SUPERGIRL Review 1.10 “Childish Things”

Things gets serious in National City

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In a rather intense scene during the episode’s climax, a character is speaking at a toy convention. He talks about how we often forget children’s unique, innocent way of looking at the world, the same wide-eyed wonder that allows a happy-go-lucky show like Supergirl to thrive. It’s also distance from that perspective that allows us to appreciate what it means to begin with, which is part of why “Childish Things” works as well as it does. It also may have found a potential solution to the Winn problem, in a way that was both unexpected and fitting.

After a mysterious villain breaks out of maximum security using a rather sharp and sinister Yo-Yo (Giving Mark Hamil’s Trickster on The Flash a run for his money), we’re greeted with a familiar joyful scene: Supergirl soaring across the skies with a smile on her face, only this time she’s joined by Martian Manhunter, her new flight instructor. It’s also the last real moment of solace before the show starts to see a rather noticeable shift in tone and aesthetic. Subplots notwithstanding, it’s a Winn episode through and through, and every scene he’s in grabs you with warm light and long lenses, as the show finally puts the finishing touches on its portrait of him. There’s a sense of familiarity to Winn, the goofy, love-stricken sidekick with a seemingly jealous dark-side underneath, and this is the first time we’re allowed to see, nay, allowed to leer into his past, and in the process, understand his present.

Guess what, regular readers? This week, I’m forgoing my usual complaints about the under-budget CGI! The flying and fighting scenes had enough substance in them that it didn’t matter, and my only real complaint is relegated to the subplot about Lucy potentially working at Catco, which seemed to bring out James’ previously non-existent job woes. Once again, however, the complaint about this singular element stems from the fact that all the other moving parts were so damn solid. Everyone else is pushed to their limit in some form, and while most episodes end with the characters and their dynamics in a fairly good place, this one dares to do the opposite.

We get to see more of Martian Manhunter’s cool powers this week - from phasing through walls to erasing people’s memories - but it all comes at a cost, making it feel like one of the more morally complicated Justice League comics. In the fifty years that he’s been on Earth, he’s seen what his powers can do and how people treat him (‘coming out’ is different for him than it is for Kara) and the more he uses his powers, the more they’re depleted, leaving him at risk of being exposed. While infiltrating Maxwell Lord’s facility, he’s forced to erase a guard’s memory so he doesn’t get caught, but Manhunter’s powers don’t allow him to stop at the events of that evening. The guard, as it turns out, no longer remembers his wife and child. Alex, the one who pushed Manhunter in the first place, enters the belly of the beast by going on a date with Lord and eating gourmet slugs. Speaking of which, Peter Facinelli gets slimier every week, sort of like the anti-Carlisle (his Twilight character is the embodiment of virtue) and he’s slowly separating himself from what one might generally perceive as Lex Luthor, despite having similar goals and methods. Thus far, anyway.

Of all the characters pushed to the brink, it’s Winn that steals the show. I still want to punch the guy, but now I also want to give him a big hug, because not only is his father a psychotic mass murderer, but the fear most of us had when it came to the character – that he’d eventually lose it, lash out at the people he loves and go crazy – is the same exact fear he’s been fighting since he was eleven. Henry Czerny joins the cast and the delightfully evil Toyman, a villain who starts out fairly run-of-the-mill in terms of employer grudges and gimmick bombs, until you realize that his God complex extends to wanting to re-create his son in his own image, no matter the cost.

As much as the episode fleshes out Winn (and boy, does it ever), it adds a whole new dimension to his relationship with Kara that goes well beyond his romantic feelings for her, even if that’s what he ultimately reduces it to. What Batman is to Superman, a dark counter-foil whose personal tragedy was a defining, isolating moment akin to the loss of an entire world, Winn is to Kara, only he’s occupied that role unknowingly, and since well before she was Supergirl. They’re willing to take on each other’s burdens, but where they differ is their outlook on people. Specifically, people like Winn’s father. Kara sees the light in others, and believes he can be saved. Winn, however, knows better. Once kidnapped by his father, he’s forced to make a hard decision: either shoot a man in the head, or let ten of his father’s bombs go off around a toy convention. His father wants to push him over the edge, giving him little choice in the matter, however Winn does the heroic thing and carves out a third option. He shoots the gun in the air in order to alert authorities knowing full well they might gun him down, and likely would have were it not for Supergirl intervening in the knick of time.

This angry, frustrated boy who can’t seem to keep his cool around Supergirl and who, week after week, has been on the verge of lashing out at her for not reciprocating his feelings, suddenly begins to make sense. While he deserves no extra points for only being a shitty friend 10% of the time, he forms what is likely the most complex of the show’s various takes on heroism, fighting internal demons and a murderous legacy while doing his best to help people. If Supergirl is the ideal, leading humanity towards the light, Winn is the everyman, stumbling behind her as he tries to join her in the sun. And while expressing his love for his friend might be selfish, driving a potential wedge between them, it comes less from a place of petulance and more from necessity, as he attempts to avoid the kind of emotional repression that destroyed his father.

Supergirl went dark this week, but it was far from unjustified. If anything, it proved that the best way for characters like these to go dark is when they’re seen in proximity to the light, and now that Maxwell Lord has discovered Kara’s identity, it’s more imperative than ever that the team help each other find their light again.