Thursday, November 16, 2017

Supergirl 306: Midvale

Supergirl episode 306, 'Midvale', aired earlier this week and looked at the first time the Danvers sisters teamed up to solve a crime. It was a very interesting look back at the childhood of these characters as we see where they have come from and how everything wasn't always rosy between them. We knew from earlier flashbacks that Kara has always been something of a fish out of water and that Alex was often teased about her weird sister. Here we see just how the volatile cauldron of high school kicked that up a notch.

And while it was fun to see this look back, especially given the very Smallville-y feeling to the proceedings, for me the bigger thing was how this thematically fit into the current series. This season Kara has been all about forsaking her humanity and embracing her alien heritage. She doesn't want to get hurt, she can't be broken. She has to be alien. In this episode we see how that was flipped earlier in her life. In that time period all she wanted to be was alien and instead ends up clinging to humanity.

All this has to be put into a growing timeline. Now we know why Kara hid her powers for years. Now we know how Alex felt in the immediate aftermath of Jeremiah being drafted into the DEO. Now we know when the sisters really realized the bond they have.

None of this would be possible without excellent acting. And the two actors playing the younger Danvers did an absolutely incredible job channeling Melissa Benoist and Chyler Leigh. Izabela Vidovic physically looks like Benoist but also brings the emotional punch of her performances. And Olivia Nikkanen basically is a young Alex as portrayed by Leigh.

On to the episode!

We start out with the Danvers sisters driving J'onn's car through the pine-lined roads of Midvale. This is a far cry from the palm tree surrounded house we saw the Danvers live in back in season 1. But it has a nice idyllic feel to it.

With the break-up of Maggie and Alex, Kara figured a few days at home for Alex to get grounded and recover made sense. I like how Kara reached out to Alex in this way and I am glad Alex accepted the help, albeit (as we will see) begrudgingly.

Anyways, always happy to see a Midvale reference.

And you get the sense almost immediately that Alex is still reeling from this break-up and isn't ready to sit down and hash out her feelings. She gives mom Eliza a perfunctory hug before heading into the house without saying a word.

It is small things like this, a wordless brief scene, that adds depth to these performances. We know right now that Alex isn't ready to open up.

But Alex isn't the only daughter Eliza is worried about.

She says that the mom fine print means she needs to be available when a child is hurting. And she admits she is worried about Kara and how she is still shielding herself from the pain of losing Mon-El. She says a lot that Kara needs to hear. How Kara has a big heart and opens herself to other people but when she is hurting she closes off. How Kara punishes herself. How Kara is allowed to be a bit of a mess.

But once again Kara says that she can't be broken. Too many people are relying on her. She can't afford to have certain things ... I assume love ... in her life. She can't be human. And besides, she is getting better. She's happy.

Eliza sees right through that. She knows Kara isn't happy.

As usual, Benoist and Slater just kill it in this scene. This could have been pure dreck - a sappy, schmaltzy mess. Instead it plays off as a conversation a mother and daughter would have. More Slater please!!

Back in their old shared bedroom (which seems weird because from the exterior it looks like this house would have 20 bedrooms), Kara brings Alex some coffee. Alex wouldn't be Alex without her having the glass of scotch in her hand. Seriously, this is a subplot that maybe needs to be looked at more.

Alex sort of mocks the idea of this weekend away as if three days of binge eating will solve everything. And when Kara tells her she is being a mean drunk, Alex fires back ... I think appropriately. Why should Alex have to open up when Kara shut herself off for months. It's true. 

They both angrily pull the covers over their heads. What was supposed to be bonding experience has just widened a gap.

We then shift to ten years earlier where we see the sisters aren't exactly besties. Within seconds of awakening, they both rush for the bathroom and declare their hatred for each other. They actual say 'I hate you' to each other. Now if we go back ten years, and Alex is still in high school, that would mean tops she would be 28 and Kara would be 25. I guess I'll roll with fuzzy math.

And the rivalry and misunderstanding is played out for us at their home and school. Kara talks about doing calculus at age 4 on Krypton and not caring about Earth history. Alex thinks Kara is spoiled and that Eliza cares more for Kara's well being than hers. Meanwhile, Eliza has to stress that Kara that she needs to be with people her own age and adjust. Kara might want to be alien; she needs to be human! (Hmmm .. there is that thread.)

