“Supergirl” Episode 403 Recap: “I Think This Line’s Mostly Filler”

Well. So, it seems this season of Supergirl took two steps forward and one step back. This episode was… not great. Now, I happen to know that at the beginning of filming this season, they had to have a bunch of days without Melissa Benoist on set, because she was finishing her run in the Broadway production of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. (Which I saw and she was fabulous in.) So I understand that they needed a creative way to have an episode of Supergirl without Supergirl. That said, it wasn’t even ABOUT Supergirl. They could have very easily made the whole episode about Team Supergirl trying to find a cure, but instead we spent it in a flashback for a character we barely knew (the man behind the Agent Liberty mask) that could have been a villain’s monologue.

I understand the point they were trying to make. For example, that economic anxiety isn’t a good reason for racism and xenophobia, and those people aren’t any better than those without any reason at all. (At least, I hope that’s the point they were trying to make.) And maybe it will be enlightening for (white) people who don’t pay attention to the news or the current climate or anything going on around them ever. And I do also very much appreciate getting legitimate backstory for a villain. But I still think it could have been done in a MUCH shorter time frame than taking up 40 minutes of a 43-minute episode. And for those of us who DO pay attention, it was hard to watch the blatant bigotry and violence that we know is happening every day, on this show that’s supposed to give us hope. But, I guess since this is one of the last shows clinging desperately to the 22-episode format, they can afford a filler.

Alex did show up a few times, and Lena Luthor almost killed an entire funeral home with her lipstick shade, so we’re still going to talk about it. But I’m hoping this was a fluke and in the next episode, we’re back to Director Danvers kicking ass, Lena Luthor outsmarting everyone, and Nia Nal being her regular perfect self. And you know. Supergirl.

As a reminder, after the president was outed as an alien, anti-alien sentiments are on the rise, taking the form of hate groups and even a metal-masked man with murdery minions. Aforementioned minions, Mercy and Otis, worked with a DEO traitor called Jensen to use my favorite Lena Luthor invention to spread Kryptonite dust into the air, rendering Supergirl powerless.

We open this episode with the Kryptonite Alert going haywire, Alex being worried that Supergirl isn’t answering her coms, Brainy telling her that the Kryptonite isn’t just in National City, but everywhere. They eventually find her via tracker but she’s free-falling to earth. Which is bad because, in her current state, instead of her classic crater creator move, the impact will kill her.

Alex looks hella worried

“Listen I know sometimes we lose the plot but we literally can’t do this show without her, okay?”

They send J’onn to get her and luckily he swoops in just in time. He gets Supergirl, her veins still pulsing green, back to the DEO, where they promptly put her under the yellow sun lamps and hook her up to a Kryptonite-sucking shield. Brainy and Alex quickly put together that this was caused by the lead dispersal device, therefore was probably done by Jensen.

And then we head back in time, starting off two years ago. What’s fun about these flashbacks, is we see hints of what was happening with Team Supergirl, the way we originally saw it, in flashes and on screens, like Supergirl’s “I need you to hope” speech. It’s pretty clever. Less clever is the racist grandfather spouting off about aliens, calling them cockroaches in front of his grandson. His son, Ben, and Ben’s wife try to tell him to cut it out, but there’s no stopping a racist grandfather once he gets going.

Ben starts off a pretty good guy, trying to be patient with his father while also gently challenging his extreme and xenophobic ideals. He drives his dad to the Steel Factory where they work, and glower at the NTH Metal factory that popped up right next door as if to mock them as they put them out of business. The Steel workers are starting to riot but Grandpa doesn’t really care. The workers block a truck from leaving the NTH factory and the driver tries to stop them but they realize he’s an alien and start to attack. As a defense, one of the driver’s arm tusks flies out and gets Ben in the chest, who was trying to quell the riot.

Ben passes out as Supergirl arrives, and by the time he’s awake, he’s being tended to by Alex while the FBI carts away the rioters.

Bad-Wig Alex looks saucily at Ben

Listen the whole green-veins thing probably cost a lot of money, they couldn’t afford a better wig.

Grandpa and Ben are confused as to why the FBI is working with Supergirl, but Alex and J’onn can’t stay to explain, because Supergirl needs their help.

