Gotta love the easy ones. I could go with the go to easy ones: The 100, Stargate: Atlantis, The Originals, Battlestar Galactica, Lost Girl, Arrow, How I Met Your Mother, The Last Ship. There are so many to choose, it’s almost unfair, but I’m gonna go with a recent disappointment. Keep it topical.
Oh, this show. It could have given me everything I’ve wanted for so long. It could’ve been a contender. Here’s the thing I love Supergirl. Kara Zor-El was the first superhero I ever encountered in that terrible-amazing 80s movie. I’ve loved her for so long and like a lot of members of the Superfamily, she gets overshadowed by Clark. That’s fair, he’s Superman, he’s a DC staple and icon, but unlike the Batfamily, the Superfamily and Wonderfamily get less traction. So for me, a Supergirl stan~ I was so so happy about a show about my favourite girl. And for a while it looked like it was doing okay. It wasn’t going to be ground breaking tv, it’s a comic book show, and while it started off doing a lot of great things, as soon as it moved to The CW things started to implode.
I’m not saying the first season was without fault, because no show is. It could have had more POC actors and characters. James and J’onn were the only ones, both black men in key positions for the story, but it had no others. There were no women of colour at all and there was no LBGT+ characters. It also opened with a “no homo” joke that there really wasn’t a need for, the writing of the James/Lucy relationship really did nothing for James’ character(isation). The writing was standard with key moments of greatness in which it used the themes presented by the narrative of the show to highlight things like:
- illegal alien immigration, get it? Because they’re actual aliens! Ha ha!
- refugees (the Syrian refugee crisis was at a high point in the news during season one)
- the way black people, black men especially (because there were no black women on the show at the time), have to act in public/professionally to get respect and acknowledgement
- the way women have to act in public/professionally to get respect and acknowledgement
- the socio-economic differences a black man has to deal with in comparison to a white woman
- the layers of complexities within a blended family
- various moments about sisterhood and how complicated that relationship can be
All of this was discussed under the overall theme of the show, which was: girl power. Not a surprise since the show is called Supergirl and it was about Supergirl and Kara Danvers. It was about her heroic arc and trying to find her own way outside her cousin’s shadow. It was about her trying to balance her everyday life and her superhero self. It was about the bonds of sisterhoods and how they’re not always easy to traverse. It was about being an outsider, an immigrant, a refugee, with passing privilege in a world that’s xenophobic and racist. It had a romance! Our romantic lead was a black man, who was struggling with his own growth and identity. James “Jimmy” Olsen is a staple in the Superman mythos and the show did the same The Flash did with the West family and cast a black actor in a previously white dominated role making it near impossible to write him aside. It had another black man in a position of power and mentorship with his own complicated backstory. It brought in the Lanes, in the shape of Lucy and Gen. Lane! I love the Super-Lane relationships! Our main, and frankly forgettable antagonist was Lex Luthor Lite, but at least they tried. Cat Grant, our other mentor, was a guide post in terms of (white) feminism and confidence. The main conflict towards the end of the season was why does the world need Supergirl when it has Superman and it did a commendable job answering that question.
And then season two came. Look, I don’t want to blame it all on the change of network from CBS to The CW, but wow, you can’t really look at it, see the changes that happened almost immediately and not go: well shit, The CW strikes again.
First thing first, Calista Flockhart left the show, because she made it clear in season that if the show moved to Vancouver from L.A. she wouldn’t go with it. Fine, bye Cat. I liked her fine, but I wasn’t going to miss her. Cat was a good mentor Kara in season one, as she helped Kara find her confidence, but I found people put more importance on Cat’s influence on Kara than say other more influential and equally important people in Kara’s life. Also they introduced Snapper Carr as Kara’s work mentor and made him a Latinx man. I found that to be a great change, because hey! more representation, and Snapper was a bit better in terms of the kind of mentor Kara needed as a journalist. Cat was the person telling Kara: don’t apologise for being a girl, which is a great message, but Cat was also the person telling Kara to sabotage another relationship to get what she wanted. (White Feminism TM.) Snapper is the person telling Kara: you gotta work had to be good journalist. This, in my honest opinion, was a good change.