Meanwhile in school, Alex is upper class and clearly sitting at the cool kid table. Meanwhile Kara sits at a table with her nerdy friend Kenny Li, a boy picked on and bullied by the football team, especially the QB. Kenny is a nice kid, spouting self-deprecating humor, talks about being 'invisible in this high school, and telling Kara she is the strongest girl he knows.

We also see Kara and Alex in the same history class and the same gym class. I hope they aren't saying they are the same age. In both settings it is clear the girls are competing to humiliate and best the other.

At school, Kenny invited Kara to meet him at a clearing that night.

In the woods, he shows her his super-powerful telescope and how he has rigged it to take pictures and put them directly on his laptop.

They share a nice conversation, wonder about alien life, and clearly are flirting. He leans in for a kiss and she leans in too ... before chickening out at the last minute. 

Sneaking back into the house Kara is confronted by Alex. And then it's on. Alex unloads. She tells Kara that she had a good life before Kara came into it. She had two parents and things were going well. But now she has to be an ambassador for Earth, Eliza is always on her, and her father is gone.

Remember, in a prior episode, we saw how Kara and Alex went flying one night and that is how the real Henshaw tracked down Kara and forcibly enlisted Jeremiah into the DEO. So in some ways Kara is the reason he is gone. I can see how this rift happened.

 The next day at school, Kara overhears that a student was found dead in the clearing where she and Kenny were. Using her powers, leaping and semi-flying, Kara gets to the site and sees Kenny is dead.

Some cool things here were seeing Kara trying to fly but jumping instead, very reminiscent of her trying to fly to save Alex's plane in the premiere, jumping a couple of times before getting into the air.

I also like how this young Kara has already adopted the classic Supergirl landing pose, seen here and when she gets of the climbing rope in gym. Again, small touches that build histories.

At the school, Kara is shocked to see so many people mourning Kenny, even making a shrine at his locker, when he was basically an outcast. When the QB who bullied him said Kenny got what he deserved Kara decides to take matters into her own hands.

She angrily follows him into the boys locker room where he gets all dude-bro on her about attitude. First he asks if she wants a peep show then he asks if she is on her period. Yeesh, the epitome of high school jerk.

But this is the fierce Kara I like to see when faced with injustice. She manhandles the QB until he admits that Kenny saw him smoking pot once. This guy was worried Kenny might spill the beans and so picked on him but didn't kill him.

Kara learns that Kenny's telescope and laptop weren't at found at the site. The sheriff tells her that he knows she is a 'bloodhound' but that she shouldn't get mixed up in this investigation. Perhaps that is a hint that Kara is already a little active in fighting crime?

That night, Kara heads back to the clearing only to find Alex there. Kenny tutored Alex in calculus secretly (ahhh .. the joys of high school cliques and the need for secrets). She was his friend. And she wants justice too.

Using her xray vision, Kara finds the laptop. She realizes that maybe Kenny saw something he shouldn't that lead to his death. The laptop has encrypted photos the girls can't open. Amazingly, Kara talks about how Clark's friend Chloe (HOLY SMALLVILLE REFERENCE), a techy who has a wall of weird, could help. They send Chloe the files. 

But one photo they can open shows Alex's friend Josie making out with their history teacher.

Now it is time for us to see Alex being proactive and wanting justice. She confronts her friend, the classic 'hot girl' character in these high school dramas, the one constantly putting on lipstick, twirling their feathered hair, and wearing cocktail dresses to class.

Maybe the history teacher killed Kenny because Kenny knew about this illicit relationship.

But this girl is a victim. Despite Josie claiming that the history teacher loves her and the age difference is meaningless, Alex spouts the truth. Mr. Samuels is a grown-up, sleeping with a minor, and that is disgusting and illegal. In five years these two won't be together, he'll be halfway through his sentence for statutory rape. Whew ... I love Alex!

Josie storms off and Alex calls the cops to report the teacher as a tip.

That night the sister are walking home on a dark road across a bridge with a deep ravine on either side. Boy, does that sound like Silver Age Midvale or what!

The two have grown a little closer doing this investigation.

A car drives almost into them forcing them to jump off the bridge. Luckily, Kara has powers and flies them back to safety. But it is clear, they are upsetting someone by poking their nose around. Kenny's killer wants them dead.

That night, Eliza chastises Kara for using her powers. Kara is a kid. She isn't supposed to be worried about saving everyone. (Is that too Man of Steel Pa Kent? Or is it right that that burden shouldn't be put on someone so young.

That night, Eliza tells Kara that someone is there to talk to her - Agent Noelle Neill of the FBI. Man, a Noelle Neill reference by a woman who played Lois Lane (Erica Durance). Whew ... meta!

She also is a dead ringer for Alura.

Agent Neill tells Kara that she can't be a hero. Using her powers is endangering Eliza and Alex (remember the DEO wasn't exactly friendly back then). Kara needs to hide her powers and be human.

And then we see the flip side of the human-alien theme. This Kara says she remembers Krypton. How Earth will never be home and how she hates it. How she didn't ask for powers but she should use them if she has them. And how she just wants to live with Clark and be super. That last line is pure Silver Age Supergirl, wanting to more than an orphan secret weapon of Clark's. Loved it.

But Agent Neill reminds her that this is a second chance on a normal life and she should take it. Kara promises not to use her powers again.

Looking up at the Alura-esque Neill, Kara says in Kryptonese that she loves her mom. I'm not crying; you're crying.

Of course, Neill can't understand Kryptonese.

And, of course, it turns out to be J'onn in disguise.

It is a little creepy ... just a little ... that he would toy with young Kara's emotions by looking like Alura to make sure the message was heard.

So this now puts us a little more precise in the timeline. This means this episode takes place after J'onn was discovered by Jeremiah leading to the death of Danvers and the real Henshaw. After all, how could he know about the Danvers family otherwise. I guess it also means J'onn has taken over the DEO as Hank. Lastly, it shows how even back then J'onn honored his promise to take care of Jeremiah's girls.

Alex knows that she and Kara must be getting close. They need to keep looking. But Kara says she can't and won't use her powers anymore. So Alex heads to the football game to find the Sheriff and tell him all they have discovered. He applauds her for her detective work and thinks she should find a job in law enforcement. She talks about her love of science. Nice - she ended up doing both!

Meanwhile, Here Kara gets the unencrypted photos back from Chloe and sees that he also had pics of the Sheriff being involved in a drug deal. He is the killer.

Now I know Kenny was supposed to be a good kid. But he could be arrested for being a peeping tom. That telescope was spying on a lot of people. The pics of Josie and the teacher making out in the car are pretty provocative.

I will say that I love this next scene. The Sheriff holds his gun up to Alex. He is paid almost nothing to be the sheriff of this rich town and decided to help himself to the drug money.  He needs to get the laptop and eliminate her. He calls Kara and Alex shouts out a warning.

Alex knows that Kara will use her powers. So Alex very calmly gives this great speech. The Sheriff should know someone is listening to their every word. She is coming. He should be afraid. It is awesome, said in a nice Alex sort of deadpan. Alex can trust Kara to rescue her, a nice riff on the whole theme of the show.

And indeed Kara does come, flying to the stadium and busting in the wall, knocking out the sheriff with the flying debris. Fantastic!

With the QB suspended for smoking weed, the history teacher arrested for being a predator, the sheriff arrested for dealing drugs all because of them, the Danvers girls suddenly find themselves ostracized by the whole school. They only have themselves to lean on. So why not hang out and be friends.

But here is where that dial flipped for Kara. Being an alien and using her powers almost got Alex killed twice. She won't be an alien anymore. She will be human. No more powers. I enjoyed this mirroring of the current timeline.

Back in the present, the two see the telescope that Kenny had, a gift his family gave them for helping bring his killer to justice. The two realize now that it was this investigation that made them realize what they have in each other. It is time to heal.

Man the Leigh-Benoist chemistry is almost preternatural. 

It is time to go home.

The closing scene is just funny in its brilliance. Kara was the one to drive their but Alex, out of her funk, will drive back. Kara is too crazy a driver.

In a scene that just feels real for anyone with siblings, Alex demands the keys, opening and closing her hand. And Kara, just dead-eyed, hands them over. It is clear Kara thinks she is a fine driver but knows she will lose this argument. This is such a tiny scene but it plays out real, again showing how awesome these two are together.

