Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Supergirl 416: House of L

Supergirl episode 416, titled the 'House of L', aired this week and was far and away the best episode of the season.

From the very title, a take on the 'House of El', it was clear this was going to be an episode focusing on the Luthor family, specifically Lex. And the episode itself was remarkable for showing just how enmeshed Lex has been in everything that has been happening this entire season.

We have seen snippets of Red Daughter throughout the season. We saw her illness. We saw Lex dying of cancer. We saw Otis return. We saw the turn of Eve Tessmacher. And admirably, the writers have put it all together with a perfect timeline. Add to this all the smaller nods to the other plots of season 4 as well as some big time comic book nods and I was simply floored. This episode even explained some of the more inexplicable things that happened in prior seasons! Amazing.

But underneath all the evil machinations and duplicity, the core of this show (and it shows in this episode) is Supergirl's heart. Despite brainwashing and conditioning by Lex, even Red Daughter can see what a good person our Kara is. Whether it is Alex's devotion to her sister or Lena's friendship, Red Daughter is exposed to what she could be ... and that inspiration almost works.

All this story wouldn't work if the performances aren't up to snuff. Melissa Benoist playing the smitten, blank slate Red Daughter, slowly learning about the world was perfect. Jon Cryer again shows just how manipulative and evil he can be as Lex, often an understate malevolence. And Andrea Brooks as Eve Tessmacher almost steals the show.

I don't know if I will be able to express how much I liked this episode. But I'll try.  On to the show.

The episode opens where last episode ended. Supergirl floats outside Lex's helicopter.
He bails out, activating his watch which sends a very comic accurate Lexsuit to him.

The two crash onto the roof of the Daily Planet. There Lex sheds his armor and shows that the cure Lena gave him included a little super-hero boost. He has super-strength. When asked 'how is that possible?' Lex wryly replies "Because I am Lex Luthor."

He then hoists the actual Daily Planet globe and smashes it on Kara.


That is some opening!

The episode does a great job of moving around in flashbacks, linking up stories and showing just how big and horrific a figure Lex is in this reality.

The show goes back to three years ago. Last episode we saw Lex arrested after causing wanton destruction by turning the Earth's sun red. Now we see his trial.

The two main witnesses are Lena and James. Their testimony is fascinating.

Lena says she wanted to work with him.  He talked about the Luthor's being burdened with excellence. But Lex killed people. And he didn't want a partner. He wanted a sycophant. She wouldn't be that. And she wore a wire!

James talks about how Lex kept offering Superman a place in LexCorp but Superman knew Luthor's character. Lex was vexed with that rejection. And to seek revenge on Superman, Lex kidnapped and tortured James. Lex didn't want a partner. He wanted a pet Kryptonian.

First off, the idea of Lex wanting to hire Superman is straight from Byrne's Man of Steel. It is how Superman meets Lex.

But second, and more importantly, Lex wanting a sycophant and a pet Kryptonian is exactly what he ends up getting in this episode. That is Eve and Red Daughter. He gets what he wants. And that idea of a Luthor having a pet Supergirl, believing his lies and doing whatever he asks, sounds a lot like the Luthor/Matrix relationship I have been revisiting recently.

 With testimony over, the Judge asks Lex if, as his own attorney, wants to give a closing statement.

Scribbling 'all work and no play make Jack a dull boy' (I think), Lex gets up and gives an imasioned speech. Of course, seeing the phrase that proved how mad Jack Torrance was in The Shining is not a good way to think he is of sound mind.

The closing argument is summed up in the opening sentence. 'Superman made him do it'. As always, he blames Superman for somehow stunting the growth of humanity. Lex mocks the jury as 'peers'. He talks about how the world will be divided in times before Superman and after Superman (that is loaded with religious overtones given the BC, AD old school timelines). And if he is going to serve 31 consecutive life terms, why not make it 32.

He saunters out of the courtroom with most of the room coughing and dying from some plot. Sinatra's 'My Way' plays.


