NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “Supergirl” are present in this review
Supergirl has taken some extra time off, and that’s good, because the show’s current season has ended up in a pretty bad way. The dismal past few episodes at least saw a slight improvement with the show’s brief return for the Valentine’s Day season last month (though that still proved to be quite mediocre overall), but the real test is whether Supergirl can start tightening its storytelling throughout its remaining consistent stretch in March, April and May. Fortunately, “What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice and the American Way?” does manage to marginally improve the quality of most of the show’s ongoing storylines, even if it’s still beneath the full potential of the big political ideas that Supergirl’s latest season is attempting to explore.
The big hook in this episode is the return of Manchester Black, and the formation of The Elite, which, consequently, was done across a DC comic book arc of the same name as this episode. In DC Comics lore, Manchester Black headed up The Elite as a more supposedly modern, less compromising band of powered vigilantes, who more or less aimed to prove that the classic ideals of the Superman Family were outdated, and no longer useful in society. Something similar is done in the case of Supergirl, where Manchester Black aims to step up his agenda to move beyond the Children of Liberty, and target both racists and anti-alien dissenters across the entire world. It’s actually a pretty promising idea for a new threat, though Manchester Black suddenly becoming a bloodthirsty global-scale extremist does feel like a bit of a leap, even for his character. Hell, even the formation of The Elite in the Supergirl universe feels kind of random, with a Morai suddenly joining for seemingly no reason, and DC Comics’ Elite trickster, The Hat pretty much appearing out of literally nowhere on Supergirl, with no explanation.
The Elite’s influence moves far and fast, and the public appears to embrace them at this point, as in DC Comics lore. Supergirl also struggles to keep up, with public opinion continuing to question whether Supergirl’s symbol and stance truly matters anymore, considering all of the anti-alien unrest that’s plaguing the U.S. Again, this idea is interesting, and there actually are a few good scenes between The Elite and Kara in this episode, as Manchester Black attempts to prove that Supergirl can no longer protect the world from ideological strife in good faith, and is best suited to handling bank robbers and natural disasters. It was also nice to see that The Elite weren’t just immediately captured and disbanded at the end of the episode to boot, with Manchester Black and his crew still being at large by the time events conclude. The Elite trying to destroy the White House feels like way too big of a stretch though. How the hell does de-stabilizing the American government and causing mass panic in any way help with Manchester’s agenda?!
To be fair, I get that Manchester is at least partially motivated by President Baker preparing to launch an anti-alien satellite that will shoot any alien ship out of the sky, if it attempts to enter Earth’s atmosphere. This is another interesting idea, and one that invites a fresh perspective on the show’s political debates, while giving the characters justifiable reason to begin doubting Baker’s intentions, particularly as he’s now keeping the DEO out of the loop, including Alex and Colonel Haley. Kara destroying the satellite and pretending that there was no other way is also a pretty great turn, putting Kara even further under the microscope when it comes to the question of whether she’s acting for the world, or is ultimately only acting for herself. Is it really for Kara to decide how Earth accepts new alien visitors? I don’t trust Supergirl’s shaky writing when it comes to actually finding effective ways to answer these questions, but at least it’s starting to hit upon some legitimate and smart political discussion again, assuming it doesn’t wimp out of properly examining the issues from all sides in the coming weeks.
Further adding suspicion to the Supergirl universe’s presidential administration is another surprisingly strong storyline for Ben Lockwood, now appearing to no longer operate as Agent Liberty, on account of his identity being public. With the Children of Liberty no longer having faith in Lockwood’s leadership, Lockwood is left to impotently ask President Baker if he will officially deputize the Children of Liberty, which Baker obviously refuses to do. Lockwood does however manage to talk his way into becoming the Director of Alien Affairs for the White House, which, again, creates a legitimately interesting and interpretive antagonist that Supergirl can’t just punch away. It even seems like Lockwood is set to abandon his former violent agenda, and accept a more open, politically sound method of dealing with alien influence in the U.S… Until he violently bludgeons one of his key opponents to death with his Agent Liberty mask, and seizes back control of the Children of Liberty! So now Lockwood has both the White House’s ear and continues to command the Children of Liberty from the shadows?! Yikes. That can’t be good!
Considering that the increased time off does appear to have benefited Supergirl’s storytelling to some degree, it sucks to see that Nia’s problematic character arc is still dragging down an otherwise decent set of story arcs in this episode. Nia begins training at the Fortress of Solitude, with some help from Brainy, but goes behind Brainy’s back to look into her descendants when Brainy refuses to divulge info about Nia’s Legion of Super-Heroes successor in the far future. After Kelex gives Nia additional information that she needs to further hone her powers, Brainy is initially upset… But then there’s no consequence. Hell, Brainy doesn’t even care for long that Nia looked into the future! Well, what was the point of being so skittish about Nia’s descendant then?! Moreover, if Nia is so green and doesn’t know what she’s doing, why in the world would she be brought along during the big climactic confrontation with The Elite?! Nia’s character just doesn’t make sense, and it still feels like the show just doesn’t know how to utilize Nia very effectively at all, so it just keeps sticking her wherever, and constantly trying to tell us that she’s important. How? The season’s not over yet, obviously, but why bother with this milestone of TV’s first transgender superhero, if she’s completely tacked-on, and doesn’t meaningfully benefit the season’s storyline at all?
Still, even if Nia’s character continues to be frustrating, one can’t deny that Supergirl noticeably improved with, “What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice and the American Way?” Even if their coming together doesn’t make a ton of sense, The Elite do stand as cool new antagonists for Kara, and J’onn also benefits from them in turn, since Manchester Black is also challenging his efforts to follow a peaceful path, like his late father, hitting upon another strong character conflict for one of the show’s leads. The idea of President Baker’s administration potentially being corrupt or self-serving, or possibly delivering some sort of proof that the now DEO-less Kara is corrupt and self-serving, also presents some interesting ideas for Supergirl’s future, particularly now that Ben Lockwood is among the government’s ranks (while still running the Children of Liberty in secret), and now that Kara took it upon herself to destroy a multi-billion-dollar alien defense satellite, when she technically didn’t have to. Again, I’m still not convinced that Supergirl can sustain these interesting political ideas for the rest of the season, but one should nonetheless celebrate the small victories along the way, and I suppose a mostly good episode for Supergirl after so many misfires is indeed a small victory worth acknowledging.
- Kara's ideals being smartly challenged between The Elite and President Baker
- Ben Lockwood joining the White House, while seizing back the Children of Liberty
- J'onn being tempted back to the path of the Martian Manhunter
- The Elite's formation and agenda doesn't totally make sense
- Nia's character arc remains frustrating and illogical