Supergirl – Season 5 Episode 1
Supergirl returns for a fifth season with a new costume for Kara and the beginnings of a cautionary tale against society’s reliance on technology.
It’s fair to say that this show has never been subtle in its approach to exploring topics. Normally the writers are very heavy handed in delivering their stance on a particular message. I don’t mean this as a criticism as this is exactly what the show sets out to do and it’s constantly shameless in committing to whatever stance it takes on the issue. If it isn’t something you can personally agree with or at least accept as a valid position to hold then this definitely isn’t the show for you. This season the show is tackling technology and how that enables click-bait media coverage that delivers biased or incomplete/inaccurate information. It’s certainly topical and is a great opportunity to fold the CatCo side of the show into the main plot in a really natural way rather than not knowing what to do with it as per previous seasons.
Kara has cause for concern on two fronts. The first is that she sees practically everyone around her so engrossed in their phones or Augmented Reality contact lenses that they fail to notice the world around them. It’s a fairly standard comment about the youth and their smartphones except it comes from a group of young people. Kara takes issue with this as people don’t seem to be paying attention to the important things such as an upcoming vote that she has a strong opinion about. It’s all a comment on how society can be easily manipulated into following the agendas of whoever has the most coverage. The over-reliance on technology in this one scene acts as a cautionary tale from Kara’s perspective and the only person in that scene who is inclined to disagree is Kelly due to her being employed by the very company that promotes that technology.
Hopefully this is simply setting up a debate that the writers will let the characters have rather than taking a definitive stance on the issue as it isn’t quite as simple as last season’s “racism is bad” stance. Technology continues to immeasurably improve our quality of life every day and it’s important that this objective fact is recognised. Smartphones, home computers, tablets and the like allow access to far more information than we as a species have had access to and have opened up unprecedented channels of communication. This show should be careful about taking a stance against the very thing that allows people to be aware that it’s available for viewing in the first place as it could start to look like a double standard like when Star Trek: The Next Generation would preach to the audience about how terrible it is to be financially motivated while the price of DVD or Blu-ray sets was very high. Not to mention the in-universe issues the DEO creates with their methods. It’s definitely a large scale topic with a lot to consider but all being well there will be more than enough to fill the season.
The other cause for concern for Kara is the new CEO of Catco, Andrea Rojas (Julie Gonzalo). She also runs the company that sells the Augmented Reality contact lenses. Her vision for CatCo is a monetised click-driven outlet that specialises in easily digestible news whether it happens to include the facts or not. It’s a far cry from the beacon of journalistic integrity that it was under James, at least in theory. Andrea’s opening speech to the staff where she outlines her plans sums up her character perfectly as an antagonistic force who doesn’t represent a threat in the way an alien or super powered villain might. She’s a threat to Kara’s very livelihood and the truth that she has entirely devoted herself to telling. Andrea make it clear that anyone who’s uncomfortable with her way of doing things that they know where the door is and they’ll never work in the field of journalism again due to a non competition clause in their contract. Kara decides to stay despite these restrictions in an attempt to fix the situation from within through the power of her principles alone. It’s a bluntly idealistic outlook but it fits Kara’s established character perfectly. Perversely this could be a battle that she can never win given what she’s up against. One thing is for certain, as far as Kara is concerned writing articles just to generate clicks is a bad thing and Andrea’s stance is that clicks are everything. With that in mind, don’t forget to click on this review.
Andrea is an interesting character so far. Her interactions with Lena already feel lived in with a heavily implied history there that will likely be fleshed out over the coming episodes. Julie Gonzalo is certainly able to keep pace with Katie McGrath in terms of presence which makes their scenes worth watching by themselves. It’s rare to see Lena deal with someone on an equal footing to her so there’s lots of scope for excellent interactions as we move through the season especially when their personal goals seem to be at odds with each other. It’s fairly harmless for now but Lena made it clear that she won’t issue Andrea another warning.
Lena is struggling to deal with learning the truth about Kara because she takes it as a personal betrayal from someone who claimed to uphold truth as one of her personal pillars. It’s largely accurate but not when it comes to hiding her secret identity from those around her. The writers do a great job of framing conversations where Lena is highlighting everything she thinks makes Kara a hypocrite without making it look as if that’s what she’s doing. Normally dialogue like this is really clumsily handled but here it’s done with such sophistication that it’s easy to see why the true intent would go over Kara’s head. It has the net effect of making Kara feel even more guilty about hiding the truth from her best friend and adding to her major internal conflict for the episode.
Fortunately this isn’t dragged out as long as I thought it would be and Kara comes clean with Lena in this episode after resolving to do so at the end of last season so viewers aren’t subjected to several episodes of Kara failing to find the right moment. It’s established that there has been about a month of that so far and I’m grateful that it isn’t something that will pollute the early part of the season as it would get tedious very quickly. Supergirl has certainly managed to avoid the issue of lingering on plots for too long in recent times and it’s good to see that trend continue.
Lena’s handling of feeling betrayed by Kara is really complex in the way its executed. She uses virtual reality as a form of therapy to vent her frustrations against Kara without taking them up with her directly. This is completely in character as it acts as a version of her compartmentalising the emotions she feels as a way of dealing with them. She hurts Kara in a virtual environment so she can smile and It’s her way of preserving the friendship for now until the plan that she has comes to fruition. Before Kara was honest with her part of that plan involved exposing her identity for some reason but it’s clear that she plans to manipulate or control Supergirl in some way and I’m fascinated to see how that plays out.
