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TV Review: Supergirl S2E5 “Crossfire” showcases the show’s robust relationships

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If there is one word to describe Supergirl Season 2, Episode 5 “Crossfire”, it is meaty. Writers Gabriel Llanas and Anna Musky-Goldwyn intertwine the relationships between characters with a shared theme of identity. They exhibit this through James Olsen coming to grips with being a lifelong sidekick, Mon-El completely failing at being the Catco intern Mike Matthews (He would make an excellent male stripper though.), and Alex Danvers struggling with coming out as queer as an adult as well as her romantic feelings for the newly single National City cop Maggie Sawyer. And along the way, they deepen the legitimate friendship between Kara Danvers and Lena Luthor in light of mercenaries with alien weapons attacking her big gala while making the mysterious Cadmus Doctor (Brenda Strong) an even more deadly foe. She is a family woman and is more menacing in an Uber than Non and the Myriad gang were all last season.

“Crossfire” is really the episode for Mehcad Brooks to shine as James Olsen deals with the insecurity of always being a “sidekick” even though he is currently the acting CEO of Catco. But he wants to be more than an editor of a gossip magazine; he wants to be a superhero like his close friends, Superman and Supergirl. Director Glen Winter carefully shows the bumps and bruises that James takes when he foolishly goes into action against soldiers with extraterrestrial weaponry. Winter doesn’t go full Arrow with the fight choreography letting him throw a few good punches and a kick or two, but showing that he has a long way to go as a superhero.

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Llanas and Musky-Goldwyn also revive James’ friendship with Winn because there is so much more to their relationship that being two vertices on a love triangle with Supergirl. Winn isn’t afraid to bring the truth by punching James in the ribs after he makes a half-assed excuse about a basketball injury and telling him that he isn’t prepared to be a superhero. However, he also listens to why James want to be a hero. James want to live up to the example of his father, who was killed in war as well as Supergirl and Superman and not just be “behind a camera”. Winn sees a little bit of himself in James because he felt lost and listless as Cat Grant IT’s guy and feels much better doing more meaningful work in the DEO. Llanas and Musky-Goldwyn avoid temptation to turn James into a total badass in his first episode as a crime fighter and craft his journey slowly drawing on his feelings and relationships as well as Brooks’ presence as an actor that has been underutilized this season even with his “promotion”.

If you thought Mon-El was going to end up being a derivative of Superman or gender swapped Supergirl, “Crossfire” easily puts that to rest beginning with a funny musical montage. Like most parts of Supergirl, this scene of Kara making up Mon-El to be just like her is on the nose, but it connects into the sub plot of her choosing an identity for Mon-El instead of letting him be his own person on Earth. Mon-El has a much different personality than Kara and is frankly a party bro with a side of adorkableness rather than a hard working, yet slightly awkward, driven person like her. Seeing him utterly fail as an intern is hilarious, but slightly sad as well, but  through a well-timed conversation with Alex about how she let Kara become her own person on Earth, Kara lets Mon-El find his own path just like Winn helps James become a superhero. (He would be great as a guest star on No Tomorrow.)

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Winter continues to show the power of eye movements and shots of them in creating romantic tension and chemistry between Alex and Maggie in Supergirl in a manner similar to Todd Haynes in Carol. (But without the age gap.) True love definitely comes through in the eyes. Alex genuinely has feelings for Maggie and wants her to be okay after her breakup and spend time with her. But she doesn’t straight up ask her out or come out as lesbian or queer because “intimacy” and dating has not been a good thing for her in the past. Llanas and Musky-Goldwyn make her coming out process gradual and rooted in her emotions instead of going for a quick kiss to boost ratings. It also shows that there is room for all sorts of queer characters in the CW’s DC Universe from the flirtatious, yet occasionally vulnerable Sara Lance in Legends of Tomorrow to the happily married Mr. Terriffic in Arrow, and now Alex, who is battling with coming out as an adult. Llanas and Musky-Goldwyn aren’t quick to label Alex’s personality, but let her articulate it at her own pace while Maggie watches longingly and listens to her strive to put her feelings to words. The relationship between Maggie Sawyer and Alex Danvers is easily the best example of queer representation in a superhero TV show, and Chyler Leigh plays her scenes with great pathos.

