Supergirl – Season 1 Episode 4
“How Does She Do It?”
Supergirl fills in the gap with the episode that was supposed to air last week with a story that has Kara juggling different aspects of her life while a mad bomber threatens National City.
As with “Livewire” last week I have kept the intended numbering for my reviews. While “Livewire” managed to more or less stand alone without feeling like too much is missing, this outing definitely sets up things that are picked up in the next episode. People who aren’t aware that the episodes have been aired out of sequence might be confused by the apparent backpedaling of the characters.
The most glaring example of that will be James and Lucy who were a functioning couple last week but are at each other’s throats this week. We pick up where the third episode left off with Lucy’s return complicating things for James as well as Kara. The love triangle has officially landed though if you throw Winn into the mix then it’s more of a square or a rhombus. Romantic Rhombus sounds like a better term so I’ll go with that.
I found it most interesting that both Lucy and James have equal opportunity to give their perspective on the breakup. Neither of them are demonised in any way and the reasons for them splitting up seem to be relatively mature. As far as James is concerned, Lucy dumped him because she has her mind on her career and their relationship came secondary to that. This is what he has convinced himself of in order to make it possible for him to move on. It’s easy to side with James because we viewers know him and -in theory- like him so it seems more likely that Lucy would wrong him rather than the other way around.
Lucy’s perspective is given equal consideration. Her reasons for breaking up with James concern Superman. James would always rush off whenever Superman needed him and left her in the lurch. She could never complain about it because he was always leaving her to help save lives but at the same time it wasn’t a healthy relationship when she was a secondary concern to Superman. In a way their relationship ended because of James’ responsibilities as a superhero without him actually being one. It’s a common problem for Spider-Man for example where women feel unwanted because they don’t know the full story behind him ditching them. In this case Lucy knows exactly why she is being ditched but made the decision that she couldn’t live like that.
It’s a solid setup for emotional conflict that works really well in this episode. James and Lucy are both likable characters and it never feels like Lucy is a 1 dimensional rival for Kara. She feels like her own person and I found myself rooting for her and James because there seemed to be genuine affection there. It helps that Mehcad Brooks and Jenna Dewan Tatum have effective chemistry together. It’s also notable that neither of them are identified as at fault for the relationship ending with the whole thing being a two way street.
Of course I felt sorry for Kara who is struggling with James’ ex being around just as she’s beginning to sort out her feelings for him. Despite that she hides her discomfort and jealousy while doing everything she can to help repair that rift. She gives Lucy some useful advice despite not knowing her that well and her talk with James helps him sort things out in his head as well. Kara reacts maturely to the situation despite how much it pains her and that’s something I really appreciated. It certainly makes the romantic rhombus a lot more tolerable.
Sometimes I feel that Supergirl is a spinoff of a Superman show that never existed. With all the returning characters and clear history it does feel like that a lot of the time. James and Lucy’s relationship could easily be a holdover from that old series had it existed. This isn’t a criticism but it’s interesting that the producers have taken this approach when creating the series.
Winn thankfully isn’t too insufferable in this episode. There is some mention of his feelings for Kara but it doesn’t play into the episode as heavily as it could be. So far all of the characters are behaving like adults where the romantic side of things is concerned so I hope that this continues as the season goes on.
The title of the episode has a double meaning. On a thematic level it’s about juggling priorities. Kara is still learning her craft as a superhero so doesn’t know how to juggle her professional, personal and superhero lives in a way that works well for her. This is explored through her desire to impress Cat by babysitting her son while she is conveniently out of town accepting an award. Kara thinks that taking care of Cat’s son will score her significant brownie points and possibly gain her some much needed respect. The trouble with that is her responsibilities as a babysitter clash with her responsibilities as Supergirl when a series of bomb attacks happen in National City.
I like that the pacing of the episode was as frantic as Kara was feeling. Events moved quickly and she struggled to keep up with them in a way that felt nicely realistic. Most of us will know what it feels like to have too many plates spinning to keep track of so if you remove the superhero aspect of it then what Kara is going through is a very common problem.
The weakest aspect of the episode was seeing her try to babysit Carter. He was mostly a plot device but he was a pretty annoying character to have around. He did feel like Cat’s son with a sense of entitlement that naturally comes with being the son of one of the richest women on the planet but the scenes featuring him were somewhat weak. It also seemed a little creepy that Kara was excited by the prospect of a young boy having a crush on Supergirl. It does work as a confidence booster for Kara as she has spent a lot of time fighting against public opinion but it is slightly creepy as presented.
“How Does She Do It?” also refers to her powers and the perception of them by others. It turns out that Maxwell Lord staged the bombings as a test for Supergirl to gauge how powerful she is and ultimately find out what he’s up against. The show is definitely setting out to make Maxwell Lord Supergirl’s Lex Luthor. I have no issue with that as he seems charismatic enough to pull it off but it was problematic that the approach was very similar to depictions of the antagonistic relationship between Superman and Lex Luthor. It happens in Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman and Superman: The Animated Series so it’s a common early story point for Superman that has been replicated here.
So far there is nothing new being brought to the table in terms of a hero/villain relationship. Maxwell Lord also seems to be Lex Luthor in all but name since he is a businessman who appears as a humanitarian on the surface but hides a darkness and corruption that is seen by his enemies but can never be proven. Hopefully some work will be done to distinguish him from Lex Luthor but so far it doesn’t look promising.
