Tag Archives: Brenda Strong

Supergirl S2E12 “Luthors” Unwraps the Enigma that is Lena Luthor

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Wow, Lena Luthor and Kara Danvers have amazing chemistry. And on the other hand, Kara and Mon-El don’t really except as a goofy friend/superhero apprentice and master deal even though they excel at lobbing insults at each other. Luckily, writers Robert L. Rovner and Cindy Lichtman in “Luthors” in which the main conflict is almost every character writing off Lena as just another villain even though she hates her mother Lillian. In the fighting front, Lillian sends a dying of synthetic kryptonite poisoning Metallo and Cyborg Superman to rescue her so her campaign against extraterrestials can continue. Plus there are plenty of flashbacks featuring a young Lex Luthor and Lionel Luthor to show Lena’s twisted life, and why she leans on Kara so much.

Rovner, Lichtman, and director Tawnia McKiernan strike gold in “Luthors” by centering much of the plot, relationship drama, and suspense around the characters of Lillian and Lena Luthor, who are played with maternal rancor and a potent mix of strength and vulnerability by Brenda Strong and Katie McGrath respectively. McGrath has a talent for body language visibly shirking away from Metallo when he busts her out of prison where the guards constantly insult and mistreat her. And when Supergirl comes to stop Metallo and Lillian, she instantly runs for her. This open vulnerability that she shares with Kara, who brings her donuts in a super cute scene, is immediately replaced by combativeness as it is revealed that she is the daughter of Lionel Luthor and his mistress, which wasn’t great for Lillian and Lena’s relationship growing up. But the manipulation is counterbalanced by the paradigm challenging friendship (With heavy romantic subtext.) between Kara and Lena, who feels safe and happy around Kara, and isn’t afraid to hug her when she is mostly distant around her mother and the people in the courtroom early on.

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Brenda Strong has been sorely missed the past few episodes, and her ability to turn from wannabe nice mom to goal oriented anti-alien fanatic is on full display in “Luthors”. Lillian plays Lena like a musical instrument as McKiernan instantly cuts to her daugher’s teary face when she talks about finally having a good mother/daughter relationship now that Lex and Lionel are out of the picture. But she really just needs Lena’s Luthor DNA to unlock a special vault filled with all kinds of goodies like Lex’s classic battlesuit, some sonic bombs, and more Easter Eggs that will likely pop up in episodes to come as Cadmus continues their war against Supergirl and her alien friends. And even when Lena puts two and two together, Lillian continues to try to soothe and comfort her like mother while leaving Metallo behind to burn out while she’s off to survive another day.

Metallo is decently well-used this episode as pure, if flawed muscle as his kryptonite blaster gives Supergirl serious problems and leads to a well-staged close quarters between him and J’onn, who channels his sadness over Miss Martian leaving into a fun last minute save. His core going nuclear is a boring action movie trope, but the fact that he has kryptonite after J’onn gave Superman the rest of his supply is a clever hook for most of “Luthors”. It’s also good to have a villain who can go toe to toe with Supergirl because you can’t win all the fights even if it looks like Metallo won’t be fighting any battles after this one. Metallo is just a plot device in “Luthors”, but works well as a distraction from Kara Danvers’ attempts to vindicate Lena as innocent because of their friendship.

And finally, we make it to our favorite part of each Supergirl review: where I continue to chronicle why the Kara/Mon-El relationship doesn’t work out on a romantic level. First, Robert L. Rovner and Cindy Lichtman have Mon-El talk about his failed date with Eve Teschmacher instead of reveling in all its awkward, disgusting glory with Chris Wood mooning all over Kara. This leads to some awkward dialogue throughout “Luthors” about Mon-El and Kara caring about each other dating other people, Kara choosing being Supergirl over having a boyfriend, and there’s no real bond between them or even story elements that show why Kara’s feelings have changed towards him. It’s like they’re looking for a reason to keep Mon-El, who does have a little bit of goofy charm thanks to Chris Wood, around, and the spinner landed on romance, not friend or hero-in-training. Luckily, their smooch is interrupted by a classic supervillain

