Supergirl, Alex and Braniac thwart an alien attack while William investigates Kara; J’onn J’onzz and Kelly use Obsidian tech to solve a problem.
What does J’onn J’onzz brother want? Why can’t J’onn remember details? This second episode reveals all of that and more. It’s an episode that balances reveals and battles each with good and bad. But, again, the most interesting aspect of the show is Kara’s work life.
Much like the season’s debut, the episode feels like it lacks some of the fun of previous seasons. There’s just something that feels off-kilter as far as tone and pacing.
The search of J’onn’s brother brings the team in contact and a quick battle ensues but it all feels a bit unnecessary. The episode would have been stronger have the hidden Martian among the team. It would have created a more tense episode and kept the viewer wondering who could be trusted. Stringing that along would create a bit more tension for the series and a unique aspect.
The episode mixes in humor with a focus on relationships that run from intriguing to a bit over the top (on purpose). It adds some levity and is closer to the “happier” tone of previous seasons. Though some of those relationships are unhealthy in reality.
Still, the best aspect is Kara and her work. With a new boss and a coworker whose actions are dubious, there’s a lot there to mine. The show dances around all of it but in a world where journalism struggles an staff are dismissed at a whim, it has the most potential of the season. A small detail at the end makes it all even more interesting and puts things in a gray zone.
The series continues to build up Lena as a villain and where that’s taken could make or break the season. It’s a bit of a shame as a Luthor as a villain feels a bit been there done that but Kara/Supergirl needs a big bad that can play out over seasons and Lena can be that.
The episode continues to set things up for the season and show continued potential. There’s a lot the episode dances around and while the tone of the episode and season is a bit different, it’s still an enjoyable hour.
Supergirl kicks off its fifth season as Kara is surprised to find CatCo has a new owner who has brought in a star reporter; new couples emerge and explore their budding relationships; J’onn J’onzz receives an unexpected visitor.
I ducked out of the fourth season of Supergirl though appreciated the show’s willingness to take on very real-world issues. The fifth season seems to be keeping that mix of fantasy and reality. Kara has been awarded with a Pulitzer for her work about the President and she and the newspaper are focused on the upcoming election. It echoes the current Impeachment and 2020 election. It wears its advocacy on its sleeve with observations about voting and voters.
The show continues to balance its superhero aspects and “real life” but in this season opener it’s the real life that wins out. The exploration of modern journalism and employment is interesting. There’s clearly more there but what’s presented is intriguing and the best part of the episode.
Kara’s relationship with Lena is the other focus. Kara is torn as to whether she should reveal her identity. It’s the second best part in an episode whose villain is rather boring.
There’s some negative in that Kara’s glasses lack glass at times and Melissa Benoist’s makeup is just not up to snuff. There’s a mix of what looks like bad foundation and tan lines (really a lack of tan). It’s noticeable enough to distract.
The episode is one of the weaker debuts for the series. It has its moments but never quite excites. Its best moments are the human ones.
In “Alex”, Supergirl focuseson the heart of its show, Alex Danvers, played with fierceness, warmth, and a side of sheer terror by Chyler Leigh. But instead of having Alex go on a solo mission or something, writers Eric Carrasco and Greg Baldwin put in her in a cell in the middle of nowhere and have her sister Kara and girlfriend Maggie work against the clock to save her from Jigsaw-like criminal mastermind, Rick (Z: The Beginning of Everything’s David Hoflin). He also happens to be an old friend from Midvale Middle/High, and a blast from a past bad guy with the simple motivation of wanting to save his criminal father, Peter, from prison might be just what the doctor ordered for a show which had a human nanobot swarm as the antagonist last week.
Carrasco and Baldwin immediately pit the optimistic, yet less than wary of collateral damage Supergirl against the pragmatic, by-the-book cop Maggie Sawyer in a quick action scene followed by an awkward pizza dinner. Thankfully, Mon-El is sidelined as the goofy comic relief, and the focus in on Maggie and Kara arguing about the ethics of being a superhero. Maggie likes it when Kara helps with aliens and monsters, but wishes she would stay away from human criminals. It’s a similar to the debate between Tony Stark and Captain America in Captain America: Civil War where Cap wants the freedom to make on the fly decisions to save people while Tony wants the the Avengers held accountable. But, luckily, “Alex” isn’t a Civil War ripoff as this ideological conflict reveals the deep love that Kara and Maggie have for Alex, and they show it through doing anything possible to save her, including almost freeing a murderer in jail. They might differ on how to fight crime, but they both care for Alex Danvers very much.
