Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Supergirl Episode 407: Rather The Fallen Angel


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Supergirl episode #407, 'Rather The Fallen Angel' was another very good show in this strong season. This season is clearly a referendum on immigration with the villain being a xenophobe and the good guys trying to stop a violent uprising based on hate.

But one thing the show has been doing very well is show how there are shades of gray between the starkness of white and black. Agent Liberty is too far gone now, a murdering extremist. But the events that nudged him down that path were real, showing how he felt like an outcast in his own land. Manchester Black we learn here is also too far gone, attacking humans who disagree with him violently. Neither of these people, politically diametrically opposed, are heroes. But they are the extreme edges.

In the middle are people like Tom, the Children of Liberty member who realizes his error. And James, who was willing to compromise himself to save one person. And Lena who is willing to risk the lives of people for her research. Kara says it clearly at the end of this episode, the duality of people ... some mix of good and bad ... is making it more and more difficult to judge with the lens of simple 'good' and 'bad'. For a show that has worn its political heart on its sleeve in an over-the-top way, this nuanced approach is refreshing.

Agent Liberty was hurt as Ben Lockwood when he lost everything ... but his reactionary stance after was wrong. Manchester Black was hurt when he lost everything ... but his reactionary stance after was wrong. They are two sides of the same coin. But both sides have been scratched up. In essence, these were people who fell, like the fallen angels in the title.

Aside from a few plot conveniences which push the plot forward, the story here and the imagery was all very good. This is probably the strongest season for me in this show so far. On to the details.


We start out with Supergirl, floating in the sky over the city listening. I love that imagery.
She hears about a break in at a fission rod factory and heads down to join Manchester Black confronting members of the Children of Liberty.

Proving once again that she is faster than a speeding bullet, Supergirl stops Black from being shot. The remaining Children are arrested but the fission rods are gone. One member admits this was a two part job. One half was this robbery. The other was stealing a cargo shipment.

Early on we see Manchester's true nature seeping through the cracks as he really begins a beatdown on these men. But he tells Supergirl they need to team up as partners. They can help after all he tracked these men to the robbery before the police did.

Now one thing I need to point out here is that the Children of Liberty are now more akin to a criminal gang than a political movement. Stealing nuclear material? Attacking citizens? Every law enforcement agent should be looking for them and their telltale hoodies and masks.

Last episode ended with James being thrown into a van to be brought before Agent Liberty. We catch up with James, now at an unknown location. Liberty continues to preach his rhetoric of human exceptionalism and how Guardian will be a spokesperson to galvanize his believers. But we see James reach out asking Liberty what happened to bring about this core of anger.

Again, James trying to sway people who can be swayed is a plot for his character I can finally get behind.


Last week, Lena's harunel protocol created an indestructible heart. Shame on me for not putting that symbolism together. She is looking for an unbreakable heart for herself; she has been dealing with so much emotional pain herself, she'd probably love to have an invulnerable 'heart'.

Here we learn about the person who signed up for her human protocol. It is clear early on that we are supposed to compare this subject to Lena as mirror images. When Miss Tessmacher says 'you both have green eyes' it is a clue to us. But everyone has a stake in this. Eve's cousin is dying. This could cure her. Eve is worried about a civil war in the explosive world we live in.

Lena refuses to get personal with this young man, calling him subject 0331, not by name. But we learn his brother died. And we see he has physical scars.


Back at the DEO, Kara is surprised to see Ben Lockwood have his own television show.

And he is ratcheting up the hate. He talks of the missing Children of Liberty who were 'peacefully protesting' and have gone missing. He blames Supergirl, saying she is the potential eradication of the human race.

A bigger platform means bigger lies I guess. Attacking Supergirl seems to be working as we see some 'people on the streets' talking about her badly.

What I do like about this is that we see how charismatic Lockwood is. He picks his words carefully. You can see how he might convince someone.


We then cut to James, now being held against his will. But he has also convinced someone. Tom realizes the methods of the CoL are wrong. He has been inspired by James. He decides to break James out and escape.

Running from his prison, James realizes he is on Shelley Island, a sort of Ellis Island for aliens. There is a monument of a hand holding a torch. There are welcoming films from Supergirl saying power dampeners will keep super-abilities in check.

