After some awkward reshuffling, Supergirl gets its timeline straightened out and picks up right where “Livewire” (the episode that aired two weeks ago) left off. Unfortunately, “Red Faced” is a pretty disappointing follow-up. It has all the problems that usually plague Supergirl—clunky dialogue, the bland DEO, and a tendency to make characters too one-note—but even worse it’s lacking a special spark to help paper over those weaknesses. There’s nothing like Brit Morgan’s campy Livewire performance or that train rescue sequence from last week to elevate this episode into something special. And without that, the show’s weaknesses are more glaring than ever.

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That’s probably because Kara’s duties at the DEO get more attention than her personal or professional life this week, and the show is generally strongest when it focuses on those latter two areas. The catalyst for Supergirl’s troubles is General Sam Lane (Glenn Morshower), military leader and father to Lucy and Lois. He’s a classic alien-hating, dickish military figure that comic books love to repeat ad nauseam, and Supergirl does nothing to subvert or deepen his one-note paternalism.

He demands that Supergirl help test the military’s anthropomorphic pseudo-entity (a.k.a. android) called The Red Tornado, a prototype created by Doctor T. O. Morrow. But when Kara punches the thing one too many times during their practice fight, it flips into “self-preservation mode” and sets out to destroy National City. Though General Lane blames Supergirl and Morrow for the failure, I personally don’t understand why everyone isn’t more concerned that the government built a robot whose default self-defense tactic is blind mass murder.

A lot of this episode feels similarly poorly thought-out. For instance, Alex sweet talks Maxwell Lord into telling the DEO information they probably should have pieced together on their own: Red Tornado is still secretly being controlled by Morrow (for how long, I’m not sure) and they have to stop him before they can stop the android. Though the sequence in which Alex fights Morrow while Kara fights Red Tornado is relatively exciting, it’s too little too late in this otherwise bland episode. It doesn’t help that Red Tornado is a purposeful blank slate while Morrow just feels like a non-entity (Secret Diary Of A Call Girl’s Iddo Goldberg pulls double duty in both roles and while he does what he can, he isn’t given enough screentime to really make an impact). For a moment it seems like Alex killing Morrow in order to stop him will be a big character moment for her, but that’s quickly forgotten just like most things in this episode.

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By far the best moment in “Red Faced”—and one that actually does seem like it will affect the plot moving forward—is when Kara channels the anger she’s been dealing with all episode to strengthen her heat vision and destroy Red Tornado. That climax is stylish in a way a lot of this episode isn’t as the camera cuts between painful moments from Kara’s childhood and the rage-filled attack on Red Tornado we can see but not hear.

Indeed, anger is the big theme of this episode and—as happens a lot on this show—Supergirl makes some interesting critiques of gender roles while also getting its message a bit muddled. There are two ideas this episode is interested in exploring: 1.) Kara’s anger issues and 2.) The way women are more harshly condemned than their male counterparts for getting angry. Though both ideas are well-worth exploring and a smarter show could probably weave them together, Supergirl just ends up confusing the two.

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For instance, in the opening sequence Kara stops two road raging assholes from driving into a group of school kids. When one goes to punch her, she winds up hurting his hand and is herself branded a “road rage” monster by the press. That would be an excellent commentary on the way the media more harshly polices women’s emotions were it not for the fact that elsewhere the episode implies Kara is stepping out of line. So is her anger actually an issue? Or is the press blowing up a problem that doesn’t exist? “Red Faced” wants to have it both ways.

Thankfully the episode does separate the ideas in two excellent character-driven scenes. After losing her cool and snapping at Cat, Kara receives some words of wisdom—and a well-deserved martini—from her boss. While Perry White could throw a chair through a window in frustration, Cat explains she’ll be branded “crazy” and “unstable” if she so much as throws a napkin. Cat’s worldview isn’t idealistic but practical: Women simply can’t show anger at work. She recognizes that’s a double standard but rather than challenge it, she works around it. That kind of moral compromise is all-too familiar to most women in the workplace, and Supergirl’s feminism feels more complex here than it ever has before.

In the episode’s other stellar scene, Kara takes her boss’ advice and channels her anger elsewhere by starting a secret fight club (well, workout club) with James. He rightly points out that women aren’t the only ones condemned for getting angry—black men are also expected to keep their emotions in check in public. So Kara and James work out their issues through exercise (him on a punching bag and her on a used car) until Kara has a breakthrough: She’s mad that she’ll never have a normal life.

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It’s common for people to imagine there’s some singular goal—getting a dream job, earning recognition, finding a significant other—that will suddenly make them feel utterly content. But the truth is, more often than not achieving a goal doesn’t wipe away insecurities and unhappiness. Kara spent her childhood assuming she felt out of place because she wasn’t allowed to use her powers. But after several weeks as National City’s hero, she’s still dealing with the same insecurities and frustrations she’s always had. In some ways becoming Supergirl set Kara free, but it’s also given her a whole new set of complications to deal with. Though Kara’s parents saved their daughter’s life when they sent her to Earth, they also condemned her to live as a perpetual outsider on a foreign planet. It’s understandable that she’d be both grateful and frustrated with that decision.

The good news is that it looks like Kara’s extra-strength heat vision has temporarily drained her powers, leaving her susceptible to injury just like the rest of us. Now let’s see how much she likes being normal.

Stray observations

  • Good news, Super Friends: CBS has ordered seven more episodes of Supergirl this season!
  • Perhaps less good news, Super Friends: A new trailer for Batman V. Superman: Dawn Of Justice dropped tonight during Gotham. Looks like both of those angsty dudes could use a visit from Superman’s cousin.

  • So Hank Henshaw and Jeremiah Danvers went to South America to hunt down an alien and only one of them returned—mysteriously unscratched. I’m guessing the Hank who went into that mission and that Hank who came out of it aren’t exactly the same person. I’m also guessing Daddy Danvers is still alive. Let the countdown to the return of Dean Cain start now!
  • How did Red Tornado get its arm back?
  • My one and only skill in life is the game Celebrity, and watching Winn utterly fail at it was physically painful for me.
  • I don’t think Cat’s mom (real-life former magazine editor Joan Juliet Buck) is quite as funny as this episode thinks she is, but I love how casually she ditches her own daughter to attend a dinner party with Toni Morrison and Margaret Atwood. Really, who wouldn’t?
  • For those who care to read into them, there were some very uncomfortable racial implications to General Lane angrily declaring that James will never been good enough for his daughter.
  • How cool was it when Kara burrowed underground like a Graboid from Tremors?!?

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