Sunday, April 5, 2020

Supergirl Episode Guide: Season 5, Episode 15 - Reality Bytes

For a summary of the episode guide layout & categories, click here


Plot

A transphobic troll begins attacking trans women through a dating app (including Nia's roommate) and threatens to keep doing it unless Dreamer quits being a superhero. As Kara tries to stop Nia from going over the edge in dealing with the wannabe super-villain, J'onn, Alex and Kelly search for a missing man who may have been abducted and is being held hostage in a virtual world in Obsidian Platinum.


Influences

Various 1990s horror stories built around virtual reality. The title is taken from the 1994 drama Reality Bites.

Goofs

Despite fretting over whether to wear a blue or purple shirt on her date with William, Kara winds up wearing the purple shirt after Alex told her to wear the blue and that blue is her best color.

Yvette is written as the stupidest woman on the planet, not thinking anything is weird about some strange man knowing her virtual boyfriend's name when he approaches her in a bar or when he later approaches her in an alley.

In fact, the only person stupider than Yvette in this episode is the bigot himself, who doesn't really think through the logistical problems of calling out a superhero with actual powers and attacking people who claim to know her on-line. He seems honestly stunned with Dreamer finds him and is able to overpower him easily.

Ignoring the reasons outlined in the episode, it seems incredibly stupid for Obsidian Platinum to operate without rules or without some kind of virtual sysop inside the game to monitor for things like, say, a serial killer/rapist attempting to make his fantasies a reality and targeting other players.

It seems unlikely that there are only 200 anti-trans message boards and social media groups on the entire Internet or that the sum total of their postings could be fit onto a single portable flash drive. Even allowing that the DEO and Brainiac-5 may have some wonderfully huge portable drives.

Yvette's decision to delete all her social media seems to be a bad lesson for this fable. As written, it seems like the episode is saying that dating apps are evil; not bigots, trolls and stalkers who use dating apps as a means of locating potential victims.

The closing montage set to "Everybody Hurts" would be a bit more powerful had the episode ended with Alex and Kara learning of Jerimaih's death rather than most of the song being played over Margot wheeling away Richard Bates.


Performances

Nicole Maines gives a powerful performance in the early scenes and you really feel Nia's rage at the bigot trying to stop her from being a hero and her frustration with Kara's well-meaning but misplaced efforts at empathy and her trying to give a "there's nothing we can't overcome together" speech at the worst possible time to be a clueless but well-meaning ally.

At the same time, Melissa Benoist does a great job in the early scenes trying to convey earnest empathy while realizing that she's not in a place where she can offer moral judgement, as much as it kills her that there are some things she can't solve with a speech about hope and some villains who can't be redeemed.


Super Trivia

Reference is made to the nation of Quarac, which is ruled by a royal family on Earth-Prime. In the DC Comics universe, Quarac is a fictional nation in the Middle East.

J'onn travels to Opal City following the psychic trail attached to Trevor Crane. In the DC Comics universe, Opal City is the home town of the first superhero to use the name Starman, Ted Knight. It was the main setting of the 1994 Starman series.

Jennifer Bates is played by actress Anna Van Hooft, who appeared in a season 1 episode of Arrow as a woman named Jenn who was mistaken for Sara Lance in a photo Dinah Lance believed proved her daughter was alive. Jenn was said to be engaged to be married, suggesting that maybe Jenn is Jennifer eight years later.on Earth-Prime.


Technobabble

There is a fail-safe tied to the bio-metrics of the user of Obsidian Platinum's lenses, that is meant to manifest a button the user can push to end the simulation when they are feeling unduly stressed.

The Hand of the Soldier is apparently capable of generating an electrical shock strong enough for a Kryptonian on Earth to feel it, as Alex is apparently able to teasingly shock Kara with it.

The Martian DNA inside the Hand of the Soldier should code itself to Alex's bio-electric impulses, allowing her to morph it with a single thought once she allows it into her.

Obsidian Platinum connects to a person's biology rather than acting through a link to their brain. It causes everything they experience to feel real.

Advanced Obsidian Platinum users can customize the virtual world but it takes time for the additions to be cataloged by the games' manager.  As such, there are some places (like The Escape Palace) where the people running the game have no clue what is going on.

Kelly says the Escape Palace draws upon a user's worst fears, making everyone perceive if differently. In Alex's case, she sees it as a series of tanks like the one she nearly drowned in.

One DEO agent reports to Brainiac-5 that she found over 200 anti-trans social media groups and message boards on the Internet and fit them onto a single portable drive.

Richard Bates is somehow able to customize his rooms in Obsidian Platinum to block remote monitoring.

According to Kelly, Alex should not have been able to blast Richard out of Obsidian Platinum.


Dialogue Triumphs


(Regarding the Martian Hand of the Soldier weapon J'onn gave Alex.)
Alex: This thing is supposed to know what I'm thinking, but it's being very stubborn.
Kara: (grinning) Well, like soldier, like hand.
(Alex raises her wrist at Kara and makes a buzzing noise. Kara jumps back as if shocked as Alex laughs.)

