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Recap / Supergirl (2015) S4E3 "Man of Steel"

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The origin of Agent Liberty is revealed as Kara tries to recover from Kryptonite poisoning.


Tropes:

  • Absentee Actor: Nia Nal is absent in this episode.
  • Absolute Xenophobe: Pete Lockwood, and eventually Ben as well. The former simply hates aliens out of bigotry and feeling that their abilities threaten human jobs. Ben, post Start of Darkness, takes it a step further; after killing an alien for the first time, he becomes a serial killer who murders aliens just for being aliens.
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  • Alcohol-Induced Idiocy: Ben gets drunk with some of the factory workers after the death of his father. As they complain about losing their jobs, he gets the idea to burn down the Nth Metal factory. They throw some Molotovs into the window, forcing the floor manager, the same truck driver who wounded him, to flee. Ben bashes the guy's head in with a pipe, marking his transition from a rabble-rouser to a violent murdering fanatic.
  • Ape Shall Never Kill Ape: Even by the present-day, Ben is appalled at the idea of killing humans.
  • Bait-and-Switch:
    • The early part of the episode indicates it's the rather racist factory owner who will become Agent Liberty. Instead, it's his well-educated, initially alien-supporting son.
    • The previous episodes seemed to indicate that Agent Liberty was behind Mercy and Otis. This episode reveals that they're the ones supporting him and are in turn being bankrolled by someone else.
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  • Big Damn Heroes: J'onn saves Supergirl from falling to her death when the atmosphere is laced with Kryptonite.
  • The Cameo: Cat Grant and Rhea both appear by way of archival footage.
  • Category Traitor: Ben calls Kara this after she intervenes in his argument with the alien student. If only he knew.
  • Continuity Cavalcade: Ben Lockwood's flashback covers a series of events from past seasons.
    • Kara's speech from "Better Angels" is played.
    • After Supergirl intervenes at the assault on the truck drivers, she's called away to deal with criminals with alien weapons.
    • Jack Spheer is very briefly seen on Ben's home's TV before it is interrupted by Rhea's message.
    • Ben's house gets burned down during the Daxamite invasion, a consequence of J'onn fighting a Daxamite soldier whose missed shots hit the house.
    • Ben shows up at CatCo hoping to get James to publish stories on the impact of alien invasions on the common man, where he learns that Lena now owns the company.
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    • At the bar, the students discuss Reign attacking a prison.
    • The incident at the bar takes place during Kara's karaoke night.
    • Ben's father dies during the attempt to terraform Earth.
    • Fiona's death in the season premiere is shown again. Mercy picked her for Ben's first target as Agent Liberty because of her community outreach for the alien population.
  • Conspiracy Theorist: Ben's father Peter, in a cruel twist, as he was actually right about the President being an alien herself.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive:
    • From Ben's point of view, Lena is this. She profited greatly from alien technology at the expense of wrecking his father's company. She then buys up the media to suppress viewpoints unfavorable to her agenda. Finally, after Ben's father dies, she tries to buy off Ben and his family.
    • Ben notes that insurance companies don't cover claims of sudden destruction by heroes, of which there were no doubt many after the Daxamite invasion.
  • The Corrupter: Ben's superior who had him fired for espousing his racist views in class later sympathizes with him due to also having lost her home after the terraforming incident. Ben then invites her to one of his lectures.
  • Crime After Crime: Due to Alcohol-Induced Idiocy, Ben and his buddies set fire to the Nth Metal factory. They do not realize that a worker is still inside. Ben then beats the worker to death to silence a witness and because the worker is an alien. From that, he progresses to more hate crimes and murders.
  • Dehumanization:
    • Ben starts doing this as his bigotry gets worse and worse. He starts referring to aliens as "it," defends his anti-alien rants to the Dean by saying "they're not people," and dismisses the alien factory worker's plea for mercy by hatefully telling him "you're an alien."
    • Mercy gets in on the action as well; she calls Fiona a monster for simply being an alien, and describes her as gathering "creatures" as if Fiona's building an army of evil monsters (she actually runs a support group).
  • Destructive Savior: Deconstructed, as we see how living in a place full of them, who then never seem to take any responsibility for it, slowly chips away at a good man's morality.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?:
    • The tension between the workers in the common steel industry and those who favor the upgrade to Nth Metal mirrors the real life tension between people who work in the coal industry and those who favor renewable energy.
    • Ben's pro-nativist speech to his class carries some very blatant racist undertones, especially when he talks about "complexion." It's probably no accident that the first student to walk out, while clearly an alien, is played by a black actor.
    • Ben also uses typical right-wing rhetoric, with terms like "safe space" and "snowflake", as a response to concerns expressed about his classroom behavior.