Even the courtroom deaths, orchestrated by Lex, smacks a bit of BvS.

Walking outside the courtroom, Lex spies Eve smiling and cheering him on while everyone else jeers. She's a groupie. Amazing.

She is sought out in the crowd by Otis and later is brought to Lex's special prison cell used for 'conjugal visits'. I love how she is dressed both smart and sexy, perfect for a Lex groupie. And no denying it is purple and green, perhaps to show her love for his color scheme? She really is smitten. He compares her to a Manson Girl.

But she is more, showcasing her degrees.

He decides, calling her Miss Tessmacher (and not Eve) to use her. He asks her to join CatCo as Cat's assistant so Eve can be close to Jimmy.

Just like that we have a reasonable explanation for someone with Eve's credentials to be a gopher at a magazine!

I love Andrea Brooks' energy in this episode.

But Lex is in jail.

He breaks out a shiv and uses it not to stab someone but instead to carve a picture of Hannibal bringing the elephants over the alps.

It is a great image for Lex, doing the unthinkable to conquer.

But no denying there are shades of Vincent D'Onofrio's take on the Kingpin, mulling over the white wall in Netflix's Daredevil.

He stewed in that cell for 2.5 years.

We flash back (forward) to 6 months ago. The Kaznian General talks to Lex on the phone about Red Daughter. We saw that earlier this season!

Lex is shown to basically be running the prison from the inside. He has the Warden in his back pocket. He ships food in for the inmates to keep them happy. And, such as when he learns that there is a doppelganger Supergirl in Kaznia, he is able to leave the prison for 72 hours.

He talks to the Warden the way Bruce talks to Alfred, asking for his clothes and the jet to be made ready. He strolls through the prison on his way out, defeating other prisoners in chess and leaving a hologram behind to make it look like he is still in jail. (How very Superman II!)

When Lex arrives, he heads to a smoking cabin where the Red Daughter is protecting a young boy. She is surrounded by dead bodies. Lex goes in and says no one has anyting to fear.

9 months earlier, we see the Daughter wander into the camp. So for three months she didn't have Lex's influence. We see how the Kaznian's treat her, giving her children's book and talking to her about the strength of Kaznia. How she needs to obey. It is blunt indoctrination.

The Russians then take her outside the compound where she takes in nature for the first time. At firstm she is happy, breathing the fresh air and floating above the ground. But then she is overwhelmed by her super-senses (shades of Man of Steel?) and lashes out, killing some of the Kaznian troops. She continues to call out for Alex.

6 months earlier, she hears a boy yell for help and she breaks out, crashing into the cabin we saw before. Inside, she kills thieves trying to hurt the boy Mikhail.

We are now caught up seeing Lex walk in. When he introduces himself as Lex, she corrects him as Alex. Just like that there is a connection.

Outside, Lex says that he will use operant conditioning to mold her. He can't break a Kryptonian but he can bend her to his will.

And we see how that plays out. Red Daughter seems to be looking for Lex's approval.

Almost like a pet, he rewards her with Chocos. The delight on Red Daughter's face when she tastes the sweetness is just sublime. Great acting by Melissa Benoist. But that is operant conditioning - rewards and punishments.

He decides that the time is for more than kid's books. He will teach her. And she needs to learn English.

Initially, Lex doesn't know how this doppelganger can exist. But by this point, Eve is working with Lena and knows about the Harun-El. That is how.

In perhaps the most important scene for the season, Lex unveils his plan. It is oh so Syndrome from The Incredibles. But it is way more complicated.

He wants America to have a problematic relationship with the unhinged Kaznian government. He will bait Kaznia into attacking America. And then Lex will foil this attack, becoming a hero.

But for that to happen, he needs to stoke the fire on both sides of the world. He needs patsies. One patsy will need to be a radical right wing 'patriot'. Otis recommends Ben Lockwood. (Remember way back when in the Lockwood episode when we saw Mercy and Otis get a pamphlet?)

Meanwhile, Lex will stay in prison, the best alibi ever. 

