“I’m sorry, we didn’t have birds on my planet!”
In its first season, “Supergirl” has done a terrific job of tying its tights-and-cape story to some big issues without hitting the audience over the head — white privilege, coming-out stories, immigration, misogyny, and genocide have all had a moment (or several) — but in “Manhunter,” they keep it relatively simple. Sure, there are broader implications in the episode’s look at the masks we wear to fit in and be safe, and important ones. Kara and J’onn are refugees, after all. But really, it’s about pain, and fear, and the damage that they can do — a damage sometimes greater than the possible costs of not hiding. It costs a lot to hide the most basic things about yourself, like seeing birds for the first time, or the fact that you can fly. But being different can be just as dangerous.
Yeah, yeah — it was also plain old fun, right? Heavy fun, but anytime a show commits to marching the plot forward at such a heady clip, the result is bound to be a little bit exhilarating. What’s most surprising is that they managed to do it in an episode that spent a significant portion of its runtime in flashbacks. Looking backward while racing forward might be risky if one is actually physically moving in space, but it’s a pretty great way to tell a story — if you can pull it off. “Supergirl” can.
That’s not to say it’s a perfect episode. The main storyline, in which H’annk gets interrogated by the comically overblown Colonel James “Bad News” Harper and Major Lucy Lane, feels a little shaky. H’annk is obviously a good guy, but it’s hard to fault anyone for thinking that an alien disguised as the head of a top-secret organization and assuming that head’s life might be bad news. Well-intentioned, of course, but morally questionable — that line about hanging out with Harper’s family, for example — and flat-out illegal. It would have been great to see this play out more ambiguously, but instead, Harper’s the villain, no questions asked.
The biggest reason for that? Well, in addition to the fact that he seems pretty unhinged, he also wants to send both H’annk and Alex to Project Cadmus (a DC classic!), where all manner of evil things happen. Once Kara realizes that H’annk and her sister are both destined to be science projects, she makes a big (and right) decision: she outs herself to Lucy, who rises above her own understandably conflicted feelings to help Kara make things right. Then she gets a promotion out of the deal, and while there are almost certainly still bumps ahead, the sight of Lucy Lane, Head of the DEO was unexpectedly thrilling, It was Jenna Dewan-Tatum’s best work of the series, without question.
The main B-story was not quite so thrilling, but sure did end with a bang. Winn tries to get a brunch-drunk Siobhan to start thinking more positively, telling her she can get anything she wants. She interprets that in a pretty gross way, choosing to send Cat an incredibly nasty email from Kara’s account. But Cat knows her assistant pretty well at this point, even if she can’t pronounce her name, and has Winn analyze the email and the keystrokes used to write it. Just like that, the cat’s out of the bag, Siobhan’s drunk on the roof, and a would-be fatal fall off the edge stops short when she lets out a scream so powerful she floats. And with that, the Silver Banshee’s on the scene. Whatever Winn’s feelings toward Siobhan, it’s hard to imagine he’ll be cool with what comes next.
If those stories sound relatively simple, it’s because they are. “Manhunter” chooses to delve, not just into H’annk’s history, but into how Kara and Alex became the women they are as well. H’annk’s was the least interesting, if only because we already have most of that information — H’annk met Jeremiah Danvers when the DEO was sent to kill the Martian threat, assumed Henshaw’s identity after his death, and promised the wounded Danvers that he’d protect both girls. Still, it was a great showcase for the series’ special effects, gave David Harewood a chance to play two parts at once, and most importantly, led to one big reveal: Jeremiah Danvers is still alive, and the now-released (and on the run) Alex and H’annk are off to save him.
While less important to the plot, Kara and Alex’s storylines had more to say about the theme. We learn how Alex was recruited into the DEO, after her complicated relationship with Kara and her grief over losing her father led to some self-destructive choices. When Alex says H’annk saved her life, she means it. And touchingly, we learn where Kara got her glasses — Jeremiah made them, and lined them with lead, to help limit her super-vision and blend in more effectively — after her instinct to save led to her drawing a lot of unwanted attention.
So secrets are out, two of the series leads are on the run, a new bad guy’s on the scene (or two, if Harper comes back), and the DEO’s got a new head honcho. It’s a great place to be before a certain guy in red comes flashing into town.