Supergirl: Human for a Day Review
Kara tries to navigate a natural disaster in National City without her powers in the latest episode of Supergirl.
This Supergirl review contains spoilers.
Supergirl: Season 1, Episode 7
I’m of several minds about this week’s episode of Supergirl. It’s hard to separate out my feelings from the big reveal at the end of it with my feelings about the rest of Alex’s story, and in turn completely divorcing that from Kara’s A-story.
“Human for a Day” followed Kara around as she tried to navigate a natural disaster in National City without her powers. You might remember last week, when she burned out her powers going all Super Saiyan on Red Tornado. This episode picks up after two days of testing at the DEO, along with a few attempted supercharges in the DEO’s yellow sun bed, with Kara on her way to work to get yelled at for sneezing by her of-course-she-is germophobe boss Cat. On her way home, right after Jimmy (I’m not calling him James) ominously tells Kara “…the world can survive without Supergirl for a day,” a massive earthquake strikes and we are launched into one of my favorite type of superpeople stories.
Powerless and stuck in her city with all hell breaking loose around her, Kara is forced to come to terms with the one limitation I think is a good animating conflict for Superman or Supergirl: the fact that she can’t be everywhere or save everyone. After a pretty sweet beefcake shot of shirtless Jimmy tying Kara’s injured arm in a sling, they run into Max Lord (Dr. Sparklevampire from Twilight), who is taking advantage of the crisis to Lex Luthor up some anti-cape hatred, telling a TV crew that people can’t count on Supergirl all the time before being called to a man dying next to his car by the man’s frantic daughter. Lord can’t save him, and Kara, despite trying to force her powers to work, can’t either. This leads to a really nice conversation between Jimmy and Kara about scope and focus, about how when you’re that extraordinary, just trying helps so many people and inspires the people around her.
I think it speaks well of the show that despite having some really solid special effects and well-choreographed superhero fight sequences, the best part of it so far has been stripping their lead of her powers and making her deal with a crisis without them. After her pep talk, Kara sees a looter heading into a bodega and decides to try and do something, powers or not. She puts on her Supergirl outfit and goes in after the looter, kicking off a sequence that effectively acts as the crux of the entire episode.
Larry Teng, the episode’s director, cuts back and forth between Kara talking to the looter and Cat, who with Wynn’s help has just established a feed to the world outside of CatCo, talking to the people of National City. The message from both of them is the same: I know you’re scared, but you don’t have to react in fear. You can help, you can be a hero. Show the world how great you can be. And in Cat’s case, send it to me so I can show the world and probably own your video in perpetuity. AAAAAAAAAAAAAANYWAY…
As the sequence started, I was a little bit cynical, rolling my eyes at the cheese I was expecting the show to throw at the audience with the parallel speeches, but about halfway through, I had turned completely around on it. Calista Flockhart and Melissa Benoist do a wonderful job of selling the speech, and turn what could have been hammy into a great little Supergirl moment. And then again at the end of the episode, the two of them talk to each other about heroism in a solid, quick blast of good character work. There is a whole bit about Wynn walking in on an awkward hug in Jimmy’s office while he wins his next Pulitzer developing a photograph of Supergirl and the mugger, foreshadowing a split in Team Supergirl, but the most important (and best) part is done as soon as it cuts away from the bodega.
Meanwhile, Alex is being aggressively stupid with Hank. After finding out a few episodes back that Henshaw was with her father when he died, Alex has decided to be as transparently foolish and confrontational with the boss she suspects of already murdering one member of her family. Jemm, psychic ruler of 12 worlds and possessor of a sweet forehead gem (OH I GET IT NOW) is having his cell, equipped with psychic power dampeners to prevent him from breaking out, cleaned as the earthquake strikes.
