Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Supergirl Episode 514: The Bodyguard

I continue my better late than never reviews of the Supergirl show, looking at episode 514, titled The Bodyguard.

This was a solid middle chapter episode, pushing forward a lot of the subplots of this season, giving each character a moment to shine, and hearkening back to one of the strongest beats from season one. Moreover, we again see the show leaning into its own history, bringing back to minor characters from seasons past.

There seem to be two main plotlines this season. In one, 'hero' Lex Luthor with Brainiac 5 are fighting the potential bad of Levithan. Lex is quite charming as he woos Levithan and his sister all while working all his won angles. But his smooth words and guile can't forever hide his utter lack of compassion for humanity. He is out for number one, himself. Now I love the concept of Leviathan and I think Jon Cryer is an incredible Lex. If this was the only plot this season I'd be thrilled.

But the primary plot for me is the "temptation of Lena" as Lena Luthor walks on the knife's edge between misguided good guy and outright villain. I like Lena; I always have. But this season, she seems a bit dark. More important, she seems oblivious of her own turning. Perhaps her working with Lex is blinding her. Because for a moment this episode, she seems to realize she is in the wrong, only to have Lex nudge her back into the shadows.

Interestingly, given their reliance on Andrea Rojas and her VR Obsidian tech, both of these plots are going to intersect at some point. The theme of what is real and not real has certainly been part of this season as well. Hmmm..

Add to that good moments and character progression for Alex, Brainy, Nia, and even William and you have a fun episode.

We start with a scene mixing Brave, the Hobbit, and Excalibur. An archer on horse slays a dragon with an arrow while O Fortuna swells in the background.

Turns out it is a woman using Obsidian's VR. And this is a VR so powerful you can smell, taste, and touch. But we see the power and seduction of this new world. The young warrior is an elderly woman in a wheelchair. Certainly this is a different life.

And the new version of the VR, souped up with LCorp tech, is going live that night.

Someone else is at this little pop-up site, William.

Even though he was shot down by Kara last episode, he keeps trying to impress. He brings Kara her coffee. And now we know what to order!

But not everyone is thrilled by the go live of the VR.

As Andrea rides her private elevator, it shorts in pink energy. Plummeting to the ground, she gets an old school elevator save from Supergirl. Pretty decent CGI here, with Supergirl crashing through the wall and catching the car as it falls. Nice work.

Turns out there is an anti-tech, anti-VR militant out there. And the manifesto is delivered to CatCo.

Now Kara has said this season how she worries that people will recede from each other if they start spending more time in VR than  in the real world. This is that belief amped up to 11. This person is willing to destroy what they have to.

I thought for sure the coffe mug ring on the notebook would be some clue for later consumption. But I was wrong. So much for my sleuthing.

Meanwhile, Lena's Non Nocere is proceeding well.

Her tech now works on animals, the Maaldorian Dendroasp lying with the Shih Tzu.

But human experiments and successes remain elusive.

In discussing with Lex, Lena admits that her old friends think that she is trying to rob humanity of free will. She continues to think that her Non Nocere program, rewriting people's minds to stop harm is still above board.

And there is brother Lex. He knows that Lena's old friends think she has turned evil, walking the Luthor path. But he doesn't think so.

For me, this is all a feint. Lex wants Lena evil. He knows she is walking down the 'for the good of humanity I'll do something evil' road that he has trod on.

But man, Cryer just kills it. In fact, every scene with the Luthor sibs just crackles. Katie McGrath and Jon Cryer have this sort of grudging, sorta hateful respect in all their lines.

And then, in an interesting wrinkle, we learn the plan that Lex has with the Toyman program he and Brainy stole.

I thought for sure Lex wanted to figure out how he could use it himself to enter the virtual world. Instead, he knows that Leviathan leaders are techno-organic beings from Krypton's galaxy. Maybe he can convert the Toyman program into a kill code.

