Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Episode 16: Falling

This won't be the typical 'recap and commentary' show review that I usually run here. Because this week's episode was so powerful, it needed a different sort of piece. So settle in for more of an opinion piece than a recap.

Episode 16 of Supergirl, titled 'Falling', aired this week and was one of the strongest episodes of the season. And, while I seem to say it every week, this was my favorite episode of all. I say that as a long-suffering Supergirl fan. I say that as an older comic reader who actually longs for the days when superheroes were heroic and good and didn't have feet of clay. I say that as someone who bemoans the fact that there are people out there whose only exposure to Superman is the city-wrecking, neck-snapping one from Man of Steel. Because this episode seems to be dealing with all of these feelings of mine and on all levels.

As a long-standing Supergirl fan, I have always understood the complexity of her character. People who read this blog will know that I speak of how she needs to be bright and optimistic. She needs to see the best in people and thirst for justice. But she also is young and learning. She can be fierce, maybe even hot-headed, when she sees a wrong that needs to be righted. She has to strive to be worthy of the S-shield of her family and cousin. And she might feel a little unworthy of it. On top of that, she has this absolutely tragic background which she submerges internally so that her brightness isn't dimmed. She is all those things mixed into one. She is someone growing, with self-doubts, but always looking to learn and do what's right.

Unfortunately, there is a segment of people who only think of the beginning parts of that paragraph. They complain that Supergirl is too perfect, too sunny, too sweet. They don't know or don't care about the other elements of her character. They say she is cartoonish and saccharine.

In the comics, those 'complaints' have led DC to publish versions of Supergirl which are unrecognizable. She has been cold, dark, aloof, angry, uncaring, arrogant. No new fans showed up. Old fans felt wronged. The books floundered. The character was rehabilitated.

Now you might say, what does any of this have to do with the show.

Well, from the beginning the same criticisms of Supergirl's character have plagued the show. Even before it aired, it was felt to be too sunny, too much like a romantic comedy, too sweet, too generic, too two-dimensional, too silly. Compared to the grim, dark, psycho-drama of Jessica Jones, this was a kid's show. People felt that the message of feminism and 'girl power' were overly simplistic and too on the nose. Lost in those criticisms were the finer points of the show. That Supergirl was a symbol of hope in a weary world. That people like narcissistic Cat Grant, self-doubting Winn, quasi-evil Max Lord, and cold, calculating Alex could be changed by that.

Whether this episode was an intentional response to that criticism or not, what we got in 'Falling' was a revelation. You want a dark, brooding, angry Supergirl. Let's shove one down your throat and see if you like it. And let's make sure that viewers know that there are undercurrents in this show that are being explored even if you don't know it. But most importantly, let's actually show what the aftermath of a 'grim and gritty' life would be - no friends, mistrusted, alienated, friends literally imprisoned.

A side theme is that we see just how difficult this life Kara leads is. Let's show you how easy it would be for any of the things in her life (tragic early childhood, overworked at 2 jobs, fighting family, etc) to overwhelm her and make her negative. And then let's remind you that she hasn't allowed it to. She has remained bright and caring, hoping to spare others her pain. Maybe she needs to unburden herself of some of these feelings though. Maybe she needs to lean on others. Maybe her relationships need more work, even though they are strong.

That is a lot of stuff to unpack for this one episode. 

The show starts with Cat making a national talk show appearance talking about how Supergirl is a true hero, inspiring, and has something to teach everyone. We see how fire fighters and little girls look up to her.

But then, effected by the Red Kryptonite, Kara undergoes a slow descent into anger and madness. And no one is untouched.

She scoffs at the DEO staff, spinning her chair and throwing barbs at Hank. She lets a Khund alien escape because he is below her regard. She uses Cat's elevator. She maneuvers to get Siobhan fired.

She even goes off on how J'onn yells at her and puts her out on the front line in danger while he hides his powers. How can he honor his race if he doesn't show it.