Rick is an interesting villain of the week. He’s a regular guy with the superpowers of creepily stalking Alex Danvers for the past year and learning everything about her relationships and friends, which is why not even DEO super tech and Martian Manhunter’s shapeshifting can stop him.He also knows Kara is Supergirl because he witnessed her use her powers during a middle school beach trip to save an exploding car. Carrasco and Baldwin hint at Rick having a crush, but he doesn’t kidnap Alex because he has feelings for her. He imprisons her because he is still jealous of her and Kara’s “stable” home life while he had an abusive mother. This is definitely a sad backstory, but he ruins it through his traps and games that take up most of the episode’s running time. I enjoyed how the final rescue doesn’t come through brute force or advanced interrogation techniques, but Kara appealing to the fact that though Peter is a pretty crappy person, he was a good dad to Rick. Usually, Melissa Benoist’s portrayal of hopeful optimism is bright eyed and bushy tailed, but there’s an undercurrent of rage when she holds Rick in her grip and threatens him with her heat vision.
The acting from Chyler Leigh, Melissa Benoist, and in a small, but powerful role, David Harewood is pretty great in “Alex”. Harewood continues to nail the role of father figure and commander as he barks out orders one second and then softens and gives Alex and Maggie a big hug later. Leigh turns a part that could be a cliched “scream queen channeling both fear (Her desperate confessions to Maggie.) and resourcefulness (Cutting into her own body to activate her tracker.) in her performance. Melissa Benoist leans into the wistfulness of Supergirl as she realizes that although she has the ability to fly and maybe even turn back time by flying around the Earth, she can’t save Alex. But when the danger is over, she is back to her goofy self while half-flirting with Lena Luthor about not having kale at their brunch next weekend.
Floriana Lima also gets to show the softer side of Maggie’s character while also having a pretty epic action jaunt when she breaks into a federal prison with a raygun to rescue Alex even if it means caving to a terrorist’s demands. On the other hand, there is a detective-like precision to the way she delivers her thoughts about Rick and Alex’s kidnapping transforming it from a superhero mission to a very cold case. The almost silent scene that she, Alex, and Kara share at the end is filled to the brim with love, and director Rob J. Greenlea takes some time to soak in the moment after his claustrophobic camera work of Alex almost drowning in a cage.
Running almost in a parallel universe is the B-plot featuring Rhea (Teri Hatcher) trying to get Lena Luthor (Katie McGrath) to help her build a transmatter transporter (To cure world hunger, she claims.) and opening a real Pandora’s box of mommy and family issues. During a dinner scene, McGrath plays Lena with a real empathy as she opens up to a woman, who thinks might be the mother she has always wished for. But this ends up backfiring although Lena and Rhea end up working together at the end as Eric Carrasco and Greg Baldwin continued the time honored Supergirl Season 2 tradition of pushing Lena Luthor as close to the edge of evil as possible. Her desire to make L-Corp a company that is the exact opposite of Lex Luthor may come back to bite her.
With a thrilling villainous death trap plot that steers close to the personal, “Alex” is one of the better Supergirl episodes in 2017. Centering the episode on a character that most fans like, Alex Danvers, is a stroke of genius as writers Eric Carrasco and Greg Baldwin use a cuckoo plot to coax out some real feelings from Alex, Kara, and even Maggie with Chyler Leigh, Melissa Benoist, and Floriana Lima creating a wonderful emotional bond as the credits roll.
“Exodus” reminded me of why I loved and started to write about Supergirl in the first place and is the show’s best episode of 2017 so far. It puts Mon-El and Kara’s romance on the backburner, fishes out a criminally underused Snapper Carr (And the talented Ian Gomez, who embodies truth in a single passionate, yet cynical glance.), and best of all, puts the focus on the sisterly relationship between Kara and Alex Danvers. But this episode isn’t just long stretches of Kara and Alex pouring out their feelings, but is filled with some top notch action as writers Paula Yoo and Eric Carrasco and director Michael Allowitz have Alex basically go rogue and take out Cadmus all by herself when J’onn suspends her from Cadmus. Also, in an episode that guest stars TV’s Lois (Teri Hatcher as a mysterious alien) and Clark (Jeremiah Danvers) themselves, the most romantic moment comes from Supergirl catching Lena Luthor after she helps put her on the trail to Cadmus. They don’t get a ton of screen time, but Yoo and Carrasco continue to completely debunk the Luther/Superfamily rivalry and give them a genuine friendship even if they don’t have time for kombucha this time.