This was a fun episode, a sort of chance to take a breath. It also builds on the foundation and history of this show. And I can only hope we see more ... maybe one a season? And please rehire Nikannen and Vidovic. They are unbelievable.

But the big thing for me was seeing the reverse look at Kara and the alien/human dichotomy. Nice additions to an already fantastic season.


Anonymous said...

Fine episode and it makes me wonder what could have been if the show had started off with teenager Kara living in Midvale as her cousin visits everyday.

And props to the showwriters for remembering her hometown was Midvale instead of getting her living in Smallville.

It also felt very Silver Age-y. Kara Zor-El pretending to be an average little girl and saving the day anonymously while her older and more famous cousin has to be the world's greatest hero, and wondering why she can't live with her last living relative.

The Chloe Sullivan reference was funny albeit the timing is, ah, bad. I'd love an episode where Laura Vanverdoort playing "Smallville" Kara gets stranded on Earth-38 by accident.

"The closing scene is just funny in its brilliance. Kara was the one to drive their but Alex, out of her funk, will drive back. Kara is too crazy a driver."

Well, when you are invulnerable... I can imagine Alex arguing: "I'm more breakable than you or the car!"

And the next week... Mon-El and (brunette) Imra!

Scrimmage said...

What an excellent review. I couldn't agree more, with every sentiment and observation. Well done!

Obviously, this episode was an homage to “Smallville,” in the sense that this is how “Supergirl” might've looked had the show focused on Kara's formative years before she took up the cape. While I always found Smallville's “no flights / no tights” approach rather frustrating, it worked much better here - on an admittedly limited basis – because it fit in with the current ongoing theme of Kara's struggles to reconcile her alien heritage with her desire to be human, or to at least fit in to human society, while protecting them as well.

To be honest, I thought the subplot concerning the cold blooded murder of a high school student was too grim, and didn't fit in with the “more innocent times” feel of the rest of the episode. I was especially disappointed when the murderer turned out to be a crooked police officer. I'm really tired of the way this show often portrays the military and other traditional authority figures in a negative light. This is the second time in three weeks where a cop has been a bad guy, if not the villain. Maggie's sheriff father was a caricature of a paranoid racist bigot, and homophobe, and this guy was a corrupt, selfish, greedy, drug dealing, kid killing cop. I hope this denigration of the police is not going to be a recurring theme on this show, especially since they've already alienated so many viewers with their heavy-handed political rhetoric.

I was glad to see that I wasn't the only one who felt creeped out by the idea that J'onn would take the form of Kara's dead mother just to manipulate her into keeping a low profile. That struck me as needlessly cruel and insensitive, and completely out of character for someone like the Martian Manhunter who KNOWS what it's like to lose their entire family.

I have to admit, the Noel Neill alias WAS pretty cool, as was the shout out to Smallville's Chloe even if she was a contrived, poorly developed, clich├ęd character who was never a part of Superman's backstory. I'm just going take that name dropping incident as a little Easter Egg to the fans, and ignore all the confusing ramifications that would result from any attempt to blend Smallville's continuity with the current “Supergirl” show, especially considering the fact that Smallville already HAD a Kara, who never lived in Midvale.

Small quibbles like that aside, I thought this was a very enjoyable episode, and perhaps the best of the season. I liked it so much, that I wouldn't mind seeing the remarkably well-cast young Kara and Alex again. It was thrilling to see Kara's first, not-quite-successful attempts to master her powers, especially watching her leap tall trees in a single bound, and it would be fascinating to see Kara discovering her powers, with Alex helping her sister learn how to control them, while training HERSELF to become a badass in her own right.

I never cared for Arrow's “show-within-a-show” trope of mixing a subplot from Oliver's impossibly convoluted past in with the main storyline, but I would love it if “Supergirl” would adapt that technique from time to time, so we could see the teenage Danvers Sisters (and especially the criminally underused Helen Slater) in Midvale, as they become the women, and true sisters, they are today.

Anonymous said...

Enjoyable episode all around, minus the bumps and plot holes, and kudos to both Izabela Vidovic and Olivia Nikkanen!
Heartily 2nd that they be brought back for future episodes if possible. Also want to single out the Slater / Benoist
1:1 scene... and so meta when you realize it's two Supergirls talking to one another.

