Supergirl – Season 5 Episode 14
Supergirl doubles down on the horrors of technology with the imminent release of Andrea’s lenses and acceleration of Lena’s pacification project.
This season is supposed to be about the growth of technology and the potential problems that can cause for us as a species. It’s an issue that’s wide open to commentary as we live in a world where people spend so much time online because they feel it’s necessary to remain connected to the world they live in. There’s a strong argument that this is actually having the opposite effect with people becoming more distanced from others as they live a lot of their lives online. Fundamentally the argument is framed around virtual connection vs. real world connection with this show firmly standing on the side of real world connection.
That’s not a bad thing in itself as there’s no rule that suggests Supergirl as a show needs to be impartial when covering a hotly debated issue as long as those who make the show are comfortable with the risk of alienating viewers that don’t agree with that point of view. I’m personally happy to watch a show that champions an ideal I don’t agree with as long as it presents in in a way that I can engage with though admittedly I will be more engaged if it aligns to my personal values. That’s something I freely admit and it’s a big part of why I continue to enjoy this show.
This episode is in some ways an example of aligning to my personal values and not exploring it with the level of sophistication that it really needs to. The villain, Amy Sapphire (Camille Sullivan) represents the potential pitfalls of Andrea’s technology. Her motivation is to avenge her husband who became addicted to the lenses because of their ability to recreate his homeworld. His addiction cost him his job and his sense of identity which led him to taking his own life. Amy is understandably distraught and seeks to take down Obsidian because she blames them for what happened to her husband. The problem with this is that there isn’t enough information to determine how understandable Amy’s reaction is. All we know is that her husband became addicted and was fired because he stole a pair of lenses to feed his addiction. What isn’t known is if he was offered any support to help him with his addiction before being let go. It doesn’t take long for Team Supergirl to discover what happened to her husband so the information is easy enough to access. Obsidian is a huge organisation with the eyes of the world on them at this point so surely an ex-employee who committed suicide due to becoming addicted to the lenses is a potential public relations nightmare for them.
Amy could have been a far more interesting villain than the episode allows her to be. The scene where she risks killing many people in National City by forcibly stopping the product launch has some merit to it because Kara uses kindness, understanding and empathy to stop her which is a heroic method uniquely suited to Kara. Amy has been driven to the edge due to grief and is lashing out at those she deems responsible without considering the collateral damage of her actions. This is something that can be understood on a very basic level and enables the threat that follows Andrea through this episode but more could have been done to connect Amy to the central issue in a way that makes her feel a lot less disposable. The episode does take on a lot so there isn’t a lot of time for much else but it’s a shame to see an antagonist with so much potential and a strong connection to the key issues the technology raises be relegated to a large stakes life or death situation that is ultimately empty in itself. Kara’s method of stopping her was strong and her motivations were clear but beyond that there’s little to distinguish her from any other villain of the week.
It’s a pity the episode fails to address this issue as it should be easy to turn a vast chunk of their customer base against them by highlighting the potentially addictive qualities of the technology. Andrea rightly focuses on the potential benefits as she wants to sell the product but there’s something nefarious about the idea that she’s encouraging people to turn their back on reality in favour of living their lives in a virtual reality fantasy of their own creation. Her spin is all about improving well-being through granting whatever people desire which means she doesn’t focus on the addictive qualities or the long term loss of self that could result from living life inside a virtual world. When confronted about Amy’s husband she counters by pointing out that Obsidian employees are using the lenses to deal with the trauma of the attack. On the surface that’s a positive thing as it provides an easily accessible way for people to process difficult situations but it is lacking in detail and doesn’t actually address the fact that someone became addicted to the lenses and her company may not have handled it all that well. There’s a larger story in there that the episode chooses not to tell even though it could have been far more interesting because of the potential insight into how Andrea views her technology as well as her company.
There is some attempt to explore the debate through Kara and William who fall on the same side of it. William asks Kara -as Supergirl- for her point of view and she talks about how disconnecting from the real world is a bad thing as far as she’s concerned though she doesn’t condone the violent approach people are taking to stopping the launch of the technology. This puts Kara in a place she rarely finds herself; in the grey area of an issue where she has to protect Andrea from being killed by those who disagree with what she’s doing while not disagreeing with their point of view. She can condemn them for their violent approach and protect someone who doesn’t deserve to die but she still doesn’t really want the lenses to be something the public has access to. One thing the post-Crisis part of the season has done well so far is placing Kara in situations she doesn’t find herself comfortable in and having her navigate them as best she can. I like to see stories where people with black and white morality have that tested by a world that doesn’t conform to a binary outlook.