Even though Supergirl is pretty damn heroic in this episode carrying a spaceship filled with deported alien refugees (There are tons of political parallels in “Exodus.), the reporter Kara Danvers is pretty flawed. And even though “he’s rooting for her”, Snapper Carr is quick to point out those flaws that include basically only using Supergirl aka herself as a source for her pieces. He might come off as irascible, but Snapper is a true crusader for journalism ethics, which is kind of big deal in a time where journalists from the venerable BBC aren’t welcome at President Trump’s press gaggles.
Snapper humors Kara and interviews “Supergirl”, but she doesn’t reveal that she got information about Cadmus taking the alien registry from the DEO even off the record so there’s no story in his eyes. But Kara goes off the reservation and exposes Cadmus in a blog post. (Sadly not done in WordPress.) She’s a great superhero, but not a great journalist. These series of events causes Lillian and Cadmus to go into hiding, but it costs Kara her job. Now, she has an existential crisis in her civilian position, and you can definitely see the sadness in Melissa Benoist’s eyes as she sits on the window sill in a sequence tearfully framed by Allowitz. It’s a relatable sequence to anyone who has lost a promising job that they were passionate about. And yeah, Mon-El is there to reassure her, but that emptiness is still there as who knows what Kara Danvers is going to do with her life moving onwards.
Continuing the theme of going against authority, Alex Danvers decides to take down Cadmus all by herself. (With a little help from Maggie Sawyer, who is there for the smooching, snarking, and raygun blasts.) Her emotional bond with her father Jeremiah continues even after he steals the alien registry from the DEO, and she continues to passionately hope that there is good in him bringing her into conflict with J’onn and disagreement with Kara. One of “Exodus'” most shocking moments is J’onn shapeshifting into Jeremiah and coercing Alex into “betraying” the DEO by agreeing to team up with him. Thankfully, J’onn walks this back later in the episode after most of everything is set to rights, and their father/daughter relationship is intact.
But before the tearful reunion, we get to see Chyler Leigh and Floriana Lima star in the queer, female starring remake of Bad Boys that everyone secretly (or not so secretly) wants. They use some gun play and detective smarts by using their buddy from the alien bar, Brian, to act as bait for Cadmus goons before springing the trap in a thrilling hand to hand combat scene. Then, Alex gets to unleash her inner Splinter Cell character and stealthily infiltrate the DEO and team up with her dad, who is in deep, deep cover and joined Cadmus to protect her and Kara. Alex believes in him so much, and they move fluidly in combat trying to stop Lillian from sending a group of alien refugees to the far end of space before Cyborg Superman has to ruin things. Alex Danvers is a true action hero, and because her abilities don’t require CGI, her fight scenes are better staged with longer takes.
Nonetheless,The Flash and Vampire Diaries director Michael Allowitz brings some powerful visuals to the forefront of “Exodus in both the action and emotion department. Women kicking ass is the throughline of the episode’s setpieces even if Guardian gets a killer save in the early going from Lena tasing her own mom’s goons before jumping off the roof because Supergirl will save her to Lyra saving her fellow aliens while Alex and Supergirl attempt to crash land an “alien ocean frigate”. A group fight scene featuring Maggie, Alex, and Winn at the alien bar is relentless as Alex uses pool cues and whatever she can find to fight off the goons and try to save the aliens from Cadmus. It shows her resourcefulness and that she is willing to do whatever it takes to protect anyone in need. This ruthless pragmatism comes in handy later in the episode when Alex threatens to blow up Lillian Luthor’s top secret base and then sets off some explosives to show her that she wasn’t bluffing. Alex Danvers has a darker edge compared to her adoptive sister, but her relationships with Maggie, Kara, and her father figures Jeremiah and J’onn give a warm humanity to a character who brutally beat a prisoner early on in the episode.
However, Allowitz’s finest moment is a tribute to Star Trek: Wrath of Khan as Alex and Kara touch hands through the glass while Kara strains to prevent the ship with the alien refugees from going into light speed. The shot is a subtle homage to the film, and no one makes a joke about Star Trek, but it’s iconic enough to be shorthand for a lasting bond of friendship that transcends life and death. Blake Neely’s score is also pretty heroic, and Melissa Benoist does these death howls to show much pain she is in while saving this ship. Kara and Alex’s relationship has been the bedrock of Supergirl since Season 1 and centering an episode around it makes “Exodus one of Season 2’s sturdier episodes. They resist authority separately with the help of the women they love (Lena and Maggie) to protect the Earth from an evil, xenophobic organization and then end up saving the day together in a glorious instant.
