UK VOD TV review: Supergirl, Episode 5 (How Does She Do It?)
Ivan Radford | On 03, Dec 2015
How does she do it? Not always that well, judging by Episode 5 of Supergirl. Originally intended to be Episode 4, before the Paris attacks caused it to be delayed (correctly, me might add) due to a bomb-themed story line, this now arrives after the actual fifth episode. As a result, it inevitably feels like a step back for the show. Unfortunately, that’s not the only reason why.
The title comes from Kara’s amazement at how much Cat manages to accomplish in her everyday life – a family as well as a successful career running her own media empire. Kara comes face to face with that family in the form of Cat’s son, whom she volunteers to babysit. The only problem? She’s also trying to deal with own job as Kat’s assistant – booking a trip to an awards ceremony for her boss – not to mention her other employment of saving the city by thwarting a string of explosive devices with mysteriously advanced technology. Is the DEO spying on her using their alien gizmos? Or is it entrepreneur Maxwell Lord, with his own brand of smug genius?
The stage is set for some big questions, you suspect, from drones and government surveillance to the balance of work and personal life that women are often expected to juggle. But every time Supergirl cruises towards something interesting, the show has an irritating habit of swerving into a dead end.
Let’s start with the good, because there’s still a lot to like about Superman’s cousin. The action sequences, while uncomfortably topical, are handled well, with a reassuringly consistent line in cheesy effects. The glimpse of Cat Grant’s personal life, in retrospect, gently paves the way for her softening towards Kara in the following / previous episode. Hank Henshaw – although, again, we now know more of his back-story because of the out-of-sequence ordering – develops with a strong sense of ambiguous potential, managing to use his red-eyed abilities for good while still looking sinister.
The introduction of Maxwell Lord, meanwhile, is the most promising of all: while Kara’s aunt and Hank bring their own brand of villainy, Lord is refreshingly different. He’s suave, he’s smart and he’s rich. In other words, he’s the Lex Luthor of this Super-tale. And, of course, there’s Melissa Benoist, whose beaming presence at the heart of the series is the polar opposite of Maxwell and gives everything an innately likeable nature.
So far, so good. The strands intersect neatly, with Supergirl torn between several possible incidents and relying upon her friends and colleagues to save the day – a welcome follow-on from the strong work done in Episode 2. Her interactions with Cat’s son are rather adorable too, as he develops a massive crush on her. (“What do you think is Supergirl’s best quality as a hero?” “Her legs.”)
But why, oh why, does the script refuse to let us enjoy such simple pleasures? It seems that every time someone opens their mouth to speak, they’re given dialogue written by an alien using Google Translate. Things are spelled out for us the second after they’ve already been shown – a trait that caused Episode 3 to crash mid-flight. The love triangle involving Lucy Lane and James is the biggest culprit here, as Kara talks about the “friend zone” – something that nobody in real life really says – while poor old Wynn gets a chance to joke around with Cat’s son, only to be promptly locked up in the box marked “Stereotypical Friend with Unrequited Feelings”. A monologue from Cat about how hard it is to ‘have it all’ (i.e. a life and a career) is the final nail in the coffin, a coffin that is dumped firmly on the nose.
Compared to Netflix’s Jessica Jones, which presents a kick-ass female character without stopping to comment on it every 10 seconds, Supergirl’s upbeat, fist-pumping approach feels less light-hearted and more heavy-handed. One’s a diary full of complexity and inspirational messages about abuse, sexism and being a hero. The other’s a pamphlet covered in pink crayon hearts.
We know having already seen the next episode that CBS’ series is capable of much better, juggling a variety of female relationships and a fun villain while still building its Hank-based mystery. How does Supergirl do it? If showrunner Greg Berlanti and his writing team can’t work that out soon, this inconsistent first run will only keep flying into a brick wall.
Supergirl is on Sky 1 every Thursday at 8pm. Don’t have Sky? You can watch Supergirl online (live and on-demand) through NOW TV, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription. The VOD service also includes The Walking Dead, The Flash and American Horror Story: Hotel.