How Supergirl’s Valentines Day Episode Challenges Stereotypes

Like the episode itself, my review for the Valentines Day Supergirl story is a bit late. Between the episode’s air date and now, I’ve been reading both positive and negative reviews of the TV show and noticed most people missed a major point I think the show is trying to make. I’ll admit I myself find each episode to be a roller coaster of awesome and disappointing scenes. The latest episode in particular was a belayed Valentines Day story which, granted, might have worked better on Valentine’s Day but succeeded in telling the demanded cheesy tale for the holiday.
But is that all it did?
In the episode before, we see how Kara overcomes her own reservations in order to take a chance on Mon El, the ultimate dudebro. He’s over protective, patronizing, and has quite the playboy past. In other words, he’s the cookie-cutter romantic hero. And yes, I too was cheering at the chemistry. We’ve seen and fallen in love with this character type time and time again in romantic comedies as the perfect female character forgives and somehow magically changes the play boy into the perfect man. Here’s a cover you might have seen before in various ways.


The writers of this Supergirl episode played with this overused and frankly annoying romantic hero stereotype in delightfully satisfying ways. The antagonist in this romantic, Superhero episode is literally a patronizing love interest, both in the external beat-em-up plot and the internal will-they-won’t-they plot. In the external plot, we have Mr. Mxyzptlk, a fifth dimensional imp who decides he’s in love with Kara and he’d willingly hold her entire world hostage until she agrees to love him back. Now, we can all agree this character type to be the villain. Heck, he even claimed that Kara’s refusal was just her playing hard to get. Remind you of anyone?

But as annoying as this character type is, does he deserve to die violently? Mon El says yes. Kara? Not so much. And here stems the internal conflict as Mon El refuses to respect Kara’s abilities and wishes. Mon El rocks the stereotypical playboy-but-cute-enough-to-forgive romantic hero with his easy smile and tendency to jump in the line of fire for Kara’s sake.

The writers succeed at highlighting the annoying qualities of this so-called romantic hero as the strong, independent Kara Zor-El has to fight not just the villain but her own crush. So enjoy this list of every chance this show took in making fun of Mon El’s wonderfully stereotypical character and the overused hero-rescues-damsel storyline.
1. The first person to throw a punch is not the villain Mr. Mxyzptlk but Mon El himself after Mr. Mxyzptlk makes a move on Kara. Kara tries in vain to get him to calm down to talk it through and, when he refuses, Mr. Mxyzptlk just zaps Mon El to another location. It’s a good thing for Kara that she’s not a damsel in distress because Mon El’s impulse protectiveness left her completely alone with no back up.

2. When brainstorming the next move, Mon El insists violence is the only answer. Kara argues that there has to be another answer. After all, Mr. Mxyzptlk although dangerous, had not yet hurt anyone. His crime was love. A creepy, over possessive love but not enough to convince Kara to to hulk out (sorry, wrong company.) After learning Kara’s wish for a non violent solution, Mon El actively withholds valuable information because, hey if he couldn’t get it to work she couldn’t either right?

3. When Kara needs back up in a fight, Mon El is there no questions asked and she accepts. Yay! Teamwork! But when Kara finds out Mon El withheld information which might have prevented violence in the first place, she demands he leaves before he makes things worse. Turns out, he could make things worse even from a distance.

4. Not having faith in Kara’s abilities, Mon El tries to “save her” behind her back by taking on Mr. Mxyzptlk himself. By agreeing to a “gentleman’s duel” for Kara’s hand. Yes, you read that right. Just to zero in on the old fashioned ideals which rule these character types, Mon El and Mr. Mxyzptlk are dressed up in 1700s gentlemen clothing. Because if you’re going to be a patronizing hero, might as well look the part right?
Now, let’s just take a moment and point out the sheer stupidity of this move, feminist red flags aside. Mon El  agrees to a shoot out and he’s got a deadly allergy to lead so even if the bullet grazed his arm, he’d die. Meanwhile the imp is impossible to kill without full on crushing him so… no way does this end well, right? In fact, there’s only one way Mon El could possibly survive the situation and that brings us to number 5.

