Hiding in Plain Sight: Supergirl, “Manhunter”

The smartest thing that last week’s Supergirl did with its “Kara goes bad” plotline was to have it result in a serious and unforeseen consequence: J’onn J’onnz had to blow his cover and reveal himself as Martian Manhunter in order to save Alex. And now that the humans know they’ve been working alongside an alien for decades, they’re really pissy. Now, horror and anger about being deceived would be completely justified. But in the world of Supergirl, mostly the humans just seem super annoyed that they were made out to be fools.

Spoilers for Supergirl 1×17 “Manhunter.”

Lucy: “Why do all of you lie?”

Kara: “When you’re an alien and you’ve lost your world and you’re dropped into a new one, you don’t have a choice. […] When you are an alien, you are willing to sacrifice anything, everything. Betray your fundamental instincts, just to fit in. To belong somewhere, to find your place in this world.”

Lucy: “If you have a problem fitting in, it’s because you lie to everyone about who you are.”

Fitting in, and the sacrifices that it requires, is the major theme of this episode. In 1×10 “Childish Things,” both Kara and Alex urged J’onn to come out of the alien closet, because “times have changed” and everyone is so much more open-minded. Except that when he finally does, all anyone can focus on is the subterfuge. J’onn took on Hank Henshaw’s form and the power that came with his position as head of the DEO.

Jeremiah: “He’s a good man!”

Hank: “Not a man!”

Supergirl 1x17 Martian Manhunter television review

It’s not like he actually killed the guy! According to one of many flashbacks, Jeremiah Danvers was the one who flipped the real Hank over a cliff when Hank—who is revealed to have been a xenophobic asshole—was about to murder J’onn. But because J’onn let everyone go on believing he was Hank—including Colonel James Harper (Warehouse 13‘s Eddie McClintock), who invited him over for family barbecues for decades—he might as well have human blood on his hands.

J’onn: “From that day forward, I took on the responsibility of being director of the DEO. And this disguise allowed me to prevent many actual alien attacks. I’ve dedicated my life to protecting this world, and if you want to take me down for being different, so be it.”

My first question upon watching that flashback was, why didn’t J’onn take on Jeremiah Danvers’ form instead? Both men were dead or dying, and one clearly had much better ethics. (“The agency that I work for, they pinned you as a threat,” Jeremiah tells J’onn before he’s even told him his name. “That was before you saved me, before I learned that you’re not a danger, you’re a refugee. Like my daughter.”) Wouldn’t J’onn, having lost two daughters of his own on Mars, have wanted to give Alex and Kara some version of their father back? But instead, he realized that the human race needed him to be Hank Henshaw, director of the DEO, even if they didn’t know it.

Supergirl 1x17 Martian Manhunter television review

Supergirl 1x17 Martian Manhunter television review

But instead, Harper and Lucy Lane surmise, J’onn must have been planning something on the inside. …For the past ten years? And that somehow included recruiting Alex three years ago, during her hard-partying days? We get another flashback, with who-gives-a-fuck Alex wasting her nights downing shots, grinding up on questionable guys, and getting thrown in the slammer for a(n attempted) DUI. In swoops J’onn/Hank, ready to be the father figure seeing as he was indirectly responsible for Jeremiah’s death. What’s really impressive is that Hank intuitively knows that Alex’s self-destructive behavior is due to never feeling as special as Kara, like she can’t measure up.

Could it also be due to latent guilt? Even more flashbacks show a preteen Alex futilely trying to keep Kara’s powers under wraps… except that when you’re focused on going to the beach after school to impress a cute boy, it comes out less you can’t reveal your powers and more why can’t you be normal?? Kara’s a bright kid; she must have picked up on the fact that Alex felt so inferior, despite her high test scores and clever instincts. Is that why, then, Kara instead schooled herself to be average, unexceptional, boring even?

Supergirl 1x17 Martian Manhunter television review

We get to see Kara’s first interview with Cat, two years ago, which starts out unpromising…

Cat: “You are the ultimate example of what is wrong with parenting today. All that godawful, self-esteem building ‘everyone is special, everyone gets a trophy.’ And you all have opinions that you think deserve to be heard, yet the truth is you need to earn the right to have an opinion in the first place.”

…and gets worse, as Kara claims to not be special at all, but explains:

Kara: “I just want to be useful, to somebody. I want to be worthwhile.”

Cat: “And you’re not worthwhile?”

Kara: “I haven’t done anything to prove it. Yet.”

