This Supergirl review contains spoilers.
Supergirl Season 5, Episode 3
This is the second week in a row I am tempted to start my Supergirl review off with the sentiment: “Poor, J’onn.” I know it is necessary, in the pursuit of drama, to keep one’s characters at least a little bit miserable, but J’onn seems to take a disproportionate brunt of it on this show. Supergirl loves to dredge up a devastating discovery from J’onn’s past (the better to explore Martian culture with, my dear!), and “Blurred Lines” leans giddily—or at least stodgily—into the well-worn narrative pattern.
What’s the Martian dirt this week? In an attempt to find out more about his erased memories, J’onn employs the help of Nia and her dream powers. Nia is more than up for the job, easily delving into J’onn’s history to find out what is missing; the two explore J’onn’s memory-scape together, discovering that J’onn’s baby brother Malefic always had the power to cast his thoughts and wills to others’ minds. It wasn’t the White Martians who engineered it into him.
Unable to properly connect to the Martian collective consciousness, Malefic felt (and honestly kind of was) isolated from his community and people. He couldn’t even get through one childhood game of hide-and-seek without being taunted by his prejuiced peers. Rather than getting the kid a good therapist, J’onn’s dad M’yrnn (oh, hey Carl Lumby!), who was very into the religion thing, sent him to the Martian monks, leaving it in the hands of the Martian god.
It’s all very Vulcan circa 2009 Star Trek and, it turns out, not a great idea. The White Martians get to a very vulnerable Malefic, who understandably feels abandoned by his family. Seeing his father in agony, J’onn decides to wipe Malefic from M’yrnn and his own memories completely, which is the final straw for Malefic, who would go on to conspire with the White Martians to genocide the Green Martians.
The theme of this episode was exploring boundaries—hence the title “Blurred Lines”—and how difficult it can be not to cross lines when you care about someone and they are in pain. It’s a worthy theme, but its exploration is muddled. Nia Nahl gets top points for her decision not to withhold information from J’onn that might hurt him, but also giving him the choice. While she initially keeps the reveal that it was J’onn and not M’yrnn who committed the gravest Martian sin of memory-erasure, she very quickly decides that he has the right to know. She tells him that this final memory will cause him pain, and gives him the option of opting out, which is kind, clear, and respectful.
Obviously, J’onn did not respect a lot of very boldly-drawn boundaries when he chose to erase his father’s memory. The show gets that, and David Harewood acts the hell out of the scene in which he is asked to basically process all of this and deliver what is essentially a monologue (Nia is technically there, but he is mostly delivering his lines to the camera) about his shame, regret, and intense guilt.
Like usual, Harewood (who is an excellent actor) is given the very difficult job of communicating an entire alien culture’s nuanced system of beliefs using only some hastily-paced flashbacks, some memory shenanigans, and that furrowed brow of his. (Because you better believe lines like “It’s a Martian herb that aids in the connection of minds” is not doing any of the work for him. Honorable mention to poor Lumbly, who has to deliver the line: “How can I continue to counsel our people when I am nothing?!”)
Supergirl tends to have incredibly bold ambitions when it comes to exploring Martian culture and J’onn J’onzz’s past, but almost never commits the narrative space required to pull any of it off. Imagine if the reveal of J’onn and Malefic’s history was told through flashbacks over the course of an entire half-season, from both points-of-view, with the reveal of J’onn’s betrayal, happening in the midseason finale (which, you know, wouldn’t happen because it is the crossover, but you get my point)?
The one time Supergirl did create the narrative space to give one of J’onn’s personal arcs room to breathe and develop at a more organic pace was Season 3’s exploration of the father-son relationship between J’onn and M’yrnn. The rich, season-long arc explored what it is like to live with a parent going through dementia. Through their rich relationship, depicted by two top actors, Supergirl depicted the effects of PTSD and reconciliation following a period of forced estrangement. It was beautiful, and tapped into Martian culture in some wonderful ways. Perhaps J’onn’s relationship with his brother will end up doing the same, but, right now, this storyline has all of the nuance and pacing of a charging bull.
Elsewhere in the episode, we explore the theme of blurred lines through the Kara and Lena relationship, which is in a baby duckling phase following Kara’s confession that she is Supergirl. For their first post-reveal lunch date, Kara pulls a Chuck Bass, flying all around the world (Chuck used his private plane, Kara uses herself) to collect all of Lena’s favorite things (including scones from Dublin, perhaps as a reference to Katie McGrath’s Irishness?). It’s very sweet, and Lena doesn’t seem totally immune to Kara’s sweetness.
Of course, Lena is using the lunch to (very easily) manipulate Kara into stealing Lex’s journals from the heavily-fortified Fort Summit. At first, Kara regrets hastily suggesting to do this illegal favor for Lena, who tells Kara she needs to the journals to help with the Lex nightmares she is having (really, she needs them to aid in her Q-waves research), but, when James gives Kara some terrible advice, Kara goes for it.