I guess the Rama Khan episode told us that. But he didn't seem technological, especially given how Khan shot down Gemenae's 'technology' solutions.

But since they are from near Krypton, their skin would be impervious to normal injections. So instead Brainy thinks he could download it into their system if he was within Leviathan's HQ.

Now all this is new information. But it feels like it came out of left field. Literally injecting code into Leviathan? Knowing how their headquarter programming works? I guess I have to roll with it.

No better way for Lex to get on Gemma Cooper's good side than by protecting Andrea Rojas and Obsidian. So he'll send Supergirl to bodyguard Andrea.

Supergirl initially refuses but Lex pulls the 'I know you're Kara' card out and she falls in line.

This works better after last episode. When Kara's identity was released, everyone died. She has to take this threat seriously.

And then in another leap, Lex actually has a talk with Gemma in which he basically says 'I know you're Levithan' and she basically says 'yes I am'.

He will give them Supergirl as a bodyguard this way Leviathan doesn't have to tip their hand about who works for them. In return, he hopes they can continue to be friends.

She isn't shy in throwing not so veiled threats at Lex. If he can't hold up his end, she and her associates aren't likely to give him a second chance.

The last time we saw these two, Lex was all schmoozy and pretty charming. I didn't think they were that open about their nefarious sides in that restaurant scene. So this also seemed a bit rushed.

Meanwhile, Lex owns a prison and some of the prisoners have volunteered to be subjects for Lena.

In the cell block, a bunch of ultra violent inmates mingle with others who are constantly harassed. Included in that group? Steve from last year's Crime and Punishment.

Crisis be damned. Even if this is a new world and history, the show runners are showing us those older episodes still matter!

I include this only to show how charming Melissa Benoist is.

When Andrea pulls out her phone to grab a selfie with her bodyguard, Benoist puts a surprised and awkward expression on.

Benoist is a super-star.

J'onn and Alex hunt down their only clue. The pink energy is emitted by Chlorophyllians, a race which absorbs sun energy and can use that energy to grow crops. They are usually peaceful.

Inside the alien bar, we run across a familiar face. I can't find which episode Alex roughed this guy up in but they both acknowledge their past. Again, leaning into the show's history.

He knows that some Chlorophyllian on a farm outside of town is trying to get hold of military tech.

When the two call up Brainy and ask them to track down a farm owned by a Chlorophyllian on route 89, he lies and says he can't find one.

But we see he has.

This team up with Lex is making him be a villain too.

Is Computo around the corner?

It gets to the point that Brainy has to confer with the other Brainy's, including this cool version.

Helping Lex means he won't be asked to Thanksgiving, at least with a 93% probability.

But this version again says for the future to unfold the way it needs to, Brainy has to help Lex.

I don't know if I buy it. Is there some glitch here? And you can see how it is weighing on our Brainy.

I do like how this season has given us some great moments for Jesse Rath. His hipster Brainy is a hoot.

In the prison, Lena's Non Nocere seems to work.

The brute who has routinely pummeled Steve now wants to break bread.

Is this the breakthrough she needed?

Now I think William has about the presence of a block of wood. But he has some nice scenes this week.

He is following Andrea around on this day of the go-live to cover it for the news.

He has a nice speech about how he knows she is a target but he has to cover it as a journalist. And he shouldn't put himself above the people he is reporting on.

Here he talks about how he initially thought VR would be a godsend but then he realized he wanted to live in the real world with real friends. (Of course he mentions Kara.)

Turns out that Non Nocere isn't harmless.

Steve, the peaceful accountant, goes insane with rage, tried to attack the other inmate, and has a seizure.

He couldn't calm himself. He was filled with hate and a desire for revenge.

So maybe she hasn't perfected things quite yet.

Now you think this might also remind her that sometimes there are unintended consequences. And when you are dealing with the human mind, that could be disastrous.

Alex and J'onn decide to look for a farm anyways and stumble upon the assassin's headquarters. Filled with anti-tech writings (including the classic Walden Pond) and specs for a special gauntlet, the two are suddenly attacked.

