The best thing about Supergirl is its willingness to shake up the status quo. In just a handful of episodes, Cat Grant grew from a one-note quip machine into one of the show’s most engaging characters while Hank Henshaw transformed from a rote authority figure into Martian freakin’ Manhunter. This show burns through plot really quickly and it’s refreshingly unafraid to drop game-changing reveals—like the one from Winn tonight—where other shows might stretch things out. But before we get to Winn and his relationship dilemmas, let’s examine the rest of “Childish Things”:
Lucy Lane has been awkwardly hovering around the edges of Supergirl for a while and “Childish Things” officially brings her into the fold when Cat offers her a job as CatCo’s general counsel. It’s not the most compelling plotline—James seems to waffle about working so closely with his girlfriend before admitting he just wants to be out working as a photojournalist again—but I’m all for establishing CatCo as a central hub for the main cast. I wish Supergirl didn’t feel the need to check in on every character during every episode, but it’s certainly fun to see Lucy and Cat improbably hit it off.
Meanwhile Alex and Hank’s decision to investigate Maxwell Lord is easily the best use of the DEO yet, mostly because it doesn’t actually involve the DEO. Instead Alex talks Hank into going rogue and using his shapeshifting powers to break into Lord Industries, where he gets a peek at the black-eyed Jane Doe that Lord is experimenting on. But Hank’s decision to use his powers—something he swore off after spending 50 years being hunted as J’onn J’onzz—comes with a cost. He’s forced to wipe the mind of a guard in order to escape, erasing the poor dude’s entire life, including his memories of his wife and baby.
While Supergirl’s explorations of feminism have been very on the nose (the better to reach a young audience, presumably), there’s surprising subtlety to Hank’s storyline this week. Even as the Danvers sisters reassure him that “times have changed,” Hank is painfully aware that the world doesn’t take as kindly to monstrous aliens as it does to attractive humanoids like Clark Kent and Kara Danvers. It’s possible to read Hank’s situation as a metaphor for all kinds of bigotry—from racism to homophobia to xenophobia. While Alex and Kara mean well as they try to force Hank out of the closet, they’re too quick to ignore his lived experience in favor of their sunny optimism.
But the Lucy and Hank threads are mostly background to this episode’s main focus: Winn Schott.
From the beginning, Winn has been Supergirl’s most confusing element. A character defined almost solely by his insane technical skills (this dude should be working for the CIA, not in the IT department of a media company) and his crush on his best friend, Winn brushes up against a lot of troubling ideas about “nice guys” (namely that men who are nice will automatically be rewarded with the object of their affection). But “Childish Things” complicates Winn’s “Nice Guy” status by confronting it head on.
Winn’s dad, Winslow Schott, Sr., was also a “nice guy”—the kind who would rather avoid conflict than start a fight. But then one day he snapped, tried to murder his thieving boss, and ended up killing six innocent people in the process. When the so-called Toyman breaks out of jail, Winn has to confront all the complicated feelings he has for his dear old dad.
One of Supergirl’s main themes is the way in which family legacies shape people, so it makes sense that the show would deepen Winn’s character in relation to his family. Ever since his father was carted off to jail when Winn was only 11 years old, he’s lived in fear of winding up on the same path. He worries he has the same capacity for anger and violence, and he’s determined to do everything he can to distance himself from his father.
Admittedly, it’s an overly familiar tale of paternal woe—one that’s been used in countless genre properties before (Star Wars immediately springs to mind), but it’s refreshing to see Winn defined by something other than his crush on Kara. Asked to do more acting than he’s done in the past nine episodes combined, Jeremy Jordan absolutely knocks it out of the park. Winn hates his father and wants nothing to do with him, but at the same time he can’t bear the thought of watching him die. So Kara—who knows a little something about having psychopaths in the family—offers to repay the kindness Winn has shown her and capture his father unharmed before the FBI can take him down.
