March 21, 2016

Thoughts on Supergirl 1x17 “Manhunter”

I am so conflicted about this episode honestly.

There are parts of it that I really liked a lot, but the overall structure and especially the pacing just made the whole episode flawed.

Content-wise, this thing has it nailed! We get wonderful vignettes of flashback on each of the principal characters, and they work relatively well! Ironically for me, J’onn’s story is the least engaging; I liked the version he told Alex much better than the rendition they decided to go with here. Everything plays out pretty much as he described it, but there’s just something off about how the situation is performed, less emotion conveyed than I think there should’ve been; I never bought Danvers’ very quick conversion into befriending him, and I cringed when he entrusted the safety of his family to this alien. Not to say that J’onn can’t be trusted, but come on; the guy saved you from a snake, which just kinda warps the whole “this man saved my life” story that Danvers tries to spin this as… I don’t know. I also felt that J’onn’s overall emotional tone was off, or maybe just a retread of what we’d gotten before. We already had a great recap of his origins, so this felt hollow. Considering that J’onn’s is the principal story for the first act or so of this episode, that’s kind of a shame, but David Harewood puts in a great performance, contrasting nicely his duel role as J’onn and as the real Hank Henshaw.

Alex’s character gets fleshed out a bit more too, which was good! Her flashback centers on her at a seemingly low/directionless point in her life when Henshaw recruits her for the DEO, and the scene plays into her previously-established idea of feeling second best or not needed next to Kara, and I liked that this felt like an organic feeding into that character dynamic rather than the sort of whiplash feeling I got last episode, and the ending for this, with Alex on her own arc (however contrived- see below) is good! It means that her character both in- and out-of-universe won’t just be revolving around Kara anymore, and that theme was explored and developed well here.

Kara’s flashback scenes are some of the best, as they’re framed in the context of her revealing her identity to Lucy Lane, a twist that I didn’t see coming (maybe I’m just slow on the uptake here!) trying to convince her that she and Hank are good people. And I liked that Lucy’s skepticism wasn’t dictatorial or arrogant; her objections that Kara lies to people so how the hell are we supposed to trust aliens if all they do is lie seems in character, and Kara’s explanation of her needing to hide to feel normal, to not be ostracized, was great. I loved seeing her and Alex as little kids again and they had a good moment of Kara not knowing how to control her powers on her first day in school, which was the only scene in the whole of Man of Steel that worked for me, and it works well here too. And revealing this to Lucy seems like a smart move; it allows for greater character interaction and complexity, and while this again makes the list of people who know about Kara’s Supergirl life longer, it also brings Lucy’s character more into focus. Lucy hasn’t been given a lot to do, and so this episode sets up a new direction for her, which is good. I like the actress too, and I’m glad they’re giving her more stuff to do!

Throwing Cadmus into the mix was exciting in the moment, but upon reflection, it all but confirms a suspicion many have been having about this series for a while I think, and that’s that Supergirl is very much lacking in overarching direction. That’s not an innate flaw of a show, but the series has the bad habit of introducing threats and then never capitalizing on them, always moving from one potentially good adversary to the next. And that’s fine when they’re one-episode baddies, but Non, Astra, and now Cadmus, these are large-scale threats that should be mapped out over a season carefully by the writers, not just thrown at a dart board to see what sticks.

I bring this up because, on a more episode-to-episode scale, there was barely any follow-through from last week at all! And that’s terrible, because this should have been an episode wherein Kara has to earn back the people’s trust. And the thing that irritates me about this is that the framework of having J’onn in custody was a great way to do that! Have the general guy be all uptight and suspicious, and then have Supergirl gradually win back the people’s trust, have her reveal herself to Lucy and all that, and through these actions change the general direction of suspicion and win Hank back to the DEO not through a fistfight but through heroism. This could’ve even fed well into the flashback sequences, especially Kara’s, having her interview with Cat now framed in this need to be a hero, which it was, but it would’ve been stronger I think had we seen Kara in the present do some heroic actions. And I’m sorry, but two clips of her on tv and a one-off line by Cat doesn’t automatically absolve her of last episode’s actions. There are real character-driven choices that must be tackled here, and I was sad that they didn’t capitalize on that more this episode.

The ending is also a mixed bag. We have Lucy taking more of an active role, which is great! It’ll be good to have Benoist interact with another female cast member on a regular basis besides Chyler and Flockhart (not that there’s anything wrong with that; it’s just, y’know, more female interaction is always good, especially in the male-dominated military scenes here). Not sure how I feel about Siobhan’s reveal; I was tempted to laugh at that pretty poor effects shot they used, but again having this framed by her relationship with Winn will hopefully make her character more compelling as a villain next episode.

I guess I liked this one, but it was a rude return of the wonky pacing that plagued early episodes (and some would argue that that hasn’t gotten any better, though I’d disagree), and introducing more subplots and vast story arcs at this juncture just feels like they’re grasping at straws. Some great character moments and good setup for potential future character-based interactions save this one. Again, I’ll reiterate: you, the writers, have so much character, plot, and thematic material in this show already! U S E  I T

Next episode though, holy shit!! That’s gonna be at the least a fun time with smiles everywhere! Looking forward to it!!!!

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