After healing up from his injury, Ben heads to L Corp to talk to Lena Luthor about starting up a contract with his Steel Factory again, because losing that contract is putting them out of business. But Lena knows NTH Metal is the future so she has to change with the times, it’s just smart business.

Lena doesn't care about Ben

So many people’s problems would be solved if they just listened to Lena Luthor.

Also this is apropos of nothing, but the way Katie McGrath said, “businessman” in this scene made me happy. It was almost like, “bisnism’n.”

Becoming increasingly disillusioned, Ben’s crumbling ideals start creeping into his job, which unfortunately is shaping young minds. He starts talking about progress, and how it sounds all great at first, but at what cost? (Also he had just been talking about Manifest Destiny but don’t be fooled for a second that he’s concerned about the Native Americans in that situation, no no, he’s just worried about his own personal self and his own personal factory and don’t let his generalizations fool you.)

More time passes and things are increasingly tough during the Daxamite takeover for Ben and his family. J’onn comes down and saves them from an alien attack but after he leaves, their house is on fire, and Ben doesn’t feel very saved at all.

A bit later, Ben storms into CatCo, where James is watching Cat Grant on the teevee.

Cat Grant looks annoyed af

I wish we got even 5 seconds per episode of Cat Grant holding press conferences.

He wants to talk about the lasting effects of alien attacks, people whose insurance doesn’t cover the damage they cause, etc. James explains calmly that they do in fact cover those types of things, but Ben is mad; he doesn’t want James to tell general stories he wants them to tell HIS story. HE’S the person most negatively affected by aliens being on this planet, and he could convince the world they’re bad if someone would just LISTEN. Basically, he’s becoming unhinged.

So now when he’s in class, he’s not even hiding behind Manifest Destiny anymore. Ben is flat-out defending “nativists” and spewing about how aliens are stealing human jobs. One alien student tries to push back, saying “nativism” the way Ben is describing it is just xenophobia. But Ben dismisses her argument as moot because she’s an alien. As he goes off, some alien students leave, and when he flat-out insults the alien student to her face, some human-presenting students leave, too.

The dean scolds him and fires him, explaining that he can’t just push his own agenda in a history class, and lemme tell you: Ben. is. PISSED. He storms to the Gaylien Bar and harasses the student, accusing her of ratting him out.

She didn’t do it, but she’s glad someone did. He starts to yell at her and then a wild Kara appears. (Remember her?!) You see, it’s karaoke night, so she’s there to stop him from physically attacking this poor girl.

Kara scrunches her face at Ben

“Sorry so you’re saying that you’re being held accountable for your actions so you’re lashing out at the person you were attacking in the first place? That’s…very stupid. You see that, right?”

He does that thing that people do sometimes, where they assume you’re safe to spout their bigotry bullshit at. Like how white people sometimes think that since I’m white I’ll be down to join in their casual racism. (Spoiler alert, I am not and will tell them so.) Anyway, Ben eventually gets the hint and leaves and the sweet alien student helps Kara pick out her karaoke song.

Kara smiles brightly

I ship Kara + Karaoke

Jumping a little ahead again, there’s another alien fight, and Ben finds his dad in his crumbling factory. He tries to save his father but can’t (ironically, an alien would have been able to help him in this situation) and besides, his father wants to die.

At his father’s funeral, Ben is reading a quote he loved when Lena Luthor slinks in, with a look that is to die for. PUN INTENDED.

Lena's dark lipstick is TO DIE FOR

For once my usual hyperbolic “RIP Me” is actually appropriate.

Lena wants to set up a fund in his father’s name, but he won’t listen. He says something like, “They’re not people” about aliens and Lena realizes that this guy is too far over the line for her. So Ben and his buds go get drunk and decide to destroy the NTH Factory. And also MURDER A MAN WHO WORKS THERE.

Later, Ben runs into his old Dean, who now lives on student housing with what I assume is her wife (they kept saying “Minnie” I think), and because of “overcrowding” and budget cuts, her life sucks now too. And now that it’s directly affecting her and she too wants someone to blame, she tells Ben she is starting to believe his raving.

On the way home, Ben is approached by Mercy and Otis, who offer to help him in his endeavor to murder random aliens.

