Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Supergirl 1x09 "Blood Bonds" (Keep Optimistic) [Contributor: Deborah MacArthur]

"Blood Bonds"
Original Airdate: January 4, 2016

Hello, everybody! I'm here to talk about Supergirl and, just to preface this review: I do like this show. I think it's entertaining and I like me some superheroes (although Supergirl probably would not be my first choice for a TV show revolving around a female DC superhero, I'm just saying). With that out of the way, I have to go ahead and confess that this episode disappointed me. A lot.

When we left our hero before the winter break, Kara's evil aunt tried to convince Kara that she's not so evil (in spite of the fact that she'd delivered an Evil Speech of Evil during every appearance so far), General Lane (henceforth called General Angryface because that's all he is) basically tried taking over DEO operations, and Cat Grant found out Kara's superhero identity. Overall, a pretty exciting way to enter into that hiatus, right? The seeds of intrigue were sown and viewers were eager to see where it all could go next. Would Astra double-cross her niece? Would General Angryface make an expression that wasn't angry? Would Cat Grant take advantage of knowing Kara's Supergirl secret and put a two-second time limit on coffee runs? What could happen?!

Well, as it turns out, not a whole lot. In fact, it seems as if this episode was working to undo any of the interesting developments that happened during the midseason finale and return everything to the status quo as quickly as possible — especially with regard to Cat Grant finding out about Kara being Supergirl, which the show tries to pull away from immediately. It's more than a little frustrating.


Hank Henshaw, AKA J'onn J'onzz, AKA Martian Manhunter, is kidnapped by Non, Astra's husband and lieutenant. Non gives Alex, who is put in charge during Hank's absence, a demand: release Astra to her people, or Hank dies. It's pretty straightforward, but of course following through with it, you know, releases a super-powered villain on the world. Oh, but hurrah! General Angryface usurps power and starts making decisions for the DEO. Give the single-minded, short-sighted angry man who hates aliens command over the delicate hostage negotiation mission? Yeah, there's no way that could go wrong.

It goes wrong! Shocker. The general "interrogates" Astra by injecting her with kryptonite, which makes no one happy and I can only assume will cause problems later on. I mean, presenting humanity as the absolute enemy can't possibly work in anyone's favor, General, even if your technique does work in the short-term as a way to find Hank. Because, yes, Astra gives up Non's location but — come on, that is such a trap that I'm halfway tempted to stick an Admiral Ackbar GIF up in here. But I won't. I can show restraint.

This situation also presents Kara with a problem: she still sympathizes with her aunt. The episode is titled "Blood Bonds" after something Astra says — a quote from Kara's mother, in fact — about blood bonding them together. And it's true. Even though Kara knows Astra is a threat, she can't help but see her as the aunt who cared for her when she was little — just like, even though she knows the memories of her mother have been tainted by knowledge of Alura's possible role in the destruction of Krypton she can't exactly ignore the fondness she has for her. Although, I would argue that it's Kara's feelings that bond her to her apparent enemy, not her blood — blood factors in less than the show would like us to think.

While Kara's dealing with the DEO and Astra, James Olsen has taken it upon himself to investigate Maxwell Lord, who is clearly hiding something from everyone — something that the Kryptonians wanted, which could possibly lead Alex (and General Angryface, whatever) to where they're keeping Hank. Lord hushes up the incident to the news, but James is on the job... until he finds himself where he shouldn't be while searching around Lord's research facility and Lord knocks him out. James wakes up in a dark warehouse and tied to a chair. Lord punches him some, breaks the crap out of his camera, and threatens more if James ever tries investigating him again. Oh my, could it be that Maxwell Lord is evil? Gasp!

Kara finds James all beat up in the trio's secret CatCo room and all her emotions bubble up until she's practically shaking with anger — at Maxwell Lord, at the idea of James and Winn putting themselves in danger, at the whole situation with General Angryface and Astra and everything. Even though the episode has its problems, I will say that it handles Kara's emotional turmoil really well, and when Kara snaps, you can understand her exasperation. You get why she starts to do something drastic, something she would definitely later regret. Everything seemed to be working against her this episode, including the emotional stress carried over from the last episode and her finding out some truths about her mother.

She doesn't to the bad thing, though. Winn and James talk her down and she uses hope and heroics to turn General Angryface's men over to her side of the battle. With Alex and Supergirl leading the mission, Hank is rescued and Astra, surprisingly, talks her troops down from straight-up killing everyone on Team Earth.