The past few episodes of Supergirl have focused on romance and villains of the week, but “Exodus” is grounded in the reality of the 2017 albeit through the spaceships and extraterrestrials. Allowitz opens the scene with a moment of broad comedy as a mom and dad sings along to the latest Bruno Mars hit single while the pre-teen daughter makes snarky little comments. But then they are stopped by the police, and the context immediately turns frightening as they are snatched up and sent to Cadmus’ prison base. This is a jarring sequence to watch, especially after the “Muslim Ban 2.0” executive order was signed into law by a man, who thinks that security briefings are optional before sending soldiers to be killed in action, perjury is no big deal, and it’s totally cool to conduct international diplomacy in full view of the public at a Palm Beach club for rich white people while eating wedge salads on taxpayers’ dime. Just like the random aliens that get rounded up in “Exodus”, people are getting snatched up and deported because of their religion and national origin instead of being treated like human beings. This real world connection adds weight to Lillian Luthor and Cadmus’ villainy and makes Supergirl part of the pop culture resistance in a way.
Paula Yoo and Eric Carrasco throw aside most of this Mon-El foolishness for an episode and zero in on the flaws and heroism of Kara Danvers and Alex Danvers through relationships, defiance of authority in various ways that even have negative consequences in the case of Kara’s job, and finally a breathtaking rescue sequence that is one of Supergirl Season 2’s most memorable.
The latest episode of Supergirl begins with Mon-El being uncertain about and then giving himself a pat on the back for his sexual prowess, and things can only go up from there. When he’s not being the worst boyfriend ever and not listening to or empathizing with Kara, writers Caitlin Parrish and Derek Simon focus the plot of “Homecoming” on the return of Jeremiah Danvers (Dean Cain) in an overly easy opening set piece. The circumstances of his return are pretty sketchy from the get go as he pops into the DEO with the knowledge of Cadmus’ nuclear fusion bomb, but Kara, Alex, and J’onn are so emotional about the return of their father and friend that they don’t see it. A big kudos to Melissa Benoist, Chyler Leigh, and David Harewood for selling the emotional part of what is a staple superhero/genre show plotline.
I usually wait until the end to start throwing shade on the Kara/Mon-El moments in Supergirl, but decided to lead off with them because “Homecoming” is bookended by them wanting to snuggle. First off if you want to be a terrible boyfriend, do everything that Mon-El did in this episode. It starts small with him shrugging off Supergirl’s morning activities when he wants to cuddle/have sex longer instead of letting her help people. (Honestly, I don’t buy Mon-El as a cuddler.) And then, it goes to terrible lengths when he immediately starts accusing Jeremiah of being suspicious instead of being there for Kara when her father returns after 15 years. Yeah, it’s obvious that there’s something up with Jeremiah, but the big family reunion margarita shindig isn’t the time to voice your opinion about this. It does give Melissa Benoist a chance to trot out that acting range as he goes from trembling and happy about her dad coming back to just pure, measured rage when Mon-El starts being foolish. But, of course, since Parrish, Simon, and probably most of Supergirl”s writing room has them as star-crossed lovers, they’re all cuddly and supportive at the end as Kara gives Mon-El a millionth chance to be a decent human being.
To not completely dump on Mon-El in “Homecoming”, it is nice to see him play an active role in the plot investigating and collaborating with Winn to find out what really is going on with Jeremiah’s return. He isn’t just a horny goof, but is a little bit savvy even if it’s just from binge watching 24 on Netflix. Unfortunately, the main storyline of “Homecoming” relies on the main characters being idiots, and that’s never good for suspense or characterization. Simon and Parrish even shoehorn some pointless sibling drama from Alex and Kara with Alex barking ultimatums at her sister and even being a little microagressive about her being adopted. Saying “my dad” makes it feel like Alex is saying Kara is a lesser status than her, which gets really problematic once we find out that Jeremiah Danvers has stolen the registry of all aliens on Earth for Cadmus.
Speaking of Cadmus, Lillian Luthor, who gets minimal, yet powerful screen time, is a true chess master in “Homecoming” playing the entire DEO for fools. She plays on the family bond of the Danvers and J’onn keeping less than a weather eye on Jeremiah to get the alien database, which is like having all the cheat codes to her anti-extraterrestrial game. It’s clever and involves minimal goon punching (Except for the truck sequence during the cold open.) and destroys Team Supergirl’s morale when they realize the low trick that they’ve fallen for. Lillian Luthor and Cadmus now have the upper hand and even though a random (Possibly Dominator) ship doesn’t frighten or excite me, Supergirl is back to having a real antagonist to focus on instead of beatable villains of the week.
