When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I thought as a child. When I grew up, I did away with childish things.
This (paraphrased) quote from 1 Corinthians 13:11 has become one of those colloquialisms that finds its way into countless stories: the notion of putting aside objects, behaviors, or beliefs you’ve grown “too old” for. This week’s Supergirl took its title from the Bible verse two times over in its first real episode about Winn: describing both his response to his criminal father Toyman breaking out of jail and trying to tempt his estranged son back, but also for Winn finally taking a stand on his feelings for Kara.
Spoilers for Supergirl 1×10 “Childish Things.”
The series has been dropping hints about Winn’s past in various episodes: his father being in jail, Winn joking that he’s a sucker for daddy issues. But this week it was all laid out in the open: Winn is Winslow Schott Jr., who understandably doesn’t advertise his connection to Winslow Schott Sr., a.k.a. the villain Toyman. And when Toyman escapes prison—wielding a yo-yo sprouting razor blades, no less—and the feds descent on CatCo, it reverts Winn back to the eleven-year-old who watched in horror as his seemingly mild-mannered father was imprisoned for sending his boss a bomb dressed up as a teddy bear after it blew up six innocent bystanders.
Now Toyman wants Winn to join him, as father and son,
to rule the universe to make creepy Supergirl replica dolls and stuffed elephants spewing out poison gas. There is not a single moment where Winn would ever entertain the notion, but what made his dilemma in this episode so compelling is that he doesn’t believe that the choice is actually in his hands. Toyman keeps saying how Winn is “[his] greatest creation” and “the best thing [he] ever made” to the extent where I actually briefly wondered if Winn is supposed to be his clone or something. More likely what Toyman meant was that he recognizes his son’s intellect, his natural affinity for technology and inventions—”the genius that lesser people call madness.” Had Toyman not gone insane from his boss stealing his toy design, he would have been the perfect mentor to cultivate young Winn’s talents in, you know, a non-lethal way.
But therein lies the rub: Winslow Schott Sr. just snapped. Even after his horrific teddy bear took out innocent people, he seemed to suffer some sort of mental break in which he decided that those casualties were necessary. We were actually discussing this notion in my writing group before I watched Supergirl: Superhero origin stories are very much on the same wavelength (“I wanted to make a difference”), whereas villains possess myriad reasons for going bad. Schott’s backstory teaches us that it starts with something small, like the teddy bear… or perhaps with the disappointment of unrequited love?
Winn has made his peace with his father turning evil, and is even willing for the feds to take out Toyman if that will save more innocent lives. What terrifies him most is that he’ll become like Toyman, suffering a mental break at some small slight. And what happens during this emotionally fraught time but Winn kissing Kara when she comforts him! She immediately shows that she’s not interested and even offers to act like it never happened, but that’s no longer an option for Winn. In many villain origin stories, there’s a casualty or sacrifice that seals the deal, that establishes the point of no return. In Winn’s case, he has to sacrifice his and Kara’s friendship.
Supergirl has joked about the friendzone plenty of times before, including one of my favorite lines on the series: Alex teasing Kara, “You’ve spent more time in the friendzone than the Phantom Zone.” But that was about Kara yearning for James, which remains similarly unrequited. When Winn tells Kara that he’s in love with her, she’s about the last person to know. It’s been clear since the pilot, and, to be honest, detracted from Winn’s overall character arc. For ten episodes, he’s seemed like an oblivious guy who just doesn’t get it; indeed, when Kara first tells him she has a secret, he immediately says, “You’re a lesbian!” because why else wouldn’t she be interested in him? That line is still something I hold against the show.
But “Childish Things” impressed me twice over in how Winn finally manned up and accepted that he might possess the same volatility as his father, especially if he bottles up his emotions. Acting on this heightened fear and self-awareness, he can’t remain friends with her knowing that she doesn’t reciprocate his feelings. Now, Supergirl is by no means the first show to present an ultimatum like this; plenty of soaps, teen dramas, and primetime dramas put two characters in a very similar situation. What I appreciated was Winn voluntarily removing himself from the situation. Even though it wasn’t the solution Kara would have wanted, it’s what was safest for everyone.
This episode was the rare case in which the subplot didn’t really match up with its overall plot. Thirteen years ago, Bobby Drake came out as a mutant to his parents in X-Men 2 and their immediate response was, “Have you tried not being a mutant?” Now, Iceman’s sexuality has long been debated, but the mutants-in-the-closet metaphor is an apt way to describe how many superheroes struggle with keeping their true identities secret. This week’s Supergirl borrowed that metaphor in an attempt to have the “out and proud” Millennials tell the Boomers that “times have changed”… except they haven’t, not really.
I almost titled this post “It Gets Better?” because that’s basically what Kara and Alex spout to Hank Henshaw/J’onn J’onnz whatever chance they get. Kara talks glowingly about how she finally accepted her true self (thanks to that crashing plane with Alex onboard) and how she feels so free. “That’s you,” J’onn retorts tersely. Later, when Alex tries to sagely tell him that “times have changed,” he points out that part of what makes Kara so palatable is that she’s “a pretty blonde,” whereas he looks like “a monster.” Further, the more he uses his powers, the closer he becomes to the Martian Manhunter. I was unclear if this meant he would irreversibly revert to his natural form, but for this episode, at least, it was figurative: In shapeshifting and walking through walls to infiltrate Maxwell Lord’s facilities, J’onn was also forced to erase the memory of a security guard. And not just his memory of the last few hours, but of his wife and baby. Does J’onn lack the ability to refine his memory-erasing powers, or did he lose some of his humanity in this encounter? At any rate, coming out isn’t so easy for everyone.
Neither is being outed, which looks to be what will happen to Supergirl. The episode’s most contrived “twist” involved Maxwell sneaking a camera onto Alex’s purse when he goes on a fake-date with him (as a distraction for J’onn, groan), and guess what it caught? The Danvers sisters eating what looked like the most cardboard pieces of pizza while watching Game of Thrones… with Kara still wearing her Supergirl outfit. Maybe she was feeling sentimental, since Winn helped her come up with it and she didn’t feel like taking it off. But now Maxwell Lord knows that Kara and Alex are sisters, and he’s the kind of guy who uses information as a weapon. Things are about to get a whole lot worse for Kara.