“Luthors” puts some meat on the bones of the greatest villain in Supergirl Season 2 and one of Supergirl’s most unexpected confidants, Lena Luthor. Their backstory complete with low lighting and chess imagery from Tawnia McKiernan taps into the supervillain iconography implicit within the Luthor name, and she even leaves Lena’s true allegiance ambiguous even though she hates Lillian and loves Kara. (Yeah, I used the L word, deal with it.) The other plotlines featuring Mon-El and James Olsen seem a little forced although it’s nice to Kara and James as friends after their fantastic chemistry in Supergirl Season 1, but a comic book deep cut cliffhanger promises that next week’s will be more on the experimental and comedic side.

Overall Rating: 8.0

Supergirl S2E8 “Medusa” is More Mother/Daughter Relationships than Crossovers

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While the lion’s share of the advertising and general hype surrounding this episode of Supergirl is about its impending crossover with the other CW superhero shows, writer Jessica Queller and Derek Simon don’t abandon the show’s arcs and relationships for guest stars and dimensional rifts. “Medusa” is centered around relationships between mothers and daughters and family in general as Lillian Luthor tries to get Lena to join the family business and release a bio-weapon killing. On the more heroic side of things, Supergirl works with her adoptive mother, Eliza Danvers (a very pleasant Helen Slater). The intertwining of the family secrets and the passive aggressive sniping of the Luthors thanks to Brenda Strong along with the added side dish of Martian Manhunter struggling with becoming a White Martian elevates the plot, which is a standard quarantine disaster movie or the X-Men “Legacy Virus” crossover without them.

The theme of family is definitely fitting for an episode immediately airing after Thanksgiving, and director Stefan Pleszysnki uses warm lighting and plenty of shots of Kara and her friends and family to show their bond despite “secrets,” like James Olsen being the vigilante Guardian, or more seriously, Alex Danvers coming out as lesbian to her mother. Alex does come out to Eliza later in the episode in a warm moment of acceptance, but thankfully the Guardian subplot is sidelined for this one. Helen Slater is basically a human sunbeam, and even though she mainly plays the role of scientific exposition or fixer of bio weapons, she brings intelligence and love to each scene. This is a total contrast to Kara’s real father, Zor-El, who is responsible for creating the basically racist bio weapon Medusa, which can destroy the DNA of any non-Kryptonians as a last ditch weapon.

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It’s disconcerting that Kara’s father, who instilled in her the values of goodness, hope, and being “stronger together”, created something that could be used for genocide and could kill innocents. Melissa Benoist’s performance as Supergirl is less bright and more pensive than usual after this reveal as she talks to Martian Manhunter about her father’s terrible legacy. As the lone survivor of a world he would have given anything to save, he slightly understands Zor-El’s motivation, but mentions this in passing and instead comforts Kara. David Harewood channels the noble, honorable warrior inside of J’onn Jonzz that comics fans and viewers of the Justice League cartoons have loved for years as he flies out to help stop Lillian Luthor from releasing the bio weapon. He has a passion for good that can’t be drowned out by the White Martian DNA devouring his body even if this disease makes for some nifty special effects makeup.

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In “Medusa”, we finally get to see Lena and Lillian Luthor share some extended screen time, and Queller and Simon make their pacing around an office scenes more tense than Cyborg Superman getting his block knocked off or doing a “super punch” for the umpteenth time. (There is nothing wrong with punching just a character that exists as a one-dimensional goon, punching bang, and waste of David Harewood’s acting talent.) Brenda Strong continues to be the queen of passive aggressive condescension mixed with the cold, hard truth. (Yes, she prefers Lex to Lena.) Katie McGrath pulls out all the acting stops going from being the easygoing friend as Kara “interviews” her to get information about Cadmus and her mother to the cold, disdainful daughter measuring each syllable in venom when her mom decides to drop in. And she is especially entertaining in villain mode with raised eyebrows and a purr that evokes Eva Green if she ever decided to play Lady Macbeth. And Pleszynski holds the reveal that she sabotaged the bio-weapon for quite a while hinting at some dark irony as aliens celebrate red sparks that fall from the sky and do nothing.

And this being a CW show, this review wouldn’t be complete with an overindulgent discussion of the romantic pairings in “Medusa”. Queller and Simon go to the soap opera well and have Kara and Mon-El share a kiss while he is on his “death bed” after being exposed to the bio weapon. It isn’t really logical that Kara would fall for a kind of sexist, kind of adorkable, and slightly cowardly guy like Mon-El, and the “bonding” scenes where they play Monopoly and discuss the meanings of “crush” and “like” don’t really help. He is attractive, but it seems like the Supergirl are trying to do Romeo and Juliet with DC Comics aliens and hopefully less bloodshed in their relationship. It lacks the spark of, say, Alex and Maggie or even Oliver Queen and Felicity Smoak in early seasons of Arrow. Plain and simple, Mon-El is way too douchey to be with Kara.

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But, on a happier note, Maggie Sawyer and Alex share a beautiful scene at the end of “Medusa” , which acts as a rousing conclusion to Alex’s coming out arc. It’s kind of cute, kind of awkward, and also very empowering as Maggie finally realizes that Alex came out not so she could be with her, but that she could finally completely be herself. There’s great symmetry between both her chat with her mother and Maggie about finally being able to feel her full identity, but substitute familial for romantic love. Maggie and Alex finally share a long kiss, but it’s the little pause where Alex asks Maggie if she likes her that encapsulates their relationship as Alex is still a little unsure of herself after Maggie previously rejected her. This hesitancy and fear makes Alex’s coming out that much more organic because even if your friends and relatives aren’t homophobic, the process can be a little awkward. Luckily, Alex has a supportive mother and sister.

As Supergirl Radio podcast host Carly Lane astutely tweeted, “Medusa” is like a zero issue or prologue for the “Heroes vs. Aliens” crossover with The Flash and Vibe enlisting the help of their extraterrestrial ally in a battle against a mysterious alien threat. There is a scene with aliens on a ship that seems spliced in from a later episode or another show altogether, but mostly the “crossover” scene at the end is a reminder of Gustin and Melissa Benoist’s adorable chemistry (They give the best hugs. with a tinge of sadness as Barry and Cisco aren’t on the best of terms. And in true comic book fashion, the episodes ends on an energetic cliffhanger as Kara will get to meet Team Flash (and possibly more people) tomorrow night.

With the reveal of Zor-El as potential destroyer of worlds, Jessica Queller and Derek Simon find a real commonality between Lena and Supergirl in “Medusa”. They are both daughters trying to make something better out of their family’s misdeeds even if Luthor will always have a more villainous ring to it than El unless you’re a disgruntled train commuter. This through line of family, especially mothers and daughters, keeps this Supergirl focused, but some fun romantic, Martian, and speedster detour don’t derail it.

Overall Rating: 8.0

TV Review: Supergirl S2E7 The Darkest Place Retreads Old Plot Points

Supergirl -- "The Darkest Places" -- Image SPG207a_0140 -- Pictured (L-R): Melissa Benoist as Kara/Supergirl and Brenda Strong as The Doctor -- Photo: Robert Falconer/The CW -- © 2016 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved

Lots of things happen in Supergirl Season 2, Episode 7 “The Darkest Place“, which earns its title as director Glen Winter loves shooting in crowded corridors and using almost hallucinogenic filters in his cinematography. Even if some of the fight scenes have that herky, jerky Arrow Season 1 feel (See the Martian on Martian fight when clearly they are trying to save money.), Supergirl‘s weakness isn’t its budget. It’s the way Robert Rovner and Paula Yoo structure the plot going from point to point and rarely giving characters time to breathe or reflect. This episode is about Mon-El and Supergirl being captured and experimented on by Cadmus while Guardian is framed as a killer, and Martian Manhunter deals with hallucinations thanks to the White Martian blood infusion he got from Miss Martian. Like most of Supergirl Season 2, “The Darkest Place” hits some strong character beats, and Chyler Leigh and Melissa Benoist continue to give strong performances as Alex Danvers and Supergirl. However, the main plot is a fast forwarded retread of the solar flare episode in Season 1 where Supergirl loses her powers, and the B-plot is like the first half of Daredevil Season 2 with far less gravitas.

