Manchester Black clearly shows that this antagonistic relationship is creating a personal struggle within him that can only be resolved by confronting the one making him feel that way. David Harewood’s performance shows that internal conflict brilliantly with the strong suggestion that J’Onn is reaching the end of his tether.
There are other supplementary details that compliment the main plot in relatively minor ways. Alex being assigned to Ben Lockwood’s protection detail throws in a clear conflict between her adherence to her duty and her hatred for everything Lockwood stands for. Ultimately she is inspired by Supergirl marching for what she believes in and seizes the opportunity to remove Lockwood from the situation under the pretence of keeping him safe when she really just wants him to stop talking. She finds a way to follow orders while taking a moral stance that fits her values and that definitely feels good for her to do.
Receiving less coverage is Lena’s attempts to come up with a way to give super powers to normal Humans. Colonel Haley pushes her to deliver results by questioning why she refuses to experiment on the volunteers. In Colonel Haley’s mind she needs a powered military in order to withstand the constantly changing threats that are cropping up. Lena stands her ground and makes it clear that she is operating on her own terms much to the chagrin of Colonel Haley who demands immediate results. It’s tangentially related but is still a symptom of the growing tensions. Colonel Haley thinks that there is a civil war brewing and wants to be ready to deal with it with a strong hand in the form of a powered military. The events of this episode lead her to conclude that it’s not as imminent as she feared but it’s clear that the conversation isn’t over.
Kara training Nia to be a superhero makes for some fun scenes such as when she tries intimidate Menagerie and is discouraged by Kara and her general excitement at being able to work as a superhero in the field. She is likened to Kara when she first started out with her unrestrained excitement and pride created by being in costume. There’s still a lot to cover with Nia such as being in a situation she isn’t prepared for but the mentor/mentee relationship between Kara and Nia works really well.
The ending where James is shot and possibly fatally wounded is an odd note to finish on considering the content of the episode. Whoever shot him remains a mystery for now but not a very engaging one and I fear this acts as little more than setup for Lena to test her serum on James and give him super powers. Considering the writers clearly have no idea what to do with this character to the point they give him a camera once again in this particular episode I’m not sure this is the right way to go. It feels as if whatever narrative propelling circumstances the writers need to throw into the mix are given to James which makes me doubt his reason for being on this show in the first place.
A strong episode that capably explores the different things Kara can stand for while contextualising the anti-alien issue in a clear and powerful way. The concept of a peaceful protest is well used her as it allows what the show considered to be the right side to present its ideals in away that offers a vast contrast to the violence and hate speech promoted by Ben Lockwood as well as those who follow him. The most significant thing about this is Kara deciding how she will be represented through this protest. At first she feels that Supergirl is better placed to patrol and keep the protestors safe but after a conversation with Brainy and an experience with a heckler she decides that it’s better that she attend the march as a refugee from Krypton rather than the bridge between the two sides. It’s a powerful statement on her part as is the commitment to non violence as a contrast to the other side as much as possible. Manchester Black and The Elite end up igniting the tense situation but the violent acts are intercut with displays of well-being that end up inspiring the minor victory of delaying Ben Lockwood’s campaign. As ever none of this is subtle but it doesn’t really have to be as it’s clear that the writers have an agenda in mind when exploring this.
The Elite continue to be less than compelling but the antagonistic relationship between J’Onn and Manchester Black is really well developed. Manchester is continually pushing him to go down the same dark path by encouraging J’Onn to consider how he processes loss and leaving an open question as to how much more he can endure. This is meant to be something for J’Onn to ponder as he’s at a crossroads on his personal journey that could go either way at this point. Some of the supplementary details that compliment the main plot are compelling as well such as Alex being inspired to take a moral stance that conflicts with her duty but supports her hatred for Ben Lockwood and Lena’s refusal to give into Colonel Haley’s fear of the escalating situation. Kara’s training of Nia makes for some charming viewing as well and serves as a reminder of Kara at the beginning of her costumed hero career.
- using the peaceful protest march to frame the anti-alien sentiment problem in an interesting way
- Kara realising what she can represent outside of being Supergirl
- the J’Onn/Manchester Black antagonistic relationship
- Nia’s training making for really charming viewing
- The Elite still being uninteresting
- their heist at the Fortress of Solitude failing to make an impact
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