Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Supergirl Episode 204: Survivors

Supergirl episode 204 was aptly named 'Survivors' as it explored a number of themes around surviving a disaster. There are so many characters on this show that are sole survivors or 'almost sole' survivors and with that comes any number of issues. Whether it is guilt, or self-loathing, or looking back through rose-colored glasses, there is a lot of psychological trauma to deal with.

These themes are interwoven through a plot of an underground alien fight club. And yes, the action sequences are great. But for me the meat of this episode is looking at the lengths people will go through to deal with surviving.

For Supergirl, she has already had to deal with the trauma of being sent away from her planet. She has come to realize her parents weren't perfect. And now she is trying to live up to expectation of her being a leader for aliens, helping them cope with being on Earth. Now she has to come to terms with her own prejudices about Mon-El.

For Mon-El, he is at the beginning of understanding what it means to be completely alone, without a home planet to return to. He is young and brash. And I think he is in a bit of denial, looking at Earth as a playground until he sees that he needs some mentoring.

J'onn is still suffering from all the issues he has had to deal with from the purging of his race to witnessing his family's death. Now he is trying to latch onto Miss Martian as a way to keep his race and their traditions survive.

But Miss Martian has a secret. And that weighs on her to the point that she doesn't think she is worthy of surviving. She is part of the fight club because she thinks she needs to be punished. She wants to forget her past as much as Kara and J'onn want to remember theirs. This is excellent grist for the mill.

And all the other nameless aliens are out there struggling to survive on Earth and willing to debase themselves to do just that. The problem is that surviving by being in an arena only cements the prejudices Earth people have, viewing them as threats.

This is a long intro, proof that these themes were powerful, making this my favorite episode of the season, strong praise given the giddy feeling of the premiere and super-cousin team-ups.

On to some details.

We open up with some spectacular shot of Daxam in its death throes because of Krypton's destruction. No expense was spared here and that made me happy.

In this scene we learn Mon-El was a palace guard, bound to protect the Prince. The prince tricks Mon-El to enter the Kryptonian pod (from emissaries on the planet) and sends Mon-El off. The prince says he needs to suffer the fate of his people. This is a selfless act, something which stands in contrast to Kara's thoughts that the Daxamites are selfish hedonists and savages.

Meanwhile, on Earth, a dead alien is found. His body is bruised and scarred showing he has been involved in long standing fights. It is even more confounding because the alien's race is known to be peaceful.

I liked this scene because the chemistry between Maggie Sawyer and Alex is palpable. The discuss the case around Kara who is standing between them. Kara is moving her head back and forth like she is watching a tennis match as she listens to them talk without including her. It is cute.

Throughout the episode we see Alex and Maggie work well together. From fighting Quill, who they think killed the alien from the earlier scene, to dressing to the nines and infiltrating the fight club, to busting the club at the end, they work well together.

I do worry that if the Alex/Maggie storyline ratchets up that the Alex/Kara scenes will diminish. There were no sister scenes here. And I still think that the Alex/Kara relationship is a foundation piece.

J'onn visits M'Gann who refuses to 'bond' with him, a Martian ritual where minds are shared. He doesn't understand why she would refuse but it seems like a very personal thing to ask when you first meet someone. Kara pries that info out of him by threatening to pout, a nice little side line.

And we get an Alura scene! Kara talks to the AI as if it is her mother to just still feel connected. But when Mon-El enters, the AI begins spouting out the Daxam prejudice calling them 'bullies', 'hedonists' and 'selfish'.

Alex and Maggie infiltrate the fight club based on a tip Maggie has received. (I do hope that Maggie's tips don't become an easy fix to move the plot forward.) Inside they see the super-rich of Metropolis cheering on a fight between Quill and Miss Martian. When Supergirl arrives to break things up, the club's champion Draaga defeats her in combat. It is only when Alex and Maggie flash their badges that makes everyone scatter.

 There is a fun scene where Mon-El flatters Winn, convincing Winn to take them out. Winn is told that he can design Mon-El's costume and give Mon his superhero name. That is too much for Winn who buckles. At a bar, the two pound drinks until Mon-el accidentally injures a couple of other revelers. Mon-El doesn't understand how easy it would be for him to hurt someone. This both shows that the partying label might be appropriate for Daxamites but also that he cares.

J'onn, on hearing M'Gann fought in the club enters her apartment and confronts her. He thinks her role in the club is why she wouldn't mind meld. But M'Gann's lines throughout this episode show she is hiding something. Earlier she said she was rescued by a white Martian who broke rank to save her. She says she is whatever she needs to be to get by. Here she says she has never killed anyone in the ring (implying she may have killed outside the ring). And she says she simply wants to forget her past.