Things get ratcheted up when she aggressively flirts with Jimmy, tugging his arm roughly, and disparaging Lucy as a 'poor man's Lois Lane' with Daddy issues. All throughout this she is bathed in red lighting (nice effect).

And Melissa Benoist again shows here range her, sarcastically smiling, cackling, brooding, and wicked.

Cat knows that Supergirl let the Khund escape and asks her why.

And then Supergirl gives a speech that I feel was meant not only for Cat but for the critics of the show.

She talks of being branded as a Girl Scout, brave, kind, and strong. But that is stock characterization and two-dimensional. Every hero needs a dark side. It is, as if, all the opinions of Zach Snyder/Scott Lobdell/Dan Didio fans of the world were boiled down into a couple of sentences. It is all the complaints about this show that I have read on the internet.

But it isn't true. Because we know from prior episodes that Supergirl is struggling. We know she has a heavy heart about her life and her family. We know that she feels unsure of herself. We know all this because we see it. Comic fans have read it.

Cat responds elegantly that Supergirl has to be more than that. She is a symbol now. She has to represent the good in the world.

And that is about as clear a message as you can get. 

 The Red K turns out to be a synthetic made by Maxwell Lord to try and trap Non. He didn't know this would be the effect. He heads to the DEO to try to make amends. That is the power of Supergirl. This serial killer is now trying to fix things, atone for his mistakes.

But Kara has descended even lower.

There is a brutal scene with Alex where all of the feelings you think might be bubbling suddenly boil to the surface.

Kara talks about how she thinks Alex has been holding her back. Alex has cloaked Kara's beauty, made her not use her powers. And when Kara embraced Supergirl, she had to work for Alex, a way for Alex to retain control. But now Kara is free of her sister. And without Kara, Alex has no life. In fact, deep down, maybe Alex even hates Kara.

It is a gut-wrenching scene with Melissa Benoist delivering cold statements with surgical precision.

But again, we have known that some of this stuff has been there. We have heard Alex talk about how she resented Kara at first but has come to love her. We just haven't heard this from Kara's point of view.

Supergirl has unfortunately truly become evil. Cat has publicly denounced her as a villain. We even see her mimic the famous bar scene from Superman III.

The DEO, armed with a weapon that will cure Kara, head out into the city. Kara is smashing billboards and blowing up cars.

When it seems Supergirl is about to kill Alex, Hank sheds his human disguise and fights her as the Martian Manhunter. It is the best display of his powers I have seen. He phases in and out of the fight and pummels her until Alex can fire the ray that dissipates the Red K.

But Hank has been revealed and allows himself to be arrested by the DEO.

 As powerful as the scene with Alex was before, the reconciliation scene is even more powerful.

Benoist shows how remorseful Kara is. Every evil thought came out. She couldn't stop herself. She didn't mean anything. She loves her sister. But Alex knows there must have been some truth to those feelings. They need to work together to overcome all these things that have gone unsaid. The amount of emotion pouring from Benoist and Chyler Leigh is incredible. This scene is unbelievable.

I did like that Kara's first questions is if she killed anyone.

 All that is left is the wrap-up.

J'onn allowed himself to be caught because he wanted to keep the Danvers safe. It is a nice scene with Alex showing how they care for each other.

James tells Kara that things are not right between them. He needs space. He doesn't let her say her feelings. Things are clearly strained.

And she has a heart to heart with Cat. Supergirl knows she needs to regain the people's trust. And Cat knows with time she can.

Everything seems different at the end of this episode. Every relationship has changed. Everything is more out in the open. This will set the tone for the rest of the season.

But it all stems back to this criticism that before this episode Supergirl was two-dimensional and too much of a girl scout. Those words, spoken with venom by Supergirl, have to be a commentary on those who haven't been seeing the depth in Supergirl (either in the show or in the comics) that I know is there, that I see in her.

And so, if you can't see the subtlety in the characterization before this episode ...
If you can't look past the fact that Supergirl is a hero and an inspiration and a good soul in a cynical world...
If you can't see that she isn't this perfect light, that she has been struggling ...
Well then we'll hit you over the head with it in this episode. All this stuff has been bubbling under the surface, if not to this extreme. Now we'll spell it out for you.

