Have you ever been watching a movie or TV show and wondered why it feels like two characters are having the same fight over and over again? Why, for all the action that’s happening on screen, it seems the plot has ground to a halt? There’s an old adage in screenwriting: Any complication that can be solved with a quick conversation between allies is a complication that you don’t need. This can make screenwriting, well, difficult. Two characters who are fighting each other just because neither is willing to shout across the battlefield, “Hey, why exactly are we fighting?” can make for less-than-compelling drama. It does little more than create big special effects moments, and fails to reveal character or move the plot.
So what’s the difference between all of the conversations that people are failing to have on this week’s Supergirl, and what—sorry, Dawn of Justice fans—we might consider weak screenwriting? The answer is pretty obvious: emotions, feelings, the inevitable prejudices and soft spots that come from the development of strong, complicated characters. Let’s take a look at a few times feelings complicated the plot of tonight’s Supergirl.
Kara showed a less than completely lovable side of herself tonight. Putting down the dreams of your loved ones, especially Winn and James—who have been on her side since the pilot episode—isn’t exactly the Supergirl way. But fear makes people do and say ugly things. Ugly things like asking people not to be who they truly are. Don’t get me wrong, Kara’s got some solid reasons to be concerned. James and Winn have been pretty reckless—and, thankfully, lucky— ever since they started this endeavor. It wasn’t all that long ago that a near death experience made Winn want to pack it all in. Saying “I told you so” is pretty gauche, and denying your friends the chance to live their dreams is not exactly a super move, but when one mistake could cost Winn and James their lives, can you really blame Kara for trying to stop them?
It was a completely different green alien from J’onn J’onzz that first pointed out that anger leads to hate and hate leads to suffering, but a little Yoda-style advice wouldn’t be lost on our favorite, and possibly only, green Martian. J’onn’s inability to let go of his anger is understandable, relatable even, but not being able to consider the possibility that M’gann might be different from the white Martians of his past nearly costs him a dear ally. We can’t always control the things that happen to us. Anger and resentment are natural when bad things happen, but at some point we have to let it go, lest it lead us to neglecting or hurting those who are already hurting themselves. Speaking of which…
M’gann’s had a rough season so far. Being ashamed of something you can’t change about yourself—in this case her genetic makeup—because it marks you as part of a group you are vehemently opposed to is going to create some pretty intense internal tension. It can undermine you constantly, and you may never feel that you can do enough to make up for things done in your name that you don’t agree with in the least. It can make you feel trapped in your own skin. Sometimes literally.
Oh, Winn, what are we going to do with you? If James is already in trouble, no matter how excited you may be to have found Livewire all on your own, a dangerous supervillain who rivals Supergirl herself is not the kind of enemy you face without proper backup. No matter how sure you think you are to defeat her.
Being good doesn’t come naturally to everyone, but in James Olson’s case it’s practically written into his DNA. James’ transformation into the Guardian has clearly been a long time coming, and he has more than proven himself on the crime-fighting circuit. “So what’s the problem with selflessness?” I can hear you shout. It’s that selflessness can also promote recklessness. You’re no help to anybody if you die, James, and in your fragile human body that’s way more likely to happen than in a super-powered one. (Maybe Kara has a little bit of a point after all.)
If upon killing Doctor Von Lightning Thief, Livewire had stood over his body and shouted, “Vengeance is mine!” I don’t think any of us would be surprised. Leslie’s never exactly been known for her even temper or forgiving nature. Her quest to destroy Supergirl for turning her into the most electrifying nemesis on television frequently clouds her thinking, but “We Can Be Heroes” features a particularly critical misstep. Always be wary of strangers who just show up to break you out of prison. They may promise you the world and steal your powers instead.
Ugh, guys, love is hard. Crushes are hard. “Liking” someone is hard. Nothing makes us feel more insecure or vulnerable that the simple act of wanting someone else to want us. It’s unsurprising that Mon-El, who seems to be slightly immature in all other aspects of his life, might not know how to balance caring about Kara and working with Supergirl. The desire to protect her is endearing, but it doesn’t make for great superhero teamwork. And while he gets all my admiration for stepping up and telling Kara about his feelings, believing that once those feelings are out in the open they’ll be less complicated might be the most naïve thing he’s done all season. Though maybe not as naïve as Kara thinking that knowing this won’t change their friendship at all.
Katherine Siegel is a Chicago-based writer and director, and a regular contributor to Paste. You can find out more by checking out her website or follow her on Twitter.