Supergirl Season 3 – Early Season Thoughts

In this period of days between Supergirl season 3 episodes 3 and 4, I feel the need to talk about some stuff about the show and the issues that surround it. There will be discussion of spoilers, but I’ll tag them on at the end so they can be skipped by the squeamish.

Snyderizing

The season started with a very obvious production choice: make everything dark. It didn’t matter that the DEO and the alien bar were already dark…they were made darker. Even as sunlight poured through the windows of Kara’s apartment, it was dark. Everywhere colors were desaturated and cooled. I am really not a fan of this.

Yes, we entered the season with Supergirl in a darker emotional place. Altering the lighting and color matching for me is too on-the-nose, somewhat hackneyed in the DC-verse, and seems like a needless cheat — never mind if your TV or monitor isn’t set up to deal with all the shadows.

Fortunately, the situation has improved in the next two episodes. Not entirely — apartments are still kept dark and rooms with many windows are still using them to backlight the scenes. It’s divergence from how the previous two seasons were shot takes me out of the scene.

Fandom

I have both praise and issues with the fandom. I’ve said on many occasions how much I don’t enjoy when fandoms factionalize into “ships”. When it’s casual and people do it for fun, it really adds to the experience. But too often there is a darker side. Fans of the ship(s) start to become bullying to other fans and to the show.

Before I go on with that, I want to detour to a relevant topic: writer blame. Over and over again you hear the refrain “it’s bad writing” or “the writers have no talent” and so forth. Having been a screenwriter (I’ll not delve into details; suffice it to say that despite not becoming household name famous after 15+ years at the keyboard, I did earn money doing it), and despite having developed a thick skin when people in the business dis writers and their writing, it still rankles a bit when the writing is used as a convenient target.

Don’t get me wrong, Supergirl’s writers have done some things not well <cough>Mon El</cough>, but a lot of what people complain about isn’t bad writing — it’s the writers not doing what the fan wants. Just because they watch a lot of TV or movies, many people get the impression that they know how to story tell. I’ve read a lot of their scripts and manuscripts over the past few decades — the vast majority do not. Not by a long shot.

Which brings us to things like Sanvers (the Alex and Maggie ship) and Karamel (the Kara and Mon El ship). The fans of Sanvers want the couple being featured. I don’t blame them, as their story has largely been written very well — yes, even the wanting/not wanting children complication.

Thing is, Maggie has never been much more than the supporting character of a supporting character. She doesn’t even have a useful plot arc outside of her relationship with Alex. Beyond season 2’s arc for Alex, the fact is there is nothing for the character of Maggie to do in the context of Supergirl that warrants a lot of screen time. Floriana knows this. A lot of fans begrudgingly know this, too. There’s still whining, but it isn’t nearly as bad (or loud) as it was in season 2 when much of it was brought about by Mon El hatred.

I’ve made no secret that I’m not a Mon El fan. I wanted artifacts in the Kryptonian pod, not a body. I also feel the character development of Mon El and the relationship with Kara was given too much time and was, to be charitable, inconsistent. The idea of Mon El isn’t terrible. He’s been featured in the comics, and is connected with Supergirl, so it isn’t something out of the blue. In a nutshell: it’s good that Kara found a relationship with someone that not only understands and shares in the culture and tragedy of the Rao system, but is also not going to break when she wants to get passionate. This was quickly touched on a couple of times, mostly to comedic effect. One revealing talk with Alex (which largely went AWOL in season 2) could have assuaged a lot of “what does she see in this dudebro?”

And that’s the other thing: the indulgence in Mon El screen time (and head-scratching Guardian screen time, lets be fair) left little time for Kara’s relationships with anyone else other than Mon El. The creative team was (fairly) criticized by many for making Kara a supporting character on her own show. All this helped to reinforce the perception that the Sanvers relationship was being slighted because…well, reasons. I just wish some of the Mon El hate could be reined in. After a while it comes across as mis-hetero by the author/reviewer/reactor, which I don’t believe is the intent.

Mon El continues to be a problem as the arc’s shortcomings have yet to be clearly addressed. The “why did Kara fall so hard and so quickly” question has to be addressed and it hasn’t been. As a result, Kara’s moping comes off as inexplicable and self-indulgent, and every reference to Mon El elicits negative responses from the Sanvers supporters (the Karamel supporters instead enthuse, which can offer a refreshing balance).

SDCC 2017

The fandom also was fractured by an event at San Diego Comic Con that many fans felt disrespected them. In a farcical musical recap of season 2, Jeremy Jordan (Winn) sang to the ship fans of Kara and Lena (shipped as Super Corp) that “They’re only friends! They’re not gonna get together, and they’re only friends.” For Supergirl this is the equivalent of when, in an SNL skit, William Shatner told “fans” to get a life — which actual fans took way too much to heart (though Shatner’s long-standing reputation of being an ass helped fuel that).

The show is still dealing with the effects of what some in the LGBT+ community consider a slight. Some of the reactors I enjoyed watching backed away because they felt stung. Fair enough. I’ve left shows for less. I will say that I wish they’d come back. It’s fairly clear that nothing malicious was intended and that just because actors aren’t paragons (I’ve known many — trust me, they aren’t) most also don’t then have feet of clay. They are just people doing a job, getting scrutinized way more than most people are at their jobs, and who sometimes fall into a PR quagmire when they lower their guard.

Politics

Continuing on this fandom theme: on any comment section of any length, you are guaranteed to see something like, “if this show doesn’t stop being political, it’s ratings are going to tank”. First: if ratings tank it’ll most likely be due to shipping wars than politics; and B: there is no way this show was not going to be political. In our society, a female superhero is by virtue of existing a lightning rod for politics and trolls.

The show established from episode one that it wasn’t going to shy away from having a clear political point of view: it would be feminist, inclusive, diverse, and be more than willing to kick some sacred cows (or elephants) as deemed necessary. So there.

One of the more powerful scenes in this season’s first three episodes is the one where Maggie’s father, Oscar Rodas, is confronted by Maggie after he walked out of her wedding shower. He talks about the wall and how “the only thing they hate more than a Mexicano is a homosexual”.  People who watched a number of reactors to this episode saw a lot of people get triggered by this scene. It hit home for more than a few. It transcended politics to instead touch real people to a very real degree.

Of course there were also many comments expressing confusion about why obviously liberal President Marsdin would be building a wall. For the most part people seemed to have missed Cat’s statement in the season’s first episode that portrayed the Speaker of the House (demonstrating that at least the House is not in control of democrats) as a Trump analog. If they have a veto-proof majority, then Marsdin’s better angels could be thwarted by those in Congress wanting a wall. Then you factor in the small thing of invasions by actual aliens, and you can see how the desire by some to want to assert some sort of control might lead to protectionism.

Also, I don’t know how it is on Earth 38, but it seems that if things are indeed parallel to our Earth then there might a group or two that arouse more hate-feels than either Mexicans or homosexuals…but that would have diluted Sr. Rodas’ rant so I guess we can forgive the rhetorical license.

Kara, how we missed you

A very common comment coming out of episode 3 was that finally we had the Supergirl we’d grown to love. She was a fist-flying hero when necessary but also a reasoned and persuasive hero when it was important for her to be that (as far back as the first season I’ve listed super-persuasiveness as one of her super powers). It sort of reinforces the idea that Supergirl thrives when the effects of Mon El (or any arbitrary romantic pairing with Kara) are minimized.

OP: not just an abbreviation but a story complication

A continuing problem is the fact that Supergirl, as well as Martian Manhunter, is absurdly over-powered. Through the entire history of Superman and Supergirl comics, this has been a problem. With heat vision and super speed alone they should overcome most difficulties before they even manifest. It does seem that Kara is prone to being knocked out by explosions, though, so at least that’s an option for bad guys. J’onn’s telepathy is also conveniently circumvented, often by the fiendishly clever method of “some how”. I do wish they’d try to rationalize the loop holes or convenient impediments a little better.

Valleys canned and uncanny

The special effects have been a bit of a mixed bag, but overall they seem to have improved. I don’t want to creeb about the misses very much. Considering that this is a weekly TV show with a not-unlimited budget, they do pretty well.

I do want to make one special kudo for the flying-off effect at the end of episode three. Eschewing the usual zooming up-up-and-away, Supergirl instead rises vertically before smoothly leveling off and flying away at a sensible speed. It was a small effect, as effects go on this show, but it was perhaps the most sublime execution I can remember seeing. This made her seem unambiguously super and confident. Kudos to the effects team.

