Warning: This contains spoilers.
Supergirl has always excelled at doing a lot in 45 minutes, even in Season 2’s more uneven instalments. Episode 7, though, is a record for the show, cramming in not just one or two or even three subplots. Oh, no. The Darkest Place fits in all the subplots. Even the ones you’d forgotten about.
We pick things up immediately with the aftermath of Mon-El’s kidnapping, and we soon discover that he’s been taken by Cadmus not to be experimented on, but to lure Supergirl into their clutches. Before she can get there, they’ve done some tests on him and worked out that lead is poisonous to Daxamites – which must have been hell for his planet’s high-school stationery supplier. Shooting him in the leg is all they need to convince the trapped Supergirl to wear a helmet that sucks all the energy and power out of her – not unlike that episode in Season 1, where she burned herself out by staring too hard at a bad guy.
If you’re struggling to recall that particular slice of history, this is going to be a brutal episode for you. Because who should be the one to trap Supergirl in a cage but Hank Henshaw? Yes, the real Hank Henshaw. Except, now, he’s not Hank Henshaw anymore – he’s been turned by Cadmus into Cyborg Superman. Which basically means he looks like Hank Henshaw, but he’s pretty much invincible. And can easily beat Kara in a fight.
Now, we’re all for bringing back the real Hank Henshaw (you can’t call him just by his first name – try it, it feels wrong). Heck, we’re even all for bringing back the real Hank Henshaw after not mentioning the real Hank Henshaw for almost a whole season. But any weight that reveal is meant to carry is immediately dispelled by the transformation of him into Cyborg Superman; how much more interesting it would be, if the real Hank Henshaw turned up, bearing a grudge for J’onn J’onzz stealing his identity, rather than have him simply be another experimented-upon, brainwashed Cadmus henchman? It’s a waste of a comic book namedrop, and it’s a waste of David Harewood. The show already has two Martians who can shape-shift, so more people who look the same as each other hardly helps matters.
And if you’re struggling to recall the back-story involving the real Hank Henshaw, get a load of this: who should rescue Supergirl and Mon-El from their cage but Jeremiah Danvers? Yes, the real Jeremiah Danvers. Or, as we like to call him: Dean ruddy Cain. Dean ruddy Cain, who was a great piece of casting in the first season as Kara’s adoptive Earth dad, is another subplot seemingly left behind by the show’s writers but suddenly resurrected for this chapter, as if there wasn’t enough already going on. Unlike the real Hank Henshaw, though, Dean ruddy Cain’s appearance really does have some impact, as we briefly see Kara reunited with her long-lost father – a moment that’s as touching as it is bad-ass, given that it occurs while he removes the bullet from Mon-El’s leg. When he stays behind to fight off Cadmus’ forces, as Kara and Mon-El escape, it’s an equally affecting farewell. (Now imagine if Dean ruddy Cain had been brainwashed into Mega-Cyborg Superman, or something. Wouldn’t that have ruined it?)
Even if you’re into Cyborg Superman, one of the main problems is that Hank’s return gets almost no time to sink in, as the episode is too busy whisking us away to its next narrative, which sees J’onn begin to hallucinate his dead wife and kids around the place. It doesn’t take long for him to realise that M’gann is a White Martian, and that her blood is slowly turning him into one. Their relationship deteriorates rapidly, soon descending into a punch-up outside an alley. This is what Supergirl is gradually getting better at: rather than have our characters spell out their prejudices in on-the-nose conversations, we have a sense of J’onn and M’gann’s conflict because of how we’ve seen them behave to each other before. We also fully buy into M’gann’s rejection of her White Martian heritage, and the historical slaughter of Green Martians that goes with it. How will this all resolve? We don’t know – and full credit to the writers for letting it simmer slowly over time.
Ditto with Alex and Maggie, who sort-of make up, after last episode’s falling out, with Alex taking her crush to task on her encouragement for Alex to come out and subsequent rejection of her feelings. Chyler Leigh and Floriana Lima are so good together that even the unsubtle dialogue (the show’s getting better, but still isn’t there yet) can’t stop their scenes from tugging at your heartstrings.
Where the writers aren’t taking their time, though, is the ongoing James and Guardian storyline, which just feels more and more out of place. Here, Guardian finds himself accused of being a villain, after another vigilante starts shooting up people on his own campaign for personal justice. Winn and James are a delight to watch, but a vigilante fighting a vigilante for one of the vigilantes to clear their name of the other’s vigilantism? That’s not very interesting, is barely dealt with in any depth because it’s squeezed into an already dense episode, and it certainly doesn’t feel very Supergirl.
What does feel Supergirl? It’s that strain of earnest optimism and compassion so ably embodied by Melissa Benoist’s sunny lead performance. It’s no surprise, then, that the best scene comes right at the top of the episode, when Mon-El and Kara are trapped in cages together and simply chat. They joke, with that excellent chemistry they have, but Chris Wood also manages to move the scene into serious, vulnerable territory without breaking his stride; unlike their earlier exchanges, there’s no explicit speech-making here, just two aliens connecting and being honest with each other. You totally believe that Supergirl would put on Cadmus’ helmet and solar flare her powers away (so that they can extract blood from her), just to save him – just as you totally believe him later asking James and Winn whether Kara’s “mated to anyone” on Earth.
And this is the misstep of Episode 7. Supergirl’s strength has often been in doing a lot in 45 minutes, but that’s a lot in terms of emotions and character development, not in terms of exposition and narrative. The reveal to Supergirl that Lillian is the mother of Lena Luthor – surprise: she hates aliens so much because she wants revenge for what Superman did to Lex – and our discovery that Cadmus’ plan is to use Supergirl’s blood to access the Fortress of Solitude and found out about “Project Medusa” are both intriguing. But they’re rushed in between other things happening, things that, in the case of Guardian, could be removed altogether. What is Medusa? We’re excited to find out, but it better not turn out to be another masked vigilante or an old friend brainwashed into becoming an evil cyborg. We’ve had quite enough of them already, Supergirl.
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.
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