Tag Archives: Supergirl

Supergirl: “Strange Visitor from Another Planet” is a smartly written hour of character development

“Strange Visitor from Another Planet” is one of Supergirl’s most thematically consistent and successfully resonant episodes to date, although it’s a somewhat sharp change of pace from last week’s fairly silly episode. It’s nice, though, to see the show’s disparate parts work more or less in harmony for once. Often, the themes explored in the DEO scenes are just at odds with the tone of Kara’s scenes at CatCo, but this week that two-faced quality works to the show’s advantage as the episode focuses less on Kara and more on developing Hank Henshaw and Cat Grant. While the two major storylines are wildly different from each other, they manage to complement each other nicely instead of fighting with each other for audience investment and attention.

The episode opens with the arrival of Cat Grant’s estranged son, Adam. We learn that Cat often drafts letters to him that she never sends, and Kara—incorrigibly Pollyannaish meddler that she is—finished and mailed one. This story is actually surprisingly well done, and Kara’s lack of boundaries doesn’t go uncommented upon, even if she is forgiven in the end. She’s even rewarded with a date with Adam, which is actually the thing that I found least believable about the whole situation. Kara is consistently oblivious to male attention, is still (in this episode, even) hung up on James Olsen, and is still dealing with the fallout of the stuff that happened with Winn last week. The last thing Kara needs is another guy vying for her attention and affection, especially when it’s obviously a terrible idea—even by Supergirl standards—to go out with your domineering boss’s estranged son. Honestly, I’d much prefer to see Kara have a better sense of herself before being pushed into any romantic entanglements, much less this one.

On the bright side, we get quite a lot of Cat Grant time this week, both with Kara and with Adam, and even a scene with all three together that is surprisingly well-done. While I was appalled to start with that Kara would even write to Adam in the first place, it ultimately leads to a new closeness between Kara and Cat, and it provides new opportunities for Kara to show off some of her less super-powered skills. You’d think that the adorkable shtick might wear thin, but Melissa Benoist plays Kara as so sweet and good and kind that I never get tired of watching her.

The other major plot of the episode deals with the kidnap of a cartoonishly (think Trump-like) anti-alien Senator, Miranda Crane, by one of the White Martians who, we learn, are responsible for the extermination of Hank’s entire race on Mars. It’s good to see Hank getting some greater depth and more interesting material. The conflict with the White Martian is very personal, and there are some nicely integrated flashbacks in this episode that show us more of Hank’s history back on Mars so that we really understand how big of a deal this is. I’m not sure about the heavy-handed Holocaust allusions in the Mars stuff, which I thought were strange, but having never read the comics I don’t know if that’s a source material issue or not. I guess I just think that they could have conveyed Hank’s trauma without so clearly linking it to real tragedies like that, especially when the event is treated as shallowly as it is this episode.

Fortunately, Hank’s feelings are not treated shallowly, and he’s given a lot of screen time this week. It’s interesting to see how quickly this show burns through story, though. I’m enjoying to new timbre of Hank’s relationship with the Danvers sisters—particularly with Alex who gets some good material this week—but the dynamic has evolved almost ridiculously quickly. It works well in this episode, though, and the final bonding moment between these three was well-earned.

Both of this weeks’ stories deal with family issues and how to move on after mistakes and loss, but the real strength of the episode is that it continues to highlight Kara’s deep and radical commitment to love, forgiveness, mercy, and hope for the future. I love a kickass heroine, and Supergirl can certainly fight when she needs to, but I have even more love for a heroine who wants to heal the world around her rather than just beating it into submission. Supergirl may seem overly optimistic at times, and our post-post-modern world tends to mock that sort of thing, but in spite of its many flaws this show continues to be refreshingly fun, hopeful, and above all a necessary light in a largely cynical entertainment landscape.

Miscellaneous thoughts:

  • I’m so confused, still, about who this show’s intended audience is. When I watched it this morning on CBS’s website, I was subjected to multiple Viagra commercials.
  • “It’s worth it. Family always is.” Awww. Kara thinks of Cat as family.
  • I hate the frequency with which fictional bigots are cast as black people. Like, right, I get that it’s a metaphor for real-world oppression or whatever, but it seems like that shit is always put into the mouths of black people these days. Just an observation.
  • Senator Crane wants to build a dome around the Earth to keep the aliens out.
  • We never do find out much about Adam. Why did he drop out of college? Also, on a related note, what happened to Cat’s other kid?
  • Melissa Benoist and real-life husband Blake Jenner have a nice chemistry on screen. I don’t love the idea of Kara being pushed into a relationship, but this pair is awfully cute.

Supergirl: “Childish Things” is all about Winn Schott’s daddy issues

I think we all knew, as soon as it was revealed that Winn’s dad was in prison, that his daddy issues were going to rear their ugly head at some point. “Childish Things” is that point. Surprisingly, though, especially considering how painfully boring Winn has been in the series so far, this episode mostly works really well.

