This is a spoiler-free review: Read on at the bottom for additional spoilery bits.
Supergirl lifts itself up after the uneven last episode, although there are still a few warning signs that Season 2’s flight might experience some more turbulence in the near future. Episode 4 of her sophomore run continues to explore the division between humans and aliens in National City, following the President’s decision to introduce a bill granting ETs amnesty. It’s still a sudden leap from the show’s initial season, when there weren’t aliens hiding behind every street corner, but the programme’s X-Men-ish ambitions are once again backed up by strong special effects; the script might not always be convincing, but events certainly look it.
Here, we see Cadmus (led by Brenda Strong’s The Doctor) advance its sinister plans – which we still don’t really understand – by giving alien tech to human criminals to demonstrate how dangerous the presence of extra-terrestrials on Earth can be. The result is that rare thing: a fight where Supergirl really doesn’t have the upper hand, as she finds herself outnumbered by people with guns that can actually harm her. (Our favourite? A purple cloud gun that can levitate things, such as park benches.)
The plus side is that it gives the show a chance to bring a dark edge to proceedings, with The Doctor bumping off captured henchmen with a brain plugin reminiscent of Mission: Impossible III, which fries them from the inside. Gruesome. The downside is there’s a bit where Supergirl is blasted into the side of a skyscraper, something that nobody really comments on or bothers with. Like the uneven attempt to balance grit and heart in Episode 3, it’s the kind of oversight that goes against the series’ inherently compassionate core. In Season 1, that would have been given due screentime, or at least a questioning newspaper headline.
Our main focus, though, are two of the supporting ensemble, which, to Supergirl’s credit, keep being developed at a steady rate. On the one hand, there’s Alex coming to terms with her feelings for Maggie – a fledgling romance that’s delivered by Chyler Leigh with surprisingly emotional winces of angst. A family-targeted show that explores a lesbian relationship in a positive light? Supergirl earns some serious bonus points for its sensitive subplotting here.
The other person settling into their own skin is Mon-El, who is given a fake ID from Winn (who can now do everything you could ever need with a computer) and hired by Kara as an intern at CatCo. Chris Wood still has great chemistry with Melissa Benoist, which brings some humour to her mentoring of “Mike Matthews” – Benoist is good at being so enthusiastic at helping him to become as settled as her that she forgets to let him find his own fake day job.
But the more the show’s writers try to inject comedy into the narrative, the more it goes awry; we watch as Mon-El doesn’t know how to use a telephone, flirts with Kara’s replacement, Eve Teschmacher (an enjoyably flustered Andrea Brooks), and has an (ahem) close encounter in the storage cupboard (Season 2 of Supergirl is feeling less and less like the feel-good family show that it once was – parents, take note). It’s entertaining enough, but it also defies any common sense; Kara isn’t stupid, so why bring a guy into an office environment without explaining any of what he has to do or how he has to behave first? He, meanwhile, just comes across lazy as manipulative of Eve.
It also raises the question of what exactly Kara does all day, not to mention everyone else: Snapper Carr is absent from this hour, seemingly just because it’s more convenient that way. How else would Kara be able to spend her day chasing after Mon-El, or randomly going home to find Alex there, only for them both to be interrupted by Lena Luthor turning up on her doorstep? It’s less a problem of background logic in the universe (this isn’t HBO’s Westworld) and more a reminder of how much the show misses the absent Cat Grant; Kara’s role as her assistant was a perfect piece of positioning for both the character and the narrative.
Mon-El’s brief employment stint at CatCo does, at least, tie into the plot, as he and Kara end up invited to a party by Lena Luthor (who, again, just appears at CatCo to invite them both). That climactic set piece, which naturally brings everyone into play, gives Benoist a nice chance to play silly with “Operation Doubtfire”, which sees her switch between Kara and Supergirl every few minutes to pretend to Lena Luthor that both are present are definitely absolutely not the same person.
The result is a decent step up from Episode 4 and it’s in those deftly comic moments that Supergirl still shines, but if only that kind of balance was evident throughout Season 2’s scripts. After the strong debut double-bill with Superman, the show has flown a little wonky – and, judging by this episode, its plans to fill that gap aren’t hugely reassuring…
Supergirl Season 1 and 2 are available on Sky Box Sets and NOW TV. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW TV, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription – with a 14-day free trial.
Where can I watch Supergirl Season 2 on pay-per-view VOD?
Flying observations (spoilers)
– Let’s start with the big reveal: The Doctor is Lena’s mother. Lena’s plan to host a party to trap The Doctor’s henchmen and use a device to disable their alien tech is a nice little twist, and Brenda Strong’s sinister turn has the potential to prove a decent villain, once we have a better idea of what exactly her overall plan is. Will Lena stay on the semi-good side of the alien/human fence? Here’s hoping the family drama that’s in store will give Katie McGrath more to do than she currently has.
– Winn and Lena’s brief moment under the dinner table at her party, fixing the device to stop the aliens, is unexpected and rather promising – Jeremy Jordan and McGrath have good rapport. Could they become the show’s next couple?
– For all that promise, though, the series delivers a worrying twist with James Olsen’s decision to fight back against the bad guys himself. Evidently missing being part of Team Supergirl, does he try to hang out with Kara more? Meet up with her for dinner? No, he asks Winn to make him a suit so he can be a superhero too; a decision that makes no sense whatsoever. (Winn gets it: “You don’t have any powers,” he quips. “You’re just… really tall.”) The brief mention of him having a black belt, so he can punch bad guys really well, doesn’t help with that. After struggling to find Supergirl’s strength as a superhero in her own right, especially in terms of her relationship with Superman, what the programme doesn’t need is another sidekick. More aliens is one thing, but more superheroes? That’s not the answer. Its move to The CW for Season 2 has prompted both good and bad changes, but Supergirl needs to remember what makes it Supergirl, rather than try to be another Arrow.