Because sometimes, people don't know what they are missing. People don't see the complexity of Supergirl because they are blinded by her goodness. And that's a shame.

Who knows if we'll get a season two. But I can't have asked for more from this show.


CraigMacD said...

My only real problem with this episode is that J'onn shape-shifted back to Hank Henshaw in front of everyone when he could have easily flown away and probably no one would have been the wiser. His reason for "coming out", he said, was to protect Alex and Kara but it didn't seem necessary to me. Maybe I missed something? Not sure. Otherwise, great episode, with some nice nods to Superman III.

Anonymous said...

This ep was pretty much built around MB's acting chops from the git-go, I love the subtle changes in her makeup as she gets crueler and nastier ending up with a definite "Astra Look" when she opts for the full "Kryptonian wet suit" at the climax. But the writing here was pretty spot on in that all of Supergirl's nastiness was rooted in some aspect of Kara's reality, everything rotten evil thing she said was rooted in truth after a fashion. My only complaint was the headlong klunkiness of bringing in Max Lord to work the problem in the Last Act, granted yes he created Red-K but I think the ep would've been so much better if Supergirl had thrown off the red-k's effects by a supreme application of her will & innate was the case in the otherwise lamentable "Superman III".
I think the writing gets strained and little klunky when they start trying to shoe-horn sister Alex in the climax in every single ep....there I said it and it wasn't the red -k talking either...:)
Hey how much ya wanna bet that Non will get exposed to the red-k at some point and end up the inarticulate brute we all recall from "Superman II"?
Stellar episode MB reminds me in a fashion of Patrick Stewart who acting chops were often the desperate refuge of Star Trek The Next Generation's writers....and I mean that in a good way.

Anonymous said...

Hello Anj, thanks again for the insightful review as always, and bang on with this statement

> Whether this episode was an intentional response to that criticism or not, what we got in
> 'Falling' was a revelation. You want a dark, brooding, angry Supergirl. Let's shove one
> down your throat and see if you like it.

I loved the gradual, nuanced descent from the "sweet and saccharine," and more importantly
caring Supergirl to the dark and angry one... heck at the exchange between Supergirl and Cat
before getting thrown off the tower, I halfway expected Supergirl to heatvision a swearword
into the carpet or something, just because she could / wanted to.

And I can't help but draw parallels between this and Christopher Reeve / Superman 3, and how he
protrayed the battle between what the S-Shield stood for versus giving into his dark desires
after being exposed to synthetic kryptonite.

...and a part of me is sure Reeve's watching Melissa B's performance here, ESPECIALLY the bar
scene and flicking peanuts at the bottles, and smiling.

I almost wish the red kryptonite arc was drawn over two episodes... sure there's more stuff to
be mined from Supergirl going rogue and National City, even the world, being split between the
camps of "Save Our Supergirl" vs "She Can't Be Trusted"... and the fact that a couple episodes
back with Bizarro that Hank and co was able to synthesize "reverse" kryptonite by episode's end,
while here Maxwell complains he doesn't know what he's doing. Small gaff dialogue and pacing-wise,
but forgivable.

Indeed, the dynamics have changed -- there's a good hook for Sioban to become Silver Banshee,
and Kara will have to work at both regaining National City's trust -- I do like how Cat ended it
on a (near) high note that "if anyone can win this city back, it's you" -- and repairing her
damaged relationships with her sister and Jimmy. for Hank / J'onn, well that's the biggest one; I noticed how he couldn't give a straight
answer to Crane's question of whether J'onn killed the real Hank or not. Will that be answered
in the next episode?

Other than an official announcement of Season 2, plenty to look forward to, offhand, my tops are

Mar 19 : DC Superhero Girls special, come hell or high water, I WILL find a way to watch that special!

Mar 21 : (the real) Hank H & Jeremiah D backstory / flashback

Mar 28 : SupergirlxFlash crossover



Martin Gray said...