5. Kara rushes in just in time to save Mon El’s life, forcing her hand before she was ready but never fear. Kara chooses to play the self sacrificing female cliche in order to outsmart both the villain and Mon El. After agreeing to take Mr. Mxyzptlk’s hand to buy more time, she bluffs a vow to kill herself if he won’t leave. This bluff forces him to write the code which would ban him from her planet. The twist at the end is that Kara maintained control of the situation the whole time, never once falling into that stereotype but using the old fashioned ideals to her advantage. It wonderfully makes fun of the self sacrificing female cliche as Kara maintains control instead of actually pulling the “surrender and survival by the mercy of the man” scene. I’d like to point out that although Kara played along with the situation at hand in order to protect the Earth, she by no means surrendered any of her values. After all…

6. The episode ends when Mon El admits he was as patronizing and, frankly, as much of a douche as she accused him of being and that he should have trusted her from the beginning. To him, she just did what possibly the entire population of Daxam put together could not because she overcame an imp without violence. He promises to do better and the two officially begin their relationship. Now, do I believe Mon El can keep this promise to never being a patronizing fool again? No. But hopefully he’ll stop thinking he knows better how to handle villains and next time he can learn another valuable lesson of how not to be that annoying boyfriend most of Hollywood promotes.

What I love about this episode and Supergirl in general:
Kara stands her ground. She’s the hero. The leader of the team and yes, people need to respect her decisions out on the field. Especially if they’re emotionally involved. Although, at times Kara starts yelling and telling people off before my brain can catch up to the insult, very rarely do I not catch up to her point of view. Mon El used the “defending your honor” excuse to justify his own jealousy and she quickly puts him in place. The fact that Kara’s a woman doesn’t change any part of her role in the team, although it might make the audience a bit confused since we’re all used to a more gender bent scene. The fact is we see this happen a lot in TV (but thankfully we see a significantly less than we once did). Men sidelining women with the excuse of “protecting them from danger.” Kara does the exact same thing with her human friends. She doesn’t want The Guardian in danger or Winn either because they are “weaker” and “more fragile.” Is this a ridiculous reason? Yes. That’s the whole freaking point. By switching the roles, the double standard of the stereotype stands front of center. We’re all groaning and telling Kara to get over it and hopefully the next time we hear a male hero say that, we can think the exact same thing.

Some people might claim Supergirl isn’t as good as it was before, that it lacks something special, and to be fair, it does in some areas but I think we’re too harsh on this show. Actually, people are consistently harsh on most shows with female leads. But Supergirl challenges cliches most people don’t even fully realize are old fashioned yet which, to me, makes for a refreshing change.
The fact is we’ve seen this story a thousand times. We’ve just rarely seen it like this. The show does an excellent job of keeping the audience’s emotions the same despite the Hollywood-induced gender expectations. When Mon El takes things into his own hands, we’re groaning and thinking “you idiot” just like we would if watching a story from the 1970s where the love interest (looking at you original Lois Lane) rushes into danger with no plan or upper hand. Frankly, I’ve never seen a show where I’ve watched the macho hero stereotype rush to save the girl and expected him to lose so completely. Although Mon El acts like he’s the stereotypical romantic hero, he’s actually the damsel in distress because of his patronizing ways and that just tickles me pink.

But at the end of these episodes, Mon El learns something new and decides to try being a little less douche. And if he can learn to be a decent guy, maybe the kids watching this show can learn how to show true respect to others.

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Aspen

Aspen Bassett works at a library, telling stories and suggesting books. When she’s not working, she’s usually sipping tea or hot cocoa and wondering what would happen if she had superpowers. She’s been published in multiple anthologies including Oomph: A Little Super Goes a Long Way and Inaccurate Realities.

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