You cannot get angry at work. Especially if you’re a girl. Perry White once threw a chair out of the window because someone missed a deadline, and no, he did not open the window first. If I had thrown a chair, hell, if I’d thrown so much as a napkin, it would have been career and social suicide.
There – right there – is the double-standard of the patriarchy, laid out on screen. It’s a double-standard that’s explored in some depth in Supergirl Episode 6, Red Faced.
Supergirl, as a show, is really starting to hit its stride and pick targets that need picking on and investigating. In Episode 5, it dealt with the quest to ‘have it all’ and the things that stand in the way of women achieving all they want in our modern world. This time round, it’s anger.
When Kara stops two men from ploughing through a line of school children, and one of the drivers has the nerve to take out his rage on her, she responds without thinking, treating him like any other alien supervillain, and probably breaking his wrist in a number of new and innovative ways. Her moment of rage is broadcast, and Hank Henshaw’s warning that many people fear the Kryptonian cousins not because of the powers they have, but because of what might happen if they ever lost their temper hits home hard.
The episode cleverly builds up the stress in Kara’s life to give her several snapping points, which is actually a great relief to see in the Girl of Steel – she and her cousin are always in danger, by virtue of the simplicity of their ‘goodness,’ of seeming better than any realistic human ideal, the aliens without all the pettiness that dogs a human life, so seeing Kara, and indeed seeing Supergirl lose it once in a while helps ground them more in the reality of a complex life. With Cat’s mother in town, the boss is even more spiky than usual, prompting an angry Kara to snap at her for the sake of her own self-esteem, and leading to the heart-to-heart from which the quote above is lifted. Cat continues to be the oracle of modern successful womanhood, having come up the hard way. There’s never, in Cat’s advice, any suggestion that the system should be challenged or dismantled, no firebrand feminism to say “This is bull and you should go out there and kick down the walls of distinction.” No, Cat’s advice is always on how to navigate the world that is, the world that Kara actually faces, and there’s probably an archly realistic motivation there – if asked, Cat would probably say “Well, what do you want to do? Cry about it, or get what you want?”
Faced with Cat’s mother, plus the increasingly reconnected James and Lucy and their almost sickeningly in-sync life, when Lucy’s father, a general who hates all aliens (a xenophobe in the most literal sense), turns up in National City with a semi-mad professor and a gorgeously 50s B-movie killer robot called Red Tornado, and requisitions Supergirl like she was a stapler to fight the robot and test its capabilities, Kara can honestly admit to her sister that she’s spoiling for a good fight.
So much so that – again, unable to restrain her growing anger – she rips the android’s hand off and makes it go a little doolally, and then fly off to wreak havoc in the city as the villain of the week.
Cat’s advice helps her gain a little perspective, and a great training session with James (Kara punches cars suspended from the ceiling in the same way Rocky Balboa used to punch animal carcasses in a cold store) gives her even more. Her fury is really coming from her impotence – she’ll never get to have a ‘normal life’ because her normal life was stolen from her when her parents decided to save her from Krypton’s destruction and send her off to live among aliens. This, she realises, is the ‘anger behind her anger,’ and knowing the source allows her to process it more effectively.
There’s something rather cod about the psychology at play here, rather wrapped up in a nice neat bow so it needn’t be dealt with again, and after another encounter with Red Tornado in which she symbolically and literally finds the eye at the centre of the storm, the calm place amid all the raging energy, Kara and Alex together are able to take the Tornado down – Alex by finding and yes, technically killing mad scientist Dr Morrow (Seriously, not only is he Dr Morrow, he’s Doctor T. O. Morrow), the android’s Frankenstein, and Kara by pouring all her rage, all her energy out against the android itself, the two halves of the entity destroyed by the two sisters working as one. Kara rather cutely announces that she’s found the way to make her anger work for her, not against her. So that’s that, girls and women, ‘make it work for you’ is apparently the solution to the inequality in our society that stems from the fact that the men in charge of it think anger in women is dangerous, unattractive and ‘unfeminine.’ Again, the single-mindedness of Cat’s advice, leading to the simplicity of Kara’s solution, feels like only part of the real answer and never challenges the existing state of affairs, but it is if nothing else, innately practical and unsentimental, which is ultimately of more use to Kara in the moment of her need.
As a delicious aside, when General Lane storms in to demand that Supergirl fight his android, he mentions that his orders have been approved by the President, and that Henshaw can ‘take it up with her’ is he has a problem with them. Prophesying the result of the 2016 election, maybe? If so, there’s an extra strand in the anger theme: when President Clinton was revealed to have had at least – ahem – a nodding acquaintance with Monica Lewinski, many people exploded his wife Hilary to explode with rage, perhaps even leaving him. But nothing happened – at least not in public. Perhaps then-Mrs, later Governor and Secretary Clinton went to the same school as Cat Grant. The school of don’t get mad, get even?
There’s a slightly separate thread in this too, inasmuch as the quest to find out what actually happened to Jeremiah Daniels, Alex’s dad and Kara’s foster father, turns up results – Hank and Jeremiah went to find and neutralise an alien in the jungle. Only Hank walked out. Suspicious much? Certainly, when he’s shown doing his ol’ Red-Eyes trick under the voice-over that reveals this information. In a way though, there’s a parallel even in this strand – Alex too will have to subsume her anger at what begins to look like potentially murderous deception on Hank’s part, rather than calling him out on it or dealing with it face to face. For her too it would be career, if noticeably less career suicide to blow up at work. She too will have to make her rage and her knowledge work for her going forward. Presumably, she’ll have a harder time doing that than her Kryptonian sister has here.
Though perhaps not, as the episode ends with a new, exciting development, which might level the playing field going into Episode 7.
Supergirl as a series is certainly taking on some of the most important issues facing girls and young women in the 21st century – expectations, family pressure, double standards, and the expectation that they’ll conform to emotional norms devised largely by and for the comfort of men. That its solutions to these issues are always ruthlessly practical, rather than at any point necessarily confrontational perhaps shows the limits within which it’s currently content to operate – storytelling, rather than heavy-handed didactics or Bastille-storming, remains its watchword as a show intended to entertain, and to entertain geeks. But perhaps as Cat, Kara and Alex do in this episode, Supergirl itself is making its rage at the patriarchal idiocy of modern society work for it, allowing it to still be an entertaining, geek-centric show, accessible to all viewers, while not only showing that problems exist, but giving a practical way for girls and young women encountering those idiocies to move through the world, affected by them as little as humanly – or indeed Kryptonially – possible.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk