Some people have a reason to be angry, and some of those people really, really do not know how to handle that anger.
In its 10th episode (they grow up so fast!), “Supergirl” revisits a theme that’s popped up quite a few times in the series to date: the ties that bind children to their parents — good and bad, simple and complex, welcome and unwelcome — and the way such ties can weigh them down. They’re not easy to escape, particularly when they’re buried down deep. If left to fester, they can really sneak up on a person, knocking down the careful walls built to protect one from the past.
And with that, take it away, Winn Schott, Jr!
Not everyone who watches “Supergirl” is a fan of the comics, but for those who are, it’s been obvious that something beyond his unrequited crush on Kara was going on with Winn. He bears the name of a classic DC Comics supervillain, Winslow Schott — a.k.a Toyman. Now it could have gone another way, and Greg Berlanti and company could have been (and who knows, could still be) setting us up for a dark turn when it comes to Winn’s character. Given his petulant, possessive streak when it comes to Kara, that wouldn’t have been entirely surprising, though it would take a lot more darkness to get that far. We got some of that darkness this week, but it comes courtesy of Winn’s dad, Toyman himself, who escapes from prison thanks to a deadly yo-yo (who let him have tools? That’s some really terrible incarceration management) and promptly starts essentially stalking his son.
Winn’s plot takes the lead in this episode, since it’s basically Kara’s plot as well, but the emotional journey is largely his, with Kara sitting beside him (and sometimes in front of him while being bulletproof). It’s a welcome development in a few respects — it makes Winn more than the just-a-friend point on the Kara-JimmyJames-Winn-Lucy quadrangle; it gives a reason for the hints of darkness we’ve seen that go beyond “friend-zoned” — but above all else, it provides Jeremy Jordan with a hell of a showcase. Jordan, a Tony Award-nominated musical theatre star who was one of the only good things in the really bad NBC series “Smash,” hasn’t gotten a chance to really dig into anything on “Supergirl” to this point. With “Childish Things,” he gets to tackle a bunch of big things at once, and more than rises to the challenge.
He’s helped by both an antagonist and an actor who have absolutely no problem being really, really creepy. Henry Czerny (“Mission: Impossible,” “Revenge”) guests as Winn’s bad dad, and plays without so much as a hint of sentimentality. Over and over, both in their first meeting (when Winn’s wearing a wire, and Dad’s actually just made of glass or something), their second, and in the weird talking dolls he keeps creating to send messages, Toyman protests that he’s broken out of prison to make things right with Winn. Spoiler alert: “making things right” equals “getting my son killed or jailed” in Toyman’s book. Czerny doesn’t even seem to attempt to make the lies convincing, as contrasted by the things he really does believe — namely, that his former boss (and the person he intended to kill before landing in the slammer) is at fault for his present circumstances, and that Winn should want him dead, too.
So, it’s a tough road for Winn. It’s also a tough road to summarize — on paper, the plot amounts essentially to “Winn’s crazy dad gets out of prison, so the FBI shows up to hunt him down, then Winn gets kidnapped and forced to attempt to murder someone lest his dad blow up a convention center full of kids.” No twists, no turns, no big action sequences really (other than the aforementioned Kara-taking-the-bullets scene). Instead, Jordan shows Winn’s slow spiral out of control, his embarrassment and anger turning to fear and self-loathing, that loathing leading to isolation and loneliness, all of which essentially leads to the realization that he’s really, really bad at dealing with his emotions and that he should probably figure that out. It’s a creepy hour of TV, thanks to Czerny’s unsettlingly flat performance, but it’s also a simple one. Winn has a terrible, terrible day, and we go with him.
So, of course, does Kara, until she can’t anymore.
Just as not all “Supergirl” viewers are comic-lovers, not all “Supergirl” fans care about the love stuff. As far as this writer is concerned, that all plays best when it takes a backseat, coming out in hints here and there, rather than occupying the main action. “Childish Things,” however, might be the exception that proves the rule. Kara goes out of her way to be a good friend to Winn, but when she tries to comfort him as he confesses that he’s afraid he’s like his dad (“He’s rotten inside,” he says, pointing to his own guts), her well-meaning attempt to connect and open up to him proves to be the last straw, and he kisses her. This, as far as Kara’s concerned, is not a welcome development. It’s not swoon-worthy or sentimental. It’s not in the least manipulative. It’s just a sad, honest moment between two people who have quite enough sadness to contend with as it is. And then it’s done, and he apologizes, upset, and leaves.
Then he promptly gets chloroformed and forced into being an assassin by his dad. See? Winn is having a very bad day. But one good thing comes of it: he gets to decide, and to prove, that he really is nothing like his father.
“Supergirl” isn’t the most subtle thing on TV, or the most thoughtful. It isn’t even the most nuanced superhero show out there (what’s up, “Jessica Jones”?). But they’ve always had a knack for letting Kara Alex (and Melissa Benoist and Chyler Leigh) feel honest and genuine, and it’s nice to see that energy translate elsewhere in the cast. Love him or hate him, this hour was about Winn, and it wasn’t about the events. It was about the character, and that’s as it should be. He’s sad, and angry, and confused, and he loves someone who doesn’t love him back. It sucks. It’s simple, and yet endlessly complicated. Toyman and Supergirl aside, it’s not so hard to understand.
Of course, his wasn’t the only storyline. Alex and H’annk H’enshaww (cheers to forum-poster Psimitar for that one!) plan an infiltration of Lord’s offices that requires Alex to go on a date (ew) and H’annk to use his Martian Man-powers. H’annk begins the episode in mid-air, soaring alongside Kara (so he can help improve her flying technique, he says) and getting pressure from both the sisters Danvers to “come out” and embrace who he is, an idea that he attempt to make clear is absolutely not an option. He describes half a century of being hunted on earth, sometimes by people who had once loved him, and Alex responds that times have changed — “Look at Supergirl, the world loves her “. It’s a moment that leads to one of the most simple, affecting statements “Supergirl” has made to date:
“Your sister looks like a pretty blond cheerleader,” says J’onn. “J’onn J’onnz looks like a monster.”
It’ll be interesting to see how H’annk’s storyline progresses, but two beautiful, young white women telling an African American man (who is secretly a Martian) that life out in the open will be easier for him, protesting that the world is more progressive than he thinks — it’s compelling, complicated television. “Supergirl” isn’t about race, or politics, but the show’s managed to work in some thoughtful moments here and there. Sometimes it’s gender, sometimes it’s about (literal) illegal aliens, and sometimes — just for a moment — it’s about white privilege.
In the least interesting sub-plot, Lucy gets a job at CatCo. JimmyJames isn’t happy about it. At first it seems like it’s about Kara. It’s actually about not being a photographer anymore. Then they make out. That’s the whole thing.
Last, being “Supergirl,” they end on a cliffhanger. As it happens, Kara flying into her sister’s apartment and plopping her cape down on the couch might not be the best idea. You see, Maxwell Lord’s got a thing for cameras — kind of like the invisible cameras in his headquarters, which catch H’annk in the act of walking through walls in his Lord drag — and he’s added a teeny, tiny one to Alex’s purse, and in five minutes on the couch, the Sisters Danvers manage to out themselves and H’annk all in one go. This isn’t going to be pretty — but at least it’s going to be good television.