Supergirl – Season 6 Episode 10
“Still I Rise”
Supergirl continues the focus on social commentary with Kara learning more about using her platform to raise awareness on a given issue and inspire change.
Superheroes as inspirational figures is something that comics have covered extensively. Symbols are important and if someone who wears an iconic one on their chest is championing an issue then people are more likely to take notice. In the case of comics writers use superheroes to champion the issue so the reader gains a perspective on something that’s important to them but in universe the people living in that world gain the same thing.
Since its return from hiatus, Supergirl is doubling down on social commentary. The first episode following the hiatus covered climate change, the previous episode dealt with prison reform along with systemic corruption and this episode tackles low income housing. It’s good to see that Orlando wasn’t a one and done character designed to prop up a singular issue. His return sends a clear message that solving one problem doesn’t automatically make someone’s life easy from that point on. He managed to get out of prison but now has to deal with the reality of being out of prison and be accepted by a society that is set up to be less than receptive to those released from prison.
The central issue is around a building that was earmarked for an affordable housing scheme being reappropriated by a corporation looking to change its purpose to be more in line with making profit. Kara sees it for what it is and puts it as gentrifying the neighbourhood. It’s in the interests of the corporation -whoever they are, they’re not a part of the story- and the politicians to make this change because they stand to profit from it where the affordable housing initiative brings no material benefit to them. It’s a disturbingly real statement on profit superseding ethics that is continually exemplified in our world. Orlando becomes the case study for the greed of those at the top negatively impacting those who are most in need. People at the bottom of the rung of society who need help to get back on their feet are typically the victims of those who don’t see them as important. That is one of the points the episode is making and using Orlando as the face of that issue works well because it adds reality to it rather than simply being something that Kara preaches about in the sterile CatCo setting.
As with any issue, the show simplifies it which is both a good and a bad thing. It’s good in that it presents a clear purposeful argument that carries through the episode but bad in the sense that it fails to have a proper debate about it. Supergirl as a show has always had a clear social and political stance that it unflinchingly stands by but it often comes across that the breadth of the issue is ignored in favour of presenting that stance; almost as if those making the show are reluctant to acknowledge that there are no easy answers to these problems even though that should be a big part of what makes them problems.
To its credit, this episode touches on the complexity through the Councilwoman (Kari Matchett). She talks about shifting away from the affordable housing initiative bringing its own opportunities with money being brought into the area that wasn’t going to be there before. It’s seen as a guarantee of an injection of capital rather than the suggestion of the possibility that will be brought on by the affordable housing. It’s a very bluntly capitalist way of looking at it but also a valid one from a certain point of view. It does position the Councilwoman as being wholly motivated by the financial side of the argument and the episode very much presents her as a villain who doesn’t see Orlando as well as others like him as people. When the change is overturned following Orlando’s impassioned appeal she tells Kara -as Supergirl- that the neighbourhood is now left to the criminals so in her mind all of those people who were once in prison are going to fall back on old habits. Whether that will actually be the case is unknown but Kara’s stance is that they deserve a second chance and having somewhere affordable to live will go a long way towards providing that second chance whereas the Councilwoman has already written them off as a lost cause. It’s a strong statement on the contempt those at the top often have towards those at the bottom. As for the argument itself, there is merit to having it but the episode positions Kara and the Councilwoman as monolithic in their respective stances so the detail of the issue is never properly explored.
One of the more interesting additions to the episode is Kara beginning to understand how to go about creating change. The show has addressed Supergirl as an inspirational figure to the public on many occasions but the idea of using her popularity and the platform that comes with it to raise awareness for a particular issue is a new one. This even adds weight to Andrea’s obsession with social media reach, website clicks and general popularity by providing Kara with the necessary information to get people to pay attention. Andrea points out that statistics, pie charts and facts aren’t really going to get people’s attention as we live in an age where hot button issues live or die on social media. People need something simple to latch onto and feel passionate about otherwise they won’t care enough to do anything about it. It’s a really cynical view of the age we live in but not inaccurate when you consider how quickly the news cycle moves and how easily attention is diverted away from important issues when something new and popular comes along. Andrea is urging Kara to use that to her advantage by having Supergirl use her platform to encourage passion in the people. In a way she comes to understand what game is being played and how to play it in her own way.
Kara indirectly comes to understand the value of this when a cheesy PSA featuring her and Brainy promoting healthy eating gets a lot of attention. It’s pointed out that it isn’t the healthy eating message that resonated it was the associated personal story that Brainy added to it around how he struggled to come around to the idea. It’s not a very deep story by any means but it blatantly tells anyone watching that someone who overindulged in unhealthy food was able to see the merits of eating better which means that they can do it too. Stories about people overcoming weakness or adversity can inspire people when presented in a way that is impactful and for at least some the PSA did the trick. Kara is able to extrapolate that and understand that she can do similar things to inspire change in the affordable housing initiative. Once again there is a complete lack of subtlety but there’s a clear progression and it works well.
If this lesson becomes more than a single episode revelation then it’s possible that Kara will add using her public persona through social media and various other things to her arsenal as Supergirl which would make for an interesting development. I’ve mentioned in previous reviews that a lot of the issues this show tackles aren’t things the team can punch so there’s usually a contrivance that gives them something to fight that is tangentially associated with it. That happens here to a degree with an attack on the building but the actual solution to the problem comes from Kara using what Supergirl stands for and her ability to inspire hope to change the minds of those with the power to overturn the proposal. The discussion Brainy and Kara have at the end of the issue does underscore how difficult it is to tackle systemic change and how it feels as if it’s a task that can never be complete. Brainy’s point is that it’s important to never give up because it is about getting one victory at a time. It’s bittersweet but still hopeful.
