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Supergirl is back from what felt like a long hiatus, even though it was only gone a mere three weeks. Its noticeable absence likely has to do with the fact that it’s already risen to the level of some of the best superhero stories, despite a number of wrinkles it still needs to iron out. One such minor wrinkle is the clearly under-funded, effects heavy fight scenes, of which there aren’t very many to begin with. This week’s episode dispenses with its only one early on. The rest of the episode is allowed to breathe, and it takes its time building up to one of the most thematically satisfying entries in the series’ mere nine episode run. Cheesy as it may be, this show is simply good to its core.
This new run of episodes picks up right where the last one left off, with Supergirl and her uncle-in-law Non throwing punches as they avoid oncoming air traffic, but the evolution of the various plots and subplots feels distinctly like its own thing. The major conspiracies that Astra is involved with, both Kryptonian and Earth-centric, don’t really have concrete explanations beyond a saviour complex, but they manage to move a step in the right direction, providing the narrative base for Supergirl’s struggles with loyalty and methodology. Elsewhere, Cat Grant tries to expand upon her ‘Kira’-is-Supergirl theory, giving her young assistant an ultimatum that brings her dependance on her job (and her friends) into view, whilst Alex and the DEO find themselves in a bit of a pickle: either turn Astra over to the Kryptonians, or watch Hank Henshaw die. It’s all a bit of a mess for our characters, and the episode the takes about half an hour to really tie it together in any meaningful way, but as soon as it does, it works like a charm.
As Supergirl confronts Astra in her Kryptonite prison, we see her side by side with her own skewed reflection, like a monster buried deep down. She still clearly cares for her aunt, and the Kryptonian saying of “Blood bonds us all” makes her question where her loyalties ought to lie, although she’d never intentionally turn against her human home. Astra still paints Kara’s mother with a negative brush, and the first of two Kryptonian flashbacks see her accomplice Non being given the maximum sentence. Not death, but life imprisonment in Fort Rozz, carried out in a way that looks like his very soul is being sucked up in to it, a torturous punishment if there ever was one.
Torture is something that comes in to play in a number of ways this week. The DEO, under the temporary authority of General Lane, tortures Astra with Kryptonite injections in order to get information out of her, as Supergirl begs him to recognize that we need to be better than this. Cat exerts her own form of emotional torture on Kara as she investigates her past, playing mind games with her in order to get her to admit her dual identity. And finally James Olsen, who breaks in to Max Lord’s facility to figure out what he’s hiding, is placed in a blacksite-like environment when he’s caught by Lord, although his torture here – a couple of punches and a smashed camera – is more for intimidation than anything else, i.e. to protect Lord’s own secrets. And yet, they all bring into question the various methods by which we deal with information, something that Supergirl’s having a hard time accepting when it comes to what Astra has to say about her mother.
Kara’s first response to all these frustrating, helpless situations, from her job hanging in the balance, to Henshaw being captured, to Astra’s non-cooperation, to Lord’s secrecy, to the tainted memories of her mother, is anger. She’s ready to fly right out the door and take drastic measures, something that Winn and James remind her is what her enemies tend to do. “What if I’m not so different?” she asks in a moment of weakness, and it really does seem like she’s on the verge of doing something reckless, but Winn brings her back down to Earth, reminding her that she has to be different. That’s what keeps her on the winning team, and that winning team is something she needs to fight for, even if it means undoing the great character dynamic she and Cat would’ve had if she came clean to her – maybe someday! In any case, Cat’s interrogations aren’t entirely malicious. She knows Supergirl’s value, and the good she could be doing elsewhere, but Kara needs this job more than she realizes. It’s filled with people who help keep her in check, and it’s the only place she really feels human regardless of what that means – a feeling captured perfpectly when she holds hands with both Winn and James, putting aside the potential romantic complications (while, paradoxically, bringing them completely into view) as James reminds her that heroes need to find a way, even at their weakest.
Rather than giving in to her anger and going on an all-out offensive, Kara finally decides to listen to what Astra has to say about her mother, although here’s where things get slightly muddled. In the second flashback, Allura upholds justice and sentences Astra for her murderous crimes, but also seems to indicate that she’ll fight for her sister’s cause, which goes back on the idea that her complacency was partically responsible for the end of the Kryptonian people. I couldn’t quite put my finger on whether this was a noble secret mission or an abandonment of principles, and it really doesn’t help that we still don’t know what Astra was trying to accomplish, or what she’s trying to accomplish now. The scene does, however, feature an interesting struggle with regards to those principles before the messy bit, where in the process of having twins argue about means and ends, it almost feels like two parts of a single self, reflecting Supergirl’s own struggle with her principles. I’m really hoping for some clarity on what Astra’s mission is to begin with, because it isn’t set up like a mystery and all it’s doing is holding the narrative back, but it also seems like the show is setting up a long-term game with her Kryptonian crew, and with the slimy Maxwell Lord, who appears to be creating some sort of Bizarro Supergirl.
As Kara regains a balance between faith and action, she finally finds out the deal with not-Hank Henshaw, meaning this DC Universe now features Supergirl and J’onn J’onzz, aka Martian Manhunter, on the same team! J’onnz even disguises himself as Supergirl to throw off Cat Grant’s scent, in a scene that has me torn down the middle, though perhaps in a good way. Is Kara’s mentor now convinced that she isn’t Supergirl? Maybe, but as much as I want Cat in on things, even Henshaw and Alex remark upon just how terrible Kara is at keeping secrets, so perhaps using the oldest trick in the (comic) book to make someone un-believe will end up being for the best. It’ll certainly help with any future storylines that have to do with her human/Kryptonian secret duality, which is a hugely interesting part of the Super-mythos.
Speaking of which, Clark Kent finally makes a return, and while it’s hard not to want the show to finally step out from under his shadow, his presence is always a welcome one, even if it’s just in the form of a username on a screen! He comforts Kara, reminding her of her own Kryptonian saying about the bonds of blood, and it almost feels as if a new small piece of the larger DC mythos has just been put neatly into place, much like the ‘true’ meaning behind the El coat of arms – “Stronger Together.” While the episode deals with torture and anger and loss of faith, that’s what it ultimately comes down to. Kara isn’t Supergirl because she can leap tall buildings in a single bound, she’s Supergirl because the people around her inspire her to be good, and she inspires the same in others in return.