Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Supergirl Episode 304: The Faithful

"The Faithful", the fourth episode of this year's season of Supergirl, aired on Monday and was an exceptionally good entry. There is something about this season which just feels different from last year. It seems like this year everything is working. Many of the supporting cast have their own plotlines bubbling; all the supporting cast have presence and weight. The mini-bosses and the big boss are on their way to final battles.

This episode focused on an interesting idea, one seen in comics before, the idea that super-heroes might become viewed upon as deities. While that plot worked very well on the surface level, there was another level to be mined here. This Kara is struggling with her feelings, shutting them away, declaring herself 'not human'. And in the episode she has to show that she is, in fact, fallible. She isn't indestructible. That is how ultimately the day is saved. That's a nice wrinkle.

I also love that there are callbacks to both the comics and prior seasons. From Alex's rescue in the premiere to the '-hedron' power sources to the upcoming World Killers, there is a lot here for continuity fans to cling to with joy.

As always, the acting is just amazing. Melissa Benoist runs the gamut of emotions here from perplexed to wounded and does so with her usual emotional dexterity. Chyler Leigh has a particularly heart wrenching scene at the end, continuing her amazing work. And Mehcad Brooks has another great episode showing that maybe (if we're lucky) The Guardian will go away and James Olsen can be a force on his own.

On to the show!
 The episode starts on a plane where a disgruntled man named Thomas Coville talks of how awful his life is. Suddenly the engine explodes and the plane begins to plummet. Coville looks around and sees different passengers praying, all in different ways. He isn't praying.

Amazingly, the plane skids to a safe landing on the river.

A passenger from the front stands up and says she is from the FBI and she'll check things out. It is a Alex.

And that's when it hit me ... although I suppose it should have hit me earlier. This was the 'Alex plane rescue' from the premiere on CBS 2 years ago!! Coville looks out his window and sees the soaking wet Kara standing on the wing.

This turns out to be a religious experience for Coville.

But I love ... LOVE ... the callback to the premiere. I think it was actual footage from that episode. I'll need to go back.

In the present, Sam is given a pamphlet while at Ruby's soccer. The woman handing them out says Sam and Ruby are special and chosen.

Later, at LCorp, Sam tells Lena that the big merger with 'JBQ' is going to happen  (Could JBQ be the initials of Supergirl writer Jessica Queller?) They decide to celebrate by joining the Danvers for their 'girls night' at Kara's.

While the two are talking, Kara sees the pamphlet which has the Kryptonian symbol of Rao. She decides that she needs to investigate. And when she mentions this at CatCo to James and Winn, they decide to join her.

 The meeting is in something of an abandoned looking warehouse. But there are people gathered. There is a pulpit and Rao banners. And Coville leads the congregation in prayers to Rao. He says very specific words for him to have written himself. A phrase like 'gladsome rays' sounds a bit too holy and inspired for Coville to have come up on his own.

And indeed, in a nice touch, we get a flashback of Kara and Alura in some holy place on Krypton, reciting these exact prayers. It is clear Coville knows them, the actual Kryptonian prayers.

That's pretty cool.

The 'mass' continues. Everyone there had been saved by Supergirl. They have faith in her. One of the attendees is a young girl who says she was saved by Supergirl when she was drunk and fell off a high building. She prayed and was saved. By Supergirl.

Coville talks about how people can be spiritually lost. So they begin to pray in 'The Name of Supergirl' as well as Rao. They are basically worshipping her. Obviously it is pretty creepy to Kara and James and Winn.

Perhaps the best line in this scene was that Kara says she remembers all the people she saves. That is a nice touch.

At Girls Night, once again we see how uncomfortable Alex is when saying she and Maggie won't be having kids. Sam says Ruby's father isn't around. But the sassy banter is broken up by a siren call. Looking intently out the window, Kara slips out. There is a fire.

She finds a young man on the roof as the building burns down around him. The roof collapses and he is just saved when Kara streaks in for the save. This is another great shot of the two of them coming up to the camera from the flames.

It turns out this man had intentionally set the fire to draw Supergirl out so he could be saved. His faith didn't waver and he was saved. He is also arrested as an arsonist.

But Coville can't be arrested. Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Speech protects him.

Kara heads to the Rao center to 'interview' Coville. But he immediately recognizes her as Supergirl. He looked into the eyes of his god that night on the plane. He wonders if Supergirl is trying to test his faith. Kara is stunned.

He quotes passages about Rao verbatim, about how gods can get lost and need their followers to help guide them. He talks about how Rao says gods walk among the people.

Coville says he searched the world for all artifacts from Krypton and found something which gave him the words of Rao. Incensed at his twisting of Rao's words, Kara takes off her glasses (always a sign she means business) and tells him to stop his teachings.

He agrees but when she leaves he enters a back chamber where we see a rocket looking device with a glowing omegahedron like device in the center. He vows his next act will 'save Kara'; he will still do Rao's will.

I think part of the show's long form story is Sam's slow descent to Reign. I get the sense that her love for Ruby is somehow going to be a catalyst for the change. (I still hope it isn't the death of Ruby.)

Throughout this show, Sam has been pulled between her job and being the doting mother. When the JBQ merger was almost shelved by Morgan Edge, Sam had to leave for work. As a result she didn't hear Ruby practice a song. While the merger is saved, she nearly breaks down.

Luckily Lena is there. I love how Lena says she has the actual worst mother in the world. She tells Sam that her actions are teaching Ruby how to be a badass. I like this scene more from Lena's viewpoint that Sam's. Sam seems almost too fragile.  And Katie McGrath's kills it!

 Meanwhile, at CatCo, James and Kara have a great scene together where they talk about faith and miracles. It starts on the balcony!!! You know that means some wisdom is going to be delivered.

Kara keeps downplaying how special she is. But James talks about how he was rescued by Superman once. He fell off a bridge spire. When falling, James prayed to 'anyone' to intercede. And then Superman showed up and rescued him.

He talks about how prayers aren't usually answered. Kara is something physical, something that can be seen and touched. How could she not be considered a miracle. It is a great scene. And it is solid stuff from Mehcad Brooks. I have to say I like what I have seen from James this season much more than the Guardian nonsense from last year.

Ultimately, the artifact Coville gave Kara turns out to be a travel 'bible' that Kryptonians put in space probes they fired (a sort of version of the Voyager probe). Those probes were powered by Betahedrons (smaller versions of the Omegahedron from first season, another nice callback).

Coville has smuggled the Kryptonian probe into a National City hockey game and set up the Betahedron to explode. He and his followers hope that when Supergirl saves the 15,000 fans in attendance that their church will swell with numbers.

I love this shot. Coville looks the part of preacher. Kara floating in the background, light behind her, is very holy. It looks like a church of sorts. Great directing here.

Kara can't get near the probe because soil samples inside it have become Kryptonite. To prove she is no god, that this isn't her testing people's fates, she scratches her K-weakened hand and draws blood. She says she is no god and she will need help to stop the bomb. The followers run out.

Now look, there is all sorts of Christ imagery here. Person and god as one? Stigmata of crucifixion. It is a little on the nose. But I loved it.

Alex arrives. The staggering Kara burns a deep hole into the ground with her heat vision. Coville and Alex push the probe into the chasm where it explodes harmlessly ... sort of. The arena is fine.

The continuity nerd in me questions how the soil rocketed away from Krypton before it exploded could have turned into Kryptonite. Wasn't that a result of the nuclear reaction when the planet blew up? I'll chalk it up to comic book science.

One thing I have to compliment this season for are the wrap-up last scenes. Every episode has given us huge moments, building momentum for the next episode and season, all in the last 5 minutes.

Coville has been arrested. He won't release Kara's secret identity (he says he doesn't remember her actual name). But he sees that right now Kara is missing the clarity he saw in her that night on the plane wing. He sees doubt and loss. He will continue to pray to her and for her. (We better see him again.) I like that Coville wasn't a charlatan looking to bilk people out of money. He actually had faith!

Lena, Kara, and Alex join Sam in seeing Ruby's school song performance. Ruby sings 'Pure Imagination' from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The words stir strong feelings in Alex. She runs out and breaks down in front of Kara. Alex finally admits to herself she wants kids and everything that goes with them. She has been hoping she'd get over these feelings. She loves Maggie but she can't be whole without children.

We knew this was going to be the wedge in this relationship. Chyler Leigh is just wonderful in this scene, saying as much with her expressions and body language as she does with her words.

 Kara, who earlier talked about how those Rao prayers reminded her of community and her time on Krypton, recites them in the DEO with the AI Alura.

I suppose this shows that Kara is still in the 'I am an alien' mode.

And then we get the real meat of this ending.

Sam has a vision of the shrouded, monstrous person she saw in her vision in episode one. This time it speaks to her telling Sam she will Reign. And Sam thinks she is covered in Kryptonian letters.

It is all a hallucination. But Odette Annable really shows the horror she is feeling in that moment.

