Supergirl: “Human For a Day” is the best episode of the season so far

“Human for a Day” is the Supergirl’s best offering to date, though it’s not without some of the same problems that have plagued the show since day one. It’s definitely an improvement on last week, though, and the episode crams a good amount of story into its hour without being overstuffed. It also continues to prove that the greatest strength of the show is its consistently optimistic outlook that never quite becomes Pollyannaish. This week in particular, the show injects just the right amount of darkness to highlight its hopefulness and make its points really stick.

As much as I want to love this show for being unabashedly and openly feminist, it’s become very clear that Supergirl is at its best when it explores more universal themes. This week, we don’t get any ponderously delivered speeches about gender roles, and it’s a pleasant change. Instead, “Human for a Day” digs a little deeper into what it means to be a hero by giving Kara a taste of what it’s like to go through life without her powers and examining some of the everyday heroism of ordinary people. It’s not thematically groundbreaking, but it’s well executed and avoids some of the after school special tone of previous episodes. ­

Following her battle with Red Tornado, Kara is left basically human until her powers recharge from exposure to Earth’s sun. I actually kind of love how comically fragile she is. Last week, the first thing she did was cut herself on some glass, and after like two days of being human she’s gotten a cold after one bus ride. Then, she breaks her arm by falling over during a particularly ill-timed earthquake. Also, this functions as an excuse to have James Olsen take off his shirt to make a sling for her, which is the best thing that could happen in this episode. Mehcad Brooks should always wear tank tops.

The earthquake leads to a fresh round of Maxwell Lord complaining about how bad Supergirl and the government are, even comparing her to heroin and welfare, because he’s the absolute worst. Kara and James go to talk to Lord and I guess ask him to stop talking bad about Supergirl, but this is really just a way to get Kara back out of the office so she can be confronted with her inability to help people. In a pretty bold (for this show) move, someone actually dies because of Kara’s temporary ordinariness.

It’s absolutely heartbreaking (mostly thanks to Melissa Benoist’s fine work in the role) to see Kara pleading in anguish for her powers to come back so she can save a woman’s father, but this man’s death and a nicely done pep talk from James motivate Kara to go put on her suit and do what she can to help when they see a robbery in progress. Supergirl manages to talk an armed robber down from killing a shopkeeper, and James photographs her at the crucial moment. It’s a powerful scene—even occurring in tandem with another lengthy Cat Grant speech (albeit a much better written one than usual)—and a new iconic image of Supergirl using her words instead of brute force to solve problems.

With Lucy temporarily out of the picture, this week sees Kara and James growing closer together in multiple ways, with both of them opening up about some deeper feelings. Unfortunately, their undeniable chemistry is still not being acted upon, which is a problem. These two clearly care for each other, and obviously want to bang, to the point where even James’s relationship with Lucy is unbelievable. This week, James becomes even more important to Kara when his being in danger is the thing that provides her with the adrenaline rush she needs to jump start her Kryptonian powers. This is clumsily handled, and I’m not sure it’s necessary; I would have been just as happy if her powers had returned in a less dramatic fashion.

Even the B-plot more or less works this week, and we get a big reveal about Hank Henshaw much earlier than I expected. I really thought we’d get at least a few more episodes of build-up to this, with Alex and Kara doing a little more detective work or with a longer arc of Alex’s growing discomfort with Hank finally coming to a head. Instead, that arc is condensed into just half of this episode, which suggests that the reveal is just the beginning of the story here. It was nice to really get a chance to see Alex being pretty badass, but I don’t love how irrational and even stupid some of her actions were in light of the DEO headquarters being under attack from the inside by an alien with mind control powers. During a crisis just doesn’t seem like the best time to handcuff your boss in a room and accuse him of murdering your father, and I know the show tried to sell us on the idea that Alex just doesn’t trust Hank anymore, but her reasoning here is pretty specious.

In the end, though, this is a solid episode that showcases some of the series’ best performances, moves along several storylines, and delivers a compelling (and refreshingly coherent) message. My hope for the show now is that it can continue to do the same thing going forward. It’s mostly fun to watch and has an excellent cast, but Supergirl is held back by its villain of the week format and simplistic ideas. It would be nice to see the show move forward with a new focus on an overarching story and pay less attention to writing each episode with a platitudinous message at the end.

Miscellaneous thoughts:

  • I’m curious about how much thought was put into developing James’s story about his father. There were fewer than 500 US casualties in the Gulf War, and fewer than 150 of those were combat-related (according to the Department of Defense). While it wouldn’t be impossible that his father could be one of them, and the unlikeliness of it might make that even more tragic than if it had happened in Vietnam or WWII, I also wonder if perhaps this was just not thought through very much at all. It does bring up an interesting question, though. How does one update the parent-lost-in-a-war backstory in an age when it’s become a highly unlikely event? It’s a character background that is a major part of a particular type of American story, but the fact is that almost no Americans die in wars these days. Looking back at comic books in particular, war has always figured largely into the comics landscape, but how has that changed? And does it change the backstory when the war in question was not exactly a good or just war—just a senseless or even unjust one? How is this kind of backstory changed when the unfortunate dead parent is no longer an honorable or heroic figure by virtue of their war service? When military service may even be disreputable or unethical? Or when the death is simply tragic, such as accidental deaths and deaths of soldiers by suicide?
  • The Martian Manhunter reveal was a moment where I keenly felt my lack of indepth knowledge about the comics. Apparently, this is really exciting for a lot of folks, and I’m just kind of like, “Cool, but who is this guy?”
  • I’m starting to really hate Winn. Maybe Kara and James do need to sort themselves out, but Winn’s behavior in this episode was even more atrocious than normal. He’s literally the only character in the show that doesn’t work, to be honest, and it’s getting worse. Winn is getting less likable every week, and at this point, it’s not even a little bit understandable why Kara puts up with him. He’s not her friend, and he clearly resents her and wants to punish her for not wanting to fuck him. It’s ugly to watch, and it’s exacerbated by the show’s failure to handle the material critically or even sensibly.
  • The only character worse than Winn might be Maxwell Lord, but at least that guy is supposed to be a huge douchebag.
  • Astra is back! Thank goodness for that. Another week or two, and we might have forgotten about her entirely.

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