My biggest complaint about Winn Schott, from day one, has been that he was a pretty straightforward Nice Guy™ who spent all his time creepily hanging around Kara and resenting her for not wanting to bang him, and “Childish Things” addresses all that stuff head-on. It’s a surprising and refreshing change of pace for a show that has so far been content to leave Winn be, utilizing a constellation of unpleasant tropes pretty much totally uncritically regarding his relationship with Kara. When Winn’s deranged father escapes from prison, though, things come to a head and Winn and Kara are forced to deal with whatever lies between them. Kind of.

The best decision the writers made this week was having Kara react negatively to Winn trying to kiss her while they were sharing a moment of bonding over their respective murderous relatives. I fully expected, and frankly was almost rooting for, them to share an actual confused-feelings-full kiss, but that wasn’t what happened. Instead, Kara pulled away, as one does when someone misreads signals and goes for a kiss when it’s very unwanted. Watching, I was genuinely surprised. Unfortunately, this isn’t fully dealt with by the end of the episode. Though Winn finally lays all his cards on the table and confesses his love to Kara, she’s not equally candid in response, and the future of their friendship is still unresolved when the credits roll.

Winslow Schott, the Toyman, is equal parts ridiculous and deeply disturbing, and letting the audience meet him definitely helps to give his son, Winn, a lot more depth. The problem is that he’s never really a particularly worthy opponent for Supergirl. Although we can see how much interacting with his father affects the younger Schott, and those interactions (and the subsequent talks with Kara about them) are pretty compelling, there’s never much sense of danger from the Toyman himself. Instead, it’s Winn’s behavior that’s most concerning, and his concern that “bottling up his emotions” will turn him evil is something very close to a veiled threat. I suppose, if Winn does turn out to be the same sort of psycho as his father, he can at least rest easy knowing that he’ll be handily defeated by Supergirl in the space of a day or so.

The secondary plots are also only partially successful.

Lucy Lane appears to be officially moving to town now, and she’s getting a job at CatCo. I love James Olsen as much as the next girl, but he was profoundly dull this week. His failure to communicate about his feelings is frustrating, and I suppose works as a contrast to Winn’s newfound openness, but I still don’t understand why he was being so weird with Lucy. I loved Lucy and Cat together, but the conflict between Lucy and James ended up being not a conflict at all and simply cemented them together as one very boring couple.

Meanwhile, Alex and Hank were investigating Maxwell Lord, who is still the absolute worst. Kara’s attempts to encourage Hank to “come out” as a super-powered alien were positively cringe-inducing. I hate the whole idea of using super powers as a metaphor for other oppressions, and this instance of it is especially frustrating. While I liked Hank’s stuff this week, and I can see that he has some very real misgivings about using his powers, which was interesting, the reality is that there are basically zero drawbacks to his being a Martian. I mean, sure, people could be mean to him, but he still has godlike superpowers.

In the end, though, “Childish Things” is more good than not. The character work for Winn and Hank was largely excellent, and it was definitely necessary. And the episode ends with Kara and Alex spending time together—more of this, please (and more of Lucy and Cat).

Miscellaneous thoughts:

  • “She’s so nice!” is the best thing Lucy could possibly have said when emerging from a meeting with Cat Grant.
  • “I want to work for a cool, powerful, kickass woman instead of a bunch of old white men.” You and me both, Lucy.
  • I always loved Emma Caulfield on Buffy, so it was cool to see her show up as an FBI agent.
  • Speaking of childish things, if the snail eggs were delicious, why did Alex spit them out as soon as she found out what they were.
  • “Max Lord is nothing more than a reformed nerd with a God complex.” ACCURATE.

Supergirl: “Blood Bonds” turns back every advance made in the last episode

I’m a little concerned that Supergirl is starting to become tiresome. After a winter finale that ended literally in the middle of what seemed to be a pivotal fight, I expected something much better than what we’re given in “Blood Bonds,” which is a huge mess of spinning wheels and downright silly diversions that do nothing to move any of the show’s several major plots forward.

The fight that we were in the midst of in the last episode was wrapped up within moments this week when Non kidnaps Hank Henshaw. The rest of the episode is concerned largely with figuring out how to get Henshaw released without “negotiating with terrorists.” A secondary plot in the episode is Kara trying to convince Cat Grant that Kara is definitely not Supergirl, even though Cat is not stupid, and there’s even a sort of tertiary plot with James and Winn stalking and harassing Maxwell Lord. In short, “Blood Bonds” is a huge mess, and while it was another amazing episode for Kara’s character, I’m finally starting to doubt that Melissa Benoist is really capable of carrying the whole show on her own indefinitely.

Non’s kidnapping of Hank is actually pretty anti-climactic in the end. It does give us a glimpse of Alex Danvers in charge, which is nice, but I’m still a little confused by what feels like a very abrupt about face on Alex’s part regarding her distrust of Hank. I’m not sure how learning that he’s an extremely powerful alien just completely put an end to all of Alex’s questions and concerns. I’m also not sure what the show is going for, more broadly, with Non and Astra. There were several flashback sequences this week that shed a little more light on this pair and our understanding of Astra is certainly improved, but there’s also that scene where Non just murders some guy for no real reason. In any case, everything is back to the status quo by the end of the episode: Astra is on the loose and still an ecoterrorist, and Kara has conflicted feelings about it. The only thing that’s changed at all is that Kara now knows that Hank is actually Martian Manhunter—but that’s literally the only forward progress on any front in this episode.