  • Don't You Dare Pity Me!: The alien student that Ben made a racist comment about in class reaches out to him out of concern when he follows her to the bar and seems unbalanced. He brushes her off with this trope.
  • Double-Meaning Title: In addition to being a common nickname for Superman, Man of Steel is used here to refer to Ben (and his father) being backed by the steel industry.
  • Driven to Suicide: During the terraforming incident, Ben's father deliberately goes to his shuttered factory hoping it will collapse and kill him. Ben is too late to stop him and can't save him when it happens.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: The episode shows that Ben is/was a loving family man.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Ben may hate aliens, but he balks at killing Jensen, a human, simply because he's a liability. Aside from that, he thinks Jensen may still prove useful in getting into the DEO.
  • Fake Shemp: Kara is in a bodysuit that hides the fact she is not physically played by Melissa Benoist due to the actress’s Broadway commitments at the time of filming. Benoist still dubs her dialogue however.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: The episode shows how Agent Liberty was once a mild-mannered professor warped into an alien-hating fanatic.
  • Glamour Failure: This happens to the factory worker who is driven out of the building by the fire Ben and his buddies start. The flames compromise his image inducer and reveal him as an alien.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: Mercy refers to the "people [she] work[s] with," implying that she and Otis are being backed by someone else.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: Downplayed, but evident. While a number of major catastrophes are the result of aliens (the large-scale invasions and attacks carried out in previous seasons), most of the violence in this episode is carried out by humans, with Ben himself murdering two helpless and pleading aliens on screen (dialogue confirms he's killed at least two more besides), and the Graves siblings having no qualms about murdering Jensen (another human who had helped them) in cold blood. The point is driven home when we get a replay of Fiona's death; despite Mercy describing her as a monster, Fiona is tied to a chair and helpless while Ben mercilessly stabs her in the back.
  • Innocently Insensitive: Lena showing up at Peter Lockwood's funeral really didn't help in easing tensions with Ben. Her offer to setup a fund in Peter's name comes across as an attempt to buy them off.
  • Irony:
  • Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: Ben makes the leap from bigot and rabble-rouser to xenophobic murderer when he bludgeons an alien factory worker to death.
  • Kryptonite-Proof Suit: To save Supergirl from the Kryptonite-poisoned atmosphere, Lena fits her with an all-covering suit designed to filter out the Kryptonite.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: While karma may be the wrong word, the dean who fires Ben (after his rant spurred by the loss of his home and his father's livelihood) later apologizes for doing so and joins his movement after she herself loses her home in similar circumstances.
  • A Lighter Shade of Black: Agent Liberty is a murderer and a fanatic, but he comes off as relatively better than Mercy and Otis; where they have no qualms at all about killing humans, he refuses to.
  • Mis Aimed Fandom: In-universe example as Ben quotes his father's favorite saying, by Winston Churchill on never giving up against all odds and a stronger foe. Sadly, rather than seeing it as Churchill warning of the fight against intolerance and fascism, Ben sees it as inspiration for his anti-alien crusade.
  • Moral Myopia: Ben demonstrates this repeatedly, both before, during, and after his Start of Darkness.
    • Ben is surprised to hear Alex say that Supergirl went easy on the factory workers, as he sympathizes with them and had just been (accidentally) wounded by the alien foreman. He doesn't consider that the human workers are the ones who started the violence, and that they outnumbered the aliens by at least ten to one.
    • Ben clearly expects all other humans to agree with his increasingly xenophobic views; he's surprised and confused when Kara starts defending the alien student in the bar (on top of his shock that she's in a bar frequented by aliens in the first place).
    • Ben is horrified when he sees a seemingly human factory worker in flames after he and his friends torch the Nth metal factory. When the man's image inducer fails and reveals him as an alien (specifically, the same one who had accidentally injured him months prior), Ben is immediately revolted and bludgeons him to death with a nearby pipe.
    • Mercy sees nothing wrong with mentioning Benjamin Franklin and Benito Mussolini in the same breath as great leaders.
    • Agent Liberty, who murders helpless aliens in cold blood, is shocked at the idea of doing the same thing to a human.
  • Never My Fault:
    • Ben's father refuses to modernize his refinery to process Nth Metal or to even try (Lena probably would've helped if he hadn't been so stubborn and prideful), claiming the old ways are the best. He then blames the aliens for his own self-destructive behavior when it's forced to close.
    • Ben holds the alien student that he insulted responsible for the loss of his job, despite the fact that he made a blatantly racist comment about her in the middle of a classroom full of fellow students, only the latest in a series of such incidents according to the dean. As it turns out, the student didn't even report him.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: While never intentional, one way or another, each main character played a part in warping Lockwood from a good man to a bigot. All mean well, but each slight builds on the previous one to make Ben into Agent Liberty.