And this killer has a weapon that allows them to drain J'onn of his energy. They then set the barn on fire.

Hitting the signal watch, Kara has no choice but to dump Andrea in a DEO cell for her own safety as she heads out to rescue.

Suddenly, this villain is scarier. Power-absorbing tech? Crazy.

Back in National City, Lena tells Lex of her results. She, for a second, realizes that she might just be the villain. Maybe she is as deluded as Lex in thinking she can do something for the 'good of humanity'.

So once more, just as she seems to see that she is going down a dark path, there is Lex to woo her back to the dark side, saying all the things she wants to hear.

She isn't Lex. She shouldn't let her obsession with Supergirl affect her the way his obsession with Superman ruined him. She is trying to do good.

At least ... that's what he says.

He is oily.

Throughout the show, Alex has had some concerns about her future. She doesn't have a badge anymore. She doesn't have a gun. She doesn't have people to lead.

She has a crisis of confidence. She couldn't really save J'onn. She couldn't attack the killer. Maybe the DEO was holding her up, not holding her back.

I have seen Alex throw down with the best. I can't believe that she thinks her best attribute was her sidearm. But as someone who is going through a major life change, I know how seductive the stability of the old life can be.

We haven't had much Alex character growth this year so I was happy for this.

Going through the farm, the team sees that their potential killer, Todd Sapphire, is already dead. They find his obituary and his suicide note. He was addicted to VR and lost hope.

It becomes clear the killer is his wife.

Now that is a nice wrinkle. One, I wasn't expecting that. But it does tie into the 'real/not real' concept.

The wife shows up to CatCo to generally attack and to shut down the go live of the Obsidian VR from within.

In another odd plot twist, we find out that the Obsidian VR startup will draw tremendous energy from the grid. It is built on top of some LCorp energy converter which will draw as much energy into it that it needs. If the Chlorophyllian absorbs energy to short the VR engine, the LCorp device will fry the grid, putting people in blackout, exploding transformers, and leading to devastation. Didn't we just see the 'evil device is built on a bomb power source' just 2 episodes ago?

We see a bunch of the initial fight in CatCo. Dreamer gets a moment, saving the day when Kara gets drained of her powers. I like that Dreamer still uses bad sleep-related quips when she heroes.

And we get a nice J'onn moment, as he phases through an elevator and carries a car filled with CatCo workers to safety. I know we already saw an elevator rescue already this episode but I was glad we saw some Martian powers.

And in the face of the chaos, a powerless Alex saves Kelly.

And then, the brawl happens in the Obsidian core.

Nice special effects and nice battle here.

But remember, earlier, Kara was drained of her powers by this woman.

Trapped in the DEO, Andrea knows she can shut down the Obsidian tech with her credentials.

Amazingly, her shadow powers (remember, pre-Crisis she was Acrata) kick in. She suddenly blips into CatCo. But even with her knowledge and with Brainy helping, they can't shut down the implosion. If the VR goes live, National City will be devastated.

Nice call back to Andrea's powers. This was a change since the Crisis. She didn't know she could do this.

And then, we see a scene which reminds me of the Human For A Day episode from Season One. There, despite lacking powers, Supergirl talked down a convenience store robber by asking them to do what was right and inspiring them.

Here, again powerless, she talks down the woman by reminding her that while she is hurting, what she is doing is going to kill innocents. She is trying to right an injustice, because she loved Todd, but this isn't what Todd would want.

It really is a powerful scene made all the more powerful by Melissa Benoist's performance. She should get an emmy. Without the energy manipulation, the Go-Live happens without the backlash. Obsidian VR is on line.

There's nothing left but the wrap-up.

Alex realizes her life has changed but she is ready to figure it out. J'onn gives her a little thingamajig, some Martian tech that can become any weapon she imagines ... from a revolver to brass knuckles.

Hmm ... why didn't he give that to her earlier?

