One of the strongest episodes “Supergirl” has unleashed to date also has the unfortunate side effect of making a previous episode seem just a little bit less satisfying. “Falling” sees Kara confront some of the ugliest aspects of herself, thanks to an unfortunate encounter with some red Kryptonite. It’s by turns funny and touching, campy and thrilling, and even sends up one of the most GIF-friendly scenes in “Superman” history. It ends on a heck of an emotional punch and puts all kinds of things in motion, laying the groundwork for some serious trouble by the time the season ends. It’s a really solid hour.
But wow, it sure does feel like “Bizarro,” doesn’t it? And a little bit like “Red Faced”?
That’s not to say that these episodes follow the same storyline. They’re obviously very different. But thematically they tread similar ground–that of the consequences of treating people callously or unkindly, and the danger of giving in to the impulses toward darkness that nearly everyone feels from time to time. They also provoke similar reactions in the sure-to-be confused citizens of National City, who’ve now been told that the evil Supergirl wasn’t the real Supergirl, but that fake one is gone, and this evil Supergirl is the real one.
Still, it’s a minor complaint when an episode manages to provide such a showcase for its four arguable leads: Melissa Benoist (Kara), Chyler Leigh (Alex), David Harewood (H’annk), and Calista Flockhart (Cat). After an unnecessarily CBS-ified opener, in which Cat pays a visit to “The Talk” to talk about how kind and inspiring our hero is and Kara drops by a school to get some mean girls in line, JimmyJames fills Kara in on the latest in his love life. So when Kara gets called away to the D.E.O., it’s with the news that Lucy and James have split, and Alex encourages her to speak up before some other Lane sister does.
While Lucy’s gone, that first trip to the D.E.O. reveals that Senator Crane (Tawny Cypress of “Heroes”) is back in town, and that she’s got eyes for H’annk, which will probably end really really well, don’t you think? While they’re all having a catch-up chat about government funding and accountability and how charming David Harewood is, Supergirl gets called away to assist some firefighters, and it just so happens that some red Kryptonite’s waiting for her. Quicker than you can say “Smallville,” Kara’s having a very, very bad hew days.
Suddenly she hates working at the D.E.O., hates her wardrobe, hates Siobhan–well, hates her openly, I guess, or is done trying to play nice–and isn’t afraid to show any of that to anyone. The show handles the flipping back and forth in tone impressively, going for “Mean Girls”-style camp one moment (“Don’t be jealous. Or do. I don’t care.”) and honest, upsetting unkindness (such as her scene where she calls H’ankk out for staying in the alien closet, essentially). Oh, and she lets a bad guy get away because he isn’t worth her time. Not Kara’s best day.
It all adds up to some serious trouble, first getting Siobhan fired (for what’s admittedly a pretty lousy thing to do), then making a staggeringly tone-deaf pass at JimmyJames. Those two actions are bound to have some serious ramifications in Kara’s personal life, but it’s her interactions with Alex, H’annk, and Cat that have the most serious fallout. We’ll cover these in ascending order, and while the plot matters, it’s the consequences that are bound to have the biggest impact, so that’ll be the focus.
Kara has previously and understandably expressed frustration with the way she’s often treated at work, and while her relationship with her boss and occasional mentor/mother-figure was once also fulfilling, it has gotten steadily less so since the whole secret son debacle. So it’s totally reasonable that, Krptonited or not, Kara would be upset with Cat. Not so understandable that she chucks her off the roof, however. “Supergirl” has done some genuinely surprising things in its first season, but nothing close to the level of Cat Grant falling screaming through the air while Kara looks on with a smile. It leads to two of Calista Flockhart’s best scenes to date: the announcement she makes that she can no longer support Supergirl (check that tiny tear at the end), and her final scene with the hero, in which she offers as much comfort as a person who just got tossed off a balcony can muster. It’s a smart, smart development, giving Flockhart a chance to show some of Cat’s less sharp edges, and the sight of a frightened Cat Grant is more unsettling than one might imagine.
If Cat swan-diving is bad, Kara tearing into Alex is even worse. The love between sisters can be quite a force, and Alex has a thorough understanding of the biological realities of Kara’s altered condition, but Leigh and Benoist bring an incredible amount of nuance and pain to their scenes together, and they’re more than a little upsetting. Looming largest between them is the fact that Alex killed Astra, an issue they’ve yet to address head-on, and these scenes make it obvious that what’s gone unspoken hasn’t gone unfelt. Benoist and Leigh are the series’ not-so-secret weapons, and the moments after Kara wakes up to see her sister’s broken arm might be the most affecting of the series to date. They’re a remarkable pair, and in that one, brief, quiet scene, do some of the best acting seen on any superhero show (Berlantiverse or otherwise) in quite some time.
Last, Kara unwittingly drags H’annk out of the closet. David Harewood is always terrific, but his declaration to Alex that he’d do a lot more than sit in a cage to keep the sisters Danvers safe really hits home. The show has done a lot to underline the societal implications of H’annk’s storyline:there are racial undertones, as when Alex tells H’annk that people love Supergirl (an alien) and he responds that Supergirl is pretty and blonde and looks like a cheerleader, not a monster; there are parallels to being “out” as an LGBTQ person, and the costs required by that choice (in or out). Those parallels don’t fade, but as we see what his decision to give up his secret to save Kara and Alex has cost him–at the very least a job and a burgeoning relationship, if not more–they become less important. He’s just a father figure, doing what’s right for his girls, no matter the cost.
All in all, it’s a terrific (and upsetting) outing for “Supergirl,” one that will likely send tremors throughout its remaining episodes (Flash or no Flash). Oh, and there was that bar moment–read more about that here.