The last thread running through this week's episode is Kara trying to convince Cat Grant that she's not Supergirl. Cat tells Kara to either convince her that she's not Supergirl, or quit her job so she can spend more time saving people around the world instead of getting coffee.

In the end, Hank/J'onn uses his shapeshifting abilities to disguise himself as Supergirl so that Supergirl and Kara can appear to be in the same room together in front of Cat. Which, I have to admit — that's actually a pretty clever idea, so good on you, episode. However, I dislike that this clever idea killed what could have been an interesting development for the show in general, and the relationship between Kara and Cat. Which brings me to...


There were a few little things that bothered me about the episode, but the biggest bother was how they handled Cat Grant finding out about Kara being Supergirl.

The show went for something shocking and interesting in the midseason finale, got our hopes up on what could be coming next, and then undid it in this episode. Cat found out about Kara being Supergirl and I was really happy because it 1) proved that Cat is as intelligent as she presents herself as being and, 2) could mean a compelling mentorship dynamic between Cat and Kara.

Cat is not Kara's mother — she doesn't love her as a mother loves a daughter, she's not really "soft" around her, and she's not the sort of woman who would hold Kara's hand through the tough times. She's a strong woman who sees another, younger strong woman occasionally struggling through life and would offer up more acerbic, vodka-laden advice for Kara to either use or ignore entirely. She'd be someone unimpressed by Kara's role as Supergirl but still invested in her success (considering that Cat is the one who named her and everything) so she'd provide a balance — a confidante without being a sidekick. She would, in spite of Kara's powers and role in the world being more "big picture" important than Cat's, still be a role model and authority figure for Kara to look up to.

And it's not that the Kara and Cat relationship would change significantly. The stuff I mentioned all existed before Cat's discovery of Kara's identity and the show had already set them on the path of "cynical mentor and protege" that I'm sure they will continue. But I do think that Cat knowing the truth would add a level of honesty and sincerity to their interactions, and I think Kara having someone who knows about her and isn't in awe of her would be different and fun for the show to explore.

Frankly, the Cat/Kara plot was just a waste of our time, which — you don't waste your viewers' time, Supergirl. It's not good.

The other big problem I had was with Maxwell Lord, whose subtlety as the villain was thrown out the window this week. Maxwell Lord had a prominent non-role in the episode. More than any other episode before it, this character comes off as poorly conceived in "Blood Bonds." He's played as openly hostile and antagonistic to our hero team, but then the writers scatter in a few key words and phrases to remind us that he's supposed to have humanitarian ideals. Earlier in the season, I bought that Max Lord could be a Lex Luthor type with actual concerns for things like poverty, the environment, and the welfare of others — but this week, his values were an afterthought.

All right, that's "Blood Bonds." Not a terrific episode, but I still like the show just fine and I'm optimistic about the future. Optimism's key, right?

  • The way that Kara says "Superman" and "Supergirl" in the opening voice over sounds like it's got an exclamation mark and a trademark sign attached. "Supergirl!"
  • Show, I like you a lot but your flying effects have — unfortunately — not improved.
  • "Astra was wrong about you. You're as weak as any human." Uh... you guys just fell from thousands of feet onto concrete, I know you're boasting and everything but that would have definitely killed a human. That makes no sense, Non. It's non-sense.
  • "I have all these powers but I've never felt more powerless." The show's biggest overall weakness is that it comes off as a little heavy-handed sometimes. It spells out the lessons we're supposed to learn, rather than just showing them to us and allowing us to make the connections ourselves. It reminds me a lot of older TV from back when television writers hadn't quite learned subtlety yet.
  • "You cling to the belief that people are inherently good, but they are weak." The 'but' implies that those are mutually exclusive attributes. They're not.
  • "Now I see how much more advanced you are than us savages." Heh. Burn.
  • So General Angryface's xenophobic anti-alien beliefs can be blamed on The Day the Earth Stood Still? The movie where the humans are the fearful, violent race that causes all the problems and the aliens just want them to behave? I'm not sure you watched that movie right, dude.
  • "The kryptonite is weakening you!" Hey, Supergirl? Kryptonite's been around since 1943. You don't need to tell us what it does.
  • "Their idealism will doom this planet." General Angryface is such a freaking buzzkill.
  • "You're from MARS?!" Hee. That was cute.
  • "You know, you guys could have told me. I can keep a secret." "No you can't." Also cute.
  • I really hope that Kara and J'onn get more scenes together in the future. I liked their little talk toward the end of the episode.


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