Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Supergirl Episode 8: Hostile Takeover

On Monday, CBS aired the 'winter finale' of Supergirl. Episode 8, titled 'Hostile Takeover', did a great job of building tension in Kara's two worlds - CatCo and the DEO - and ends with two fantastic cliffhangers. If the creators were hoping to leave me wanting more, they succeeded spectacularly. This is would have been an excellent season finale. I can't believe we have 13 more episodes to go!

As always, the strength of this show begins with Melissa Benoist and her performance as Kara. Like many of the prior episodes, Benoist has to run the emotional gamut here, from happiness to sadness to anger. There is another moment which is emotionally heart-wrenching and had me gripping my seat and feeling all the feelings. But the rest of the cast shines here as well. Calista Flockhart shows some vulnerability but continues to be prickly when needed. Jeremy Jordan gives Winn some edge here. David Harewood shows some wry humor behind the gruff Henshaw exterior. Chyler Leigh continues to make Alex a powerful agent. And Laura Benanti also show some range, playing the icy Alura and the passionate Astra. But Astra isn't a one-note serial villain. She also is given a sympathetic back story.

I can't believe I have to wait a month to see the next episode!

The episode starts with Astra holding Supergirl at bay. Astra has a Kryptonite-neutralizing armor now, so she can wield Hank's knife against Kara without fear. Astra is impressed with Kara, saying she has the heart of a hero, and wanting Supergirl to join her.

But Supergirl has nothing but contempt for her aunt. She is able to escape and flee to the DEO and fill in Hank and Alex. We get some back story from Kara who had investigated her aunt's crimes. It sounds as if Astra was something of a terrorist, blowing up government buildings, and being on the run. It is clear that Kara has no love left for her aunt.

Meanwhile, back at her lair, Astra's lieutenant Non asks her if she could kill Kara if she had to. Astra, who we learn is a General, says she won't let another world die. She feels that Kara will join them.

With the fear that Astra and her super-powered army will strike soon, Alex recommends more training with Kara.

Back in the K-room, we see that Supergirl has clearly been a fast learner. She holds her own against Alex including doing a modified Frankensteiner which makes a young Anj very happy.

In a nice mirror moment, Kara is asked by her sister if she could kill Astra if she had to. Supergirl's immediate response is 'Superman doesn't kill', the implication being she won't either. For folks like me, who like a classic Superman and don't like the Man of Steel movie, that line was perfect.

This battle has Kara again reflect back to her time on Krypton where we learn more about Astra. Astra knows that Krypton is nearing an explosion because of the ecological ravages the people have done to the planet. She is trying to save everyone, even if her means are at times unsavory. But we see how much she loves Kara, hugging her young niece and saying she couldn't love anyone more. She is doing what she is doing to save Kara. Sympathy for the villain!

Meanwhile, CatCo has been hacked and embarrassing emails by Cat are flooding social media. Cat needs to figure out how it happened and what else might get leaked. So she asks Kara, along with James and Winn (who Cat calls the 'handsome hobbit with more cardigans' than Kara) to try to track everything down.

While the three try to get ahead of things, the CatCo board tells Cat they may be forced to ask her to step down. Using her super-hearing, Kara overhears that the head of the board, Dirk Armstrong, is responsible for the release of information in an attempt to take over the company. Cat calls him 'the walking personification of white male privilege'.

Realizing they might need to hack the hacker, James, Kara, and Winn bring in their legal counsel. Stressing it is all hypothetical, Lucy says that if it is discovered that Dirk is behind it that he could be incarcerated. But getting caught trying to illegally get the information would be just as bad.

One thing I like about this is that it portrays Lucy as a friend and ally. She isn't the evil girlfriend that the audience loves to hate. She hasn't done anything here that is odious. She is pretty cool and nice. You can't hate her even if you want to root for Kara and Jimmy to get together.

Before things at CatCo can heat up too much, Astra appears over the city. She has no armor, no K-knife, and wants to talk to Kara. Astra calls Alura a liar. Alura imprisoned Astra to cast blame away from herself. But Supergirl won't take for any bad things being said about her mother.

The two brawl in the middle of the city, crashing into buildings, throwing cars, and shooting heat vision. It is very evocative of the Man of Steel end fight. Except in this battle, Supergirl continues to break away from the fight to save everyone from the collateral damage. This, like the 'Superman doesn't kill', is a repudiation of Man of Steel and it's tone.

But the fight ends almost too quickly. While Astra seems to have the upper hand early, she gets pummeled into unconsciousness by Kara at the end.