This is as she’s staring at a news report about a forest fire, which just oof. “Doing what you can do is special, but it’s not safe,” Jeremiah tells young Kara in the past, after she rescues a mother and her baby from a burning car. While it’s not unlike Clark Kent’s school bus stunt in Man of Steel, it’s not enough to make Kara leave town. It’s the one lucky chance she gets; after that is when she is forced to cloak her powers.

Supergirl 1x17 Martian Manhunter television review

Jeremiah had given young Kara special lead-lined glasses that reduce her vision to human levels, but to gain an edge in the interview she cheats just a little and uses her super-vision to home in on a few key details, the kinds of things that Cat’s dream assistant would notice: an empty prescription bottle, an empty pen. (Lots of empty symbolism, hmm.)

Supergirl 1x17 Martian Manhunter television review

Kara was doing a fine job of fitting in until the careening plane with Alex onboard, which prompted her to come out of her shell. She also outs herself to Lucy in this episode, hence the conversation above. Before you think that that’s a futile gesture, seeing as Lucy and James are donezo, the Supergirl writers find a smart way to keep Lucy on: She’s now the acting director of the DEO and, maybe, Supergirl’s newest ally?

Supergirl 1x17 Martian Manhunter television review

Look at Lucy’s face, she’s actually kinda excited, aww.

Lucy: “You belong out there.”

Kara: “After what I did, people don’t trust me.”

Lucy: “You got me to trust you. That’s a start.”

Why is Lucy stepping into J’onn’s role? Because even though Lucy and Supergirl save J’onn and Alex from getting dissected at the government’s creepy alien experimentation/weaponization center Project Cadmus, J’onn discovers that Jeremiah Danvers is one of Cadmus’ subjects! So, the two of them, now fugitives, have to go on their own side mission to track him down. I hope this means their roles on the show won’t be diminished, as they provide a great support system for Kara. Also, suddenly I find myself a J’onn/Alex ‘shipper, though sadly there isn’t much fanfiction in that area. (Yes, I know that he was acting as a father figure to her, but look, her real father’s alive. Perhaps I read too much into the mentor/mentee relationships on this show. Though I had to laugh when Siobhan attempted to sabotage Kara by writing an email to Cat that began I’ve been your assistant for a shockingly long time, but I’ve never let you know how I really feel about you and somehow wasn’t slashy.)

Supergirl 1x17 Martian Manhunter television review

Cat Grant’s “bitch you bout to get OWNED” face

Now, let’s talk about Siobhan. For someone whose dream is to work in media, she’s not very bright when it comes to ethics: first trying to scoop CatCo with The Daily Planet, then her failed sabotage email. (Seriously, why try to pull that shit when a technological genius is the company’s IT guy? Doesn’t matter that he’s your hookup buddy.) And yet, I can understand her frustration: Kara presents herself as this unassuming, nothing-special girl, while Siobhan is polished, confident, driven—and yet she still loses. It’s enough to make her scream… and when she drunkenly falls off a building, it’s that screaming that keeps her from splatting on the pavement.

Supergirl 1x17 Martian Manhunter television review Siobhan Smythe Silver Banshee

Supergirl 1x17 Martian Manhunter television review

Supergirl 1x17 Martian Manhunter television review

Unfortunately, I already knew about Siobhan’s secret identity as Silver Banshee thanks to photos/intel from the upcoming Supergirl/Flash crossover. I would’ve liked to be surprised, because this was a great reveal: Instead of another tired origin story like Livewire’s, we learn that Siobhan, a superpowered being, has been living under our noses the entire time. Just as Kara deflected from her Kryptonian identity by being painfully average, Siobhan masked her powers with her mean-girl persona. Winn was the only person to see her use her powers—and that may mean he’s in a lot of danger at the start of next week’s episode—but I have to imagine more than one character is going to feel like a huge idiot.

Other Thoughts

  • Poor James’ face when answering Cat’s phone (thanks to an absent Kara) was priceless.

Supergirl 1x17 Martian Manhunter television review James Olsen Cat Grant phone

  • How will J’onn get his Choco fix on the run??

Supergirl 1x17 Martian Manhunter television review J'onn J'onnz Choco cookies

Natalie Zutter wants to see more of Kara and Lucy being badass bikers. You can read more of her work on Twitter and elsewhere.

20 Comments

Subscribe to this thread

Post a Comment

All comments must meet the community standards outlined in Tor.com's Moderation Policy or be subject to moderation. Thank you for keeping the discussion, and our community, civil and respectful.

Hate the CAPTCHA? Tor.com members can edit comments, skip the preview, and never have to prove they're not robots. Join now!