Supergirl – Season 1 Episode 8
Supergirl closes off 2015 with the return of Astra in the midst of a hacking scandal involving Cat Grant leaving Kara stretched trying to deal with everyone.
Astra’s return feels a little overdue considering she has been absent since the second episode. I like that Supergirl has taken some time to establish that there are Earthbound problems that need to be dealt with but there has so far been a lack of balance between those elements and the escaped alien prisoners. What exactly have they been up to since then?
I hate constantly comparing this show to Arrow and The Flash but considering they share producers the comparisons are continually relevant. Those shows do a far better job of keeping the villain an ever present threat throughout the run of a season and Supergirl really should do the same thing. Considering Astra has only appeared three times with one of those appearances being barely a cameo, it’s hard to recognise her as the threat that the show really needs her to be. If Astra’s plan had been teased and her character developed over the course of the season so far then her return would carry so much more weight.
This episode tries to rush through the development that should have been organically woven throughout the season. There are flashbacks to Krypton establishing Kara’s relationship with Astra as well as Astra’s relationship with Alura but they feel a bit like a “tick box exercise” to convey the necessary information without any real heart or weight behind it. We see that Kara was close to Astra on Krypton but beyond a superficial exposition dump we don’t really get a sense of how deep that connection goes. A lot of it is to do with the acting but considering the whole thing exists to establish that Astra commits crimes because she knows that Krypton is dying the actors really don’t have much to work with. Even if Astra didn’t appear in the present day since her last appearance there was plenty of opportunity for more flashbacks to establish this relationship.
A lack of good development hurts this episode in more ways as there is an attempt to make Kara -and by proxy the audience- see Astra’s point of view in some way. She tells Kara that Earth will die just as Krypton did and she can stop that from happening. Apparently she needs Kara’s support because her methods will be considered extreme but her heart is in the right place.
This is a difficult one to swallow as the words don’t match what is on screen. I don’t get the sense that Astra is simply misunderstood or has the best interests of the human race at heart. She is written and performed as a somewhat 2 dimensional villain with very little beneath the surface. Any attempt to give her pathos is entirely unconvincing and the attempt to make it seem like she might have a point is really ham-fisted. The whole Global Warming allegory doesn’t quite stack up either because it’s all so obvious.
It’s a shame as I like the idea that not everything is so black and white. All the suggestions that Alura hasn’t been entirely honest about the situation is potentially great dramatic fodder. Kara dealing with finding out that someone she loves and respects isn’t who she thought she was should be powerful but instead it falls flat as the groundwork isn’t done properly. All the flashback where Astra appears to be lured into a trap establishes is that she was arrested for committing crimes. Considering Astra freely admits to doing that there are no surprises and Alura can’t be painted as a villainous figure simply from that. There should be more to it but there isn’t. Also, Astra planning to be caught all along as a distraction was painfully obvious and is a really boring overused twist in things like this.
One thing that redeems it somewhat is the excellent performance by Melissa Benoist as she deals with the issues that don’t really exist in the writing. Her performance conveys Astra getting inside her head and making her doubt Alura to the point where she directly asks the question to the holographic version. Holo-Alura confirms that Kara was used as bait for her aunt and Kara gets really upset that her mother would use her like that. Of course Holo-Alura isn’t really her mother and can’t even answer some of her questions so Kara is almost literally talking to a brick wall when trying to get the answers she needs. Her combination of anger, strength, vulnerability and anguish in a single scene is incredible to watch. It really is unfortunate that the writing isn’t there to make all of that stronger.
Astra’s return really inspires Kara to get better so that she can bring her down. This involves her sparring with Alex with steely determination and really giving it her all when she does take on her aunt. It’s all well and good to see her training with Alex and honing her fighting skills but she hasn’t been seen doing this in weeks so, again it feels like it is simply added here to attempt to make up for it. Sparring sessions between the Danvers’ sisters should be a mainstay in the episodes to show Kara getting better and offering an opportunity to grow the Kara/Alex relationship through Alex passing her skills onto Kara. There’s so much potential in this show that really isn’t being tapped into to the degree it should.