In the DEO, an imprisoned Astra again confronts Kara. She tells Supergirl that she knew Krypton was going to die and had to do things to try to save the planet. We get a flashback where the sisters face off. Alura has used a signal Kara uses to talk to her aunt to lure Astra there. We hear that Astra is trying to save the world and that her methods resulted in the death of a Government guard. We learn that Astra's husband and lieutenant, Non, is the person who murdered the guard.

But it is too much for Alura. She arrests Astra right there in the family home. Astra insists that doing this is signing Krypton's death warrant.

This is a great scene for Benanti who gets to play two very different characters.

Throughout this show, we have heard Kara talk about Alura with an almost hero worship. Even earlier in this episode she calls Alura 'the best woman that ever lived'. So to hear that Kara was the bait to arrest Alura is a blow to that image. And to hear that Alura learned that Krypton was doomed but she still arrested Astra (who claims she could save the planet) is crushing.

Kara ends up shrieking at the A.I. Alura to try to get more information. And when the program can't answer the questions, we again see emotional agony within Kara. She lashes out at the hologram with her heat vision.

But again it is Benoist who brings the real power here. We see her anger and dismay and distrust build as she interrogates this Alura-bot. We see her be both angry and sad. She still mourns Krypton. By arresting Astra, did Alura doom Kara to this life on Earth where she still is trying to fit in?

There was a lot to love in this episode but this scene was the absolute best. It felt like the strained relationship with Alura I felt was a key part of the Gates/Igle run in the comics.

As for the CatCo issues, the team uncovers that Cat has another son, Adam, older and estranged, and that information could be damning to both Cat and him. She has a heart to heart with Kara about how she fought to keep Adam in her life until she realized maybe he would be better away from her. She is hurt each day by this failure. That sentiment is a nice reflection of what Alura may have been dealing with. I love how the show creators use Cat as an inspiration, a mentor, and a surrogate mother to Kara but also keep her as this prickly, self-absorbed, catty CEO.

Luckily, through some chicanery, the team has uncovered evidence that Armstrong is behind the hack. He is led off in cuffs.

Throughout the episode, Winn has had an edge and been somewhat mean to James and Kara. James finally calls him on it. James can tell Winn loves Kara and advises Winn that he should go for it. Kara is worth it.

Winn says, almost stammers, that 'she's her and I'm me', a way to say that he doesn't think he is in her league. I felt a pang for the guy there having thought similar feelings of insecurity in my own past.

But then we get to the cliffhangers.

Cat corners Kara on the balcony. She wondered how Kara learned about Dirk's scheme, she puts together all the clues from the earlier episodes, and she wonders if Kara is Supergirl. She even calls Kara her 'secret weapon' and her 'guardian angel', pure Easter Egg nomenclature from the comics.

When Kara removes her glasses, Cat calls her Supergirl and says thank you.

Just incredible ....

At the DEO, Alex realizes that Astra wanted to get caught as a feint. She confronts Astra for information. It is a brief interaction but it is great. Astra acknowledges Alex as the 'one who killed Hellgrammite' and says she likes Alex. Alex says she will go into the DEO cell and beat out information if she has to. I really really like Alex.

It turns out the plan is to attack Lord Industries to defeat Max, 'the world's champion'. The strike force includes Non, two more Kryptonians, a guy who can split in two (a version of Duplicate Boy), and a woman with poison breath (a version of Gas Girl)?

Between the DEO and Lord's Security, it is a decent fight. Hank even uses some Martian powers to defeat a Kryptonian. The show ends with Kara squaring off against Non, telling him he is going to wish that all the women from the House of El had died.


That is a lot to stuff to into one episode. But unlike the pilot, I felt this all unwound nicely. Things felt pressured but nothing felt rushed. All the information to get through these beats were presented. And so much is revealed earlier in the season than I would anticipate. I thought Hank's reveal would be later. I thought Cat figuring things out would be in the season finale. The pace is unheralded!

And there are the usual flourishes in this episode which make it feel real. Cat has M&M's in an ice bucket so she doesn't always go for booze when troubled. While she supports other women, she continues to take pop shots at Lois. Armstrong has a Maserati, the perfect car for a weasel like him. Hank misses his Kryptonite knife that Astra stole. Winn says James abs wouldn't understand Winn's insecurities.

But it is the main storyline of Astra, who seems like a misguided eco-terrorist like Ra's Al Ghul, trying to shake Kara's confidence that is the meat of this episode. Between the flashbacks and the interrogation and the confrontation with the computerized Alura, this was just wonderful.


Gene said...

