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Supergirl learns a lesson in powerlessness and fear

Kara finds a new source of strength

Supergirl is a lovely, lovely television show.

It's a superhero story that is absolutely unafraid of emotion and schmaltz. It eschews the vogue for dark and tortured leading characters, and yet manages to be way more edgy, relevant and brave than most shows of its kind.

"Human for a Day" was a timely episode about isolation and frustration, about what we do when we are challenged. It was also about what we lose when we succumb to fear.

Following the recent scrap with Red Tornado, Supergirl is without her powers, And so she must take a time-out from saving National City and content herself with the drab reality of being plain old Kara Danvers.

"We are better than this."

This means taking the bus, catching a common cold and even breaking her arm. That last one happens when an earthquake strikes the city.

And so we get to the realities of crisis management. The world being what it is, you could argue that this topic is always relevant, but it feels especially timely right now.

Maxwell Lord is a tech entrepreneur and National City's personification of Randian self-sufficiency and privilege. When disaster calls, he takes to the streets to distribute bottled water, which is great. But he's also spouting libertarian outrage into TV cameras.

The absence of Supergirl proves, he argues, that humanity has become lazy, too reliant on external power. In a grotesque and all too familiar dog whistle speech, he compares her to "heroin or the welfare state."


Supergirl is hurt by this accusation. She is helpless while the city around her is literally crumbling. She must watch as a man dies in front of her. This is what is feels like to be human, to stand helplessly as the world goes to hell.

But it's Kara's indomitable boss Cat Grant who is really angry about the "bloviating narcissist" Lord. She rigs up a live broadcast to slam those who use "petty and divisive" rhetoric in order to "prey on people's fears." Sounds awfully familiar, right?

"We are better than this," says Grant. Meanwhile, Kara climbs into her Supergirl gear and faces down an armed looter, giving her own version of Grant's speech. You are better than this, she tells the thief. He knows it too. Supergirl finds that real super-heroism means doing what is right, even when it's tough.

In less capable hands, this would all come across like some corny 1950s PSA. But it's a genuine, heartfelt appeal to sense, to the common good, to the power generated when individual isolation gives way to shared values and community.

Henshaw's secret revealed

Meanwhile, there's a secondary story about evil alien Jemm, a pitiless criminal who controls other folks' minds. He's been locked up by the Department of Extra-Normal Operations and, oh boy, does this guy know how to run his mouth off. "I will grind your loved ones into dust," he tells DEO chief Hank Henshaw, while Supergirl's sister Alex looks on.

Inevitably, Jemm escapes his cage and spends a good chunk of the show on the loose, wreaking havoc in the DEO's cavernous HQ.

This gives us an opportunity to get to the bottom of the long-brewing story of Henshaw's real identity, and his part in the death of Alex's father, a one-time DEO operative.

In a spectacular, glorious, comic-booky reveal, Hank shape-shifts into his real self: kick-ass alien J'onn J'onzz, aka the Martian Manhunter. It's interesting because, like Henshaw, the Martian Manhunter is a classic DC backroom guy, organizing and inspiring others. He's got a lot of superpowers himself, so it'll be interesting to see how that plays out in the weeks ahead.


J'onn J'onzz is a refugee, fleeing from the destruction of his home, from unimaginable loss, trying to fit into a new world, trying to do what's right, hiding from prejudice. Blimey, that sorta sounds familiar too.

Supergirl learns a lesson this week, and it's a hard one. Most people spend most of their lives feeling isolated, weak and afraid. Some of us yield to hatred, and some do not.

You can read all Polygon's Supergirl recaps here.

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