Spurred by Lex, Lena perfects the Non Nocere program. Now she won't ignore the feelings of injustice for those who have been harmed.

Steve is again at peace.

He hardly seems like a zombie.

Maybe Lena's idea isn't half bad!

Kara realizes that she is hiding from real life just as much as people who are heading to VR.

She is avoiding things in real life ... like asking out William.

So she gathers up her courage and asks him out to dinner.


Brainy still feels wrong that he is working for Lex. Moreover, he knows that the LCorp power source had a failsafe that only Lex could turn off. That is why Brainy couldn't shut down the VR core. And that would have killed 67% of National City.

In a perfect response, Lex almost eyerolls. He doesn't care about collateral damage. He needed that go-live to happen. And, as usual, Supergirl saved the day.

You can see just how disgusted Brainy is with Lex and with himself.

When will we see Brainy draw the line in the sand and not work for Lex any more.

And we wrap with a good hook.

Lex has wormed his way into the good graces of Gemma.

Maybe he can finally meet her friends. Of course, he wants to meet them so he can give the kill code. And we know that Gemma thinks she has the Luthors right where she wants them.

Who is playing who??

Okay, that was a lot of pics and a lot of discussion. The bottom line is I was pretty impressed with Melissa Benoist in this episode in particular. I liked that each character got a moment to shine, even if tiny. And I like that both plots continued to chug along.

Honestly, this is clearly the strongest season of the show for me.


Scrimmage said...

The biggest obstacle in creating compelling stories on this show seems to be the over reliance on the “Deus Ex Machina” technique to resolve the pesky problem of “normal” humans dealing with so many beings – both good and bad - with incredible “powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men.” In the early seasons of the show, it was bad enough that the DEO had Kryptonite powered shackles and containment cells, and even a “Red Sun” training room, that could supress the powers of Kryptonians, including Supergirl and Superman. I eventually accepted that as a necessary plot device because the show insisted on increasing the Earth's Kryptonian population exponentially, with the refugees from the Phantom Zone and the orbiting prison, most of whom have since disappeared.

In subsequent seasons, we began to see the DEO make use of “power dampening” handcuffs that rendered ALL alien species (including Kryptonians) powerless, which led to an episode during the “Reign” storyline, where Brainy developed a means to project a portable “power dampening field,” soon followed by a “Sons of Liberty” episode that featured an entire island that was covered by a similar technology that created a “power-free zone” over a larger geographical area, that theoretically stripped ALL aliens of their powers, regardless of the source, or the nature of those powers.

You would think that all the Alien Social Justice Warriors on the show would've strongly objected to the existence of such obviously discriminatory technology, and protested its use, and its manufacture by – who else? - LexCorp. To my shock and dismay, those protests never materialized, and concern over this “Universal Anti-Alien Tech” was never expressed. You would think that the Alien community in general, and Supergirl in particular would feel MUCH more threatened by this power dampening tech than by common racism and social predjudice. In my opinion, that would've been a MUCH more compelling storyline than this business with Obsidian's Virtual Reality contact lenses, yet ANOTHER technological device whose functions seem to change every week depending on what the story requires.
(continued in the next post)

Scrimmage said...

Fast forward to this more recent episode, “The Bodyguard,” and we're presented with a pissed off member of an alien race of farmers with relative passive, gardening related powers (the ridiculously named “Chlorophyllians”), who has modified stolen, off-the-shelf technology to build gauntlets that not only enhance her own powers, but also have the capability of draining the super powers of ALL aliens, including Kara and J'onn, and turning that power against them. That SHOULD be an alarming game changer for the Super Friends, but they're all too wrapped up in their own personal dramas and projects to recognize a much GREATER threat to the Alien community than Grandma playing “Xena: Warrior Princess.” In this episode, once again we see a depowered Supergirl using her boundless optimism, and faith in human nature (even in aliens), delivering a version of her standard “hope speech” to talk yet ANOTHER powerful adversary into surrendering, despite the fact that they were on the verge of accomplishing their goals! That bit is getting so old, even Nia Nal has grown tired of it. When was the last time Supergirl actually kicked someone's butt, instead of trying to “reform and redeem” them?