 But M'Gann gives up the name Roulette and Kara confronts her. (I liked this scene for its wire work as Kara really seems to be floating high above.)

Instead of just bringing Roulette in for questioning, Supergirl gets into a philosophical debate. And Roulette really is horrible. She says the aliens have no rights. She says Earth is so inhospitable that her club is a place where aliens can feel special and find glory. Earth has nothing to offer but imprisonment. And then she says that the aliens are less than dogs. People won't care about this club and what happens in it.

But then Roulette doubles down. She calls Supergirl naive and says Supergirl will never be able to change the hearts of both humans and aliens. It is a challenge.

But I still don't get why Kara let's her go. Nor do I understand why she burns up a highway to stop the limo instead of just grabbing it (other than it looks cool).

But Kara is hurt by Roulette's speech. Is it true that aliens feel so awful that they think this club is their only recourse (although we know some of the combatants are kidnapped and forced to fight).

It makes Supergirl confront her own thoughts. She apologizes to Mon-El. She admits she wants to remember her parents as perfect - proud, strong Kryptonians and great parents. We have seen last season Kara suffer with the realization that Alura wasn't 100% pure. (That was amped up in Sterling Gates' Adventures of Supergirl.)

Mon-El admits his parents were hardly perfect. But then he name drops Warworld! He knows Draaga has a bum knee which can be exploited.

I also like Kara talking about how she needed to learn to use her powers so she didn't hurt people, like when she broke the toes of her prom date Scott Klein. Oh writers! Why not call him Dick Malverne!!!!

Somehow, J'onn is tasered and knocked out and forced to fight Miss Martian in the fight club ... a fight to the death. M'Gann has already said she isn't worthy of kindness. Here she pulls no punches. It is a good fight sequence where all the powers are on display - strength, flight, phasing, and shape changing.

J'onn talks M'Gann down, telling her that she doesn't need to punish herself for surviving. She thinks she deserves the beatings she gets in this ring but she doesn't. He actually forgives her. It is a powerful speech voicing feelings he probably dealt with at one point himself.

Supergirl shows up (she was given the site of the club by Lena Luthor) and defeats Draaga pretty easily.

I'm still not sure what to think of Lena. I am pretty sure the writers want us to be on edge. But when she says lines like 'I know you will be there when the time comes' to Kara, it is heavy.

Roulette tries to escape and is initially defended by the very aliens she sends out to fight. But now it is Kara's turn to give a powerful speech. She tells these aliens that it is hard on Earth dealing with prejudice and people like Cadmus. But fighting amongst themselves isn't helping that image. And showing Earth people that aliens are blood-thirsty brawlers isn't helping either. They need to show everyone that the popular opinion is wrong. Much like the 'hope' speech from last season, it is great to see Supergirl show her optimism, her belief in the goodness of people, and be a symbol of hope.

Like last week, this ties into some current political issues in our country as well.

Initially Roulette is arrested for 'not having a liquor license', a sort of Capone like ending, but is ultimately released. She does have friends in high places.

Nothing left but to wrap up all the subplots.

Alex basically asks Maggie out on a date but is surprised to find out that Maggie already has a girlfriend.

Supergirl has Mon-El released into her custody. She was sent to Earth to protect and teach Kal. Maybe she can do that with Mon-El instead. (There is a romance budding here, I can feel it!)

And we see ... no surprise ... that M'Gann is a white martian. We have seen this play out in comics and on Young Justice. Why not here??

Whew, that was a packed episode that didn't feel overstuffed. I love the themes playing through everyone. And the J'onn/M'Gann one is the most compelling for me.

Solid stuff! Thanks for reading this super-long review!


Anonymous said...

Am I the only one who thinks Lena in this show was supposed to be Nasthaltia, but they couldn't use her name?

Anonymous said...

Wow. This episode was certainly meaty.

I agree Kara should have name-dropped Dick Malverne (by the way, it's funny Post-Crisis Kara had a crush on another guy named Dick). Honestly I think Dick should be Supergirl's Lois (one of her main love interests) or Lana (old friend and childhood crush).

Why? Because I firmly believe a super-hero needs a large cast of recurring secondary characters and villains. Superman, Batman and Spider-Man have large casts of characters and villains, a lot of them conceived by the original creators. Lois, Jimmy, Perry, Luthor, James Gordon, Alfred, Joker, Aunt May, JJJameson, MJ Watson, Green Goblin... have been around for as or nearly as long as Clark, Peter and Bruce. And they are the three most famous super-heroes. Coincidence? I think not.

