[WARNING: This is a review of Supergirl Season 1, Episode 14. There will be SPOILERS.]
After a week break, Supergirl returns in a big way, picking up every single plot thread left hanging in the previous episodes, and introducing a whole host of new ones. As Kara faces new competition and enemies in both of her identities the showrunners decided to bring in a director with a bit more experience in comic book action: Lexi Alexander, director of Punisher: Warzone. The results speak for themselves - but a talented eye for action and style can't address all of the show's strengths and weaknesses.
In "Truth, Justice and the American Way", directed by Lexi Alexander and with story by Michael Grassi and teleplay by Yahlin Chang & Caitlin Parrish, Kara (Melissa Benoist) continues to wrestle with the fact that an ally, Hank Henshaw (David Harewood) was the one responsible for her aunt's death (or so she thinks). If that weren't bad enough, a rival assistant arrives to help Cat (Calista Flockhart) prove a point - instead, proving that loose lips sink ships, as secrets about Kara's identity, the DEO, and Maxwell Lord's imprisonment get pulled out into the light.
Starting with the show's positives - and those that aren't specifically brought by Lexi Alexander's eye - it's easy to see that Benoist and the rest of the cast have found their groove. The persona of Supergirl, and her easy dynamics with Winn, Alex, Hank, you name it, all seem to be taking form. At 14 episodes in, we would certainly hope that's the case, but it's better late than never. And thankfully, "Truth, Justice and the American Way" manages to give Kara the spotlight for almost the entire episode without forcing her to pull off or slog through any over-the-top, saccharine superhero tropes. Instead, Alexander's skills help heighten the elements of Supergirl that have shown the most promise.
It's well known that the influence available to a TV director is limited from the off, since it's typically the showrunners, not the men and woman directing who give the series its personality. Still, Alexander succeeds in turning in an episode that demonstrates purpose, if not perfection. The fact that the episode doesn't break with existing style or stand out in stark contrast is a compliment in itself, since it's the show that dictates the direction. And instead of relying on music, camera angles, or added effects to make the show's action (the area Punisher: Warzone fans expected to shine) appear 'cool,' Alexander simply makes them more interesting.
Yes, the fact that Supergirl's fight sequences rely on blurred motions and an actress suspended on wires (not a digital double) limits what's possible. But rather than resorting to bog standard fight choreography (accepted by most superhero TV fans), Kara's battle with Master Jailer is slowed down, executed moment by moment, and given some added flavor with new weaponry and tactics. It's not reinventing the wheel by any means, and the slow motion shots used to punctuate the sequences won't work for everyone. But they will for those who like their Supergirl epic - and viewers hoping for superhero action crafted with purpose won't be disappointed either.
Outside of Supergirl's sequences, Alexander's eye for cinematic camera work and blocking also pays off in the finished product. That isn't to say that "Truth, Justice..." looks more like a movie, as some might infer, but the approach to Alex's (Chyler Leigh) scenes, and the DEO in general, brings an energy and attitude of 'not trying so hard' that places the show among veteran primetime TV shows (as well as comic book colleague Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.). Much of the credit is deserving throughout the cast and crew, but moreso than Arrow's well-established format, Alexander's knack for injecting some energy and personality is on full display.
Unfortunately, and stop us if you've heard this criticism before, the show attempts to include more subplots and twists than even Supergirl can sustain. In an episode in which Supergirl must bury her aunt, and begin to process the betrayal of Hank/J'onn, the other storylines included are staggering. Kara must also face the fact that whiles he can seek justice without the need for courts or due process, it's those very restraints she must respect to keep villains like Maxwell Lord (Peter Facinelli) on the wrong side of the argument. The moments of Winn-filled office downtime from the high stakes Super-storyline are also sacrificed when her CatCo sphere is invaded. And not just by a rival assistant, but one eager to interrupt, upstage, and eavesdrop on every other person in the office.
If that weren't enough, Kara also has to further the overall plot of the Kryptonian plan surrounding the mysterious 'Myriad.' Not to mention another subplot in which James Olsen (Mehcad Brooks) has to both a) throw his girlfriend off the Lord investigation, but b) let slip that he's working closely with Supergirl. Thankfully, all that workplace and Kryptonian drama is forced to share the spotlight with the arrival of yet another Fort Rozz escapee, a DEO investigation into the alien prison guard hunting him, Kara's kidnapping at his hands, her lesson in Kryptonian drug-running from a fellow prisoner, and heroic escape (with help from Alex).
That the showrunners could look at the plots mentioned above and determine that, even if they could be squeezed into a single episode, that they should, is close to baffling. The James/Kara/Lucy subplot ends with an ultimatum, as James decides that saving his relationship means forcing Kara to reveal her secret (although it's not his to tell, and will surely cause more tension, not less). It's a cliffhanger that is as, at the very least, uncomfortable, raising serious logic questions - along with the hackles of those sick of seeing women pushed around in comic book stories.
Again, Lexi Alexander handles them as well as could be hoped, but with so much on the plate, her chances to show a unique style or approach to 'Super-action' were almost certainly hindered. If there are viewers excited by the idea of Kara revealing her identity so James and Lucy have one less issue to fight over, or seeing Kara compete with another young woman for Cat's approval, then the showrunners clearly know something we don't. But the idea that less isn't more, more is more... isn't going as well as some obviously hope.
Supergirl will return with "Solitude" next Monday @8pm. Watch a preview below: