Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Supergirl 1x11 "Strange Visitor from Another Planet" (Getting to Know You) [Contributor: Deborah MacArthur]

"Strange Visitor from Another Planet"
Original Airdate: January 25, 2016
This week's episode had some great scenes, great acting, and very little of Winn's dumb crush on Kara! Huzzah! The strange thing, though, is that we didn't actually get a lot of Supergirl action — there was one big fight scene, a handful of scattered hero moments, and maybe a couple glimpses of Kara standing around in the Supergirl suit. Most of the episode had more to do with the lives, relationships, and backstories of some of the characters (namely, Cat Grant and J'onn J'onzz/Hank Henshaw) and I do actually think that putting the superheroing on the back burner worked in this episode's favor. Allowing the characters of a show to develop and grow more into "people" and less into caricatures or archetypes can only help, which — if the previous two episodes of the show are any indication — Supergirl could seriously use.


I like the Hank Henshaw/J'onn J'onzz character okay. I've found him rather interesting since the beginning of the show, and I've mostly liked him ever since he was absolutely confirmed as being on Team Good Guys, but before this week's episode I honestly couldn't tell you why I liked him. Because he's good? Well, so is, arguably, Winn — but I don't really like him, do I? Hank's cracked a few decent jokes, he seems like a helpful sort of guy, and he appears to be dedicated to helping out Kara, Alex, and planet Earth… and that was pretty much all I could say about him — not exactly "write an ode to the greatness of this character" fodder, is it?

But "Strange Visitor from Another Planet" changed that vague, "he's okay," opinion I had. It changed it in the best way a show could change an opinion: by providing more depth to the character, more backstory, more emotion, and — here's the kicker — giving all of that development time to grow and leave an impression. Timing is very important for emotional investment, and while I wouldn't exactly call this episode perfectly paced (I actually would have preferred if they'd split Hank's A-story into its own, focused episode and saved the stuff with Cat for another time), I did appreciate the way they gave us time to understand what Hank was going through, his thought processes that directed his actions at the end of the episode, and how he changed from the experience. For this, the little moment between Hank and the Danvers sisters at the end of the plot is just as important as the extensive flashback/monologue sequence.

But what was this story? Well, apparently Earth's got another visitor from Mars — one that's waaaay less likable than J'onn J'onzz, let me tell you. A White Martian attacks during a speech by a very anti-alien (seriously, if I were to complain about anything from this episode, it's the heavy-handedness of this character — she makes General Angryface look like a Care Bear) Senator Miranda Crane. J'onn/Hank is visibly shaken by the sight of the White Martian, because that race of Martian wiped out not only his family, but also all of the Green Martians.

All of them, save for J'onn J'onzz. This information is slowly delivered to us as Alex pulls it from Hank (who I should maybe stick to calling J'onn when we're discussing his life as a Martian?) because she knows he needs to talk about it and because it's part of their Villain of the Week plot, but it's understandable why he doesn't want to say everything that happened to him. In the end, we get an incredibly well done scene between J'onn and Alex, where he tells her the full story of the Green Martians and the White Martians and how he regrets surviving the massacre — how he knows he'll hear the screams of his family until the day he dies.

Such a heavy scene would probably be a kind of one-off for other episodes, balanced with more action and explosions and beating the bad guy. Especially since the emotional weight for this week is not being carried by the main character, but between two supporting characters with the main character as a sort of pacifying bridge. To Supergirl's credit, though, the emotion doesn't end with one powerful scene — J'onn's anguish and desperation extends beyond his flashback and confession, up until the actual defeat of the White Martian. Kara has to talk J'onn out of killing the White Martian in cold blood, so that he doesn't sacrifice himself — his goodness — by becoming a murderer. The final confrontation has a different kind of emotional weight, as does the scene where J'onn basically says that he sees Kara and Alex and surrogate daughters.


Remember when I called Kara a pacifying bridge? It was like, in the previous paragraph, you should remember it. Anyway, Kara's role as a pacifying bridge this episode isn't limited to talking down Martians from killing other Martians. She's also trying her darndest to make things right between Cat Grant and her long-lost son, Adam, via a letter sent requesting a meeting... without Cat's permission.

