Supergirl’s Azie Tesfai Takes on Race and Privilege as Guardian, Episode Writer

Tesfai deftly weaves weighty themes into the fantastical aspects of the show

Supergirl's Azie Tesfai Takes on Race and Privilege as Guardian, Episode Writer
Photo: The CW

This SUPERGIRL article contains spoilers for Season 6, Episode 12, “Blind Spots.”

Supergirl Season 6 Episode 12

Kelly makes her debut as Guardian in an impressive episode that actor Azie Tesfai (Kelly Olsen) co-wrote and David Ramsey directed. Ramsey previously directed a few great episodes of Arrow. Here, his direction gives the proceedings a feeling of gravitas – everything feels a bit more special, the shots more cinematic and creative. For Tesfai’s part, adding “writer” to her credits makes her the first Arrowverse actor to do so and adds a level of lived experience that grounds the episode in very real issues of race and privilege, even as Tesfai deftly weaves those themes into the fantastical aspects of the show.

The Ormfell Building that Orlando, Kelly, and others fought so hard to keep as affordable housing last episode crashes down, injuring Orlando’s brother Joey and many other residents in the Heights. Kelly is immediately invested, but the rest of the Super Friends are focused on Nyxly and a scavenger hunt for fifth dimensional objects or whatever. The way the episode relegates that search to the background is A-plus, chef’s kiss-level work. We can feel Kelly’s annoyance with the quest and we, in turn, barely care either.

Azie Tesfai has been a fantastic later-seasons addition to Supergirl, and this episode surely adds to her canon of excellence. Tesfai’s Kelly has brought out new sides to Alex, Kara, and James, and she was a big part of helping send the latter off with a fulfilling and respectful exit. As she steps up fully as Guardian here so long after James’s departure and after several story arcs fully establishing her own character, there is no danger of feeling that she replaced Mehcad Brooks’s James Olsen. Instead, this feels like a natural progression of a character we’ve come to know, love, and root for over time.

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As a writer, Tesfai wisely put Nyxly’s hunt for the totem and Lena’s magical journey largely on hold, allowing this emotionally complex story the breathing room required for a subject matter of this heft. The conniving councilwoman preaching gentrification and pulling oneself up by their bootstraps from the previous episode turns out to be just as viewers suspected. Here, she gets a fifth dimensional power-up that essentially grants her the ability to make her dreams reality – at the expense of those nearby.

While at first that may seem like a plot borrowed from Pedro Pascal’s villain in Wonder Woman 1984, during the climax the writers reveal that the councilwoman literally steals her power from the injured BIPOC folks in a low-income neighborhood she was elected to represent. As her power grows, she goes full-on eugenics and wants to “sweep away the useless and the weak and make it perfect.”

The councilwoman is bad, but she’s on obvious bogeywoman. More impressive is the way the writing pulls no punches as it specifically and accurately portrays nice white people who think they “get it” as they very much do not. Seeing Alex brush Kelly off is rough, but it tracks. She tends to be singular of focus, and she had to be forced to get on board with accepting Kara. Alex doesn’t quite come out and say it, but in her soul-searching conversation with J’onn after she realizes her mistake, Alex talks about how much the couple have in common and comes right up to the “but I’m gay so I get it…” talking point.

Building on the relationship they’ve fleshed out this season, Kelly calls out Supergirl on her blind spots and the way she misses things outside of her own experience. Viewers have been saying this for seasons, and it’s great to see it play out on screen between two characters who clearly both care for one another. Pushing it a step further, Kelly won’t let Supergirl wallow in her guilt, saying, “Guilt isn’t an active emotion. It’s about what you do next, how you change going forward.” Go Kelly!

The episode is littered with small details that will have some viewers nodding their heads going “of course” and others perhaps googling in shock, like equipment shortages in hospitals, prioritizing white and wealthy patients, and the delay in 911 response times. Kelly’s reading materials trended last summer and her Say Her Name shirt is on point.

The episode features some important firsts. It’s Kelly’s first time suiting up fully as Guardian, of course, and the detail that Brainy had already created a suit for her feels like a sweet, preemptive vote of confidence. (It could even be seen as a moment of solidarity from a non-Black person of color, though Supergirl doesn’t seem all that inclined to acknowledge that Brainy isn’t white.) Some smaller firsts are also worth noting, and likely only happened because a Black woman wrote this episode. After a very long day, Kelly ties her hair back in a headscarf, perhaps the first time we’ve seen her care for her hair in any way. At the end of the episode, Alex and Kelly have what appears to be their first conversation about race, in spite of being in an interracial relationship long enough to live together.

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Much like Kelly shouldn’t have to bear this burden alone, it’s hard not to feel like Azie Tesfai is bearing the burden of representing racial justice on Supergirl alone, or nearly alone. Much as a I love David Ramsey, it sometimes felt like Supergirl was summoning as many Black people in the Arrowverse as it could, and this is the best they could do. It’s not a knock on Azie Tesfai at all, who wrote a great episode that dealt with complex themes in a nuanced way.

While it’s undoubtedly true that there are plenty of white women like Alex Danvers in interracial relationships who need to know better and do better (and not run to the one other Black person they know every time they mess up or have questions), one wonders what Alex and Kelly’s relationship might look like if there had always been queer Black women writing Supergirl.