When Supergirl was first airing, we were all a little hesitant about what was going to happen. The last time we had a live-action Supergirl on screen, it didn’t go very well, and we knew that if this Supergirl did poorly, its lack of success would be blamed on the main character’s gender and not the writing or storylines. The show, thankfully, ended up being really great, but in the early episodes, I was still really hesitant about the direction it would take the characters.
In particular, Kara Danver’s best friend, Winn Schott, has an unrequited crush on her—and dear God, I hate friendzone storylines.
The friendzone is not a concept that I, as a woman, am particularly fond of. The word tends to not only imply entitlement, but its way of degrading women goes deeper. So many men hate being in the friendzone, and they act as if they are entitled to a romantic or sexual relationship with the women they like. The entitlement comes from the belief that if they are nice to women, or attempt to be our friends, we’ll just throw sex at them. And if we don’t, we’ve shoved those poor helpless men into the dreaded friendzone, and the friendzone is a bad place to be because apparently the only thing of value women have to offer in relationships is their bodies. In other words, friendship with a woman is inferior and unfulfilling.
Of course, some people are just friends with other people, but being friends and being in the concept of “the friendzone” are two entirely different things. The problem is that the friendzone has negative connotations, instead being seen as something completely normal and even likable. It’s seen as a crime against unsuspecting men to deny them sex they think they are due, and when we combine that with toxic masculinity and violence against women, it becomes a very dangerous and sometimes deadly problem.
So when Supergirl’s early episodes introduced us to Winn, I rolled my eyes and already hated where the show was going to take him. In the comics, Winn Schott is the Toyman—one of Superman’s villains who designs toys to kill people. As such, I worried that in the show, we would get some narrative arc about Kara rejecting Winn and him becoming the Toyman as a result. Not only would that play into toxic masculinity, but no matter how Supergirl attempted to handle the narrative, it would still give a negative message. Either the show could portray Winn as a victim, or if could give us a storyline about how liking a woman doesn’t entitle you to her. I knew if Supergirl went this route, it would choose the latter message, as it should, but we would still be left with a story that says men and women cannot be friends.
I clearly did not give Supergirl the credit it deserved. Even though the show went ahead and did a friendzone storyline, it went about it in a way that I did not see coming.
To start, it turns out that Winn is not the Toyman. Rather, the Toyman is his estranged father who was convicted of murder years prior to the start of the show. Winslow Scott Sr. breaks out of jail, kidnaps Winn, and attempts to coerce him into committing murder as well, so they can be together in prison. Winslow first became the Toyman after his toy ideas were stolen. This in turn prompted him to start murdering people. The biggest difference between father and son is their relationship to their masculinity. Winslow’s is very toxic—he saw that he was due something (his ideas were stolen), and when he didn’t get it, he thought that the appropriate response was to commit murder, and that that murder was justified. Then, after his own actions, Winslow still thought that he was owed a loving relationship with his son, and in the process of achieving that, he thought it was all right to ruin Winn’s life and the lives of others.
Winn, on the other hand, does not view his own ego as more valuable than the lives of other people. We watch him struggle with his father’s actions and question whether or not it’s possible to ever become like him. We even get to see him cry on screen. Winn is much more in touch with his own emotions, and after the fiasco with his father breaking out of prison, Winn makes the decision to not bottle up his feelings anymore. After all, bottling up what he felt and letting it fester is yet another thing that pushed Winslow into becoming the Toyman.
Winn confesses his feelings to Kara, and when she does not reciprocate, Winn is naturally hurt. Kara is the girl he loves, after all. The next couple episodes, Winn distances himself from Kara, because he’s not sure if he can keep being her friend. I could easily understand Winn’s emotional state—he was just kidnapped, underwent a personal crisis, and was rejected by his love—and how Supergirl handled the storyline was very well done and realistic. The story allows Winn to go off and come to terms with his own feelings and gives him a good long while to process all the trauma. Additionally, after the rejection, Kara felt guilty and wondered if she had accidentally ruined her friendship with Winn, and it’s her sister Alex who comforts her and reminds her otherwise. The narrative itself never holds Kara responsible for Winn’s feelings, and though I worried that this would be the end of their friendship, Supergirl did something completely unexpected. After Winn was able to calm down from everything that happened, he returned to being Kara’s friend, and while he clearly still loves her, not once since then has he pressured her for any kind of romantic or sexual relationship. In fact, he’s started trying to hook Kara up with her love interest James, because he knows they like each other and that’s what friends are for.
This is a very powerful message Supergirl sent here. The show acknowledged that being rejected hurts and that those feelings are valid, but it also points out that the object of your affection is never obligated to return your feelings. To have Winn return to being Kara’s friend is also very important. He wasn’t her friend because he was hoping that one day she would return his feelings, nor was he her friend because he assumed he would get anything else from the relationship. Winn is Kara’s friend because he genuinely likes being her friend and he values that. He doesn’t hold a grudge against her. He doesn’t blame her for his own inadequacies. Instead, he accepts her feelings on the matter and leaves it at that.
As I said before, I hate friendzone storylines. Often times, they’re insulting and degrading. All too easily they can send a really harmful message, enforce toxic masculinity, and normalize violence against women as something that just happens because women didn’t give men something the men were supposedly “owed”. However, if stories want to continue using the friendzone as a plot point and character development, they should look to Supergirl as an example. The way Supergirl handled Kara’s rejection of Winn and Winn’s subsequent response is the way it should be.