It’s during their heart-to-heart that Winn—a little emotionally vulnerable from having a murderous father on the loose—mistakes Kara’s kindness for attraction and kisses her. Rather than play up a potential spark between the two, Supergirl clearly establishes that Kara isn’t into the kiss. The whole thing is more embarrassing than romantic for both Kara and Winn, and while there’s no question that Kara will always be there to stop a bullet (or 50) for her best friend, that kiss once again shakes up Supergirl’s status quo.
The ultimate message of “Childish Things” isn’t that Nice Guys deserve the girl, but that honesty is the best policy. Rather than bottle up his feelings until he grows resentful (like his father did), Winn decides to finally admit he’s in love with Kara, leaving them both feeling glum when Kara doesn’t reciprocate his feelings.
We’ll have to see how the Kara/Winn dynamic plays out over the coming weeks, but I personally have no problem with Supergirl exploring the complicated intersection of unrequited love and friendship, as it’s a pretty universally relatable topic. In an ideal world, Winn would magnanimously brush off the rejection and Kara would recognize that she shouldn’t feel guilt for turning Winn down, but what’s more human (or Kryptonian) than processing your emotions in imperfect ways?
Yet as much as Supergirl likes to play around with relationship drama, it’s first and foremost a superhero show and it’s in that regard that “Childish Things” drops the ball. There’s little in the way of compelling action sequences this week and some bizarre edits (Toyman’s eventual capture happens almost entirely off-screen) make things feel even more off-kilter. It’s a tall order to make a psychopathic toymaker a convincing threat for the most powerful woman on Earth and, unfortunately, a lame quicksand trap just doesn’t cut it. While I appreciate that Supergirl regularly makes use of its heroine’s surprisingly deep bench of powers (almost everything she does tonight involves super lungs, not super strength), there’s no reason she shouldn’t be able to take down a non-superpowered toymaker in two seconds.
In general, I don’t quite know what to make of Henry Czerny performance as Toyman. He’s a deeply silly villain on paper (he breaks out of jail with weaponized yo-yos), but the former Revenge star plays him with a stone-faced gravitas that doesn’t quite befit a supervillain who twists symbols of childhood into agents of death. On the one hand, his grounded performance works like gangbusters in his emotional confrontations with Winn (according to Toyman’s twisted morality, his boss is to blame for forcing him to commit a violent act that separated him from his son). On the other, I kind of feel like Supergirl wanted to avoid comparisons with Mark Hamill’s gleeful, over-the-top portrayal of the Trickster over on The Flash and went too far in the other direction. Appropriately for a story focused more on Winn than Kara, Toyman makes a far better antagonist for his son than for National City’s favorite hero.
“Childish Things” isn’t a perfect episode of Supergirl, mostly because it pushes its two best characters—Kara and Cat—too far to the sidelines. But it makes for a compelling stand-alone story that deepens both Hank and Winn and sets up some interesting character conflicts for the show to explore over the second half of its first season. If it’s a little light on action, well, at least it has emotional fireworks.
- Perd Watch: Has Perd Hapley abandoned National City? Did he fall into a crack during that earthquake? #WhereIsPerd
- That’s Buffy’s Emma Caufield (a.k.a. Anya) as FBI Agent Cameron Chase. Thankfully she’ll be sticking around for a bit because she was vastly underused here.
- Watching Supergirl soar through the sky alongside a non-disguised J’onn J’onnz was awesome.
- Toyman’s ultimatum—shoot one man or hundreds will die—was appropriately chilling and very Dark Knight-esque.
- Having a main character who is a shapeshifter should hopefully lead to more fun moments like the one where Hank disguises himself as Maxwell Lord and gives the billionaire a much-needed personality check.
- This show needs way more scenes in which Kara and Alex just hang out and talk about their lives. Those two are a delight together.
- Alex plays femme fatale to distract Lord, then Lord plays James Bond to spy on Alex. Ahh, young love!
- Supergirl after sucking the poisonous gas out of a room: “I don’t normally inhale.”