UK VOD TV review: Supergirl, Episode 4 (Livewire)
James R | On 26, Nov 2015
After a slight dip in trajectory during Episode 3, Supergirl flies right back on trick with her fourth outing, an entertaining study of female relationships, both good and bad.
The episode arrives earlier than intended, after Episode 4 of the show was skipped in the wake of the Paris attacks, but if anything, that means we get a chance to move on from the feeling of being stuck in Pilot Zone – the teething issues of working out how to position Kara in relation to both Superman and other people feel like they’ve been firmly put behind us.
We’ve praised showrunner Greg Berlanti’s emphasis on Kara’s family before now and the fact that this is the Thanksgiving-themed episode only reminds us just how good a feel he has for shaping an ensemble: Arrow and The Flash have both become defined by their lead group more than their individual heroes.
Multiple fleshed-out characters are essential, of course, for a TV show to work over any kind of sustained period, so it’s not only commendable that Supergirl is making the effort, but necessary if it wants to last for more than its maiden season.
Take Cat Grant, the bullying boss played by Calister Flockhart. She could have been a one-note supporting character, there for jokes and acerbic put-downs, but the casting of Flockhart suggested there would be more for her to work with that that – something this episode bears out. The story revolves around her relationship with radio DJ Leslie Willis, the kind of controversial loud-mouth who brings in good ratings for Cat’s media empire, but doesn’t win any points after she slates Supergirl on-air – an attack that leaves Grant looking for blood.
A freak accident later and Leslie’s become Livewire, an electricity-touting villain with a vengeance streak as wide as the local power grid. Brit Morgan has great fun with the role, cackling and cussing with abandon – the character wins bonus points, too, for literally being a “shock jock”. The set pieces are handled by Kevin Tancharoen with the kind of flare you’d expect from the helmer of Mortal Kombat’s TV series and the remake of Fame: one of Supergirl’s strengths is that CBS’ budget and visual style comfortably matches the high standard set by The CW, from sparks and bolts to a neat trick with an array of TV screens. Even Kara’s tendency to punch her way out of a problem is a neat indicator of how inexperienced she is as a hero – the introduction of science to the villain-of-the-week problem-solving, meanwhile, adds a nice sense of progression.
Writers Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Caitlin Parrish’s biggest success, though, is the intertwining of action and character: Livewire isn’t just a chance for a typically terrible pun and some media industry buzz words; she’s an opportunity to add depth to both Kara and Cat. Grant’s mentor-protege bond introduces a parenting theme to the episode, something that is echoed right across the cast. Supergirl’s foster-mum, Eliza, is alarmed that Kara has come out to the public, but proud of her for fighting to save people – older sister, Alex, though, is a constant source of disappointment, despite her work for the DEO and supportive role in Kara’s life.
The confrontations that play out over Thanksgiving could veer into hammy melodrama, but the cast deliver them convincingly, even selling a string of potentially cheesy flashbacks to Kara’s childhood. If Supergirl struggled to work out how to reference Superman, without defining itself (and its hero) by him, it’s ironic that Dean Cain (ITV’s former Man of Steel) should demonstrate how well-judged that balancing act has become, with him reprising his role as foster-father Jeremiah Danvers and adding layers of intrigue to Kara’s family back-story; another move that delivers both emotion and mystery.
The result is an episode that presents a surprisingly wide variety of characters: just because Supergirl is a welcome feminist punch to the male-dominated comic book world, it doesn’t mean that all of its women should be fist-pumping cheerleaders. Cat isn’t supportive of other women and neither is Leslie, but both have more to them than that. Kara, meanwhile, dangerously sees the best in people, something made clear by Melissa Benoist’s endearingly ever-present smiles, but also something that Alex has learned not to do. That mix of contrasting attitudes makes for an ensemble of deceptively complex female characters – and when was the last time you could say that about a comic book film or TV show? Supergirl may be brighter and lighter than Jessica Jones, but it takes its place alongside Netflix’s new series as a strong step forward.
Supergirl is on Sky 1 every Thursday at 8pm. Don’t have Sky? You can watch Supergirl online (live and on-demand) through NOW, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription. The VOD service also includes The Walking Dead, The Flash Season 2 and Arrow Season 4.
Spoilers and further consideration
– If you were screaming “water and electricity” at the telly for an hour, you’re not the only one – but it’s nice to know that as well as eventually figuring out a scientific way to beat Livewire, Supergirl also isn’t above making a Ghostbusters joke about the DEO’s array of gadgetry and gizmos.
– Speaking of which, let’s talk about Hank Henshaw. Red Glowing Eye Syndrome aside, the most suspicious reveal yet is that he’s been around for years – ever since Kara landed on our planet, in fact. Not only did he agree to employ Jeremiah in exchange for Supergirl’s childhood freedom, but he’s also now got Kate on his books too. Talk about sinister. After all, the guy hasn’t aged a day. That’s seriously dodgy.
– With the actual Episode 4 – How Does She Do It? – being aired next, how weird will the out-of-sequence ordering feel? Brace yourself for some potential steps backwards, after such a confident move forwards. After all, we now know that Cat respects Kara a little more – “I really don’t know much about you…” she says, in a way that both deepens her character and puts Kara’s secret identity in jeopardy – and that Lucy Lane and James are an ongoing item.