Can't agree with you more Anj that this was a top notch episode. I couldn't help but think about Superman II again with the fight scene between Kara and Astra over the city as Supergirl tried to keep the damage to a minimum.

Laura Benanti does an impressive job playing Alura and Astra at the same time (now that's acting!) and I like how they gave Astra a lock of white hair to differentiate from her sister.

New episodes resume January 4th! Woo-Hoo!


Anonymous said...

I really don't see much chemistry between Kara and James. I think Lucy is much-better suited for him, and hope that Kara takes interest in some other guys (not necessarily Winn).

Anonymous said...

Supergirl got really good really quickly.

My only gripe (that's been brought up by others) is that Cat's constant sniping at Lois goes too far. There's professional rivalry, but this is something more personal. Hopefully, they actually cast a Lois Lane and have her appear because, so far, it's been entirely one-sided. And given how Lois is already being treated in the New 52 (aside from "Superman: Lois and Clark")...

My personal guess is that Cat is very much an "old school feminist" in that she knows about the barriers for women but manages to be as successful as any man by "playing nice" within the system until she reaches the top.

Lois, however, is the person who would prefer to shatter glass ceilings and tear apart barriers because those are inherently unjust. Younger Cat navigated around boundaries while Lois always pushes them. The thrown chair and napkin story? I'm sure Lois could have gotten away with throwing a chair (although that would be pretty out of character for Lois... she'd probably prefer to make anyone she's investigating lose it and throw a chair instead).

Cat shouldn't be Kara's sole mentor, but one point-of-view of many. Kara's still trying to define herself, so having another influential woman like Lois with a different mindset would be awesome, and provide a nice compare and contrast... behind the punching until the bad guys fall down, of course ;)

Unknown said...

The elephant in the room is that while Supergirl is outnumbered at least three-to-one by other Kryptonians, Superman is conspicuous by his absence. I recall that Jimmy used his signal watch during another attack, but I believe the situation was resolved before Big Blue showed up, which kinda defeats the purpose. It makes no sense that Superman wouldn't be in on this, whether Kara reached out to him or not. At the very least, they should address the situation by saying that Superman is off-world, or perhaps more in keeping with the down-to-Earth tone of the show, Kara asked him to let her deal with it, because Astra is a member of HER family, not his, and therefore her responsibility.

Still, it's one thing for Supergirl to handle LiveWire by herself, but this threat is on a completely different level. Hank - as the Manhunter - apparently knows Superman well enough to crack jokes about him, which would suggest that the Justice League is also a part of this corner of the DC television universe. This alien aggression doesn't seem like something Superman or the League would completely bow out of, considering the power and the number of the individuals involved, and the potential for disaster. I think in this case, some explanation for their lack of involvement is in order.

Unknown said...

I agree that the pace of the show is impressive, and that the cliffhangers were actually that, especially Cat deducing Supergirl's secret identity (take THAT, Lois!) which was a total shocker, but the soapy, love triangle subplots are my least favorite part of the show. I would like to see a move away from Kara's crush on Jimmy, and Winn's on her. I'd much rather have Kara simply "get over" Jimmy, and see him the same way her cousin does, as a trusted friend, and an effective ally. They could even joke about how they would never work as a couple. For Jimmy, it might be a little too close to dating a female version of his best pal.

Winn should quit making puppy dog eyes, and openly flirt with BOTH Kara and Supergirl, leaving no doubt that he's interested in being a lot MORE than her sidekick. That would be an interesting dynamic, since Kara is shy by nature, and their playful flirtation would be MUCH more entertaining than Winn's constant moping, sighing, and his longing glances at the oblivious object of his unrequited (and undeclared)love. Winn's low self-esteem is killing the otherwise engaging personality of this made-for-TV character, who was a LOT more fun before he learned the truth about Kara's dual identity. Basically, Kara is Winn's kryptonite. He needs reclaim his manhood, and remember that girls - Super or not - aren't attracted to the quiet guys who worship them from afar, mainly because they never get close enough to do anything about it.

I hope in future episodes, we'll see Kara experimenting with, and developing more of her powers. I'd also like some crossover between the two versions of Team Kara. It would be fun to see Winn teamed up with the Martian Manhunter, and Jimmy (who I see as a big brother figure to Kara) paired with her sister Alex. They should also explore the attraction between Alex and Max Lord. They have all the chemistry that Jimmy and Kara lack. I can just see Alex cuffing him, and then Max tearing her bulletproof vest off with his teeth! I also wouldn't mind someone arranging a meeting between Kara's foster mother and Cat. Maybe they could even invite Astra, or A.I. Allura to that tea party. That could be a very interesting "Mother's Day" episode.

