Supergirl: Blood Bonds review

Supergirl returns from a brief mid-season break with a strong episode. Mostly.

This Supergirl review contains spoilers.

Supergirl season 1 episode 9

This should have been the best episode of Supergirl. It really should have. All of the elements were there to put this one over as the weightiest episode to date, and the one where all the necessary pieces came together exactly as they should.

It didn’t happen. 

“Blood Bonds” is still very good, mind you. It’s probably still the best episode of the series if I’m being completely honest, but it chickened out and walked back the best moment of the previous episode, and that’s an almost unforgivable sin.

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There’s so much other stuff that works so well this week that maybe it just throws the bigger problems into sharper focus, hence my harsh opening. I’m gonna start with what works, though.

For starters, that was a pretty great opening sequence, and the fight with Non and Supergirl was a thrill, if brief. Breaking it up with a passing airplane was a nice touch. For all its reverence to Superman stuff that we’ve seen before, every now and then this show deliberately looks for a little detail like this to remind audiences about what can be done on a small screen budget these days, and how very few opportunities we’ve ever had to see characters with these power levels do everything they can in live action.

But in terms of big, Kryptonian punch-ups, that was it. “Hostile Takeover” was definitely heavier on the action, but it didn’t do the character moments as well. “Blood Bonds” got those right. Well, most of ’em, but I’ll get to that.

“Blood Bonds” did a much better job cementing Astra’s motivations then all the previous episodes combined. I finally bought into the connection between Kara and Astra, and again, this played nicely into Kara’s personal issues that were established back in “Red Faced.”  Her uncertainty about who she is and how to balance her desire for a “normal” life with her superheroic obligations play very well, and with far less of the hand-wringing we got on a show like Smallville. Kara has two very different support networks in Jimmy/Wynn and Alex/DEO, and they’re both starting to serve more clearly defined roles, with just enough conflict in both of them to keep it interesting.

Astra remains a bit flat, though, but it’s tough not to have some sympathy for her when she’s being juiced full of what I imagine is a kryptonite/sodium pentothal solution. Maxwell Lord is too much of a Lex Luthor stand-in for my taste at the moment, and he’s being written far too broadly, despite a solid effort from Peter Facinelli. This show really needs stronger central villains.

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Even though the outcome of that prisoner exchange was never really in doubt, there was that lingering extra beat before the Kryptonians obeyed their order. For a moment, I thought that this was going to become the middle act of a three episode (or more!) arc for the show, but I should know better. It was still effective, but I can’t help but feel that the threat of a dozen or so Kryptonians taking on whoever the DEO can muster up is better than whatever the reality will end up being.

It’s amusing, though, that Supergirl continues to give side-eye to Man of Steel at every opportunity. The continued references to how Kara won’t take a life, while someone like Non doesn’t hesitate to snap someone’s neck are one thing. But there’s more to it than that, as well. Kara chooses to interpret that bit of Kryptonian philosophy, “blood bonds us all,” as “blood bonds all life,” and that’s an important distinction, something that her cousin would be proud of (and judging by their little chat at the end, he is).

This tiny detail is hugely important, really, not just for Supergirl, but when people discuss the Superman mythos in general. What makes these seemingly all powerful characters so special and so interesting (I never bought the “they’re boring” argument) is how they choose to use (or not use) the powers that they’re given. Kara’s compassionate interpretation of what might otherwise be a bit of Kryptonian dogma (one that clearly, as Astra shows, can be used to advance a Kryptonian supremacist agenda) is very telling, not just for her, but for how well the showrunners understand these characters and this world.

Speaking of understanding these characters, while I still caution against overusing the “casual IM chat with Clark Kent” device, they sure know how to sum up Superman in just a few phrases. “Are you OK?” “Do you need help?” and “I’m here if you need me,” should be tattooed on the eyelids of everyone trying to write Superman comics or movies right now until they get it right.

Now, as for what really just didn’t sit right with me…

They blew it with Cat Grant. Absolutely dropped the ball in a spectacular fashion. If Cat Grant is ever to be more than a cartoon character on this show (yes, I get it, they’re all cartoon characters), then she needs to be smarter than this.

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I initially enjoyed that they were playing the identity reveal from “Hostile Takeover” for some light comedy. I got some chuckles out of it. But that was because I figured there was no way they would walk that back, right? Wrong.

That was the previous episode’s best moment. It was one of the most powerful character moments in the entire series (even if I did have some reservations that it was a little early for this kind of thing). The way Cat handled it and then ultimately succumbed to a pretty silly deception cheapened the character immeasurably. Unless it turns out that she’s just playing Kara because she wants her to keep her job, this is a huge misstep.

I hope I’m wrong.

Kryptonian Memory Crystals

– Once again, I’m struck by how good Krypton looks during these flashback sequences on what is certainly a limited budget. The minimalism works. The “red/orange” look of the sky is a product of Krypton’s red sun, but it’s something that I don’t think we saw realized on the screen until Man of Steel.

– It seems like everyone on Krypton has the pentagonal shield that contains their crest or rank indicator. The “family crest” aspect of the “S” symbol was a product of Superman: The Movie, but in that film, the crests were contained within different distinctive shapes, as well. I think I preferred it that way, as the current model is a little too uniform.

– Speaking of Superman: The Movie (as I often do when discussing this show), Alura passing judgment on a bunch of criminals before zapping ’em off to the Phantom Zone sure is reminiscent of the opening of that movie.

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– I believe this is the first reference we’ve ever had to Supergirl’s old hometown of Midvale on the show (correct me if I’m wrong). 

– Any sharp-eyed DC Comics fans recognize the multi-eyed mind-reading alien that Non kills?

– Jimmy is trying to break into Max’s “Room 52.” I’m really tired of chronicling the DC Comics magic number of 52 in all of these shows. They need to give it a rest.

– It was another nice touch (and nod to Superman: The Movie) that the Kryptonian Bomb appeared to be made of crystal.

– Kara using her cape to shield everyone from the bomb’s effects is a pretty classic, straight-out-of-the-comics maneuver. Was it me, or did her cape appear to get bigger to contain/deflect the blast? That was something we often saw happen in the Superman comics of the 1970s and ’80s.

As usual, if you think I missed anything important, hit me up on Twitter!

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3.5 out of 5