[WARNING: This is a review of Supergirl Season 1, Episode 8. There will be SPOILERS]
With seven episodes under its belt, there were a multitude or possible plotlines for Supergirl to tackle heading into the winter break: Kara's unrequited feelings for James Olsen, the horde of Fort Roz aliens hiding on Earth, the sudden reveal of Hank Henshaw's true nature... the list goes on and on. The midseason finale chose to tackle a few, but the developments which left us most optimistic for the future aren't the ones you might think - and the same goes for the most underwhelming.
In "Hostile Takeover", written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Caitlin Parrish, Kara (Melissa Benoist) is forced to learn some hard truths about her own family when Aunt Astra (Laura Benanti) returns with backup. As if a surprise Kryptonian ambush wasn't enough to worry about, Kara is forced to take point on defending Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart) from sabotage within her own company. One of the media mogul's oldest secrets is uncovered - but she returns the favor, learning Kara's big secret as well.
After her initial emergence earlier on in the show's running, Kara's aunt Astra returns to keep her niece from interfering with the master plan shared by her and her cadre of remaining Kryptonians. In the process, flashbacks into Kara's childhood on Krypton - and the strong bind shared between her and her aunt - are offered (confirming the generally accepted origin story of the planet's doom, and those seeking to avoid it being silenced by authorities). The work put in by Melissa Benoist to sell the emotional drama, along with Laura Benanti (on double duty as twins Astra and Alura) is admirable and engaging. Unfortunately, it's the machinations of the plot that hold the development back.
Removed from the show around it, seeing Astra desperately try to save the planet for the sake of her niece, and Kara's reaction to realizing her mother knew the planet was doomed and did nothing are all higher points of the show so far. But considering how little time has been spent investing in that story - flashbacks, scenes with Alura's hologram, or even appearances from Astra - the twists, reveals and hurt feelings can't help but fall short. If they had been planted and hinted at throughout the show, then the betrayal of Alura and the realization that Astra was condemning herself to a life sentence out of love for Kara could have landed with serious impact.
They still do, again, thanks to Benanti and Benoist's delivery (complete with supreme anguish heat vision ). But crammed into a single episode, the seams start to pull almost immediately. Kara is right to be disappointed in her mother, and her resentment at being sent away HAS been hinted at. But the fact that Astra was willing to become a terrorist and kill for her cause is glossed over almost entirely. Similarly, the time spent arguing over Kara's need to kill Astra, and show no remorse seems out of place from the start (considering the DEO bunker filled with Alien criminals), and is tossed aside the moment Kara can't finish the job.
We won't dwell on the effects of the Kara/Astra fight, since it's as underwhelming in terms of overall plot and action as it is in the use of green screen. But the question of how to make two flying people fight without looking silly (a serious challenge) has yet to be answered. The final showdown between Astra's forces and those of the DEO is more successful, but with the events and characters flying in completely out of the blue, the cliffhanger is more likely to have fans waiting than anticipating.
Fortunately, the elements of Supergirl that have proven the most charming, most promising, and arguably populated with the strongest characters get a far better treatment. Kara's loyalty to Cat Grant (having been strengthened with every conversation, vulnerable moment and admission) is tested, when she is given the job of protecting her from potential scandal, and takes to job with enthusiasm. Unsurprisingly, it's James (Mehcad Brooks) and Winn (Jeremy Jordan) recruited to help her, with the love triangle mainly being tossed for the week (and if James is to be trusted, from here on out).
Aside from that annoying romantic wrinkle being dealt with, the subplot offers the trio a chance to try their hand at a bit of corporate capering themselves, changing the pace and status quo - an even more welcome twist, given the oppressive Kryptonian lore dump happening elsewhere.
The fact that a hunt for damning emails is a more entertaining story thread than Kara facing down other Kryptonian soldiers might say it all. But it's hard to see it any other way, when the CatCo world has been carefully developed and cultivated since the pilot. It's a shame for those hoping to see Supergirl rise to superhero heights that both are given equal billing, but it's as much a compliment to the workplace drama than a criticism of the Kryptonian conflict.
The scandal ends with a win for the good guys, but it's the revelation that Cat Grant isn't the flawless woman/executive/mother she seemed to be that is most satisfying. The sudden parallel between Cat and Kara's mother opens up even more possibilities for their relationship, and considering the reveal which caps off their story, it will he hard to not explore them when the series returns from break.
In the end, Supergirl's midseason finale embodied a truth that's been becoming clearer and clearer as the series progresses: the cast and chemistry naturally lends itself more to a charming, relatable, female-focused look at becoming a superhero, more than a polished, or innovative dose of comic book action. We suppose that's as much praise as complaint (since the finale's cliffhanger hinges on the latter), but the moment that fused the two sides of the show - Cat deducing that Kara is Supergirl - will be the one fans will hold their breath to see play out.
Supergirl will return January 4, 2016 @8pm.