Supergirl – Season 5 Episode 2
“Stranger Beside Me”
Supergirl continues its fifth season by focusing on the relationships that are at different stages and highlighting what isn’t known within them.
The strength in this show is the ongoing relationships and how they develop over time. There are a lot of really outlandish elements at play but the interpersonal dynamics help to ground them into something that can be invested in. The most glaring example of this is evident in the Kara/J’Onn dynamic. Their father/daughter connection has grown and evolved over the run of the show to the point that it’s always a joy to watch. Everything about the way they interact is so warm and lived in with performances from the actors depicting two people completely at ease with each other. Getting this right means that it’s easier to accept the discussions about Martian brain curses and other such concepts because the root of the moment is based in emotion that the viewers can relate to. At its core J’Onn has a problem and needs the support of his family to help him deal with it; everything else is just window dressing at that point.
Having said that, this episode does throw too many outlandish elements at the viewer at one time. The main issue is that J’Onn has no memory of having a brother but is positive that there is no deception at play as the pain he’s experiencing is very particular to his race and that sort of connection. This leads him to deal with the fact that there are gaps in his memory that he wasn’t aware existed so Kelly takes him on a journey into his mind palace to sift through the confusion in an attempt to find answers. This involves a lot of exposition and furthers the bizarre handling of Kelly as someone who can cure pretty much any mental ailment in a short period of time. I have nothing against the Kelly character but I find her vastly underdeveloped and deploying her in situations such as this doesn’t help as I’m unsure why she would be able to help psychoanalyse a Martian. In terms of background plot development this does show a positive use for the technology that has been identified in problematic which suggests the writers might go down the route of the right hands and the right way to use it as a contrast to the wrong hands using it improperly.
J’Onn takes an important step forward in understanding what is happening to him. He learns that vast chunks of the Martian Civil War have been removed from his mind along with the knowledge of him having a brother who betrayed the Green Martians allowing for them to be slaughtered but it remains to be seen how this will develop over time and what insights J’Onn will gain into his own history as well as the history of his people. There are open questions around who erased J’Onn’s memory, why this was done and why knowledge of his brother was hidden from him. It’s also unclear why The Monitor brought him to Earth and what it has to do with the upcoming “Crisis on Infinite Earths” crossover.
A major theme of this episode is the lack of knowledge in various relationships. This is mainly explored through Brainy/Nia and Alex/Kelly; these couples are working to find a groove in a new relationship that works for them. Brainy and Nia are broadly played for comedy with Brainy taking Nia’s gratitude for him surprising her with her favourite breakfast too literally. She says to Brainy that it was “the best morning ever” which is something Brainy can’t comprehend as it’s such a bold claim that being true would be virtually impossible. His response to that is to constantly escalate the grand gestures in order to make every day perfection for her. Hilariously this means he has more sushi than can reasonably be consumed sent to her followed by an abundance of pizzas. This lingers on until Nia tells him that he needs to stop doing what he’s doing as she doesn’t need a constant stream of grand gestures to be happy which leads to an endearing conversation where Brainy admits that he wants to keep attempting to do the impossible for her. This plot makes for a good spin on the awkward early days of a relationship that accounts for Brainy’s less than total glance on Humanity while also factoring in Nia being unsure how to react to such attention. They continue to make for a fun pairing and it’s good to see a relationship where the obstacles aren’t angst related.
Alex and Kelly are having similar problems founded on how well they know one another. When Alex arranges a romantic breakfast for Kelly she learns -among other things- that she’s allergic to blueberry which makes Alex’ blueberry pancakes a bit of a waste. It’s a fairly simple teething problem that Alex blows a bit out of proportion as she immediately leaps towards the possibility of accidentally killing her girlfriend through triggering an intense allergic reaction. There is confusion around how she can feel so strongly for someone despite not knowing them that well and has to come to terms with the fact that it takes a while to get to know someone regardless of how you feel about them. It’s curious that this didn’t come up in her relationship with Maggie but once again it’s a refreshing take on relationships and the difficulties that arise.
This ends up paying off really well when Malefic poses as Kelly in order to get to J’Onn through Alex. It doesn’t take long for Alex to become suspicious which is confirmed when she suggests blueberry pancakes. Alex is able to use recently gained knowledge to root out the deception and she later has a moment where she instinctively picks out the real Kelly when Malefic presents her a choice. It’s an overly neat payoff but it gives Alex the confidence to know that she is aware of the important things and now understands where her feelings are coming from which means that the details can follow later.
The theme impacts Kara to a lesser extent through her work at CatCo where she is being pushed into work that she’s not comfortable with. In the main Andrea is an obstacle as she shows no interest in letting Kara do what she wants and has low tolerance for her trademark lateness. I like that the writers are still finding ways for her dual identity to impact her personal and professional life. Based on what has been seen so far it’s likely that this tension will escalate as she is under greater scrutiny than ever before. The impact of the theme is more specific to William (Staz Nair) who acts as a more immediate antagonist within CatCo who is already investigating her and even manages to track her to the sewer where she was fighting Malefic. Based on this it won’t take him long to figure out her secret. Kara’s view of him is that he’s a problem and she is unable to get along with him but the mentions of his wife and seeing him volunteer in a soup kitchen strongly suggests that there is more to him than Kara sees and she will learn more about him.
Lena’s connection to Andrea also offers a different perspective on the prevailing theme. In this case it’s more down to Lena underestimating Andrea to the point that she’s completely blindsided when Andrea confronts her about adapting her tech to her own ends. It’s almost unheard of to see Lena bested in a situation so this is particularly noteworthy as it’s a peer pointing out where she’s gone wrong. It’s a great scene as it’s two powerful characters expertly performing a moment whereby one humiliates the other and exploits a weakness that they were unaware of. I can tell that the Andrea/Lena dynamic will continue to provide excellent content over the season.
The betrayal that motivates Lena’s actions this season is already reaching concerning levels. We don’t see her interact with Kara in this episode to get a sense of what their friendship has become but we do get a sense of how impacted she is by the deceit. It has caused her to lose total faith in people; she now sees them as a disappointment delivery system but she doesn’t blame them for that as they’re unable to act outwith their established programming. Her Artificial Intelligence; Hope is programmed to be perfectly reliable in that sense so it’s the only thing Lena trusts currently. She has captured Eve and experiments on her to stimulate the parts of her brain that inspire loyalty to make her the perfect cost for Hope and create a Human/A.I. hybrid that won’t let her down. She sees this as the next evolutionary step for Humanity and considers herself to be the saviour of the entire species by finding a way to do that to everyone. She’s unable to see this as the crime against nature that it really is but that’s definitely the point. This links in with the thread of the over-reliance on technology by taking it to a science fiction extreme and personifying the loss of Humanity by having a machine replace that part of someone. I’m still unclear on whether this makes Lena a villain or hopelessly misguided but either way the path she’s heading down is a dangerous one and she will have to be stopped before she does too much damage.
The over-reliance on technology plot is explored in less direct ways. Kara makes comments about Andrea’s acquisition of CatCo being a transparent delivery method for advertising. Her major concern is that the advert is displayed more prominently than the important news it’s attached to. It’s a deliberate commentary on how the attention of the masses is diverted away from important issues in favour of more frivolous things so that those in power can get away with some less than moral agendas. The save Kara makes at the beginning of the episode is required because someone is texting and walking at the same time which left them wide open to being run over due to their lack of focus on what was important. It’s somewhat heavy handed but that’s Supergirl.
A well executed episode that has a strong main theme, delivers strong focus on the characters and continues the over-reliance on technology plot in compelling ways. In one form of another all of the major character conflicts are founded on lacking information. For J’Onn this is very literal as chunks of his memory have been altered or erased including knowledge that he has a brother. He takes an important step towards regaining these memories but there are still a lot of open questions surrounding them and his brother. Drafting Kelly to help with this only serves to highlight how underdeveloped she is but this plot does allow for a showcase of the close relationship between J’Onn and Kara. Brainy and Nia’s relationship remains as endearing as ever and framing a conflict around Brainy taking a simple turn of phrase so literally which eventually forces Nia to set the record straight is a refreshing way to introduce a relationship obstacle free of angst. Similarly the Alex/Kelly conflict is around how little they know one another which causes Alex to worry about how deeply she feels. Ultimately this pays off when she is able to use what she knows to see through Malefic’s deception and she learns to trust her feelings while letting the knowledge come naturally. Kara’s contribution to the theme is more around the clues dropped about William’s deeper inner life that Kara will undoubtedly learn more about. It also feeds into Andrea’s expectations of Kara and how she chooses to run CatCo.
Andrea continues to show herself as an excellent foil for Lena when she shows up and puts a stop to Lena misusing her technology. It’s a great interaction as it’s two powerful people showing off how much power they have plus it’s noteworthy to see Lena bested by someone. Lena is definitely heading down a really dark path as shown by her removing Eve’s free will to create a Human/A.I. hybrid. She sees this as improving Humanity who are unable to stop themselves betraying others due to programming but she knows a way around that and it involves removing that potential. What she does to Eve is definitely a crime against nature and feeds into the over-reliance on technology plot that is also referenced when Kara shows her distaste at an advert distracting from important issues after saving someone who was texting while walking. It’s heavy handed but that’s Supergirl.
- strong Kara/J’Onn moments
- finding inventive ways to explore relationship conflicts through Alex/Kelly and Nia/Brainy that don’t rely on angst
- a well explored theme relating to lack of knowledge about other people
- Andrea continuing to be an excellent foil for Lena
- Lena heading down a dark path motivated by how betrayed she feels
- some heavy handed commentary
- too many outlandish ideas and terms for a single episode
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