Mercy invites Ben to join her

Is it me or does SHE kind of look like an alien? I mean, a hot alien, but still.

They want to expose the president as an alien, perhaps force her to publicly discuss her birth certificate, and also to take out a local alien activist, Fiona.

Mercy gives him a metal mask (that I hope is made of NTH Metal) and we bebop back to the present day, now knowing every nook and cranny of the origin story of the Agent of Liberty.

In the present-day DEO, Brainy is losing hope that they can save Supergirl. Getting her out of the Earth’s atmosphere would help in theory, but her body is too weak to survive that right now. He’s feeling hopeless, but Alex has an idea of how to help. Or rather, who can help.

Alex looks so worried about her baby sister

“WWKD? I know! Call Lena!”

So Alex calls Lena Luthor. Lena is power-walking with the determination of a lady who wants to save her best friend, but Alex stops her and thanks her for helping even though Lena isn’t Supergirl’s biggest fan. Lena doesn’t say, “It’s cute how you still think I don’t know,” but instead says that she’s often underestimated, and maybe she doesn’t express it in ways that people expect, but she does care.

Lena insists she cares

As someone who has been accused of not caring because I don’t “show” it, I feel this exasperation.

And I’m not necessarily saying I ship it, but I am saying that it almost feels unfair to have Chyler and Katie share an emotional moment because those two ooze chemistry and it’s impossible to not feel a spark.

So, the answer is a bandaid, but an answer nonetheless: indefinite confinement. Lena has a very fancy metal supersuit in a teeny tiny suitcase that will help keep more Kryptonite from getting into Kara’s system until they can fix things. It’s very Power Ranger-y and it makes me wonder what situations Lena anticipated needing this for when she built it. (Because it’s definitely for Supergirl, it has her sigil and everything.)

Back in the baddy lab, Mercy wants to kill Jensen now that he’s served his purpose, but Ben wants to keep him around, just in case they want to get back into the DEO.

Let’s hope Nia is back next week! And, I mean, Kara.

Just a nerdy, TV-loving, Twitter-addicted Hufflepuff who loves reading, watching, and writing about stories. One part Kara Danvers, two parts Waverly Earp, a dash of Cosima and an extra helping of my own brand of weirdo.

Valerie has written 186 articles for us.

24 Comments

  1. Yeah I watched this episode almost entirely on mute because I don’t really need MORE bigotry rhetoric in my life, but everyone looked really pretty even though I couldn’t hear them (except Alex’s wig). I really appreciated the contrast of Lena’s outfits/styling, it’s like she knew she was going to want to look softer and vulnerable when she came to the DEO, just to underscore that she cares.

  2. Well this episode was both boring and depressing. What were they thinking, to center an episode around not even a secondary character but a character barely introduced? I feel like the show is yanking my chain and cackling insidiously while doing so.

    • I think the “barely introduced” thing is at least part of the reason. Melissa Benoist was unavailable and they had to make an episode about *something.* At least we didn’t get shots of her boots like they did with Superman a couple of seasons ago. We’re probably going to get at least one or two episodes with extra-in-protective-suit so they’re not going to solve the kryptonite problem any time soon.

      The alternatives are a bunch of shots of Lena and Alex gazing meaningfully into one another’s eyes while *not* solving the problem, another meet cute with Nia and Brainy, or Nia lecturing her boss again. Instead, the writers chose to take an opportunity to flesh out the current bad guy rather than allowing him to remain a caricature.

  3. Sorry you didn’t like the episode. I thought it was well done. I’ve heard about Benoist still being tied up with “Beautiful” so I’m willing to cut the show some slack.

    The “origin story” for Agent Liberty was well done and helps give the character some additional depth. My private theory is that Lockwood is going to find out his mom was secretly an alien.

    Anyway, we’ll probably wrap up this plotline around mid season so we can get to Red Kara for the second half.

    I wonder if we’re going to find out the Power Ranger suit was originally designed as an anti-Kryptonian weapon?

    Finally, #Shedoesn’tknow. I really believe that and I’ll continue until I’m proven wrong. Head canon is nice but that’s all it is.

  4. Ugh, so boring! They have so many great characters already, i did not need a whole episode to learn about racist trashface man’s backstory.

