Season One, Episode Six – “Red Faced”
By Molly Jane Kremer. An enormous step up from last week’s episode (but a fitting follow-up to its intended predecessor, November 17th’s “Livewire”), “Red Faced” sees Supergirl hitting a definite stride. It begins to intertwine genuine pathos within its sunny adventuring, and touches on the isolation and frustration Earth’s last scions of Krypton must bear, without losing its heart or its positivity. Almost everyone gets to work out some parental issues this week, as interfering moms and dads show up to wreak havoc in their children’s (or their childrens’ significant others) lives, even those of their android creations. Also, robots get punched. And tornados.
WHAT WORKED: After the glorious exercise in providing real agency to women in the stupendous “Livewire,” this episode proves that complexity and emotion can be integrated into to a do-gooder superhero character without making it overly sentimental or goofy, AND it did as such without making it grim and sepia toned and full of all the grumpies. Supergirl rides the perfect balance between the two, a balance The Flash has learned to toe effortlessly (but took a good few episodes to fully master). “Red Faced” still began with Kara smiling as she placidly floats through the clouds, but it ends with her bleeding for the first time in her life (one helluva cliffhanger for next week).
As usual, Supergirl plays its gender politics cautiously, but still more openly than most mainstream media dares. Anger is a major theme of the episode, and Cat’s explanation of how women can’t be recognizably angry without it being decried as overly emotional or crazy is part of this episode’s teaching moment for Kara. It’s not subtle: but then, why the hell should it be? Speaking a truth plainly instead of artfully has its merits, even on the teevee. Cat also interestingly instructs Kara to figure out “the anger behind the anger” and work creatively within the limitations these double-standards create (which is a smart way to success as a woman in business).
WHAT DIDN’T: Ever since Lucy asked Kara if Jimmy was into Supergirl in “How Does She Do It”, there’s been some competition instilled between the two women. It’s been handled delicately in the past two weeks, but now Lucy has nothing but snotty things to say both to and about Supergirl throughout the episode. Kara lets that shittiness get to her before she realizes the true source of her growing angst (she may have 99 problems, but a boy ain’t one). If they’re going to continue a rivalry between the two women (which they might, considering how much this show seems to borrow from the Gates/Igle Supergirl run) it better not descend into shitty cattiness, and it better better better not be over Jimmy. “Livewire” did such a good job proving that none of these ladies need motivation from a dude to forward compelling narrative: to see that abandoned would be beyond disappointing.
The all-too-quick elimination of both Red Tornado and Dr. Morrow (a dual role played by Iddo Goldberg) was disappointing in the extreme. While they could always come back (this is a superhero show), Kara made Red Tornado go all ‘splodey after he became sentient. Not cool, girl. The almost-return to “freak of the week” has me bummed, but I’m just wondering (“hoping” is a better term for it) if we’ll find out Morrow maybe possibly already teamed up with a certain Dr. Ivo to create other conscious robots; or he previously injected any kidnapped kiddos with windy nanotech. (I’m really crossing my fingers on that last one, for purely personal reasons.)
And last but not least, the attempted topicality in Maxwell Lord’s comparison of Supergirl’s encounter with an abusive road rager to current police brutality events is pretty tone deaf, especially in a show that focuses on a plucky white girl hero. No, guys. Just no.
Kara: “It’s about her dad.” Winn: “*sighs* That’s a dirty pool, Danvers, you know I have daddy issues.” I wonder how many times we’ll allude to Winn’s villainous pops before we finally see him.
“Game night is the last shred of normalcy that remains in our crime-stopping, alien-hunting, DEO-hacking lives. Game night survives. It has to.” – Kara. Buuut, if it’s usually just Kara, Jimmy, and Winn at game night… well that just can’t be comfortable for anyone involved.
General Lane: “’Never trust a man who doesn’t drink. He’s probably a self-righteous sort, a man who thinks he knows right from wrong all the time.’ It’s a quote from one of my favorite authors.” Jimmy: “Jane Austen?” Sick burn, Olsen.
“What would you possibly have to talk about with two Nobel laureates and Margaret Atwood?” OH MAN. Cat’s mom is SUCH A JERK.
“You apologize too much. Which is a separate, but related, problem.” – Cat. Sorry, but she’s right.
Kara: “Would you like me to call your mother a car?” Cat: “She can take her broom.” Sick Burn, Grant.
BEST MOMENT: Oh man, the final fight with Red Tornado, no question about it. Kara channels all the rage she’s been displaying into her heat vision, screaming as she aims it full-blast at the android. Intercut with scenes of her childhood, her parents, her escape from Krypton—everything that’s been causing her high-caliber angst—this scene packs a totally unexpected, deeply affecting emotional punch. For certain, this was a highlight of the series so far.
EPISODE’S MVP: It’s a tie between Kara and Cat for this one. Both characters gain layer upon layer this week: Cat’s revealed source of unending ambition (and aptitude for cutting comments) springs from a fount maternal; Kara’s revealed anxiety stems from her otherness as a Kryptonian, and her (honestly massive) emotional losses. Calista Flockhart’s performance is nuanced and sharp as ever, but the increasing depths are tangible, building on the relationship foundations laid down in “Livewire”. And Melissa Benoist’s complexities have reached an all-new level, especially during her final fight with Red Tornado. With the help of phenomenal editing, Benoist gives the scene a cathartic and heart-wrenching climax, creating the most affecting moment in the series so far. Allowed to be less-than-sweet (i.e. more-like-normal) for once makes for an amazing performance.
– So, those kids were supposedly scared to see Supergirl beat up the braying asshole who almost murdered them with his speeding car? Doubtful. Those kids would be so into it. Kids are bloodthirsty as heck.
– The president in this universe is a lady, eh? I’m into it.
– The pop music soundtrack is blessedly quieter and much less obtrusive for this week’s first jaunt to Noonan’s, but later we get another loud, saccharine cover track, this time of Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way.” Never thought I’d say it, I actually miss the CW’s music advisors. (Oh wait, they used that one Imagine Dragons song during a lurv scene on Arrow. I take it back.)
– Cat’s mother is very much like her daughter with her crushing wit, but she doesn’t have any of the humor or the care that Cat sometimes lets slip. First time we’ve been made to feel sympathy for Cat. Plus she calls her Kitty. That just… No.
– Lucy’s dad is at least a more supportive parent to Lucy, but his (also super shitty) conversation with Jimmy has some racial undertones in his ol’ “You’re not good enough for her” rhetoric. I expect nothing less from General Lane though. Ugh.
– Again, with the trying to make like there’s chemistry between Alex and Maxwell Lord. It’s just not there. Also: eeeewww.
– Jimmy and Lucy’s PDA needs a major snuggle-reduction. It’s approaching Level Icky, with Level Gross close behind.
– The episode ends with Kara cutting her finger on normal broken glass and bleeding – and in the clip for next week, it looks like they’re giving her a similar power (more a limitation) to the Solar Flare introduced in Geoff Johns and John Romita Jr.’s Superman run. After a huge expenditure of power—like that heat-vision robot-cookin’ she did—her powers are drained for a short time. (It’s an easy way to narratively get around Kryptonian invincibility, but I hope Supergirl uses it wisely.