Supergirl – Season 1 Episode 7
“Human for a Day”
Kara loses her powers and National City has to find a way to cope without Supergirl when a devastating Earthquake strikes the city and injures a lot of people.
Every superhero story has to deal with the hero losing their powers as a way to prove that there is more to them than their abilities. Generally speaking it’s good to get this out of the way early as it often provides solid character development in the early days of their career. It’s interesting to note that Barry lost his powers in the 7th episode of season 1 of The Flash. What an odd coincidence that Supergirl would run a similar story in the same numbered episode.
As predicted it was the battle with Red Tornado that drained Kara of her abilities. It is established that she actually used an ability that is relatively new to the Superman mythos called “solar flare“. In the comics it is a lot more devastating to look at and definitely appears different from Heat Vision. If the previous episode had represented it as being something different to Heat Vision on a visual level then it might have carried more weight that it wasn’t the same power.
Like in the comics, using the solar flare ability causes Kara to lose her powers for a period of time and essentially makes her human. It’s established that her body will recover but it will take time. Naturally this has Kara feeling helpless and she experiences her first cold that she catches from a kid with a runny nose. She is encouraged to take it easy and enjoy relative normalcy for a little while which she seems on board with until an Earthquake hits.
It’s the worst possible day for this to happen as far as she is concerned and the fallout from the Earthquake is where Kara experiences the biggest test for her as a hero. She learns a lot of tough lessons when she doesn’t have her powers and sees the world differently than she ever has. There’s a particularly moving scene where a man dies and leaves his daughter fatherless. He dies because Supergirl isn’t around to get him to the hospital in time. Maxwell Lord is all too quick to remind people of that and it really upsets Kara to know that she could have helped on any other day but is incapable of it at that point. Seeing her try to will her X-Ray vision to work so that she can do something to help is a really powerful moment and Melissa Benoist really nails the desperation.
James reminds Kara that being a hero doesn’t mean saving everyone, it means trying. Failure is something that is difficult to deal with at the best of times but when people’s lives are the things that are lost then the associated guilt will be difficult to deal with. Kara is desperate to do something which encourages her to put her life on the line to stop a man trying to rob a convenience store.
In terms of heroics this is probably pretty typical as small scale robberies tend to be common for superheroes to tackle. This one is different as Kara is putting herself in the most danger she has ever been by taking this on. She goes in powerless knowing that if she gets shot then it will kill her but gambles on the inherent goodness of people to resolve the situation. She identifies that the man is scared and hopes that he doesn’t really want to shoot anyone. Doubling this up with Cat’s speech about having hope in the absence of Supergirl is a bit on the nose but it works really well at building up the theme of the goodness of people. Melissa Benoist’s performance in this scene is excellent. She does her best to appear calm, confident and heroic but is clearly terrified as evidenced by her trembling hand as she deals with the situation. This scene is very reminiscent of an almost identical story in this year’s Superman #39 written by Geoff Johns where Superman talks a man out of using his gun. It’s a solid thing to adapt as it’s really inspiring to see a superhero use words to inspire people into being better. It proves that Kara’s bravery, compassion and empathy are more important to her powers in terms of being a hero.
It was interesting to see Kara more vulnerable than usual as a result of her missing powers. She experiences human pain for the first time which includes a sprain on her arm and has to deal with feeling as useless as many others feel when they are incapable of helping. the episode ties the return of her powers to her emotions but doesn’t make a big thing of it thankfully. It almost feels as if she has to earn getting her powers back and inspiring someone to take the non violent route goes a long way towards doing that but it isn’t until James is in danger that she manages to get them back.
Her relationship with James is something that she latches onto for support when she hasn’t got her abilities. She seeks emotional support from him by hugging him which causes Winn to act like a petulant child when he catches them. His reaction is completely unreasonable but it’s perfectly natural for someone who is having difficulty with their feelings for someone to act irrationally around that person. I just don’t think this was handled especially well as there wasn’t enough time given to it. I’m not really the biggest fan of Winn as a character but the way he’s written has a lot to do with that.
When Kara gets her powers back she proves how heroic and inspirational she can be as she flies around National City doing damage control. Her inspiration smile after saving the school bus speaks volumes about her ability to create hope through her actions and her attitude. When she goes to speak to Cat as Supergirl to thank her for her inspirational message shows that she’s definitely getting through to even the most cynical people.
Alex spends this episode dealing with an escaped alien while the DEO is on lockdown. The alien in question is Jemm (Charles Harford), a telepathic alien who wreaks havoc on the DEO agents and creates more doubt about Hank Henshaw for Alex. He is identified as a liar when he says that the neural inhibitors were destroyed when they weren’t and generally acts suspiciously throughout. Alex manages to convince another agent to disobey his orders because of the suspicious way that Hank is acting.