You might remember that at the end of this season premiere, we saw Reigns pod underwater and jostled to life by Morgan Edge's torpedo attack. Here we see that the Betahedron bomb exploding underground activated it further. In a beautiful homage to the Worldkillers in the New 52, we see tubes of orange goo in the ship. When the computers kick on we see movement inside of one. The Worldkillers are coming. It is probably this ship that is triggering the changes and visions in Sam.


Lots of stuff happened in this issue! I love the discussion on faith and religion. I love what I saw of Chyler, Mehcad, Odette, and of course Melissa. And I love all the callback and references to prior events in the show and comic plots as well. Just brilliant.

And this time Supergirl was the center of the show.

Hope you guys liked it as much as I did!


Anonymous said...

Thankfully it was more balanced and nuanced than I feared. And, how you've pointed out, Supergirl is the focus of the plot. So, my hat to the screenwriters.

Clearly Alex and Maggie are heading for a breakup due to the children issue... which commonly happens to real world couples, so I don't get why some "fans" have a trouble with it.

Sadly I've read articles claiming the plot was lifted from a Post-Crisis Superman story or a seventeen-year-old Flash issue. Good grief. I'm SO grateful for your site giving real, verified information.

Anonymous said...

Best episode so far this season hands down...the "brush with the big issues" recalls Star Trek at it's very best...and when the script works the cast very definitely "kick it up a notch" as well. I wonder if Colville's arc is to flip over to worshipping Reign at some point when Kara falls short of his messianic expectations...because his whole thing is "blind faith" which ten times worse then simply being a greedy schemer manipulating religion. Keep in mind "celebrating their Goddess" includes jumping off of roofs in the hopes their deity will save them, the picture definition of "Cult".
So I am hoping this guy shows up Alex's pending alcoholism I see plot possiblities with him....


Anonymous said...

I can only agree with everyone - I want to see more of Colville. I hope he doesn't turn to Reign though. He seems like a genuinely good person after his experience, just sadly misguided. I hope that he will find redemption and shine in a time of need when Kara needs spiritual support.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing as always, Anj. I'd have to say I'm in the contrarian side in that this episode was the weaker of the
episodes seen so far. I will give it that it didn't copy a previous story, SUperman or otherwise, but still the whole setup
seemed weak and poorly plotted. Case in point :

a) in that level of light at night, in the river, at that distance, Coville's able to see Kara's face, never mind her eyes.

b) he "knows" he's dealing with Supergirl just by standing up close with Kara -- well so much for the secret identity.

c) the biggest one that broke my Suspension Of Disbelief Meter(TM) was his line "able to find everything to do with Krypton."
So how did he have the time and money to do that, never mind translating Kryptonian? Unless there's a handy-dandy Universal
Translator included in the probe.

I'll just chalk the above to the usual rough patches and plotting inherent in the show.

I'm also slightly miffed that the win wasn't purely Supergirl's, but seeing her exposed to that much green kryptonite, Melissa
B's performance selling that like water in a drought, the "Journey to the Center Of the Earth" heatvision, and it being a
Danvers sister win in the end, I'll forgive that.

Two other points I liked was the arson scene itself -- some of it definitely riffed on Superman 3 and the chemical plant fire;
I half way expected some firemen on the ladders to fall a la Marc Mclure and needing Supergirl's rescue, and the final scene
of J'onn kneeling and praying with his father; kinda suprised you didn't mention this scene as well :)

Speaking of Odette Annable, if people haven't already seen or heard, the first pictures of her as Reign are up. WOW! Just...


KET said...

Having been primed for this episode years ago when PAD originated the 'Church of Supergirl' idea into his comics run in 2000, I was eager to see how the TV show would incorporate it into their world. Needless to say, they did not fact, this was a less cynical take than the comics had depicted, and perhaps more focused on the concept of hero worship gone too far. incorporating Kara's troubled emotional state made this episode's arrival perfect timing, and seems to be setting up a whole variety of situations for the Super-friends to wrestle with, not just Kara herself.

Favorite bits:

"Coville says he searched the world for all artifacts from Krypton and found something which gave him the words of Rao. Incensed at his twisting of Rao's words, Kara takes off her glasses (always a sign she means business) and tells him to stop his teachings."

I really like that there's already a clash of interpretations of Rao's teachings, which parallels different religious faith denominations here on Earth. Adds complexity to future proceedings, since now there's someone outside of Kara's circle of influence that knows her secret.

" Kara keeps downplaying how special she is. But James talks about how he was rescued by Superman once. He fell off a bridge spire. When falling, James prayed to 'anyone' to intercede. And then Superman showed up and rescued him."