    • Supergirl's big speech in Season 1 got Lockwood's father going on aliens being "roaches" to plant those beliefs.
    • After being injured by an alien, Ben is thrown when Alex believes he was part of the mob, rather than trying to disperse it, and that Supergirl was harder on the mob than the aliens.
    • J'onn accidentally destroyed the family home while fighting a Daxamite.
    • Lena is un-receptive to his arguments about the past being important and encourages him to convince his father to modernize.
    • James defends his reporting on aliens, even though Ben believes it downplays the consequences by relegating the human cost to the back pages.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Ben tries to defend the alien truck driver from the mob, but the driver is spooked by a thrown bottle and his arm spurs reflexively shoot out, nailing Ben in the shoulder.
  • Not So Different: Both Ben and the DEO are guilty of painting with a broad brush; Alex assumes that Ben was part of the attacking mob at the start of the episode (he was actually trying to calm things down), while Ben's growing paranoia leads him to dub all aliens as the enemy (he gives a lecture to his class espousing the virtues of nativism).
    • At first, the dean who fires Ben for his lectures appears to dislike what he's saying. Cut to a couple of years later as she meets with Ben, noting the University is suffering budget cuts and she lost her house due to the Genesis events. She openly apologizes to Ben for firing him and admits he was right to be "so concerned" on alien influence. This shows how even an apparent Reasonable Authority Figure can be so easily swayed by this anti-alien bias.
  • Not the Fall That Kills You: According to the DEO's tracking system, J'onn saves Kara a mere six feet from impact. They had previously noted that she would die from the fall due to the Kryptonite poisoning.
  • Oh, No... Not Again!: After suffering two alien invasions, Ben says this when the Kryptonian witches start terraforming Earth.
  • Perspective Flip: The events of Season 2 and 3 are retold from the viewpoint of an ordinary human.
  • Poor Communication Kills: When Ben is reasonable in expressing his concerns, the good guys are too distracted to listen to him. By the time they start paying attention, Ben has become radicalized and nothing they say or do will change his mind.
  • Racist Grandpa: Peter, Ben's father. George, Ben's son, is the first one to parrot his racist rants.
  • Rant-Inducing Slight: The first time Ben changes his class lecture is when he sees a label on the whiteboard tray indicating it is made of Nth Metal.
  • Reality Ensues: Ben gets fired from his teaching position for his bigoted views, which he pushes despite multiple complaints and warnings.
  • Remember the New Guy?: Ben Lockwood is retconned into having met half the show's cast at some point, and is present during the events of several episodes. However, most of these interactions are brief from their perspective, so they have no reason to remember him.
  • Sanity Slippage: As his life falls apart from one alien-related event after another, Ben goes from mild-mannered and open-minded to xenophobic and murderous.
  • Start of Darkness: The episode tracks Ben's descent from mild-mannered history professor into a murderous and xenophobic fanatic. His corruption starts when his father's steel factory starts losing business to an Nth metal refinery, and his father's death during Reign's attempt to terraform Earth finished the job.
  • Torches and Pitchforks: The steel workers who violently stop the Nth metal truck and attack the alien worker.
  • Tragic Bigot: Ben Lockwood was once a truly good man who actually fought for alien rights. But when an alien he was defending from a mob ended up accidentally injuring him, Lockwood's faith was shaken and slowly twisted into pure hate as the incidents piled up.
  • Trauma Conga Line: Being accidentally injured by an alien, his family business going bankrupt, having his home destroyed by J'onn fighting a Daxamite, losing his job for his radical views, and watching his father die in a collapsed building during the Worldkillers' attempted terraforming of Earth turns a tolerant professor into a genocidal killer of aliens.
  • Trivial Title: Despite the title being derived from his most famous Red Baron, Superman himself doesn't appear in the episode or have a direct influence to it.
  • Turn the Other Cheek: The student that Ben insulted in class doesn't report him for his overt racism and later shows concern for him due to his sudden change in attitude and behavior. Her efforts prove pointless, as Ben is too far gone to be reasoned with by that point.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Pretty much everyone on the heroes' side unwittingly further radicalized Ben for a number of different reasons.
  • Villain Episode: The episode provides a Perspective Flip on the events of the second and third seasons told from the viewpoint of the (at least as of now) Big Bad and and even provides his Origin Story.
  • Whole Episode Flashback: After Kara is rescued by J'onn, the episode switches to a series of flashbacks showing how Ben Lockwood became Agent Liberty. The final scene comes back to the present for Supergirl's new radiation suit and Agent Liberty's plan to sneak into the DEO.
  • You Remind Me of X: Lena warns Ben, as she sees much of her brother's extremism in him.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Mercy tries to kill Jensen after deploying the Kryptonite dispersal bomb since he's a liability, but Ben stops her. He instead plans to use Jensen to get into the DEO.

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