I have to say, Supergirl has impressed me these past few episodes. It’s hard to believe there was a point this season where I was questioning whether this show had forgotten its heart. Focusing on the characters that breathe life into this show; focusing on the relationships that teach us valuable lessons about ourselves; focusing on issues that stem much deeper than the super universe they’re embedded within.
In Supergirl’s latest hour, “The Fanatical,” this show reminded me why I became fanatic about this show. It allowed these characters to breathe within these situations that they’ve found themselves in and not giving them an easy out. It didn’t brush over previous storylines as if they’d never happened. It held characters accountable for their actions and also caused them to look within — and around them — for answers. This was the kind of episode that reminds me how smart Supergirl can be when it comes to looking at the bigger picture, the lessons that we take away.
Perhaps the thing that struck me most in this episode was how the storylines felt meaningful in a way that most shows can forget or fail to execute. It feels like a continuation, a natural progression of focal storylines that this show isn’t lightly brushing over.
Whether it was Kara and Lena’s mistrust and the sense of betrayal or Mon-El understanding that he has these feelings about Kara that he’s hiding from her or Ruby’s dealing with the realization that her mother is a World Killer and the repercussions that brings. I just thought that this episode did a great job at allowing these characters to guide the story.
This episode also raised an interesting question about honesty: Is honesty selfish? Is coming clean about your feelings something that you’re doing more for yourself than the other person? Is the fact that being honest can make you feel better mean that you’re doing the wrong thing? It kind of felt like there was this struggle between both ends of the spectrum. As if hiding the truth to protect someone — lying to them — was more noble than coming clean about the truth. But is that really true?
I absolutely loved the focus on representation in this episode, as it’s an issue that cannot be preached enough. Supergirl has been the show that’s embraced diversity and how it can be empowering, whether it’s been LGBT representation or “aliens”, and now it’s a black superhero understanding the impact he can have on the world.
Let’s tackle this week’s topics, which are a continuation of last week but manage to blend fresh takes, including that question of honesty and selfishness, the superness of representation, and the strength within to overcome all.
Is Honesty Selfish?
Supergirl sometimes manages to catch me by surprise, whether it’s the shocking moments it delivers or the questions it leaves me considering. Like the following: Is honesty selfish?
This was a topic that reared its head on two occasions, which consisted of Kara keeping the truth about her identity from Lena, as well as Mon-El hiding his true feelings from Kara. Both of them admitted to themselves — and others — what they were hiding and their desire to come clean to the other person. And both people pointed out that, if they would be coming clean, they’d be doing it for themselves. And while that might be true, is it the real truth?
Let’s take a look at both instances before coming to a verdict:
1) Kara keeping her secret identity from Lena
For the past two seasons, Kara has been keeping her secret identity from Lena. The fact of the matter is that it isn’t something that Kara is usually torn over. Keeping her secret identity is an easy choice: It protects those she cares about from harm. But things changed once Lena began opening up to her, and Kara realized that she was the one being dishonest in this situation.
Kara understands Lena because Lena has let her in. She knows how much betrayal has hurt Lena. She knows that those that betray Lena’s trust don’t often win it back. She knows that keeping this secret for the time that she has — there’s no way this ends well. Once she decides to come clean to Lena, that’s it. She’s going to have to deal with the consequences.
But isn’t that still better than hiding the truth and Lena learning it from a secondary source? Isn’t that better than Lena saying the words “You could’ve told me” and knowing that things might’ve gone better? Isn’t that better from all dishonesty and no honesty at all?
This was the episode I think Kara truly weighed opening up about who she is. There was a mistrust between Lena and Supergirl, and Kara believed that maybe if she knew that she could trust Supergirl — because Supergirl is actually her good friend — that it might change things.
Mon-El suggested that at the moment Kara wanted to come clean to Lena that it was for Kara’s own sake. That she’d be doing it to rid herself of the guilt. And that’s true, but isn’t the truth always most important here?
2) Mon-El keeping his true feelings from Kara
As soon as I saw the final scene — where Mon-El was talking with J’Onn in preparation for Mon-El and Kara heading off into space — everything made sense. Mon-El, who has chosen to lean on J’Onn during this time where his feelings are conflicted and he’s trying to figure out the noble way to respond, confessed that, yes, this trip means more than just business. He tells J’Onn that Imra sent him to figure his shit out. He also tells J’Onn that his feelings for Kara are so real that anyone and everyone can see it — except maybe Kara at this point because she’s closed herself off afraid to get hurt again.
Mon-El admits that he wants to confess his true feelings to Kara. “All I want to do is tell Kara how I feel, I don’t want to keep secrets.” But that would be selfish, J’Onn says. And Mon-El knows it. He believes that opening up about his feelings to Kara will make himself feel better so he assumes it’s selfish. But is it?
When all is said and done, I get it. I understand how confessing something you’ve been carrying with you can be selfish, how it can make you feel better. But can’t it also be selfless in knowing the consequences that very well might come from revealing such a deep truth?
How could there possibly be an argument for lying and keeping secrets over coming clean about feelings and deep truths that the other person deserves to know? That’s the thing: The other person deserves to know. They need that knowledge to make a decision for themselves.
