Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Supergirl Episode 7: Human For A Day

Supergirl episode 7, 'Human For a Day' came out this week and became my favorite episode of the show so far. But maybe I am damning with faint praise with that opening sentence. This was an absolute home run, a tremendous episode which moved plots ahead, added incredible depth to the characters, and had Supergirl take a major step along the hero's journey. And I have to say that this all was done with Supergirl being powerless for about 80% of the show. Now that is art.

There are two major plots to 'Human For a Day'.

The first is Kara coming to grips with her more human state, realizing that heroes can inspire even without great power. They can continue to inspire. And heroes also need to learn the rather hard lesson that even with great power, they will be unable to save everyone. It is a common trope in comics, the hero losing someone or having to recognize their limitations. It is an important and humbling step. (For me, one of the best examples of this is Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo's Flash #91.)

The second plot is Alex and her growing distrust with Hank Henshaw. Things come to a boiling point when a prisoner gets loose in the DEO headquarters. Hank continues to do questionable things, possibly nefarious, which makes Alex finally confront Hank. This plot comes to an unbelievably satisfying conclusion.

This one simply had it all.

The book starts with Kara being poked, prodded, and bathed in yellow sun rays in the DEO headquarters. Her use of the 'solar flare' power last episode to blow up Red Tornado has completely drained her. This is similar to when Superman uses that power but he recharges after 48 hours. Kara is beyond that and isn't feeling anything at all. She is simply human and therefore as vulnerable as we are.

Meanwhile, in the DEO, Henshaw is questioning J'emm, psychic despot who has conquered 12 worlds. Behind the neural disrupting glass, he is powerless. But he is certainly ornery, threatening everyone there.

I am pretty impressed that Superman's 'solar flare' power, still new to comics, has now become canon in the television universe. We learn that Superman named the power himself (Kara calls him a nerd ... brilliant). And, of course, Supergirl in the comics is no stranger to that power having manifested it first.

As for J'emm. Well, he might be called J'emm but he is definitely much more Despero here. J'emm was a gentle character, not this telepathic thug.

Kara can't simply rest and nurse her first cold. And Alex can't simply detain J'emm. An earthquake shakes National City, plunging the city into chaos. And the rumbling also rattles the DEO, forcing them to go into lockdown, and letting J'emm free to roam the complex and try to break free.

The first person to grab the spotlight after this disaster is Maxwell Lord. He hits the airwaves and begins to deride the government and Supergirl for not helping people. He, a normal person, is out there doing good. Unlike Supergirl who has disappeared in the city's hour of need. Later in the show he sounds downright Luthor-ian, saying that someone like Supergirl makes humanity complacent. And he theorizes, based on his study of Superman, that Supergirl has burned herself out and won't regain her powers.

Cat isn't going to let Lord destroy the more optimistic feel Supergirl has brought to the city. She decides, with Winn's help, to broadcast a message of positivity and heroism.

Sure, it seems like Cat is protecting her 'intellectual property' of Supergirl. But more and more you sense this undercurrent of nurturing in Cat. She isn't going to let Max insult Supergirl. Cat even gives Winn some words of wisdom to reach out and grab what he wants rather than sit back.

At the DEO, Hank leads two agents into the dimly lit headquarters to try to track J'emm. Wearing neural disruptors, the team tries to track down the alien. I love that Alex questions why she isn't going out. Hank says she needs to stay back as a leader but she questions his motives.

It doesn't help her distrust when Henshaw suddenly seems to disappear off their monitors, leaving the agents alone against J'emm. Alex can only watch on the monitors as those two agents are killed.

What I love about these scenes is the very 'horror movie', very 'Alien' feel to them. From dark corridors, to seeing J'emm run through the screen in a shocking way, to seeing their vitals go flat on the monitors, this all felt very very cinematic to me, in a sci-fi horror way.

Kara and James go to confront Lord about his messages.

The city is mess with people injured, the EMS system taxed, and looting happening.

And then we get that moment, that scene where a hero realizes they can't save everyone. Max, Kara, and James find themselves trying to save a man injured in a car accident. Max (who graduated medical school in a year ... trust me, it doesn't work that way) with no equipment at all diagnoses the man with a tension pneumothorax. But later he talks about the patient bleeding out. Without powers, without hospital equipment, the three can only watch the man pass on.