Second favorite scene...great to see the thought-provoking chats between James and Kara returning. I had missed those from Season One.


Scrimmage said...

This show is at its very best when Supergirl is front and center, facing a dilemma that she can't simply punch her way out of, but this interesting, if uneven story was needlessly convoluted. Chad Lowe was brilliant, and quite believable as the cynic-turned-charismatic cult leader, Thomas Coville, and his “origin story” was quite plausible, until they inexplicably added the twist of having him not only worship Supergirl, but also co-opting her Kryptonian religion.

Coville's “Radical Raoism” made absolutely no sense at all, especially since the idea that Kryptonian artifacts existed on Earth prior to Kal-El's arrival has NEVER been established either in the comics, or on this show. There was no need to introduce “Rao” into the story, as anything other than the deity of Kara's religion, and the whole idea of Coville somehow obtaining an unstable alien artifact, much less sneaking into the basement of a professional hockey arena (a usually secured location), with a handful of “true believers” who have ALREADY been saved once, and using it to blow up a few thousand unsuspecting hockey fans to “convert them,” is almost as silly as it is contrived.

Coville should've simply worshiped Supergirl as a deity, and as his cult grew more popular, he could've held a rally in her honor, where he secretly planned to set off a conventional bomb to “sanctify” a few thousand attendees! Now, THAT would've been diabolically clever, especially if his plan wasn't uncovered until the very last minute, when he trapped everyone inside, revealed the bomb, and announced his intentions publicly on live television, confident in his unwavering faith that Supergirl would STILL find a way to save the day, while offering the whole world PROOF that she IS the God Coville says she is. Supergirl would've had to find a way to disable the bomb, WITHOUT anyone knowing she did it, perhaps setting off the sprinklers to make it appear that the water shorted out the timer, and giving credit to the police and fire department for saving everyone. That would've discredited Coville, and ended his Supergirl Cult once and for all.

As it was, the resolution was rather disappointing. I did like the way Kara used her weakened condition to show Coville's followers that she's just as mortal as they are, but in the end, all Supergirl did was justify Coville's faith that she would swoop in to save the day at the last minute. She did nothing to dissuade him, which will make him even more dangerous the next time around, as is usually the case with religious fanatics.

This episode started with a fascinating premise, but it failed to live up to its promise with a poorly written, weak third act. Hopefully we'll see Coville again, and revisit this interesting question of how humans would react to “gods” living among us.

Scrimmage said...

In a show that's supposedly all about “female empowerment,” I'm surprised at how often these strong, fiercely independent, supposedly TOUGH women are reduced to blubbering blobs of jelly over something as simple as a child's song. On the other hand, we've never see James, or even Winn overcome by their emotions to the point of tears, and it's hard to imagine Cat Grant ever crying over ANYTHING, but unfortunately, she's GONE!

Sam runs a multi-national conglomerate, for Pete's sake, and yet she gets weepy over the idea that she couldn't blow off a crisis in a major merger-acquisition just to listen to her kid sing a song??!! Are you KIDDING me?? Sam should've had THAT conversion with herself YEARS ago! Having second thoughts about her life choices at this late date make her look like something OTHER than a self-made, confident career woman. She comes off more as someone who looks like she NEEDS a man in her life, because she CAN'T do it all by herself.

Likewise, Alex used to be portrayed as a highly trained soldier, a professional, who should be in control of her emotions at all times, but lately, if she's not arguing with her girlfriend in front of the DEO troops she commands, she's crying in her pillow, or in her sister's arms over the question of raising children. It makes Alex look like ANOTHER woman whose problems could be solved by a man.

Far be it for me to ever question the value of traditional relationships and families, but what's with all the mixed messages this show is putting out? The “Girls Night In” party was supposed to be a celebration of the success of these “empowered” women, but instead, they all came across as miserable in SPITE of all their accomplishments. Kara is especially heartsick and depressed after the end of her first serious relationship, Sam is obviously lonely as a young, single mother, Lena puts up a good front with stories of her near-misses in the romance department, and the cracks in Alex and Maggie's relationship are starting to become fissures! None of these “powerful” women seem particularly HAPPY, and the common denominator among them is that none of them have a man in their lives! What's up with THAT? When I think back to Kara's pure joy last season, as she fell in love with Mon-El, I can't help but be struck by the contrast in the tone of the whole show between then and now. It just seems darker, and more pessimistic than before.

Soapy angst is fine, but I prefer my Supergirl to smile every once in awhile.

And don't get me started on the woefully miscast Ruby. If that saccharine song was supposed to tug at our heartstrings, it failed miserably. The best thing I can say about that is “Thank goodness for the mute button!” I can only imagine that she must be related to somebody high up in the show, or on the network, because she has no discernible talent whatsoever. On a show filled with space aliens, and other supernatural entities, she stands out as the most out of place character of all! I can only HOPE that Ruby's demise will bring about her mother's transformation into a new enemy for Supergirl, and that it's PERMANENT!

Anonymous said...

> On the other hand, we've never see James, or even Winn overcome by their emotions to the
> point of tears, and it's hard to imagine Cat Grant ever crying over ANYTHING, but
> unfortunately, she's GONE!

While not to the point of tears, what immediately comes to my mind is :

- Jimmy's "I need the suit now!" gungho before he became Guardian.

- Winn's "I hate my father, but I'm keeping it in check" scene in S1.

And yeah, Cat hasn't been seen crying before; the closest I can think of is again in S1
when we're introduced to her 2nd son Adam, and she gives a very slight peek behind her
emotional curtains that there's a human there...


KET said...

"Coville's “Radical Raoism” made absolutely no sense at all, especially since the idea that Kryptonian artifacts existed on Earth prior to Kal-El's arrival has NEVER been established either in the comics, or on this show."

Didn't have to. Theories of ancient history are just that: they're theories, often based on presumed fact. It's pretty common knowledge in regards to scientific THEORY.

"And don't get me started on the woefully miscast Ruby...."
...whose purpose in this season arc seems to have totally escaped you. Unfortunately for me, this episode seemed to info dump a lot of plot points towards the end, beginning with Alex's breakdown that she wants to be a mom, and that negates Sanvers. It's looking real obvious that Alex will be looking to adopt Ruby once Reign takes over for Samantha.


Anj said...

Thanks for the great comments and discussion.

I also wondered how Coville could have tracked these things down but then I remembered about how powerful faith and having a mission can carry someone. I assumed he is penniless, having given everything up to continue his faith journey.

And I agree that Sam could end up with Alex in a nice way to complete both characters' arcs.

Anonymous said...

If there is an underground "illegal alien" population cohort on Earth 38, then it stands to reason that there must be a "Black Market" in alien artifacts, Colville would have tapped into something like that in order to recover his precious relics. Thats a storyline right there, but Warner Brothers doesn't employ me so...:)


Scrimmage said...

Upon further review, Winn did get misty-eyed when he said goodbye to Superman at the end of last season, but my point is, he doesn't make a habit of it.

Excellent theory about a black market for alien artifacts, but in the established Superman canon, Jor-El was supposedly the only Kryptonian who was aware of Earth's existence before his planet exploded. Krypton would've never sent a probe like that to Earth, especially since interstellar travel was forbidden on Krypton for centuries before Kal-El was born. That fact seems to have been ignored by the writers of this show.

That's too bad, because in my opinion, too many Kryptoninans (or their stuff somehow making its way to Earth) diminishes Kal-El and Kara's unique status as the Last Son and Daughter of Krypton. The fact that they're supposed to be the sole survivors of a doomed planet is part of what makes them so special, but it's hard to maintain that when they can't swing a bad guy around without hitting some previously unknown Kryptonian from the old neighborhood, with a grudge against Kara and her family.

KET said...

"Excellent theory about a black market for alien artifacts, but in the established Superman canon..."

...which the show has been cherry-picking from for what works with the show's stories, and not upholding old myths like they are somehow sacrosanct. They're not.

As for Superman, Tyler Hoechlin is already working on something else, so it seems that the show has moved on from that obvious stunt-casting from last season. From what I'm surmising about this season, Superman would likely turn tail and run away screaming from this story arc....and maybe already has in some other media presentation. :)


Martin Gray said...

Pretty decent episode, it’s so rare to see faith be the focus of a show outside something like that thing with that Irish woman as an angel. But lose a gajillion points for the use of the turgid Hallelujah - I thought TV companies were over that maudlin monstrosity.

Let wrotes: ‘Having been primed for this episode years ago when PAD originated the 'Church of Supergirl' idea into his comics run in 2000, I was eager to see how the TV show would incorporate it into their world.’ So which other bits of Supergirl history are you primed for, KET?

Lena Luthor remains the loveliest lady. Again, just tell her already, Kara.

Anonymous said...

"...whose purpose in this season arc seems to have totally escaped you."

And you're basing this condescending statement on... what, exactly?