Despite his similarities to Lex Luthor, Maxwell Lord does seem like a viable threat to Supergirl. He has detailed information on her capabilities and has identified that compassion is one of her weaknesses -at least in terms of something that can be exploited- so he already has some scope to cause her problems. His observation about her saving the train despite having less people in danger than at the airport where he assumes that someone she cared about was on the train might have been a little obvious but it’s something that Kara should really be concerned about.
Another interesting thing about that decision is that Kara made it confidently despite it being an opportunity to save less people. She is still learning and had to make a decision on the fly -literally- so it makes sense that she wouldn’t think it through properly. Of course it could be argued that she knows that the DEO are better equipped to handle the airport bomb since she is the only one fast enough to get aboard the fast moving train.
When she catches up with the bomber on the train she reacts compassionately and tries to encourage him that there is some hope despite him feeling like there is none. Ultimately he ends up killing himself because he feels that there is no way out but Kara makes a genuine attempt to get through to him. She also realises that he was sad instead of angry and feels that way because he was fired from Maxwell Lord’s company and lost custody of his sick daughter. The fact that Lord is willing to use that weakness to blackmail him into bombing targets s he sees fit injects a sense of tragedy into someone who is barely featured.
Kara’s relationship with the DEO is handled a lot better in this episode than it has been before. She works with them more clearly than in previous episodes when she confidently decides to save the train and leave the airport bomb to them. It feels a lot like a partnership and I like that Hank seems to have found a respect for her that allows him to treat her more as an equal who can get the job done. There’s also an element of compassion to his interaction with her as he seems concerned about her well-being. Hank’s red eyes and using whatever abilities he has to disable the bomb was pretty intriguing as well.
Cat doesn’t feature much but she does supply Kara with her weekly dose of advice. She notices that Kara is trying to take on too much which couldn’t be more true and advises her to manage some aspects of life well before adding others. It’s possible to do the career, family and personal life but it takes a lot of work to get that balance and shouldn’t be rushed into. Kara is making the mistake of trying to do it all and it’s not working for her so this is advice she should definitely heed.
Supergirl’s powers are really well used in this episode. Most of them inclusive of her speed are on display and there’s a real indicator of how strong she is when a powerful explosion is able to knock her out. I’ve mentioned in the past that Kryptonians in this show seem to be less powerful than other interpretations. This definitely provides more opportunities for enemies to cause problems and injects a sense of jeopardy into the show even if she is still basically invincible against human opponents who don’t have Kryptonite to hand. They really are getting a lot right about Kara with her powers being nicely subdued and her compassionate nature being prominent at all times.
A really strong episode that highlight’s Kara’s compassion as well as her varied set of super powers as she tries to juggle different parts of her life.
Her biggest problem this week is looking after Cat’s son in order to score some points with the boss while a series of bombings are happening in National City. The major theme of the episode is juggling priorities and Carter represents one of her priorities. She finds it difficult to find time to be Supergirl while watching Carter which presents itself through a really fast pace where events move very quickly. The scenes featuring Carter were somewhat weak and it’s slightly creepy that she is excited by the fact that he has a crush on her. It makes sense from her self esteem point of view but the execution feels a little weird.
Kara is also having trouble with her feelings towards James because of the return of Lucy Lane who wants to sort things out with her ex. James and Lucy’s breakup is written pretty maturely as both sides are shown without either of them being identified as right. James points out that Lucy was too focused on her career and Lucy mentions that James always prioritised helping Superman over their relationship. No definitive answer is given but it’s clear that they are both at fault and that fixing it is a two way street.
It’s a shame for Kara as she had only just started to sort out her feelings for James before Lucy comes back into his life. It’s refreshing that Lucy isn’t established as a simple 1 Dimensional rival for Kara. She feels like her own person and is very likable. Kara’s mature reaction by offering them advice that will help them fix their relationship is equally refreshing.
Winn is a lot less insufferable than usual with his feelings for Kara being obvious but not playing into the episode as heavily as it could be. So far he is behaving like an adult which makes the romantic rivalries a lot easier to deal with.
Maxwell Lord being revealed as the ultimate mastermind behind the bombings as a way to test Kara’s powers was a nice idea though it makes their antagonistic relationship seem a little too similar to Superman and Lex Luthor. Hopefully more will happen to distance these characters as the series goes on.
Kara’s compassionate side comes out when she confronts the bomber and wants to help him instead of fight him. Her empathetic nature allows her to see that he’s more sad than angry which leads to her finding out that Lord is behind it all. It’s a good way to add a tragic element to a villain that doesn’t appear much.
Kara’s relationship with the DEO is much better defined in this episode as she seems to be on equal footing with Hank who also seems genuinely concerned about her well-being. Seeing him use his abilities to disable a bomb is intriguing as well.
Cat doesn’t feature much but her weekly dose of advice where she tells Kara that it’s not advisable to take on more without mastering the other parts of your life.
Supergirl’s powers are used really well and I like that a powerful enough explosion can knock her out. It seems that Kryptonians are less powerful in this show than they have been elsewhere which creates some interesting possibilities for things that could threaten Kara.