Director Larry Teng creates a sense of visual continuity in the bad guys this week through the cybernetic elements of both Hank Henshaw and Jeremiah Danvers. Teng’s fights that involve him are simple with lots of punches and hooks unlike the complicated, cutting everywhere, and trying to save the budget moves of Supergirl, who gets a nice close-up of her welding a railroad together with her heat vision. It’s incidental to the plot, but shows that she’s still a pure hero in the midst of all this family/Cadmus drama. Dean Cain’s performance as Jeremiah Danvers is also a tad on the underrated side as he strains at trying to be the man he once was for his family. Helen Slater as Eliza Danver’s usual warmth exposes this fake side pretty early on in the episode as she is distant and cold to him. Eliza is smart woman so maybe she thought something was up with him. If anything, “Homecoming” has crafted a tortured family man turned Cadmus toadie in Danvers, and he is vastly more interesting than the one note Cyborg Superman and still is solid muscle for Luthor.
The tender moments that Maggie Sawyer and Alex Danvers share are becoming more and more fleeting as the writers start to focus on the more volatile, toxic melodrama friendly relationship between Mon-El and Kara. (A good love/hate relationship can be fun, but there’s no spark to Kara and Mon-El; they are definitely not Spike and Buffy.) But Teng shoots an almost silent scene where Maggie comforts Alex after the hard news about her dad. They just hold each other while Alex cries, and Leigh pulls out the emotional floodgates. Their relationship is sweet, strong, and honestly a big reason why I tune in each week.
Larry Teng, Derek Simon, and Caitlin Parrish telegraph Jeremiah’s heel turn worse than a deer in the headlights freshman making their first bounce pass in a varsity basketball game. Most of the plot of “Homecoming” is utterly predictable, and the only positive of his return is seeing Benoist, Leigh, and Harewood emote on a powerful level. J’onn and Jeremiah used to be buddies, and they have a casual ease in the early scenes that turns into raw anger when it’s revealed Jeremiah works for Cadmus. The relationship between Kara and Mon-El continues to consume all too much screen time as it’s revealed that he doesn’t care about her until the last scene of the episode yet again. But fighting against an even more fortified Lillian Luthor sounds like a good season endgame for Supergirl, and hopefully, the writers, directors, and cast pull it off.
A week after the fact Valentine’s themed episode, Supergirl kicks it Silver Age style when the 5th dimension imp and classic Superman villain, Mxyzptlk, rolls into town. In a meta-casting twist, he is played by Peter Gadiot, who played a genie in ABC’s Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, and wants to marry Supergirl because he thought she was beautiful while traveling between dimensions. Writers Sterling Gates and Jessica Queller definitely go for broke on the goofy side with Mxyzptlk’s havoc culminating in an homage to Hamilton, but the real meat of “Mr. and Mrs. Mxyzptlk” is in the romantic relationship depart where Maggie and Alex spend their first Valentine’s together, Winn takes a chance at love with the alien Lyra, and the ball is dropped yet again in the Mon-El/Kara department.
Mxyzptlk is a fantastic villain of the week, and Gadiot plays him with unbridled energy while director Stefan Pleszczynski shoots some inventive set pieces featuring him. However, the solution to beat him is pretty low budget and word for word faithful from the comics showing Mort Weisinger zaniness can co-exist with real human feelings. It’s a nice change to have a villain that is an intellectual challenge for Supergirl and not one that she can defeat by punching, using heat vision, or the DEO armory/MacGuffin closet. She defeats Mxyzptlk in a sly way not unlike the covers of the Weisinger-era Superman comics that involved him being more of a trickster than a Big Blue Boy Scout to drive sales. Kara also fights Mxyzptlk on her terms, her turf (The Fortress of Solitude.), and without Mon-El or anyone’s help driving home her agency as a character.
James gets the week off as both Guardian and in his day job at Catco, but Gates and Queller give Winn a solo subplot of his own and an adorable, yet sexy bond with Lyra, an alien whose martial arts skills help save him at the Alien Bar. In an episode where men are trying to do “rescuing” some way, Winn’s lack of toxic masculinity is refreshing. Winn is a fan of the literature of Lyra’s home planet, Starhaven, and he immediately falls for her forward approach to romance, including asking him out and kissing him first. Except their bond isn’t just physical, and they share a nice scene where Winn talks about the pain of heartbreak and getting hurt in a romantic relationship that is relatable to anyone in the dating scene. Their storyline didn’t have much to do with the main plot, but presented some nice counterprogramming to the machismo and posturing of Mxyzptlk and Mon-El, who fight over Kara like she’s not even in the room.
Exactly how I feel about Kara/Mon-El.
