[WARNING: This is a review of Supergirl Season 1, Episode 13. There will be SPOILERS.]
Having struggled to keep several large and small scale subplots progressing as the title heroine battled weekly alien monsters, the latest episode of Supergirl seeks to bring old storylines to a close, while launching new ones. To do it, the showrunners have turned to one of the most famous "Superman" comics, allowing fans to enjoy action, suspense, emotion, and above all, a sigh of relief as the CBS series takes a break before climbing its next narrative hill in the coming months.
In "For The Girl Who Has Everything", directed by Dermott Downs and written by Ted Sullivan and Derek Simon (with story by Andrew Kreisberg), the supporting cast must come to Kara's (Melissa Benoist) rescue when she finds herself under the thrall of an alien parasite, carrying her mind back to Krypton, and the perfect life she always dreamed of having. Elsewhere, Alex (Chyler Leigh) and Hank (David Harewood) must prepare for a coming Kryptonian attack - all the more dangerous with their own superheroine out of the fight.
The Black Mercy
For those who may not know, the episode is largely based on a "Superman" comic from legendary creators Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. With Kara taking the Man of Steel's place, she faces the same struggle: the alien plant known as a Black Mercy has taken over her mind, keeping her locked in a dream of "her heart's desire." In this case, that's Kara's family intact, living happily at home on a still-undestroyed Krypton.
From there the story takes some predictable twists and turns, but with solid performances from Benoist and Leigh, fans of the Danvers sisters will have yet another episode to add to their list of favorites. It's their relationship - to this point, given a surprisingly small share of the spotlight - which takes center stage this week, and judging by Leigh's tearful monologue, the writers would be wise to shift some more focus Alex's way.
Following on the heels of Supergirl's battle with Bizarro, naysayers will no doubt take one look at the episode's title of alien menace and question the decision to adapt existing (and well known) Superman tales by simply placing Kara in the lead role. However, "For The Girl Who Has Everything" is almost certainly a case of the trick being done just right; the Black Mercy and fantasy are the same, sure, but Kara's battle, her way out, and the surrounding events are uniquely her own - making the story an homage, not a carbon copy.
Not everyone will appreciate the difference, but comic book fans who know that the Mercy was never going to be adapted anywhere else (outside of animated series) know this treatment was faithful. And what are beloved comic stories to be used for, if not a chance to push characters in new directions. Alex's trip into Kara's imaginary world, and her heated urging for her to "wake up" may have been predictable for veteran TV fans, but seeing the heart and theme of the series spelled out by Alex was a welcome movie. And the chance to see Kara's simmering anger at having been forced to lose her family all over again was worth the price of admission alone.
Friends, or Foe?
While the Black Mercy forced Kara to figuratively say goodbye to her lost family once and for all, she was forced to bid a literal farewell to her Aunt Astra (Laura Benanti). Having carried out her master plan - putting into motion an unknown enemy that will rear its head in the future - it fell to Alex and J'onn J'onzz to bring her down... Super-relative or not. It's sad to say that only when the leader of the Kryptonian invasion (relegated to the background so far) was actually killed did her strengths shine through. Not only as a friend-turned-enemy, but a nuanced character that actually managed to live up to her conflicted motivations.
In comic book TV shows, like the medium they're based on, fans tend to like their heroes good, and may even appreciate a darker side... but their villains, they like villainous. But when fans go from cheering as Alex slides a Kryptonite sword (take note, Zack Snyder) through her chest, to feeling genuine remorse that Kara and her aunt's story ended so harshly, the real work of the writers becomes clear. It's bittersweet, of course: the two women whose conflict never affected their love for one another is paid off in the scene, but the performance and dynamic on display can't help but prove there was more at work than fans got.
As The Flash stands tall as the emotional high water mark for comic book television, Astra's death alone has us wondering if Benoist and Benanti couldn't have risen to the same heights, if given the chance.
As the episode wraps up, it's obvious the writers have somewhat cleared the table, moving forward with characters and plot lines in a more stable/resolved point than in weeks previous. That's a strong feat to pull off in a single episode, so the fact that some time was set aside for J'onn J'onzz a.k.a. the Martian Manhunter is only a bonus. We're not even talking about his appearance in his Martian form during his battle with Astra, or even the use of his phasing abilities in combat.
But fans now know: as effective as J'onn is at detective work, he's downright pathetic as an executive assistant.
Supergirl will return with "Truth, Justice, and the American Way" on February 22nd @8pm.