The escape is foiled and Tom looks like he is going to be killed as an 'Earth traitor' before James speaks up. He'll do anything to keep Tom safe, even giving in to Liberty's demands.

I'll say this whole thing is odd. This is the first time we've heard of this place, shut down since President Marsdin abdicated. An alien processing center from an alien President? You can see how that might be skewed. And does this mean Earth and/or America are destinations for aliens? How long has this been going on? Aliens were an anomaly, hidden in prior seasons. Now we have a processing station. Lastly, a place like this means these aliens are legal immigrants and refugees, having been welcomed officially. This seems to undercut the 'refugee' theme of this season.

And since we never saw this before, when James first ran out and saw the infomercial by Kara, I thought this might be some mock-up by Agent Liberty to show how bad things could be. Could this be an Earth without humans where aliens land like in an airport. It took me a bit to figure out this was real.

Lastly, if power dampening technology exists in this world, why isn't it being used willy nilly by lots of people?

I almost wish the idea of this place was introduced, even by name in an earlier episode. Shelley Island though must be named after Mary Shelley. After all, this whole season is about defining life, human life, and science to improve human life ... all very Frankenstein.


Manchester Black has a lead for the cargo theft hinted at during the earlier robbery. An empty cargo container means something was stolen. Luckily a clue remains, a scrap of label under the container.

I loved the simple conveyance of powers in this scene. Using x-ray vision, Kara sees the scrap. And then, in a moment that reminded me of Baby Kal lifting the truck in the Donner Superman movie, she lifts one end to get it.

But once again we see the anger Black is struggling to contain. He dons brass knuckles and threatens the storage facility manager. Supergirl has to step in to say that they don't hurt innocent people.

Again, that juxtaposition of Black and Liberty is clear.


In fact this whole episode has good use of showing Supergirl's powers, like here she pulls out a burned turkey pot pie from the hot over without oven mitts. I love how Alex refrains from this recooked turkey.

This scene is something of a nice exposition scene between the super-family of Kara, Alex, and J'onn.

Alex says that the missing Children of Liberty have been found; they were beaten, tortured, and shot. It doesn't look like an alien killed them.

Meanwhile, J'onn feels that Manchester Black is a good guy in a ton of pain. He is useful, resourceful. But he is emotionally bereft.

And finally, Brainy says the crate label Kara gave him has traces of Nalcyite, an element with which you can make a precise nuclear explosion. (I love how Brainy also comments on the ink and glue found on the label. It is almost absent-minded professor-ish. Endearing.)


The Lena stuff is also fascinating.

She calls herself Dr. Kieran (we learned this was Lena's middle name earlier on the show). She admits to having chosen this subject because of how he answered a question based on Nagel's spider conundrum. A spider trapped in a bathtub trying to escape the water ... do you kill it, set it free, or leave it alone. This candidate said leave it alone, the only candidate to do so. And that is how Lena thinks. After all, how can they know what the spider wants. It again shows how this person is a reflection of Lena.

This is based on an actual essay by Thomas Nagel, 'Birth, Death, and the Meaning of Life'. In this, he removed a spider trapped in a urinal to the floor thinking he had done something good only to find the spider dead exactly where he left it. It shows the dangers of thinking you know what is right.

We then learn that the candidate did lose his older brother. His brother was perfect, nauseatingly so (perhaps a Lex figure)? His brother donated a kidney for this candidate. But the brother died on the table. The brother was trying to be a hero.

This candidate learns the experiment is to cure cancer and give powers. Lena picked him because his spider answer showed he wouldn't want to be a hero if he got powers. She doesn't want that. But he also has some self-hatred, calling himself a coward and cursed. He wouldn't have helped his brother.

I am sure that Lena feels the exact same way about herself. What had been an impersonal scientist/subject relationship has become very personal.


Back on the mainland, Kara takes J'onn's advice and reaches out to Manchester Black as partners. Together they realize that the Nalcyite shipment must have been offloaded on an island and the only one nearby is Shelley.