It’s a well-intentioned, but misguided idea of what it means to be “a good friend,” and one I wish the episode, especially because of its stated theme, had delved into a bit more. “When you’re friend is in trouble, you jump in,” James tells Kara, talking about coming to Kara’s aid in a face-off against the villain-of-the-week. “Period. Doesn’t matter the consequences.” This is terrible advice, and it is advice that is perpetuated in a lot of our pop culture and socialization—especially for girls and women.
Setting boundaries is hard, and it is especially hard when it comes to the people you love, but it is also essential to having healthy relationships not only with others, but with yourself. Stepping up to help a friend is an admirable act, and one that anyone can and should do when they feel able, but there are a whole host of reasons why, sometimes, you are not able. And you should always consider the consequences, when possible, of your actions—not only for others, but for yourself.
OK, giving the soapbox I borrowed back to Supergirl…
In what is perhaps the most hamstrung use of the “blurred lines” theme, Kelly is tricked by Malefic (posing as an old friend, played by Sean Astin!) into using Obsidian Tech to map his mind and restore his inception abilities. This is treated like Kelly’s fault for being too friendly and kind. And it’s like: you can be kind without ignoring all of the protocols of your (new) job to “help” a friend you haven’t seen in years who is visuably unstable. Like, I guess this is kind of a boundaries issue, but mostly it’s a stupidity issue.
Because Kelly is part of Malefic’s inception recovery process, she is mentally linked to him, which means that she can see through all of his disguises. The gang decides that this means she needs to leave the city until they take him down because, apparently, Malefic can’t leave the National City city limits. (That was sarcasm.) Kelly just goes along with it without a fight, even though her whole life (including her new job, which she seems to love) is here.
I get the potential necessity of Kelly having to go into some degree of hiding, but this all happened way too fast and the fact that Kelly went along with it so easily and quickly, paired with the way she handled Sean Astin, made it seem like Kelly has absolutely no backbone, which I don’t think is what Supergirl is trying to do with her characterization?
James goes with Kelly, which might be the “real” reason for the quick departure. (Mehcad Brooks is not a series regular this year.) It’s a shame because we got some great Guardian action this episode… even if now Kara will be safe from James’ bad advice for a hot second.
Elsewhere, when Nia tries to be honest with Brainy, telling him that she can’t handle more of his poems—basically, trying to draw a line that he was previously, unbeknownstly crossing again and again, he takes it very harshly and maybe breaks up with her. It’s left open-ended, but the implication is there. It’s not a great week for truth-telling, in general, as J’onn swears Nia to secrecy and doesn’t tell the rest of his found family about his new discoveries. With Brainy maybe breaking up with Nia and J’onn asking Nia to keep some relevant information to herself, Nia may be in for a rough few weeks.
Honestly sad that Malefic doesn’t use his Little Girl form more. That child actress was killing it, and I love seeing a little girl wreak havoc and tinker away at alien tech.
I know what they were going for with the episode title “Blurred Lines,” but I associate this phrase with the blurring of sexual lines. On the one hand, I am glad they didn’t half-heartedly dive into that subject matter, but I’m not sure if you can use that phrase without the association.
Did anyone else get Lost Girl/succubus vibes from the episode’s villain-of-the-week opener?
Lena/Hope have a real Tony Stark/Jarvis thing going on.
If Hope has access to Eve’s memories, Lena should really be asking her about Leviathan.
“Show me some sparkly death.” I know we’re not supposed to like Andrea Rojas, but with lines of dialogue like this one, I can’t completely hate her.
I don’t know if that visual of William’s beating heart was necessary.
“Isn’t messing with someone’s memories dangerous?” Bless you and your caution, Nia.
Lena using the phrase “cure my trauma,” which is not the most helpful way to contextualize trauma.
“Robbed a bank? No! I would never rob anything.” “It’s just an expression, Kara.”
“A Martian’s death isn’t final, but erasing a memory is.”
It was nice to see Alex and Kara have a sister dumpling night (and to see Kara with doughnuts again!).
“If you care about someone, you should tell them the truth.” Good advice, Brainy.
William Dey is up to something. We sae him meeting with the doctor killed by the spider-y villain-of-the-week at the beginning of the episode, trying to convince him of something. Later, he accepts money from some man during a shady park bench meeting. Is this connected to Leviathan? Are they the ones who hired Caroline O’Connor to kill those doctors? And who killed O’Connor before she could talk?
“You are really starting to bug me.” Was Kara’s pun too much? Or just right? Discuss!
Malefic needs to work on his definition of a quick death.
“For a friend like you, there are no boundaries.” Kara, to Lena. Uh-oh.
“How to use Q-Waves in pursuit of mind control, by Lex Luthor. In this essay-“