When Kara isn’t negotiating with actual terrorists this week, she’s working absurdly hard to try and prove to her boss that she’s not Supergirl. Cat has threatened to fire her because she thinks that if Kara is Supergirl, then saving people is way more important than answering phones and bringing Cat coffee, and Kara’s fight to keep her position at CatCo, while somewhat absurd, produces the most authentically emotional moments of the episode. Melissa Benoist and Calista Flockhart have a great onscreen dynamic, and I would absolutely watch a show that was just about their relationship. The only problem with this all is that, again, I’m not really sure what the show is going for. Kara is obviously the worst at keeping a secret, but I think Cat would not be a bad person to let in on things, and if it’s the job that Kara is really worried about, I feel pretty certain that Cat could be persuaded to let her keep it. It just doesn’t make that much sense, for all the it’s fun to watch.

The tertiary plotline in “Blood Bonds” is almost too silly to bother mentioning. While Kara is busy this week, James and Winn decided, for some reason, that they were going to launch their own investigation into Maxwell Lord. Clearly, Max is a turd of a human being, and he’s acted shady about all kinds of things so far, but I don’t think he’s done much that James and Winn would know about to trigger their snooping. Alternatively, if they really think Max is so dangerous, I feel like their half-baked plan to spy on him somehow is just ridiculous. In any case, it gets James into trouble when he’s caught by a couple of Max’s goons and Max decides to beat up on him a little—which also gets him in trouble with Kara, who doesn’t like her human friends taking even the smallest, most calculated risks. The best part of this whole debacle, though? James doesn’t manage to find out anything new about Max at all; it’s only revealed to the audience at the end of the episode that Max is doing some kind of science experiment on a young woman who bears a more-than-passing resemblance to Supergirl.

This show is almost increasingly inconsistent, and its reliance on Melissa Benoist’s talent to redeem so many huge, glaring flaws seems certain to be its undoing. As much as I love her, and as much as I have so far maintained that Melissa Benoist is a delightful angel who definitely does carry the show, there’s ultimately only so much that one woman can do. Supergirl needs to decide what kind of show it wants to be or else it’s going to force viewers to decide whether or not they want to stick with it.

Miscellaneous thoughts:

  • I hate Maxwell Lord with a passion. As far as I’m concerned, his is definitely the most punchable face on television right now. It’s not that he’s such a great villain or anything. He’s just a huge douchebag.
  • They should have done the Hank Henshaw kidnap before revealing his identity to the audience. There was basically no sense of real peril or danger for him this week, which made everything Alex and Kara were going through to rescue him feel like melodramatic theatre.
  • I love seeing Kara work through her feelings about things. That’s definitely the thing this show does best, and while it may struggle in many other areas, Kara’s character growth is always excellent.

Best of 2015: Favorite Television

2015 has been a sort of strange year for television. On the one hand, there were quite a few shows that I was excited about at the beginning of the fall season, but when it came down to it I found that I just didn’t have time to watch all of them (The Last Kingdom and The Bastard Executioner were two that didn’t make the cut). Of the ones that I did watch, a couple turned out to be totally unwatchable disappointments (Scream Queens and Heroes Reborn fell into this group). And a couple of the shows I was most looking forward to (X-Files, The Shannara Chronicles, Lucifer, The Magicians, Shadowhunters) don’t actually premier until January. Most of what I’ve watched this year, then, has been things that I was already watching and enjoying. Only a few of the year’s new shows really stuck, and at least one of those is almost certainly not getting a second season.

Jessica Jones

This Netflix gem is kind of objectively the best new show of the year. It can be tough to watch, with its themes about rape and abuse, in spite of the fact that none of the sexual violence is ever actually shown on screen. Jessica Jones is a deeply compelling character who fits a lot of common noir tropes, but a lot of that is subverted by her journey being one of personal healing rather than a revenge tale. In the end, Jessica wants mostly to protect others rather than just avenge herself, making her a complicated and fascinating feminist hero. I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Supergirl

This year CBS gave us a very different kind of feminist hero in Supergirl, and I love that we now live in a world where both Kara Danvers and Jessica Jones are getting their own vastly different shows. Supergirl is much more overtly and earnestly feminist than the Netflix series, which can be frustrating at times, especially when the show garbles its 101 level messaging, but Melissa Benoist carries the whole show on her super-strong shoulders by creating a Kara who is tough and brave, but most of all deeply kind. When Strong Female Characters are often imagined as ass-kicking fighters, it feels pretty revolutionary to have a super-powered woman on television who is as deeply empathetic and caring as Benoist’s Supergirl.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a show that I almost didn’t watch at all because I found the title so off-putting. It’s also the show that’s been, by far, the most pleasant surprise of the year. Hot shot lawyer Rebecca is so miserable with her life that she makes a totally bonkers decision to move to a small town in California where her ex-boyfriend, Josh, lives. It’s an absurdly silly premise, but I haven’t related to a character this much in a very long time. I, too, struggle with mental illness, and I, too, have often thought that making some enormous and ill-advised change in my life would somehow magically fix everything. Essentially, this show is a humorous take on how this kind of insane decision could work out for someone. Spoiler alert: everything is terrible-ly hilarious. Also, there are songs, because everyone involved in the show is a musical theatre nerd.