Black says calling in the DEO is a mistake because the CoL would scatter. Better to sneak in on their own. Supergirl knows about the power dampeners but has a yellow sun grenade on her to combat them. Black inspects it and is impressed.

Never let anyone examine your emergency tech. Unfortunately, this proves true.


Because on the island, the dampened Kara tries to activate the grenade and it doesn't go off. Black removed the battery.

She isn't powerless. But she can barely fly. And the Children of Liberty can hold her down with chains.

Turns out Black has been setting this whole thing up ... being at the fission robbery, planting the label ... all to get Supergirl weakened and available to Agent Liberty.


On the mainland, we see Lockwood crafting his news for the night in which he plans to show that Guardian is a believer in the Children of Liberty and their cause. That is because James has agreed to say what they want him to say on camera while be blows up the Shelley Island monument, all to save his new friend Tom.

On the island, the weakened Supergirl is chained within the torch statue. She sees the Nalcyite bomb there. She is dampened but not powerless. She breaks the chains. In a very Gal Gadot Diana moment, we see her climbing up the concrete wall by digging her fingers into the stone (like when Wonder Woman climbs to get into the Themiscyrian armory).

But she is too far away for her screams to be heard. She sees James arm the bomb.

Again, nice subtle showing of power, even in this less than super state.


Meanwhile, Black is brought before Agent Liberty. His ruse was built on the idea that he believed in their manifesto and wanted to bring it back to the UK. But they know he loved Fiona.

The Agent Liberty he is brought before isn't Lockwood. In a very John Wick moment, Black coldly shoots all those Children around him until he is just left with the phony Agent.


Just prior to hitting the button, James sees Kara's heat vision in the base of the statue. He knows he is being duped. At the same time, Black comes out guns ablazing.

Between James and his buddy Tom throwing punches and Black's uncanny and lethal marksmanship, the Children are routed.


And then, showing he isn't all bad, Black shoots the power dampening pylons, freeing Supergirl so she can toss the bomb into the upper atmosphere. (Nice perspective shot there.)

And then as the bomb explodes akin to fireworks, we get this very patriotic shot, almost like Supergirl near the Statue of Liberty torch on Fourth of July.  The imagery is obvious ... but I don't care. It works!

The whole plot is foiled. James hasn't compromised himself. Supergirl is alive.


As for Lena, earlier we see her tell her painful story. When Lena was 4, she watched her birth mother drown. She didn't cry. She didn't run for help. She just watched. And then she was sent to the Luthors where she has suffered. Perhaps she thinks she is paying for her sin. She calls the subject Adam, again humanizing him. (Would it have been better for him to be Allen? Lena spelled sideways?)

In the end she wants to send Adam home but he demands to take the risk in hopes of helping others, the first selfless thing he'll do. She injects him with the harunel.

Unfortunately, we learn he died 3 minutes later. She did get new information which will help her. But he is dead. Is this a line Lena has crossed? As she said, she 'moved the spider'. She was in the end responsible for Adam's death.

All along I have seen the pieces being moved into place to turn Lena wicked. It is like a slow play of Lockwood's episode as we see the events played out over the long haul. But this is where I think we will see that somehow the main characters will stop her. This will be their ultimate win ... stopping another villain like Agent Liberty from being made.

Or maybe stopping another villain like Manchester Black from forming.

Black now sports a kevlar vest with the Union Jack. And when he is confronted by J'onn over his crimes, Black plays dirty. He sticks J'onn with an empathy amplifier and then feeds the Martian Manhunter all the pain he is feeling, all the sin he has committed. J'onn sees it all, the murder and torture and emotional agony. And amplified, it floors him.

Meanwhile, James and Kara both talk about how you can only know what people show you, not what their hiding. Black is bad ... but he helped her too. James compromised himself but he felt he needed to. He understands Lena. It is here we get that discussion of duality.

If you take a step back, this whole season is built on people who have fallen deep into extremism (like Black and Lockwood) or are struggling to define themselves knowing the human condition is complex (like Lahey, Tom, James, and Lena). My guess is the show realizes that the extremists are lost causes. It is the 'gray' that need to be nudged to the light. Like Tom. And hopefully like Lena.

