Supergirl – Season 4 Episode 12
Supergirl delivers a belated Valentine’s Day episode featuring a heart eating symbiotic alien, a great deal of soul searching for Alex and Nia wrestling with what comes next.
This show could rarely be described as subtle and episodes like this could be used as examples of how overt the writers can be in putting forward a particular message. The main thing that stands out is the attention given to Valentine’s day despite there only being one ongoing romantic relationship in the main cast. Kara hasn’t been with anyone since Mon’El, Alex is still figuring her dating life out post Maggie and J’Onn seems far too busy for such pursuits. Aside from James and Lena who are in the closest thing to a stable relationship out of everyone, this leaves Nia and Brainy who continue to dance around one another without actually taking that step due to Brainy’s emotional ineptness.
Focusing on Valentine’s Day as some sort of fully celebrated holiday in National City is fairly bizarre given the refreshing lack of attention given to romantic entanglements of late. Mercifully none of the characters sit around moping about how alone they are which makes Valentine’s Day more of an obnoxious backdrop than anything else. I can’t help but wonder if the writers wanted to use to to make some sort of point about Alex and failed to draw that connection or if it was originally supposed to air during that time and there was some sort of mandate to deliver a themed episode.
On the subject of Alex, she is starting to feel unfulfilled by her recent decisions. She took the job as director of the DEO to give her more stability and greater opportunity to work on her personal life. Her adoption portfolio is mentioned as is her prior attempts to put herself back out there on the dating scene. Both of these things have been dropped in favour of the ongoing Children of Liberty plot. This episode attempts to make dropping those elements appear deliberate as Alex references the intensity of the ongoing situation being the reason for her losing sight of her personal goals for the time being. It’s good that there’s an attempt to make pushing a story aside part of the story itself but this show abandons things so often that it has become an expected problem so drawing attention to it while doing something heavy handed in an attempt to pick it up again really doesn’t solve the issue.
The writers choose to contextualise Alex’s feelings about the loss of focus on her personal life through her relationship with Kara. She still has no memory of Kara’s alien origins or identity as Supergirl so she is currently very overprotective of her to the point that she’s reluctant to let her join in on investigations out of fear for her safety. Alex talks about Kara’s safety being her top priority which clearly distracts her in the field and somehow encourages her to consider her own life choices. Kara being attacked is used as the example as Alex realises that she tasks herself with protecting others because she is unable to conceive of them being able to protect themselves. She sees this as a growth opportunity for her and resolves to get better at trusting people to protect themselves which frees up her mental energy to focus on what she wants from her life. There is also the mention of Colonel Haley’s daughter as proof that it’s possible to have a career and a family in a way that is functional. This all makes for tenuous reasoning but Chyler Leigh’s sincere performance makes it work at least on an emotional level.
There was also some amusement to be gained from Kara trying to tag along with Alex like old times while being mindful of keeping her powers hidden. Even though superhero live action adaptations are moving away from protecting a secret identity as a storytelling source I will always enjoy the silly excuses and stolen moments whereby powers can be used unnoticed. Supergirl does this consistently well and there are some good examples here such as Kara pretending to stumble across a hidden safe or masking super breath with a sneeze.
The villain, Pamela Ferrer aka Menagerie (Jessica Meraz) is largely as poorly developed as most villains of the week with the notable exception of this serving as an introduction for an ongoing antagonist. The episode spends almost no time setting up who Pamela is or what she wants beyond stealing valuables from people. It’s a clear motivation but also a flimsy one as it amounts to nothing more than “she steals stuff because she wants to be rich” which is fair enough for a one shot villain but leaves little to pick up in future appearances. At the very least there should have been some work done to establish the partnership. If it’s consensual which it would have to be then the boundaries of that partnership really should have been established beyond the speculation that the alien gets hearts and Pamela gets to keep the valuables.
There’s also no real indication of what would interest Manchester Black enough to recruit her into the Arrowverse version of The Elite though it’s completely unclear what motivates him at this point now that Fiona has been avenged. Supergirl often struggles with this sort of character development as there seems to be a baseline assumption on the part of the writers that the comic book references will have weight on their own. This is a prime example as those familiar with the comics -or at the very least the DC Animated movie Superman Vs. The Elite– will know exactly what is meant by Manchester Black contacting Pamela but those only following this show will likely be left confused as there’s nothing to suggest why Manchester Black would do this. It has to be internally consistent and for that to be the case work has to be put in to develop characters.
Another plot running in the background is Lena’s research into giving Human beings super powers. This gets the attention of Colonel Haley who offers her a government contract for obvious reasons. In the interests of transparency she discusses this with James who automatically shoots down the idea by telling her that he could never imagine her turning over her research to the government considering how much it means to her. He’s unable to support her on this because he sees Lena partnering with the government as a stepping stone to them militarising it and creating untold chaos. It’s not something he’ll ever agree with and fears that the impasse on this topic will be the end of their relationship. He turns out to be spot on with that prediction as Lena ends things with him because she feels that James is judging her for wanting to use science for the betterment of mankind.
Consistent readers of this site will have an idea what I’m about to say about this. Manufactured angst is one of my pet peeves on television and CW shows seem to favour this above many other plot possibilities most of the time. The James/Lena relationship has been up and down in terms of how it has been portrayed and this is an example of it not working. Part of the problem is how difficult it is to invest in as the writers haven’t really done enough work on it to make it feel significant enough. This wasn’t always the case as they are intermittently charming together but lately their scenes together appear to be more about why they don’t work as a couple which just makes for tedious viewing. When an entire relationship is based entirely on angst it’s incredibly draining. It also gets in the way of what could be a fascinating debate held by two intelligent characters because Lena counters that possibility by reacting emotionally.
