I’ll admit that I didn’t have high hopes for the return of Livewire on this week’s Supergirl; the previews seemed to overhype what I saw as a fairly one-note character who didn’t really need more than one appearance. But what Livewire lacks in personal depth, she makes up for in her presence, forcing Kara to confront her own accountability—both in unintentionally creating this villain, but also woman to woman.
Spoilers for Supergirl 2×10 “We Can Be Heroes.”
Livewire has escaped from prison, and Kara is low-key panicking about her nemesis lurking in every wall socket or transformer in National City. Who wouldn’t be scared after you accidentally channel lightning into a human and transform her into a crazed villain just crackling with resentment?
Kara: I hate having a nemesis. Clark always makes it look so much fun, like you have a deadly pen pal you see once a year. But having a nemesis is stressful.
But the situation is not as it appears: Livewire has been kidnapped by a scientist who wants to tap into her powers and create an army of electricity-wielding super soldiers he can sell to the government with the deepest pockets. Suddenly, Livewire is being used to create villains—or at least, bad people—and she does not appreciate this blatant copyright infringement. And it’s not like anyone is going to save her, the scientist taunts: She’s the bad guy. Or, as he put it, “such a nasty woman.” (One of two times in this episode that the Supergirl writers really got my attention.)
Positioning Livewire as the victim both changes the perspective of this episode and doesn’t change it. Kara immediately experiences guilt for not guessing the truth behind Livewire’s return; she’s distraught over the torture of the person who, in an earlier scene, had gleefully described cooking Supergirl from the inside. Because in this moment, Livewire is not Supergirl’s nemesis; she’s another woman, who doesn’t deserve this violation. Supergirl frees her without a thought for the consequences, or her own safety, because it’s the right thing to do.
For all that Livewire keeps snarling that she’s “not Leslie” anymore, she can’t let go of her resentment toward Supergirl for taking away any chance she had at a normal future. But as she stands over her enemy, about to enact the revenge she’s savored for so long, Supergirl reminds her that—for this moment, at least—they have a shared foe:
Kara: You could kill me for all the things you think I stole from you. But you wouldn’t be who you are if not for me. This is who you are now, for better or for worse. He tried to take your powers from you, not me. We may not be allies, but I will punish him for you.
Again, wow. Mere weeks after the Women’s March, when it would be so tempting for differences to divide us, these words resonate more than I can say. Supergirl is at its best when it portrays the difficult relationships between women, and the current context couldn’t be more charged.
So, Supergirl strikes a truce with Livewire: Don’t kill the scientist who stole her powers, and Supergirl will wait until he’s behind bars to give chase. “Just us girls, next time,” Livewire says with a smirk. “We can braid each other’s hair.” Now, instead of some overhyped nemesis, Supergirl has something more nuanced: not an ally, but not entirely an antagonist, either.
But while Supergirl lets Livewire go, Kara can’t let her loved ones off the hook. Just as she created her own nemesis, on the other side of the coin, she and James debate who gets to decide what makes a hero: As a member of the media speaking—Kara thinks—in an aloof manner about the Guardian, he shouldn’t be able to pass judgment on whether or not this vigilante is doing good work. (Though, let’s not forget, Cat Grant branded Supergirl.) It doesn’t help that Kara has a higher regard for Mon-El, a.k.a. “superhero kindergarten,” as hero material while she dismisses the Guardian because he doesn’t have powers.
James: There’s a lot more important things than having powers to being a hero. Like wanting to make a difference, or having the willingness to put yourself on the line for others. and I just think that Mon-El is the kind of guy who thinks about himself first.
But once Kara knows the truth about James (and Winn’s) extracurricular activities, she tells them they can’t keep going because they could get killed. It doesn’t matter that James gives an impassioned speech that completely outweighs Mon-El’s later weak “powers are cool and you’re cool” justification:
James: Because that thing that you feel—that thing that makes you want to make everything better—I feel that, too. And I always have. And I’ve tried so many different ways in my life to help people, whether it’s career, or friendship… it’s just not enough. This is. […] Look. I was never meant to be in Superman’s shadow, or yours. I am more me as Guardian than I have ever felt as James Olsen. Kara, we are the same.
Even after the Guardian helps save Livewire and capture the rogue scientist, Kara lectures her friends on how she knows best:
Kara: You know, you two were heroes to me way before this. I know you want to help people, but this is not the way to do it. I won’t stop you, but as long as you’re putting yourselves in danger, I can’t support it.
But what did she tell Mon-El that the number-one rule of being superheroes is? Protecting the people, which he fails to do when Supergirl is in danger, because his feelings for her overshadow his sense of duty. Whereas these two humans who care so deeply for Kara will put themselves in harm’s way when they don’t have the guarantee that they’ll make it out alive, because there are people out there who can’t defend themselves. It’s what she would do in their shoes, but of course she never has to confront that hypothetical scenario. It’s unclear how much the Guardian situation will put these three at odds, but hopefully not for long.
Elsewhere in the DEO, J’onn J’onnz has to grapple with forgiveness—not of M’gann M’orzz, who is suffering some sort of psychic attack that has her locked inside her own mind, but of himself. Remembering how she saved him, knowing that it would put her life in danger, he returns the favor by finally doing the Martian mind meld. He finds her on the same battlefield on which he lost his family, as she is wracked with guilt and terror over her people coming to execute her. This was the kind of scene that felt a little shoehorned in, but nonetheless had a number of moments that really hit home:
M’gann: I wanted to be your friend. […] I couldn’t bring your people back to life, but I could make you feel less alone.
J’onn: I’m here with you. I see you. You are my friend, M’gann M’orzz. You are forgiven.
Good job, Supergirl, you got me caring about these two. But any hopes I had of J’onn and M’gann getting a moment of peace to explore the relationship that the writers seem to be telegraphing will have to wait—because the White Martians’ psychic attack wasn’t just to torture M’gann, but to locate her. They’re coming to Earth.
Which, by the way, makes for a great ending. Now, it’s unclear from next week’s preview if this will be a one-off conflict or the arc for the rest of the season, but it’s a great external antagonist to bring in.
- “You all knew?” “I did not. I thought James was a professionally handsome desk-person.” I usually find Mon-El’s dialogue cringeworthy, but this line was great.
- “Who the hell are you supposed to be?” “I’m the other Superman… in training.” “Your cosplay sucks.” Ditto for Livewire’s burns; this one landed. Also, dude, what is up with those glasses?
- “Short answer? Science.” Can I just tag all of my reviews with #fortheWinn going forward?
- I’m tired of the will-they-won’t-they with Kara/Mon-El. Now they’ve both acknowledged that he kissed her while sick a few episodes back, and he’s said all this stuff about her eyes being like comets and having feelings for her… but Kara’s only response is to look really stressed. Is she frustrated at the prospect of losing their partnership if she doesn’t reciprocate? Is she into him but avoiding the prospect of a relationship because she had said she was focusing on herself? Again, I’m not a fan of this pairing, but I’m just not clear what Kara’s motivations are here.
- Next week: DEO bottle episode! That’s how it looks, at least, with our heroes trapping a White Martian inside with them, where (à la The Thing, minus the cold) it could be anyone…