[This is a review of Supergirl season 1, episode 15. There will be SPOILERS]
As the previous episode of Supergirl saw a major hint at the larger Kryptonian plot Kara Zor-El will need to tackle before season’s end, not to mention the arrival of a new corporate rival in the CatCo offices, this week’s episode takes some time off from both subplots in favor of an even older, nastier one. But when Kara learns that it’s her sister to blame for her anger and betrayal, the CBS series delivers a welcome surprise – one that can’t help but outshine the villain-of-the-week, and shaky romances.
In “Solitude,” directed by Dermott Downs with teleplay by Anna Musky-Goldwyn & James DeWille (story by Rachel Shukert), a strange new villain from Krypton’s past emerges to challenge a few members of the cast, while James (Mehcad Brooks) deals with a completely romantic conflict – putting Kara and Supergirl (Melissa Benoist) right in the middle. There’s only one thing to do when things get this complicated: sneak into Superman’s Fortress of Solitude for some insider information.
Joining in on Supergirl’s newest incarnation is… Supergirl. That is, the version seen on Smallville, played by Laura Vandervoort. She’s almost unrecognizable underneath the blue paint of the villain Indigo, which audiences learn is the new name taken in place of her former title, Brainiac-8. Aside from the tease that she’ll be returning in the future as a puppet of the remaining Kryptonian resistance group hiding on Earth, Vandervoort does help elevate Indigo beyond the forgettable villains that tend to populate a comic book TV series. Other actors and actresses have failed at adding some ‘comic book’ level of villainy or drama to their chilling monologues or quest for vengeance, but Vandervoort’s Indigo strikes the sweet spot.
The effects don’t disappoint either (and no, we’re not referring to her ability to choke a man through a computer screen). Her motivations may be as formulaic as you can get, and when she does and doesn’t act a bit too fortuitous, but the writers walk the line by alluding to the vast Kryptonian history predating Kara’s story, without leaving audiences feeling that they’ve missed out on key details. And as frustrating as it may be to see the Girl of Steel need two chances to disarm a nuclear missile, it’s a risk and rescue that could only work in a weekly series with a heroine like Supergirl at its heart.
The Fortress of (Romantic?) Solitude
As if an injection of Brainiac lore wasn’t enough to keep Superman fans thrilled, a jaunt over to Superman’s Fortress of Solitude offers even more fan service. There’s the unliftable front door key, pulled straight from the comics, and even an appearance from Kelex, the robot Butler (also glimpsed in Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel). What may be fan service for some could be shameless lifting of Superman’s mythology to others. But the scenes and references are executed with too much restraint and fondness to really court criticism – the love of Superman’s mythology, particularly the technicolor parts not for the DCEU, is the motivation here.
But as much as fans may be elated and primed for discussion over the appearance of a Legion Flight Ring (after being teased on The Flash), the actual romantic subplot being stoked by the trip is still not where the showrunners would presumably like it to be. That may be chalked up to a relative lack of instant chemistry between Benoist and Brooks (so far, fitting for their characters), but the relationship hasn’t really been executed well in any form in the past few weeks. James continues to guilt Kara into letting him tell his girlfriend her secret, Kara’s motivations for not wanting him to are disappointingly constructed, and the ‘will-they, won’t they’ dynamic that makes potential TV romances fun for the audience are not only not present, but restricted to transparent one-liners and sentimental looks that usually seem at odds with the high stakes action and otherworldly adventure.
The Secret’s Out
The missteps of the romance aside, “Solitude” delivers one the short-lived subplot of Alex’s (Chyler Leigh) deception of her adopted sister, letting J’onn J’onzz (David Harewood) take the blame for the murder of Kara’s aunt Astra. On another show, the tension could have been drawn out for months, with a reveal that sent the main characters spinning away from one another, no matter how understandable the reasons for the deceit. And although Supergirl seemed poised to do the same, the writers pleasantly surprised – offering a reminder that the theme of found families is still the show’s pulse.
It’s a safe bet that seasoned TV fans will feel a wash of relief when Kara decides to let her anger subside, and console her sobbing sister (and one of Leigh’s best performances yet). But Kara outstretching her hand to J’onn shows the writers are after more than the predictable. If nothing else, the closing tableau of Supergirl’s older sister breaking down in tears, sobbing into the Girl of Steel’s shoulder as she holds J’onn close will be hard for fans to forget. Three lonely figures, from three different planets, seeing if a family can form from their broken pasts.
In other words: even if we would rather moments like these weren’t so out of the ordinary for the show, it’s a strong moment upon which to enter its week away… and hopefully, a sign of the direction Supergirl will take when it returns.
Supergirl returns with “Falling” on Monday, March 14th @8pm on CBS.