The show ends with a peek into television night at the Danvers.

There is innocent Brainy, taking notes on the Three Stooges.

In walks the crying J'onn, still rocked by Black's pain. He thinks he failed.

And then we see that Black has new information beaten out of the faux Agent Liberty. He knows the Lockwood is the real Agent.

So this was a good episode focusing on the complexity of belief, on trying to do what you think is right even though the end results are wrong, and about quelling the more base motivations and desires.

One thing that I love about this is that, at least for now, Supergirl has remained above the fray, a pure symbol of hope. While Lockwood might try to besmirch her, her actions are without blemish. She is hope and inspiration.

I am very impressed with this season.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good review. It's been a pretty decent episode.

I'm sorry for the off-topic, but have you seen this, Anj?

https://twitter.com/DCComics/status/1067417834031067136

Intriguing.

By the way, Supergirl makes an appearance in this week's Injustice vs Masters of the Universe issue. Is it worth? Honestly, as someone who has been a He-Man fan since the 80's, I wouldn't recommend it to DC OR He-Man fans. It's only strangers wearing the faces of beloved characters and put through an idiotic, poorly-drawn plot.

I mean, I'd never say the old cartoons were brilliantly plotted, but they were still better than this mess.

Anonymous said...

I don't think we have seen the last of Adam, I think the moving the spider thing was closer to the allegory. After all, Lena was very well aware of Adam's wishes in regards to the experiment.

I think Lena did kill him, but that she opted to do something to Adam afterwards that he was incapable of consenting to. My guess is that she saved him in a ghoulish way, maybe as an indestructible brain a jar or something. She moved the spider without regards to its own wishes.

Anonymous said...

Enjoyable episode overall, though not without it's plot holes and rough patches. Let me single out the moments of SUPERGIRL
being SUPER -- the opening "faster than a speeding bullet" scene, the lifting up the shipping container, and the final
bomb save scene -- were ice cream, whipped cream and cherries on top! To TPTB, keep that up please! I also continue to enjoy
Manchester Black's presence on this show, though his betrayal of Supergirl on Shelley's Island, though not entirely unexpected,
utterly grated on my nerves.

I also have to give kudos to the Lena / Adam scenes, as well as the final J'onn J'onnz scene -- both Katie and David sold their
stuff like water in a drought!

Good point re: CoL being more akin to a criminal gang than a political movement, though I have to give another kudos to Ben
Lockwood for the interesting duality he portrays -- cleanshaven, polite, and reasonable one moment while utterly given to death
and destruction the next. I'm not big either on the "power dampers" deux ex machina, or CoL able to take out Supergirl with
some chains either -- never mind I'm sure Supergirl and the DEO would have contingencies and training for such a situation
-- but I'll just roll with it. And I see I'm not the only one that noted the Wonder Woman-esque climbing bit; nice touch! :)

Two more episodes to Elsewhere crossover, and 6 more episodes to Jon Cryer's Luthor. Can't wait!


Regards

Anonymous said...

I actually thought, this was pretty much the clunkiest episode all season, albeit strongly tempered by the good character beats that got goosed all along. One of the things I loved about it was simply, that Alex was largely sidelined in a story that put Supergirl in an considerable amount of personal peril.
I kept telling myself Sunday "why am I enjoying this clunkier-than-usual Supergirl ep" I mean "Shelley Island" is pretty much a ginormous plot device surmounted by some modern sculpture. And then it hit me, I wanted the whole thing to be drawn by Bob Oksner and scripted by Steve Skeates!
I reconceptualized it as a Adventure Comics story "Danger on Depowerment Island!" I mean if you think about it, its a very bronze age storyline, very casual depowerment, a show of grit & determination amidst adversity, a sketchy ally, aggrieved human foes right down to a "lesson learned", nothing could be more bronze age quite frankly.
As for Manchester Black, Lena and Agent Liberty, they will all be undone in succession not because they've embraced Great Evil but because they've think the End Justifies the Means when it comes to their own Cherished Causes...

JF

Scrimmage said...

Another excellent review, Anj. While it's clear that in this episode, the writers were drawing comparisons between Lockwood and Manchester Black – as you said “They are two sides of the same coin,” – I think there are some very important differences between them.

