“I’m not a red shirt!” cries Winn, halfway through the first episode of Supergirl Season 2’s second half. It’s par for the course for the DC show, which serves up one-liners and pop culture references as regularly as DC’s big screen projects go through production difficulties. And it’s that lightness of touch, sense of humour and witty use of its supporting characters that makes Supergirl so enjoyable.
Which is why the first half of Season 2 proved so frustrating, as James Olsen decided to become The Guardian, a senseless subplot that proved that too many superheroes spoil the super-broth. He’s present and correct once again in Supergirl Lives, but if his character arc makes little sense, the writers at least use him to develop that of another: yes, everyone’s computer geek, now known as DEO Agent Schott.
Moving Jeremy Jordan’s often hilarious nerd out from his desk – and, crucially, out of his love interest pigeonhole – is the smartest decision Supergirl has made so far, giving Jordan more chance to shine, as he interacts with an even greater range of people. And, if that jump seemed a little improbable, the show addresses it head-on in this episode, as Winn finds himself attacked while helping The Guardian, leaving him paranoid and scared about going out in the field. We may not get a training montage of him learning to be a DEO employee, but we get his believable fear, which is far more effective.
Enter Izzy Williams. Or, more accurately, exit Izzy Williams, as her mum turns up at CatCo to ask the newspaper for help in finding her missing daughter. Grumpy editor Snapper Carr, who just wants five minutes’ peace in the morning, is having none of it, but Kara, of course, jumps at the chance to investigate – and (wouldn’t you know it?) the mysterious disappearance involves aliens. More specifically, Roulette – her again – who has found something worse than cage-fighting to keep her rich: human trafficking.
And so Kara and Mon-El head off to save the day, which involves being teleported all the way to Maaldoria, a planet where the red sun means they don’t have powers. Maaldo-who-ha? Maaldoria, aka. Slaver’s Moon. Its introduction is a milestone for the programme, not just because it’s a hub of people trading (Supergirl really does love to tackle dark subjects), but because it’s the first time the show truly heads off to another world. And it’s something that, a little like a Doctor Who episode after a lot of Earth-based outings, makes Supergirl feel instantly bigger.
What follows isn’t the most perfect adventure, as Kara and Mon-El’s supposed weakness doesn’t really have any consequences, The Guardian-based opening is tiresome and one late comic relief cameo feels like he’s been squeezed in for the sake of it, but the episode gets away with it on the sheer strength of its characters. Melissa Benoist and Chris Wood’s chemistry is, well, super, and their sort-of romance is enough to charm the socks off even someone with boots on – Benoist, who radiates positivity, is essential to the show’s enjoyably upbeat vibe, and Wood feeds off it, allowing his Daxam survivor to become convincingly nicer and nicer every minute he’s on screen.
It’s that ability to grow characters gently that – The Guardian aside – Supergirl has improved upon in Season 2. Alex (Chyler Leigh) gets just enough space to swing between blissfully in love with Maggie (Floriana Lima) and nervously scared of being so happy, in case it means something will go wrong. Even Snapper Carr gets the chance to show another side to him, something that Ian Gomez manages with the briefest of screen-time – he’s gone from a one-note antagonist and a silly name to both a source of humour and heart. Attaboy, Snapper.
But the episode’s achievements are most notable in the way that it devotes so much attention to Winn, who has to overcome his jitters to go to Maaldoria with Alex to help Kara. The result is brilliantly directed by Kevin Smith, as the pink teleporter avoids feeling like a Stargate rip-off and the planet’s red surface doesn’t seem like a clone of Mars, but it’s Winn’s reaction to the whole thing that really grounds such a notable leap for the series. “I’m not a red shirt!” he cheers, with all the joy of a Star Trek fan processing his terror of mortality through the lens of one of his favourite sci-fi series. There’s nobody there for him to share it with – it’s a moment for himself, which makes us sharing it all the cuter. Just as Supergirl flies from one planet to another, the programme’s ensemble just got a little more rounded; we can’t wait to see more of what this expanding universe has in store in the second half of Season 2.
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 7-day free trial.
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Flying observations (spoilers)
– Kara, Winn et. al. getting safely to and from Maaldoria is no huge surprise, but the big reveal of the episode is that Mon-El isn’t who he’s been saying he is: he’s actually the prince of Daxam. Why that means the Maaldorian henchmen wouldn’t hurt him, as they break out the slave prison, is anybody’s guess, but it does make sense that people would be looking for him – hello to Season 2’s back end narrative arc. Given how well Wood has been doing so far, this has plenty of promise.
– Maggie and Alex clearing the air over Kara / Supergirl’s real identity is a lovely little moment in an episode full of lovely little moments, making it certain that this is a relationship that will go the distance. Lima and Leigh’s is as good as that of Wood and Benoist, so we’re more than on board with that. (Mon-El officially deciding to be a superhero is also a promising development.)
– Bonus points to the show for naming the episode Supergirl Lives, after the Kevin Smith Superman film of the same title that never took off.
– And what of The Guardian? Well, after the opening action scene, Olsen doesn’t have much to do other than sit on the sidelines, as the story moves on without him. We like Mehcad Brooks and his portrayal of James, but notice how much smoother Supergirl feels without trying to shoehorn in The Guardian every five minutes? (We promise we’ll stop going on about this soon, honest.)