The Expanse

It’s great to see SyFy actually getting back to its roots and producing more, well, sci-fi. I didn’t love their adaptation of Childhood’s End (although I appreciate the attempt), but The Expanse is truly excellent. It’s space opera, but also a sort of mash-up with a noir detective story and a futuristic political drama. There are several notable women characters, including Chrisjen Avasarala (played by the incomparable Shohreh Aghdashloo), who I am certain is going to end up being the iconic character of the show. It’s worth watching just for her parts, but the rest of it is pretty great, too.

Into the Badlands

For some reason, almost no one seemed to talk much about Into the Badlands during its six-episode first season on AMC, but it’s a fucking excellent show that has surprisingly feminist sensibilities as well as some of the most incredibly choreographed martial arts fight scenes I’ve ever seen on television. Just in general, Into the Badlands is a gorgeously imagined and shot show, with highly saturated colors, striking cinematography, and great costumes. It’s also got a relatively diverse cast headed up by two Asian men (Daniel Wu and Aramis Knight) in the lead roles. A black woman (Madeleine Mantock) is the main character’s love interest, but she’s also a doctor and a revolutionary of sorts in her own right. The numerous other women on the show also eschew stereotyping, and while they exist in a fairly sexist fictional world, their roles and struggles aren’t entirely dictated by that. The only negative of this show is that it’s only six episodes for now and a second season hasn’t been confirmed, which makes the cliffhanger ending at the end of episode six potentially very frustrating/upsetting.

Minority Report

This show had tepid ratings and mediocre reviews and is the abovementioned likely-cancelled show, but I enjoyed it. The actors had a decent chemistry, though the writing could have been stronger all around, and I’d have liked to see the show explore more of its bigger ideas instead of adhering mostly to a case of the week format. Sadly, Fox has a tendency to invest in development for interesting sci-fi shows but then cut them off quickly if they don’t perform well, and that’s what happened with Minority Report. The news that their episode order had been cut from thirteen to ten after something like episode three of the first season didn’t help ratings. Still, the show was entertaining and had a lot of promise. It even managed to wrap up episode ten in a way that will act as a reasonably satisfying end to the story if there are no more episodes. It’s still available for binge watching on Hulu if you run out of other things to watch.

Supergirl: “Hostile Takeover” is an aggressively mediocre winter finale

“Hostile Takeover” is really the first half of a two-part episode, and it literally ends in the middle of a fight scene, which makes it hands down the most frustrating winter finale of anything I’m watching this year. Aside from that, it’s a largely run of the mill episode of Supergirl, with most of the shows greatest weaknesses on full display.

I was really looking forward to more Astra stuff, and while this episode did deal with her, it unfortunately felt relegated to B-plot status. Certainly, Kara’s interactions with Astra weren’t nearly as interesting or satisfying as the evolution of Kara’s relationship with Cat Grant. This week’s revelations about Astra suggest a level of moral ambiguity that Supergirl just isn’t well-equipped to handle, and even Melissa Benoist’s excellent performance isn’t enough to keep this all from being a big mess.

The biggest surprise this week is that maybe Astra isn’t quite a villain after all—except she totally is, because this show sucks at exploring grey areas. It turns out that back on Krypton, Astra was something of an eco-terrorist, concerned with ending the environmental degradation that eventually led to the planet’s destruction. Kara’s mother, Alura, captured and imprisoned her sister, and Astra blames Alura for Krypton’s fate. Now that Astra is free, she’s got some similarly nefarious plan to prevent humans from destroying Earth the way Kryptonians wrecked their planet. The problem, of course, is that Astra’s methods are questionable, so she must be stopped, I guess.

The obvious issue with this storyline is that it’s patently ridiculous. I can totally believe that the Kryptonians wrecked their planet—goodness knows, we sure are, and they’re just like us—and the Astra as eco-terrorist stuff isn’t a terrible idea, but the execution of it in this episode is just awful. Poor Kara is supposed to be just absolutely tortured by all these revelations, and there is some crying and stuff, but there’s not any serious examination of any of the issues, so in the end none of this is at all convincing and it’s not even very clear exactly what the crying was about.

The actual B-plot, which deals with a member of CatCo’s board scheming to oust Cat Grant from her own company, fares much better, though it’s also silly. Basically, this dude has managed to hack/leak a whole bunch of Cat’s potentially embarrassing emails. Kara uses her super hearing to find out the plot, and then James, Winn, and Lucy do some corporate espionage to save Cat’s job. That stuff isn’t that important, though, because the real point of all this is to finally let Cat figure out that “Kira” is Supergirl. I love how self-congratulatory Cat is when she’s confronting Kara about her identity; this scene was everything I could have wanted it to be, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing how this changes their relationship going forward.

