“Truth, Justice, and the American Way” Doesn’t Mean What Supergirl Thinks It Means

This week’s Supergirl picks up immediately after Kara got hit with the one-two punch of a Krypton hallucination and watching her aunt Astra die (though she doesn’t know that her sister Alex wielded the fatal kryptonite blade). At the start of the episode, Kara’s uncle Non requests that she perform the traditional Kryptonian funeral rites (which requires a female relative), then tells her that when the two-week mourning period is over, “the next coffin will be yours.” Yeowch, and yet that’s not even as interesting as the exchange that Kara and Hank have at DEO HQ:

Hank: “Do you think Non will honor the mourning period?”

Kara: “Do you think he would let his wife walk alone in the dark?”

It’s the first example we’ve gotten of Kryptonian religion, and it clearly baffles everyone but Kara. But this entire episode is about cultural misunderstandings: Earthlings don’t get Kryptonian faith, Kara doesn’t trust Earth’s legal process, and—as our bounty hunter slash alien serial killer demonstrates—Kryptonian justice blends nicely with Earth’s death penalty.

Spoilers for 1×14 “Truth, Justice, and the American Way.”

While Supergirl borrows yet another fragment of its cousin’s mythos, here the catchphrase-turned-episode-title takes on more of a political dimension. After Astra’s death, Kara has become strangely militant, insisting on keeping Maxwell Lord captured at the DEO even though the Department of Extranormal Operations doesn’t really have the right to hold non-aliens. He’s the most dangerous man in the world, she argues, and if he were tried in an Earth court, he’d buy his freedom in a blink. Never mind that James Olsen calls the DEO “a secret Guantanamo” and argues how it doesn’t hold humans accountable—in Kara’s eyes, this is the only way to ensure the safety of her loved ones.

Supergirl 1x14 "Truth Justice and the American Way" television review

At first I was confused by Kara’s stubborn, unreasonable behavior, considering it out-of-character enough to nearly tank the episode. But taking “For the Girl Who Has Everything” and this episode together, I realized that the poor girl is still reeling from thinking she was home on Krypton with her family, then having to remember that she has built an entirely new life on Earth—not to mention the bits and pieces she’s learned of how harsh Krypton’s legal system, led by her seemingly faultless mother Alura, actually was. But James is still pushing:

James: “Kara, it’s never going to come down to just a battle of strength, or smarts, or wills, with you. Ultimately, it’s going to be a battle of values: your values versus your enemies’. And if you’re willing to abandon those values, what makes you better than Max Lord? Is this the kind of hero you want to be?”

Kara: “I’m the kind of hero who believes in doing what needs to be done to keep the world safe.”

James: “The Supergirl I know believes in truth and justice. Kara, I don’t recognzie you like this. That symbol on your chest, that means something to a lot of people. Stronger together, you said. But this is not strength.”

Supergirl 1x14 "Truth Justice and the American Way" television review

What is it, then—fear, denial, the need for control? Unfortunately, Ethics 101 with James Olsen will not be what breaks down Kara’s emotional wall. That will require the alien bounty hunter decapitating Fort Roz prisoners, and the meekest ex-con, who teaches Kara a special lesson that just because you’re put in a cell, doesn’t mean you actually did anything wrong. This poor Kryptonian was sort of a reverse Walter White, going into drug smuggling to buy medicine for one of his sick wives, and Alura put him in the slammer. And yet, with Fort Roz getting diverted to Earth, he’s had a second chance at a fulfilling existence—his family is long gone, but he gets to teach the next generation of Earthlings about the stars. See, Kara? Not every criminal is out to kill you.

Supergirl 1x14 "Truth Justice and the American Way" television review

In fact, the alien bounty hunter is actually a former guard at Fort Roz, and also an alien disguised as a human… in this case, a police officer. Kara gets a good long look at what happens when you give the wrong people power over others’ lives, and… did she just break his neck? Wow, the show just skipped right over that moment. While it didn’t have to be as emotionally wrenching as Superman’s sacrifice in Man of Steel, Kara crosses a line here, with no one to observe or try to stop her. Something the show has intriguingly laid the groundwork for is Kara’s capacity for utter rage: We saw it with her blowing Red Tornado to smithereens when she was more embarrassed than angry, but now that she has real reason to turn to the dark side, as it were, she may become the threat the DEO first suspected she might be.

But for now, Maxwell Lord is free to go. When he challenges the Danvers sisters with his knowledge of their true identities, Alex lays out some good old-fashioned mutually assured destruction: “You tell on us, we tell on you.” Because that worked so well in the past…

Other Thoughts

  • “No, we’re just friends. No benefits. Except the benefit of friendship.” Ah, Kara flustered about luuurve. This line is so innocent it’s actually kinda adorable.
  • “Ooh, I’ve wanted to catch a corrupt cop ever since we binge-watched The Wire.” This seemed a bit lighthearted for Kara after she was all the justice system is AWFUL, but hey, whatever makes her human.
  • “That’s Supergirl’s line. It’s OK for Kara Danvers to be upset.” Thank you, Winn. The show is strongest when it shows more of a push-and-pull between Kara’s two identities, so hopefully we’ll see more plots and fewer one-liners addressing this.

Supergirl 1x14 "Truth Justice and the American Way" television review

  • I know that Cat Grant’s story, about writing a puff piece on an abusive actor who wound up shooting his wife in the head three months later, was mostly intended to spur James into action. But I still appreciated this glance into Cat’s early gossip career, and the sacrifices she made that still haunt her.

Supergirl 1x14 "Truth Justice and the American Way" television review

  • I was kind of hoping that Siobhan Smythe, current Cat Grant Assistant #1, would just turn out to be an annoying fellow Millennial trying to one-up Kara. However, set photos for the Flash/Supergirl crossover reveal that they’re setting her up to be yet another superpowered nemesis. It’s a tad disappointing; I would’ve preferred to see Kara reenacting The Devil Wears Prada in the role of Anne Hathaway and the smarmy Siobhan trying to nail Emily Blunt’s comedic timing.

Supergirl 1x14 "Truth Justice and the American Way" television review

  • What is Myriad, and why is AI-Alura in danger of self-destructing if Kara asks about it?


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