Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Supergirl Episode 516: Alex In Wonderland

Welcome back to my 'better late than never' reviews of Supergirl season 5. Today I'll be looking back about a month at episode 516 'Alex in Wonderland'.

I have been crowing about this season for a while now and my compliments have been based on a couple of key things. One, the overall plot has been moving forward nicely throughout the season. There don't seem to be any of those 'after school special' episodes miring things down which occasionally happened last season.

Two, the show has really leaned into it's own history this season, calling back to plots, timelines, prior episodes, and even minor characters. It has reached back to the CBS season one even. Doing that, especially in this post-Crisis new world, gives the show a continuity that long time viewers must love. For a comic fan like me, continuity is a backbone. I have loved that.

This episode does both of those things pretty well. The plot is really just nudged forward. We don't get too much advancement there. But the history stuff is here in great quantities. The main catalyst of this episode is the death of Jeremiah Danvers, a plot thread left untugged for some time. And to see Alex's response to that as well as how it impacts her virtual reality holiday was fascinating.

The one sad thing is that I think the main focus of this season is that people shouldn't pull away from each other but instead lean on each other to get through problems. That seems a bit weird in the current world stage of self-isolation and pandemic. Who could have foreseen that?

On to the episode.

We start out with a little exposition.

Jeremiah was working refugee camps in Peru, helping people. He died of a cardiac arrest.

Now one thing that is key here is that Jeremiah was working for Cadmus, kind of. He had to go on the run. But he was a spy. You would think that somehow, some way, he would have got a message to his family.

But this lack of contact is a sore point, especially for Alex.

So what do we think of Jeremiah suddenly being a saint?

His death hits the Danvers' girls hard.

Kara is going to head to Midvale for the funeral.

But Alex, she is mourning in a different way. She isn't going to go to the funeral. She is angry that her father didn't contact her. She is angry that when she was a kid, Jeremiah made her care for Kara. She has mourned him at least twice before. She is done with him.

I have talked in the past, especially in prior seasons, that Alex seems like a high-functioning and in denial alcoholic. So I appreciated that the writers had her quickly go back to her old friend for comfort. Seeing her down wine from a bottle is a tough look.

I love Alex. She is a pretty complex character.

And then, deciding she has had enough of the real world, Alex decides to retreat. She enters the VR world as a version of Supergirl, hoping that punching things will help her settle her emotions.

I do like the black/blue outfit for her, perfect for her character.

The subplot has William talking to Kelly about the Lex/Obsidian merger.

Lex has launched 32 satellites in the recent past, all above cities where the enhanced Obsidian VR is being rolled out. Surely something nefarious is going on.

I like how William is showing some investigative journalism traits. But Kelly is quick to shoot down the notion of something going wrong.

Smart viewers would also pick up on Olivia Nikkanen being listed as a guest. She was young Alex in prior episodes.

In the VR, Alex runs into a couple of other gamers.

Bonnie is playing Treasure Hunter Tilly. But her back story is she is escaping from her real life where her sister is dying of cancer.

They see an old man shredding an electric guitar. Apparently this player is always in the game. The rumor is his wife left him.

It is clear that the message is people are running away from their problems rather than facing them.

Even worse, we see the old guy is one of those people with the red lenses, holed up in Leviathan's lab. He seems trapped in the Matrix.

Still, it is fun to see Alex take on the role of Supergirl, using heat vision to blow up a dragon and hearing the accolades of the public.

Maybe this will help her.

On the outside world, Kelly finds out that the glitch of blocking a failsafe exit, a problem supposedly solved, has not been fixed. There might be people trapped in the VR.

She and William decide to include that in their investigation. Interestingly enough, Andrea Ramos didn't seem to know that it had not been fixed. While she tries to dismiss Kelly with some corporate speak, she seems surprised.

I don't think in this post-Crisis world, Andrea is down with Leviathan.

Back in VR, Alex realizes that she has been dealing with Jeremiah's death in an unhealthy way. It is time to slap back to reality. But Bonnie seems confused. She thinks this is reality. Perhaps Bonnie is just as trapped.

But before Alex can lens swipe and head back, she gets a distress call from the DEO. Oops, there goes gravity as she flies off.

She was almost out!

Meanwhile Bonnie is way in.

We see her red-eyed and painless in her RV. And there is our old woman Leviathan agent, now working as an EMT, to come get her.

