Review: Supergirl 4×03 – “Man of Steel”

[Editor’s note: This review may contain spoilers]

Director: Jesse Warn

Writers: Rob Wright & Derek Simon

Starring: Melissa Benoist, Mehcad Brooks & Chyler Leigh

 

Summary

Ben Lockwood (Sam Witwer) didn’t always hate aliens. Through a series of incidents, and input from his anti-alien father (guest star Xander Berkeley), Ben slowly transforms from a mild-mannered professor into the villainous Agent Liberty of today.

 

Positives

The episode is mostly told in flashback as we see the history of the show through Agent Liberty’s point of view. It was a lot of fun to see the three previous finales through the eyes of regular civilians and the ramifications of yearly alien invasions.

Agent Liberty is a fascinating character. The writers brilliantly balance making him empathetic while still depicting him as a scary monster. The episode has to showcase how a seemingly nice and normal man can be become a domestic terrorist. The main thing I like is that it is clearly in him from the start. His father is an openly hateful person and Ben was raised with that ideology. He tries to suppress it but as soon as he is challenged and threatened, his true nature starts to show itself like a defense mechanism. This is nicely foreshadowed with an alien early in the episode who has a physical defense mechanism. It’s very realistic to how prejudice can manifest itself.

This episode has a really great grasp on prejudiced rhetoric. Ben’s logic is twisted but it is based on the ideals of people we consider heroes. Some of his speeches about never giving up and fighting back isn’t that far off from something Supergirl would say. I’ve seen this so much online in the last few years. People take the ideals of heroes from comic books, Star Wars and other forms of media and twist them to bad conclusions meant to hurt people. Ben is actually inspired by Guardian; he seems to admire James. That’s horrifying; James desperately wanted to be a symbol of hope and a terrorist is perverting what Guardian stood for.

The third element I find to be excellent is how misplaced Ben’s anger is. Some of his problems are his own damn fault. Ben and his father should be willing to use nth metal; there’s no reason not to. Ben points out to James that insurance companies are refusing to cover alien invasions. That is a legitimate complaint but clearly that is the fault of these companies taking advantage of people. It has nothing to do with aliens. He’s looking for excuses to express his feelings and that is the most realistic aspect of this episode.

The end of the episode provides a really cool new status quo that I’m excited about. At the end of the last episode, the Graves siblings dispersed Kryptonite into Earth’s atmosphere essentially making Earth inhabitable for Kara. That’s a cool thing to do because there isn’t an easy solution to it. Lena does luckily have a suit for Supergirl, which I like a lot, but she can never leave it. I love this; this will affect Kara’s personal life. She can’t hang out with Lena or be a reporter if she has to permanently wear a Supermech suit. I’m curious if it has an effect on her powers and whether they will be good or bad.

 

Negatives

It is somewhat easy that Agent Liberty has some kind of history with almost the entire main cast. He has interactions with Supergirl, Kara Danvers, Alex, Martian Manhunter and James as well as a personal vendetta against Lena.

This episode has a similar problem to Captain America: Civil War in that the heroes are retroactively shown to be more careless than they actually were in order to make the plot work. In a fight with a Daxamite, Martian Manhunter accidentally sets Agent Liberty’s house on fire and does nothing to help put it out. He ironically says they’re safe and then leaves. J’onn especially is not that stupid or careless; he would try to put the fire out or at least get some firefighters. That was ridiculous and, honestly, unnecessary. It didn’t need to be Martian Manhunter right next to it. Debris from a Daxamite ship could have done destroyed the house and it would have the same effect.

 

Verdict

This is a fantastic episode. I do appreciate how unapologetic the show is in how it presents Ben. It doesn’t ever try to make him sympathetic but he also isn’t a straw man. Part of the uncomfortable nature of the episode is how realistic Agent Liberty feels. Realism isn’t always the way to go but it’s effective here. I really enjoyed this character study and I’m excited to see how this affects the show moving forward.

 

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Sean Blumenshine

I am currently a senior at Wichita State University studying communications. I started reading comics in 2013 because of how much I loved Man of Steel and season one of Arrow. My favorite hero is the Green Arrow and my favorite villain is the Joker.