So Lex is stirring the whole pot for his own gang.

Lex begins to send Red Daughter gifts ... the gift of knowledge in the form of books. We see her smile when she gets her presents from 'Alex'.

And the books are deep thinking. The Great Gatsby. This Spoke Zarathustra (Nietzsche's take on the Ubermensch), Sassure's Course in General Linguistics, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Their Eyes were Watching God (perhaps to show the struggles of race and women in the decadent American society?), and Marx's Critique of Political Economy.

She devours them all. But then goes back to Gatsby.

Lex visits her and the two play chess (she almost beats him! They each only have a couple of pieces left on the board!).

They talk about Alexander the Great, conquering the world where his father Philip couldn't. (How Ozymandias can you get!)

And he chastises her for her love of Gatsby. It isn't a lush, beautiful love story. It is an indictment on vapid, profligate fools. Lex might have money, but he uses it as an enemy's weapon.

But maybe she is starting to see through him?

As for Red Daughter, she maintains a loving relationship with Mikhail, the young boy she saved in the cabin. She beams at him with this big smile.

Lex sees this. So you know he will exploit it.

Remember earlier in the year when Mercy and Otis weaponized Kryptonite into the atmosphere. Kara had to wear a super-suit?

Well it was all over the world. Lex blames the Americans for trying to hurt Red Daughter. (But he must have been behind this attack himself since Mercy and Otis work for him. Tricky.)

With Daughter in a weakened state, he pierces her ears to match Supergirl's.

Safe inside a lead cocoon (we saw this earlier in the season two), Lex feeds her propaganda of how Kaznia wants to usher in peace, but lands fueled by greed will rise against her. And they will send her 'sister' Supergirl after her.

Supergirl took her place in prominence, just as Lena took Lex's.

Boy, this Lex is one calculating brilliant mind.

Now 4 months ago, Lex brings her to America so she can witness the decadent, sinful life here up close.

Calling National City a 'Babylon', he sets up Red Daughter in a brunette wig and with the identity 'Linda Lee'. (I think every long term Supergirl comic fan lost their marbles when they saw this. This was a nice play on the Silver Age history!)

At a bar, she sees slick young guys ordering expensive drinks and treating her like a piece of meat.

She calls America a 'pig trough'. And Lex Kaznia suffers because of America's bombs. He also says Supergrl allows it because she is soft.

As if this wasn't a huge deal, Lex then brings a more Kara-appearing Red Daughter to ... Kara's apartment! He knows Kara Danvers is Supergirl!! Incredible.

Looking around the room, Red Daughter picks up on Kara's personality. She likes comfort. She is messy and undisciplined. She likes to eat (her fridge is stuffed).

And while Lex looks around, she sees that Kara has an Alex in her life.

Alex as a support is a constant.

 The suspense is ratcheted up when the real Alex shows up to water Kara's plants. Kara is supposed to be in Smallville on vacation, a subtle reference to the Elseworlds crossover.

Red Daughter says she returned because she forgot her journal.

In a short time, Alex shows she is a caring sister. She wants Kara to get some rest. She is missed at the DEO but Kara deserves a break.

It shows how Kara isn't some evil capitalist. She is loved.

Lex leaves to return to jail and tells Red Daughter to head back to Kaznia.

But Daughter is showing some free will. And she is curious about this other her and this other Alex.

She reads Kara's journal filled with love and support for her friends. She reads about Kara's own uncertainties.

This is Kara's inner most thoughts. There is no reason for her to lie in this book. So Daughter learns about the real Supergirl.

She takes it one step further, trying to run into Lena herself.

But before things can get too far, Eve shows up to run interference.

Suddenly, Red Daughter sees things as they are. Kara wants to do good. Kara has an Alex who loves her. Lena is a good friend. Maybe Lex's conditioning will fail?

When Eve tells Lex about this, Lex decides for the nuclear option. To make Red Daughter hate America, America has to destroy the one thing Red Daughter truly loves ... Mikhail.