It’s telling that Lena confides in an artificial intelligence as it’s literally programmed to be nothing but honest with her. She is at the point where she can’t trust people any more because she has been lied to far too many times to allow herself to trust anyone ever again. She tells her Artificial Intelligence named Hope that she will never forgive Kara for not being honest with her and has only altered her plan rather than abandoned it. Lena consulting Hope also ties into the theme of technology being dangerous as it is framed as less than healthy behaviour on her part. Katie McGrath’s performance is perfectly textured to suggest that there is some doubt within Lena regards her plans even if her actions suggest the contrary.
The scene where Kara tells Lena the truth is brilliantly done. I have always praised Melissa Benoist’s ability to perform a wide range of complex emotions and I’ll continue to sing her praises as she’s just great at this sort of thing. The pain and sincerity in her voice as she finally opens up to Lena about the secret she has been keeping is brilliantly done and Katie McGrath is equally excellent in the moment. Watching these two actors bounce off one another is always a highlight no matter the circumstances and it looks as if the unravelling friendship will be an excellent source of character drama between them.
This episode marks the debut of a new costume for Kara. Out of all of the Arrowverse shows -except Black Lightning– Kara has been the only series lead hero without a costume change since the show began. Oliver has had a few and Barry gets a new outfit every season but Kara has stuck with the red skirt since day one. This change in costume has significance as it signals a forward direction for Kara as a character as she grows into her role as Supergirl. She will never have everything figured out but she learns, grows and changes so it’s time for her to have a costume that reflects that and the designers have done a stunning job. I would personally like more red in there which is something the skirt allowed for but otherwise it looks slick and movie quality. Something I’m not overly keen on is how she dons the outfit as it removes the possibility of the classic shirt rip but I suppose this is just how modern superheroes do things.
It didn’t take long for J’Onn’s brother Ma’alefa’ak -hereafter referred to as Malefic- (Phil LaMarr) to start causing trouble. There’s not much to go on here as his motivation seems to be pure hatred for his brother but the curious thing is that J’Onn has no memory of having a brother. Is Malefic from another Earth or is there something that has made J’Onn forget about his brother? Malefic certainly has no love for their father either so there’s a story to be told there and it’s another example of Supergirl not letting plots linger for too long that they have already crossed paths.
Unfortunately the main villain of the episode doesn’t fare quite so well. Midnight (Jennifer Cheon Garcia) has a history with J’Onn that is mentioned but never capitalised on making her feel like more of a missed opportunity than anything else. It’s possible that another theme of the season is consequences which would fit with Lena having the truth hidden from her and the complications that creates as well as Malefic being resentful because of whatever was done to him. Midnight didn’t have to be as shallow as she was as there was time within the episode to create a more personal struggle between her and J’Onn rather than having all of the characters standing around as she attacked them. She’s introduced quickly, dispatched quickly and forgotten almost immediately.
There are two background relationships that receive some attention in a way that doesn’t impact anything else too severely. This was a busy season premier but there was still time to explore the Alex/Kelly and Nia/Brainy relationships. Alex and Kelly are on fairly stable footing at this point and it feels comfortable if uninteresting. I’m happy with that as it’s good to see a relationship not coming apart at the seams because stability apparently bores people. Nia and Brainy aren’t quite so stable though it’s due to Brainy not being sure how to deal with his feelings up until the point Nia confronts him and they address the problem head on. Once again things aren’t left to linger on longer than they should and it makes for a satisfying resolution to that small problem while setting them up to develop their connection.
A strong and confident start to the season that sets up the ideas to be explored over the course of the season, delivers some excellent interpersonal character work and plays to the show’s strengths throughout. The concept of reliance on technology being a problem is a large scale issue that has many facets to it that need to be explored so I hope the fact that it’s not as simple as technology being a bad thing is addressed over the course of the season. There’s plenty of ground to cover and the introduction to the idea is a strong one. The new CatCo CEO brings in a different side to this conflict as it flies in the face of the journalistic integrity that Kara stands for. Andrea is an interesting character so far and it’s telling that she’s very much on a par with with Lena. Their interactions make for good viewing and there’s a lot of history to their relationship already. Lena dealing with feeling betrayed by Kara by taking out her frustrations in a virtual setting is very in character for her and sets up the conflict nicely. The strength of the writing as well as Katie McGrath’s delivery when Lena highlights everything that makes Kara a hypocrite in her eyes makes for a wonderful combination and the moment that Kara finally confesses the truth to Lena is brilliantly handled. J’Onn encountering his brother sets up an engaging mystery and the attention given to the other relationships in the background keeps the episode ticking along.
The major weakness for in the episode is Midnight. It looks as if one of the major themes of this season will be consequences so Midnight was actually ideally placed to build on that idea given her history with J’Onn. This isn’t something the episode capitalises on in any meaningful way so she is quickly introduced, quickly dealt with and instantly forgotten. The action sequences involving her were far from engaging as well.
- the new costume!
- the introduction of a complex and fascinating issue to hang the season on
- Andrea’s introduction as a different sort of antagonist
- Lena’s complex reaction to feeling betrayed
- the Kara/Lena interactions
- not letting plots linger to the point of frustration
- the intrigue built around Malefic
- Midnight not living up to obvious potential
- the potential to overly simplify the complex technology debate
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