Supergirl: 5.04 In Plain Sight
My biggest criticism of Supergirl has to be that its not fun - my second criticism is there just aren’t enough likable characters. Watching unlikable characters not be fun is draining and this week we had yet another episode that just seems to tread water. We have three core story elements set up/ and progressed by the end of the episode but none of there are especially interesting and at least the first two should have been held longer to generate more tension and intrigue.
The first story strand is J’onn trying to catch his evil brother. The episode opens with a fairly nice action scene of the gang trying to catch Malefic and failing. Brainy is then tasked with improving their Phantom Zone projector so it can capture Malefic even when he phases. This leads to him having to test the tech on J’onn, which is very painful. Since so much of this story strand is focused on J’onn’s guilt, this pain is a very real, physical penance for his sins against his brother and across the whole episode David Harewood is especially good, particularly during a scene where Alex (who is being controlled by Malefic at the time) berates him for what he has done.
Alex unfortunately has one of her out of character episodes because the plot needs it. Alex has been a consistent and reliable human being, but every so often she acts massively out of character to suit the plot; I wonder if it’s happened enough now that it’s shifted beyond out of character and has now become IN character for her to sometimes act OUT of character? This week she is being unprofessional and emotionally charged in her desire to protect Kelly. This harks back to the writers short hand of trying to endear characters to the audience by repeatedly telling us how much the other characters love them, as opposed to truly crafting characters we can love. Alex is unreasonable and erratic for most of the episode but despite a very mild apology for her behavior, she never really seems to be held accountable or learns from her actions.
The second story element is a side mission of Kara and Nia investigating William. Kara, with some help from Nia, is jetting around the world on the trail of a woman she believes William is trying to murder. I’ve honestly lost track of why and how quickly Kara and Nia have jumped to the conclusion that William is a murder but they seem to think he’s a spy or part of Intergang or an assassin. I guess with some of the stuff they’ve encountered, it’s not that far fetched. I quite like Nia in the role of desk reporter, doing the digging so Kara can go off doing the super thing. It works to have her doing this task, even if she seems to have a lot of “contacts” at important and convenient places for such a junior reporter.
After some investigation, Kara encounters a meta human who tries to kill her (thinking she’s the target William is after). I like watching Kara/Supergirl doing some investigating but for the audience it’s all a little tension-free this week. We’ve already been shown that William (who volunteers at a soup kitchen) isn’t the bad guy Kara thinks he is, so watching Kara’s journey to that information isn’t especially engaging. When she finally tracks William down, we’re treated to what is some of the worst writing this show has ever presented us with. William immediately tells Kara his whole story (he’s an undercover journalist from THE TIMES OF LONDON investigating Andrea and helping the missing woman fake her own death). Why he tells her everything so quickly, when only a week or so ago he considered her worth investigating as part of his mission, I don’t know? He then gives a cringy speech about how he hated being mean to Kara because he’s not really mean its just a disguise and he actually thinks her writing is better than his and he has two Pulitzers and he’s really a good guy and really likes Kara and hopes she’ll forgive him.
My eyes still hurt from rolling so far back in my head during this scene. The writing in his season is the sloppiest, laziest and cheesiest it’s ever been; constantly telling, not showing and descending into daytime soap stuff. This scene between Kara and William was just terrible and again, instead of the show showing William is good through his actions, they just had the guy tell us. That’s it, he literally just tells us he’s a goodie, so he’s a goodie now and we have to go with it. Also, could have dragged the mystery and suspense out a few more episodes, guys!
The final story thread is the most pressing, the retirement of Jaaaaames from the cast! I have thoroughly disliked this iteration of Jimmy Olson from the get go. The fact that he’s a cool, sexy, six foot six Adonis who towers over this universe’s Superman is a gripe in itself but the main issue is that he has been a constant source of toxicity. In a world where the terms toxic and toxic masculinity are becoming watered down and can be over used to describe anyone who is just a bit off, Jaaames seemed to embody the ingrained, insidious side of toxic masculinity. Constantly undermining the capability of the women around him, frequently speaking for them - in what he perceives as a supportive way - and disregarding their feelings at almost every step.
Even when the show tried to address the fact and suggest his desire to be a hero was born from his own sense of inadequacy, it never truly realised his obnoxiousness. They’ve tried to make him relevant, to reposition him and to redeem him through his relationships with other characters on the show but something in the mix of the writing and performance have just kept Jimmy feeling like a smug, condescending bro. I for one am not sad to see him go and he leaves with a real whimper.
To keep Kelly off the grid for a bit, she and Jimbo go home to the little town they grew up in to visit their (now passed away) Aunt’s house. When they arrive in town, they notice a massive prison has been built and that the town is in disarray. They later find a teen squatting in their Aunt’s old home and after they pay for some food he’s stealing, they get his and the town’s life story. Basically the prison opened, is corrupt and the local police and judicial system throws people (like the teens mum) in prison for 30 year stretches for parking tickets and missed mortgage payments. Its all a little heavy handed and I can’t quite buy the idea that this would go completely unnoticed and unchallenged or that James and Kelly have been so detached from their old town/home that they didn’t know.
After speaking with his old boss at the local paper where Jaaames first got into journalism, he’s shocked to hear the paper doesn’t challenge the corruption because they cant afford to upset the advertisers. The episode never quite manages to address the fact that James has moved so far up to a position of privilege and power in his profession and crime fighting, he’s lost touch with the realities of small town America, though they scratch around the edges of the idea. However, James’s solution – to move back and buy the paper in order to write what he wants and tackle injustice – is a little extreme, as well as a bit of a power play. Still, at least he’s gone from the main show now! Yay! I have to confess, his final moment, after giving his camera and a job to the kid he’d helped genuinely gave me tingles. When the kid called him chief he replied “Don’t call me chief, its Jimmy” Finally! After five years, his name is Jimmy! Now goodbye, sir.
The finale of the episode has a nice moment of J’onn breaking through to a mind washed Alex but its never really clear exactly how Malefic's powers work here. Sometimes he seems to just hypnotise people to his will, sometimes he directly controls them. Malefic is sent back to the Phantom Zone where he’ll never be seen again… until after Crisis on Infinite Earths and they kick the story back up, that is. There is an unintentionally hilarious moment in the finale, when Guardian and Supergirl have to disarm dozens of hypnotised people; Supergirl literally takes all the weapons off all the people in two second while Guardian has a prolonged fight with just one person.
This episodes does progress the Malefic and William parts of the story, while Lena, who helps out the DEO for some reason, steals some Martian Inception research to further her own research/narrative. But it still feels like the show is rushing and crawling at the same time. I’d be happy to have some monster of the week stories and drip feed these season arcs a little more sparingly. With all the focus being on the Big Picture stories but that picture being both boring and predictable, there is just no joy in the show at the moment.