Miscellaneous thoughts:

  • The Hank and Alex dynamic has a new dimension of fun after last week’s reveal that he’s actually the Martian Manhunter. This week he just casually and hilariously reveals that he can read minds.
  • Kara really should have a clearer understanding that this hologram thingy is not her actual mom.
  • I hate the conversation about Kara between James and Winn more than I’ve hated anything this show has done so far.
  • I always love this show’s fight scenes, but this week’s action sequences seemed a little lackluster.

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.

Supergirl: “Red Faced” is mostly an embarrassment

“Red Faced” is a big old mess of an episode that highlights literally every problem Supergirl has and showing almost none of its strengths. It could have been worse, but not by much, and it’s definitely dampened my excitement at the news that CBS has just expanded their order for the show by seven episodes.

I’ve complained from the beginning about Supergirl’s overly self-conscious feminism, but I’ve been hesitant so far to be too critical of it because, frankly, it’s mostly refreshing to see a show like this wear its feminist sensibilities on its sleeve, even if it is imperfectly executed. It’s always been heavy-handed with its Feminism 101 messaging, and the messages are often garbled, as with Cat Grant’s speech about the term “girl” in the pilot and all of “How Does She Do It?” which at least made up for its confusing ideas by being somewhat entertaining.

“Red Faced,” however, is an episode that seems to be desperately trying to make some kind of point but gets so bogged down under the weight of its own themes that it collapses under the pressure. It’s further hindered by several lackluster villains and a script that is almost entirely devoid of the show’s usual humor.

The episode starts off on the wrong foot to begin with, as Supergirl rescues a group of school children from being run down by a couple of road-raging douchebags. When one of the men takes a swing at her, she’s angry enough at their recklessness that she grabs the guy’s fist and twists it around, hurting him. Perhaps predictably, the media in National City blows this entirely out of proportion, and Kara finds herself in trouble with Hank Henshaw for not controlling her anger. It’s completely ludicrous, since Supergirl didn’t actually injure the dude, who did actually try to punch her (and had just almost killed like a dozen children). By the time Maxwell Lord (who has an opinion on everything) suggests putting a body cam on Supergirl, I was ready to punch this episode in the face, and that’s less than five minutes in.

At CatCo, we’re introduced to Cat Grant’s mother, who is a complete monster. I get the feeling that we’re supposed to find this old harridan funny, but she’s just unrelentingly terrible in every single possible way. The most unbelievable thing about this little diversion, though, is that this woman could get an invitation to a small, intimate dinner with Toni Morrison and Margaret Atwood. I can’t imagine either of them would tolerate this woman for more than thirty seconds. I suppose this gives us a little more context for Cat’s character, but the show’s writers think they’re being much cleverer than they actually are.

We see a lot more of Lucy Lane this week, and we also get to meet her father, an army general who supposedly wants Supergirl to help test out a new “anthropomorphic pseudo-entity” that’s being developed for military use. First of all, “anthropomorphic pseudo-entity” sounds absurd, and not in a funny way. Second of all, it’s quickly obvious that Red Tornado is actually being designed to fight Kryptonians. Finally, Red Tornado is the most boring monster-of-the-week yet; the stakes just never feel high enough to make it at all interesting.

All of this stuff is really just a way for the show to talk about anger—especially women’s anger, and the ways in which we are taught to suppress it and shamed for expressing it. Unfortunately, they begin with a straw man—Supergirl’s supposed outburst at the road rage guy in the beginning of the episode—progress through a series of non-escalating events that lead Kara to getting a tipsy after-school special-style lecture on the topic from Cat Grant, and then end the episode without really resolving anything.

The B-plot—James Olsen’s conflict with his girlfriend’s racist dad—supports and complements the Kara stuff, and this is even explicitly called out in a scene where Kara and James are going to punch things together to take out their frustrations. However, while I thought that it was smart to relate the similar oppression of women and black men, this is also never fully explored and also fails to have any satisfying resolution by the end of the episode.

Neither Kara nor James are fully able to express themselves, and the rewards they receive this week feel like consolation prizes. This is especially frustrating with James since, aside from his own reminder to Kara about the struggles black men face, the conflict he has with General Lane is never specifically related to racism. General Lane just doesn’t think James is good enough for Lucy. For reasons. Definitely not related to his vaguely racist and nationalist rhetoric elsewhere in the text. Right.

Frankly, it’s just a huge disappointment that the show would squander such potentially rich material. The ways in which women are discouraged from having and showing emotions could be mined for great drama, but “Red Faced” tries far too hard while being far too shallow at the same time. It’s the least fun I’ve had watching this show to date, piling dourness on top of an incoherent attempt at some kind of feminist statement.