    Your recap was great as always!!

    Can we have more goth Lena Luthor? I think its time for a style change for her!

  5. The mask isn’t Nth Metal. Mercy gave him a black balaclava,which he tossed aside. The metal mask (which looks to me like it might literally be part of a person-sized Statue of Liberty) he found in a pile of disused statue parts from his Dad’s factory (his Dad earlier mentioned he was having to make metal statues to keep the factory busy).

  6. “…they couldn’t afford a better wig.”

    Terrible wigs are a tradition in the Arrowverse. Blame season one of Arrow.

    ———

    The tragic origin of Agent Liberty felt a little heavy handed, but then again this show has never been particularly subtle. I’m not completely sold on Lockwood’s transformation from mild mannered history professor to agent provocateur, but it is probably the best for the show that they got it all out of the way in one go rather than five to seven minutes of flashbacks each episode over the next ten episodes.

    And as you said, it was a creative way to get around the shooting schedule, in the same way that the “Midvale” episode was.

    ———-

    I feel like the mask, the idea of masks, and being unmasked, will play an important role this season.

    If Agent Liberty is unmasked in public, and revealed as just a man, will people still believe in him?

    If Supergirl is unmasked, and revealed to be “just a girl*”, will people still believe in her?

    * Buffy The Vampire Slayer, episode 5×22, “The Gift”

    • I finally got a chance to watch this episode tonight and I completely agree with you that it’s better that they told his origin all in one episode than in short flashbacks over a long period of time. That’s one of my least favorite storytelling methods. I’m not saying it’s never done well, but it usually isn’t and just distracts from the main storyline. That’s one of the main reasons Arrow was such a chore for me to get through for the first five seasons (and now they’re doing flash-fowards! ugh)

    • Isn’t Agent Liberty’s whole point that he *is* “just a man”? The only way he gets discredited is if it turns out that his sponsors, Mercy and Otis, are working for or dupes of aliens (e.g. Darkseid, whom I think is a real possibility); or if, as someone previously posited, his mother or wife turns out to be an alien.

    • “this show has never been particularly subtle.”
      ^ Quoted for truth. The whole “I’m a refugee” in the opening sequence is enough to prove it. At the same time, the show has a definite POV and really, these aren’t subtle times. I’d like less ham-fistedness at times but I can live with it in a show that stands for something positive.

  7. I guess I am in the minority but I really liked the episode. I feel like they used the radicalization to explore interesting questions regarding canon. It was handled pretty well, and it raises the stakes of any future confrontations. To each their own I guess, but I think Supergirl has stepped up their game this season so far.

    And honestly post Daxamite invasion I can’t really agree that it is bigoted or unreasonable to be extremely concerned about aliens possibly invading Earth/overpowering humanity because hey they did! Humans ARE in a precarious position in Supergirls’ universe and it was nice that it was woven into the narrative instead of going unadressed. We’ll see how it all goes forward, but I’m invested in the conflict so far.

    • In a TV show, the implausibility of standard comic-book-style Yearly Big Events really stands out if the show draws attention to it,as they just did. *Of course* National City (and the entire world) is traumatized and fractured after three consecutive years of alien invasions, plus weekly supervillain activity. And the people in power (including the President, the DEO, Supergirl, and even James Olsen) really have failed to address average people’s concerns.

      I’m not sure I agree that the writers are handling this well, though. I asked my wife why this year’s Supergirl’s overt political commentary was annoying her more than last year’s Black Lightning (besides from BL just having better writers), and she said something that resonated with me:

      “Black Lightning’s writers seem to be writing about issues they know personally. Supergirl’s writers don’t; they come off as well-meaning elites.”

      I can’t disagree. When writing about something with personal meaning to them (e.g., Alex coming out in Season 2), they’re fine. Otherwise, not so much.

  8. I liked the episode.. well, some parts of it.. And.. from the reactions I have seen online, it appears it did help people to reach out to other sides of the issue and have conversations. Which is good.

    I don’t think he, at any point, should have called aliens roaches.. But should have been concerned about their constant attacks and how it’d go. And, I think he should have still appreciated what SG is to the people. It might have been more realistic because people who are not completely sold on the idea of xenophobia may also be xenophobic. If that makes sense.

