written by Dayna Abel, Jason Froikin and Cara Russell
SPOILER WARNINGS ARE IN EFFECT
I’ve been looking forward to this episode since it was announced, with all the excitement my little fangirl heart could muster. It’s an adaptation of Alan Moore’s story in the 1985 Superman Annual #11, “For the Man Who Has Everything”, which is the best Superman story ever written. No, seriously, I looked it up. On, um, Snopes. LOOK JUST TRUST ME OKAY
The gist is that Supergirl is under the effects of an alien plant called the Black Mercy, which feeds off its host’s life force while keeping said host in a state of perpetual euphoria by granting them a vision of their perfect life. The only way to stop the Black Mercy is by rejecting its hallucination. Easier said than done. I won’t recap the whole story because it’s available on ComiXology for $1.99 (buy it, do it, seriously) and it was also adapted into a Justice League cartoon in 2004.
The strength of this story lies in both the fun of the “alternate reality” and the anguish of what it must feel like to find the strength to give up your heart’s desire. (Sidebar, I woke up a little while ago with a fuzzy, warm, purring kitten on my neck, so I know exactly how the Black Mercy works.) Kara clearly loves her Earth family, but her home was always Krypton, first and foremost, and my heart preemptively broke for her from the first scene. We also see what Kara means to her loved ones, as they fight for her life by any means necessary. Chyler Leigh as Alex ruled this episode, showing the strength of sisterly love with a selfless intensity I haven’t seen since Frozen.
As far as the adaptation went, it worked really really well, and we got to see what a generous budget looks like in the sweeping scenes of a vibrant, living Krypton. Absolutely beautiful. Not much dialogue was retained from Moore’s classic aside from the perfectly delivered “Who did this to me?” and since they didn’t twist that knife in our hearts quite enough, they included Kara’s dying words from Crisis On Infinite Earths #7 and it got reeeeeally dusty in my living room. The only misfire was Kara monologuing all over Non, when it would have been far more powerful for her to just fly in there, punch the shit out of him and scream “BURN!” before heat visioning him across the set. IT WOULD HAVE BEEN PERFECT, COME ON.
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When Kara’s aunt was killed, the first thought I had was how bad it was going to get. While Astra was alive, she kept her husband at bay, because she was above him in the command hierarchy, and maybe he had a sliver of respect for her. Now, however, Non is not only in command, but angry as well. It’s quite likely he’ll start tearing the city apart with reckless abandon now. Fortunately for Earth – and in no small part thanks to Alex’s training – Supergirl is now a better fighter than Non is. Unfortunately, that means he’s not going to let the next fight be one-on-one.
I had to start there because the rest of the episode was thoroughly heartbreaking. It started out with Supergirl trapped in a fantasy Krypton, living the happy life she never had the chance to before. Her family reunited and living, her planet still in one piece. It’s easy to ask why she gave in so easily, but when you think about it, it’s the same thing as going on vacation at a difficult time in your life. You fall into it, immerse yourself in it, and you don’t want to leave. When you’re finally forced to, even if it’s for something important, you drag your feet, and leave with a broken heart. And Kara left with a twice-broken heart, because she also had to leave her Kryptonian family behind again.
That brings us to Alex, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite characters in the series. When you really think about it, she is the person molding Supergirl into Supergirl. And I feel like that’s starting to become a two-way street. Alex was just starting to believe in the same ideals as Supergirl – in particular, that Kara’s aunt might be worth redeeming. She got so close, too, that I believe she’s going to be feeling some deep regret later at having killed Astra, forever wondering if she could have been turned.
But that’s not the only regret Alex might have to deal with, because she saw Kara’s fantasy Krypton. She now knows the place and the people she took Kara away from. And then she took Astra away too. I wonder now if at some point, that’s all going to weigh on Alex as a deep-seated sense of guilt, carrying around the feeling that she took everything away from her sister. Then again, maybe it already has. After all, she did let Hank take the blame for killing Astra.
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In the much-anticipated adaptation of the classic “For the Man Who Has Everything” Superman story, Kara is attacked by a parasitic alien plant, left in her apartment by uncle Non (that jerk). The parasite, called the Black Mercy, kills the host if it is removed forcibly, but otherwise leaves the host in a state of paralysis in their own personal heaven. This keeps Supergirl neatly out of action while this week’s villains, Astra and the other Phantom Zone convicts, carry out their evil plan. A really smart move on Non’s part, considering Astra’s very vulnerable weak spot towards her niece, but still ends up hurting more than helping in many aspects by the time the episode is over.
Within the dream, Kara is brought back to a Krypton that had no catastrophe, where she’s told she has just recovered from Argo Fever, and all memories of Earth were just fever dreams. She fights these assertions until a young Kal-El appears, asking Kara to unlock a star chart toy for him. Meanwhile, Alex rides an emotional roller coaster, from Aggressively Concerned Sister to She Is My Everything Give Her Back, You Bastards. Leveraging Max Lord’s talent with information from Astra, they jury-rig a Virtual Reality system which allows Alex to join Kara’s dream in an attempt to get Kara to question the paradise and loosen the Black Mercy’s grip. Alex is successful, after a charged performance by Chyler Leigh, which frees Supergirl and allows our intrepid heroes to go after the Kryptonians and attempt to thwart their plan to…we don’t really find out what. It’s really less important than Supergirl’s smackdown on Non, and Alex killing Astra to defend J’onn J’onnz (which he then takes credit for, because our Big Secret stash was running low).
It’s really the human moments that make this episode. In addition to Alex’s frantic rush and Kara’s renewed grief, we also get to see Hank impersonate Kara to avoid suspicion from Cat, who lest we forget, literally the day before watched her son leave because actual-Kara dumped him, and froze their relationship to just professional – which a missing Kara definitely failed to live up to. Hank botches it completely, which begs the question why a telepath can’t function in such a role, but it does illustrate why he has sucked so badly at assimilating on Earth, and why “Hank Henshaw” is a pretty great cover for him. It also causes James and Winn to not only learn about the DEO this episode from Alex, but that Hank is a shapeshifter (what did I say about the Big Secret stash running low? Yeah). We also get to see Winn and Kara make up (although I’d have been okay had he just left, “friends” is still better than “awkward avoidance”), and Non finally shows an emotion over the corpse of Astra, though I’m sure that will result in a pound of flesh taken from everyone responsible.
All in all, I’m very glad this story was adapted to Supergirl‘s plot, and not the other way around as is common with such adaptations. We also got some incredible performances from Melissa Benoist (as J’onn impersonating Kara), Chyler Leigh, and Laura Benanti who pulls triple duty as Alura, Astra and the Alura-Construct. I do have a general complaint – I’m finding that the Kryptonian gents all look alike, and I’m having a terrible time telling them apart. With the storytelling down, maybe it’s time for a little more diverse casting. There’re a dozen different ways “diversity” can be addressed, and “making sure all these dudes don’t look like clones” is such a tiny step. A teeny tiny step that one can start from, and get better!
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BONUS REVIEW: ADVENTURES OF SUPERGIRL #2 by Sterling Gates and Bengal
Now that the backstory is taken care of, we get to see more of what Gates and Bengal have in store for us here. The focus shifts more towards Alex this time around, and we get to see her strength and determination as well as her regrets – turns out she was involved in Rampage’s, well, rampage. Kara gets to exhibit her intelligence, and the last page is a fantastic homage to Wolverine from the Dark Phoenix Saga. Still a must-buy series.
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