Supergirl’s writers fooled me pretty well with the title of this episode. Given the world she’s part of, you have certain expectations when you see “Man of Steel.” They were perfectly reasonable expectations on my part, and they did a great job of letting me make some very mistaken assumptions.
After the old voiceover with a few new scenes in front of it, we see the DEO scrambling to answer loud, blaring alarms. The sensors are warning them about a huge Kryptonite contamination. Alex underestimates how bad it is at first, until Brainiac tells her it’s everywhere. Not National City, but the whole planet has been dosed with the deadly green stuff.
They try and warn Supergirl, but, as we saw at the end of last episode, she’s not in the best position to answer. Alex reaches out for some help, and they use what they can of the DEO’s equipment to vector J’Onn in for a last minute rescue, although they seem to have some strange difficulties communicating with him. Eventually, he finds her and gets her back to the DEO. The Girl of Steel isn’t looking good at all. Between them, Alex, J’Onn, and Brainiac 5 manage to figure out what’s going on and the depths of Agent Jensen’s betrayal. As Supergirl’s condition worsens, Alex wonders who could do this.
That’s what we find out for most of the rest of the episode. This isn’t a story about Superman at all, but an origin of how Professor Benjamin Lockwood becomes Agent Liberty, the figure we’ve seen working with Mercy and Otis, and whipping up the masses at hate rallies.
Two years ago, Benjamin is a college professor living with his wife, son, and father. The father is notably played by Xander Berkeley, who was the incredibly annoying weasel, Gregory, on The Walking Dead, until his long overdue reckoning recently. Now, he’s Peter Lockwood, a blue collar, steel-working, anti-alien bigot. Benjamin starts off as what most would recognize as a good man, who keeps trying to correct his father’s rantings. We get the beginnings of hints of the Lockwood family’s fate slipping when Peter tells Benjamin that their factory has lost the steel contract for LuthorCorp, that’s been keeping the place going for years, from what I can gather. A new factory has been built that is working the alien Nth Metal, which is some new alien metal, outperforming steel. In the comics, Nth Metal is the anti-gravity element that lets Hawkman and Hawkgirl/woman fly. The workers at the factory decide the best way to handle things is to start a riot and storm the truck making a delivery to the Nth Metal facility next door. Great urban planning there.
Ben tries to calm things down, but the driver of the truck turns out to be an alien, and the stress of the situation sets off the alien’s natural defenses, injuring Ben. As the riot gets worse, Supergirl shows up, followed by the DEO, still posing at FBI Agents, led by J’Onn as Hank. Ben is confused by the way events turn out, and, after our heroes leave, wonders why the FBI is working with Supergirl. It’s a fair question, especially with Supergirl being so new at that point.
The injured Ben goes to see Lena, and appeals for her to not leave his company behind. She explains it’s just business, but seems to have faith in Peter’s business abilities. From what we see of Peter in this episode, I have no idea what she bases that on. At the 14 month ago mark, Ben lectures his class, gets distracted by a reminder of how pervasive Nth Metal is becoming, and goes on a tangent about the price of progress. When he gets home, he gets bad news about the factory from his day-drinking father. Ben tries to help, and his father once again goes off on a drunken, hate-filled rant.
This brings us up to the Daxamite invasion, and the first of the guest stars-by-video clip, as Rhea delivers her ultimatum to the people of Earth. Things get much worse as the invasion goes on, and the family is about to flee when the reality comes crashing down on them, in the form of J’Onn battling a Daxamite guard. J’Onn wins, tells them they are safe, and flies off, uncharacteristically unconcerned as the family home burns down.
12 months ago, Cat Grant is on tv in a press conference when Eve brings in Ben to see James. James makes the unlikely claim, given his position, that he always has time for a subscriber. Ben asks why CatCo doesn’t cover the losses that humans suffer because of the ongoing alien presences on Earth. James is politely distant before brushing Ben off after getting a call from Lena. Ben might be forgiven for seeing conspiracies everywhere when he learns Lena bought CatCo. James tells Lena, in easy hearing distance of Ben, that he’s not busy. Again, someone acting out of character to make Ben’s plight more sympathetic. That’s a recurring theme this episode.
Ben gives a lecture that sounds like hate speech, and takes out some of his frustrations on an alien girl in class. Quite a few students find him repulsive and walk out. Dean Warren, his boss, lets us know that Ben’s been warned before, and decided to not listen. He ends up getting fired, which is when he suddenly seems to figure out his job, that he was risking with his hate speech, is important to his family. Ben follows the alien from his class to the Alien Bar of No Name ™ where he has a run-in with her and the girl is defended by Kara, who tries to distract Ben by babbling about karaoke. Ben is escorted out.
4 months ago, Ben is acting like a street crazy, trying to push anti-alien fliers on passers-by. Otis takes one and offers a few encouraging words. Another crisis erupts that Supergirl and her newly empowered mom Alura respond to. Ben runs, learns his father is missing, and arrives in time to witness his father’s carefully selected suicide after Peter lays some words of questionable wisdom on Ben. At the funeral, Ben quotes Churchill, and decides to prove how smart he is by turning down help from Lena. Because when you’re desperate, it’s a great idea to spurn and annoy a billionaire, right? After the funeral, Ben leads some of his father’s former workers in a sabotage run and murder at the Nth Metal factory.
2 month ago, Ben preaches at a rally, using James being revealed as Guardian as a rallying cry to show that some humans look out for humans, not at all what James was trying to do in masked identity. Ben sees his former boss, the Dean, who has also fallen on hard times from events during the series. He invites her to a “support group,” which I suspect has more in common with the KKK than Alcoholics Anonymous. He then meets up with Mercy, who offers advice and presents. She hints that she’s part of some larger group, tells him about their future plans for the President, and sics him on Fiona, J’Onnz’s former leader in an actual support group.
This brings us up to now, with Supergirl doing poorly in the DEO’s medbay. Brainiac says there’s nothing they can do, Alex agrees, and calls someone else. Lena arrives, and has something that will help Supergirl, but at a cost. I suspect this is going to be another season of not much Kara Danvers. At the not-quite abandoned Lockwood factory, the Graves, Ben, and traitor Jensen cook up more trouble for the DEO.
What I liked: I always appreciate a story that shows a different perspective. This stiches together elements from several episodes to give us a different spin on things. It was nice to see that J’Onn is still willing to help, and use his powers to do so. I’m glad Lena is willing to overlook her issues with Supergirl when things are bad. Xander Berkeley is fantastic at playing a jerk.
What I didn’t: I get wanting your villain to seem three-dimensional. If it had been an isolated story, it would have worked a lot better. But they bent the characterizations of a few people, especially James and J’Onn, to make Ben more sympathetic. In the current state of affairs in our real world, do we need to make bigots sympathetic or humanized? And while sure, it might happen off-screen, is someone warning Superman he can’t come back from Argo City?
I really didn’t like this one. I’m going to give it a low 2.5 out of 5. I guess next week we’ll see how Iron Supergirl works.