This part of the episode is tonally and thematically disconnected from Kara being powerless. The scenes of Alex and the agents trying to hunt down Jemm were really effective from a horror point of view but as a villain, Jemm was horribly underdeveloped. I think that this plot could have been the basis of a really good episode on its own rather than being the B-plot to a far more interesting story. Several notable character opportunities were completely glossed over such as Alex being affected by her involvement in the death of the agent that she convinced to disobey orders.
Hank Henshaw’s secret is revealed and somewhat redeems these scenes. It turns out that what I suspected was correct and Hank is actually J’onn J’onzz (better known as the Martian Manhunter). David Harewood is the most believable he has ever been as he recounts the story of how he came to impersonate Hank Henshaw. The original Hank Henshaw is established as being a man who was self serving and untrustworthy. He was apparently obsessed with hunting down J’onn despite the fact that he was completely innocent and was only looking for refuge on Earth. Jeremiah Danvers sacrificed his life to save him and in return J’onn vowed to protect his daughter. Suddenly Hank/J’onn’s earlier mention of losing his family carries more weight now that we know he’s the last survivor of Mars.
Of course we only have J’onn’s side of the story but there’s a great deal of sincerity in Harewood’s performance and my knowledge of the comics leads me to assume that the Martian Manhunter is one of the good guys. Supergirl might subvert that and do something different with him but I somehow doubt it.
Since Hank Henshaw is known in the comics for being the Cyborg Superman I am pretty sure that he will come back in all his augmented glory but that’s probably a story for pretty far down the line. I’m not sure why J’onn told Alex to keep what she knows about him a secret from Kara but hopefully his reasons will makes sense when they are revealed. Unfortunately I expect a clumsy attempt from Alex to convince Kara that there is nothing suspicious about Hank which will in turn make her suspect that he’s done something to Alex.
An excellent episode that tests Kara in interesting ways as she is forced to prove herself as a hero without the benefit of her abilities to help her protect people.
Kara losing her abilities happens at the worst possible time since an Earthquake hits National City and she finds herself unable to help in the way that she wants to. She learns a lot of tough lessons without her powers and sees the world differently. There’s a particularly moving scene when she watches a man die because Supergirl isn’t there to take him to the hospital. Melissa Benoist conveys Kara’s desperation perfectly.
James reminds her that being a hero doesn’t mean saving everyone, it means being willing to try. Failure is difficult to deal with at the best of times but the associated guilt that comes with failing to saves people’s lives is even more difficult to endure.
The strongest scene in the episode is Kara preventing a convenience store robbery by doing nothing more than talking. She takes a big risk by putting herself in front of the man’s gun and hopes that she can appeal to his good nature to talk him out of doing this. She has put herself in the most danger that she has ever been in and proves that her empathy, compassion and bravery are more important than her abilities in terms of being a hero. Melissa Benoist’s performance in this scene is excellent, she manages to put Kara across as brave and confident while also being terrified as evidenced by her trembling hand.
Seeing Kara more vulnerable as a result of her loss in powers is interesting. She experiences human pain for the first time in the form of a sprained arm and has to deal with feeling as useless as everyone else who is incapable of helping. The episode ties regaining her powers to her emotional state but doesn’t make a big thing of it. It’s almost as if she has to earn them back which she does by proving herself brave without them and being motivated when James is in danger.
She latches onto her relationship with James for support which causes Winn to act like a petulant child when he catches them hugging. It’s perfectly reasonable that his feelings for Kara would cause him to act irrationally in this situation but it isn’t handled especially well. Winn still comes across as the most poorly written of the characters.
When Kara gets her abilities back she proves how inspirational she can be as she does damage control around National City. Her hopeful smile when she saves the school bus proves how she inspires hope through her actions and her attitude. When she goes to talk to Cat as Supergirl to thank her for the inspiring broadcast it shows that she’s getting through to even the most cynical of people.
Alex spends the episode dealing with the escaped telepath, Jemm. Hank Henshaw is identified as a liar when he mentions that the Neural Inhibitors were destroyed and Alex manages to convince another agent to disobey Hank’s orders.
This part of the episode is tonally and thematically disconnected from Kara being powerless. It works effectively from a horror point of view but Jemm is woefully underdeveloped as a villain. There was plenty of story here to fill its own episode rather than being a B-Plot to a more interesting story.
The reveal that Hank Henshaw is actually J’onn J’onzz (better known as the Martian Manhunter) redeems this plot a lot and allows David Harewood to be the most believable he has ever been. His story to Alex about what really happened to her father and the real Hank Henshaw is really interesting and it adds more weight to his earlier discussion about losing his family.
David Harewood’s performance has a lot of sincerity to it which leads me to believe that he’s telling the truth. I’m unsure why he wants the secret kept from Kara but maybe his reasons will make sense once they are revealed. Sadly I fully expect clumsy scenes of Alex trying to convince Kara that Hank isn’t suspicious which in turn will make Kara suspect that he has done something to Alex.