Monday, January 1, 2018

The Ethics Of "Truth, Justice And The American Way" Guide Supergirl Well!

The Good: Decent performances, Good themes
The Bad: Simplistic plot, Irksome character conceit
The Basics: "Truth, Justice And The American Way" refocuses Supergirl on the ethics of imprisonment when the Master Jailer from Fort Rozz starts killing escaped alien prisoners!

As I continue my way through the first season of Supergirl, I am reminded why it took me three takes to get through it for review. The show did not initially grab me, whatwith its overstated view of its characters as women and their place in the world the series created. On the third (at least) watch through, I'm caught by simple aspects of the plot and characters that annoy me more than the thematic heavyhandedness of the early episodes. As "Truth, Justice And The American Way" begins, Supergirl is falling back on a very simple character time bomb conceit and the familiarity of that trope is irksome.

"Truth, Justice And The American Way" follows immediately upon "For The Girl Who Has Everything" (reviewed here!) and it is impossible to discuss the follow-up episode without spoilers for the prior episode. After all, despite the set-up with Kara in an alternate reality in her own mind (thanks to a parasitic organism stuck on her by Non), "For The Girl Who Has Everything" led into a climactic battle between Astra (Kara's aunt) and Non and the DEO team, with Astra being killed. Alex stabbed Astra through the back with a Kryptonite sword in order to save the life of J'onn J'onzz, but before Alex could tell Supergirl the truth, J'onzz took responsibility for the murder. "Truth, Justice And The American Way," then, begins with the secret that Alex Danvers and J'onn J'onzz share that the viewer knows will inevitably come out and have an effect upon Kara's relationships and the waiting for that little time bomb to go off is more immediately tiresome, as opposed to compelling; the pretense makes Supergirl just like every other super hero show - attempting to hinge upon the reversal that comes when the truth comes out as opposed to characters being honest with one another and actually dealing with the consequences of their actions like adults.

Kara and Alex are hanging out as Kara gets anxious about returning to work. Non appears and takes Kara off to send Astra's body off into space. Kara returns to work to find that Cat Grant has hired Siobhan Smythe as another assistant. Grant believes that Max Lord has been abducted and sets Lucy Lane and James Olsen upon finding him, which puts Olsen and Danvers in conflict with one another over the DEO's methods. At the DEO, the team hunts for an alien in human skin, but when Alex leads a team to capture him, she and the DEO are stopped by an intervening force. The individual is the Master Jailer and after abducting the DEO's suspect, he kills the alien, who was an escapee from Fort Rozz.

When the DEO figures out that the Master Jailer is killing escapees in the order of their incarceration, Supergirl flies out to try to save the next alien target and stop the Master Jailer. Cat Grant tells James Olsen a story about one of her regrets and in the process, Olsen gets the strength to stand up to Kara Danvers about the DEO's incarceration of Maxwell Lord. When Supergirl and Alex follow a lead to try to stop their suspect, the Master Jailer reveals himself and captures Supergirl. In the prison, Kara meets with Professor Luzano and becomes sympathetic to his plight.

"Truth, Justice And The American Way" works to redefine both Supergirl and Kara Danvers and her sense of ethics. James Olsen is the moral core of Supergirl in "Truth, Justice And The American Way" and he advocates for fundamental American rights, like due process. Olsen does a good job of advocating for important ideas that have long been corrupted or ignored in recent American history. It is refreshing to hear any character rail about Guantanamo Bay and comparing the DEO facility to that atrocity to human rights is an important way to keep the debate about its existence alive in the public's consciousness. Olsen's argument that the DEO has overstepped its mandate by imprisoning Max Lord is a compelling one, well-executed in the episode.

Kara is attempting to keep herself and her family safe and she is guided by anger throughout much of "Truth, Justice And The American Way." Kara is furious about the death of her aunt Astra. Throughout "Truth, Justice And The American Way," Kara needles J'onn and rejects his authority at the DEO. The general idea about that is all right, but it is part of the ticking bomb conceit that at some point Alex will tell Kara the truth. As a result, it feels more obnoxious than compelling. It is especially frustrating to see the conceit playing out given that in "For The Girl Who Has Everything" Kara prioritized Alex over her illusory life on Krypton. As such, Kara's concept of family is malleable and the idea that Alex or J'onn killed Astra to save anyone seems like something Kara could adapt to.

Italia Ricci bursts into Supergirl as Siobahn Smythe, instantly establishing the character as a formidable presence in the life of Kara Danvers. In addition to finally giving comic book fans a definitive pronunciation of the character's name, the writers of Supergirl get off a good crack at Cat Grant given that she is able to accurately pronounce the future antagonist's name. Ricci has the look and feel to play someone who would attract Cat Grant's attention and actually be able to impress her.

Mehcad Brooks gives one of his best performances as James Olsen as he makes a compelling ethical argument in favor of human rights. Brooks makes the articulate audience credibly and he has the presence on screen to hold his own opposite Melissa Benoist's Kara. While Benoist gets through her lines just fine, she is given far less compelling material in "Truth, Justice And The American Way." Kara is, unfortunately, saddled with two melodramatic subplots as she is needlessly angry at J'onn and given an immediately forced conflict with Siobahn (who, realistically, can free Kara up to do more of her superhero work without drawing as much attention to herself).

Ultimately, "Truth, Justice And The American Way" does a decent job of presenting its case in the context of an "Alien Of The Week" plot that is the predictable form of Supergirl . . . at least in its first season.


For other television season and episode reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2018 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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