First of all, Manchester Black is a sociopath, and a born killer. I'm sure he knows the difference between right and wrong; he just doesn't care. Even before all this recent ugliness with his girlfriend, he was apparently a VERY angry person, who was all about taking out that anger on anyone who had the misfortune to cross him. No matter what happened in his life, Black would've always found SOME excuse to hurt people, whether he was a soccer hooligan spoiling for a fight, or a grief-stricken mercenary, avenging the murder of his alien lover. As far as I'm concerned, he's just a remorseless, unrepentant, serial murderer, AND a cop-killer! That's why he'll get no sympathy from ME.

Likewise, Lockwood has gone beyond repentance or forgiveness, but his particular brand of madness doesn't come from an inherent disregard for his fellow man, or for society in general. On the contrary, he's convinced himself that what he's doing is in the SERVICE of his fellow human beings, and that his cause is the last, best hope to PRESERVE that society, and to save it from extinction. Lockwood honestly believes that it's his DESTINY to lead mankind in the fight against the “alien threat.” To him, that “noble” end justifies ANY means, and he has appointed / anointed himself as the ONLY one who is capable of deciding what must be done, and who will live, and who has to die. Lockwood is a charismatic, highly intelligent zealot, and a classic megalomaniac with delusions of grandeur. That kind of man is FAR more dangerous than a murdering thug like Black, no matter HOW much of a badass he is.

In the end, Manchester Black is just a killer. Agent Liberty is a deadly IDEA!

Scrimmage said...

I've been impressed by the show's Special Effects all season. It seems like they give us something new, and very cool, every episode. Last week, it was a flying, fire-breathing dragon. This week, it was a couple of “blink-and-you'll-miss-it” Supergirl flying sequences, combining animation with live action. The scenes when Supergirl flew threw the window into the DEO, and then later, when she flew to the dock, and landed near the cargo container reminded me of the old 1948-50 Superman movie serials starring Kirk Alyn. Whenever Superman needed to fly away, Alyn would duck behind a car, or a boulder, and then we'd see a cartoon Superman streaking off, “Up, up, and AWAY!” When he landed, they just reversed the process. The flying and landing sequences in this episode employed that same technique, only using modern, CGI technology to blend the animation and the live action more seamlessly. I just like seeing Supergirl coming in for a landing almost as much as I enjoy watching her take off.

Other things I enjoyed about this episode...

Brainy's technobabble is getting to be something I look forward to every week. There's almost always something hidden among all the nonsense that makes me smile.

Supergirl showing up at Manchester Black's with a burnt turkey pot pie! That was classic! When has a superhero ever done THAT?

Things I DIDN'T like about this episode...

Supergirl's super-gullibility. It was one thing for her to agree to team up with Manchester outside of the DEO, but the idea that she KNEW she was going somewhere potentially dangerous, where her powers could be dampened, yellow sun grenade, or NOT, and didn't even give Alex or Brainy a heads up, was uncharacteristically na├»ve, even for HER! Every cell in her body should've been screaming “It's a TRAP!!!”

And just how in the heck did the CoL wrap those chains around Supergirl? How could normal humans toss big, heavy, metal chains around like that? On the dock, they looked like they just looped them around her wrists and ankles somehow, but in the tower, they had more conventional cuffs. That's the trouble with CGI. The more they use it, the greater the chances are that something's going to look unrealistic.

As for those power dampeners on Shelley Island, I agree with Anj that if such technology existed, why hasn't it been employed more widely? Why hasn't the DEO used portable versions of those towers to surround and depower hostile aliens? Why don't private businesses, or whole communities have them set up as a precaution in “powers free” zones? Why haven't Supergirl's enemies used it against her before now? How can there even BE a “one-size depowers all aliens” technology? Kara's powers are derived from the sun, but other aliens' powers are more natural, and organic, like shape-shifting, super-human strength, while others are perceptual, like telepathy. I just don't like the idea that super powers – especially Kara and Kal's – can be switched off like a light bulb, with off-the-shelf technology. We already see Supergirl depowered too often (as a plot device) as it is!