It also brought in Superman. A tricky choice, the thing everyone was worried about and hilariously this was what worked out fine. Tyler Hoechlin did a great job with Clark and they even mildly explained the hilarious non-age difference. Clark is meant to be like 20 years older than Kara in this universe, Tyler Hoechlin is definitely not 20 years older than Melissa Benoist, he looks like he’s barely even five years older, but a throwaway line about Kryptonian ageing on Earth and cute enough chemistry can handwave a lot of tiny nitpicks. (Though I don’t know why they didn’t just get Tom Welling back 😉 ) And it brought in the Luthor family in the shape of Lena and Lillian Luthor, which it was excellent choice to have Supergirl’s Luthor ally (and maybe future antagonist; Lena’s a Luthor they’re gonna play this angle and if they don’t they should. Remember Tess Mercer? What a great arc.) and current villain be both women. It included Miss Martian as a minor character, played by Sharon Leal, a black actress, finally bringing in a WOC into the show, whose own story about identity and choice and morality was great, if quickly shoved aside.
One last thing it did that well before we start the quick downward spiral on how this show broke my heart. Maggie Sawyer. Maggie is a cop. Maggie is also a lesbian and in a relationship with Alex. Now, I have no problem with Maggie herself, or her character, or her relationship with Alex. I love the show went this route with Alex and Maggie. This is some of the LGBT+ representation the audience wanted. I will agree with the criticism that the relationship felt a little rushed but hey, tv, ya know. My problem lies in the casting. Floriana Lima is a beautiful woman. She lights up the screen. She’s what some people call spicy white. A white person who can pass for brown, partially in part because she’s Italian and hey, Hollywood has absolutely loved casting Italians as Latinx or other brown minorities. Lima could even be mixed, and she doesn’t need to tell us if she is, but as it stand just saying she has Italian heritage means she’s white. I’m sorry, I don’t make the rules. This would have been fine, except Maggie was also said to be a Latinx woman (from Nebraska).
As a Latinx woman this burns. It burned more when I kept seeing people defend this because they were okay with the LGBT+ inclusion, so who cares if the WOC in the WLW relationship was being played by an ambiguously tan white woman? Well, I care! They should have cared too, but hey, racism and shitty production choices doesn’t matter until it affects the white parts of fandom. I’ll get to that in a second, but first. Being Latinx is an incredibly messy and complicated thing. It’s not a race, we come in all different colours, but the majority of Latinx who get to break into Hollywood are either white latinx, pass for white, or harness the latinx stereotype Hollywood likes and make bank on it. I would have been way happier had they cast a white latinx instead of an actress who had the “right” stereotypically conceived look what they think a Latinx person is. I would also told them to do better, because there’s a whole world out there of non-white latinx who deserved a shot.
But the Maggie/Alex relationship because huge in fandom and it carried a lot of people through in season two even after the erasure a WOC and of a black man’s storyline, because Supergirl fandom is incredibly transparent.
Now, let’s get to the show’s other main problem that was foreshadow and yelled about since the season two premiere by, you guessed it, POC, namely black, fans of the show. The “slow” erasure of James Olsen as the show’s main male romantic lead. Ah, let’s go back to the beginning… well, end of season one. Where after a season of immediate mutual attraction, some childish jealousy, a few breakup, a couple makeup, some very cute flirting, James and Kara get to have it. Their moment. The moment that’s been building up since Kara walked into James’ office at Catco and went: oh shit he’s hot. They kiss! And because of the drama of television, the kiss get interrupted and Kara has to go save the world. Classic superhero stuff! But hey, we had season two coming! And the show was moving was to The CW, where they were/are doing a pretty great job with the interracial relationship between Barry Allen and Iris West! Things were looking good! So what if they had brought in Mon-El to create intergalactic drama?! Intergalactic drama is good for a show with aliens! James and Kara were gonna be the Lois and Clark of National City! Magic was in the air!!!! Crops were growing! Skin was clear! etc etc
And then they broke them up in the first episode of season two a mere 12 hours after their Big Moment in canon having them state: oh it felt forced.
Can you say WTF? Because I can and I did.
Did you see what happened? Do you see it above? Where I’m going with this?
I bet you do, you guys are smart.
The CW’s strikes again. The CW’s habit of listen to a fandom when it shouldn’t and it’s preference for anti-hero angsty white male leads strikes again.
Let’s hit the fandom point first because it’s easy and fastest to explain: racism. It really is as simple as that. From the get go, for however much people talk about diversity, representation, equality, a lot fandom is incredibly racist, internalised or not, and usually they’re very loud. In season one you could tell, you ignored it because the show seemed committed to telling the love story of James/Kara but you could tell. Maybe some people had no legitimate interest in their romance or felt their chemistry was off, but it was interesting to watch as throughout season one a lot of fandom would happily ship Kara with every other white person on the show and not with James. Shortlist: Cat (SuperCat was an incredibly transparent ship for all it’s WLW activist. White lgbt+ feminism strikes again. Strike Two.), SuperLane (a ship I would be all for, and was all for, but again incredibly transparent for same reasons as before), Winn (who Kara from the first episode showcased she had no interest in romantically), that random character Melissa’s IRL husband played. And while James/Kara had a strong following, it was a following that kept being drowned out by the other loud voices in fandom who had no interest in a black man being the main romantic lead of the darling white girl superhero fave. And I say this as someone who LOVES Kara Zor-El/Danvers/Kent.