That's a really nicely written piece Anj, thank you.

And great comments from everyone. I see the previous poster's point about this perhaps meriting a two-parter but I don't know if my frayed nerves could stand it. I was truly disturbed by this: how Kara was acting, how the bridges she was burning couldn't be easily repaired once she acknowledged part of her actually meant those cruel words...

And I'm with Craig, I really didn't get J'onn 'having' to give himself up... and once he did, why was he locked up as if he didn't help save the day? J'onn is becoming more of a problem for me, there really is no reason I can see for him to continually hide his J'onn-ness. And given that, and that this is Kara's show, he needs writing out. Bring in an alive Hank Henshaw and we get to keep David Harewood, and let him play a different, more sinister journey...

How far into the two weeks of mourning are we here? Shouldn't Kara and chums have been planning for the coming of Myriad when this episode started?

Which isn't to say I didn't love this episode - it was intense. I've seen this angle so many times in comics but never felt there would be a problem with a hero regaining trust. But this ... Benoist is so very, very good, the script so nuanced, the other actors so fine and the effects so strong - I'd be scared of Supergirl. I found the change truly disturbing.

I really hope this episode signals a change in Max, that he can grow as did original Max Lord in JL. And how wonderful that once again Cat shows her mettle - she was absolutely right to warn the city, and then she's the first to offer the hand/balcony of friendship.

I can't wait to see Silver Banshee - after Kara pays a visit to a disheartened little girl fan.

KET said...

"And I'm with Craig, I really didn't get J'onn 'having' to give himself up... and once he did, why was he locked up as if he didn't help save the day?"

Because J'onn was the only one in the episode who took Red-K Supergirl's hard truths to heart, and decided to expose his true self in order to save both of his girls. It was time for him to come out and embrace his inner Martian. However, the job of the DEO is to catch and imprison aliens; 'Hank' even states this after Kara purposely fails to do so.

Next episode will see the fallout from this reveal, as a new director will have to be appointed at the DEO. CBS is already spoiling the identity of this new director with their "Worlds Finest" preview photos today.


Anonymous said...

> CBS is already spoiling the identity of this new director with their "Worlds Finest" preview photos today.

I just HAD to check this out... Woooooooow! So how will they play this one between the new director and
Supergirl, I wonder?

And the pics of Livewire+Silver Banshee teaming up... against Cat Grant! Well the stakes have SERIOUSLY gone
up, given that both women have a reason to hate and want to kill her, for very obvious reasons.

The last couple weeks of March can't pass fast enough!! :)


Gene said...

Definitely a good episode, but I did cringe a few times not unlike watching a drunk relative at a family gathering. The Superman III homages could not have been more appropriate and unlike that movie, I can easily watch this episode over again in the future.

I confess that Kara looked cool in her "Dark Supergirl" outfit.


Darrin said...

A great episode and a great review Anj!

Anj said...

Thanks for all the great comments!

Glad this episode seemed to resonate with others as much as it did with me. And glad m write up was coherent!

Look forward to seeing what the fallout is.

Martin Gray said...

Thanks Ket, but I still don't see that J'onn had to go to prison. The DEO is there to stop alien and super-powered threats, not imprison someone simply for being alien. And his distracting the authorities briefly isn't going to make things any easier for Kara, she's still got mountains to climb.

KET said...

"The DEO is there to stop alien and super-powered threats, not imprison someone simply for being alien."

Sorry, but that's not what Hank said. What Hank actually explained about the DEO within the episode itself was that IT IS BOTH. He turned himself in because in this sticky situation, it was the right thing to do to prevent further hardship for both Kara and Alex. Supergirl had told him that he was hiding from his true self, and he finally realized that it was time for him to 'fall' as well. Watch the episode again; it's all right in there.