Nia: He wants me to stop being a superhero. He's going after my community to bully me into it.
Kara: Listen to me, Nia, listen. We will find this guy
Nia: Yeah, we will. And when we do, I'll bury him.
Kara: (shocked) Nia! Look, I... I... (sighs) I know this is a personal attack, but you have to trust that when we find this guy the cops are going to put him behind bars.
Nia: (exasperated) Kara, I love you, but do not tell me what I can and can't do right now. There is no catching this guy and redeeming him. There is no "hope speech" that can make this better!
Kara: Nia -
Nia: (firmly) No. Look, my community is vulnerable. This happens more than you could possibly know. And there are guys, just like this jerk out there, who want to hurt us. They want us to hide and to be afraid to be who we are. They want us to disappear and it happens. Every. Day.
Kara: I know. And what this guy did was horrible-
Nia: He's not the first and he won't be the last. We haven't exactly been a priority for the cops. So, just trust me when I say that I am the one protecting this community. And now this bastard is going after my community trying to erase me? No. No, this guy is over!
Kara: (shaken) Look, I know that you're hurting right now. And I know I'll never fully understand. But between us and the cops, we will make sure justice is served. Nia? Just give us a chance?
Nia: Fine. A few hours. Then I'm doing this my way.

Kara: I know sometimes being the good guy sucks. Especially when you know how easy it would be to get rid of someone so vile and full of hate. But, hey not doing that? That is what makes us different from them.


Dialogue Disasters

(Kara and William write a story together and we get the clunkiest message delivery ever.)
Kara: (reading) "Over 24 trans people have been murdered in this country in the past year."
William: The true number's likely much higher. Many of these attacks are misreported because victims are misgendered in police reports.

Dreamer: You make me sick.
Bigot: No, you make me sick you twisted freak! You show up on the scene one day tricking dudes into thinking you're this hot new superhero! The girl next door! But heroes are supposed to be virtuous and honest! And here you are - lying!


Continuity


Two months earlier, a man named Richard Bates testing  a virtual ski vacation in Obsidian Platinum's beta became trapped inside the game when the End Simulation button failed to manifest.

Kelly Olsen was overseeing Bates' experience. She promised to report the error, before Bates was led away by Margot, the woman with Leviathan.

Supergirl and Dreamer fight a Dominator together, just before Kara's first date with William Day.

Brainiac-5 is distant yet formal to Dreamer when the DEO shows up to secure the scene after the fight.

Kara hasn't had a date in two and a half years.

According to the news, Lex Luthor just had dinner with Crown Prince Raakaan el-Farah of Qurac and, per his advice, Obsidian Platinum will soon be available in that nation.

Alex is still having issues training with the Martian Hand of the Soldier weapon.

Nia's roommate Yvette has a profile on a dating app called Upswipz. This was the same dating app made by the tech company Ray Palmer briefly worked for in L301.

Yvette has been seeing a man she met on-line exclusively for three weeks. She's going to meet him in person for the first time at a club that night and she wants Nia to go with her.

Yvette does not know that Nia is Dreamer or that Nia's ex "Barney" is a DEO agent and an alien from the future.

Yvette describes herself on her Upswipz's profile as Dreamer's best friend.

Kara and William go to a pool hall on their date. Kara claims she's only played 8-Ball one time in her life, but manages a near perfect shot.

Nia has a flash at the bar of blood being on her hands.

Yvette is approached by a man who somehow knows about Angus and doesn't take the hint when she asks about her being spoken for just before she gets a message from Angus telling her to meet her outside. She still seems to have no idea what is going on when the same man approaches her and talks about Angus standing her up.

Nia has another vision in the bathroom of Yvette being attacked.

The bigot leaves a note with Yvette that is addressed to Dreamer, saying the world doesn't want a trans superhero and that unless she quits he'll keep attacking trans women.

The police put together a sketch of what the bigot looks like.

Nia agrees to wait a few hours to give Kara and the police a chance to find the bigot before she goes off on her own.

Al, who runs Al's Dive Bar, comes to J'onn and asks for his help in finding his brother, Trevor, who has been missing for a week.

Trevor lives in Al's basement and spends a lot of time on-line.

Trevor's given name is Trevor Crane.

Al called the police but the only lead they found was an invitation on Trevor's computer to go to a weekend escape experience in the Virtual Las Vegas inside Obsidian Platinum. The police think Trevor is a hotel room somewhere on a VR party binge.

Trevor  apparently just started using Obsidian Platinum and apparently had met some friends somewhere called The Escape Palace.

Alex determines that Trevor must have paid cash for his hotel room since there's no credit card records of him checking in somewhere.

Kara asks Brainiac-5 to use the DEO's facial-recognition software to identity the bigot that is looking for Dreamer.

Kelly sets Alex up with a set of Obsidian Platinum lenses.

