[This is a review of Supergirl season 1, episode 17. There will be SPOILERS]
After delivering one the most disappointing episodes of the season last week - in which Kara lost her temper, turned the city against her, and ruined nearly every relationship she had - it was hard to know just how Supergirl would rebound. It's hard to know if it's better or worse that "Manhunter" pays almost no attention to the previous episode's twists and betrayals, but with J'onn J'onzz now exposed, it's up to his friends to keep things stable. And while the episode shows some of its strongest moments thus far, the continued (and inexplicable) race against time once again cuts them short, along with the performances trying to elevate the series.
In "Manhunter," directed by Chris Fisher with story by Derek Simon and teleplay by Cindy Lichtman & Rachel Shukert, Lucy Lane (Jenna Dewan Tatum) returns as part of a military investigation into the DEO following Hank Henshaw's (David Harewood) reveal. Throughout the interrogations, glimpses are finally offered into the fate of the real Henshaw, as well as Jeremiah Danvers (Dean Cain).
Flashbacks & Treason
It had seemed at the time that Cat Grant (Callista Flockhart) turning on Supergirl, leaving her to convince the city that it was red kryptonite to blame for her anger, was intended to launch the show on a new trajectory. Inexplicably (and you're going to hear that word a fair bit this week), the heroine takes a back seat instead. As serious as alien threats may be, it's the military officials looking to dissect J'onn, and lock away anyone who knew his secret that offer the more immediate threat.
The threat is dealt with eventually, after J'onn finally walks viewers through the events surrounding the death of both Hank Henshaw and Jeremiah Danvers. A glimpse into Alex's (Chyler Leigh) soon follows, as she, too, is brought under suspicion. Luckily, she passes the lie detector test without fail... but is arrested anyway. Any concerns that Lucy Lane would react poorly to learning Kara's secret identity were soon brushed aside, as well, as she teams up with Supergirl to rescue J'onn, and step in as his chosen successor at the DEO. A surprise twist that may be divisive among fans (since J'onn's role in the show is now in question), but gives the character room to grow, if nothing else.
Elsewhere, Winn is forced(?) to betray the trust(?) of his girlfriend(?) Siobhan (Italia Ricci) when she sneaks into the CatCo offices to get Kara fired... again. Unsuccessful, she begins her supervillain origin story by falling off a rooftop.
Seriously, Why Are We in Such a Rush?
It's a truly astounding problem to have, made worse by the fact that the writers have created it entirely by themselves: where The CW's Arrow has struggled to fill a season, stretching out even minor, or tedious subplots into entire multi-episode arcs, Supergirl has an abundance of plot lines all worthy of attention. Last week, audiences watched as the writers attempted to fit no fewer than half a dozen substantial subplots into a single episode, on top of sending Kara into a red kryptonite-fueled rage. But this week, the confusion became a serious concern, as the show's inexplicable rush - and we mean rush - to move past even promising plot points and scenes actually sacrificed meaning as a direct result.
David Harewood (easily one of the most gifted members of the cast) is finally given the chance to play the real Hank Henshaw - the xenophobic, murderous soldier - yet is, inexplicably, limited to just two scenes before being killed off. No effort is made to understand his views, or the working relationship formed between he and Jeremiah Danvers after abducting him from his family. Similarly, the fact that J'onn had known Jeremiah was emphasized early on in the series, with J'onn having promised Alex and Kara's father that he would protect them as his own.
Thanks to the tapping toes of the writers and showrunners, however, that interaction - it can't even really be called a conversation - amounts to a few lines of dialogue. Even so, the polished special effects (and the previous time invested in J'onn's own painful origin) mean the scene manages to stand out. Or at least, it would, were it not for the relentlessly advancing musical score promising impatient viewers that things would be picking back up momentarily.
It's strange, since the calm and contemplative flashback showing the death of the Green Martians was, in our opinion, as honorable an origin story as J'onn could get. Stranger still, since we would wager that every fan would offer a resounding "yes, please!" to the idea of seeing Jeremiah and J'onn trade stories by firelight for the length of an entire episode.
Where this scene should have carried the same significance, particularly in hindsight, it fails purely based on the little time devoted to it. The first meeting between a human and a Martian, united by their fatherhood so strongly that the survivor would devote his life to granting the other's dying request - and it's cut short so that Cat Grant's former assistant can type out a sabotage email and be foiled by a boyfriend who, to this point, would never have wasted time on such a vindictive, cutthroat person.
Again, it's a problem that Supergirl doesn't NEED to have: the effects work of seeing a young Kara rescue a mother and child from a burning car was carried off better than most of the full-grown action (even if it's hard to make sense of Jeremiah's claim that Kara shouldn't be a hero... and, presumably, have let the woman and her child die).
Perhaps the most disappointing moment comes as the writers pull off some of their greatest work to date, using Kara's job interview as a chance to show how Kara's need to fit into a crowd, and be seen as anything but exceptional, makes her the perfect candidate. Asdie from perfectly illustrating how she wound up in the position, the scene has dozens of layers at play, as Kara is faced with the choice of superheroics or an everyday life, not to mention the one desire that informs her entire character, and potentially speaking to an entire generation of young fans: "to be worthwhile."
That these powerful, potentially inspiring moments (backed up by accomplished performances) are forced to share an episode with eachother is selling them short. But forcing them to share an episode with a workplace feud that came out of nowhere, a romance that made little sense from the start, and yet another one-dimensional, hateful-of-aliens-because-why-not military man is a serious - serious - problem, should CBS hope to see the show gain steam, not lose it.
Supergirl returns with "Worlds Finest" next Monday @8pm on CBS. Watch a preview below: