[Review] Supergirl Episode 1×20: “Better Angels”

written by Dayna Abel, Jason Froikin and Cara Russell

SPOILER WARNINGS ARE IN EFFECT

What does Supergirl mean to me?

When I was little, I was a weird kid who kept to herself, didn’t do “girly” things, read a lot and got picked on. I was also raised primarily by my dad, and didn’t really have anything in common with my mom. So I gravitated towards strong blonde women because I wanted to be like them when I grew up – She-Ra at first, then Supergirl.

I was only five when Kara Zor-El died in Crisis On Infinite Earths, but she left a huge impression on me. She almost took out the Anti-Monitor all by herself, without relying on Superman. Because she fought from her heart, because she was firmly on the side of good and protecting life, she proved herself to be the strongest hero in the entire DCU. Supergirl taught me that real strength came from compassion, kindness, love and hope.

Thirty-odd years later, I have the privilege of seeing my Kara Zor-El live on television, espousing and exemplifying the exact same values I gleaned from her as a little girl in my grandma’s attic, reading my dad’s comic books. Supergirl’s speech at the beginning of this episode about not letting your attackers break your spirit, about the love out there in the world, about the power in something so simple as hope…I cried, yeah. I’ve dealt with some shit in the past three decades. I needed to hear this, and I needed to hear it from Supergirl.

Maybe there are more like me out there right now, little girls who maybe don’t read comics, but they get to see the Kara who inspired me and listen to a message of hope that has resonated with me for over thirty years. They get to hear it loud and clear. And maybe they’ll hold onto it as they grow up, and be a Supergirl to their loved ones with the strength that only comes from hope.

This show isn’t perfect – it bends over backwards to keep Superman out of it, it has plot holes I could drive a truck through, and it has a tendency to tell rather than show, giving us a little more exposition than we need, which feels very Silver Age-y sometimes. But I cannot praise Supergirl enough for its great scripting and absolutely fantastic acting. Every one of the cast members is spot-on, and Melissa Benoist is, of course, the very embodiment of Supergirl herself both on- and off-screen. Some people have derided the show as overly saccharine, and I can accept that criticism, but there is absolutely a place for Supergirl in modern media, in the age of Fighty McStabKill movies and comics I wouldn’t let a ten-year-old read, much less a five-year-old.

Supergirl – both the character and the show itself – is a shining light of hope in a world that sometimes feels enveloped in darkness and cynicism. Supergirl is a necessity, and I’m grateful beyond words that millions of people are being exposed to her and learning that we can all be stronger together.

-Dayna

* * *

It was probably tempting to the writers of Supergirl to end their first season with last week’s episode. A season-ending cliffhanger, leaving viewers to wait through the entire season to see the conclusion, is cliché, and very common. It is not, however, enough for Supergirl. This show bucks the grim and dark cliffhanging trend of most network series these days, and begins its summer hiatus on a high note. And maybe a small teaser.

This episode ended the conflict with Non and Indigo fairly violently. It’s a pretty clear lesson in this show that violence is used only when necessary, and that’s because it has serious consequences; so that’s what we can likely expect from this instance as well, next season. Of course, those consequences could come from Max Lord just as likely as the Kryptonian prisoners.

Aside from the philosophical talk about violence and consequences, it actually was quite clever how the ending of the final battle solved so many problems at once. It’s like the writers of the show spent some time brainstorming about how to get rid of all of the leftover dangers of the first season and clean things up for the next.

How do you get rid of Non’s army at the same time as Non? They were in cryostasis in the prison ship. How do we make the final battle more satisfying that the battles before it? Have Supergirl, at great risk to herself, lift the prison ship and throw it off the planet. How do we keep Alex from being marginalized during this epic finale? Have her learn to pilot Kara’s ship and rescue her from the vacuum of space. And their mom’s presence wasn’t wasted either; she firmly showed us where Alex gets her irrepressibility from.

What was really unusual about the conclusion was that it happened at the beginning of the episode rather than stretching it out until the end. That left a ton of time to tie up all of the loose ends, get in quite a bit of the social interaction that’s key in this show, and even throw in a sneaky hint of what’s to come next season – another visitor from Krypton. I can’t wait to see that, because I don’t really have an idea who it might be.

I’m still laughing about the promotion Cat gave Kara, because the first sentence that came to mind at that moment was that earlier line about people waiting to thank Supergirl for saving the planet. Cat made a point of saying that she’s been such a great assistant, when really she’s been a terrible one, abandoning her post all the time to be Supergirl. Then she gives Kara an extremely private office with no clear job description. Cat is giving all of the hints she can, but, I suppose, wants to respect Kara’s privacy by letting her play this “I’m not Supergirl” game.

As the first season winds down, Supergirl shows no signs of slowing down. When I wrote my first review of the show, I worried about it having staying power, that it might start to fall back into formulaic drama like a lot of other similar shows have. But the writing and production staff have remained steady, delivering strong plots and compelling writing. And more importantly, fun and interesting characters. I look forward to seeing them again next season.

-Jason

* * *

Once upon a time, I was asked how I could like Supergirl so much, as she was just a flat, pale shadow of the Man of Steel, avatar of Truth, Justice and the American Way.

To this I answered, with conviction, “she is hope”. Kara Zor-El is the impossible miracle, arriving long after Kal-El learned of his origins and came to terms that he was the very last child of Krypton. That a dead world still had life, and with her optimism and love for life that we can carry on and upward even in the darkest moments – all of these things that Superman cannot do, when he is only able to be the embodiment of truth, justice, and whatever passes for the “American Way” these days.

So imagine my surprise tonight, seeing my words from so many years ago coming from Supergirl herself. I’m utterly delighted, we’ve seen many times that the writers of this show understand Supergirl in a way that many creative teams fail to understand their four-color female icons, but it took me until now to realize the depth of their understanding – and to seemingly construct this season in such a way to make it instrumental in saving the world.

After last week’s cliffhanger, Supergirl and a Kryptonite-armoured Alex go toe-to-toe, just to be interrupted by Hank Henshaw arriving with a mentally shielded Eliza Danvers. Eliza delivers a touching speech to a mind-controlled Alex, allowing her to break free from Non’s control. From there, the Super-Scoobies plus Max Lord are able to send out a media broadcast from one of Cat’s old recording studios, where Supergirl gives the speech mentioned above, breaking Non’s control over the rest of National City – with the exception of Superman himself, who remains in a coma in the DEO medlab for the duration of the episode, a presence still felt but barely seen.

From there, things get a little darker, as Max informs Supergirl that Non and Indigo have changed the Myriad signal from mind-controlling the populace to intensifying enough to implode skulls. Kara accepts that in stopping Myriad, she will likely perish, and carries on to give her regards and last words to each of her loved ones while Max locates the signal source. To add insult to injury, once Max locates the site of the signal, General Lane reveals it’s coming from Fort Rozz, which was still exactly where the US Army had left it in Nevada. Seriously, most of this season’s conflict would’ve been averted if he had just shared that information when he showed up – though this also may have robbed us of Lucy telling her father off tonight for his xenophobia causing conflict escalation, and for running Lois off (I would love an entire episode of this).

Supergirl and an injured J’onn J’onzz leave to confront Non and Indigo, who are both defeated soundly, though too late to stop Myriad. Kara calls Alex to say goodbye as she prepares to fly Fort Rozz into space at the cost of her own life – a price Alex refuses to allow, using Kara’s own Kryptonian spacecraft to retrieve Kara before she suffocates in space. I can’t help but consider this a callback/razz to Crisis On Infinite Earths, the ’80s comic story which showed us the original Kara Zor-El dying as she attempted to save the multiverse (including an incapacitated Kal-El) from the Anti-Monitor. With the introduction of Alex, who was created for the show, a new dynamic goes into play, and the show’s recurring “stronger together” theme is put into action once again. Our Kara’s sacrifice doesn’t come to pass, the world is safe once more, and we’re shown that miracles can be made, hope fostered with our own actions.

It’s been said by many that there is nothing like Supergirl on TV, and it’s true. There are some shows aimed at kids, such as Avatar: The Last Airbender and Steven Universe, which show moral complexities and growing from them, but this is the first I’ve seen aimed at a wider audience since Star Trek went off the air (and even Star Trek tended for the moral high ground, instead of rooting in empathy and compassion – sometimes those things conflict). We got a happy ending in Supergirl this season, but we won’t find out until mid-May if we’ll be able to have more of this light in the darkness that superhero media has become. I encourage you, dear reader, to shoot a message to various official social channels in support of a second season, and buy digital copies (or DVD/Blu-Ray when they’re announced) versions of Season One if you are able, and leave positive reviews on Amazon, iTunes and the like. All of these things contribute to positive fan support, and can help us secure a long, bright future for Supergirl.

-Cara

* * *

BONUS REVIEW: ADVENTURES OF SUPERGIRL #7 by Sterling Gates and Emmanuela Lupacchino

I’d been hoping for a far-out dream battle that would go above and beyond what any TV budget could show, and this issue delivered in spades. From a She-Ra-esque battle with werewolf soldiers to what amounted to a love letter to every incarnation of Supergirl thus far (including Peter David’s Angel of Fire and Marguerite Bennett’s Bombshell), Gates and Lupacchino brought us my favorite issue so far with a sweeping fantasty dreamscape and Kara’s confrontation with Psi. It’s worth noting that Kara has made a point of communicating with her enemies as much as possible rather than resorting to instant violence, and it pays off when she allows Psi to read her mind for her good intentions. We also get the name of the new supervillain behind the scenes – Facet. It’s been a long time since Kara’s faced a new enemy, and I’m looking forward to meeting Facet and seeing her motives.

[ComiXology link]

As a final note, thank you to my co-reviewers Jason and Cara for joining me this season. I had a great time reading your insights and perspectives, and hopefully there will be a Season Two for you both to join me again in reviewing.

-Dayna

Supergirl airs Monday nights at 8 Eastern/7 Central on CBS. Dayna can be reached on Twitter @queenanthai, Jason at @Mangacool, and Cara at @virtualcara.

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