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In my review of the Supergirl Season 3 premiere, I lamented the lameness of Bloodsport as an antagonist. Unfortunately, the second episode of Season 3, “Triggers” makes it 0-for-2 in the weak villain department. The disappointing part is that Psi, an obscure Supergirl villain played by Jane the Virgin’s Yael Grobglas, does have potential. Psi’s power is that she triggers fears in others, leaving them incapacitated while she robs banks and escapes. It’s a cool gimmick that not only nicely contrasts with Supergirl’s physical abilities, but also has the potential for rich emotional drama. Unfortunately, the one-dimensionality of Psi as a character doesn’t make her ultimate defeat as satisfying as it could be.
To its credit, “Triggers” covers well-trod story ground while offering a somewhat fresh spin on it. When Supergirl confronts Psi for the first time, Psi uses her powers and Kara is hit with visions of her escape from Krypton. The trauma of these memories triggers (thus the episode title) a subsequent post-traumatic stress attack in Kara that causes her to crash through a CatCo elevator in order to “escape.” The concept of a superhero, especially one as powerful as Supegirl, having a PTSD episode has verisimilitude to it, given how harrowing that lifestyle can be. It could have been instructive and even therapeutic to see Supergirl come to grips with her survivor’s guilt trauma rather than treat it as the “threat of the week” posed by the villain. The writers of the episode, Gabriel Llanas and Anna Musky-Goldwyn, also undercut the plotline in two key ways: 1) having Supergirl refuse to confide key information to her family and friends, aside from Winn, thus making it the 8,024th time Kara has tried to “protect” them in this condescending and ultimately unhelpful manner, and 2) her fears about Krypton were actually about Mon-El, who she subconsciously thinks she’s condemned to death. Even when Mon-El isn’t on the show, the Supergirl showrunners find a way to make it all about him—to the consternation of this reviewer.
Also, it would’ve been nice not to have a villain that’s so cookie cutter. Other than her civilian name (Gayle Marsh) and a nominal motivation, Psi is a cipher. What motivates her to use her powers for evil and wear black leather? Perhaps she was affected by a trauma in her personal life and feels compelled to lash out at others? Some hint of who Psi is beyond a smirking, self-assured villain would have made her comeuppance a bit more satisfying. Instead, she is neutralized as a threat thanks to Supergirl finding the inner resolve to withstand her “fear blasts.” Ho hum, another supervillain defeated and no need to think about the latent trauma she helped to unearth!
Aside from an underwhelming A-plot, “Triggers” advances a few B plots for a few Supergirl supporting players. For one, Lena Luthor makes her presence as new CatCo owner felt by promising to be a daily presence around the office. As much as I like Lena as a character, I have to admit I have my doubts about this storyline. It seems as if her primary motivation to buy CatCo was to spite Morgan Edge (see last episode), but what other reason would she have to own a media company? My suspicion was that the showrunners were interested in “shipping” Lena and Kara—after all, I can’t be the only one who notices the beguiled glances Lena casts Kara’s way. But by the end of this episode, it appears to be Jimmy who’s caught Lena’s eye so maybe Supergirl won’t repeat the “latent lesbian” gambit with Alex from last season. Hopefully this new role for Lena won’t water down the character and make her the latest candidate to replace the Cat Grant-sized hole in the Supergirl universe.
The other subplot from “Triggers” follows the unnamed mom and daughter from the season premiere. The mom, who the audience later learns is named Samantha Arias, saved her daughter Ruby from being crushed by a heavy beam that fell on her after Supergirl’s battle with Bloodsport. Ruby is convinced that Samantha has superpowers and has been acting out in school because she thinks her mom is lying about it. With their focus on mundane domesticity, these scenes seem completely divorced from the colorful escapes of the rest of the episode. This is both a good and bad thing: good because it grounds Supergirl in human experience but bad because we as an audience don’t know who these people are and haven’t been incentivized to care. It’s only toward the episode’s end that we learn Samantha is Lena’s choice for CEO of L-Corp. She’s also been shown as having a rapport with Alex, who’s been feuding with Maggie over wedding planning issues. Surely these two points will make Samantha and Ruby bigger factors going forward in Supergirl, but the relative opacity of their characters just adds to the overall blandness of what could’ve been a highly impactful episode.