Now you’re talking, says Tony Fyler.
That’s more like it.
For a couple of episodes now, I’ve been nodding along with Supergirl, waiting for it to start defining itself by its own mythos, rather than in response to that of Superman. Episode 4 begins to really do that, with a timely visit from Eliza Danvers for Thanksgiving, and an exploration of the different relationship with their mother and foster mother that Alex and Kara Danvers have always had.
What’s more, this week’s villainess of the week, LiveWire, is an interesting avatar of those who like their pleasures a little less wholesome and white bread than Supergirl has traditionally represented. LiveWire is Leslie Willis, a shock-jock who delivers an anti-Thanksgiving rant about the Girl of Steel to make people laugh and puncture the shield of goodness and sparkly unicorns that seems to follow the SuperCousins around, and which is both their greatest strength and the chief reason they might conceivably make people gag – ‘truth, justice and the American Way’ has the capacity to sound rather militaristic in the 21st century, or at the very least as though they’ll only save the ‘right’ people, the ‘nice’ people.
Of course, that’s not what it means or has ever meant, a point quickly underlined by Supergirl saving Leslie from a crashing helicopter after Cat Grant bumps her down to weather reporting for her rant. Leslie though is not among those naturally given to gratitude and when a bolt of lightning hits Supergirl and passes into her, she becomes a more effective electrical villain than Reactro was the previous week, zipping about the place along electrical wires and currents, still snarky as hell but now with the firepower to make her voice truly heard.
As LiveWire begins a campaign of chaos against both Supergirl and Cat Grant, the superfriends are having a strained Thanksgiving. Eliza tears into Alex for failing to protect her alien foster-sister, and letting her put on the cape; Alex comes out as a DEO agent to her mother at the liberally wine-drunk Thanksgiving table, while Kara’s friend Winn misses out on the chance to take the opportunity of the season to explain that he’s thankful for her, only doing it later in way that makes Kara finally, if uncomfortably, aware that he actually has feelings for her. James Olsen, at whom Kara’s setting her own super-cap in her own friendly way, is off in wine country for the Thanksgiving weekend with Lucy Lane, Lois’ sister, but calls Kara to almost beg her to need him back in the city – a signal that goes entirely unread.
Even Cat Grant, Kara’s hardass boss, begins to soften in this episode as we learn about her relationship with her own mother. She seems genuinely moved by Kara’s story of being fostered, and determines to learn more about her previously invisible assistant. Grant, played with an intriguing, multi-levelled nuance by Calista Flockhart, is also building a more openly supportive relationship with Supergirl – the two work in harmony to put an end to LiveWire’s electrical carnage.
These many strands of relationship and action are what Supergirl has been building towards in its first few episodes – stringing the instrument on which it will tell future stories: Aunt Astra and her band of supercriminals as one thread; Maxwell Lord the billionaire genius non-fan as another; DEO Director Hank Henshaw and his weird red glowing eyes as a third; Cat Grant as a fourth; the potential tension among the superfriends as a fifth. This episode brings many of the threads together, while adding at least one more – the fact that Jeremiah Danvers, Kara’s foster father, was recruited into the DEO after refusing to let them take an infant Kara away for ‘study’ – and apparently was killed while on a mission for Henshaw. A whole episode without explicit mention of Kara’s cousin is a great relief too, and feels all the busier and more self-contained for it. This episode, while still giving in to the pressure to have a villain of the week around which its story elements could coalesce (to be fair, most comic-book issues feature a villain too, it’s almost an essential part of the superhero dynamic to have someone against whom the superhero has to be superheroic), feels like Supergirl with the training wheels finally taken off, and it rises to the challenge and flies.
Melissa Benoist and Chyler Leigh continue to deliver layered portrayals of two sisters, each in their own way special, but absolutely prone to normal sisterly dynamics, and mention has to be given here to Malina Weissman and Jordan Mazarati too, the girls who play the younger versions of the sisters. Somebody earned a good day’s pay in casting these two, and they allow the story to resonate with everyone who’s ever disobeyed their parents and gotten into trouble as a result. Helen Slater (ah, the original movie Supergirl) clearly hasn’t had the career she could have had, as she brings a number of believable facets to Eliza Danvers in episode 4.
Supergirl is enhancing its cool factor too, striking out in this episode to develop a little more of its own Buffyspeak – there’s mention of an ‘Orphangiving,’ a singleton, dysfunctional family member’s version of Thanksgiving (take-out and an Orphan Black marathon), and ‘Friendsgiving,’ its warmer, more Scooby Gang alternative. Also, when LiveWire is having a good rant at Supergirl, it’s clear that while the Girl of Steel retains her trademark innocence and naivety, she’s determined not to be anybody’s pushover: she cuts off the rant with a simple “Oh shut UP, you mean girl!” – and when a prop is made to look almost self-consciously like a ghost trap from Ghostbusters, Kara’s not able to take it entirely seriously, calling it as ‘like Ghostbusters!’, stepping over to viewers’ side of the line and making us like her more than we would if she were all furrow-browed seriousness.
As a series, Supergirl is beginning to gel, to develop its world separate from the Superman world, though connected to intimately. It has had a sense of asking viewers to stick with it till it gets its stall set up. Those who have will likely feel that episode 4 sees it ready and moving forward on its own terms, much like its Kryptonian heroine.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly
nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who,
Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the
70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By
runs an editing house, largely as an
excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book.
With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk