It stokes fear, animates political movements, and, in National City, forges a powerful new enemy. This week, Supergirl shows us how fear, frustration, and desperation can twist an intelligent, kind-hearted optimist into a powerful voice of hate.
And in so doing, “Man of Steel” joins a list of standout TV episodes: Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s “The Zeppo,” Doctor Who’s “Turn Left,” CSI’s “Lab Rats,” Supernatural’s “Weekend at Bobby’s,” The X-Files’ “Three of a Kind.” All of these hours of television sideline the main characters in favor of showcasing the experiences of someone normally on the periphery.
Two years ago, Ben Lockwood was an NCU professor watching the world slowly change. There’s Supergirl on TV, delivering her “have hope” speech from the season 1 finale, while his father, Peter, frets that the steel plant he owns just lost the Luthor contract to the newly opened Nth metal factory across the street.
Ben remains optimistic about Lockwood Steel’s prospects, even putting himself between rioting Lockwood workers and the alien Nth factory employees they threaten. But then the Bravik he’s protecting is injured and accidentally shoots one of his arm spikes into Ben’s chest.
“I didn’t mean to!” the alien cries as Supergirl and Alex race in to stop the fight. Alex patches Ben up and says his workers were lucky that Supergirl went easy on them. But Alex’s flip words stay with him, causing Ben to wonder why Supergirl and the FBI are working together against humans in favor of aliens, regardless of their citizenship status.
Next, we see Ben, arm in a sling, begging Lena to reconsider canceling the contract with Lockwood Steel. But Lena says the newly rebranded L-Corp will now use the steel of the future and suggests Lockwood also take steps to modernize.
Jump to 14 months ago, when Ben’s lecturing to a hall of human and alien students — Ooooh, buddy, I bet fully half of that class is in love with handsome Professor Lockwood — he notices that the whiteboard is made of Nth metal. This prompts him to quote Ben Franklin and encourage students to ask themselves who pays the price for progress when they consider something like Marsdin’s alien amnesty act.
At the Lockwood home, Jack Spheer’s on TV, presumably discussing nanotechnology, when Ben learns that Peter couldn’t secure a bank loan and has shut down Lockwood Steel. Ben’s son chimes in to call aliens “roaches” but is interrupted when Queen Rhea appears on the screen. Soon enough, Daxamite ships are screaming overhead, and Ben and his wife are counting their food and water rations and making plans to flee the city.
Peter urges his son to be a man and fight, but in the end, they pack off to leave their house mere moments before J’onn comes crashing through their ceiling, mid-battle. The Lockwoods look on in horror as J’onn subdues his quarry, assures them, “You’re safe now,” and flies away as flames consume their house, complete with an American flag and a burning bike in the foreground.
Ben next turns to James Olsen, who’s watching a Cat Grant White House briefing, to beg CatCo to cover the struggles that everyday citizens face during the extraterrestrial attacks. For example, homeowner insurance doesn’t cover alien invasion damage. Come to think of it, that clause is probably included in the small print on each of our homeowners’ policies.
James says the insurance story ran in the business section, but before Ben can dive into the finer points of the agenda-setting function of the press, James takes a call from CatCo’s new owner, Lena Luthor. This does not please Ben. (Next page: The birth of a toxic movement)