After talking with Kylie, one of my fellow editors over at The Fandomentals, it seems more and more clear that Mon El takes after Mako from Legend of Korra, especially after the so-called ‘bickering’ we saw between Mon El and Kara on last night’s episode. She’s covered Mako’s castration anxiety pretty well on her blog (go read the post, it’s an excellent analysis), so I’ll mostly just be drawing parallels.
Mon El’s Protectiveness & Castration Anxiety
Despite being raised in a privileged position, Mon El seems to have the same need to act as Kara’s protector and be useful to her that way as Mako does Korra. Last night wasn’t the first time Mon El has asserted his need to protect her against her will. He chose to ‘protect’ her in “We Can Be Heroes”, which put civilians at risk. Because unlike her, humans are squishy and can actually be hurt or killed by bullets and electricity. She calls him on his needless (and idiotic) protective urge, but it doesn’t stop him from trying to take out Livewire for her later that same episode.
Last night was just more of the same. Mon El believes Kara is in need of his protection and guidance. She doesn’t know what’s good for her. He knows best how to take out Mr. Mxyzptlk (or, Mxy) and when Kara gives him a direct order to let her handle it, Mon El ignores it (much like he did in “We Can Be Heroes”). Just about all of his attempts to protect her end in utter failure. The times Mon El does succeed in being a useful partner are when he’s just that, a partner. Not a protector. When he fights with her, and follows her directions, they can do teamwork well.
Only he rarely ever does that. Like Mako, he’s far more concerned with his own ego than he is with learning how to be a good team-member. His urge to protect Kara is but once facet of his fear of being useless to his literally super-powered girlfriend. He makes Mxy’s appearance about himself, rather than about Kara, and not just because of his desire to protect her. It needs to be said that Mon El doesn’t want to kill Mxy because he’s annoying Kara or because he might hurt people. From what we saw on screen last night, Mon El wants to kill Mxy because Mxy humiliated him. And it wasn’t just any kind of humiliation either. He insulted him as a romantic rival and then sent him mostly naked to the DEO. It plays into Mon El’s castration anxiety.
“To briefly explain, metaphorical castration anxiety (as opposed to the physical fear) is about a psychological need for a man to keep himself from feeling dominated and the anxiety of being degraded or made insignificant.”–From Kylie’s piece regarding Mako
Yes, it’s a cis-centric concept, and for the most part, I’m not a huge fan of Freud or his psychology (of which castration is a part). At the same time, it precisely summarizes Mon El’s reaction to Mxy’s humiliation. Mon El was both degraded and made to feel insignificant by Mxy’s actions. Mon El was ‘proven’ to be an insufficient suitor and protector for Kara given how easily he was dismissed by Mxy. In Mon El’s mind, the only reasonable solution to Mxy is to kill him, which would then prove himself to be the victor and alleviate his anxiety about his own performance.
Unlike Mako, Mon El is less visibly discomfited by Kara’s superpowers. He doesn’t try and value Kara over Supergirl, though he does seem put out whenever anyone points out that Kara is more powerful than he is and doesn’t need his help as much as she thinks he does. When Mxy mocks his superpowers, Mon El responds with an aggressive display, insults, and a threat. Kara dismissing him only further undermines his sense of power, which causes him to blow up at her in the middle of the DEO.
“I’m the one in this situation, at this moment…that is supposed to be mad.”
Yes, Mon El, because your wounded ego is more important than a 5th dimensional being flying around Earth pressuring Kara into a marriage that will result in the destruction of the world if she refuses. But yeah, be mad that he made fun of your jumping abilities and tell Kara to calm down. That’s mature.
It’s more than just jealousy, as written. Mxy makes Mon El feel powerless, useless, and insignificant. And he’s desperate to keep that from happening. As Kylie points out about Mako, part of what makes his so uncomfortable to watch is the gendered dynamic at play. Mon El is a powerful man who does not like being made to feel insignificant by either his even more powerful girlfriend, or another man interested in her. He’s willing to be rude to Kara to assuage his wounded male ego, and do so in front of others. Just like Mako did. And that leads me to the other Mako/Mon El parallel: the so-called bickering.
‘Bickering’ or Just Being Rude?
I’ll start out by saying that I’m a fan of snarky bickering couples like Princess Leia x Han Solo from Star Wars or Hoban and Zoe Washburne from Firefly. They bicker, but they never put each other down or ignore the other person’s wants and needs. There’s sarcasm involved, but not malice or the desire to hurt. The same cannot be said for the arguments between Kara and Mon El.
As with Mako and Korra, Kara and Mon El fight to win and fight to hurt. Genuine misunderstanding becomes the precursor to dredge up old hurts, insult each other, and be downright rude.
Mon El makes Kara taking control of a situation that is about her about her taking sides (hey, that sounds familiar), putting her on the defensive and casting himself as the aggrieved party. Right off the bat, this is not how you have a constructive disagreement. The rest unfolds in about as ugly a way
Mon El: “Hey. I cannot believe you sided with that fast-talking, nefarious twerp.”
Kara: “I did not side with him.”
Mon El: “You sent me away so you could have private time with your stalker!”
Kara: “I sent him away so that he didn’t snap you off to Siberia, and plus, you were being out of control!”
Mon El: “Oh… I’m sorry that I was busy, uh, defending your honor.”
Kara: “I’m not some damsel in distress. I’m Supergirl! I can defend myself, and more importantly, I told you I was handling it.”
Mon El: “Well, Kara, sometimes you’re not a good judge of what you can handle.”