At the DEO, Alex/Supergirl is confronted with a lot of comforting sights. J'onn is running the place. Brainy and Dreamer are there. You can see how this would be enticing for someone who's real world is rocked and now is dealing with the death of a parent.

In this world, Kara is powerless and needs saving.

The villain is Hank Henshaw, who borrows liberally from a Lex Luthor speech from the Donner Superman movie to demand that Supergirl brings a nuclear warhead to an abandoned warehouse. He has already stolen the missile he will use to carry that payload. That is all very Hackman/Luthor in plot. Nice touch.

This also leans into the show's history nicely. Harewood gets to again play the evil Henshaw. And he drops some character history. He was left for dead in the jungle (true, that's when J'onn took over his identity). And he ran the DEO much differently than J'onn does.

He temporarily traps Alex in K-chains. But she has double crossed him. No nuke. So instead he'll just use the plain old missile to demolish the DEO.

Nice vindictive flair. And Harewood chews the scenery nicely.

But this is VR.

Alex busts the chains and takes out Henshaw. Nice wire work!

Outside, we see that there are over 300 people who have been in VR nonstop for over 48 hours. They could be trapped by the glitch.

William will use a contact in the NSA to do some further digging.

But inside, this new Supergirl is feeling at ease and very happy. She is surrounded by family and doing good.

It looks like Alex is losing touch with reality. Her eyes go to the red.

Inside, Alex is confronted by another player who also has adopted the Supergirl persona (and in the classic skirt costume to boot!).

Faced with that conundrum, Alex realizes this isn't real ... there can't be two Supergirls (not counting Bizarro and Red Daughter).

She swipes out of her lenses and wakes up.

Or does she.

Once awake she gets word Psi is attacking the city. J'onn needs help.

So the normal haired Alex does a classic shirt rip to reveal the black and blue.

Ahhhhh ... the old dream within a dream ... what is reality  trick!!!

Love it.

And honestly, I love a good shirt rip!

Thankfully, Kelly returns to check on Alex to find her all red-eyed in real life. When she enters the VR to talk her out, Alex rolls her into the storyline. Kelly must be addled by a Psi-attack. The super friends go to lock Kelly up but she is able to get back to the real world.

She worries that Alex has had some mild psychotic break.

It is interesting that the non-players build on Alex's fantasy to keep her there. I wonder if this is Leviathan code, where it senses what people want to keep them complacent and feeds it to them nonstop.

When external measures like an epi-pen don't schock Alex back to life, Kelly (from advice from Andrea) feeds in impossibilities to make Alex realize this isn't real.

Suddenly young Alex is there. How can there be two Alexes???

And young Alex knows that older Alex needs to face her father issues. Her father led his own life. Alex can't be blamed for his decisions. And even with super-powers, Alex couldn't save her father.

She needs to put this behind her and let go. She needs to grieve.

Heading to the Cadmus headquarters? Young Alex played by same actress? A Psi attack?

All good call backs.

And then the ultimate call back.

Helen Slater magically appears at the Cadmus site! She begs Alex to come home. J'onn, Brainy, and Dreamer are also there. They call the young Alex a shape-shifter and a villain. And when Alex doesn't buy in, they all open fire.

Helen Slater packing a laser rifle? Yes, please.

Again, interesting that the NPCs continue to try to worm Alex back into the story that keeps her trapped.

But all that is enough to shake Alex's belief that this was a real world.

She says the magic words 'end simulation' and truly wakes up.

Nothing left but the wrap-up.

This trip through VR and confronting her dad's death has helped Alex.

She know realizes she is mad at herself for not being able to save him. Not being there for him.

Given the complicated course of the Jeremiah/Alex relationship, I think this was a satisfactory ending.

But Alex also tells Kelly about Bonnie.

There have to be others trapped in this world of their own making.

But wait there's more!

Andrea hears about this and demands that the fix for the failsafe glitch gets put on the top of the company's issues.

Look who is the new secretary!



William's NSA friend does get him a lead to the site where Leviathan is keeping the trapped VR players. But when he gets there he only sees an empty warehouse.

Leviathan has some sweet cloaking tech!

But the big end is Jeremiah's funeral mass. Alex gets there just in time for the eulogy and the sisters are united again.

So a very full episode.

My one complaint? There is this thing I keep harping on now and then.

There was no Supergirl in this episode! Melissa Benoist, the straw that stirs the drink, was barely in this. And the last episode was a Dreamer spotlight.

As an ensemble show, this season has been the strongest season yet. But boy, do I miss episodes where Supergirl was front and center in the spotlight.