Miscellaneous thoughts:

  • Please, please stop trying to make Alex Danvers and Maxwell Lord happen. Every time I see this guy on screen, I feel like I need to go take a shower.
  • Cat Grant is a much sloppier drunk than I would have expected. Although maybe she shouldn’t be drinking at all with the meds she’s on.
  • Speaking of women not being allowed to behave badly… the natural climax of all of Kara’s anger should have been her finally declaring her feelings to James and damn the consequences. They clearly have chemistry, and I would love to see Kara not be quite so perfectly good and honorable for once.
  • I do love that Supergirl doesn’t have to be pretty all the time. Yes, I know that she burrowed underground like a mole and came out totally unmussed this week (and the burrowing thing was cool), but we also got to see her being completely, inhumanly fearsome with her heat rays, and I loved it.
  • I’m calling it now: Jeremiah Danvers is definitely not dead.

Supergirl: “How Does She Do It?” doesn’t do it for me

“How Does She Do It?” would have been a better episode if it wasn’t aired out of order (transposed with last week’s “Livewire”), but as it is it feels redundant. This isn’t helped by its heavy focus on a couple of ideas that are just plain boring: the “friend zone” and the question of whether or not women ever can “have it all.” The good news, I suppose, is that Supergirl does manage to do a couple of somewhat fresh things with such utterly pedestrian material. The bad news, of course, is that it’s still utterly pedestrian material.

I like that the show uses the phrase “friend zone” almost ironically, but I hate the it uses the phrase at all. I also hate how determined the episode is to force Kara to be Super Adult about things, no matter how gratifying it is to see a woman on screen setting boundaries in an assertive fashion. If Kara is capable of dealing with both James and Lucy so firmly and kindly (like a grown up), why hasn’t she been able to communicate her feelings to James? James and Lucy’s getting back together this episode is also a little spoiled by having already seen last week’s episode, where James spends all his time (while on vacation with Lucy!) pining after Kara.

While Kara is mooning over James and turning her adorkableness up to eleven, she has admirers of her own. First is Winn, who is a little more tolerable this episode than he has been in the past, though still slightly creepy. Next is Cat Grant’s son, Carter, who has a very cute crush on Supergirl and who Kara is a very inept babysitter for. Finally, there’s Maxwell Lord, who is apparently so totally obsessed with Supergirl that he’s willing to blow up his own things in order to test her abilities.

This last is the major plot of the episode in lieu of the normal bad guy of the week, which is a nice change. Essentially, Lord wants to put Supergirl through her paces to get a better feel for what her true skill set is, which also allows the viewers the same opportunity. What we get, then, is a show chock full of Supergirl doing all different kinds of things, and what we learn is that she’s still working on figuring out the best ways to help people. She has a pretty impressive range of abilities to work with, and in this episode we see her trot out all of them in order to deal with the challenges Lord has set for her. We see again that Supergirl is still learning her own limits, and she’s not entirely successful in the end; she saves a train full of people, but she has to watch as a man that has been manipulated by Lord kills himself practically in front of her.

This ties in neatly with the exploration of “having it all” through Kara’s overall experiences in the episode. She’s trying to be Supergirl and a DEO agent of sorts and Cat Grant’s assistant, and this episode also sees her taking on the additional responsibility of watching Carter. It’s obviously too much for any one person to do, even with super powers, which might have been a rather boring message of the episode, but the show doesn’t stop with just the demonstration of this fact. Instead, the writers have tried to wrap things up much more explicitly and heavy-handedly by giving Cat Grant a speech about it. Unfortunately, the words Cat has to say don’t make a lot of sense, especially coming out of the mouth of a character who is so obviously an extraordinary (and extraordinarily privileged) woman. It’s yet another example of this show being so self-consciously feminist that it circles back around to being, well, not sexist, but incoherent and unhelpful.

The most interesting part of this episode to me was the comparison between Kara/Supergirl and Maxwell Lord. He talks about wanting to help people, but he doesn’t trust any of the existing systems (government, etc.) that do help people. Kara, on the other hand, is also someone who professes to want to help people, but where Lord seems mostly dedicated to interrogating and criticizing the things and people he doesn’t trust—and putting people in danger in order to do so—Kara is actually out there doing the work of trying to help people.

Supergirl is an imperfect hero, but she’s constantly trying to do her best. She may not always be able to save everyone, and she doesn’t have the right answer to every problem, but she’s all in for doing the work and learning and growing and improving her methods. This might be the most progressive message the show has delivered so far, and it’s one that seems almost unintentional in an episode that is ostensibly (and obnoxiously) exploring other far less interesting ideas.

Miscellaneous thoughts:

  • Carter Grant is a decidedly odd child.
  • Seeing how James and Lucy get back together made me like Lucy a lot more and James a lot less—especially when I think of how shady he acts in the chronologically next episode that we saw last week.
  • There were more seeds of Hank Henshaw being evil this week.
  • Still no Astra, though she is at least mentioned.
  • I hate the scene with Alex and Lord. Seriously gross.
  • If the writers would quit putting nonsensical “feminist” tirades in Cat Grant’s mouth, I think she’d be my favorite character.

Supergirl: “Livewire” gives us a cool new villain and examines troubled mother-daughter relationships

So, this episode actually aired out of order, with CBS deciding to hold off on showing an episode that dealt with events they thought might be uncomfortably similar to events in the real world this past week. It looks like last week’s episode really did wrap up the who comparing Supergirl to Superman thing, which is encouraging, but this week’s focus on every character except Supergirl left our heroine a little sidelined in her own show.

