So, General Lane is a jackass. And I don’t say that in the way Maxwell Lord or even Dr. T.O. Morrow manage to be characters whose evil schemes and mildly dubious motivations make them enjoyable, if not particularly complicated villains. I’ll just point out here that the “Ha, ha, his name spells tomorrow and he’s a futurist” pun needs to be retired officially. Any cleverness that joke once had ended when they started incorporating it into rides at Disney World. But that’s just a small gripe about tonight’s episode, and there were much bigger missteps for our favorite lady in red this evening.
Which brings me back to General Lane. It’s a superhero standard to have the blustering self-aggrandizing military leader standing in opposition to our outsider hero. The relationship essentially defines The Incredible Hulk. But there’s a fine line between using an old troupe and falling so hard back into it that you actually injure your show. I’m not even sure how to characterize the General Lane we saw tonight. He’s abusive and adversarial seemingly without reserve or motivation, beyond the need for a plot device. Even his disliking James, which we’re supposed to believe is motivated by some protective instinct for Lucy, lacks any kind of grounding in reality. We’re told before we meet him that the general doesn’t like our favorite photographer, and surprise, surprise when he shows up, he doesn’t. Speaking as someone who has had more than one awkward dad/boyfriend dinner, I understand using the “you’re not right for my daughter” excuse for paternal dislike. It feels like a universally understandable motivation for paternal antagonism. But therein lies the problem. Because it’s so universal, most of us have real life experience with this situation, and the one thing that predominates real life is the fact that very rarely does dislike form in a vacuum. If General Lane’s excuse for not liking James is James, then we need to see why that is. It’s a lot more interesting to watch these two men disagree, and maybe risk tarnishing James’ gold star reputation, rather than just labeling General Lane a self-righteous blowhard and calling it a day.
In the end that’s the biggest plot problem with tonight’s entire episode. It’s lazy. They say Lane is an obnoxious bully and he never goes further than that. They introduce Morrow as a tech obsessed scientist and that’s what he is. They say that the plot is about anger (literally by naming it Red Faced), and we never go deeper than that. Sure there’s a lot of hemming and hawing about finding a way to discover the anger behind the anger and use it, but beyond one, admittedly cool looking, punching bag session, not a lot is done with this. Seriously, it’s basically, “Kara you need to learn how to use your anger” “Okay, I will” and then immediately using it to defeat Red Tornado. The problem with this being that Kara is already good at using her anger in a fight. The thing she really needs to work on is not letting anger become her default emotion.
Which bring us to the dubious feminist crux of tonight’s episode. It’s still very much to this show’s credit that they’re encouraging a dialogue about feminism and what it means to be a young woman in today’s world. The idea that there isn’t a “right” or “wrong” answer to these ideas runs strong and, in general, is one I support. But I have to say the assertion that women aren’t allowed to be angry at work is one of those pieces of advice frequently given to young professionals (in the same family as “don’t cry at work”) that force women to behave in a masculine worldview approved double standard. While Cat does point out this double standard (Perry threw a chair through a window), and James’ observation that both women and black men exist in a similar “don’t get angry in public” paradigm is incisive and as wonderfully inclusive a point as I’ve come to expect from this show, perhaps the message we should be sending is that no one, regardless of gender, should be allowed to inflict abuse on a coworker simply because they are angry. Anger is natural, and to a degree we can’t help how we feel, but if we continue to perpetuate the idea that certain people need to behave in a more rational and civilized way than others, simply because of their gender or race, we continue to reinforce a system where one group has special privileges—even if those special privileges still result in replacing the office furniture you destroy, Perry.
Tonight’s final blow comes from Lucy Lane herself. I’ll admit, I’m not a big fan of this character. She’s underwritten, and in a show that does try very hard to avoid traditional “girl” problems, she represents the old school perception that women should consider themselves in competition with each other over men. It’s a weak characterization of how women relate to each other. It’s one I thought couldn’t have been made weaker, but… when Lucy chooses to walk away from her military career and her father at the end of tonight’s episode, the show does itself a double injury. First, in the feminist sense, there are a lot of better reasons for Lucy to want distance from her father than being with James. Perhaps the show tries to imply this, but since we never get a moment where Lucy confronts her father’s bigotry (in fact her judgment of Supergirl during game night seems to imply she agrees at least a little bit), all we are left with is that this well-educated, ambitious woman just gave up her career for the chance to stay with an on-again, off-again boyfriend. Maybe General Lane has a reason to be concerned after all. Second, and most egregious, it’s lazy writing. Dismissing for a moment the fact that leaving the military is much more complicated than simply putting in a two weeks notice, Lucy quitting her job is a lazy way to put her at the mercy of writers’s whims. It takes what little character she has and essentially removes it. An underwritten character indeed.
Katherine Siegel is a Chicago-based freelance writer and director and a regular contributor to Paste. You can find out more by checking out her website, or follow her on Twitter.