William’s analysis of the technology is interesting because he has a different perspective. He identifies the appeal as tapping into the desire of people to feel connected but sees the continued exposure to the virtual world creating more distance from the real one. This comes from him being one of those people that were excited about the potential of this technology because it offered him the opportunity to spend time with his dead friend. Kara inviting him to game night and karaoke showed William the value of true connection. William is touching on a really interesting idea that isn’t fully explored but is certainly presented; he talks about spending time with his dead friend as a benefit of the technology. Who among us wouldn’t want to conjure up a manifestation of someone we lost so that we could speak to them again? It’s a very enticing prospect but the point William doesn’t quite make is that people can spend all the time they want with virtual creations of dead loved ones but that interaction wouldn’t be real and might act as a barrier to truly moving on. That in itself is dangerous because a big part of life is dealing with loss and adapting to the absence of people close to you. Ignoring that tragedy in favour of denying it through a virtual manifestation of lost loved ones would be the opposite of connecting to others; it would be surrounding yourself with a virtual fantasy that has no bearing on reality because your lost loved ones aren’t really back.
Kara and William’s conversation is a brief one with lots of interesting ideas beneath the surface that unfortunately go unexplored. If the writers want to hang an entire season on a particular issue then they should be prepared to explore it. There is a vast cast of characters who could all represent particular points of view. Kara is against the lenses because she believes that physical proximity to those she cares about is most important which works perfectly for her but the other characters are largely blank canvasses to take on their own views. Outside of Andrea, Kelly is best placed to be a voice in favour of the lens technology as she can concentrate on the psychological benefits. Instead she turns up briefly every episode or so to remind viewers that she’s in a relationship with Alex. To have a successful season arc it needs to be funnelled through most of the characters in significant ways but this isn’t the case here which weakens the impact.
As predicted, Kara rejecting William’s invitation to dinner wouldn’t be the end of this particular romantic plot. Kara comes around to the idea of going out with him after some prodding from Alex who encourages her to go from it. Amusingly she convinces herself of what Winn was trying to tell her not so long ago. It’s possible that a romantic relationship between these characters could end up being better than their interactions up until this point would suggest but at the moment WIlliam isn’t interesting enough for me to invest in this sort of connection between them and the lack of chemistry between Staz Nair and Melissa Benoist doesn’t generate much in the way of excitement for them to get together. It’s almost destined to develop along certain lines with Kara’s double life creating friction between them when William senses she’s being less than honest with him which will become tiresome very quickly.
Alex’ change of role to working with J’Onn is a good fit for her and allows J’Onn’s role as a private detective to be pushed into the foreground after languishing in the background for so long. Together they help lead Kara to Amy which is a variation on how they would work together when they were both at the D.E.O. but the main purpose of their contribution to the episode is to have Alex start to settle into a very different role for her. She struggles with having to rely solely on her own skills and wits after having functionally unlimited resources at her disposal for a long period of time. She expresses impatience because she isn’t instantly able to dig up dirt on Lex or progress to the point where she’s ready to make a move against him. Alex is used to solving problems quickly so the slow burn approach is a significant adjustment for her.
J’Onn is the perfect partner for her as he knows what it feels like to look for a new purpose in life and is able to advise her on what she should expect. He tells her that it’s a process that will take a while and it’s something she has to be patient with. To help her settle into the life she has chosen to lead he gives her a shape shifting Martian weapon that can be practically anything she wants it to be. J’Onn will have to train her to use it properly which immediately imbues the weapon with symbolic qualities. Once Alex masters it she will have mastered her new life and found a new sense of purpose. Until then she will constantly be learning and growing to understand something she has never dealt with before. As a first outing for this partnership this is really strong and it’s refreshing to see Alex so uncertain. It brings something new to her character and sets up a compelling arc for her to follow.
Lena’s pacification project continues with Human trials of the latest version. At first it seems as if Kara’s words in the previous episode had real effect as Lena is carrying on as she did before but as the episode progresses it becomes clear that her most recent encounter with Kara is basically all she’s thinking about. Lex picks up on this immediately and calls her out on putting too much stock in Kara’s opinion of her. He likens that to his conflict with Superman as he let that antagonistic relationship consume him once upon a time. Lex is able to reassure Lena that she isn’t turning out like him and that her project is one worth doing. The evidence seems to suggest the contrary based on what happens at the prison. It seems to be a sign of things to come and sets up a realisation on Lena’s part that she can’t simply tweak algorithms to account for Human behaviour. It’s hard to say where this plot will end up going as there’s a lot of talk about what the project is with very little forward momentum. This episode features the most development of Lena’s idea since Crisis happened but it’s still far from clear where it’s going and we’re getting to the point where we should have some idea how it factors into the other plots playing out.