Jimmy gives her some hard core wisdom. 'A hero can't save everyone. But a real hero doesn't stop trying.'

While I love this scene, showing Kara that she can't be everywhere, she can't save everyone, the medicine is so nonsensical I had to just put it behind me. (I know, I can deal with heat vision but not Lord diagnosing things on the street. I have to just put it behind me.)

Then we get one of the best scenes in the show.

Kara sees a liquor store robbery about to go down and decides she can't stop trying to save people. She changes into her Supergirl costume, a sort of bluff but also a way to inspire, and confronts the robber. I love Melissa Benoist here. We see her trembling a bit. And she gives a great speech, about how everyone is scared but they are all in this together. She says that people are better than this but we can choose to be more, we can be better. And amazingly, the robber listens and gives her the gun.

It is a brilliant scene by Benoist. I got goose bumps.

But this scene runs concurrently with Cat Grant giving a similar speech to the masses. She asks people to be more like Supergirl, to see the best in each other and rise above. Last episode we saw a nice back and forth directing choice where we cut from Alex fighting Morrow and Supergirl fighting Red Tornado. Here the moving back and forth from Kara to Cat, hearing their speeches, hearing them riff off each other was a smart artistic choice.

Alex's distrust of Hank grows to the point where she leaves her post to hunt down J'emm and Hank. Things look bad when she discovers that the neural disruptors on the fallen agents are operational, not broken as Hank had reported.

Reaching her breaking point, Alex confronts Hank about his lies, about her father, and about her lack of faith in him. She handcuffs him to the wall and baits J'emm into facing her in the control room.

In my second favorite scene, we see Alex fight J'emm. She has stashed weapons around the control room and unloads an assault rifle, a shot gun, grenades, and two-handed 9mm into him with little effect. Chyler Leigh is just wonderfully violent here. I would not want to cross her.

J'emm is barely effected. But then Hank shows up and somehow defeats J'emm in hand to hand combat. How did he escape the cuffs? How did he beat this villain?

 I am skipping a fair amount of stuff that happens at Catco. Jimmy divulges that his father died in the Gulf War. Winn figures out that a sudden dose of 'Kryptonian adrenaline' will jump start Kara's power. Winn also catches Kara hugging James and calls her out on it. He is disappointed that she would do that with someone in a relationship. And then, the three have to save people in a burning area of the Catco building. When James almost dies, Kara's adrenaline kicks in and Supergirl is back.

We then get a wonderful montage shot of Supergirl flying around the city. She saves a school bus. She blows out a smile. All with this broad smile. She is so happy to be back, making a difference, helping people.

Later Kara, as Supergirl, talks to Cat. She thanks Grant for being the hero for the city in Supergirl's absence. And Supergirl thanks Cat for being so inspiring. I love the relationship we are seeing between these two.

But let's not bury the lede.

Alex confronts Hank again. And this time Hank tells the truth.

He isn't Hank Henshaw. The real Hank, with Jeremiah Danvers, tracked an alien to Peru. This wasn't a Fort Rozz escapee. This was an innocent alien, a refugee (such a powerful word these days). And when Henshaw tried to kill this alien, Jeremiah took the bullet. Jeremiah and Henshaw both died. And this alien a shape-shifter, promised Jeremiah he would protect Danvers' daughters.

That alien ... now acting as Henshaw ... is J'onn Jonzz, the Martian Manhunter!

Ahem ... CALLED IT!

But the creative team keep the pedal down. While this would have been a fine moment to end the show on, they tack on the Cat/Kara scene. And then end it on a cliffhanger. Astra is back!


That was a lot to stuff into a review, let alone an episode. But I loved this episode. This is the sort of world building and character building stuff that makes a show excellent. These aren't 2 -dimensional cookie cutter people. They have hopes, dreams, back stories.

I keep thinking this show can't get better. But they keep proving me wrong.



Martin Gray said...