I was a little concerned that the show’s tendency to race through story might cause “Livewire” to feel extremely out of place, but the only thing that really felt off was the revelation that James and Lucy are apparently very much back together now. This had already been telegraphed by Lucy showing up in National City to begin with, so it’s not surprising that she’s continuing to be a roadblock to any romance between James and Kara. Sadly, this is such a boring and totally expected development that my eyes about rolled out of my head when I saw it, and this isn’t helped by the fact that Lucy is little more than a pretty face so far. I can only hope that when we finally get to see the episode that “Livewire” replaced it gives Lucy more of a personality so we can understand what James sees in her.

Ultimately, though, this early interlude serves just to get James out of town for Thanksgiving, minimizing Kara’s boy troubles and making room for Eliza Danvers to come into town to spend the holiday with her daughters and for Kara to have a ton of bonding time with Cat Grant, who basically steals the whole episode. What few scenes Cat doesn’t steal are stolen by villain of the week Livewire (Brit Morgan), who is great to watch in spite of a pretty nonsensical origin story.

Livewire starts the episode as a contentious radio shock-jock, Leslie Willis, who has been mentored by Cat Grant but who oversteps when she decides to denigrate Supergirl on the air in an opening sequence that is one of the more naturalistic pieces of writing that we’ve seen on the show so far. Leslie’s dislike of Supergirl feels real and her insulting tirade against our superheroine is also sharply funny. I can see why Cat hired Leslie in the first place. Unfortunately for Leslie, Cat has very specific plans for Supergirl’s “brand,” and she won’t stand for being undermined by Leslie’s grudge.

When Leslie refuses to let Cat dictate her content, Cat simply busts Leslie down to covering traffic until her contract with CatCo runs out. It’s on her first day in the traffic ‘copter that Leslie gets struck by lightning-via-Supergirl, falls into a coma, and then wakes up with superpowers and an even bigger ax to grind against Supergirl and Cat Grant both. Mostly, though, this plotline functions as an exploration of Cat Grant’s character through examining her relationships with Livewire and Supergirl, and it works perfectly to make Cat much more well-rounded and relatable character. As a fan of Cat since episode one, I am thrilled to see her given so much new depth this week.

Meanwhile, Kara’s foster mother, Eliza Danvers has come to National City for Thanksgiving. Kara is excited to share the newest developments in her life with the woman who raised her through her teen years, but big sister Alex is certain that Eliza is not happy about the situation. Alex is right, of course, and Eliza can’t even make it through dinner before lighting into Alex for failing to sufficiently protect Kara. These sequences also give us our first flashbacks to Kara’s life when she first came to Earth, which is a nice change, but the Alex/Eliza stuff is really just completely overshadowed by the much more interesting interactions between Kara, Cat, and Leslie.

It doesn’t help that things between Alex and Eliza are mostly resolved by the end of the episode. I expect for a super hero show to have unbelievable things going on, but I expect that to be confined to the actual super hero portions of the show. The idea that ten years of mother-daughter strife can be fixed with a couple minutes of hugging it out on Thanksgiving just doesn’t feel true, which is too bad. It’s very important in a show like this that the more “out there” comic book elements are balanced by a naturalistic approach to its human drama. Rushing through these issues minimizes their emotional impact and makes them too unrealistic to counterbalance the absurdity of aliens and cyborgs and magical lightning powers. This has been a problem in the show since the pilot, and it’s worrisome that this is starting to feel like one of Supergirl’s defining characteristics. I’d hate to see it become the show’s downfall.

Miscellaneous thoughts:

  • Is the radio shock-jock character even a recognizable archetype in the modern age? While Leslie Willis isn’t alone in recent television history, I would seriously question whether or not a lot of young people would recognize the inside of a radio station anymore.
  • Winn’s dad is in prison, apparently. Since I’ve never read any of the comic books that this series is based on, I have no idea who any of these characters are, but I guess Winn’s dad probably is (or is going to be) some kind of supervillain. Frankly, I’ve felt for a while now that Winn himself gives off some faint future-supervillain vibes, so this isn’t terribly surprising.
  • Who on earth made the decision to use a cover of “Take Me to Church” for a mother-daughter bonding scene? This show is usually pretty obvious with its use of modern pop music, but this was bonkers. I haven’t seen a musical decision this baffling and bizarre since that time on Glee when Idina Menzel and Lea Michelle did a mother-daughter duet of “Poker Face.”
  • They really are moving right along with the “Hank Henshaw is a villain” storyline.
  • I still feel at times that including the DEO headquarters as a setting makes the whole show feel a little disjointed. Even when an episode is, like “Livewire” is, objectively not overstuffed with story, having those extra setting shifts can make it feel busier than it is.
  • Livewire herself felt a bit half-baked in this episode, but she’s definitely the most interesting villain-of-the-week we’ve seen so far. With her only being captured, not killed, I’m very hopeful that we’ll see her again in the future.
  • Speaking of villains, where is Astra? Even if they’re saving another showdown between her and Supergirl for a finale episode, it seems like we ought to get an update on her occasionally.
  • “You’ve always been my super girl” was the one like out of all the Eliza/Alex stuff that really worked for me. There might have been a tear or two.