My thinking is that Lex has a significant part to play and Non Nocere has a lot to do with his plans to take down Leviathan. That is his main obsession at this point and he spends a lot of time making sure that Lena is on the same page as he is. He does so by buttering her up with reassuring platitudes and continually reinforcing that she is doing the right thing despite what Team Supergirl think. For some as yet unknown reason Lex has a vested interest in making sure that Lena succeeds which definitely can’t be a good thing. I really like the characterisation of Lex at this point in the season. It’s far more fascinating than what has come before because he’s less obviously diabolical in the way he conducts himself. There are shades of the old Lex in there such as when he shows no compassion for the potential deaths of a large chunk of National City’s population but the humanitarian front he presents is a new direction for him. Jon Cryer plays it with just enough sincerity to get by while still being disingenuous enough to leave his true motivations in doubt. Of course it’s clear that Lex is up to no good because he’s still Lex Luthor but Jon Cryer’s performance makes me almost want to believe him before reminding myself of who he is. It bears mentioning because it is so good.
Lex’ interactions with Lena are quite clearly geared towards isolating her from her friends. He constantly brings up Supergirl as someone she shouldn’t pay any attention to in order to encourage her to keep her distance and do what he wants her to do. It’s a very subtle manipulation that won’t be noticed by Lena because she is so distracted by feeling wronged by people lying to her for so long. Lex is basically forcing her to rely on him as the only ally she has which is a really nefarious thing to do. It’ll be interesting to see how this comes crashing down on Lex eventually but for now he couldn’t be more in control of the situation. He’s even at the point where Gemma is willing to introduce him to her “friends” which brings him closer to understanding what he’s up against.
A good episode that keeps the main plot in the foreground while naturally covering Alex’ anxiety over her change in role and moving Lena’s plot forward at the same time. The debate over whether Andrea’s technology is fundamentally a good thing or not is more complicated than the episode allows it to be. It does touch on the wider implications and potential problems associated with living an entire life online but the characters aren’t used well enough to explore the different perspectives. Kelly is a natural advocate for the good that the technology can do but never has the chance to voice that viewpoint and Kara’s conversation with William is supposed to highlight that Kara sees the villain’s point in acting against them even if she doesn’t agree with the methods but doesn’t go into enough detail. William’s perspective is particularly interesting as he comes from the point of view of once being a strong advocate for the advantages before having his mind changed by Kara’s invitations to socialise with her and her friends. It touches on the lenses having the capability to create manifestations of dead loved ones but doesn’t really tap into the idea that it’s not really them and how damaging that could be to the grieving process in the long run. There’s a lot of points that could be covered in fascinating detail but the time isn’t taken to develop them. The villain could have been far stronger than she ended up being and the angle of her husband who committed suicide after being fired for becoming addicted to the lenses should have been the perfect opportunity to question Obsidian’s practices as a company and explore the potential P.R. nightmare this situation causes. It is good that Kara uses empathy and kindness to defeat the villain but it doesn’t alter the fact that she fails to live up to obvious potential.
Alex adjusting to her new role plays out really well. Her and J’Onn make for a great team and J’Onn becoming her mentor after experiencing making a similar change to his own life. Alex is frustrated because she doesn’t immediately feel comfortable with her choice because she doesn’t achieve what she wanted right away and has to find a way to deal with the fact that she doesn’t have access to near limitless resources any more. She’s very much on her own and has to rely on little more than her wits which is a significant change for her and an interesting one. J’Onn points out that it’s a process that she needs to work through and gives her a Martian shape shifting weapon that she has to learn how to use as a symbol of her adjustment to her new role. Once she masters the weapon she will be truly comfortable in her new role. Lena’s Non Nocere project receives the most development since Crisis though it’s hard to see how it factors into the other plots playing out around it at this point. There could be a realisation that changing Human behaviour isn’t as simple as tweaking an algorithm coming her way but other than that the actual purpose remains unclear. Lex will likely have a massive part to play as evidenced by him ensuring that Lena remains on task. He does everything he can to make sure that she’s focused by reassuring her that there’s no way she’ll turn out like him and continuing to encourage her isolation from her friends by telling her not to worry about what Supergirl thinks of her. Basically he’s ensuring that she sees him as the only ally she has which is very nefarious. Jon Cryer plays Lex with just enough sincerity to make me want to believe what he says while still playing it as disingenuous enough to remind me that he’s still Lex Luthor. It’s truly a great performance that is worthy of recognition.
- lots of interesting implications to Andrea’s technology
- a villain that highlights some of the potential negative effects of the lenses
- Alex’ anxiety in adjusting to her new role and the limitations it has
- J’Onn and Alex making for a great team
- J’Onn acting as Alex’ mentor after dealing with a similar significant change in his own life
- Jon Cryer’s masterful performance as Lex
- Lena failing to see how she is being manipulated
- not digging deep enough in terms of the debate surrounding the lenses
- the villain not getting the chance to live up to obvious potential
- the Kara/ William relationship
- a lack of clarity on how Lena’s project will factor into the other plots
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