    I didn’t have such a negative idea of Ben (why do I keep thinking of him as Sam?) as you. I just though he was particularly weak emotionally and never got the support system he needed because to our heroes’ credit, they were trying to save the world (and as far as denying support systems go, I think that is one of the best excuses).

    Besides, fear.. of power and the unknown can have the most soul destroying consequences. (And pride too) It’d be good to think about it when we prepare for the future.

    After all, US did destroy Iran’s elected government because of fear (and greed). Iranians are still paying the price. A lot of evil perpetrated by the US everywhere is out of fear. Guatemala (other central and South American countries too I suppose).. Vietnam. Almost the whole of ME (and I am not talking of soldiers here but people who make the decisions).

    And, yet.. you still have friends who think that you can influence the world in a good way. That, you can be your best self. People who judge you by your best actions rather than your worst.

    That is what Kara does for people. Believe in their best self, so that they can be their best self. It doesn’t always work out; like for Rhea.. And, it is frustrating at times, like with Mon El.. but that is who she is. Not everyone can be that.. and it can be harmful at times. Which is why we have Alex. And the world has so many different types of heroes.

    I do see the alien side.. I do… And, I can understand, how for a people suffering from bigotry every day, telling the story of a bigot would seem like pouring salt on a wound (is there an English idiom that says that? I feel like I am translating from Malayalam.) I think the endless stories that NYT does is like that. And, I don’t think they should be doing that at all. But, having one episode centred on his story, when their whole season is going to be Kara trying to find a solution to the growing divisions in society, is I think well-placed. Also, I’d rather not have his side of the story being told piecemeal like they did with Sam and Reign (and Sam did have episodes centred on her).

    Those would sound like excuses.. and they are.. But, there is also a lesson here.. to think about this.. not for the current bigots.. but for preventing people from being bigots.. and taking to violence. Even for bringing people back from that bigotry (but that is for another day). There are some who are vulnerable to certain situations like the others are not. If they can be supported so that they don’t harm the society, and if a way could be found to do that without costing the larger society and especially the minority, then shouldn’t it be found? Should we wait until the next idiot drives a truck through a road full of innocent people?

    Priority should first be people under threat. (oppressed folks everywhere). But, if support and time can be spared for the others.. not by the same people and allies who save the minorities.. but others more up to the task. Isn’t it worth the cost?

    Also.. going by Brazil.. By India.. By Britain.. By many other places.. Xenophobia (in many different forms) seems to be taking the world by storm. Instead of tackling that.. if we just stay on our corner and say: look we are morally right.. and that is that.. Who does it hurt in the long run?

    Does the US plan to bomb everyone who disagree with them into infamy? That is not an option. Ignoring them is not an option either. That is how you get the holocaust, Armenian genocide and Rwanda. (I am talking in country terms because, I am not yet sure whether liberals are a majority in your country or a minority. It does seem that you have a slight majority, but 60 million people voting for the other side is still a lot. What about the people who didn’t vote?)

    So.. what do you do?

    I have been wondering if it’d have been better if they had used a black man instead.. But, I thought that would have been horrible. It’d not have reached the people the show is trying to each.. It’d have reinforced negative stereotypes.. People wouldn’t have understood the flip. So we have the story of a white man being told.

    I am not so sure of the DEO parts. I felt that Alex was too passive.. And forgot about details (kryptonite alarm at her own centre? Sunlamps?). But, it could be because of self-recrimination and worry about her leadership role.. If so, I will give the show credit when they show that they have thought about it. If not, I am.. well, unimpressed.

    I still think the show writing has been better this year.. And I credit kriesberg.

    PS: I have been hoping for Alex-Lena ship (well not very strongly, but a little) since Lena came on screen. Now, I don’t think that will happen. Still, I’d not complain if that ever happens. 🙂 As long as Danvers sisters still remain the centre of the show.

    PS2: I liked reading your review Valerie Anne (as most of the time, except what I described in last review that you may have never read. ;-)). I thought you dealt with a subject that you disagreed with strongly in a very respectful manner. I do admire you for that. It is also why I trust you (as much as a person on the other side of the globe can trust you). 🙂

    • Ugh! I wish I could edit the comment. or delete it.. I know, I’d have done the damage already.. But.. just to be clear in case anyone reads this second comment.. I meant.. I credit the better quality to Kriesberg being removed from the show. Just my brain got ahead of me, so I started thinking of other elements. (I should have reviewed before posting).