Sneaking onto the American battleship we learned earlier was off the Kaznian shore, Eve flirts with and then knocks out the captain. (How great was her 'hey sailor?')

Eve fires a missile which blows up Mikhail's cabin.

In retaliation, Red Daughter goes and smashes the battleship. Lex arrives in his armor, trying to control the situation. He doesn't want to tip his hand. He'll make it look like the internal damage was from an accident.

But it is then that Red Daughter finally sees through him.  She begins asking about who she is to Lex? A pet? A soldier? Who is she?

Lex gives up and takes off.

 Thankfully, Otis couldn't leave Mikhail to die.

After all, he died once. I guess this is in reference to the earlier episode where he was perforated by the Hellgrammite.

Mikahil being dead is why Red Daughter hates America. When she sees he is alive, things might change.

Now three months ago, we see Lex angry for letting Red Daughter escape his grasp.

She then collapses (as we saw in the 'hulk pills episode). Eve surmises it is because Red Daughter needs more Harun-El.

Lex won't let Miss Tessmacher finish a thought. He knows he needs Lena's help. But she won't just help him ... unless he is dying. He exposes himself to the radiation which gives him cancer.

He visits Lena in hologram form asking for her help. She laughs saying the Harun-El won't promote his hair to grow. But when he says he is dying, she pauses.

We saw how that played out last episode.

And so we are all caught up.

Lex smashes Supergirl with the Daily Planet.
He heads to Kaznia and gives Red Daughter a blood transfusion, curing her.

Now she sees him as the caring provider he is. She won't be emotional or selfish like Supergirl She will be diciplined and follow Lex.

He tells her that she is Alexander, his legacy to change the world.

 Nothing left but the wrap up.

Lena is brought back to LCorp by Eve who leaves a letter on Lena's desk.

You know that is going to let Lena know Kara is Supergirl, destroying that relationship.

 And Red Daughter, in her Hammer and Sickle look floats above National City.

Let's get ready to rumble!!!


The fact that everything that has happened this season has been Lex pulling all the strings is just brilliant. I love how Kara's inherent goodness and her love for her sister almost seeped through to the Red Daughter.

I love Linda Lee. I love the Matrix-y devotion. I love Otis saying he was dead. I love Eve Tessmacher's deadly combination of beauty and brains.



Anonymous said...

Linda Lee! Very, very cool! I had to re-read my '60s books :)

Anonymous said...

Yeah, this was just great. I was determined to keep an open mind about Cryer as Lex, but I admittedly had my doubts. But he has absolutely killed it, as have the writers.

Anonymous said...

I was pumping my fist in the air, Cryer IS Lex Luthor, FORGET Jesse Eisenberg!!! Until utterly inexplicably, Lex casually reveals that he knows Kara Danvers secret identity AND has a duplicate key to her front damn door!!
I turned my face to heaven and howled "Berlanti, You are KILLING ME!!!"
"Klunky Writing"has numerous facets, lame or laughable technobabble, sudden shifts in characterization to paper over plot holes or Big Ideas Deserving of Longer Dramatization Presented in a rushed casual fashion...and thats how we get Lex Luthor and Pseudogirl poaching climbing Kara's Apartment.
But, if I wanna make use of Berlanti's talents I must put up with his vices, and one of his vices is amiable klunkiness.
I personally think, when the dust settles, and Lex's latest plans lay in ruins I suspect Pseudogirl will somehow survive, and maybe end up the "PowerGirl of Earth 52" or something...I might be pleasantly anesthetized by MB's charm.
I am utterly otherwise enchanted by this arc, except whenever I fall flat on my face due to a plot hole...


Anonymous said...

Agree with JF that some of the clunky writing and plotholes were too obvious to get over -- like how Lex even got
himself and Kara doppelganger through customs, or the english / Kasnian language barrier with Mikhail -- never
mind how Supergirl (again) gets jobbed out at the start of the episode. I was SO looking forward to a Lex / Supergirl
smackdown fight -- "I have powers! How do you think I did it? I'm Lex Luthor!" -- but all we get is wham, bam,
"oh I have to check on Jimmy because Lex has escaped!" SMH.