While a lot of the Martian character animations in episode 3 were good for the resources available, I was more impressed by a small story detail that I’ve yet to see anyone else mention: J’onn being so proud that his daughters kept a secret. Yeah…they kept a secret; so what? On a planet populated by telepaths, keeping a secret has got to be one of those rite of passage skills — sort of like baby’s first steps. The momentous nature of that day was so much more than just father and son and I appreciated the subtlety of it.

Not-final final comments

Since I can’t really add these to the spoiler section, I’ll conclude here.

Based on how it’s begun, I expect we’ll see a strong season for Supergirl. I don’t know about ratings or target demo or the actual budget. That doesn’t matter to me. As a Supergirl and Supergirl fan, I pretty much just want to enjoy the ride. My hope is for fans to not only stick with the show even if their desired stories aren’t executed as they hope, but for fans who feel like they aren’t supposed to like the show anymore to come back with their friends and accept it for what it is: well meaning, flawed, and one of the few shining beacons of female superherodom that we’ve ever gotten on the screen. It would be a shame to squander it.

SPOILER ZONE

Now I’m going to be mentioning rumored story and character events along with speculation. If you don’t want to know anything about what will/might happen from episode 4 onward, bail now. You’ve been warned.

Spoilers ahead

Obviously the worst kept secret is that Rosebud was actually his sled…which if you really analyze it doesn’t make much sense. But whatever.

OK, that was just a little buffer for the late-leavers. It’s time to talk about the worst kept secret of the show: Alex and Maggie being not a couple. As I mentioned above, just given the realities of character relationships within the show, this was always in the cards. With Floriana actually wanting to work instead of waiting by the phone, Sanvers’ fate was all but sealed.

The only good outcome of this has been the lowered volume of whinging although there continues to be a resigned “why are you doing this” mantra that continues as they try to resolve the story in a complete way. As I wrote in a YouTube comment:

I don’t see how they have any chance of doing it so it doesn’t raise some ire in fandom. If you do it off-screen during the summer, then you’re disrespecting. If you have them go down a path of increased bickering (let’s be honest, they always bicker) to a breakup, then it’s cliche and insulting. If you let them be happy-ish for a few episodes before things go wonky, then you’re queerbaiting. If you kill the lesbian, then you’ve committed the sin of doing what pretty much every other show has done and killed the lesbian for shock-feels. If you send Maggie undercover, then you’ve wimped out and are just stringing things along. And on and on. There is no win.

I honestly think they chose the only rational path they could. I’ve know so many couples (straight and gay) who broke up on the child issue — from when they were dating up to one following the birth of their child. It’s a relationship reality that does play out all too often. Alex has proven herself to be a nurturer, having been so protective of Kara for so long, so it’s not out of character for her even though it hasn’t been a talking point in the past. After all, it’s only been since last season that Alex felt free to try and have a life.

And then we get Samantha “Sam” Arias, aka Reign. It is amazing how quickly a character can bond with an audience. No one, it seems, wants her to be anything other than what she is. Certainly not a world-killer that Kara has to vanquish. I’m hoping that the writers have a twist planned that might let her be more than just another Doomsday-like character. She might not be a fit for Earth, but perhaps she could find a home on some other world.

While I’m very much looking forward to the appearance of Saturn Girl later this season — the Legion being one of my gateways into the larger DC universe in the 60s — it does, sadly, presage the return of Mon El, likely as Valor. If it’s temporary because he’s changed, and Kara can’t reconcile it with the inexperienced hero wannabe she sent away so he feels he has to return to 30th century, then I’m willing to deal with the renewed venom from the reactors for a few weeks. It really makes sense for them to do something like that. The show has enough problems with OP Supergirl, Superman, and Martian Manhunter (plus sundry White Martians). Adding Valor to the mix would make creating reasonable villains an unsustainable goal.

I’m also having trouble seeing a future for one James Olsen. There simply isn’t anything for him to do that’s organic to the story. I really hope they make a Superman show so he can renew his bromance with Clark. Last season showed them clicking like Kara does with Alex, Cat, and Lena…but not so much James.

I am very much looking forward to how this all plays out and is executed. The first three episodes show the new show runners are up to the challenge. As long as their white board is filled with cool ideas — and some flexibility if necessary — then it should be a fun ride.

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