Unfortunately, during the Silver Age Kara/Linda lost her supporting cast every time a new creative took over writing duties. And most of her best rogues were one-time wonders. Post-Crisis Kara had NO supporting cast until Gates came along. Post-Flashpoint Kara was even more isolated.

As a result of this monumental mishandling, a lot of comic-book fans believe she has no supporting characters. The last week I read an article that stated she had no supporting characters and no villains (that article also classified Pre-Crisis Lena Luthor as villain, which should speak volumes about the credibility of the article). That article also told the TV show used Superman villains because she has got not a Rogues' Gallery (So Reactron and Master Jailer are Superman's rogues now?).

So, Fred and Edna Danvers, Dick Malverne... they should not have been forgotten by modern writers. And more creatives should do what Gates did when he redefined Reactron: look back and reinvent old villains such like Blackflame, Nightflame, Blackstarr...

Okay, I'll stop rambling now.

Anonymous said...

Stupid continuity question is J'onn aware that White Martians can shape shift? Because his credulous desires to "bond" should perhaps be coming more from a 'trust but verify" place in his soul since he knows the Whites are gunnin' for him.
The alien bar is very very "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" but that is sincere flattery on the showrunner's part. I'm glad they took the breaks off "Maggie-Alex" since it deprives Alex - Kara of airtime. And anyway it also allows Kara a chance to emotionally succor her big sister (normally Alex does the honors ) assuming Alex ever declosets herself and that is a much anticipated scene ... I think she should drop it at yet another catastrophic Danvers Family Thanksgiving Dinner :)
I kinda felt Supergirl got jobbed out to Draaga a bit....he made too short of her initially....just saying granted she won in the end etc etc.
DID Mon make a Pass at Supergirl??
I kinda got that vibe from an agreeably plot dense ep.....


Anonymous said...

Hey Anj, great review as always, and alot to love this episode, no doubt about that.

Where I was let down was the fight scenes; maybe I was hoping more for Mortal Kombat:Supergirl, or at least
Supergirl getting to lay down some SERIOUS muscle, especially when Alex informs Maggie that she's "called
in backup." The benchmark I personally set is the S1 episode where Supergirl is affected by red kryptonite
and goes out to "kick...alien...a**!" and does. I also found the initial faceoff scene between Supergirl
and Roulette, especially given the setup and buildup, ended in a really anti-climactic way... understandable
about the episode's need for dramatics, but seriously? I somewhat cynically had to think back to the Calvin
and Hobbes comics strips and Calvin's admission that his Stupendous Man persona had only won "moral" victories.

That being said, I did appreciate how Supergirl was able to inspire the other Fight Club Aliens to not defend
Roulette. As Gates said, "Hope, Help, and Compassion For All!" all the way! The War World reference also
tickled me pink.

To add more to the "LOVE THIS" pile this episode :

- Roulette, bar none! Hope she's brought back more in future eps. Maybe in another illegal alien venture,
like gun running or illegal offworld immigration. Be a great tie in to the Dominator storyline.

- Kara mentioning to Carr Supergirl is her source -- I'd've thought the writers would have used that opportunity
for Carr to reveal a J Jonas Jameson side to him about Supergirl, but glad they didn't.

- the 1liners "Leap tall buildings in a single bound," "She has powerful friends / So do I," and "Where are you
going? / For round 2!" Just great stuff all around!


Martin Gray said...

Great review, and another busy, fun episode. I'm really enjoying Mon-El, the actor is good. And Dickin from Doll's House looked amazing and made a fine Roulette (it's a shame she didn't use her actual Aussie accent mind, for extra interest). I really didn't get, though, why, if Miss Martian fights to be punished, she fights so hard? White Martian instinct? And why did J'onn not get away from the fight club, it's not like they had any special way to force him to fight - he wasn't being prodded with a fiery stick. If he was waiting for a chance to appeal to Miss Martian, that should have been made clear... and at the end, with his super-forgiveness, he just seemed a sentimental sap.

Good to hear Cadmus mentioned this episode. Bad that, once again, no action was taken to find Jeremiah Danvers.

So, did anyone miss Jimmy?

(And Master Jailer WAS a Superman villain.)

Anj said...

Thanks for all the comments and sorry I haven't responded.

J'onn probably isn't even think she could be a White Martian because none acted as subdued as MGann. I also think she didn't have a death wish as much as a need to be punished. So being in many matches (by winning) meant more figs and more beat downs.

As for J'onn sticking around, I don't even know how he got captured. A taser?
But maybe he Thoth the arena was the right place to force MGann to face her self loathing?