Still, let's not dwell. I liked this overall.


Anonymous said...

Great episode.

Two things held it back:

1) Where's Kara?
2) Alex temper felt forced. I feel they could have given her a better reason to delve into cyberspace that would have worked with where the character is.

Apart from that, really enjoyable episode.

Bostondreams said...

I wonder if Kara's reduced screentime has anything to do with Melissa Benoist sitting in the director's chair for the first time for the next epsiode?

Rob S. said...

I think episodes like this, where the leads take a backseat, are a necessary trade-off in order to make the crossover. Flash has had a couple of episodes where he was out of the spotlight, too, with Elongated Man taking center stage in one, and I think there might have been another one focused on Frost.

It's funny -- this episode was broadcast on the same night as the Michonne-centric episode of The Walking Dead, another ep that made a lot of use of characters that aren't on the show before. In the case of TWD, there was a lot of reuse of old footage, edited into new sequences. In Supergirl, when Jerimiah and Psi showed up, they were different actors, and they avoided showing their faces.

Anonymous said...

I dunno I sometimes thing, deep down Alex resents her foster sister, she tries to watch over Kara simply she is desperate to do as her father wishes and thus somehow win his love. Skipping Dad's funeral is a emotional nuclear attack on her Mother and Her Allegedly beloved prone-to-enabling Sister. Because boy howdy does Alex really rip into The Maid of Might in this ep, all her envy and even spite was on full display, even her fantasies belittle her sister reducing Kara to the level of a hapless damsel in distress. There are a lot of toxins in Alex's psyche, the mix isn't right to make her a villain but the potential is there...


KET said...

"There was no Supergirl in this episode! Melissa Benoist, the straw that stirs the drink, was barely in this. And the last episode was a Dreamer spotlight."

That's because Melissa Benoist was in director's prep during the filming of both of these eps, in the BTS role of shadow director. Whenever the series gets back to new episodes (hopefully on May 3rd), they're kicking things off with Melissa's directorial debut....and it seems positioned to be this season's 'game-changer' (much like "The House of L" was in Season 4.

However, this episode does give Alex some more needed character build-up following her departure from The DEO...and Kelly finally does more than merely say a couple of lines.


Anonymous said...

This was a good episode with great callbacks and some great character development for Alex. But the constant belittling of Kara is getting old. First dreamer and now Alex, not to mention others. It took like ten episodes for kara to stand up to lena. Kara not saying a word back in any way to even defend herself just makes me upset. She has always spoken her mind in the comics, so to portray her as this person who just takes it and goes with it, spreading hope seems fake and dare I say, very Superman like. We know that Kara won't take a verbal beating like that without standing up for herself.

Anonymous said...

Yeah agreed, Kara needs to stand up to her sister, skipping Dad's funeral to play what amounts to video games is immature & gruesome. In any other family Alex would be shipped off to a therapist for pulling a stunt like that...
Alas the Producers "enable" Alex because they are in love with the character, she is always presented as somehow the one Terran a Fully Powered Supergirl cannot ever Defeat, so sick of that quite frankly.

This will get me into trouble I am sure, but I think Alex and the Martian Manhunter could be written off the show without harming the Supergirl brand one bit. They are both storytelling crutches, but the patient has recovered, flourished, can fly even, but still its doctor's order to lean on those two crutches.


Nutation said...

Better late than never comment:

I found this to be a much better episode than the last one. Though, the fridging of Jeremiah was awkward, they handled the effect on Alex well.

I was trying to find an explanation as to why the VR would give Alex a non-standard Supergirl costume. There are legal protections against using a person's likeness without permission, and that may extend to the distinctive costume (IMNAL). I very much doubt, though, that either Clark or Kara has trademarked the S-shield. (They are certainly not using it in trade.) So, that may be a small enough borrow to be safe, yet recognizable.

Ok, I was going with that, and then another player in the game chose the classic Supergirl costume. That blows up my theory, although I think it's still a fair reflection of real-world civil law. Oh, well.

More subjectively, then, Anj says black and blue is "perfect for her character". Probably, yes. Does she think stealing the use of the real costume would be going to far? Am I overthinking this by a lot?

So glad that I didn't read the opening credits and was surprised by Olivia's appearance. A clever writing solution to a common situation in science-fiction TV. Also, we all love the actress.

Must see what Tessmacher is up to. Curse the broadcast delay. But, you are caught up now, Anj. No back-sliding.