It's unsurprising that tonight's episode, "Truth, Justice, and the American Way," would aim high from an action perspective, given that it was directed by powerhouse Lexi Alexander. But what is remarkable about the latest from "Supergirl" is that it's yet another in a string of episodes that aim a bit higher from a thought perspective than one might expect. Better still, it accomplishes that by putting Kara herself at an interesting point. Depending on your own political beliefs, Kara's either wrong at the beginning, or wrong at the end--or maybe, just maybe, there's not an easy answer, no simple right or wrong at all.
After her brush with hallucination and death in the last episode, Kara begins this one in not the finest of spirits. That's understandable: after all, her only living non-Superman relative was killed by her boss and pseudo-father figure (or so she thinks), and at that aunt's funeral, her really awful uncle says he's gonna give it the normal mourning window before he annihilates her. Not exactly cozy. Beyond that, her other boss and pseudo-mother figure's giving her the cold shoulder for reasons both good (Kara's not really doing all that well at her day job, what with constantly saving the city) and bad (she went on, what, three dates with her son she barely knows?). Sounds pretty lousy, right?
Of course it is, but of course, things get worse. (It would be a very dull television show otherwise.) On the CatCo front, Cat solves the problem of Kara's frequent absences by hiring an additional assistant--a move that would seem very sensible if it weren't for the fact that she a) could just fire Kara, b) treats it all as an opportunity to make her now second assistant feel as lousy as possible, and c) picked someone who is just the worst. As written, Siobhan Smythe is almost comically awful, a sneering, meddling, eavesdropping, G-chatting, eye-rolling, pretentious coffee-making imitation of a real human being.
That's not to say that it isn't fun to watch, because it is. Italia Ricci's a great addition to the cast, and she's obviously relishing the nastiness. But there's no shading of any kind thus far, no hint of anything resembling normal human behavior. There are lots of lousy people out there, but most of them at least make an effort to be professional at the office in the first week. Siobhan (whose name Cat pronounces correctly, one of the week's funnier moments) goes so far as to say, out loud, that she's not there to make friends. That's only acceptable if she's secretly filming a reality show. Not a lot of subtlety there.
Still, it's a nice change to see Kara facing obstacles at work that don't have to do with her love life, Cat's more nightmarish tendencies, or how she's going to manage to sneak over and save all those people while still getting Ms. Grant her latte in time. Siobhan wastes no time at all in prying into Kara's relationship with JimmyJames, making clear her disdain for the woman whose job she shares, and outlining her plans to conquer the world of media and treat Kara like crap along the way. (Note: since Siobhan's alter ego has not yet been revealed on the show, we won't discuss it here, but if you'd like to know more, check out CBR's interview with Ricci.)
Kara's work life and superhero life collide in the persons of JimmyJames and Maxwell Lord. Cat's sniffed out that Lord's missing, and wants her industrious little photojournalist to go digging... but, of course, James knows exactly where Lord is at the moment, and it's not somewhere he particularly likes. When he confronts Kara about Lord's unlawful imprisonment--no bones about it, what they're doing is morally, ethically, and legally shaky at best--she pushes back, saying (rightly) that Lord's willingness to hurt people in pursuit of his own agenda makes him a menace, and the city is better off with him off the street.
And here's where "Supergirl" stars calling DEA Headquarters Guantanamo. The show has been surprisingly willing to touch on some challenging societal issues, from illegal immigration to white privilege, but putting Kara herself on what seems, to this water at least, to be the wrong side of the issue is a daring thing indeed. Kara's not wrong to want the person who tried to kill her locked up, and she's not wrong to want to protect other young women fromt the fate that befell Bizarro. But Supergirl's biggest superpowers are her emotional and moral centers, and when she's willing to overlook those, she begins to lose her way.
Luckily and unluckily, she gets a big dose of clarity courtesy of Master Jailer.
A lot of what felt bloated about "Truth, Justice, and the American Way" came out of the sequences that build to the reveal of the Jailer's identity. Gee, I wonder if the two cops we just met who've never even been mentioned before might have something to do with it, and I wonder if instead of the obvious asshole, it's the nice guy? But the surprise isn't what matters. It's what the Master Jailer's doing, and what he sees in Kara, that prompts her to investigate her own feelings about Lord's imprisonment and her mother's legacy.
Not that it's all big ideas. Alexander's got a way with fight scenes, and this episode's got a few great ones, particularly the last battle which pits Alex against Master Jailer while Kara's imprisoned. Alex just needs to get Kara some sunlight and they'll all be golden, but it's a tense wait. Master Jailer loses, and Lord goes free. No big surprises. What matters is that, as always, "Supergirl" is at its best when it focuses on the emotional journey of its central character. With this one, they pulled off quite a doozy.