As such, Alex is still woefully underdeveloped. Beyond some really strong material in the last episode she has sat largely in the sidelines and reported on situations rather than being a part of them. This is largely the case here despite the fact that she knows that Hank Henshaw is actually the Martian Manhunter and shows she’s smart enough to -eventually- see through Astra’s deception but we still don’t know much about Alex as a person beyond her job and her skills. The brief conversation between Alex and Kara over Hank Henshaw and how he can be trusted does little more than pay lip service to the problem. Kara is encouraged to trust her and drop it which she seems to accept. I dare say this will come up again and Kara did have other things on her mind but there could have been more made of it.
The action scenes were fairly mixed in terms of quality. In general the effects work is really solid but the wire work has ways to go before becoming believable. I wonder if this is one of the first shows to really try super powered aerial battles on a TV budget so it’s possible that the stunt people are still figuring it all out.
Kara’s aerial battle with Astra was the most impressive and was oddly reminiscent of Man of Steel in terms of visuals. Kara flying through the city while punching was almost shot for shot though there was a notable difference when Kara made sure that the falling rubble didn’t hurt anyone. Between this and the assertion that “Superman doesn’t kill”, I feel like this show is going out of its way to prove that this is a more traditional depiction of the Superman mythos in terms of values. The attack on Maxwell Lord’s offices at the end of the episode was quite impressive with all of the various alien abilities on display. It was nicely chaotic but a bit of a cop out that it cuts off mid scene to serve as an underwhelming cliffhanger.
A familiar Superman character was introduced in this episode with Chris Vance’s Non. His relation to any other version of him that has ever existed pretty much ends with his name which means that his appearance is a shameless attempt at name recognition for the sake of name recognition. There’s very little to say about him as he is pretty much your standard villain who says villainous things. Maybe he will develop more as time goes on but the first impression isn’t all that positive.
The really interesting story this episode is the hacking of Cat Grant’s emails. It’s an obvious reference to the infamous Sony email hack from last year but works really well as a problem for Cat. The media have a field day with the information that they have access to but it’s not exactly the juiciest of information. She has a few eccentricities like misusing a company jet or getting needlessly expensive haircuts. The real thing that she is worried about is that people may discover that she has a son that she is trying to keep hidden from the world for his own protection.
I really liked the conversation she had with Kara explaining her reasons for letting her son go. For a time she tried to get custody of him but has her own reasons for letting him go. Thematically it ties into Kara feeling distanced from her own biological family who let her go for their own reasons. Cat’s justification allows Kara to gain some insight into how difficult it is to let children go while still recognising that it is the best thing for them. It’s up for debate whether Cat did the right thing but at least she has clearly defined reasons for doing so. She shows a real sense of nobility when she is ready to step down from CatCo to protect her son.
Cat has proven herself to be a consistently interesting character with a tremendous amount of integrity and ambition with an attitude of brutal honesty. She doles out credit only when she feels that people deserve it and commends Kara for all her work to preserve Cat’s reputation and reveals that she knows her identity. It seems that my assumption that Cat knew her secret all along was slightly incorrect as she seems to put together all the clues combined with the fact that Kara overheard something when there’s no way that the person saying it would be in earshot. It’s possible that she is pretending that she only just worked it out after knowing it all along but maybe that’s just what I want it to be. I loved the moment between them when Kara took off her glasses and Cat spoke to her as an equal when thanking her for her help.
The dynamic between Kara and Cat has definitely been the most interesting throughout the season so far as Cat is determined to push her to be all she can be while teaching her how difficult it can be for women to succeed in the world. This dynamic applies to her in both identities in slightly different ways but remains strong and really manifests itself here as Cat gives Kara the validation she needs when saying that she will always have a job with Cat.
James and Winn don’t fare very well in this episode but they take on a big support role. I did have some fun with the pseudo rivalry between them where Winn pines after Kara while James has her affection unconditionally. Winn is the only one who is competing where James doesn’t see Kara that way and he addresses it directly by telling Winn to tell Kara as there is no competition from him. I really hate love triangles but this one is almost tolerable so far. I’m sure Winn has some heartache coming his way when he gets inevitably rejected but for now it remains watchable.
Kara, Winn and James make a pretty fun team here with the highlight being the collective espionage as they work to bug the board member’s computer. I don’t understand why Kara didn’t use her superspeed to go in and plant the device other than giving James something to do but the scene itself was fine and reasonably tense.
That’s it for Supergirl next year but I will be covering it again when it returns in January so I hope you’ll all join me at that point.