Nice review, sir. What a tremendous episode, with the only downer being interactive HoloMom. Get back to Smallville! If Kara had to have a source of Kryptonian advice, give her a Kelex, or a well-travelled L-Ron.

Nice one on J'onn. I was such a doubter. Hey, maybe it's a double bluff, with Despero playing J'onn playing Henshaw.

Yeah, right.

We do agree, though, on J'emm, that guy - visual apart - was totally Despero. I wonder if his rights are tied up with the JLA movie, him having debuted in JLA #1.

I feel your pain on Max and his doctoring. Every time we ever have a Daily Planet, Bugle or Catco moment.

Cat remains a huge favourite of mine, she just gets better. And I'm so torn on Max, he exudes a goodness even though I know he's done very bad things. I hop for a JLI-style redemption.


collectededitions said...

You might enjoy -- if you're not already familiar -- Superman: Krisis of the Krimson Kryptonite. It's some 15 years old but still holds up as a good read, and has a similar scene of a powerless Superman stopping a crime as that Supergirl episode did.

Martin Gray said...

Unfortunate initials, fun story.

Didn't Superman also do the 'unpowerered Superman' thing about six months ago in Superman?

Anonymous said...

My favorite scene was the Martian Manhunter reveal. The emotional conversation between he and Alex to his revealing his true form.

I also really liked Cat's message to the viewers asking people to heed their better selves. Considering some of the xenophobia some are spouting in US politics? It had a very "ripped from the headlines" feel to it. I felt she was almost breaking that fourth wall.

Anj said...

Thanks for comments! Such a great episode.

And you are right Maya. Between Cat's speech and Hank talking about calling himself a refugee, assumed to be evil and hunted, until someone good saved him, it was like a commentary on current times.

Anonymous said...

Heh! Martin: yes unfortunate initials indeed. Lois&Clark were engaged at the end of that story line in Superman 50 if I remember correctly? If I kept my books in any order I'd dig those books out but since I don't it's a mammoth undertaking.

This does remind me of the odd conversation between Winn and Kara when he caught her hugging James. I get he's jealous but he was mean. When he told her that people like her shouldn't get involved I wanted her to say "what about Lois and Clark?" just because.

I'm not a fan of this emotional triangle. Enter Brainy please!

Anonymous said...

What an episode this was. This was one I was anticipating didn't disappoint AND THEN SOME!

Melissa as Kara even without her powers wears that super suit as if she was meant to be in it. Her hand trembling and shaking was powerful without words said. The back and forth with Cat and SG was brilliant writing. And when Supergirl convinced the robber to lay down his weapon; it was there my heart soared into my chest and I declared my total LOVE for Supergirl. Sure she has the superhuman powers, but she has another power...her heart. This was the SG I read about in the comics in the 80's and read about in back issues in my collection. Melissa Benoist, whether hanging out with Girl Scouts and her dog Milli or on camera, YOU...ARE...SUPERGIRL!

By the way, the bus scene was straight out of Superman I. Christopher Reeve would approve.

Chyler was more badass than I would've thought. She carried things in the DEO scenes and played the hero just as much as the rest of the cast, even Jeremy whose Winn gets the A/V setup done in time so Cat could broadcast.

But...THAT SCENE...was one I NEVER SAW COMING. I thought Hank was for sure going to be Cyborg Superman. But instead the writers throw a 102 MPH fastball at me...AND I TAKE IT FOR STRIKE THREE! It's rare I say this, but BOY A I GLAD TO BE WRONG.

I would be wrong to say this episode was a 10...TEN PLUS IS MORE LIKE IT! My top three eps...

1) Human for A Day
2) Livewire
3) Pilot

Now for the Winter Finale and the rematch with Astra. Is it time for Manhunter to help Supergirl, who is showing a lot more pluckyness based on the trailer I have seen

Anonymous said...

Agree with you episode so far. Love the reveal that Henshaw is the Martian Manhunter. Good call. Will be curious to see if Maxwell Lord is mentally controlling Astra. If so, then he knows Supergirl's secret identity - not that it is very secret on the show. I am curious, didn't Supergirl use the solar flare power in the comics (during Johnson run) before Superman recently did?

Count Drunkula said...