Supergirl finds its balance with “Fight or Flight”

This was my favorite episode of Supergirl yet, and it’s the first episode of the show so far that feels truly cohesive. Though it did slip into too-cheesy territory a couple of times, “Fight or Flight” worked really well thematically and finally brought all the show’s parts into a mostly comfortable balance. It’s the first time so far that I’ve felt like Kara’s regular life, her superhero alter ego’s trials, and the DEO belong in the same universe.

The first order of business in this episode is Supergirl’s interview with Cat Grant, which doesn’t go well and has Supergirl flying off in the middle of it after getting flustered and outing herself as Superman’s cousin. Cat then goes on to write her profile of Supergirl as more of a think piece on millennials. On the one hand, I think we’re all more than tired of the ubiquitous anti-millenial screeds disguising themselves as serious thought these days. On the other hand, Supergirl didn’t give Cat much to work with.

Kara, on the other hand, is much more capable of handling her tempestuous boss and gives a pretty impassioned speech defending Supergirl. I like that Kara’s transformation into Supergirl doesn’t make her flawless, and I really appreciate the way the show is portraying her different strengths and weaknesses in different situations. It’s interesting to see the way the show is exploring Kara’s dual identities. Unlike many superheros, Kara is in many ways more confident in her regular life, and it’s putting on her suit that turns her awkward and uncertain. As Supergirl she’s tongue-tied, but as Kara she’s totally willing to stand up to someone as fearsome as Cat Grant.

Speaking of Cat Grant, it was nice to see her loosen up a little this week and break out of stock character tropes. If she’s not going to be a villain, it’s good for her to be humanized some, and we get a good amount of that here. I love that, though Cat is very particular about her coffee and the environment in her office and thinks nothing of being verbally abusive about lack of perfection in these areas, she’s not threatened by criticism. This is something that we’ve seen in previous episodes as well, but it stood out to me this week, particularly when Kara disagreed with Cat’s portrayal of Supergirl in her magazine article. While I wouldn’t say Cat was encouraging to Kara in this scene, she also seemed to listen to her and take her seriously rather than simply dismissing her criticisms out of hand.

All that said, I can’t tell exactly what the show wants the relationship between Cat and Kara to be. For all her antagonistic qualities, I feel like Cat would be a great mentor. Otherwise, I worry that she’ll end up being too one note to be really interesting. With so many other things going on in the show, it’s important that each part avoid being boring. Calista Flockhart and Melissa Benoist work well together, and I’d hate to see the show squander a potentially great dynamic by adhering to closely to stereotypes.

The bad guy of the week this time around turns out to be an old foe of Superman, one who he hasn’t been able to defeat: Reactron. There’s a great moment when Kara mocks the villain’s name only to find out that James Olsen is the one who thought it us, and this might be my favorite Kara moment of the episode. She’s had such a huge crush on James, who is a little older and ridiculously handsome and just kind of generally dreamy, and the show has managed to capture perfectly that moment when someone finds out that the object of their affections isn’t a total paragon of wonderfulness, but is in fact a regular person who sometimes has ridiculous ideas just like anybody else.

In her conflict with Reactron—who wants to kill Supergirl to hurt Superman after finding out about their familial relationship—Kara is also trying very hard to differentiate herself from her cousin and build up her own reputation independently of any expectations based on her relationship to Superman. For both personal and PR reasons, it’s important that Kara manages to figure out, as she says, “what Supergirl means.”

The good news is that, by the end of this episode, both she and the audience have a much better idea of that. Even better news would be if this episode marks the end of Superman’s looming presence over this show. While I think it’s good for the show to address the issue, I think that focusing too much on Supergirl’s struggle to escape from under Superman’s shadow does more to invite comparisons than to dismiss them. I loved this episode, and I even loved the cheesy IM conversation between Kara and Superman. In fact, that is a great place to end this exploration of these themes for now. Clark’s sweet words of encouragement to Kara ought to act like closure for this subject and allow her (and the show) to move on to bigger and better things.

Stray thoughts on the episode:

  • I would 100% watch Keeping Up with the Kryptonians.
  • NO ONE on this show can keep a secret. They are literally all the worst at this. Every one of them.
  • Maxwell Lord is basically what I think would happen if Pharma Bro and Tony Stark had a baby.
  • I am so happy that Perd Hapley is the newscaster in National City.
  • Winn is really adorable, but he needs a personality trait or two besides “devoted to Kara.” So far, the show hasn’t made him into a total Nice Guy™, but there’s really no telling how long that can last if they don’t give the poor guy something else to do.
  • Alex and Kara seemed more like real sisters in this episode than they have before. The final scene with them hanging out is my favorite thing that’s happened in this show ever. Hopefully this is the beginning of a long term trend away from the somewhat canned-sounding platitudes that have been far too characteristic of their relationship before now.