Whatever happens from here on out, the show has already surpassed my expectations. "Supergirl" is the antithesis of the fantastic Marvel/Netflix series "Jessica Jones," but that's exactly what you would expect, considering the title characters. Each show is pitch perfect in its own way. THIS is the version of Supergirl I've always wanted to see.

Martin Gray said...

Top review, loved the show. I'm glad Hank did something Martiany, because now we know how much power he has, it'd look odd if he didn't do everything he could when facing a villain, even if he does it in secret. I wonder why Alex doesn't insist to Hank that they put Kara in the loop - I don't like secrets between the sisters.

It was fun to see another name from the comics, Dirk Armstrong, in the mix.

Well, I was wrong, convinced Cat had worked it all out ages ago. I wonder what the implied second thing - after 'thanks' - she wishes to say to Kara is.

Now we know Cat has an Adam, I'm really worried about the upcoming appearance by Toyman.

This is a rather different take on Non, me like.

Please God HoloMom is permanently knackered after all that heat vision, how I hate her. As for the real Alura, OK, using Kara to net Astra wasn't perfect, but people were dying. I see another lesson Kara needs to learn.

I'm so torn on Lucy - she's lovely and I want her to stay lovely ... but Superwoman would be fun!

Likewise, can't Max reform? He and Alex would make an awesome power couple.

Loved the dialogue nods to the old books, it's most heartening.

Anonymous said...

Minor niggling about your review, Anj. It's episode 8 not episode 7 :)

Otherwise TOTALLY agree with your points... I'm ESPECIALLY impressed with the fight sequences Melissa is in, definately
more refined than they were at the start of the series, and it shows in this episode.

Personally I was highly amused by the Man Of Steel reference to "harvesting the core." I also loved and would single out
the lines "You have the heart of a hero," and "she's the girl worth risking it all for" for special attention for our
favorite superheroine. Though that's counterbalanced with @ScrimmageDFW's comment about the syrupy love triangle...
not to say nobody can't have a crush on Supergirl, but I agree it's one boatanchor dragging on things right now, and
romance subplots is something they introduced way too early into this series.

Also mentioned that Sterling Gates is getting back into writing Supergirl comics... THANK YOU, TPTB!! I'm
one VERY happy fan right now!!


Anonymous said...

Astra is clearly the bookend to Max Lord, Kara's Aunt is a misguided revolutionary who will only end up holding the stirrup that another far worse character may mount up and ride while Lord is an arrogant anarcho-capitalist technophile.
Both sodden with the sort of good intentions that'll get us all killed in other words.
Excellent ep, all around Melissa B. seems to have a strong angle on the contradictory facets of Supergirl's "Survivor's Guilt". My one big qualm was why exactly Max Lord was the target... that seemed shoe-horned in at the last moment, hopefully the next ep will clear that up.
From what I can deduce "dissuading Cat" is gonna be the next big subplot....that bit was sooo well played it nicely masked an inherent contradiction, how come Cat could deduce Kara's secret identity she once worked just as closely with Clark Kent and came up empty....?


KET said...

"Cat has M&M's in an ice bucket so she doesn't always go for booze when troubled."

Actually, those are jelly beans. Flockhart requested them from the showrunners so that Cat wouldn't always go for the booze when she's troubled (since it's a family-friendly show).


KET said...

Oh, and people shouldn't expect that the romantic sub-plots are going to magically go away anytime soon. CBS doesn't call this show a 'drama' instead of an 'action/adventure' for no reason. It's also a perfectly valid and essential aspect of what the Supergirl concept is; as the showrunners and lead actress have smartly surmised in interviews that she's "the Annie Hall of superheroes". They're not wrong, even though Supergirl was flying around navel-gazing about her heroic self in comic books years before Woody Allen conceived of that classic film of his.


garyb said...

So, we knew that the sentience of Dr. Morrow was transferred into Red Tornado. Alex had mentioned it to Kara moments before Kara blasted Reddy into teeny tiny pieces.

Supergirl has already killed.

Is this our first retcon of the season.?

Well, I suppose Red Tornado is only comic book dead, there is always a chance that "he'll get better.:

Anj said...

Thanks for all the great comments!

I agree that the romance side of things aren't going to go away. This show wants to look at all of her life, including her love life. We had plenty of it in Flash and no one worried. I do agree that those plots need to be tightened up a bit. Especially Winn who needs to be something more nuanced than pining for her or being edgy about her feelings for James.

Alex said the Tornado became sentient but not necessarily that it was Morrow. So I don't know if she has crossed the line.

And thanks for the jelly beans correction!