Even though I didn't want Hank Henshaw to be the Martian Manhunter, I do love J'Onn and I'm beyond thrilled to see him on the show. I'm also glad they didn't drag it out any longer. Having said that, I still don't care about Alex or anything at the D.E.O. The human drama at CatCo is so much more compelling, and the actors playing Cat, Winn, and Jimmy are all a lot more interesting and watchable.

Good episode, and great review, Anj!

Anonymous said...

I thought the producers rushed to the old "heroine loses her powers" storyline...but the writing here was multilayered and the acting very solid from Melissa Benoist on down.
Bit by bit week by week Supergirl is creating an ensemble a'la "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" it is absolutely the right way to go and like Buffy Supergirl the tv series will reap the benefit down the line.
BTW did anyone else catch that Kara ditched her sling before entering the liquor store as Supergirl and save for some trembles clearly the broken arm was no longer causing her pain. I think her powers were coming back even at that point it's just her anxieties that were slowing the process down.
Well Henshaw is the Martian Manhunter "Out and Proud" but does that necessarily mean the real Hank Henshaw is dead? Because given the plotline to date either he or Jeremiah could turn up as the Cyborg Superman (perhaps Max Lord's creation...the mind boggles)...

Starting to wonder about Win, til now I've had him tagged for an early death but this ep trafficked some hardcore jealousy one wonders if at some point that won't drag him over to The Dark Side?


Anj said...

Thanks for continued comments.

I like Winn a ton, maybe because I identify with him a little, so I hope he doesn't go evil. And I agree Maya and John, his anger at the hug was wrong.

I like the idea that Max has powers. Could he be the big bad behind Astra?

And I agree Ryan, the CatCo stuff is a bit more engaging than the DEO stuff overall. But I find myself liking Alex more each episode. And I love the way the sisters interact.

Diabolu Frank said...

Not that great an episode. The DEO headquarters looked cheap and the promising sci-fi/horror subplot was undercooked. Not big on "hero temporarily loses powers" stories in general, and didn't find this example especially well played. Extra cheesy and sappy here. But the reveal was exceptionally good, offering both actors a so far unseen opportunity to emote in often stifling roles, and I'm looking forward to seeing how things develop from here.

"Fight or Flight" is still the best episode so far, and the pilot is still arguably the worst.

Anonymous said...

There is only one person I pared up kara is Brainiac 5. I hated that she is being paired up with Jimmy.

Anonymous said...

yeah I'm on Win's side at the end of the day, but this is Greg Berlanti's universe and Kara's pal exudes either a tragic short lived air or else seems destined to Go Rogue.


Starsaber said...

Yeah, based on the friend characters with suspicious last names pattern in Arrow and Flash, I could see Winn not making it out of the season. And outside the way he was acting this episode, that would be a disappointment.

Anonymous said...

Okay... I admit it, you called it Anj, and I was SO sure that Henshaw wasn't going to be J'onn J'onzz
because the producers indicated he wouldn't be... go figure. Wonder how Henshaw / J'onn will figure
in the future of the series now with the big reveal done.

Not sure about the whole "depowered" thing as it seems like it's played too often -- last time this
was done was New 52 Supergirl #40, before it went on "hiatus," or whatever DC is calling it these days.
Admittedly, the cast and crew did a very good job with what they had. Melissa B did a VERY good job
portraying the vulnerable and the "I can't do anything" so well. I _LOVE_ the emotional range Melissa
B portrays, from the adorkable, to the "I love my life" smile (can't get enough of this!), to the
"are you serious" irk, to the sad, and last week's "I'm MAD!"

Alex action scenes... what else can be said. She can kick some serious action butt!

Maxwell Lord continues to irritate me to no end... I've mentioned elsewhere, his actor reminds me too
much of Tom Cruise in his mannerisms, and his motivations, especially in Ep 4, while not Lex Luthor
diabolicle, well...


mephosto said...

is i just me or could this be a setup for a bigger villain? henshaw alien hater coming back as part of a mechanically reanimated jeremaih danvers who either replicates or gain kryptonian powers? a subtle beginning to an eventual and emotional showdown with dean cain playing CYBORG SUPERMAN!?!