[This is a review of Supergirl season 2, episode 5. There will be SPOILERS.]
After a soft reboot of the series in the early episodes of season 2, Supergirl has largely been settling into its new normal while establishing overarching themes and villains. Project Cadmus, the government-funded research facility, was officially introduced as an antagonist to Kara Danvers, aka Supergirl, when they unleashed Metallo earlier this season. However, the organization was first mentioned in season 1 in connection to Jeremiah Danvers (Dean Cain) -- who Kara and her adoptive sister Alex believed to be dead.
Season 2 has also seen the addition of new characters Lena Luthor (Katie McGrath), who has so far been an ally to Kara despite her brother's infamous anti-alien sentiments, as well as the Daxamite Mon-El (Chris Wood). Although Lena hasn't played much of a role in any overarching storylines this season since her introduction in the season 2 premiere, last week's episode focused on Mon-El discovering the extent of his powers on Earth. Now, both come to the forefront in this week's episode as James Olsen makes an important decision about his role in National City.
In 'Crossfire' -- written by Gabriel Llanas and Anna Musky-Goldwyn and directed by Glen Winter -- Kara attends a fundraiser held by Lena Luthor, while Supergirl faces off against a gang of villains equipped with alien technology from Cadmus. Meanwhile, Mon-El joins CatCo as an intern and James heads down the path toward suiting up as The Guardian.
We Are Cadmus
With the official introduction of Superman in the opening episodes of season 2, Supergirl additionally established a new villain in National City: Cadmus. However, after Supergirl and Superman defeated Cadmus' Metallo warriors, the organization -- and their mysterious leader played by Brenda Strong -- took a step back for a few episodes while the series focused on establishing new characters and arcs. That said, Supergirl has maintained a strong theme of exploring what it means for the Alien residents of Earth to essentially be refugees -- and how they're welcomed (or not welcomed) by humans.
'Crossfire' sees Cadmus return to the forefront as they continue to sow seeds of doubt in the citizens of the U.S. by equipping human thieves with alien technology. As with Metallo, Cadmus remains firmly operating from the shadows, though the organization does release a propaganda video under their own name. The thieves of 'Crossfire' suffer from the now standard underdeveloped-villain-of-the-week problem to which superhero shows are especially prone. But, with Cadmus simply using them as pawns in a larger game, there is at least a story excuse for why they're underdeveloped.
The biggest revelation in regards to Cadmus comes at the end of 'Crossfire' when the leader of the organization is revealed to be Lena Luthor's mother -- adoptive mother. It seems hating aliens runs in the Luthor family, although it's unclear whether Lena is aware of her mother's work with Cadmus. The revelation brings even more of the Luthor heritage into the world of Supergirl, unraveling a little more of the mystery of Cadmus.
Still, with Supergirl developing Lena with dubious motivations, the show is either creating a great ally for Kara or a terrible enemy. Certainly, McGrath can play Lena either way -- from Lena's earnestness in defeating the thieves' alien technology, to her calculated welcome of her mother. Following the one-note villains of season 1 -- with the exception of Astra (Laura Benanti) -- and the clearly bigoted fear mongering of Cadmus, a more conflicted villain in Lena would help to offer a deeper layer to season 2 of Supergirl. But, it remains to be seen where on the the good/evil spectrum Lena will eventually fall.
Alex & Maggie Sitting in a Tree...
Since Maggie Sawyer's introduction in 'Welcome to Earth', Supergirl has been anything but subtle about the sparks flying between the NCPD detective and Alex Danvers. Their developing dynamic takes another step in 'Crossfire' when Maggie reveals she was dumped by her girlfriend and Alex starts to question whether her feelings for Maggie are friendship or something more -- though it's clear to the viewer that Alex has romantic feelings for Maggie.
All in all, Alex and Maggie's burgeoning relationship -- or even simply Alex's journey to coming out -- is as unabashedly blatant as Supergirl's feminism in season 1 or the show's themes of aliens as refugees in season 2. One of Supergirl's strengths is that the show doesn't apologize for being shamelessly optimistic, taking its cues from the Girl of Steel herself. As such, Alex's arc feels refreshing by largely staying away from the self-hatred aspect so often a dominant part of coming out narratives; rather 'Crossfire' explores Alex's confusion, then acceptance, in figuring out what she wants.
Certainly, the relationship between Alex and Maggie was developed extremely quickly. But, after the false-starts of Kara's relationships in season 1 and the abrupt change in the trajectory for Kara and James' relationship especially, the writers of Supergirl seem to be putting more thought into Alex's new romantic arc. Whether the show allows Alex and Maggie's relationship to live up to the chemistry of Chyler Leigh and Floriana Lima, though, remains to be seen.
All My Best Friends Are Superheroes
Like other aspects of Supergirl, James has largely been taking a back seat in season 2 as the show has explored other characters and arcs. In fact, since Supergirl made it clear they wouldn't be continuing to develop the romantic relationship set up in season 1 between Kara and James, the latter has mainly sat in Cat Grant's old office and argued with Snapper Carr (Ian Gomez). However, in 'Crossfire', James finally gets some direction.
After the thieves with alien technology best Supergirl and destroy James' father's camera, he decides to pick up a baseball bat and ski mask and join the superhero game. James' plan goes predictably bad, with him being discovered by Winn, who tries to talk his not-really-friend out of becoming a vigilante. As Winn argues, they're meant to help Superman and Supergirl in the fight against evil with knowledge. But, while that works for Winn, James isn't satisfied with playing the sidekick any longer and he eventually wins Winn over to helping build a suit for the would-be superhero.
Certainly, James' vigilante storyline has the potential to offer a new dimension to Supergirl's human-alien relations theme. Giving the public a human superhero to look up to rather than an alien savior is a compelling dynamic -- albeit one fans of superhero media have already seen this year in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. Still, with James' arc kept separate from Kara and the other characters aside from Winn, it remains to be seen how Supergirl will develop James' transition into The Guardian and how it will impact the other heroes in National City.
Supergirl continues Monday November 14 with ‘Changing’ at 8pm on The CW.