This Supergirl review contains spoilers.
Supergirl Season 1, Episode 14
On it’s face, “Truth, Justice and the American Way” was very much a transitionary episode. It dealt with the fallout from some major recent happenings — mainly, the death of Astra and the D.E.O.’s imprionment of Maxwell Lord — while also giving us a Fort Rozz-prisoner-of-the-week storyline. But, by subverting that prisoner-of-the-week format so that Kara works to save a man her mother sentenced to prison, Supergirlembarked on an exploration of morality within the superhero genre that was therapeutic for anyone who spends much time in the Berlanti-verse…
If you’re a fan of Greg Berlanti’s other superhero shows, then you probably know that one of the most troubling aspects of the Berlanti-verse is the way in which the heroes of Arrowand The Flashlock people up without any kind of accountability or long-term plan. By working outside of the justice system, Team Arrow and Team Flash get to define and carry out their own justice.
For Team Arrow, this sometimes involves locking up family members for weeks at a time in an attempt to get information about Damien Darhk. For Team Flash, this means operating their own off-the-books metahuman prison where prisoners not only have no long-term rehabilitation plan, but sometimes end up murdered.
This lack of self-awareness is one of the major ongoing plot problems with both shows, and probably says some not-so-flattering, unsurprising things about the way American society views incarceration, the justice system, and accountabiliy/transparency for people in power. It is also what made this week’s episode of Supergirl— “Truth, Justice and the American Way” — so great. Finally, a show within the Berlanti-verse (and on television, in general) not only addressed this problem, but took a stand against it.
Thematically, Supergirl stuck pretty close to this exploration of Kara’s moral compass — and the episode was the stronger for it. The installment hinged on a few well-acted, thematically-complex scenes. First, there was James’ confrontation of Kara. James notably ventures into the world of the D.E.O., a part of Kara’s life he is usually only tangentially involved in (though that seems to be slowly changing — hopefully a sign that the show’s narrative is becoming more integrated). Whether you buy into the James/Kara relationship or not, James has really become Kara’s moral touchstone in many ways — a reminder/reflection of Kara’s own values that can be easy to lose sight of amongst the chaos of Kara’s life.
The second standout scene was the heart-to-heart between Cat and James. Though Team CatCo didn’t get as much plot time in this episode, these two characters certainly made the most of it. It’s always interesting to me that Cat so respects James and seems to consider him a professional equal of sorts, giving them a completely different dynamic from the one Kara and Cat share. Cat’s story to James about her decision not to stand up for what she knew was right as a young journalist was exactly what James needed to hear, yet another example of Cat’s impressive intuition and skill in subtle emotional manipulation. (And yet another reason why I don’t believe Cat would be fooled by Kara’s disguise for one minute.)
Finally, we had the conversation between Kara and fellow Kryptonian Professor Alphonse Luzano. While in adjoining cells in Master Jailer’s ship-prison, the two reminisce about the cinnamon-scented region of Krypton (yep, that was apparently a thing), and it quickly becomes apparent that, though Luzano was one of the men whom Kara’s mother sentenced to Fort Rozz, his crime was more of a Les Mis-style offense — i.e. one undertaken out of desperation for a loved one’s health — rather than something overtly sinister.
Here, it is rather Master Jailer — a symbol of the system Kara’s mother represented — acting as the all-or-nothing bad guy, teaching Kara that justice isn’t always as simple as good intentions or having a badge. Moral of the story: Just because the show is named after you, doesn’t mean you get to play judge, jury, and jailer — no matter what Oliver Queen says.
Of course, Supergirlis not a show that is adept at tying up thematic explorations like this one with a nice, neat bow and it shows in the lingering questions. If the D.E.O. has evidence of Lord’s criminal activities, shouldn’t they turn him over to the proper authorities — even if it means exposing Kara’s superhero identity? And what does happen with the “evil” aliens who are captured by the D.E.O. — do they have a long-term plan? Supergirlgets points for trying to address this complex theme at all, but it’s hard not to wander what this show could really be capable of if it pitted its fourth estate elements against its shadowy government agency elements.
Elsewhere in the episode, we met Cat’s new assistant: Siobhan Smythe. (Yep, Cat pronounces her name correctly.) At the moment, Siobhan just seems an ambitious co-worker who will go to great lengths for her career, but we know she is destined for much darker things. I’m glad that Supergirlis introducing this character so subtly, firmly in Kara’s work life storyline. As it’s become apparent again and again, Kara cannot keep the different parts of her life so neatly compartmentalized. (Exhibit Z: James’ request to tell Lucy about Kara’s superhero identity…)
As if that wasn’t already enough plot for one epsiode, we also get the aftermath of Astra’s death, which is mostly background, but still very moving. We see both Kara and Non say goodbye to Astra, a brief truce for the two characters in honor of the woman they both loved. Mostly, however, Kara’s grief is demonstrated in her treatment of J’onn, who she believes responsible for Astra’s death. Really, it was Alex, who wants to tell Kara the truth, but J’onn convinces her not to. The argument? She needs her sister right now. (It seems J’onn’s promise to Jeremiah Danvers that he would protect his daughters goes beyond the threat of physical harm.)
Of course, the truth about Astra’s death has to come out sooner or later, but, for now, the two best aliens on this show are estranged, with Kara telling J’onn that she can’t stand to work beside him right now. If she choose the moral way and let Maxwell Lord go — as she does in the show’s third act, despite concerns that he might tell the world who she really is — then J’onn should have found a way to spare Astra’s life. Justice doesn’t always give you the kind of time Kara has to ponder Lord’s imprisonment, of course. We’ll have to see if Kara sees it that way once she finds out it was her sister who drove that knife through Astra’s chest.