Two other characters with great chemistry are Kara Danvers and Lena Luthor. Lena shows her dedication to being the “good” Luthor in deeds as well as action as she rigs a special device to destroy the alien weaponry than Miner and his men are using to rob wealthy guests at her party. Katie McGrath is gamely up for spouting out technobabble alongside Jeremy Jordan, who plays Winn, but the weapon’s goal as well as the final moments of the episodes continue to paint her as an anti-alien chess player. Plus Kara does a terrible job of concealing her secret identity around her. Nonetheless, Kara and Lena share a real tenderness, and Llanas and Musky-Goldwyn continue to align her on the side of the angels. (For the most part.)

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Even though Miner is a one-dimensional greed obsessed, gun toting NRA wet dream, Llanas and Musky-Goldwyn are self-aware of this fact and make him the object of constant criticism from the Cadmus Doctor, who is shaping up to be the real Big Bad of Season 2. The broadcast that Cadmus sends out are pretty generic and Anonymous-y, but the Cadmus Doctor herself gets some real personality this episode. There is even a touch of Amanda Waller in her as she uses a special gadget to remotely doing the network television of head explosions on Miner and his men when they are about to rat on her to the D.A. There isn’t a hint of fear in her voice when she stands up to him and his alien machine gun and says that attacking Lena Luthor is a bad idea.

The Cadmus Doctor is a perfect supervillain for a day when politicians, like Donald Trump, create an atmosphere of racism, sexism, hate, and xenophobia with their speeches to win elections and rally supporters. Through Miner’s attacks, she hopes to get the Alien Amnesty Bill repealed and whip the people of the world into a frenzy against them so she can make it “great again” for her children and humanity. Even if her goons are a little on the dumb side despite possessing Supergirl KO-ing weaponry, the Cadmus is terrifying, and Brenda Strong plays her with the perfect blend of distant coolness and almost maternal warmth. Definitely watch out for her down the road.

“Crossfire” and Supergirl Season 2 as a whole understands that what makes serial superhero fiction great isn’t just the plot twists and surprise character deaths, but the bonds between characters that can be developed over time. This is what makes Alex’s questioning her sexuality so potent as we have seen the stalwart soldier and caring sister, but now we get to see her slowly have the romantic relationship that she has always wanted.

Overall Rating: 9.0

TV Review: Family Comes First in Supergirl S2 E2 “Last Children of Krypton”

Supergirl -- "The Last Children of Krypton" -- Image SPG202b_0146 -- Pictured (L-R): Melissa Benoist Kara/Supergirl and Chyler Leigh as Alex Danvers -- Photo: Diyah Pera/The CW -- © 2016 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved

Even though most of the action deals with the emergence of Cadmus and the deadly effects of kryptonite, especially when you stick into a deadly ex-mercenary now named Metallo (Frederick Schmidt), “Last Children of Krypton” mainly focuses on the familial bonds between Supergirl and Superman, and Supergirl and Kara Danvers. With Cat Grant leaving her work and new boss Snapper Carr (Cougar Town‘s Ian Gomez) being just a general pain, Kara ponders leaving National City to be in Metropolis with Superman, who is one of the few people she can be comfortable with in both her superhero and civilian identity. Alex has been Kara’s rock since she landed on Earth, and this conversation drives a rift between them. Most of Robert Rovner and Caitlin Parrish‘s story is dedicated to the reconstruction of this bond and drawing a parallel in the relationship between Superman and J’onn as they go from not trusting each other to connecting over the loss of their homeworlds and finally becoming allies and teaming up in a badass, cross-cutting action sequence from director Glen Winter.

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It will be sad to see Tyler Hoechlin though as his two episodes playing Superman have kind of been a masterclass in playing the character, and his bond with Supergirl has just been plain adorable. The cold open where they joke about bullets and punching fists while easily apprehending a pair of armed robbers shows that unlike what Cadmus has been saying that these godlike beings truly care for humanity. But Hoechlin can do serious too in the Kryptonite subplot as he deepens his voice while confronting J’onn about some missing kryptonite that is being used by Cadmus to power up Metallo. Even though he doesn’t curse or drink alcohol and uses the word “jiffy” unironically, Superman in Supergirl  isn’t a naive boy scout, but a veteran superhero, who isn’t afraid to be confrontational. He is competent and cute.

