[WARNING: This is a review of Supergirl Season 1, Episode 4(?). There will be SPOILERS]
Things have been going smoothly for Supergirl in its early episodes, showing potential for delivering satisfying superheroics for a network audience (and even getting the Man of Steel's personal approval). But the show encountered some trouble in its fourth week, having to reschedule its episodes due to real-world tragedies. The effect isn't as damaging to the show's progression as some might have feared, but the downturn in momentum is hard to avoid.
In "Livewire", written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Caitlin Parrish, Kara Zor-El (Melissa Benoist) accidentally creates a new supervillain in the form of Livewire (Brit Morgan) who is hellbent on exacting revenge upon Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart). Meanwhile, Kara's mother (Helen Slater) comes to town to celebrate Thanksgiving and her daughter's new career, while heaping guilt on her actual daughter, Alex (Chyler Leigh) - and to break some bad news to the girls about their father.
The emphasis on family troubles/progress between the Danvers sisters and their mother, Eliza, helped smooth over the loss of an episode, since the relationship was one that was only alluded to in the pilot episode. Beyond pleasing fans with another Superman family cameo - Slater having played the heroine on film in Supergirl (1984) - the plotline arguably acted as the main thrust of the episode, at least beyond monster-of-the-week antics.
The previous episode had spent time and energy on developing the bond between Kara and Alex (describing them simply as sisters isn't doesn't quite capture the story potential), so seeing that shaken by the introduction of their mother was unexpected. We would like to say that the chemistry between the women (and between Eliza and her husband) helped the heart-focused scenes rise to the heights of The Flash, but will simply say that they doubled down on the family matters already distinguishing Supergirl from her dour superhero colleagues.
It's a shame that an electrically-charged villain on the loose means the arc has to be undeniably rushed, with Eliza going from resenting Alex's career path and secrecy to embracing her warmly, without much distance traversed in between. But then, she has other pressing matters on her mind about Alex and Kara each spending more time with Hank Henshaw (David Harewood)...
The supervillain introduced for this week's adventure, Leslie Willis a.k.a. Livewire can be summed up as a radio host who butts heads with Cat and winds up angry, electric, and ultimately, dealt with. To put it lightly, the character is one that will feel familiar - and by that, we mean far too familiar - to existing fans of superhero films and TV. Put simply, she's a mix of Electro from Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Iron Man 2's Whiplash, with the one-note motivations of a standard Arrow or The Flash villain.
Although "Livewire" opens with a well-choreographed alien battle between Kara and an alien prisoner of the DEO, the fights between Kara and Livewire are painfully placeholder. Perhaps if the schedule had aired as planned, viewers would be less likely to compare Livewire's launching of electric attacks resulting in a writhing Kara to those of Reactron... nuclear attacks, but with an identical result. Not to mention a nifty gadget to capture her that ends up tossed aside entirely.
The criticism isn't meant to single out Supergirl for a simple and formulaic antagonist, or even predictable combat. But it highlights the biggest hurdle that the show will have to overcome if it hopes to bring in existing fans of DC's other TV shows, as well as a mainstream audience (who likely aren't consuming every bit of superhero content on the air). It may not be any worse a sin than Arrow, The Flash, or Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. commit, but they did get there first.
Some Bad News
In an episode filled with unrequited love (still?), a turkey cooked with heat vision, and James Olsen (Mehcad Brooks) one missed episode into a love affair with another woman, it's hard to not mention the one disappointment that will have longtime Superman fans talking: the death of Dean Cain. Well, his character, Dr. Jeremiah Danvers, at least. After making a brief, non-speaking cameo in the pilot episode, the former star of Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman was ushered off with the reveal that his death while working with the DEO had been covered up.
Of course, given the twist's vagueness and the glowing red eyes of the man more or less responsible, there's room for a further twist. Who knows, maybe Dr. Danvers encountered a more terrible fate, still existing somewhere, in some form. We'll keep our fingers crossed for the time being, and hope that the missed episode means fans are one week closer to seeing the twist delivered upon.
Supergirl returns Monday @8pm with "Confidence". Watch a preview of the episode below: