Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Supergirl Episode 11: Strange Visitor From Another Planet

Episode 11 of the Supergirl show, came out this week and I have to say, this show continues to impress me. Last week, we had the character-driven 'Childish Things', an episode which gave back story and dimension to Winn. This week's 'Strange Visitor From Another Planet' similarly gives Hank Henshaw/J'onn J'onzz some much needed history. I feel like these last two episodes have really made me feel like this show has finally found it's legs. Things have been improving, characaterization has been better, stories have been more complex. Much like the evolution of the first season of the Flash, the initial episodes are very good. Now this show feels special.

The title of this episode is a classic reference to Superman, taken from the title sequence of the old Superman television show. Here, it references J'onn. But it also clues the viewer in that there are similarities between J'onn and Kara. They are both strange visitors, they both have had to deal with tragedy, they both have been in hiding. And in this episode we see how they react to that history. Once again, Supergirl is the inspirational figure here, helping people to rise up.

Their stories clearly deal with family and the loss of family. That theme is nicely explored in a more standard fashion with the other plot line in this episode, Cat being reunited with her estranged son Adam. Unfortunately, I was so interested in the J'onn plot that I wanted these scenes to simply end so we could head back to the main plot. That isn't a knock on these scenes as much as praise for the Martian plot.

The episode starts with a simple super-heroic rescue by Supergirl. She is flying in a red-tinged, smoke-filled sky. We see that she is hovering over a forest fire and has to rescue a family whose camper is surrounded by flames.

For me, knowing this was the 'Martian' episode, I thought this scene with Kara flying over what appears to be a red planet, having to save a family from fire, seemed to be a sort of prologue or a sort of riff on Mars and the battles there. I wonder if this was intentional.

But the biggest thing for me in this scene is that we see that Supergirl now wears blue bike shorts under her skirt. Way back in 2008, the inclusion of bike shorts set of an internet wildfire of its own. The battles were covered at length right here on this blog. As for me, I loved them. They make perfect sense.

Raise a glass Jamal Igle!

On her way to work, Kara picks up Cat's latte and meets a handsome young man who has rough opinions of Ms. Grant.

When Kara hits the office, she sees the man in Cat's office. It is Cat's son Adam who has arrived to National City because Kara ghost-wrote a letter as Cat to him, saying that she regretted giving him up and asking for a reconciliation. It takes Cat seconds to realize that it was 'Kira' who wrote this.

Initially, Cat is enraged and threatens to fire Kara. But Kara explains that she had seen Cat write versions of that letter and throw them out. It is clear Cat wanted a second chance, something Kara can't do with Alura. And so she decided to help her boss face the past. It's what family does for each other. There is that family theme.

Realizing that Adam did come and this is a chance, she allows Kara to keep her job.

National City is preparing for the arrival of Senator Miranda Crane, a very Trump-like figure. In fact, the writers hit you over the head with their similarities. Cat describes how Crane is a bigot and needs to be taken down by her own words.

Crane gives a speech in front of a frenzied crowd. She talks about aliens threatening our freedoms, acting dangerously, being parasites on the country, and eating children. She talks about building a dome. It all sounds like Trump talking about illegal immigrants and needing a wall.

The rally is interrupted, ironically, by an alien. A white Martian. The effects here are pretty good. The Martian in terrifying. James Olsen is there covering the rally, trying to worm his way back into the field. He hits the modified signal watch telling Kara she needs to come.

More importantly, Hank and Alex are there as DEO protection. When the White Martian shows up, Hank freezes. It is clear he is rattled by this thing.

The Martian grabs the Senator and flees but Supergirl seems to scare it off. The Senator is found alive and brought to the DEO headquarters for protection.

It is there that Hank reveals this was a White Martian, the group which slaughtered the Green Martians, burning them. J'onn is the last Green and clearly this White wants to finish the genocide. It was when J'onn used his telepathic powers in last episode that the White Martian detected his existence.

I loved the end of this scene. Hank pulls Kara aside and tells her that if he reveals himself as an alien, his life as Henshaw will be over. He needs Kara to take down this threat.

Steely, Kara replies that she's got this one. J'onn is not alone.

While this again touches that family theme, it also touches on a subtheme of survivor's guilt and the loneliness of being the last of a race.

It turns out that the Senator Crane brought into the DEO is actually the White Martian in a shape-shifted form. She is forced to reveal herself, battering her way through the DEO troops, until finally driven away by an arriving Supergirl. Once again, Hank panicked and froze.

While Alex and Kara try to support J'onn, including a wonderful, tear-soaked scene between Alex and Hank. Again, the two talk about how he isn't alone in this. They can help.

Hank then reveals his life on Mars. The Whites overwhelmed the Greens with technology. They rounded the Greens up into concentration camps. The men were forced into slave labor. The women and children were killed in furnaces. J'onn saw his daughters taken away.

He escapes. He lives. And he is ashamed that he is alive.

These are heavy concepts and emotional scenes.

(As an aside, I do hope we get more J'onn origin bits, like how he eventually came to Earth.)

Which makes the following scene of Cat and Adam trying to make headway in repairing their relationship seem a little small.

After a failed initial lunch, Kara steps in as a mediator. Cat sort of curses the 'sunny Danvers sentimentality'. But Kara is able to bring the two back together. Finally Cat says she is sorry that she gave up Adam. She misses him every day. She is glad he is here.

And he finally talks about how he was angry and Cat. But also missed her.

These are fine scenes, if maybe a little overly emotional. But when you go from survivor's guilt and genocide, a 'normal' troubled relationship just pales in comparison.

Using his powers, J'onn is able to vaguely pinpoint where the White Martian is. He vows that he will kill this alien, a blood thirsty comment which worries Alex.

Splitting off, J'onn stumbles into a slimy Martian nest and finds the real Senator Crane, still alive.

Alex finds another Senator Crane, which once again turns out to be the disguised white martian. The reveal is terrifying! Good luck sleeping tonight!

Alex is kidnapped to use as bait to lure J'onn out. Surprisingly, the White doesn't know that Hank is J'onn. Do Whites lack telepathy?

The White has a simply idea. She will release Alex if J'onn will meet her and die.

Incredibly, J'onn agrees. He talks of how weary he is of being the last Green. He is ashamed that he lived while his family died, how he failed them. He will save Alex by allowing himself to be murdered.

Supergirl stops him briefly and talks about how their lives are similar and they need to rise up. Their lives have happened. But "we don't choose, we fight!"

"Dying is a lot easier than getting up when the world is ending. You have to get up!"

Supergirl even talks about how she now knows that Alura didn't join her in that rocket because Alura felt guilty that Krypton was dying. Alura's shame led to a meaningless death. And any meaningless death is wrong. These are pretty tough words about Alura for Kara to say. She has hero worshiped her mother. So this shows some maturity.

And Melissa Benoist really shines here. She seems to teeter on tears throughout this speech, bringing some emotional heft to it.

Still, J'onn flies off to the desert. Just as it seems that he has given himself up, Kara arrives. The two brawl with the White, eventually overpowering her. She is defeated and can be brought into the DEO.

Except J'onn is still dealing with all the emotions of his past. He slaps Kara into Kryptonite cuffs so she is weak and walks to the White to slash its throat.

Again, Supergirl gives a great impassioned speech. She talks about how she has lost everything and everyone. That loss can make a 'hole in your heart', but you can't fall into that hole. You need to fill it. Benoist shines when she gets these speeches.

But more importantly, it shows that the writers get Supergirl. She is the optimistic force of good. She is an inspiration. She sees the best and rises above.

But she also has that fierce side to her when she sees injustice. Hank doesn't kill the White. Instead it is now a prisoner in the DEO.

This White talks about she is one of millions who will come to Earth to finish the job. Defiantly, angrily, Kara says 'then let them come.'

I got chills, especially as she stormed out of the room, half smiling.

There is nothing left but the wrap-up.
Kara and Winn are giving each other space.
Adam will stay in National City to be with Cat. He also asks Kara out on a date.
Senator Crane turns down the ardor of her anti-alien agenda. She says Supergirl has changed her, shown her that fear cannot dictate the future.

And, in what seems to be a standing scene, we see Alex and Kara catch up on Kara's couch. They talk about Adam, Kara's desire to save everyone, and how Kara needs to have fun on this date.

But that breezy conversation is interrupted by a news program showing Supergirl tossing cars around. Hello, BizarroGirl.

There are other small things throughout the episode which made me smile. A version of Hall and Oates 'Maneater' plays during the first Adam/Cat lunch. Hank talks about Crane's fear of aliens being a 'comic book delusion'. J'onn says he is 317 years old and knows languages human mouths can't speak. And there is even a seen where J'onn and the White speak Martian!! These flourishes are appreciated.

So this was another strong episode. The emotional scenes between Hank and the Danvers sisters were powerful. The action sequences were done well (even if dimly lit sometimes). But most importantly, Supergirlwas such a strong inspirational figure here.


Martin Gray said...

This really does get better by the episode, though I would so have sacked Kara for writing that letter, it was a huge invasion of privacy. She should have talked to Cat, persuaded her.

How the heck does Alex survive these attacks, week after week, with just a bodywarmer to protect her? It's as if Kara believes the only emotions that are valid are her own.

I wonder why they call them White Martians in this continutiy when they're so murky.

J'onn is rapidly becoming a negative, with his angsty moaning; yeah, survivors' guilt, but to avoid fighting the martian because he's scared of blowing his secret ID? Just don't turn green where you can be seen!

I really missed #poorwinn having a big role.

Anonymous said...

Great episode and great review, Anj. Definately like the spine Kara showed towards Cat after the "You're Fired!" line;
basically it's something Cat's been thinking about, and Kara is trying to do that as a friend and a suppporter of Cat.
And the turnabout fairplay Cat does at the end, "She's free [tonight]!" Did Cat just pimp out her assistant to her son,
in a wierd sort of way? :)

Regarding Miranda Crane, I definately saw her agenda taking it's cues from the worst aspects of human history about war,
genocide and "X country / planet for Y people, foreigners out!" mentality. Which only reinforces J'onn Jonzz scenes
and emotions about him feeling like a total outsider on Earth, and contrasts with Kara who's not only integrated in but
is loved / accepted by National City, while he has to skulk about in the shadows in his Henshaw persona and keep who he
really is hidden.

Also, surprised you didn't mention about Jimmy's sonic watch... which went to Kara this time! Some DEFINATE growth there
for Supergirl being trusted as a protector and able to handle things by herself when they get hot :)

Can't wait for the next episode... and VERY hopeful DC Superhero girls ep 11 is where they FINALLY introduce Supergirl
finally. When that's done, my life will be complete!!


Martin Gray said...

Psst, Anon: 'The rally is interrupted, ironically, by an alien. A white Martian. The effects here are pretty good. The Martian in terrifying. James Olsen is there covering the rally, trying to worm his way back into the field. He hits the modified signal watch telling Kara she needs to come.'

Anonymous said...

The breakneck pace of this season continues to amaze and disquiet me. In the hands of a Joss Whedon or a J. Michael Staczynski (sp) a problematic scene like Kara brokering an Adam-Cat truce would take at least two episodes to properly germinate Berlanti though simply plunges right in and leaves it to his actors to paper over the underwritten aspects of the sequence...Fortunately Benoist/Flockhart seem to "get one another". I don't know if its the slightly abbreviated season or just a mania for speed but this was subplot that could have been left to simmer a week or two especially given the heavy genocide motif of the ep itself.
Cat btw knows what she is doing when she sort of pushed Kara and Adam together, if they "click" then at least she is in back in her son's emotional orbit after a long absence...she must think it's best she can do after a rocky start.
My own theory is that Toyman is gonna bust out again and kill Adam in a misguided attempt to remove Winn's romantic rival...heavy stuff if I am right. Does Cat turn on Supergirl for not saving her son? Does Winn go rogue? To say nothing of the effect on poor Kara....lotta good emotional beats there lets hope Berlanti can exploit them properly.


Anonymous said...

Previous Anon here.


I missed that line in the review. Thanks @Martin Gray

Interesting theory about Cat's motivations about pushing her son and Kara together. And definately
put a grin on my face seeing that scene, but one has to wonder from a basic persona perspective if
Cat would even tolerate it, much less think of about a hundred reasons right there why Kara isn't
good enough to be Adam's girlfriend.


Anj said...

Thanks for all the comments!

Mart - I don't think that Kara thinks she is always right emotionally. But I think she knows what the high road is. J'onn killing this White martian would have been wrong. And saying you need to rise above makes sense from a hero/inspired way. What she seems to miss is an opening statement that validates how others are feeling. "I can understand your anger Hank but ..." would go a long way.

Anon - I do like the relationship between Cat and Kara growing. There is something more mother/daughter or mentor/mentee where they care about each other. That finger snap was bold. If this was just some employee, I think Cat would truly fire them. But Kara/Kira means something else.

JF - I keep thinking that the producers were never sure if this would be a hit (remember they haven't heard about a second season yet) and knew all the things they wanted to say and so are sprinting this season. There are plenty of times this season where I have said 'I didn't expect to see *that* this early. The powerless episode. The Cat discovering her identity. The J'onn reveal. And yes, this speedy Adam/Cat reconciliation all are fast. But maybe they are racing to the finish line.

The idea of the senior Toyman killing Adam is brilliant, resonating with the comic and sparing Winn from a heel turn.

Thanks again!

Love talking about this show!