One should also keep in mind that the DEO in this show is merely a stand-in for Guantanamo Bay, and then Hank's explanation for its secretive existence should make more sense. The DEO has been capturing and imprisoning aliens all along. The only reason Kara got a break is because of her sister....and the deal that Dr. Jeremiah Danvers made with the real Hank Henshaw for Kara's safety, which will be explored in the very next episode.


Uncle Screensaver said...

Anj, your comments on Supergirl the character makes you so much one of my favourite persons ever! You "see" her so much as I do. Sadly, her character is one that people too often look at bad writing or poor marketing or whatever instead of who she "is." Especially for Kara Zor-El, she is a character that has so much depth and soul to her, and individual traits outside her cousin, they're not explored or accepted as they should be.

This episode was really powerful but you helped shine light on it in a way I hadn't, how it was really an answer to Today's Superman, and to the portrayal of Kara the last decade.

I hadn't wanted to see a dark Supergirl yet again, and I felt it was kind of like a re-hash of the of "Superman: TAS". I was annoyed that Kara had to be frumpy and "Clark Kent-sih", and that being self-confident and sexy was also equated with being evil. Then it became that I was troubled that this was what kids would see. Having Cat thrown off the building was so unexpected and really scared me. It was just so disturbing. Showing the girl trash her Supergirl "costume" was very powerful.

There were real consequences that couldn't just be tossed away and that was something I couldn't believe what I was seeing. But it quickly became a good thing. Benoist's performance was just amazing! Any outlying concerns about her portraying Supergirl certainly left. I feel like she has really "gotten" the character, but also that the writers/ producers truly have also. The fact that Adler has commented that they want to get in as much canon as possible, and not to rule out Streaky, makes me grin. Especially, as you commented, Anj, on Kara's first concern about killing anyone. I also commend Flockhart, and that the character of Cat is so fleshed out from what we thought we might have. Cat and Supergirl on the balcony ... wow ... the whole scene, but just seeing them sitting quietly at the end, it was beautiful. There's a mother/ daughter, mentor/ student relationship that is very much reminiscent of the brother/sister, cousins one Pre-Crisis and later on. In some ways, this was like the scene at the beginning of Gates run, the cousins having coffee as Kal comforts Kara about Cat's article and Kara's seemingly endless mistakes.

I also realized Evil Kara was so true to the character, so very much Dark Supergirl and Satan Girl and Nightflame, and how it's been discussed in the past how Supergirl is so pure, and so angelic, that she'd also have such a dark side to her. This show went further though, and showed us that recombined or going back to normal wouldn't necessarily be an easy process.

There were definitely somethings that detracted from the episode, but I can overlook those. I love that J'Onn allowed himself to be imprisoned because he wanted to make sure he would still be able to be with his "adoptive" daughters. I think that's so cool, how Martian Manhunter considers them to be surrogate daughters and he promised to protect them.

One thing I wondered about, were those green bullets and whatnot fired at Kara actually Kryptonite that didn't work? Because they were ordered to kill her if need be.

I still can't stand them pronounce her name wrong, but with an episode like this, that I LOVE my sad little brain doesn't mind as much. heh

Anonymous said...

This episode actually made me tear up a little. What a powerful episode, Benoist was exceptional, and thank you for your great reviews. I've been following them as the new episodes air because I find it interesting what a long-term fan of the character thinks of the show. Lots of interesting insights into parts of the mythology or fandom I don't know about!
This episode really got to the heart of what it means to be a superhero (any hero), someone who embodies our highest aspirations, sometimes at great cost. You don't have to be perfect, but you can be good... My heart was in my throat when Supergirl just up and threw Cat Grant off the roof, that scene, and the whole episode, was spectacular. Shows you what a great writer and director and Special effects budget can do. And when Kara woke up and realized what she'd done...
Thanks for all the reviews.

Unknown said...

"Who knows if we'll get a season two."

Anj said...

Thanks for continued discussion.

No doubt, there was power to this story and the performances.

Eric, I posted about that news. Les Moonves saying he believes all 5 of the new shows will be renewed is promising but not concrete. There are 6 new shows. Even the stars say it isn't officially renewed. Fingers crossed.