(Side note: So many long lost children in superhero shows this season. What's up with that?)

I guess each episode of this show could reasonably be broken down into the "Supergirl" plot and the "Kara" plot. This is the Kara plot, with very little crossover into what's going on in the Supergirl plot, and it's kind of where Melissa Benoist shines. Like, you thought the compelling moments would be all the flying around and fighting bad guys? Nope — it's sitting at a cafe table, mediating two headstrong family members and trying to get them to understand each other. The scene with Cat and Adam, and Kara acting as chaperone, is absolutely one of the most charming of the series.

But Kara isn't actually the star of the show this week. The A-plot was owed by J'onn J'onzz, and this B-plot is carefully, meticulously ruled by Cat Grant. I think I've touched a bit in previous reviews on how interesting the character of Cat is — a no-nonsense, strong businesswoman with very little patience for tact or emotional understanding — but "Strange Visitor from Another Planet" lets us in on the vulnerable side of her and it's interesting. Around Adam, Cat is awkwardly narcissistic, consumed by herself and her own life in spite of her eagerness to please her estranged son, and the initial meeting between the two is a complete failure.

The thing is, we know she cares about Adam. We know she wants him to like her, that she wants to reconnect with him, that she wants to live up to whatever Kara had written in that letter she sent. Cat Grant is not a careless person, nor is she really a careless mother — she's someone who doesn't know how to care. She's protective of her younger son, Carter, but she knows him and feels safe around him. Adam is an unknown. He's incredibly important and quite unpredictable and his rejection would — and did — break her heart. Cat doesn't know how to face something so significant and so chaotic and the way she reacts to everything in the episode — from the anger at finding out Kara sent the letter, to the hope of maybe making a connection with Adam, to the nervous self-centeredness at their dinner, all the way to their emotional breakthrough at the dinner with Kara — is understated and wonderful.

Overall, this episode was a great breather — a slow-down for the season, to give itself time to explore the characters a bit more and remind us viewers why we care about them. It had some action, yes, but it wasn't bogged down by mythos and big-picture stuff, which could get a little tedious in a show like Supergirl.

We did get a few hints on what's to come: an implication of more White Martians, for example, and the fact that Bizarro Supergirl is totally happening, whaaaaaat!

  • Kara seems to have a new love interest this episode, by the way! And it's Cat's son! This might be interesting?
  • We get about five seconds of Winn in this episode and five seconds is too many seconds.
  • "I haven't seen him since he was a baby." But she recognized him as an adult on sight. I'm not saying that's bad or a continuity error or anything — it's interesting that Cat clearly kept up with Adam at a distance.
  • One of the signs at the anti-alien rally said "Super Freak," which I just think is hilarious.
  • Also hilarious: the "super" of the sign was written in the classic title font for the Supergirl comics.
  • "I wouldn't have been a good mom. I wasn't ready." "It's always about you." I'm pretty sure being a good mom affects you, Adam. If she says she wasn't ready to be a good mother, maybe trust her on that?
  • Poor David Harewood had to growl a lot of his lines during this episode. He did a marvelous job in spite of that, though.
  • Side note: J'onn J'onzz had daughters named K'hym and Tanya. Apparently on Mars, names are just the "I want my kid to be difference but not obviously different" versions of named here on Earth.
  • Kara as Cat Grant's cheerleader is so adorable. Cat's her hero, guys! The hero has a hero!
  • Eventually I might get sick of how awkward Kara is when she has to lie, but not today.
  • "Do not throw away—" YOUR SHOT?! "—who you are." Oh.
  • "It's Ker-rah to your mom and Kara to literally everyone else on the planet."
  • I wonder if Bizarro Supergirl is going to have all the weird backwards traits and Tarzan-speak of comic book Bizarros? Eh. Probably not. That might be too strange for this show.
  • Speaking of Bizarro Supergirl though — uh, that black-eyed woman in the hospital bed in the last few episodes wasn't played Melissa Benoist, right? Do I have face blindness?


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