CBS‘s Supergirl Truth, Justice and The American Way TV Show Review. Supergirl: Season 1, Episode 14: Truth, Justice and The American Way‘s title is a reference to Superman’s well-known values. Those values force Kara/Supergirl (Melissa Benoist) to question what exactly justice means to her. Perhaps the main plot of this episode is the story involving Fort Rozz guard Master Jailer (Jeff Branson) tracking down and murdering former prisoners one by one, but the most important piece of this episode is the way each character struggles to define “justice.”
In the beginning of the episode, Maxwell Lord (Peter Facinelli), still imprisoned at the DEO, petitions Kara for an early release as a thank you for helping to save her life in the previous episode. Kara insists that, even though Maxwell did something to help, he is still a bad man and that the world is better off without him.
Admittedly, Maxwell is dangerous, but one of Kara’s greatest powers thus far has been her ability to see the good in others and to trust them even when it’s difficult to do. James (Mehcad Brooks) brings this point up with Kara after Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart) assigns him to find out what has happened to the missing scientific genius, having no idea that he knows all about Maxwell Lord’s whereabouts and who’s keeping him there. Kara seems to have been angry almost consistently since her aunt Astra’s (Laura Benanti) death, and this streak continues with James as they get into a heated argument about whether or not the DEO has the right to hold Maxwell Lord without a trial. Finally, James admits that he’s not just worried about the DEO; he’s worried about Kara’s ethics and what’s becoming of them.
After James and Lucy (Jenna Dewan Tatum) have a fight over James’ involvement with Supergirl and his unwillingness to out the DEO, Cat Grant swoops in with her uncanny knack for knowing who needs what kind of pep talk and when. In one of the very human moments that make Cat so much more than a smart, sassy, powerful boss, she reveals to James that she once had an opportunity to out a physically abusive husband. She bowed to pressure, keeping quiet, and the husband killed his wife three months after Cat could have reported him. Cat admits that she still struggles with her choice to this day.
Inspired by his discussion with Cat, James approaches Kara about Maxwell again, this time imploring her to set him free. He tells Kara that she will always be strong and willful, but that this comes down to “a battle of values.” He asks, “is this the kind of hero you want to be?…the Supergirl that I know believes in truth and justice.” For the first time, James is standing up to Kara to defend what he thinks is right.
At the same time, the DEO has learned of an alien serial killer who is in the process of murdering former Fort Rozz prisoners. When Kara goes to fight him, he captures her along with his next victim, Professor Alphonse Luzano (Todd Sherry) who was sentenced to Fort Rozz for illegal drug smuggling. While trapped with the professor, Kara has an opportunity to speak with her fellow captive. She learns that he broke the law in an attempt to save his wife, understood that he had to do his time, and has simply tried to be a good person since coming to earth.
Hearing this story, Kara begins to see that there may not be simple explanations for right and wrong, or for justice- especially when the guard appeals to her, asking her to come to his side so that they could give “absolute” justice to sinners. In this moment Kara realizes that good people can do bad things, bad people can do good things, and that she would rather take the risk to have faith in someone’s ability to be good than have the security that comes with locking them up for being bad.
With the DEO’s help, Kara saves the professor and returns him to his home. Then she lets Maxwell Lord walk free- not because she wants to, but because she believes that it’s the right thing to do.
This episode continues to do what the entire Supergirl series has done: adopting pieces of Superman lore that we know and love and making them more nuanced and more modern. When Superman first came to America, justice was simple: fighting the villains. But Supergirl invites us into a much more complicated world, a world in which the hero sometimes needs help sticking to her values, and in which people are never fully good or bad. Maybe it’s ironic for a show about an alien, but Supergirl is so very human, and that’s why we love it.
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