I think the writers of Supergirl, including Gates and Queller, are going for an aggressive bickering leads to romance kind of vibe, like Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford in Empire Strikes Back or Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally… Except those couples had chemistry (Or at least great dialogue from Larry Kasdan and Nora Ephron respectively.), and Kara and Mon-El don’t have that even though Melissa Benoist are charming actors. Mon-El reaches new levels of ridiculousness in “Mr. and Mrs. Mxyzptlk” by treating Kara, who taught him to be a superhero, like a damsel in distress and being patronizing towards her. Also, he’s jealous of an imp from another dimension, who has major issues with boundaries and thinks that Mxyzptlk will “take” him away from her. Most of the episode is spent by Kara rescuing Mon-El from his own stupidity when he tries to go mano a mano with Mxyzptlk and lecturing him about forcing the issue in their relationship. But they still end up smooching at the end of the episode after Kara basically walks back everything she said over the past episode as not wanting to lose her “cover” when pretending to marry Mxyzptlk. It’s the silliest thing in an episode that features a teleporting, reality warping Aaron Burr cosplayer.
The message of “Mr. and Mrs. Mxyzptlk” is simple and true. Romantic relationships should be organic and selfless with both parties caring about each other instead of doing ridiculous things to impress the other person, like Mxyzptlk and to a lesser extent, Mon-El. Except Gates and Queller walk that idea back by having Kara instantly being okay with Mon-El as a romantic partner even after she has constantly said that they aren’t good for each other, and that she is tired of his rescues and stunts on her behalf. The extended make-out between Kara and Mon-El is tacked onto the verbal equivalent “I’m sorry” as the product of all the non-existent sexual tension between them. It will be interesting to see their relationship develop in a car running a red light on a busy intersection and getting majorly totaled kind of way.
But, on a happier note, Gates and Queller spend a little time with Maggie and Alex, who are celebrating their first Valentine’s together. There is a big, sad emotional beat when Maggie reveals that she was outed to her parents as a lesbian by a girl that she had a crush on in high school on Valentine’s Day. They didn’t respond well, and she had to live with relatives. From personal experience, being outed against your will is a painful, trust destroying, and agency removing experience. Maggie’s first reaction is to be alone, but she runs into Kara, who tells Maggie about how much Valentine’s means to her because this is her first one as a couple. And the ending is beautifully romantic and slightly cheesy as Maggie and Alex dance like they’re at prom together. Maggie and Alex’s relationship is pretty emotionally volatile, but through Floriana Lima and Chyler Leigh’s long glances and soft tones to each other, they truly care about each other and are Supergirl”s best romantic coupling so far in two seasons.
“Mr. and Mrs. Mxyzptlk” has a plot and villain that indulges in some true Silver Age silliness as Sterling Gates, Jessica Queller, and Stefan Plesczynski embraces Superman and Supergirl’s past canon with open arms while still having some insightful things to say about the nature of relationships. The Mon-El subplot continues to be an eyesore, but this episode of Supergirl is filled with romance, whimsy, and a touch of truth.
Unlike director Kevin Smith’s two stellar episodes of The Flash, his directorial debut on Supergirl is a little bit of a mixed bag. Writers Eric Carrasco, Jess Kardos, and Andrew Kreisberg give the show more of a sci-fi bent as Supergirl (in disguise as reporter Kara Danvers) and Mon-El chase down a lead on a missing girl and end up on a planet called The Slaver’s Moon. They have to liberate a coterie of missing humans from Roulette, played by a woefully underused Dichen Lachman, and the twist is that this planet has a red sun. Without her abilities to back her up, Supergirl relies on her power to inspire Plus Mon-El has a sketchy connection to the Dominators from the “Invasion” crossover, which could play a bigger role in episodes to come.
The villains of “Supergirl Lives” are kind of an intellectual and physical snore. Roulette seemed otherwordly earlier this season when she was running an alien fighting ring, but being on another planet has kind of ruined her bite. Her scientist henchman is just plain creepy and not really threatening like an annoying guy on a subway whereas the alien guards are there to get punched over and over again by depowered Kryptonians, random civilians, and Winn. But, luckily, Supergirl has a stellar cast, and character development given to Alex Danvers, Winn, Supergirl, and especially Mon-El keeps this episode from being a disaster. Plus Ian Gomez returns as Snapper Carr, and his cynical attitude towards Kara’s reporting skills thaws just a little while he goes on a hilarious rant about wanting to be left alone with his coffee and Danish.
Up to this point, Mon-El was a character that I kind of detested as he came across as an overprivileged douche from another planet and not a good romantic match for Kara. However, in 2017, it seems like the writers have decided to make him a little likable and more heroic while using his laziness and obliviousness to some things on Earth for quick bits of humor. For example, there are running gags involving club soda and Highlights magazine that create a real bond between him and Kara to go along with their teaming up to save runaway aliens. Mon-El truly changes in “Supergirl Lives” as he goes from trying to run through the portal back home to covering the runaways’ escape routes with some well aimed blaster bolts. He is inspired by Supergirl’s optimism and willingness to take multiple energy blasts to become a hero in his own right. But his work ethic is still terrible (He takes a day off on his second day as a bartender who doesn’t know the difference between alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks.), and his connection to the Dominators is a little unsettling. Maybe, he is not all he seems to be.
