SUPERGIRL spends its third episode this season without its hero. ‘Man of Steel’ has Supergirl benched, as she deals with a bad case of Kryptonite poisoning. This episode also doesn’t feature the more notable “Man of Steel” Superman either. This episode focuses on Ben Lockwood, the son of a steel-working father, whose world turns upside-down by aliens. The story is nothing new, but it’s a sensible well-told version of the everyman who turned to evil and bigotry. ‘Man of Steel’ is a solid episode that lets viewers know exactly who Lockwood’s Agent Liberty is.
This episode is a classic villain origin story. Ben Lockwood (Sam Witwer) is a professor who slowly becomes angrier with aliens. It starts with Luthorcorp dropping his father’s company for an alien company, and ends with his father’s death. The story is fairly basic, but that’s not necessarily bad. ‘Man of Steel’ is a well-written episode, and Witwer does a fantastic job with the character. While you can understand Lockwood’s descent into evil, he’s still clearly evil. SUPERGIRL knows how to make a villain that’s a bit relatable, but unquestionably wrong.
SUPERGIRL continues finding good ways to weave modern political problems with its human-vs-alien storyline. Specifically, Lockwood’s descent into bigotry as his working class family is at odds with aliens works well. SUPERGIRL weaves in political buzzwords as well, especially with Lockwood’s students. It’s important that this man complains about “millennials” and “safe spaces” in his dismissals of those who think he’s extreme. Professor Lockwood isn’t trying to defend free speech – he’s trying to justify his hateful rhetoric. It’s an important distinction, and this touch is one of the reasons ‘Man of Steel’ is so strong.
The show also does a good job of connecting other SUPERGIRL characters into the story. Even though Supergirl is benched, Kara and her friends make appearances. Not all of them are entirely blameless in the struggle with Lockwood, either. Lena’s dismissal of Lockwood is definitely an example of her being more of a ruthless businesswoman. James’ hesitation to take a stronger stand on aliens is a flash to last week. Some of SUPERGIRL’s strongest work this season has been its character development. ‘Man of Steel’ continues the trend, as many characters deal with the anger of Agent Liberty.
As strong as the episode is, there are some holes in Lockwood’s development. There is a disconnect between his bigotry against humans and aliens. He alleges that human immigrants have helped to shape America and make it great when an alien student speaks up against him. This kind of selective bigotry dilutes how pervasive bigotry is, and how it’s very present in the world. It’s also unclear where Lockwood stands with his wife and child, which is a strange omission. How do they feel about Ben’s new path? These details are small, but they’re crucial to the larger picture of this villain.
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That said, it will be exciting to see SUPERGIRL continue exploring Agent Liberty. There are many that may feel SUPERGIRL has gone too far into political parallels this season. However, in such a politically charged time, with real bigotry and hatred gaining a larger voice in America, it’s important to stand against it. ‘Man of Steel’ makes it clear that bigotry can only lead to evil – and in Ben Lockwood’s case, leads to domestic terrorism. Agent Liberty is evil that hides behind the veil of nativism and patriotism. But this perverse form of nationalism is twisted, and should not have a place in our society. Bravo to SUPERGIRL for taking a stand, even when Supergirl is down for the count.