A big problem with James is how self righteous he can be. The good thing about this is that it’s consistent which suggests that it’s a deliberate character flaw that he isn’t aware of. There is no sense that he’s working to overcome that which is both good and bad as it means that his character isn’t developing though it does make him more interesting as a flawed individual. Seeing how that attitude applies to other characters besides Lena and how it impacts different situations is necessary to continue this as the plotting surrounding James is somewhat limited. Similarly Lena appears to be a one trick pony constantly saddled with the morally grey plotting. This hampers her character in a big way as her interactions are limited and there’s very little actual development.
One relationship plot I continue to enjoy is the Brainy/Nia flirtation. There appears to be no rush to get them together which feels about right for the two of them. Brainy is charmingly oblivious to her feelings for him despite obviously being distracted by his feelings for her. His focus is training her to be a superhero but Nia isn’t ready to take that plunge as she’s mourning the loss of her mother and is looking for companionship from Brainy at this difficult time. He’s incapable of recognising that so there’s a disconnect between what each of them wants from the other at this stage.
Nia does get that emotional support from Kara who encourages her to remember how much her mother loved her and to honour what she would have wanted for her daughter. They bond over the fact that their sisters aren’t fully supporting what they do even though the circumstances are different. Kara points out that not having the support of Alex doesn’t stop her from doing what she wants to do and leaves on the note of reminding Nia that she can turn to others even if she feels hopeless. It’s a pep talk that is clearly taken to heart considering Nia suits up in this episode in a costume that belonged to her mother in order to help Kara in the climactic action sequence. All told this is a bit soon though it wouldn’t be the first time Nia’s development was rushed.
Ben’s stint in prison doesn’t last long thanks to a President more worried about poll numbers than actual justice. He sets Ben free when he learns that there’s no way of actually trying him under the Patriot Act so apparently that means he is absolved of all crimes despite all that he has been connected with. This is disappointing as I would have been interested to see more of Ben continuing to inspire people despite being behind bars. There was a real opportunity to use his trial to continue exploring his innate charisma and well prepared arguments on his xenophobic beliefs but that has now been sadly squandered. At least he uses his release as a platform to spread his message further and Sam Witwer continues to be endlessly watchable in this role.
The idea of legitimising the Children of Liberty by having them take credit for bringing down Menagerie is an interesting one as it continues to show Ben’s ability to manipulate a situation in a positive way for his organisation. In this case there is a dangerous alien threatening National City at a point where people are nervous about dangerous aliens so it’s the perfect opportunity to capitalise on that by having Humans shown to be protecting the people. By spinning that in a certain way it’s easy to see why people might feel that the Children of Liberty are a positive force looking out for them.
A problematic episode that skips over some fundamental storytelling requirements in order to get to a quicker pay-off on things like Nia’s development and Alex’s abandoned goals. Picking up the aims Alex had earlier in the season by drawing attention to the fact that they’ve largely been forgotten about is in theory a good thing but considering how routinely this show drops ongoing plot threads for extended periods of time it’s hard to accept that this is deliberate. Chyler Leigh’s sincere performance helps to pull it off but the justification for this coming up now is really flimsy. At least there was some amusement to be gained from Kara hiding her powers from Alex while still trying to help out. The James/Lena relationship is growing really tedious at this point as practically all of their scenes are about why they don’t work as a couple. Their impasse over Lena working with the government on giving normal Humans super powers is the latest excuse for angst between them and it only serves as a way to break them up. There is no attempt to have an interesting debate about the ethics of Lena’s research being used for military purposes as it’s apparently more important to deliver tedious relationship drama. Pamela aka Menagerie is a weak villain which is fine for a villain of the week to an extent but as an ongoing antagonist she is particularly lacking. Her partnership with the alien symbiote should have been given some attention to make it clear what that connection brings each of them. All we get is a brief reference to the alien getting hearts and Pamela keeping the valuables which tells us little about either of them. Manchester Black’s interest in her makes no sense in context of this show which makes me think that the writers are cutting corners by assuming familiarity of the significance of this pairing in the comics.
Nia and Brainy’s ongoing flirtation is still a lot of fun to watch due to Brainy’s casual ineptness. His current focus is on training Nia to be a superhero without recognising that she needs time to mourn the recent death of her mother. At this point she’s looking for emotional support from him but he’s unable to recognise that despite being obviously distracted by his feelings for her. Nia does get that support from Kara who understands what it’s like to feel isolated. They connect over the lack of support from their sisters even though the circumstances surrounding that are very different. Kara encourages Nia to think about what her mother would have wanted for her and reminds her that she isn’t alone. This leads to Nia suiting up which feels far too soon though isn’t the first example of her development being rushed. There is a notable missed opportunity in the handling of Ben Lockwood’s story. Legitimising the Children of Liberty by having them heroically defeat a dangerous alien is a great idea in terms of furthering his cause but having him freed thanks to a president more concerned with poll results than justice means that there’s no change of seeing how effective Ben can be as a motivator from prison. His trial could have been a great platform for this character and allowed the anti-alien sentiment plot to receive different attention.
- the ongoing Nia/Brainy flirtation
- Kara and Nia bonding over feelings of isolation
- Chyler Leigh’s sincere performance
- a really weak villain
- no in-show context for Manchester Black’s interest in Menagerie
- the tedious Lena/James relationship drama
- wasted potential by Ben’s release from prison
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