I'll say it again, MORE SLATER PLEASE!!

Definitely some nice flourishes that add to the backstory and inuniverse mythos, like the constant 1uping of one another
(those with siblings could DEFINITELY relate to this), Kara's powers not fully under control -- THAT'S got to make for
some awkward explanations, I'm sure -- and J'onn watching over the Danvers sisters per his promise to Jeremiah, though
I have to wonder was it Eliza that contacted Agent Noelle Neill, or Agent Noelle Neill contacted Eliza?

I also had to chuckle at the namedrop of "Clark has a friend named Chloe" as well... but between that, Kara following
her cousin's exploits in the news, and what was stated in the plot about Kara seemingly not having a close (familial)
relationship with Superman was a bit offputting.

The perfect touchstone to the episode IMO would've been a visit to Kenny's grave just before the sisters left Midvale,
just as a nice touch, but there's that annoying thing called "time limits."

Best line the whole ep? "If we scratch [J'onn] 's car he'll put us in confinement."


Anonymous said...

All I want for Christmas is "More Helen Slater on Supergirl Please Santa PLEASE!!"
Great ep, well acted, scary how well the younger players impersonated the older incarnations.

Boy Howdy other people took different things away from this one, but my main observation is that whenever Alex starts redlining she goes straight to the "I had a good thing going til Supergirl showed up!"meme. Its a complicated relationship to be sure but somewhere deep down Alex nurses a dangerous grievance...I sometimes think if Eliza wasn't there to referee her oldest daughter's emotions Alex could very easily go full Lex Luthor on Kara.
Just sayin'
J'onn was also pretty callous in the way he watched over the Danvers sisters back at the start of the series, after all he blithely authorized shooting Supergirl down with green K about twenty minutes into the pilot. He has mellowed since then, manipulating Kara with Allura's effigy seems well within that callous wheelhouse.

Anonymous said...

This was an amazing episode, and I have only one complaint. This tells the story of how Kara and Alex bonded at the same time as it tells the story of how Kara put her powers on the shelf. It essentially kills any hope for beautiful Midvale episodes like this one, and to be honest I would have thrown money at a Midvale spinoff series.

Most people saw John as manipulating Kara to put her cape on the shelf. You might be right, but when I saw the show I felt he did it because Kara felt heartbroken and alone and needed someone to open up to that she trusted and loved.

Anj said...

Thanks for all the comments. Glad this episode is getting some love.

And glad everyone else wants more Slater!

Anonymous said...

This episode really was awesome in one word. I loved the that dramatic monologue before baby Supergirl crashes through the wall. That was really good.

I too felt that j'onn taking on alura's face was really cruel. I thought j'onn was better than taking the face of the mother of an orphaned children smh. If only the end matters and not the means then guess we can appreciate Superman killing zod as well. But I digress

Also, did this episode really confirm that Clark straight up abandoned Kara? Cause she said that she WANTS to live with Clark and be super but is Clark not up for it? Seems real bad for Superman's integrity to dump his only blood relative on a family who she doesn't even know and this comes out brilliantly when Kara was talking to 'alura'. This was really sad and my heart broke when she said I love you, Mom in krytonese. (Btw, the word she used for mom is 'jeju')

On the other hand, I can pretty safely say that Eliza Danvers can give ma Kent a bit of run for her money regarding the title of best DC moms (atleast the rebirth comic book Eliza definitely can)

It maybe only me, but I feel like people (in the fandom) are not able to understand Kara's pain and the fact that one fine day she dropped on earth to find herself abandoned and orphaned, that's jarring to say the least. It puzzles me when people say that they understand Alex's feelings better, I get that she lost her father but Kara lost literally everything! She had nothing then so Alex's words of 'you are not worth it' cut a little too deep. It literally boggles my mind when people refuse to sympathize with Kara.But then again, most of the reactors are from the lgbt community who like Alex probably cause of the sanvers thing. I am glad I can still come here to see people appreciate Kara.

But all in all, I loved it and certainly wouldn't mind seeing a season zero of Supergirl which focused on kara's full childhood, starting from Krypton.

Martin Gray said...

Yeah, still behind, so I won’t go into details as no one ever reads these late comments. Great episode, top review.

Loved Durance’s Southerm accent.