Supergirl – Season 1 Episode 5
Supergirl celebrates thanksgiving with a new human villain, a visit from Kara and Alex’s mother and some further humanising of Cat Grant. Eagle eyed readers will note that I have titled this review episode 5 when I reviewed episode 3 last week. CBS elected to air episodes 4 and 5 out of sequence as detailed here but for the purposes of reviewing I’m going to keep the original numbering.
Leslie Willis aka Livewire (Brit Morgan) is a character who first appeared in Superman: The Animated Series. Like Harley Quinn before her she proved popular enough to make it into the comics and has been a mainstay ever since. Other than a forgettable appearance in Smallville during season 8 she has never been done in live action until now.
This episode does a good job of portraying this character. She is very close to her original depiction by starting out as an opinionated “shock jock” who isn’t in love with the notion of superheroes. In this case she says some very unflattering things about Supergirl in an attempt to be controversial. I like that there is a very loud minority not in love with the whole notion of superheroes saving people and it addresses the discomfort some people would have with aliens being noticeably among us.
It turns out that Leslie has an existing relationship with Cat Grant who saw something she liked and did what she could to nurture that talent but her attack on Supergirl is something that doesn’t sit right with her. Cat clearly respects Supergirl and feels responsible for her in some way since she was the one to name her and has been boosting her reputation. From a business point of view Cat wants every aspect of her company saying the same things so that Catco’s position on Supergirl is a clear one.
Leslie is an interesting character as she proves to be more similar to Cat than she is comfortable with. When Cat nurtured her talent Leslie responded by trying to outmatch her boss in every way and appears as a fully formed character who doesn’t accept what her boss tells her to do. This gets her demoted to reporting on traffic but the fact that she doesn’t compromise her ideals is noteworthy and can be respected in a way.
She also works as a solid foil for Kara who is in a similar position in a lot of ways. As Cat’s assistant Kara has to deal with Cat’s influence more than anyone but she still responds with a positive attitude because she has that outside influence that defines who she is. The implication here is that Leslie doesn’t have that strong upbringing so acts out to find her own sense of definition.
With such a strong character base her powers are almost the least interesting thing about her. All her powers accomplish is giving her the opportunity to get her own back on Cat for casting her aside for reasons that seem trivial. They also give her the chance to really show Supergirl how much she dislikes her. The whole point of Livewire is that she was a villain before she got her powers due to the problematic mother/daughter relationship she has with Cat.
There’s a further edge to Livewire as Kara feels responsible for what she has become since it was the lightning strike combined with her Kryptonian DNA that gave Livewire her powers. Of course there is nothing that she could have done but it still gives Kara a personal stake in the fight and leaves her feeling responsible for any deaths caused by Livewire. It’s a fairly standard superhero motivation when it comes to villains but Melissa Benoist manages to sell it.
The action sequences are really well done and Livewire’s powers look really cool. She isn’t much of a challenge for Supergirl but the implication is that she will be a recurring villain so I would think that she will cause more problems when she reappears. It’s notable that she is defeated the same way that Spider-Man takes out Electro in their first bout in The Amazing Spider-Man 2.
Cat develops in some really interesting ways this episode. She takes some notice of Kara beyond the fact that she’s her loyal assistant. They have a really open and vulnerable conversation about their lives and what has brought them to where they are. Kara bends the truth a little by saying that her biological parents died in a fire when she was 13 but the emotional truth of her situation is still in those words. Cat had no idea that Kara was raised by foster parents and seems to genuinely be almost ashamed of not taking notice before.
The situation with Leslie seems to open her eyes to the effect she has on people’s lives with her closed off attitude and abrasive management style. Cat knows that she can attribute her personality to the influence of her mother who was never satisfied by any of her accomplishments so that always pushed her to be better in a twisted attempt to prove herself to someone that will never be impressed. It has resulted in positive outcomes for her as she is feared, respected and owns one of the biggest media empires in the world. Even at that she still wants to be better and wants people around her to be better. There’s a suggestion that she is slowly realising that this might not be the best way to inspire people as it can create problems like Livewire. She is a very extreme example but I’m sure there are plenty of people who resent her but lack the power to do anything about it. Calista Flockhart’s performance in this episode is very strong. She manages to put across a more vulnerable side to Cat without losing the attitude and edge that largely defines the character.