The filming style for the Cadmus secret base is pretty nifty as Glen Winter makes it look the DEO’s evil twin, and Cyborg Superman (The real Hank Henshaw, who is still played by David Harewood.) straight up says it’s the spiritual successor to the DEO with its alien-hunting and experimentation. There are lots of quick cuts and dark camera shutters in an eerie homage to X-Files as Supergirl goes in alone to the DEO base to rescue Mon-El, who was taken captive at the end of last episode. But then all the interesting visuals and brutal hand to hand combat between Kara and Cyborg Superman gets squandered for yet another depowering plotline that only exists so Dr. Lillian Luthor (Brenda Strong is still disturbing as hell.) can have Supergirl’s blood to advance the season-long mystery plot. The loss of her power also allows Jeremiah Danvers (Dean Cain) to show up for two seconds, be a big damn hero, and then leave. The response to Jeremiah showing is actually more powerful than his appearance because Kara immediately tells Alex about it showing that they trust each other as sisters. But Alex knows James is Guardian, and Kara doesn’t so maybe not…

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Speaking of Guardian, he and his techie sidekick Winn get the first villain in their rogues gallery, a chain gun wielding, former Navy Seal with a dead wife that is one skull logo away from getting a cease and desist from Marvel. Victor Zink Jr. plays the killer vigilante Phillip Karnowsky without an ounce of sympathy or personality because he’s mainly a prop to have the whole “mask or no mask” debate and give Guardian the requisite “hated and feared” step in his superhero journey. Luckily, Robert Rovner and Paula Yoo don’t have Snapper Carr channel his inner J. Jonah Jameson, but Ian Gomez keeps an even keel on his performance exposing James Olsen’s personal bias towards superheroes in his one scene in the episode.

The Guardian subplot is really paint by numbers with the exception of Alex Danvers easily finding out about James’ secret identity because he and Winn are superhero noobs. (Her “interrogation” of Winn is hilarious.) James gives sanctimonious lectures about not killing to Karnowsky in a terribly mixed growly voice, and Karnowsky has the weak gimmick of only killing criminals, who got early parole or off on technicalities. The bulky mask continues to cover up Mehcad Brooks’ natural charisma, and it’s also hard to have any idea of what he’s saying. The fight between Karnowsky has way too many cuts to probably cover up some of the costuming and effects and is just plain boring as Alex and Maggie Sawyer come in and arrest him. It’s kind of sad that Rovner and Yoo decide to make Guardian a pastiche of Batman, Daredevil, and Green Arrow instead of focusing on how James Olsen transforms beneath the mask, but that is what his role feels like in “The Darkest Place”

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The third major plot in “The Darkest Place” is Martian Manhunter’s sickness and hallucinations of his dead daughters and White Martians. Glen Winters creates a nice visual continuity between his cluttered mindspace and the claustrophobic halls of the Cadmus base before Rovner and Yoo use the sickness plotline to make him a creature of total vengeance. After finding out that Miss Martian is a White Martian through some blood tests, Martian Manhunter spends the rest of his storyline whaling on her. The fight culminates in an obscured CGI Martian beatdown with Martian Manhunter still under the effect of the plague.  And the plague raises a question. Why would Miss Martian give him a blood transfusion when she knew that it would transform Martian Manhunter into a White Martian? The underpinnings of this are left on the backburner for fisticuffs though.

Although filled with some excellent individual character scenes, like Alex going full vulnerable with Maggie in response to her or Mon-El admitting his fear of death while being captured by Cadmus, the overarching plots of “The Darkest Place” feel like a rerun of previous episodes of Supergirl and other superhero TV shows. This and the continuing trainwreck of the James Olsen as Guardian makes this episode the weakest of a stellar second season. Also, the writers tease at a romance between Mon-El and Kara, which is a little disgusting, considering how he has treated and talked about women in previous episodes. However, Cyborg Superman has a chance at being a super cool and twisted villain, especially as David Harewood gets to go all Angel/Angelus and showcase his villainous acting.

Overall Rating: 7.0