We also saw some “techno-wardrobe” that I found hard to swallow, like James' wristband / Guardian Shield. That thing would have to weigh at LEAST fifty pounds, but it clearly doesn't. And whatever happened to the Signal Watch? I'm sorry, but this guy is NOT Jimmy Olsen. I also didn't care for Manchester's “Pop-up bulletproof chest plate,” complete with the Union Jack logo. Between that, and the ridiculous “Empathy Amplifier” I sounded like Jack Nicholson's Joker, asking myself... “Where does he GET all those wonderful toys?”

Lena was drop-dead gorgeous in her scenes with Adam, and then he dropped dead. Coincidence??

At least Supergirl saved the day in the end. That's an improvement over recent episodes.

Anonymous said...

Scrimmage, a good point on ends justifying the means, which is typical of how the political left operates in this country.

Anj..."There is innocent Brainy, taking notes on the Three Stooges."

Hmm...a playful shout out it seems to WPIX 11 in NYC, which even I remember airing The Three Stooges on Sunday mornings. That's a generation ago it seems now as this writer ages himself.

Anonymous..."Good point re: CoL being more akin to a criminal gang than a political movement."

Hmm...seems to me that's a description of Antifa, a bunch of so-called anti-fascists who hide their heads with masks and promote violence, and in reality they are promoting fascism.

Going a bit off topic, Anj, you also cover Superman here. Well, Superman in a sense will be seen with another cartoon superman, Popeye! The Warner Archive Collection (WAC) will be releasing Popeye the Sailor: The 1940's, Volume 1 on December 11th. On it are the first 14 color cartoons from Famous Studios which took over for the Fleischers around 1940. One of the cartoons is She Sick Sailors, which spoofs Superman. The 14 cartoons on this first volume were "created from 4K scans of the original nitrate Technicolor negatives."

The set will be for blu-ray and DVD players.

Anonymous said...

Anj: "I will delete anyone spreading conspiracies."

Also Anj: "I am okay with this comment saying a movement is secretly spreading fascism despite all noted evidence to the contrary and using 'the left' as a political boogeyman cuz it name-checked the show."

Can't go one week without being a total hypocrite, can you, "doc"? Your review suggests you aren't as far right as your commenters, yet you let them proliferate and spread their hate.

Anonymous said...

Oh well there is no one more far right than me, I wrote in Gonzalo Queipo De Llano y Sierra for President in 2016 after all...that took up a lot of room, boy howdy.

BTW Supergirl scales the side of a building, Spiderman style in Supergirl #5 to prevent a radio tower from toppling during another period of "casual depowerment" circa 1972, grit and determination being her watchwords even when being well drawn yet underwritten.

:)

JF

Professor Feetlebaum said...

Great news on Popeye! It's about time! Those of us who bought the first 3 Warner Bros. volumes (featuring the black and white Fleischer and early Famous Studios Popeye cartoons) have had to wait ten years for this. I could say more, but since this is Supergirl and not Popeye Comic Box Commentary, I will not.

Nutation said...

I am really enjoying the complicated characters. You cover things well, Anj, so I will only add a few thoughts.

Some excellent simple imagery of Supergirl being super - listening to the city, lifting the cargo container, bare-handing the hot pot pie. (That last one we've seen before.)

Lena calls herself "Dr. Kieran"? No! She has a perfectly good alias available. Call her "Dr. Thorul".

> I'm not big either on the "power dampers" deus ex machina, or CoL able to take out Supergirl with some chains either

Generic power dampers never make sense. Something specific may, if it targets the X-gene or solar power absorption. But, the plot-convenient general ones always suppress too much or too little from the character point of view.

DEO has had personal dampers for a while (collars and, I think, handcuffs). These towers are new, though. I agree with Anj, Shelly Island is a complete retcon.

I did like Supergirl retaining some power. That's uncommon, unlike the total nullification. My housemate described her straining against the chains as a "Peter Parker moment". Can she find the willpower? And then she did the wall-crawling...

> There is innocent Brainy, taking notes on the Three Stooges.
Maybe he will learn some new combat techniques.
I'll show myself out now.