Kara is so convinced that Lena would never forgive her if she learned she was Supergirl — because of the betrayal of it all — that she has herself convinced that keeping it from Lena is what’s best. But isn’t the fact that Kara is keeping it from Lena selfish? Coming clean with the truth and letting Lena decide how she feels and what she decides to do is what’s important here. Kara shouldn’t be making that choice for her.
Not to mention all roads seem to indicate that we’re coming to a season finale where Lena is going to learn the truth about Kara being Supergirl. It’s written oh so very clearly on the walls that you’d be kidding yourself not to notice it. Now, we’ll get to see how Lena responds to this — but I think we can all agree that she’d respond better if Kara was the one to come clean about it rather than Lena simply learning the truth herself. And that’s why Lena’s going to learn it for herself.
Then you have Mon-El, who is hiding his feelings from Kara. He loves her and he’s never stopped loving her ever since he lost her seven years ago. And while he tried to convince himself that he didn’t love her anymore, deep down he always knew it. Imra knew it, too. And because Mon-El is so damn noble, he opted to remain loyal to the woman he called his wife instead of acting on the feelings that he has for Kara. It took Imra telling him to go follow his heart for him to act. Well, consider acting.
You see, Mon-El wants nothing more than to confess his true feelings to Kara. But the thing is: Kara deserves to know. Yes, Mon-El, I undestand that you know part of it would be selfish and that’s not who you are anymore. Yes, I understand that a part of you doesn’t think you deserve her. But I also know that Kara deserves to know the truth. She deserves to know how you feel and to decide how she feels and to act accordingly.
I understand this desire to be “selfless” and “noble.” But just because a part of you feels a sense of relief in coming clean doesn’t mean that being honest is the wrong thing to do. Honesty is always the right thing to do. You think you’re protecting people from keeping secrets from them. But that’s their decision to make based on the facts. The wrong thing here is keeping secrets. The right thing is being honest.
Representation is “Super”
Before last season, there wasn’t a black superhero on The CW. At least not in the traditional sense. Hell, even a couple years back there wasn’t a black superhero on television. My, oh, my have times have changed. And I cannot preach the importance that it needs to continue to change with continued and expanded representation.
This episode was a game-changing one for James Olsen, who has been Guardian for now a season and a half and has learned several important lessons along the way. But his most important lesson came in “The Fanatical,” in which James learned the power of being Guardian — and how the power could be even bigger without the mask.
The costumed heroes, protecting my secret identity shtick is nothing new. The threat of being unmasked is nothing new. The being caught is nothing new. But how Supergirl chose to handle James’ unmasking and how ultimately it could do good, now that’s new.
There’s been this belief that it’s better that the heroes don’t have a human face. It’s the persona they display that’s the hope. But as James’ secret identity was threatened, he began to wonder if his secret identity being revealed might actually serve to help or inspire others.
There was an initial concern from James that Guardian wouldn’t be a hero once he was unmasked. Not because there would be a face to the name. But because it would be his face. A black man’s face. James knew just as he’s judged and treated as James Olsen on the streets, Guardian would be treated the same because he was a black superhero. Held to different standards and different expectations. What bullshit.
“Racism is the oldest form of bullying,” James says. “But when I put that mask on it was strangely liberating. It was the first time I was judged on my actions and my heart.”
“It shouldn’t be that way,” Lena says.
“But it is,” James replies.
And he’s right. This desire to persecute or ridicule someone because of the color of their skin is nothing short of cowardly and sickening. But it’s something it is happening and will continue to happen. We should be better than that. But we’re not. Though this is nothing new for James or people like James, who have had to deal with it their whole lives. I’ve never had to deal with that, and I don’t pretend to understand what that feels like. But this episode was important in giving James and other black people a voice. It might not have been the biggest voice, being on the CW and all, but all representation — and notice of representation — is important.
James began to see the silver lining in this situation. Considering how black heroes or black people in general are portrayed, he began to see that maybe he could be a source of inspiration and show everyone that anything is possible. James wants to effect change. And he knows that he can no longer hide behind that mask if he wishes to do so.
James made a bold claim that I’m going to be curious to see play out on this series. One day, he’s going to unmask himself and show his face to the world. In hopes of inspiring other black boys and girls to be superheroes like Guardian. There’s power in representation. There’s power in using your stance to inspire. And this world needs a hell of a lot more of that.
You’re Strong Enough to Overcome Grief
Another storyline that carried over from the previous week was Ruby dealing with the overwhelming realization that her mom, the person she loves most in the world, is Reign…and she tried to kill her. Alex took Ruby in while Team Supergirl tries to handle Reign, and it produced an interesting result.
Ruby was shut off, no surprise. No matter how much Alex tried to distract her with treats and wishes, Ruby couldn’t get out of her own head. She couldn’t get out of her own grief. It wasn’t until a conversation with M’yrann that Ruby began to get a sense of how she needed to respond from here on out. After hearing how M’yrann overcame losing his entire family and seeing how he’s still standing, Ruby realized that it was all about inner strength.
“Strong like you,” he told her.
And she is strong. She has this amazing inner strength that she gets from her mother. How she can face any ordeal head on and come out of it. Not unscathed. But she will survive. She just had to realize it. And she finally allowed herself to believe it.
It’ll be interesting to see how this affects Ruby moving forward. Will it help her face Reign and save her mom? Will it help her move on if her mom dies? We’ll see. But regardless, she’ll get through this.
Supergirl airs Mondays at 8/7c on the CW.