This feature contains spoilers for Supergirl episode 2.13 Mr And Mrs Mxyzptlk
“Things were a lot easier on Daxam when I objectified women and didn���t care about anything.” That’s a real line from a real episode of Supergirl – TV’s most female-friendly genre series – during which season two’s romantic lead complains about his ongoing affection for the show’s heroine.
This week’s Valentine’s Day episode was charming in a lot of ways, with a healthy dose of both Alex and Maggie’s blossoming romance and Winn getting a storyline all to himself, but it was also frustrating. The source of that frustration, and of many complaints from fans during Supergirl’s second season, is Mon-El. After thirteen episodes of back and forths, he and Kara have finally admitted their mutual attraction and have decided to make a go of things.
By introducing Mr. Mxyzptlk – a nuisance maker from the fifth dimension intent on winning Kara’s heart – the episode highlighted an ongoing problem and, despite the happy ending for Kara and Mon-El, did a lot of dancing around logic and character continuity to get there.
The most glaring thing about the episode for me in this regard was James’ absence. The second lead of season one, he has been notably absent from a lot of this second run. That’s while he’s running CatCo and becoming a superhero in his own right, and it feels right now that there’s a whole other show going on in which he’s the star.
His being pushed to the background happened simultaneously with the show course-correcting after its move to The CW, and squashing the idea of he and Kara being anything more than friends and co-workers. I was never a fan of their chemistry as potential romantic partners, but part of my optimism when this happened was about wanting to see what the show would do with his character afterwards.
Winn, someone similarly rejected by Kara and left rootless in the story, has improved in leaps and bounds this season, getting a job at the DEO and developing into a Cisco-esque nerdy comic-relief (but with just enough depth) figure. James hasn’t been given the same chance, with his potentially great storyline repeatedly batted away in favor of Mon-El’s pseudo-rehabilitation arc.
There is, as some have pointed out, also a race issue here, making Mon-El’s replacement of James as the male lead a lot more problematic than it might be otherwise.
Most superhero series feature a main, over-arching love interest for their protagonist – Lana on Smallville; Iris on The Flash; Felicity on Arrow – and this tends to remain more or less static for the duration.
But then something the DC/CW universe has always been good at is reacting quickly to fan pressure. When it became clear that Laurel wasn’t working as the One True Pairing for Oliver in Arrow’s first season, she was quickly repurposed and Felicity promoted, canon be damned. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing depends entirely on who you ask, but back in season two it was definitely a sensible move.
Then there was Iris, who was unpopular in the first season mainly due to her treatment by The Flash writers. Kept in the dark and basically written into an inferior Lois Lane-esque story arc of not being able to work out that her adopted brother and pet superhero were the same person despite journalistic cred, she’s better now but still criminally underused.
The bottom line is that sometimes an initial conception isn’t the best way to go. Good television shows have a clear idea about where they’re heading from one season to the next, but great television shows aren’t afraid to change the plan if something isn’t working.
Legends Of Tomorrow is a great example of this, ditching Hawkman and Hawkgirl after a half-hearted attempt at a love triangle with Ray, and pairing (albeit briefly) Sara and Snart following fan support.
Supergirl has been rather brave in its decision to keep Kara single for so long. Despite brief flings with both James and Adam Foster, Kara has remained focused on her heroic destiny and career over any personal connections (that aren’t Alex) since the pilot. Thirteen weeks into season two seems like a nice time to change that, but her choice of suitor leaves a lot to be desired.
The power dynamic has been off from the start. Instead of two characters meeting in the middle we’ve watched Mon El continuously need guidance and lecturing from Kara when he rejects the idea of using his powers for good rather than selfish ends.
He’s her student, one who has very little respect for her point of view and, while the show has Kara point out his shortcomings, it’s also telling us that he’d be the one to convince her she could ‘have it all’. That’s something no other guy has been able to do.
It’s even more troubling when the treatment of Alex’s coming out and relationship with Maggie has been handled so gracefully. Their dynamic feels like a fundamental part of the show now and proves what a little bit of extra effort and actor chemistry can achieve. Even Winn’s date with an alien girl, a minor point of the episode and an even smaller part of the show as a whole, felt more considered and convincing.
Supergirl’s main problem here is that Kara is such a beloved character, with Melissa Benoist bringing so much warmth and gumption to the role. She’s adored by her audience in a way characters like Oliver Queen likely never will be, and so we’re all very protective of her. That’s mostly a good problem to have, but not when the writers are trying to craft a guy that can match her.
These things are hard to get right, and I certainly wouldn’t say anything against Chris Wood’s performance as Mon-El. The trouble is that, unlike with James, the show is doubling down on a pairing that doesn’t make much sense to a large portion of the audience and is overshadowing other, potentially better, stories.