Nyxly’s return to the physical world ties into this plot in a very small way when Kara learns that she is around. She destroys the building out of spite to prove to Kara she isn’t messing around with her threats. It carries a great deal of weight because Kara worked really hard to ensure that the building would be a haven for those in need of a second hand. Its destruction amounts to a significant loss on her part and a declaration of intent from Nyxly who seeks to tear apart everything Kara has worked for.
Much of the rest of Nyxly’s content was around manipulating Mitch in her efforts to get her powers back. This was more of a distraction for other members of Team Supergirl than anything else and did little more than fill time in the episode. Using this to set a trap for Kara that results in her being the one to restore Nyxly’s powers was a competent twist that further highlights how challenging Nyxly is.
Nyxly uses the same tactic she used to manipulate Kara when it comes to manipulating Mitch and Nia. She pretends to be a powerless victim to elicit sympathy before betraying them when their guard is down. She goes from being Mitch’ prisoner to having him feed into her plan and she does the same to Nia though the twist on that is offering her the time she wants with her mother as well.
Nia reconnecting with her mother was really strong because of how unexpectedly it played out. Isabel holds her accountable for her mistakes, calls her out on failing to learn important lessons both in regards to her life and her powers and still works to encourage her to rise to the challenge. She points out that Nia tends to run from her dreams rather than fully experience them which means she acts without truly understanding what they mean. It also connects to her shying from certain challenges in her own life. Isabel encourages Nia not to give into fear and fully experience what her dreams have to offer her even if it’s difficult to do so. The key to beating that fear is to face it and understand it so she will never live up to her potential if she continues to run away from it. This is something she learns and circling back to Nia’s relationship with her sister was a great addition.
It hasn’t been explicitly explored but Nia is held back by the guilt she feels over the circumstances surrounding her gaining her powers. Maeve trained all her life for those powers, studied how to interpret dreams and prepared herself for what she was sure awaited her. Nia gained those powers unexpectedly and feels on some level that she stole them from Maeve. That is represented through the light in a dream she has in this episode. It is now firmly established that gaining mastery of her powers will involve resolving the tension that exists in that relationship and finding a way to repair it assuming it’s possible. Supergirl doubles down on optimism so lost causes are rare but either way addressing this is long overdue.
Nia’s grief has been another driving force for her so having her tackle that in a visceral way is very strong content for her. Often in shows where a character has the opportunity to commune with a lost loved one in some way it is paired with profound advice in the moment it’s needed most. That does happen here to an extent but Nia not getting exactly what she wanted or expected from the interaction is notable. It’s still valuable and she still needs it but Isabel’s tough love approach runs counter to what Nia anticipated. This makes it seem more real as lost loved ones contain far more facets than people choose to remember so the reality of getting one last chance to interact might be far more complicated than expected. That was certainly the case for Nia but she also got what she needed from it even if it was difficult to deal with at the time.
A strong episode that has Kara naturally come to understand how she can inspire change using more than just her powers while Nia has a meaningful interaction with her late mother. The idea of Supergirl as an inspirational public figure has been deployed in various ways over the run of the show but this episode has Kara learn how the game is played courtesy of Andrea and find her own way to play it. It’s an interesting angle that allows her to use her platform to tackle a particular issue in a way that people will be receptive to. As always there is no subtlety when it comes to exploring the issue which is both a good and a bad thing but there is a clear progression towards the resolution that works well. A lot of the commentary on the way the news cycle works, how deeply motivated people are by greed is very one sided but this show has never been shy about what political stance it takes. At times it fails to address the complexity of the issue which is unfortunate given the potential but it still works. Nyxly feeding into this by destroying the building that Kara worked so hard to secure as a haven for those in need of a second chance carries a great deal of weight and further solidifies Nyxly as a capable threat.
Outside of that Nyxly’s contribution to the episode is largely busy work with her manipulating Mitch. It does show that she is well practiced at a particular manipulation tactic This is also showcased in the way she interacts with Nia though she does actually provide what Nia wants. Nia’s interactions with her mother are excellently done. She doesn’t get exactly what she wanted or expected from Isabel but she does get what she needs in a way that addresses her own shortcomings. This makes the interaction feel more real as it’s a rounded view of her mother rather than an idealised one. Isabel points out that Nia tends to run from her dreams rather than allowing herself to fully experience them which means that she is ill equipped to truly understand them. She is encouraged to face her fears and work to understand what she is presented with. Added to that is the knowledge that she won’t be able to live up to her full potential until she resolves the tension that exists between her and her sister if it’s possible to resolve. Even if not it has to be confronted.
- Kara learning an important lesson about how to gain support by playing the game that exists in her own way
- addressing a complex issue in an interesting way that has clear progression
- continuing to build Nyxly as a credible threat
- Nia getting a realistic view of her mother in the way they interact rather than an idealised one
- Isabel highlighting Nia’s shortcomings and pushing her to overcome them
- setting the stage for Nia to resolve the fractured relationship with her sister
- oversimplifying the issue despite the hints at greater complexity
- the Mitch plot coming across as busy work
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.