clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Supergirl's flaws are her real power

Self-doubt and naivete drive Kara Danvers' heroism.

Read all Polygon's Supergirl recap's here.

What I like about Supergirl is not her laser eyes, her ability to fly, her power-punch or her freezy breath. I like her because she's a mess.

She has a destructive temper. She makes bad decisions. She's needy and confused. She's naive almost to the point of stupidity. She has appalling dress sense. These are qualities I can relate to.

Physically capable characters who float through stories, confounding enemies in the cause of truth and justice, are dull. Superheroes who discharge their duties, without a flicker of self-doubt or personal growth, are entertainments fit for children.

With the post-Holiday return of CBS' Supergirl, we saw all of her weaknesses on display, and what they amount to is a person with that most impressive of all powers: kindness.

Here's the Plot

When Department of Extra-Normal Operations Hank Henshaw is captured by evil alien general Non, the humans and the bad aliens find themselves in a stand-off. A trade is suggested for the release of Supergirl's eco-terrorist aunt Astra, who was captured two episodes ago.

Macho military types move in to take control of the DEO. Of course, they make a dog's dinner of everything, exercising their power in the most destructive ways imaginable. Supergirl is distraught when she witnesses Astra being tortured for information. This policy leads to the unnecessary deaths of soldiers.

supergirl

Supergirl is herself tortured by self-doubt. All the assumptions she holds dear are being tested. She fights for the humans, even though they are often led by nasty bastards who use violent and immoral tactics. She fights against the aliens, even though they may have a valid point about humanity's willful drive toward self-destruction.

Astra vs Alura

This is all framed in the context of Astra's memories of life back on Krypton. With the planet facing destruction, and led by complacent leadership, she'd waged a murderous terrorism campaign in an attempt to drive the political agenda. She was caught and imprisoned by her sister, Alura, also Supergirl's mother.

In previous episodes, Astra had sowed doubt in Supergirl's mind about her mother's presumed heroism. Alura was not noble, she was incompetent, is Astra's general gist. After all, Alura had presided over Krypton's annihilation. That's not a good resume item for any planetary leader.

Supergirl is feeling lost. "What if [Astra's] not so wrong?" she asks. "What if I'm not so different?"

Unable to free Henshaw, unable to find her way clear of destructive human control hierarchies, she observes, "I have all these powers but I've never felt more powerless."

supergirl

Astra finally confesses that Alura was a good person who did her best to try to save Krypton. This, at least, gives Supergirl the grounding she needs.

Supergirl decides to hand Astra over. She's had enough of all the violence and wishes to find some way to reach an accommodation with the aliens. It's a risky and brave act. "Compassion and reason," will save the world, she says. This may seem a trite sentiment, but it's not wrong and it's always worth repeating.

Supergirl's biggest fault is also her biggest strength: it's her idealism. She believes that all living things are connected and valuable. It's an unimaginably dangerous notion to the status quo. Neither the alien terrorists nor the human reactionaries are ever going to really understand her.

Plot Holes

The most serious plot hole in Supergirl was finally addressed this week, and, to be fair to the writers, they pretty much pulled it off.

As I've noted before, Supergirl must be selfish and / or stupid to spend 40 hours a week working as an assistant to a media mogul, just to maintain her secret identity as meek and gawky Kara Danvers.

Her boss, the terrifically cynical Cat Grant, suspects that Kara is Supergirl and confronts her with the problem of her choosing to spend time typing memos and delivering salad wraps when she could be saving lives.

supergirl

We find out that, for Supergirl, this pretense of normality is necessary. Without it, she might go insane. Her job gives her real friends and, in Grant, a useful mentor. "It's not just a secret identity to me," she says. "It keeps me human."

This is the key to Supergirl's appeal. She's not just a young woman pretending to be a dork to hide the fact that she is, essentially, a god. She's trying to be a normal person to avoid the worst excesses of the gods, those being arrogance, cruelty and capriciousness.

Apart from the aliens, the closest thing this world has to gods are corporate leaders like Grant and shit-heel tech entrepreneur Maxwell Lord, who's up to no good.

He uses his power to shape the world according to his own Nietzschean ideas, that great men effect change. This is entirely in opposition to Supergirl's beliefs, that change is effected by co-operation and trust. The irony is that the person with the most actual power is the one most cautious about using it. A showdown is coming.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Patch Notes

A weekly roundup of the best things from Polygon