Supergirl is slowly finding its feet as a show with a quirky spin on superheroics, and there’s still a bit of clunkiness in the mix. But scenes like this one, between Supergirl and James Olsen, are why this show has already earned my undying love. Spoilers ahead!
So the actual plot of “Red Faced” is pretty skippable—we get the storm-creating android Red Tornado and his creator T.O. Morrow, but neither of them is really as interesting as many of their portrayals in the comics or the Young Justice cartoon. Red Tornado was created for the U.S. Military for use against Superman, Supergirl and other aliens, but after Supergirl beats him in single combat, he goes rogue. (And it turns out Morrow is controlling him, and he’s a drone, until he suddenly gains sentience for a few minutes.) Morrow has a vendetta against General Lane, father of Lois and Lucy, and is trying to use Red Tornado to get at him. In the end, Alex takes out Morrow and Supergirl beats the android.
Get down get down! Get down get down! Get down get down! Jungle Boogie!
But the episode has almost nothing to do with android fighting, and—as you can see in the above clip—everything to do with processing and coping with anger.
Supergirl is settling into a weird sort of rhythm where a bunch of episodes are about one specific “issue,” like “learning to pace yourself” or “dealing with anger.” Generally, the format of each episode is “Supergirl makes a mistake and deals with the fallout,” followed by “people are jerks in Supergirl’s personal life,” and then “Cat Grant unexpectedly gives mentorship to Kara, not realizing she’s actually giving advice to Supergirl as well.” This is a perfectly sturdy formula—as good as, say, “the Winchesters lie to each other, get found out, and then process their feelings by the side of their car”—although it probably can’t go on forever.
The interesting thing, though, is how these “emotional issue of the week” storylines are slowly adding up to something a bit more complex, over time. Each individual episode may have a single message, like “make anger work for you instead of against you,” but the cumulative impact of all these storylines is more layered. We talked early on about how this show is dealing with difficult, sometimes toxic, aspects of things like sibling rivalry and double standards, and that continues to be built up.
What’s especially great in this episode is how it brings the question of Supergirl’s anger to the foreground—as seen in the above clip. As she tells James Olsen, she can’t express her rage as openly as her cousin Clark because women are supposed to be nice. And because black men are also not really encouraged to express anger openly, they have something in common—so they both take turns letting out their suppressed hostility while punching stuff. (A punching bag in James’ case, a car in Kara’s.)
The topic of Supergirl’s anger comes up when she stops two feuding drivers from running over a bunch of kids, and one of them stupidly takes a swing at her. She hurts him, and those darn ungrateful kids film the whole thing. Everybody except Perd Hapley (where is Perd?!?) has something to say about Supergirl’s short fuse, and Hank “Judgey” Henshaw gives Supergirl grief about how this is why people are scared of these Krazy Kryptonians.
What’s great is not just the idea that Supergirl isn’t supposed to express her anger. Or even the notion that she should find the “anger behind the anger,” or the real reason why she’s mad—or the strategic advice to use her anger and make it work for her, instead of against her. The really great thing is how Supergirl’s rage issues turn out to be about larger stuff, like the destruction of her home planet and the fact that she thought using her powers and putting on a costume would make her feel like herself, but instead it’s just turned her into public property. And she can’t have the (supposedly) perfect relationship that James has with Lucy Lane with anyone.
Melissa Benoist, who does “quirky and charming” amazingly well, continues to show her range as an actor—she really conveys a lot of frustration and misery, without wallowing, in the above sequence and a few other points in the episode.
Besides the “Supergirl loses her cool and hurts a dickwad” thing, which winds up playing into the overall arc of “Supergirl’s learning curve as a hero,” the theme of anger is mostly advanced by a couple of subplots, involving mean parental figures—now that Supergirl’s adoptive mom has come and gone, it’s time for other people’s mean parents to show up.
First of all, Cat Grant’s mother comes for a visit, and is pretty much exactly the snooty, undermining literary diva we were led to expect. She’s too busy hanging out with all of the fancy literary peeps to spend time with her own daughter, and everything Cat does is inadequate and inexplicably disappointing. We get to see Cat on the receiving end of abuse, instead of dishing it out, and then we see Cat going for a nine-billion-martini lunch with Kara to process her resentment at the cosmos. I have to say, even with the weird CGI thing they keep doing to her face, Calista Flockhart is just totally owning every scene she’s in, with little neat touches that make her “Devil Wears Prada” archetype into something more fascinating and intense.
And the other vaguely evil parent who comes to town is Lucy Lane’s aforementioned dad, who does double duty. He’s one of the episode’s main antagonists who wants a super-android to smush Supergirl, until it turns against him, and he manages to twist everything into being Supergirl’s fault until Hank Henshaw finally gives him both barrels of his trademark Henshaw Withering Sarcasm. But also, Sam Lane doesn’t think that James Olsen is good enough to date his daughter (um, pretty sure that’s backwards) and tells James so at an uncomfortable dinner date thingy.
So both Cat and James are dealing with disapproving parent figures—and Lucy, too, but who cares about her—and they both model for Kara both good and bad ways to cope with this kind of pressure.
In the end, Supergirl announces she’s learned how to use her anger instead of being controlled by it, and this helps her take down Red Tornado. Cat finally tells off her mother, who is shocked and amazed, and meanwhile Lucy resigns from being her father’s attache and general hench-daughter, so she can keep hanging around James and being annoyingly perfect.
Like I said, on an episode-by-episode basis, these stories are fairly simple—but the picture we’re slowly building of these characters and their relationships is anything but.
And the episode ends with two stingers: Winn “useless at games night” Schott hacks into the DEO and finds some redacted files that indicate that Hank Henshaw and Alex’s dad were both lost on a mission, presumed dead, until Hank came back alone claiming not to remember what had happened. And then Kara, cleaning up after Cat’s confrontation with her mom, cuts herself on some broken glass—is Supergirl losing her powers? No doubt this will be the occasion for peeling back another layer of the onion of messy relationships and self-doubt next week. Can’t wait.