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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

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

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croakIt’s new comic book day! What’s everyone looking forward to this week? What do you plan on getting? Sound off in the comments below!

While you wait for shops to open, here’s some comic news and reviews from around the web in our morning roundup.

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Vulture – The Queer Subtext of X-Men Shines Bright at Flame Con – Some solid coverage of Flame Con

Nerdist – Why Teen Titans Is DC Comics’ Most Important (But Undervalued) Franchise – Agree? Disagree?

Comics Alliance – ‘Supergirl’ Confirms Superman Baddie Metallo for Season 2 – This could be cool.

The Beat – It sucks to be a middle-aged comics pro case  study #1: Phil Hester – We need to take better care of comic creators and provide them a safety net.

The Beat – It sucks to be a middle-aged comics pro case study #2: Ted McKeever – We need to take better care of comic creators and provide them a safety net.

 

Around the Tubes Reviews

Talking Comics – Croak #1

The Beat – The Fun Family

ICv2 – The Metabaron Book 1: The Techno Admiral the Anti-Baron