According to Kelly, Obsidian Platinum sets up a number of potential scenarios based on your own thoughts and desires before you enter the game world proper. In Alex's case, it appears that three of her scenarios involve being Supergirl, working as a doctor or having a baby.

There are no rules inside the Obsidian Platinum world.

The virtual Vegas experience has a virtual Siegfried and Roy show.

NPCs in Obsidian Platinum can be identified by the three lines on their neck. The NPCs are AIs run by the

Al says Trevor has spent that last few months in VR instead of spending time with him.

Al gives J'onn a watch that he gave him as a gift to mark their first year on Earth together. Trevor wore it every day until he got a smart watch, hoping J'onn can use it to psychically track him.

J'onn finds the names of two of Trevor's friends avatars on Obsidian Platinum.

One of the Obsidian Platinum users identifies The Escape Palace as a creepy haunted house located in the hills just outside Virtual Vegas.

Alice finds two of Trevor's friends trapped inside a flooding magician's tank, similar to the one she was stuck inside in 219.

Trevor's friends claim they were stuck inside the room for days. They say they last saw Trevor escape from their room with a new player named Richard, who had started hanging out with them.

Richard was the one who suggested everyone try the Escape Palace experience.

J'onn travels to Opal City, to a house he feels is connected to Trevor somehow.

The house belongs to Jennifer Bates, Richard Bate's wife, who was having a virtual affair with Trevor Crane.

Nia calls the detective working Yvette's case, but he hasn't made any progress.

Nia creates a profile on Upswpiez to get the bigot's attention.

Richard Bates is revealed to be a computer engineer who began exploring the technical specifics of how Obsidian Platinum worked.

Brainiac-5 is searching everything on the Internet relating to Dreamer and finds Nia's dating profile.

Alex breaks into one room in the virtual world and is cut off from Kelly in the real world.

Kara and William work on the story of Yvette's attack together.

Brainiac-5 calls Kara and tells her that he thinks Nia is trying to use herself as bait to attract the bigot.

The bigot's ID on Upswipez is GoodTimes1995.

The room Trevor is trapped in causes his virtual avatar to blow up like he was standing on a land mine and be reformed in a painful fashion, over and over. He says Richard Bates keeps coming back to the room to watch him explode over and over.

Alex is able to force Richard Bates out of the virtual world by shooting him with an imaginary taser.

J'onn tracks down Richard Bates in the real world, in Room 10 of the Coastline Motel.

After Bates tries attacking J'onn, his eyes become red-rimmed and he seems to hallucinate the world changing around J'onn.

Alex talks Trevor down and gets him to retake control of his body.

Trevor is at the National City Grand, Room 315.

According to Kelly, Alex should not have been able to blast Richard out of Obsidian Platinum. Alex says they can figure it out later.

Nia ambushes the bigot, who seems stunned that Dreamer came looking for him.

The bigot's name is Gregory Bauer.

Nia confesses to Kara that she's hurting far worse than she let on because of Brainiac-5 dumping her and like she's lost control of her life and going after the bigot was something she could do.

Kelly and Alex agree that virutal cheating counts as cheating and that virtual torture is real attempted murder.

Kelly says she believes her work can help people but agrees with Alex that VR technology should be regulated and the people allowed to program it limited.

Trevor comes to meet Alex in person and thank her for saving him.

Yvette decides to delete all her social media. She says she's tired of putting herself out there because she should have known better than to trust that most people could accept a trans woman of color or that she could find a man who loved her for her.

Brainaic-5 gives the detective handling Yvettte's case a list of people connected to a group Gregory Bauer was part of that was planning attacks on trans women on-line and identified several users who had claimed credit for several attacks.

Alex is still having trouble getting the Hand of the Soldier to work in the real world.

Alex gets a phone-call from her mother telling her that Jeremiah Danvers has been found dead.

Alex goes to Kara's apartment to tell her the news.

Margot is seen wheeling Richard Bates out of the hospital and placing him in a room with other Obsidian Platinum users - some of whom are somehow floating in mid-air.


Location

Opal City


The Bottom Line

Were it not for some strong performances, this might instantly have been the worst episode of Supergirl ever filmed. As it stands, it definitely has one of the weaker scripts, and surprisingly this is more because of the clunky virtual reality storyline (which would have seemed silly and dated had it been an episode of VR.5) than the Dreamer-focused story about the problem of violence against trans women.

The script is just lazy in the middle parts, with William and Kara literally reading off the statistics about how many trans women have been murdered by bigots. This severely undercuts the good parts of the episode, such as where Nia takes Kara to task for trying to give her usual chirpy optimistic speech about how we can overcome these problems if we work together, neatly ignoring all the people who are actively working to discourage that kind of unity.

It's also bothersome that the lesson taken away from this episode is that you should just stay off social media and close yourself off from the world. Yet none of that is as painful as the tech jargon rattled off by people who don't understand it. The hearts of the writers may have been in the right place, but their heads were somewhere else entirely.

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