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.
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.
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.
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.
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.