Even though they gets the C-Plot of “Supergirl Lives”, Smith, Carrasco, Kardos, and Kreisberg nail the dynamic between Winn and James Olsen with all the fear, anger, and adventure of being a superhero team. The opening car chase scene featuring him, Guardian, and Supergirl gave me chills as Smith ably switched angles to show Supergirl’s epic poses and heat visions before swooping in up, close, and personal for some street level vigilante action. Also, Winn gets his face bruised, and a jewel thief puts a gun to his head.
Even though he’s relegated to comic relief for the most part in Supergirl, Jeremy Jordan channels pure fear in “Supergirl Lives” in the opening scene, and also when Alex decides to take him along as tech support. He kind of nails what I would be feeling if I had to go into action against criminals or aliens with a bit less vomiting and promptly quits being a team with Guardian. However, going on the off-planet mission gives him a surge of confidence that he shows off to James in a meeting where he is ready to go back into action as “Agent Schott, Defender of the Stars”. Alex and Winn have had a special bond in Supergirl, and her little nudge to get him into to go into the field is a nice payoff for this.
As usual, Chyler Leigh gives the best performance of Supergirl and has the most emotionally powerful arc as she struggles with her newfound happiness with Maggie Sawyer. This can be seen in the lighting used by Smith to film the morning after their first sleepover, which is filled with super cutesy, rom com-ish dialogue. But this is kind of the point. Alex has only recently come out of the closet and gone through a crazy “will they, won’t they” thing with Maggie, and it’s nice to have them pleasantly chatting over coffee. However, Alex is new to romantic relationships and feels insecure about letting Maggie into her problems rebuffing her at the DEO when Kara goes missing.
Instead of pointless drama, Carrasco, Kardos, and Kreisberg go for more nuance with Maggie and Alex’s relationship as Alex feels like she doesn’t deserve to have an amazing glow on her face when she describes Maggie as her “girlfriend”. Her work and protecting Kara has been her life so far, and she doesn’t feel like she’s entitled to this kind of relationship so Alex pushes Maggie away when she wants to help her find Kara. However, at the end of the episode, Alex realizes this is kind of ridiculous and has a cute, touching reunion with her where Maggie reveals that she knows Supergirl’s secret identity. There is room for Alex to care for both Kara and Alex in her life.
“Supergirl Lives” has a nifty car chase scene and some great hand to hand fight scenes featuring Alex Danvers, and the red filter used by Kevin Smith and Shamus Whiting-Hewlett brings out Kara’s vulnerability as she and a depowered Mon-El wander Slaver’s Moon. This combined with the strong characterization of Winn and Mon-El along with the continuing acting brilliance of Chyler Leigh balances out a weak bad guy and a yawn of an alien infiltration arc to make a decent hour of Supergirl.
While the lion’s share of the advertising and general hype surrounding this episode of Supergirlis 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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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”
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.
In “Changing”, writers Caitlin Parrish, Andrew Kreisberg, and Greg Berlanti round off several characters subplots as James Olsen and Mon-El wrap up their heroic journeys, Alex Danvers comes out to her sister, Supergirl, and Martian Manhunter and Miss Martian are brought closer together in a traumatic way. Oh, and there happens to be a villain in this episode as director Larry Teng pays homage to The Thing with an alien parasite taking out scientists at a remote base near one of the poles in its cold open. Parasite (Lost’‘s William Mapother) that extremists can be on both the left and right side of the aisle. Climate change is terrible, but killing human beings isn’t the solution
But Berlanti, Parrish, and Kreisberg use Parasite less as a global warming parable in classic Superman villain form and more as a way to cause the cast of Supergirl external discomfort to go with their inner pain. The strongest emotional beat in “Changing” and one of the best character arcs on a TV show in 2016 belongs to Alex Danvers. Chyler Leigh excels at changing her vocal timbre and has great range as an actor going from aloof to happy to completely broken at the drop of the hat while also kicking ass in the action scenes against Parasite. She doesn’t have to speak to show the depth of her uncertainty about how to talk about being a lesbian, or the depth of her feelings towards Maggie Sawyer. The scene(s) where Alex comes out to Kara are the complete opposite of an after school special as Teng uses soft lighting with a minor piano score from Blake Neely as well as getting rid of Kara’s “glasses disguise” for a true moment of authenticity as she is there for her sister. Alex coming out as lesbian wasn’t a stunt for ratings or titillation, but an organic part of development of a character as she strives to be whole in her personal life as well as her professional life as an agent of the DEO. The ending of her storyline is completely happy, but thankfully Berlanti, Parrish, and Kreisberg go the route of Carmilla rather than The 100 as far as tragic queer characters are concerned.
