And just like that, “Supergirl” dropped the mic.
In its midseason finale, “Supergirl” finally hit its stride. There have been high points aplenty, and no small number of missteps, but in this episode, it felt purely itself. Perhaps the show’s writing staff simply needed to get the pieces in place. Maybe it’s just the inevitable settling in that happens with any new series. Whatever the csae, “Supergirl” may not be perfect, but that was one hell of an entertaining hour of television.
The “Star Wars” reference of the title isn’t just a shameless ploy. The Force is on plenty of minds this week — and by Thursday, it’ll be burned onto no small number of eyeballs as well — so it’s perhaps not a coincidence that more than a few moments in “Hostile Takeover” reminded me of that particular mammoth franchise. Let’s start with the dark, menacing, manipulative family connection with which our hero struggles. “Hostile Takeover” picks up right where last week’s episode left off, with Kara toe-to-toe with good ol’ Evil Aunt Astra (Laura Benanti, more effective here than all her previous episodes combined). There’s a lot of mean evil aunt talk. including a reappearance of the scary Kryptonite knife and an accompanying condescending laugh (“Kryptonite? Is that what you call it?” is one tiny step away from “oh aren’t you cute”). Astra wants Kara to come over to the dark side, but as it turns out, Kara would rather throw herself off of a building than hang out with her crazy aunt.
Benanti’s best scene to date (but don’t worry, better moments are coming) is followed by one of the most honestly funny and endearing moments in the series to date. As it turns out, admitting his true identity has really allowed Hank Henshaw to lighten up — and you know, he really likes that knife. It was a throwaway gag, and not important to the plot at all, but it’s worth highlighting as an example of what made this episode work so well: the stakes haven’t lessened, and the emotional impact of Melissa Benoist and Chyler Leigh‘s performances grows ever stronger, but “Supergirl” eased way up on the throttle. Most of the humor and nearly all the big choices and developments in the episode came from the characters. The people are more important than the powers, and for the first time, that seems to be what “Supergirl” thinks, too — all of the people.
Case in point: Alex and Henshaw, newly buddy-buddy, send Kara off to heal up and lick her wounds before she takes on Astra again, but what she finds waiting for her is far from tranquil. CatCo’s been hacked, and Cat’s email in particular, and through this storyline we get a few great jokes, a lot of terrific character moments, and one big bombshell. It all starts, though, with Cat making what looks like a cocktail but is actually a tumbler full of candy. Again, small moment, low significance, big impact. That’s a big part of what pushes good TV to great.
Cat puts Kara, who she clearly is beginning to trust more and more, on combing through years and years of email to look for damaging material, and — as luck would have it — tells her to recruit Winn and James-Not-Jimmy. Jeremy Jordan is terrific, but Winn has gradually gotten more and more inappropriate — who Kara does and does not hug is not his business, and would not be his business even if they were dating, which they aren’t — but in the course of this subplot tonight, he and James make peace, and it looks like he’s ready to take the plunge when the show returns in January.
Still, the love quadrangle isn’t the focus of this subplot. Instead, the super-best-friends try to prove what Kara’s super-ears overheard “embodiment of white male privilege” and CatCo board member Dirk Armstrong (Peter Mackenzie of “Black-ish”) say out of normal human earshot: that he’s the one bringing Cat down. James shows off some spy skills, Winn hacks his emails, Kara delivers the good news — with a slight fumble — and Cat seals the deal with a perfectly casual takedown of the Dirkbag. It was watching Cat own that guy that brought another heroine from a galaxy far, far away to mind: the perfect composure and slightly gleeful condescension was more than a bit reminiscent of the sharp tongue of Leia. This was easily Calista Flockhart‘s best episode to date, and we can stop comparing her to other preening alpha-queens. She’s nailing both the small, quiet moments — deciding to resign to save her son some embarrassment with no fuss — and the broad comedic strokes with aplomb.
Still, her biggest moment came when Cat did what almost no one in any Super-story ever does: She figured it all out. As Cat became less and less of a self-centered caricature of a blind boss, the fact that she wouldn’t figure out that Kara was Supergirl became more and more unlikely, even in a universe in which glasses often effectively hide one’s identity. Her graceful cornering of Kara was a total fist-pump of a moment, and while it’s sure to complicate things down the road, it was, at least just then, a gentle, honest, unfussy moment. Supergirl’s been outed, and Cat’s first step was to show respect, raise a glass, and even offer a little motherly warmth. Even better, Cat acknowledge Kara’s greatness before the shoe dropped, meaning both halves of Kara’s life got some hard-earned Cat love in one little episode. Both were utterly satisfying.
Still, the main event wasn’t Cat’s email scandal or the continuing saga of Kara’s single life. It was Astra playing her niece like a fiddle, and it gave Benanti, Benoist, and Leigh all a chance to do some of the best work of the series thus far. Benoist has always been good, but she blew the doors off of this episode, as her “mommy issues,” for lack of a better term, reared their ugly, powerful heads. Benanti was so convincing in her tenderness toward Kara that even the obvious reveal — that at least some of it was a ploy — felt surprising. And Leigh continues to be the series’ unexpected ace in the hole, throwing Kara around mercilessly and pressing her to admit that she might not be prepared to kill in one moment, then comforting her in the midst of a scary, high-voltage breakdown the next. She’s also great in an action scene–and this episode had plenty of those.
Take that last one as an example. The DEO arrives as Maxwell Lord’s headquarters right after the mogul’s crazy eye gun gets wrenched away from him, leading to the biggest group battle of the show thus far. Alex and Hensaw both kick plenty of alien tail — though to Alex’s credit, she doesn’t have an superpowers — and the pack of baddies show off a few neat skills. The biggest bad at that party, however, is Astra’s husband, Non (looking and sounding nothing like the character in the comics or the “Superman” films). After Kara arrives, he repeats some condescending, dismissive, gendered nonsense that basically amounts to “Zor-El ladies be crazy,” and Kara looks primed to do what she couldn’t to her aunt — rip him the hell apart. They fly at each other, faster than anything this show has managed get, and the logo flashes.
It’s a hell of a cliffhanger. Two, actually. Midseason finales can be hard to ace: you’ve got to get your audience hungry for what comes next, but leave just enough resolution that no one’s cranky through the holidays. Greg Berlanti and company nailed it, delivering a confident, fun, and emotionally affecting hour that put its characters front and center, and let them do the work. It was, put simply, great storytelling. Supergirl’s force has… you guessed it… awakened.
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