Mon El’s protectiveness rears it’s ugly head again, only this time he’s not just ignoring Kara’s desire for personal agency and respect for her abilities. He’s insulting and infantilizing her. He thinks he knows better than she does, and if she would just follow his lead, everything would be fine.
But Kara refuses to be infantilized and instead calls Mon El out on acting out of jealousy. It does not go over well, as Mon El uses it as another chance to insult her. This time for something that, while entirely untrue, is a repeated ‘complaint’ he has about her: she’s ‘full of herself’, which is rich coming from someone who literally wants to make this entire situation about himself. Excuse me while I quote at length:
Mon El: “I knew you that you were a little full of yourself, like, a little bit.”
Kara: “Full of myself?”
Mon El: “But this is off the charts…”
Kara: “What do you mean?”
Mon El: “I’m not jealous. Okay? I’m angry, because you have an unfair double standard.”
Kara: “Yeah. You’re right, I don’t hold you and Mxy to the same standard, because I expect bad behavior from him, but from you, I expect much, much better.”
Mon El: “Oh. No, no, no…”
Mon El: “You do not get to turn this around on me. Because I’m the one in this situation, at this moment… Good to see you, Dana. that is supposed to be mad.”
Kara: “You know what? I thought you changed. I really did, but you are still the same macho…”
Mon El: “Oh, here it is. Say it!”
Mon El: “Daxamite?”
Kara: “Yes! He’s a Daxamite! As you’ve always been.”
Mon El: “Mmm-hmm.”
Kara: “This was a mistake, you and me.”
Mon El: “Agreed. We shouldn’t have…”
Mon El: “Good.”
How is this a healthy disagreement? It’s not toxic or abusive by any means, but it is a far cry from the kind of healthy conflict we’ve seen with Maggie x Alex, or even Kara x James in S1. It’s not ‘bickering’, Mon El is being flat out rude.
And to be clear, Kara devolves into calling out Mon El’s behavior only after he has not only insulted her (more than once) and attempted to make the Mxy situation about him. He also blamed her reaction on her high expectations of him, which is passing odd since he wanted so badly to prove that he’d changed last episode. Yet now, her expecting him to act differently (based on what he’s said), is her fault for having ‘double standards’? Sure, Jan. In this situation, Kara has every right to say he’s being macho and egotistical. He is.
Mon El follows up on this exchange by telling Winn things were “a lot easier on Daxam when I objectified women and didn’t care about anyone”. Uh, gee, how mature? Are you really reminiscing about being a total asshole because it was easier for you? Gee, it must be so hard for you to not make Kara’s alien stalker about yourself and blame her for having high expectations of you. Poor Mon El.
So what else do they ‘bicker’ about this episode? Oh, right, whether or not to kill some body. As mentioned, Mon El’s feeling of powerlessness and humiliation causes him to wish Mxy dead. Because Kara does not approve of killing, she prefers the non-lethal option.
Is this supposed to be cute? Romantic? This is a fundamental difference of opinions, and one that is rooted in Mon El’s ego rather than any kind of logic. It’s a part of the larger issue with the episode that attempts to play Mon El’s overreaction to Mxy as some kind of grand romantic gesture, or at the very least sympathetic. Instead, as the A.V. Club’s review points out, Mon El ends up regressing in his character development.
They have a pattern of so called ‘bickering’ that circles around the same issues over and over again. Issues that are not being addressed by Mon El in either his behavior or his thought processes. He continues to disrespect Kara by not listening to her. His “patronizing ego” has not fundamentally altered in 13 episodes now. Sure, he’s not expecting Eve Tessmacher to do his work for him, but he’s always had a problem listening to and respecting Kara. And that has not changed at all.
And that’s the source of their conflict. It isn’t good natured sarcasm; it’s his ego and his anxiety regarding the perception of helplessness and insignificance. In other words, he has a major case of metaphorical castration anxiety and it’s informing all of his interactions with Kara to the detriment of their relationship.
Now, I’m all for second chances, as is Kara herself. One argument does not a bad relationship make; it’s more about the pattern overall. There’s a difference between giving someone repeated benefit of the doubt and when a relationship dynamic just won’t work. Mon El has had more than on second chance. He’s has more ‘second chances’ than any other character on this show to date. He’s even apologized before, though not in quite so honest and vulnerable a way as he did today. More than once, he’s promised to do better, to change. And yet. He doesn’t.
I’m not saying he’s a terrible person. Just like Mako, he is a good person with specific and strong character flaws that may not be the best person to be in a relationship with an independent super powered woman. Mon El needs to feel useful, like he’s protecting someone. That’s not necessarily bad, though I dislike the gendered nature of it. Dating Kara will only heighten his need for this feeling, not alleviate it, because Kara by her very nature does not need protecting. She needs a partner who will listen to and respect her, not someone who will constantly be questioning her decisions and insulting her when he feels emasculated.
Mon El needs someone in his life who can help him grow out of those instincts while also not butting up against them every day, all the time. Because that is what Kara does: she unintentionally pushes all his insecurity buttons in a way that is not healthy for either of them at this point in their lives. And Kara, though I love her to bits, is not the most patient person with Mon El’s insecurity and ego. I honestly don’t blame her for reacting like she does, but it isn’t the best way for him to grow.
In other words, as Kara has said before, they’re not a good match (right now, under these circumstances). He is too unstable in his sense of self, and she is so strong in hers that it exacerbates his anxiety, leading to the kind of insulting arguments we saw on screen last night.