The B-story of this episode has the fun distinction of being really stupid (right up until the end) and an almost direct rip of Aliens, only without Vasquez and Gorman being awesome and Paul Reiser getting what he deserves. Instead, we get Alex, until this point a smart, competent character, acting like a complete idiot out of plot necessity: she and a DEO redshirt go try and chase down other members of her team, disregarding a direct order from Henshaw and common sense, what with there being no available protection from the psychic monster prowling the hallways and presumably air ducts.
They coincidentally find a neural dampener for her to wear, and she eventually finds Henshaw and confronts him in the middle of a cat and mouse game with a psychic intergalactic dictator, demanding to know what Henshaw knows about her father’s death, cuffing him to a pipe, and offering him up to Jemm.
Divorced from its ending, this storyline is terrible stock TV garbage. It’s the opposite of the A-story with Kara and Cat, which is full of strong characterization and an interesting examination of Supergirl’s motivations and animus. Instead, the B-story propels the plot by stripping its character of what made her a valuable character to begin with.
But that’s if you separate it from the ending. Taken as a whole…let me just cut and paste my notes for you. It picks up with Alex, running out of weapons from her heavily armed, pretty badass last stand against Jemm, seeing the previously handcuffed in another room Henshaw dropping into the fight.
“Oh my God is this Cyborg Superman?”
Henshaw beats the piss out of Jemm, then swears to Alex he’s not the enemy.
Alex goes to find out what’s what with Hank after everything settles down, and he makes her swear not to tell anyone, including Kara.
He’s not Hank Henshaw. Henshaw died with her dad.
DEO had been pursuing an alien stranded on the planet. Tracked him to Peru. Henshaw wanted to kill him. Pa Danvers realized he wasn’t a threat.
Please God let him be Durlan.
Alex’s dad sacrificed himself to save the alien from Henshaw’s crazy ass.
“If you’re not Hank Henshaw, who are you?”
REEP DAGGLE. COME ON.
EVEN F****NG BETTER HE’S THE MARTIAN MANHUNTER!”
Yup. Despite all speculation about what Henshaw really was, I did not see J’onn J’onzz coming, and now I can’t wait to see what else is coming.
KRYPTONIAN MEMORY CRYSTALS:
-The Justice League International Count moves to 2 with the introduction of the Martian Manhunter. I will send this show a crisp sawbuck through the post if they get Booster Gold in there in the next 5 episodes.
-I know the episode was shot months ago and written well before that, but in light of recent events, it was hard not to feel that pointed references to refugees and not being afraid were anything other than references to the world right now.
-Kara: “Ugh. Stupid Red Tornado.” Preach, sister.
-The show’s rationale for Kara losing her powers: like her cousin, Kara used her “Solar Flare” ability. This is the most recent power added to his arsenal, created by Geoff Johns and John Romita, Jr. in Superman #38.
-They keep showing commercials for the Point Break remake, which looks like it is both completely unnecessary and infuriatingly on the nose, something a movie about a team of extreme sports thieves doing extreme sports crime should never be
-Peter Facinelli (Dr. Sparklevampire) is THE WORST. Calculon was less robotic.
-Max Lord is also THE WORST, comparing Supergirl unfavorably to heroin or “the welfare state.” Again, hard to believe this wasn’t written with the outside world in mind.
-Sweet Jesus, how does EVERYONE know that Superman takes 48 hours to recharge?
-The problem with saying anyone in fiction is superlative at something is that when it comes time to show how great they are, the creators have to back it up. This is relevant because the picture Pulitzer Prize-winner Jimmy Olsen takes of Supergirl in the bodega is, to put it mildly, a dumpster fire.
-I feel like Jimmy could have saved himself in that elevator shaft. There were like, six other cables he could have jumped to, and if things were really that desperate, why did Kara take a minute to change before she flew to grab him?
-They used the New 52 design for J’onn. I’m cool with it.
-The episode closes with Kara’s Aunt Astra and two dudes punching her out of the sky ahead of next week’s Kryptonian showdown.
So what did you think of this week’s Supergirl?