The scariest parts in “Last Children of Krypton” isn’t when Supergirl is knocked out with a kryptonite blast (Her healing factor should be able to deal with that.), but when Kara Danvers is completely ignored by her new boss Snapper Carr after getting her big promotion to reporter last episode. Melissa Benoist does an excellent going from the pretty damn confident Supergirl to the too flustered to say a single word cub reporter. Ian Gomez is in complete control with his portrayal of Carr using a deadpan delivery with a side of passion when he tells Kara that she has basically been handed her job. And, on paper, this makes sense with her sudden promotion from assistant to investigative reporter. Rovner and Parrish don’t fall into the storytelling shortcut trap of quickly making Kara an excellent reporter, but give her a small victory when she hands in a story about the Metallo fight. Carr doesn’t throw her out of the office, but she is very much at the bottom of the food chain and is far from having the perfect dual life of skilled reporter Clark Kent and superhero Superman.

Supergirl -- "The Last Children of Krypton" -- Image SPG202b_0155 -- Pictured (L-R): Tyler Hoechlin as Clark/Superman and David Harewood as Hank Henshaw -- Photo: Diyah Pera/The CW -- © 2016 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved

On a technical level, “Last Children of Krypton” is an improvement from the season premiere with Winter making the action center around hand to hand combat and energy blasts instead of complex aerial maneuvers, which are difficult to do on a CW budget. J’onn mostly stays in his Hank Henshaw form, but Winter breaks out the Martian Manhunter effects at just the right moment for a big action climax or a sad mini monologue. Superman was a baby when Krypton fell, but J’onn had to see his entire people wiped out by the White Martians so he isn’t adverse to using more proactive means to keep his new home, Earth, safe. Just like last week, the best action scenes feature Alex Danvers as she joins the whole cast of Arrow by getting a nice little parkour scene while she is on the run from Cadmus goons, and her reunion scene with Kara is on the field of battle. The mirrored superhero fights in “Last Children of Krypton” have a kind of healing effect on the strained relationships between J’onn and Superman and Alex and Kara. They connect to the episode’s main theme and aren’t just there as some kind of “Well, it’s been almost 40 minutes. Let’s fight.” afterthought.

The only small flaw in “Last Children of Krypton” is the fact that secret government organizations like Cadmus have been done to death in superhero and science fiction shows. However, Rovner and Parrish add a couple new wrinkles to keep this well-worn trope from being boring. First, there is the fact that Cadmus’ goals are very similar to the “good guy” DEO’s goals as they both want to protect Earth from aliens. But the DEO has a more nuanced approached to dealing with extraterrestrials because they have two of them on staff. Next, Cadmus is the polar opposite of Non and Myriad from last season, who were Kryptonian supremacists while Cadmus is alien supremacists. Finally, there is the general mystery angle between who is pulling the strings because we have only seen some unnamed scientists and soldiers so far. It is probably Lena Luthor, but some dialogue about Alex’s dad Jeremiah seems to hint that he may be under their control. So far, Cadmus aren’t the best villains ever, but the parallels to the DEO keep things running for now while the best writing of Supergirl is reserved for the relationships between characters, and Kara struggling in her day job.

The cherry on top of “Last Children of Krypton” is the tearful goodbyes between Cat Grant and Kara as well as Supergirl. There is hugging all around as Cat decides to leave Catco and start on a new, unknown adventure. Her willingness to jump into the unknown acts as an inspiration to Supergirl, who is losing the support of Superman a little earlier than she though and is trying a new job as investigative reporter. These scenes show that there can be great emotional payoff to cultivating relationships between characters instead of focusing on plot twists and gimmicks, and hopefully, the writers of Supergirl will continue to develop the themes of family and friendship while the mystery of Cadmus deepens, and the Kryptonian Mon-El wakes up.

Overall Rating: 9.0