“Truth, Justice, and the American Way.” For so long that has been the mantra for DC’s Superman, the eternal paragon for tomorrow, and it’s also the title for this week’s episode of Supergirl. But 2016 America is an alien planet compared to when Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster wrote comics: We have drone surveillance in Africa and on movie sets, social network moguls making virtual reality, and the government fighting a massive enterprise over private security. But we still have Superman, quaint as he is, and CBS’ Supergirl tackles for the second time the modern definition of Superman’s mid-century slogan. Unfortunately, it doesn’t nail it, not like last time, but it does have the show’s best fight scene to date.
After dealing with the Black Mercy and the death of her aunt Astra, Supergirl mourns by diving headfirst back to work at CatCo and with D.E.O. cases. It’s not long before her next foe arrives: the Master Jailer, a Kryptonian prison guard hunting and executing escaped Fort Rozz prisoners. (For comics fans, Supergirl’s Master Jailer is a radical departure from Carl Draper, being more of a robotic Boba Fett than an overweight Smallville small fry.)
Master Jailer is a blunt metaphor for the extreme prejudice dished to the presumed guilty, so it’s appropriate Supergirl literally fights him while she and the D.E.O. wrestle with this question abstractly. Maxwell Lord’s indefinite imprisonment by the D.E.O. continues, and his stay hasn’t been any easier even though he assisted during Kara’s Black Mercy trouble. Guantanamo gets name dropped by a horrified James Olsen, and it’s Kara who bears the brunt of his moralistic diatribe.
The first time Supergirl wrestled this question, the D.E.O. held Astra as captive, and Kara was horrified then. In a few weeks, Kara has become complicit with their tactics. It’s an awkward character change, made all the more ill-fitting because nothing happened to Kara that would have convinced her otherwise. Wouldn’t her presumption that Hank killed Astra be all the more reason she refuses to act and think like them?
“Blood Debts” took the side that this kind of federal sentencing was ethically wrong, and “Truth, Justice, and the American Way” teaches that again — except this time, Kara is all about it, and it takes fighting its physical manifestation to change her mind. But why was she complicit in the first place? I see what Supergirl is doing and I love it for trying, but it’s flying a little too close to our yellow sun for it to make clear sense.
At least Supergirl fighting the Master Jailer totally rocked. It’s hard to do decent choreographed action when there’s super-strength, flying, and invulnerability involved, but the Master Jailer was an equal foe for Kara. And because of its TV budget, it looked more grounded and authentic than Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, which was like a CGI Dragon Ball Z.