That being said, the callbacks and easter eggs were undeniably VERY enjoyable. I personally loved Eve's honeytrap
role on the US *cruiser*, akin to her exact role in Superman 1 and the missile hijack, as well as the multi-board
chess match as Lex walks out of prison. And yes, "Linda... Linda Lee" put a silly grin on my face when I saw that.

And kudos to Melissa B and Jon C for pulling off their roles so deliciously this episode.

Will see how things shake out with Lena -- between the betrayal by both Eve and Lex, and (possible) revelation
of Kara / Supergirl's identity -- dunno if it'll send her screaming over the edge, but I'm sure she's going
to be ROYALLY pissed!


KET said...

"never mind how Supergirl (again) gets jobbed out at the start of the episode."

Actually, the scene looks like a storyline feint that lopped off the actual conclusion of the battle...suspect that there may be unintended side effects to Lex demonstrating his Harun-El derived powers.


Scrimmage said...

First of all, Melissa Benoist's Russian accent is completely charming, and her inspired performance as Red Daughter walked that fine line of being just different enough from Original Recipe Kara to establish her as her own character, while still showing the similarities one would expect to see in a virtual “carbon copy” of Supergirl. The only flaw was that she was easily able to fool Alex during their brief encounter. There's no way she could've mimicked Kara's speech pattern so flawlessly without doing some extensive studies of recordings of Kara – NOT Supergirl - talking, which we did NOT see. It's a small quibble, and one that's easy to overlook considering all the twists and turns inherent in any “Evil Twin” story like this one, although it looks like Red Daughter might not turn out to be all that “evil” in the end.

Jon Cryer is an absolutely inspired choice to play Lex Luthor. Someday, I'd like to hear the story of how that brilliant, but unorthodox bit of casting came about. Eve Tessmacher has suddenly become THE most fascinating supporting character on the show! I love how fearless she is, whether she's hijacking a Navy missile, or verbally spanking a KaraClone, who could vaporize her with a glance! This chick is game for anything!

Even OTIS was given a brief moment for character development, when he saved Mikhail, which may prove to be the most crucial plot point in this whole storyline. Eve and Otis are FAR more than just your typical, nameless henchmen. They're becoming characters with depth, and personality!

The revelation that Lex has been manipulating most of the events we've seen this season, either from behind the scenes, or from his prison cell, was well done, and reasonably plausible, given Lex's superior intellect, and his nearly unlimited resources. If not for that link, these last two episodes would seem even more disconnected from the rest of the season than they already do. They already stand head and shoulders above the other episodes, in terms of overall quality, and dramatic impact. That's why I can't help feeling that TPTB should've led with this storyline, and THEN moved on to all that stuff with Ben Lockwood and the Children of Liberty vs Manchester Black and the Elite. Kara's disenchantment with, and her dismissal from the DEO would've played well in contrast to Red Daughter's indoctrination into her totalitarian, anti-capitalist world view, with Lex as her tutor. Another minor quibble. Oh, well.

I thought the earrings thing was clever, but it makes me wonder why brain wiped Alex has never noticed that Kara, her mild mannered reporter sister, has the same earrings and piercings that Supergirl does. Frankly, I've never noticed if Kara wears those same earrings in and out of uniform, but if she does, she's clearly in violation of “Superhero Secret Identities 101.”

And if Lex knows that Clark Kent's cousin, Kara Danvers is Supergirl, then he MUST also know that Clark is Superman! Well, THAT'S a new one! Still, you wouldn't expect a pair of horn rimmed glasses to fool a super genius like Lex Luthor for very long, would you?

Finally, I really liked the dramatic shot of Red Daughter in her uniform at the end of the episode. I especially like the slightly longer cape than the one Supergirl wears. To quote the pimp from “Superman: The Movie” (1978) when Supes first springs into action... “Nice outfit! Woooo!”