And if THAT wasn't enough, TPTB have doubled down on the Deus Ex Machina stuff by having J'onn present Alex with a device that can transform itself into any weapon she can imagine. Gee, THAT'S convenient! Essentially, that makes Alex a Green Lantern with a wrist worn Power Bracelet instead of a ring. Why don't they just give her a Magic Wand, and be done with it? And don't even get me started on Dreamers' gauntlets powered by “Dream Energy.” WTH do electrified bungee cords have to do with dreaming?

The overuse of futuristic tech to set up conflicts, and magically resolve dramatic problems is an indication of lazy writing. The comics have long been aware of the difficulties in coming up with a threat that's WORTHY of Supergirl, and able to challenge the Most Powerful Woman on Earth, without constantly coming up with new ways to power her down to the level of her adversaries. It's not impossible, it just takes more imagination than these writers are showing.

Nutation said...

I quite agree with the overuse of these convenient plot devices. Take Supergirl by surprise with a new effect, sure. But, here, Kara knew that this not-Parasite could drain her powers, and she still let it happen.

On the positive side, this show continues to excel at sibling relationships and the associated superior acting. More Lex-Lena confrontations, please.

Scrimmage said...

Yes, Supergirl could've EASILY disarmed Gauntlet Girl at Super speed before she ever had a chance to drain her powers. Same with J'onn, who could've also turned invisible and intangible before he confronted her.

KET said...

Probably will do a more thorough post later, but I've got a couple of quick replies right now:

"In the cell block, a bunch of ultra violent inmates mingle with others who are constantly harassed. Included in that group? Steve from last year's Crime and Punishment.

Crisis be damned. Even if this is a new world and history, the show runners are showing us those older episodes still matter!"

It was great seeing Willie Garson return to the series...and his character had quite an important part to play in Lena's ethical and moral quandaries.

"When Andrea pulls out her phone to grab a selfie with her bodyguard, Benoist puts a surprised and awkward expression on.

Benoist is a super-star."

Indeed...she has a way with facial and physical subtleties. :)

Also liked the nods to "Human For A Day" as well, both in the empathetic resolution with the terrorist (which would not have worked if Kara had used superpowers to disarm), and the elevator rescue sequence.


Anonymous said...

Hi Anj

As I've been catching up slowly with this season and only recently read earlier posts I thought I'd comment on episode 4 here.
You mentioned that it was weird how the villain with wind manipulation powers was able to hurt Kara by sucking the air from her lungs. When we have seen this Supergirl go into space.

I went back and watched that scene in season 1. Before Kara flies Fort Rozz into space, Alex tries to reason with her not to do it as she "wont be able to breathe"
When Kara gets into space she passes out and then we see Alex come to her rescue in the pod.

This is also consistent with the quicksand (season 1) and action figure (season 3) traps where Supergirl would eventually have suffocated. Alex also mentions in the first episode of season 3 that Kara "can't breathe under water"

It was quite creative how wind woman was able to turn Supergirl's freeze breath against herself.

Anonymous said...

Jon Cryer is worth every penny they pay him, if the series ever resumes production they should just throw in the towel and make him a regular. My main complaint about this center centers on the writers/producers increasing reliance on Melissa B's innate charisma to get them out of creative jams induced by their own clunky or rushed writing. Its become a cliche' on the show that Supergirl is so inherently eloquent that she can turn almost everyone away from the darkness SAVE Lex and his Sister I guess...she did twice this week alone. Its starting to get a little hackneyed, we almost don't notice it because MB is so good and empathetic in those moments. ST-TNG had this problem with Patrick Stewart towards the end, second rate scripts were being built around him because of his ability to elevate mediocrity, it'd be a worthwhile thing for Supergirl to avoid.