The only superheroes on CBS last Monday were Lin-Manuel Miranda and the rest of the cast of Hamilton, the Musical (though arguably, Kendrick Lamar was pretty superhuman in his Grammy performance as well), so it’s nice to be back in National City where we belong, even if this episode feels a little less-than-Kryptonian.
The episode opens, instead of closes, with Alex and Kara’s weekly sisterly bonding session. These have been consistently some of the show’s best scenes. Chyler Leigh and Melissa Benoist have a great, easy chemistry together. But, Kara is still broken up over the death of Astra—who she still doesn’t know was actually killed by Alex. Just as Alex begins to tell Kara the truth, Non bursts in and drags Kara away to a Kryptonian mourning ritual for Astra. I’m always fascinated by the ways in which comics, and their film and television adaptations, deal with religious concepts, so it’s interesting to see that the Kryptonian Jesus-figure Rao, the son of Krypton’s God, has survived into this adaptation. That aside, Alex’s preempted confession, as well as Non’s promise that he will return to kill Kara after sitting Kryptonian Shiva for two weeks, leaves Kara confused and angry for the remainder of the episode.
While all this is going on, Kara has to deal with the fact that Cat Grant—still lashing out at Kara for breaking her son’s heart—has hired a second assistant (who she promptly calls Assistant #1, to Kara’s consternation), played by newcomer Italia Ricci. IMDB tells us that this assistant, known to us for now as Siobhan, will one day become Silver Banshee, one of Supergirl’s toughest foes. In this episode, we see Siobhan merely piss Kara off by being so much better at her than everything, from hand-grinding the beans for Cat’s morning latte to knowing her perfect lunch order. Ricci is very effective, giving us the broad strokes of the character quickly. We’ve all got this kind of person in our life, and she annoys us just as much as she annoys Kara. It shakes up the dynamic in the newsroom a bit, too, as Siobhan only really gets under Kara’s skin when she’s winking at Winn or flirting with Jimmy.
All of that building anger leads Kara to make some very un-Supergirl decisions, specifically allowing the DEO to hold Maxwell Lord indefinitely in what Jimmy Olsen describes as “a secret Guantanamo,” which is not just for aliens anymore. But if Lord is released, then Kara’s secret identity is in danger, which in turn would put her family and friends in danger. Kara can’t have that. Plus, she’s just not too fond of Lord and his stupid weasel face. This episode, as the title suggests, is very concerned with the right way to handle this situation. It hews as close to political commentary as the show has ever gotten, suggesting that it’s not exactly “The American Way” to detain people with no trial or even officially charging them with anything (hey, where’s you been for the last decade, Kara Danvers? That is precisely how we do things around here.)
The episode even presents a foil to Kara that underlines the far right-wing conclusion of her line of thinking, in the form of Master Jailer, a bounty hunter of sorts who is tracking down prisoners who escaped from Fort Rozz, the Kryptonian super prison (I’ve got to say, half the reason that I love this series is lines of dialogue like, “We could be dealing with an interstellar bounty hunter”). In his earthly life, Master Jailer poses as a detective named Draper, which might suggest that he spends his days banging Kryptonian housewives and smoking and drinking whiskey all day while pondering the futile way that we mask our existential dread with consumerism, but instead, Master Jailer gets his kicks by executing space criminals with a laser guillotine.
The problem with “Truth, Justice, and The American Way” is that it’s structured far more satisfyingly as a discussion of political theory than as an episode of a superhero television series. There’s no tension at all in tracking down and defeating Master Jailer, but we do see Kara—through action as well as dialogue—grappling with the balance between her emotions and her values. Beyond the weak plotting, the episode indelicately balances setting up future plot developments (seriously, Non might as well have said, “I’ll see you again, Kara Danvers—on March 14, 2016 at 8pm Eastern and Pacific, only on CBS!”) with telling a compelling story this time around. We not only have Non threatening Kara, we have Siobhan’s pending transformation to Silver Banshee, we have a freed Maxwell Lord, and (as Mommy Hologram reminds us at the end of the episode) the coming of Myriad. What is Myriad, in this version of the Supergirl mythos? We still don’t know, but Mommy Hologram is very scared of it. But, as the episode ends, Kara seems less concerned with whatever Myriad is than with telling Hank that she can’t work with him anymore, making that another of the mounting complications that Kara Danvers has to deal with as we head into the back half of Season One.
Supergirl, Season One, Episode 14, “Truth, Justice, and The American Way”: B