Welcome back, denizens of National City! Who missed our girl?
Well, this reviewer did. Absence, as they say, makes the heart grow fonder, and the lingering greatness of the midseason finale's double-cliffhanger made the fondness fonder still. It doesn't hurt that "Supergirl" seems to finally have found her sea-legs, nailing a tone that's equal parts warmth and action, irreverence and earnestness, innocence and awareness. To put it plainly, "Supergirl" was always promising. Now, it's just plain good.
"Blood Bonds" picks up right where "Hostile Takeover" left off, with Kara and Bad Uncle Non rocketing at each other as Astra's forces storm Lord Technologies. Faster than you can say "really fast," Non and Kara find themselves in the path of an oncoming plane -- a really cool shot -- before Non gets the upper hand. It looks like Kara might be doomed, but the show's called "Supergirl," so he drops her and takes Hank Henshaw instead. That, obviously, is very bad news.
Sidenote: since we know Hank is actually J'onn, it seems odd to keep calling him Hank. Fake Henshaw? Hank Fakeshaw? Better ideas?
Anyway, J'onn/Hank/Fake J'onnzshaw winds up in Non's clutches, making Non the first really terrible man Kara has to contend with in this episode. Luckily for him, it's a busy night for Kara when it comes to terrible men doing awful things, so her focus is a bit split. Peter Facinelli abandons the last vestiges of charm in his performance as Maxwell Lord this week, letting his villainous flag fly. First order of business? Kicking the DEO out of Lord Technologies despite the fact that a criminal investigation is in process, announcing that he'll be protecting himself with his technology guns from now on, calling Kara a "pet alien," and comparing the awesome Alex Danvers to a Nazi ("Get your jackboots off my grounds"). This is one of several moments with broader political implications in this episode, some of which the "Supergirl" staff could never have predicted. Maxwell Lord certainly doesn't trust the government, and he's not afraid to wave a gun around to prove that fact.
Jerk 1 (Non) and Jerk 2 (Lord) get joined pretty quickly by a third bad dude, this one ostensibly on the side of law and order: General Sam Lane. After Alex discovers that Hank's emergency protocols make her Director, she finds her new temporary promotion yanked away when the chauvinist, possibly racist Dad one loves-to-hate waltzes into the DEO. Glenn Morshower's performance as Lane is pitch-perfect, conveying just the right amount of condescension ("Ladies.") and military precision without ever chewing the scenery. He's the best kind of bad guy: one who absolutely believes he's on the side of right. And his story, of course, is where the political undertones really pick up steam -- he won't trade the illegal alien Astra for J'onn Fakeshaw, because the United States does not negotiate with terrorists, Kara can't be trusted because she's not one of us, Alex can't be trusted because she's "emotional," and he'll protect planet Earth by any means necessary.
That, of course, means torture.
Laura Benanti's had her work cut out for her on "Supergirl." As both Astra and Alura, she's been handed some of the show's most heavy-handed dialogue, and as Alura's avatar, it's her job to be as blank as possible. The result has made for a subdued but still occasionally compelling performance. With "Blood Bonds," however, those days are over. In one episode, Astra got to sneer, rage, cower, weep, beg, taunt, waver, and ultimately do at least a little good. The big moment, though, the moment that this writer will be thinking about tomorrow, was a single shot: Astra screaming in horror and pain as liquid Kryptonite was injected into her neck. Nearly as effective was her next scene, which saw her huddled in the corner of her high-tech cell, looking smaller than one would think possible. She's not alone in doing good work, of course, as Benoist turns in a predictably excellent performance, and nails those two scenes in particular, but it's nice to see someone other than our hero (and her sister) get some towering moments of drama.
The rest of the jerks act out on a much smaller, and in some ways more benevolent, scale. Both Winn and James-Not-Jimmy have had their share of petulant moments in the series thus far -- though Winn has certainly had more -- but their mistake here comes not from wanting to do good. After James confronts Maxwell Lord outside his wrecked facility, he lies to Kara (whose superpowers do not include either effectively lying or seeing through other people's really unconvincing lies) and decides to handle the issue of Lord's obviously diabolical scheme himself. He enlists Winn to help him break into Lord Technologies, where he's promptly caught outside a mysterious room (number 52, naturally), then tied to a chair and beaten by Lord himself as his henchmen look on. Winn and James not only fail to uncover the threat Lord poses to Kara, but put her in the position of knowing she's been deceived and manipulated by two of the only people she feels she can trust.
It's obviously a blow, and her outrage is understandable (if dangerous). But it might not have pushed her over the edge had Kara not been having quite such a no-good, very-bad day. The office no longer offers any kind of refuge for her, as Cat's constantly trying to prove that she's Supergirl ("Today we have to seem really normal! Not just normal normal, but like super normal. No! Not super! Not super!"). The final straw comes when Cat says Kara has to either prove she's not Supergirl or she's fired. So Kara quits.
It's obviously not destined to stick -- Calista Flockhart is a series regular, and where else is Kara going to find a super best friends lair for her little team? -- but while it last, it obviously takes a toll. The title of the episode may be "Blood Bonds," but what Kara learns is how bonded she is to everyone in her life, and to three pseudo-parental figures in particular: Cat, Astra and -- eventually -- J'Hank J'onshaw.
Those three unexpectedly collide in the episode's closing scenes. After a spectacularly failed rescue attempt sees Kara saving both her sister and one of General Lane's subordinates from a fancy alien bomb (including a very cool shot of Kara whipping up her cape to ward off the flames -- way to go, director Steve Shill), her own volatile temper shows Kara that she might not be so dramatically different from her mostly-bad aunt. With Alex's awesome, awesome help, Kara subverts Lane's authority, conducts the trade, and places her faith in her aunt's buried goodness to keep them safe. Non, who is the worst, attempts to ambush them, but Kara's risk turns out to be a good one, as Astra calls off the attack and leaves Kara with not a truce, but a start.
It's an encounter that also gives Kara another surprise. When her super-ears pick up a conversation between Alex and H'annk, she confronts him about his ability to transform in a scene that gives us two of the episode's funniest moments("You're from Mars?!?" "You're from Krypton!" and "I can keep a secret!" "No, you can't.") It's a well-timed revelation: with H'annk's transformational help, Kara manages to stage a meeting between herself and Supergirl in a scene that gives Cat plenty of reasons to look just a little bit embarrassed. I'm guessing she won't stay fooled for long, but for now, Kara's got her mean-but-kind-of-great boss back.
It would have been a nice ending. A fun ending. But "Supergirl" has developed quite a knack for cliffhangers, and in the closing moments, we see what Lord's got behind door 52: a brain-dead Jane Doe and a hologram of the Red Tornado's arm. The young woman opens her eyes, and there's only darkness there. Is this Bizarrogirl? Some other to-be-announced villain? We've got to wait two weeks -- and I'm guessing a lot longer -- to find out. Well, you know what they say about absence.
(Note: if you're just dying for more information on what other bad guys are headed National City's way, check out CBR's recap of a recent visit to the "Supergirl" set. Spoiler alert: Melissa Benoist thinks that Alex Danvers/Chyler Leigh are pretty awesome, too.)