I am still convinced that Cat knows that Kara is Supergirl and there’s plenty of evidence in this episode to support that. The most glaring example is that she basically gives Kara an excuse to slip away and make the change when she orders her to go get security 20 floors beneath them. It could be argued that her willingness to notice that Kara exists and her desire to learn more about her is further proof that Kat knows the truth and finds her more interesting as a result.
Mother/daughter relationships are definitely the central theme in this episode. Eliza Danvers’ arrival in National City to spend thanksgiving with her daughters really creates some tension for Alex who is looking for a fight even before her mother turns up. It is revealed that Eliza was always so much easier on Kara when they were growing up which caused Alex to resent her mother in some ways. As a result Alex has always felt that she can never measure up and strives to always be better. Her motivation is actually very similar to Cat in that regard as the factors surrounding their desire to impress are much the same.
In concept Alex’s resentment of her mother being harder on her is a good idea but in execution it just feels like she is being stroppy. When they are sitting down to dinner no attempt is made by her to act like an adult about things and she does everything that she can to provoke her mother into an unnecessary argument. I don’t disagree with how she feels but I think it could have been handled better.
By the end of the episode Eliza does realise that she has been too hard on Alex and too easy on Kara. She takes steps to correct that by pointing out that Kara is doing well but could do with some improvement. It’s an important step forward in the familial relationship but it feels a bit neat that she would realise this in a short time.
Helen Slater’s performance is very underwhelming in this episode. She seems to lack chemistry with both Melissa Benoist and Chyler Leigh so it’s difficult to really buy them as a family. Her chemistry with Dean Cain in the flashbacks is completely non existent as well. I’m not sure what went wrong as Helen Slater is not a bad actress but she seems to be horribly miscast in this role.
The flashbacks offer some interesting insight into Kara’s life growing up with the Danvers. We see her and Alex doing very teenage girl things like sneaking out of the house but adds the superhero twist of them going flying. The relationship between Jeremiah and Eliza Danvers feels really clumsy when shown but the idea of raising two teenage girls being something that is hectic comes across really well.
These scenes also help give the show some important context as it is revealed that Jeremiah Danvers went to work with the DEO in exchange for them leaving Kara alone. Hank mentions that Superman refuses to work for them so they need some alien expertise. Jeremiah has this as he studied Superman’s powers extensively so knows more about him than anyone. There’s a mystery set up around Jeremiah’s mysterious death where DEO involvement is heavily implied. My guess is he was eliminated for finding out too much about them but I dare say answers will be forthcoming here. It’s a shame that Dean Cain won’t appear in the present day segments -unless he happens to still be alive- as so far his character is an interesting one.
Kara’s support team are used pretty sparingly here with James being out of town with Lucy for the bulk of the episode. They do have a phone call where there appears to be genuine affection but beyond that he has no real input. His friendship with Kara is working really well so I don’t want any romantic edge to come of it. It does feel like there is a chunk of story missing for James since from an audience point of view Lucy came back into his life last week and now they’re back together but I imagine that will be filled in when we see the missing episode next week.
Winn has a bit more revealed about him by establishing that he’s actually quite a lonely guy. He seems resigned to spending Thanksgiving alone but jumps at the chance to spend it with Kara and her family. It is revealed that his father is in prison but also that Winn feels that he belongs there because he is a “very bad person” as he puts it. His feelings for Kara are obvious as he stops just short of confessing them to her. I think that Kara realises those feelings but doesn’t know what to do about them. Winn is becoming a little less irritating as the episodes progress which of course is a good thing.
Supergirl is definitely improving as the episodes go on. This episode is vastly elevated by an engaging villain and a strong theme holding the episode together. I like the idea of the DEO being up to more than they are saying despite the fact that it’s what people would expect from a shady government organisation. Seeing Alex and Kara investigating the death of their father should prove interesting.