Supergirl Review by Henry Tran

Supergirl 3.04: The Faithful

Supergirl 3.04: The Faithful

Written By:
Paula Yoo and Katie Rose Rogers
Directed By:
Jesse Warn

Ask, and ye shall receive. It would seem appropriate to begin a review of this episode with a paraphrased verse from the Bible. I had bemusingly wondered if the show might tackle Kryptonian religion in a previous episode, and though this wasn't exactly what I had in mind, it's pretty damn close. Recall also that I said religion might be outside the show's wheelhouse due to the fact that Supergirl usually doesn't wade in subtlety when it comes to heavier topics like faith and such. So it's a definite surprise that an episode like "The Faithful" comes along. Somehow, depicting how humans view Supergirl, and how they tailor their actions accordingly, makes for a heck of an incisive examination on a basic (and hotly debated) aspect of the human condition.

 


 

From the very start, the show made it clear this was going to be a different kind of episode than fans were used to. The plane setting looked vaguely familiar to me, though things didn't click until the exterior shot of the plane's engines bursting into flame. It's a flashback to the plane rescue scene from the show's pilot episode. The sequence is still the high water mark in terms of action for the show and, amazingly, changing perspectives to focus on Thomas Coville (guest star Chad Lowe) as a passenger on the flight adds to the awe inspired by it.

 

Kara's life changed in that moment -- she did become a superhero after all -- and, apparently so did Coville's. His life had fallen apart and there was no real hope left, until he was saved by Kara on that plane. Now, most times, people are just glad to be saved from certain death, and they just move on with their lives. With Coville, his transformation into a devotee of Supergirl is used to try and convert everyone else who's also been saved by National City's resident superhero. The show doesn't jump right into this with its usual sledgehammer approach. Kara has to actually be a reporter and work the story, although Lena and James don't assign her to write anything about Coville. She, Winn, and James attend a gathering of the "Children of Rao," a small following/religion/cult created by Coville that worships the Kryptonian god Rao.

 


 

Now, I'm Catholic, and I found this particular plot interesting for how much of an analog it is to how Catholicism views the relationship between God and Jesus Christ. Coville and his followers don't question the fact that Rao is an all-knowing God, nor do they question his teachings, and that means, at least in their collective view, Supergirl is their personal Jesus Christ: The Messiah sent from the heavens to do God (Rao)'s work. The difference is that the Children of Rao base this notion of work on the various instances in which Supergirl has saved them from danger or certain death. And, well, Coville seems to regard Supergirl as equivalent to Rao, making her a god among humans. Christian religions have debated for millenia on the divinity of Jesus Christ, whether he was a divine being, or a human man imbued with seemingly supernatural powers. Catholicism doesn't question the divinity of Jesus Christ, a fact that isn't true across other branches of Christianity. Superman stories have also compared him to a god or a Messiah.

 

Here, the comparison fits all too well. Being a reporter for CatCo is the disguise Kara uses to blend in among humans. Same with Clark Kent. It is a denial as to what her true nature is: A Kryptonian who is given superhuman powers due to the presence of the Sun. It is not a mistake that Rao is a sun god. The episode does well in showing the shock that Kara has over the fact that there are people who worship her for saving their lives. In particular, Melissa Benoist conveys that shock in saying that she remembers all of the people Supergirl has saved. But then the cult/religion starts to worry Kara because she believes that Coville is perverting the teachings of Rao.

 


 

This brings up all sorts of questions about what makes a religion versus a cult. Is it based on the judgments of those outside the said faith, or based on those who subscribe to the faith itself?  What happens when the personification of that faith, a symbol of that divinity, is actually present currently in their lives? The followers in the Children of Rao press those concerns to the extreme, as a man intentionally burns down a building with himself inside, confident that Supergirl can save him and protect him from any harm. Indeed, this is exactly what happens, and the Children of Rao get another believer, but there's a darkness behind the action that isn't addressed by either him, or the other followers. Kara confronts that in amazingly personal and heavy conversations with both Coville and James. Coville's is a much more heated debate, aided by the fact that he sees right through Kara's disguise and recognizes that she and Supergirl are the same person. This is dangerous to Kara, and for a moment, I wondered if Coville would truly keep her secret.

 

Coville is essentially the villain of the episode, but he's not a villain in the traditional sense, one that Supergirl can physically overpower. Like Psi from "Triggers," Coville tests Supergirl in other ways besides the physical. His cult tests her spiritually, presenting her with a moral dilemma, making her question the inherent goodness of her heroism. This is brilliant plotting by the writers. Kara doesn't know how to fight someone's faith, someone's beliefs. It isn't much of a threat to her, nor is it necessarily wrong. So she doesn't have much of a gameplan to combat this. She doesn't want to be encouraging the dangerous actions of the Children of Rao, but they put her in situations where she has to save innocent lives. That buys her worshippers that she doesn't really want. However, we've seen the alternative (when she was under the influence of red Kryptonite in "Falling"), and that Supergirl would have demanded fealty and worship, or she would wantonly kill people. That isn't unfamiliar territory, as Superman in the 1940's comics was originally depicted as a killer. It's in Kara's intimate conversation with James, as he relays how Superman first saved him from peril, that reassures her and restores her faith.

 


 

But the episode fails to fully follow through on its philosophical underpinnings. Coville sets up a bigger test of Supergirl's heroism by rigging a Betahedron probe to explode at a hockey game. If she does somehow save everyone in the building, Coville will have gained thousands of followers to his cult. However, there's a flaw in the plan, and the episode doesn't really address it: How could Coville have expected Supergirl to save thousands of people confined to one area? A crashing plane is one thing. A mass of trapped people is something else. This is more of a terrorist attack.

 

I think Supergirl and the DEO recognize that differential, but the show only has so much in the budget, and so the solution to the problem boils down to Supergirl proving to both Coville and his followers that she's not all powerful, that she can bleed (although we know that's because of the radioactive Kryptonite), and she haphazardly improvises a way to get rid of the Betahedron before it detonates. She's definitely more powerful than your average human, yet there are certain limits to her power. And yet, Coville's faith in Supergirl is not shaken. He may be in prison, but his love and devotion for Supergirl, however twisted and stubborn it may be, remains unwavering. Somehow, I couldn't really hate him. That kind of devotion, when applied correctly, is rather admirable. I think Kara thinks that as well.


Our Grade:
A-
The Good:
  • This episode delves into areas that many shows would deliberately avoid
  • Planting the seeds of Alex and Maggie’s eventual split is painful in all the ways it should be
The Bad:
  • It would be unfortunate if Kryptonian religion was never discussed again after this

Henry Tran is a regular contributor of review for Critical Myth; The Critical Myth Show is heard here on VOG Network's radio feed Monday, Wednesday & Friday. You can follow him on twitter at @HenYay

Supergirl by - 11/2/2017 8:39 AM101 views

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