Last episode, I described Mon-El as “adorkable”, but maybe he is more of a douche than a dork. His storyline in “Changes” starts out promisingly enough with Chris Wood flexing his impeccable comedic timing with Mon-El’s reactions to various aliens sending him drinks at the alien bar, which has become the show’s most memorable setting with Catco being a pale spectre of its Season 1 self. But it all goes to hell after this as Mon-El uses his powers to be an enforcer for an alien bookie and not feel any guilt about it. His amorality has gone from naive to downright frustrating or disgusting, and it’s kind of cathartic to see Alex light into him for using his powers to hurt people weaker than him and call him a coward. Mon-El does pathetically participate in the fight against Parasite as he takes baby steps towards being a superhero. He’s not very likeable though, but his role in the episode’s cliffhanger opens up a possibility for him to regain some face in the long run.
I have mixed feelings about the James Olsen becomes a superhero subplot, and all of Mehcad Brooks’ charm goes out the window when he is covered up behind a helmet and voice modulator. But his transformation into the vigilante Guardian has brought him and Winn closer together as well as added another black superhero to television. Even though he ends up cracking wise in the heat of battle when James battles Parasite while Supergirl and Martian Manhunter are down for the count, Jeremy Jordan plays Winn very seriously in “Changes” as he basically tells James to back off his demands for the Guardian suit. He cares for James and doesn’t want to kill himself while playing superhero. Winn is skeptical about James’ actions and kind of a stand-in for Supergirl fans, who are wary of his arc in Season 2. However, he ends up coming around when he realizes that telling a guy in a suit how to punch and defend himself is kind of an adrenaline rush. Olsen might have the gruff, grating voice of Christian Bale’s Batman, but he and Winn have a genuine good time as superheroes even if his origin story is rooted in the death of his father and his own insecurities as a “sidekick”. Some better sound editing would make the patter on Olsen’s side a tad bit snappier.
Due to dramatic timing (and probably budget constraints), Larry Teng saves the reveal of Rudy Jones’ final Parasite form for the last third of “Changes”. Unlike the shoddy CGI of a recent of “monster” in The Flash, Supergirl”s visual effects artists give him the purple hue of the comic book version to go with intimidating size and scale. The makeup and visual effects team should also be commended for their work on the wounded Martian Manhunter and Supergirl, who look like they’re on death’s door and completely drained of their health and vitality. They definitely don’t look like powerful, adorable superheroes or cool, regal Martians. In the big brawl between Mon-El, Guardian, and this week’s villain, Teng doesn’t neglect the horror giving Parasite a “chest burster” for a mouth that he breaks out when fighting Mon-El on the streets. His direction (and the writing) does falter a little bit with the quick reveal of a limitless energy MacGuffin that Supergirl gives Parasite to finally defeat him which is even little too much deus ex machina for a superhero show. However, the image of Kara taking on a huge burst of energy that could destroy any of her friends is a visual representation of her ability to inspire James Olsen to become a superhero, Alex Danvers to embrace her queer identity, and for Mon-El to “show up”.
On the surface, “Changes” get its title from the physical transformation that Dr. Rudy Jones endures as he goes from an overzealous scientist to a character in an early David Cronenberg movie to a tricked out supervillain. However, it is truly about the transformations in Supergirl”s well-rounded supporting cast. Some changes are more thoughtful (Alex Danvers) than others (Mon-El), but the episode is another shining example of how Supergirl has reached new heights by focusing on the people behind the icons aka their feelings and not just flying, alien punching, and shapeshifting. All those things are cool though.
Finally, Changes” is also yet another stellar example of how inspiring science fiction and superhero stories can be towards queer people as Kara finds common ground with Alex in their shared “secret identities” as a superhero and queer woman respectively. But Supergirl doesn’t stay in the world of metaphor and strives for nuanced LGBT representation as Alex and Maggie are at very different places, and maybe a romantic relationship isn’t the best option for them right now even though all the fans want them to smooch.
In a country where the government will be run by a man who allowed queer teenagers to be literally tortured and shocked into “becoming straight”, Chyler Leigh’s portrayal of Alex Danvers is a beacon of hope and a reminder that you can come out at any stage of your life.