This Supergirl article contains spoilers.
2.10 We Can Be Heroes
What makes a hero? If it were superhuman power that makes someone heroic, as Kara tries to argue to James, than Livewire would be a hero, not a villain. No, Supergirl has never had such a simplistic view of what makes someone heroic. Kara’s powers may make her good at her superhero job, but it is her desperate desire to help others, an instinct calcified when her mother sent her on a mission to Earth, that inspires her to save people’s lives.
This question of what makes a hero has always been a thematic foundation of this show, but it is brought to the foreground in “We Can Be Heroes,” as Mon-El graduates Superhero Kindergarten and Kara finds out that James and Winn have been playing superhero behind her back — as Kara tries to control who is allowed to be a hero and who is not.
One of the chief strengths Supergirl has as a show is its willingness to not only let its main characters have flaws, but to call them out on it. When James tells Kara that she doesn’t get to decide who he is or how he is a hero, he is right. Kara isn’t being impartial when she judges Guardian’s mission and heroism. She is driven by her concern for her friend, by her controlling nature, and by her vision of The Way Things Are Supposed To Be.
The same is true of Kara’s perspective on Mon-El, but in a different direction. Because her own superhero identity is so tied up with the destruction of her planet and her desire for that destruction and her exodus to have meant something, she needs Mon-El to be a hero, too. It fits in with her idea of The Way Things Are Supposed to Be. I’m not sure if it’s necessary that Kara make Mon-El so clarify his motivations, at least at this stage of the game. Does it really matter why Mon-El is saving people’s lives, if he saves them? Does it matter to them?
On a personal level, however, of course Mon-El’s feelings for Kara matter to Kara. And kudos to Mon-El for finally woman-ing up and admitting that he a) remembers that time he kissed Kara and b) has romantic feelings for his friend. I also appreciate that Mon-El didn’t ask anything of Kara in that moment of confession. (Though I’m not sure if I believe that Kara doesn’t have romantic feelings for Mon-El. I do think that Kara doesn’t want to have romantic feelings for Mon-El because it doesn’t fit in with The Way Things Are Supposed To Be.) No doubt all this will come to a head when Mon-El’s past comes looking for him.
Speaking of the past coming to look for Supergirl characters, “We Can Be Heroes” also gave us some progress on the J’onn/M’gann subplot. Apparently, M’gann has been in a DEO prison cell this entire time, which seems like a The Flash-level ignorance of due process. As far as I can tell, M’gann was imprisoned for being a White Martian. Would J’onn and Alex have even questioned the legitimacy of having M’gann in prison if not for the fact that she fell ill? This is an unsettling question.
But fall ill M’gann does. As Alex tells J’onn, if he doesn’t use his bond to try to help her escape from the psychic attack she is undergoing, she will die. For J’onn, helping M’gann would be admitting that White Martians are not a completely evil race devoid of any good qualities. Helping M’gann would mean forgiving her for the part she played in his race’s genocide. Luckily, Alex (a hero without superpowers, might I add) swoops in with some sage words of wisdom: “Forgiveness isn’t a gift you give someone else. It’s gift you give yourself.”
Alex’s advice is bolstered by the reveal that Livewire didn’t escape from prison to wreak havoc on National City, but was kidnapped from her cell for nefarious purposes. As Kara puts it: she’s not the villain, she’s the victim. It’s not as black-and-white as that, of course, but it is an important lesson for both Kara and J’onn. Even heroes can be wrong sometimes. They can have biases and prejudices that keep them from showing compassion or seeing the truth.
Kara lets Livewire escape in exchange for her help taking out the real culprits of the recent electrified attacks on the city and J’onn decides to save M’gann from her psychic hell. Using their bond, J’onn goes into M’gann’s subconscious and sees what she sees. She is stuck in a memory of the war, horrified by the part she played in it. We learn that M’gann was not an evil, regretless soldier of the war, but that she fought back. When ordered to kill a child, she disobeyed, instead setting fire to the barracks. J’onn forgives her and, perhaps, that will help her forgive herself. Far away from their home planet, in the ashes of a genocide that tore both of their lives apart, they have found one another. They are friends.
But forgiveness will not solve the problem of the White Martians’ return. As M’gann tells J’onn once she awakes from her coma, the psychic attack was one perpetrated by her people. They know where she is and they are coming for her. They are coming to Earth. (Geez, lots of aliens are coming to Earth in search of an alien refugee who is trying to redefine themselves and their lives.)
While Kara, Mon-El, James, and Winn try to take control of their respective superhero identities (and, in Kara’s case, other people’s superhero identities), Alex and Maggie make a bet involving Kara, Livewire, and ice cream, proving that, even in the most stressful of Supergirl episodes, someone will get ice cream.