Supergirl, Season 4, Episode 3 “Man of Steel”
Supergirl has not been subtle about its politics this season. Three episodes in and the series has become the vanguard of progressive political thought on its network, touching on hot button topics like the immigration debate and transgender rights, and being backed up by The CW’s “Open to All” PSAs. This week, Kara is in her annual coma, so the narrative spends its time focusing on showing how a mild-mannered professor radicalizes into the evil Agent Liberty. Here’s everything you need to know about the latest episode of Supergirl:
What’s the scoop: The flackbacks start two years ago and work their way forward from there. Ben Lockwood is a history professor with a wife, son and a father falling into despair because his steel mill is losing business to an Nth Metal mill run by recently amnestied aliens. The father (played by geekdom’s go-to jerk Xander Berkeley) constantly spouts hateful rhetoric, and challenges his son to “be a man” and stand up for “his kind.” Through the bulk of the rest of the episode, we see how various series mileposts, like the Daxum Invasion or Reign’s reign, have impacted Lockwood and his family. While every bad thing in his life has some sort of alien connection (his family’s business goes belly-up, his house is destroyed, he gets fired from his job for increasingly xenophobic rhetoric), Lockwood still manages to have a negative interaction with every major character on the series: Alex, Lena, Jimmy, J’onn and Kara. The breaking point is when Lockwood’s distraught father kills himself by letting his now-abandoned steel mill collapse around him during an alien induced earthquake. From there, Lockwood tumbles down the slippery slope straight into the valley of violence and murder.
Meet Me on the Balcony: Not much time for the sharing of feelings, with Kara unconscious because the world’s atmosphere has been fouled by Kryptonite. Alex is desperate to save her sister, so she enlists Lena’s help, despite the fact that Lena and Supergirl are frenemies. Luckily for Kara, Lena has a Power Ranger suit that will protect Kara while she shoots this year’s crossover the atmosphere is toxic.
What about the action: This was a much more cerebral episode of the show. We did open with J’onn’s harrowing rescue of Kara, but mostly the action (and the collateral damage it causes) we saw was from Lockwood’s perspective.
What’s next: It feels like Melissa Benoist’s second string body double will be getting some more playing time now that Kara is in a full body suit that conveniently shrouds her face completely.
Last impressions: Firstly, this episode is a total result the logistics of the series’ star being needed on a different set to shoot the sweeps-friendly crossover. We saw the use of the flashback episode with Kara and Alex’s first adventure, when they were tweens. Something similar is going on with Arrow, except Ollie is separated from the main cast (in prison), which allows Stephen Amell to shoot several episodes worth of scenes at the same time. The Power Ranger suit takes things to a whole new level of absurdity, so we’ll see how they handle that.
Secondly, I appreciate Supergirl‘s social conscience, but that doesn’t mean I have to enjoy everything about it. There is value in open minds and open hearts. We almost felt sorry for Lockwood, because he believed in the system and the world still crapped all over him. That sympathy evaporated when he turned violent and despite his heartbreak, this character deserves no redemption. I don’t know if it’s that we’re being so beaten over the head by political rhetoric because we’re close to the mid-term elections, or it’s just our new normal state of political discourse, but this season Supergirl is feeling a little preachy, when we know the series is capable of more nuance than it has been showing. We’re not that far removed from Alex’s journey of self-discovery, which served as both a deft workaround of Melissa Benoist’s overbooked shooting schedule, and a heartfelt commentary on what it means to be LGBTQ in today’s America.
This episode, while heavy-handed, was effective. It serves as an extreme example of how otherwise rational people can abandon hope and embrace loathsome ideals like nationalism or white supremacy. Like many villains before him, Lockwood is very much the hero of his own story.
Since moving to The CW, Supergirl has possessed a clear point of view and message of hope and inclusion. However, thanks to Kara’s relentless optimism and the family atmosphere surrounding its primary characters, Supergirl has also been an escapist haven from the strife of everyday life. I’ve often jokingly described this show as being about sunshine and rainbows, but it’s a key part of the show’s identity that has been pushed to the background. It took The Flash three seasons to overcome its dour turn, let’s hope Supergirl doesn’t suffer the same fate, and leave Legends of Tomorrow as the last outpost of superhero fun on TV.