So The CW, a network well know for listening to it’s fandom and pandering to it (see Arrow, see The Vampire Diaries, see Supernatural) did what it did best. Now, because James Olsen, played charmingly by Mechad Brooks in the show, is part of the Superman mythos it was pretty hard to completely erase him in one go. He’s Superman/Clark Kent’s BFF, he’s an aspiring and award winning photojournalist, he’s a good guy. So they gave him a heroic arc as The Guardian to appease fans. Could have been great if outside a short 3-5 episode run we actually saw that arc develop throughout the season. You may ask why all this happened? Why didn’t we see this arc for James really develop, who would now be put in position as Kara’s romantic lead?
We’ve arrived at point two: it’s preference for anti-hero angsty white male leads strikes again. Mon-El. Oh, a name I never thought I’d hate so much.
I’m not going to go into his entire story arc in season, because I don’t care about the character, what’s important to know is that his entrance into the show effectively turns season two into: Mon-El’s journey as someone who tries to be a hero to impress a girl so she likes him more. Bonus: he’s an ex-slave owning prince of a misogynist planet, who lied about who he was until his mom and dad showed back. So yes, the show changed Kara’s romantic lead from a black man who struggles with his identity and wants to help people because he’s inspired by the heroes around him to: a white man who lies to get the girl until he can’t anymore, but it’s okay, he’s a better person now because she made him better. I cannot. And then it gets worse, because it’s not bad enough that Mon-El surplants James’ position in the show. He steals what should have the last arc of the show about Kara vs Lillian Luthor vendetta against aliens on Earth, something that was set up in the early half of season two, and is also a big overall theme of the show into Mon-El’s mom wants to take over Earth and hates his new girlfriend. This isn’t like in season one where it’s militant Kryptonians who Kara cared about as members of family and she has to make a choice between her new and old world, an internal conflict within her. It’s about her boyfriend’s mom being an evil dictator who thinks slavery is a good idea an thinks Kara is not good enough because she’s Kyprotian. And sure this could have worked, if it hadn’t been framed around Mon-El’s struggle and choices and if the overall insult and dismissing of the POC and LGBT+ characters of the show hadn’t been victims to this storyline. As Mon-El gains more and more screen time, James loses screentime, Maggie loses screentime, Alex and Kara’s relationship loses its central position in the narrative.
The thing is, though, a lot of this could have been avoided if the writers and producers of the show had stepped and protected their characters. If they had stuck to their guns with James as their romantic lead, if they had stuck with Kara’s journey being more important another white man who’s struggling with his faux heroism. The Flash has done with the Iris West and the rest of the West family, as well as Cisco. They have protected their POC characters and actors. It can be done on The CW. I’ve seen it. But they didn’t with Supergirl and essentially made the same mistake Arrow did when it listened to a certain sector of its fandom and ended up sacrificing story and character for quick praise. Something that ended up backfiring on them big time, because fandom is mercurial and when they realised that the show had essentially become about Mon-El they kept Maggie/Alex on the backburner and made Kara’s story all about her feelings towards Mon-El.
I’m not going to get into the Kara/Lena debate too deeply because the show was never going to go there, and as much as fandom loved the idea of it, it also used it the “possibility” and white women loving white women “activism” as a way to excuse James’ erasure from the narrative. It certainly didn’t help when at Comic-Con the cast insulted that subsect of fandom, but the fact that it wasn’t until then that people called the show “bad about representation”, um. Well, let’s just say some people stopped watching the show once they realised they didn’t care about non-white actors or characters.
Supergirl’s season two honestly slowly dismantled everything that could have been truly great about the show. It took a show about one my absolute favourite superheroes, who struggles with being an immigrant, who is surrounded by people who struggle with their identity, who want to be and do good, who are minorities and made it into a show about another white man who’s looking for redemption in someone else’s heroism. All this while actively dismissing their LGBT+ and POC audiences and characters. It stopped being a show about inclusion and started excluding all the minorities that used to feel represented by the show. What a disappointment.
I really hope the show redeems itself somehow, but I just don’t see it happening. But if the DCMU could give me Superman/Batman: Apocalypse I’d really really appreciate.