      And.. disagreeing is a very mild term for bigotry (in the Does the US sentence). I meant.. people who don’t yet see your point of view (for whatever reasons).

  9. And.. Just to add to that bit about the effect of fear in my first comment (you guys may not like it).

    When 9/11 happened, US felt victimised.. and went to war for it.. on a much weaker country (whose country people were not even involved in that attack-not many of them).. With allies who were also much stronger. (I am very sorry and horrified that it happened).

    Weren’t innocent people–soldiers–on all sides as well as civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq killed then? Aren’t they dying still? And, yet.. at least during the initial years as well as the next election, US people, who felt fearful and victimised too, supported the wars and Bush Jr.

    In contrast.. If you look at Ben’s case. His government didn’t declare war on either the Daxamites or the Kryptonians. Worse from his POV (not mine).. Unlike the different terrorist attacks on US soil (and elsewhere), the people weren’t even protected by the government. It was the aliens who protected them. Just like the aliens who came to attack them. How powerless would someone feel in that case?

    Especially when the world-threatening events kept happening and the people with power seemed to just ignore it. From his POV.

    And.. to add to that.. the president was just exposed to be an alien (that is not for Ben.. not really. He seemed to not have known that before taking the extremism plunge). Imagine the president being revealed to be a secret Russian or Russian confidant/puppet. You may not want to kill innocents.. But, would the same be true for all your fellow citizens when it comes to Russia? No CIA attack back? No cyber attacks? No coups? Or sanctions? Sanctions that’d hurt not Putin or the very rich friends he has but the ordinary citizens.

    And.. how can you absolve yourself of a responsibility that your government has?

    Complicated situations have no one true answer.. One can only hope.. That in times of stress, people will somehow strive for their best, most compassionate and open sides, instead of their worst, fearful, xenophobic sides. Or.. that they will eventually learn to do so… One can only hope.. and try and work towards it.

    I suddenly have slightly more sympathy for Maxwell Lord and way more sympathy for Lena.

    Okay.. essay over. 🙂

  10. When I read the excellent Buffy-inspired heading, I was hoping this episode would be about bunnies or demons. And a bit of tap-dancing… Nah, instead we get the wronged white male’s back story.

    And maybe that is the gist of it, hate is born out of disillusionment, perceived victimhood and blaming others for the evils of this world. It’s all a bit black and white. Also implying that the good folks had a hand in creating Agent of Liberty, as they wouldn’t listen / help / destroy people’s homes while fighting the good fight. Made me think of what Jessica Jones told those superhuman/mutant haters:

    You think you’re the only ones who’ve lost people? You think you’re the only ones with pain? You think you can take your shit and dump it on me? You don’t get to do that! So you take your goddamn pain and you live with it, a**holes! You lost your parents? Welcome to the goddamn club! I lost mine in some random accident [umm, hmm]! Do you see me trying to kill every shitty driver? No! Because I don’t work my shit out on other people! So keep your goddamn feelings to YOURSELF! – Episode 1×04: AKA 99 Friends

    Well, let’s see if all this build up will come to a nuanced smart conclusion…

    ***

    Lena saving the day, thank you–

    Alex’s wig, hell no!

  11. I’m actually surprised people didn’t like the episode. I thought it was really well done and thoughtful for its target audience. They can talk about how even the most level headed person, educated, put together, can become the next Ted Kazinski. Obviously aliens have always been a metaphor for the “others” of society, but I learned a lot about compassion. No one becomes a terrorist over night, most people get there because desperation or, I care say, a lack of intervention, or in the case of Lena’s role in the episode, intervening too late… She can’t help everyone, but maybe her intervention could stop a mad man. Then again, maybe some people are just destined toward self destruction. He had so many opportunities to change his fate and kept pushing towards extremism.

    Btw it was defintely a filler episode. I just thought it was great to see them look at how breakdowns in common decency, economic challenges, and failures in compassion and basic morals gets an educated middle class? manash out, turn to violence and murder to solve his problems.

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