Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Supergirl 1x17 Review: "Manhunter" (Discourse and Discord) [Contributor: Deborah MacArthur]

Original Airdate: March 21, 2016

It’s all about backstory this week, as we get not one, not two, but three important flashbacks from our main characters. We get to see Little Alex and Little Kara, Slightly Younger Than Present Day Alex and Kara, Daddy Danvers, and the real Hank Henshaw – a character who, by the way, is so irritably awful that I refuse to call J’onn J’onzz ‘Hank’ from here on out. In what feels like a displaced storyline for an episode almost exclusively revolving around our makeshift DEO family of J’onn, Alex, and Kara, we also focus a bit on Siobhan Smythe and her miscalculated efforts to sneak back into Cat Grant’s good graces. This latter plot only really exists so we can see Siobhan use her Silver Banshee shriek towards the end of the episode, just in time for her to be in full-costumed glory in next week’s Supergirl/The Flash crossover event.

Although I enjoyed more J’onn J’onzz backstory to add to what we learned in “Strange Visitor From Another Planet” earlier this season, “Manhunter” was hurt by yet another use of the one-dimensional, alien-hating, villainous authority figure the writers keep using as a foil for the heroes’ righteousness: first, it was General Lane, then – briefly – the role was fulfilled by the anti-alien Senator Crane, and now it’s Colonel James Harper being a ridiculous simulacrum formed entirely out of human paranoia and stupidity. I legitimately don’t understand why Supergirl falls to these sort of uninteresting caricatures when I know the show is capable of more nuanced character writing, but they keep doing it – to my endless annoyance.


In the aftermath of the Red K-influenced Supergirl antics, it really does seem like National City’s confidence in their hero has irreparably fractured, to the point where people are terrified of Supergirl even when she shows up just to help. Look, I get being wary of the superpowered space alien, especially when they’ve proven susceptible to mind-altering substances that turn them into destructive sociopaths – that’s mostly good self-preservation instincts – but if I’m trapped in a burning building or being held at gunpoint and the aforementioned alien shows up to help? I’m not exactly going to fight against their assistance, if you get what I’m saying. That’s bad self-preservation instincts. Chill out, National City.


All of this is a more wide-scale example of the paranoia J’onn, Alex, and Kara are dealing with on a more personal level in the A-Plot. After J’onn revealed himself to be not “Hank Henshaw” but a green alien life form who had swiped Hank Henshaw's face, the military was called in to deal with the situation. Unfortunately, the American military in the Supergirl universe seems to be exclusively run by flatly-written General Ripper characters… and Lucy Lane! Hello, Lucy Lane. You’re going to annoy me a lot before redeeming yourself at the end of the episode, aren’t you? Yep.

Colonel James Harper (“Guardian” in the comics and known for having a lot of clones – I’m assuming this is one of the evil ones) partners up with Major Lucy Lane in order to interrogate the “dangerous” alien who had been in a place of power for ten years and only worked to ensure Earth’s safety the whole time. It’s really unclear why Harper bothers to interview J’onn or ask him any questions at all, since his mind is made up immediately that, no matter what J’onn says, he’s a lying liar who lies and deserves to be locked away and experimented on in the Cadmus Project. (Ironically, the Cadmus Project is shady and secret but that’s fine because it’s humans keeping secrets and lying and not green people from Mars.)

The real reason for the interrogation scenes is, of course, to give us some flashbacks about how J’onn met the Danvers patriarch and the actual Hank Henshaw, who was a jerk. Since Danvers was the father of an adopted alien refugee, he was far more sympathetic to J’onn’s own refugee story and befriended him after hearing about the Martian’s woes. No matter how hard he tried to get his commanding officer to realize that the “Martian Manhunter” was pretty inaccurately named, however, Henshaw refused to listen and attacked… then Danvers attacked, and threw Henshaw off a cliff – but not before getting mortally wounded. His last words to J’onn were an order for him to take care of Alex and Kara, and that was when J’onn decided he would take over Hank Henshaw’s name and life in order to keep a close eye on the Danvers girls.

Speaking of the Danvers girls: Alex is also interrogated, since Harper thinks she might have been hiding the truth about “Hank Henshaw” during her entire career with the DEO. We get another flashback, this time involving Alex’s life before her DEO job. She was washed-up and unemployed, had really long hair and liked to drink and party. It’s implied that some of her frustrations stemmed from having a superpowered alien sister casting a rather large shadow over her own accomplishments. “Hank” provided Alex with a place to shine.

Despite the heartstring-tugging Alex flashback, Colonel Harper sticks to his unidimensional characterization and refuses to allow his heartstrings to be tugged. It seems like Alex might be able to get away with her story – that she never knew “Hank Henshaw” was actually a green alien from the planet Mars – but then Lucy Lane ruins it by calling her out and ordering her arrest, perhaps in an effort to impress Harper with her astuteness. Alex is also destined for a trip to Project Cadmus.

All of this ridiculousness is summed up by a quote in the episode: “Humans can be ignorant, especially when they're scared.” National City is scared and ignorant. Colonel Harper is scared and ignorant. Lucy is scared and ignorant. That's all very nice and very true... still, I’ll just tack on a little something to that quote: “Humans can be ignorant, especially when they're scared… and the TV writers need to draw out the drama a bit.”

After Kara panics and tells James about his ex’s role in imprisoning her sister and her father figure, they both decide it’s time that Lucy gets the full story. They invite her over to Kara’s apartment, where Kara reveals the Supergirl suit under her blouse and, naturally, removes her glasses. You know, because those glasses are a critical part of her brilliant disguise. Lucy, ignoring the fact that the dogged pursuit of the truth just led to two innocent people being locked up in a shady scientific research center, asks why heroes/aliens/whatever “lie.”

Kara’s answer comes in the form of another flashback, in which Little Kara makes a spectacle of herself while rescuing a mother and child from a burning car and gets the “you should probably keep the hero thing a secret” speech from her adoptive dad. Kara compares her own desire to fit in and “belong” – and her constant sacrificing of who she is in order to do so – with Lucy’s betrayal of her own morality just to feel like she’s a part of something. Now that Lucy's officially annoyed me to the point of teeth-gnashing, it’s the part of the story arc where she gets her redemption! By appealing to the goodness in Lucy, Kara wins her over and the two team up to rescue J’onn and Alex from Colonel Harper. Thank goodness.

The Lucy-Kara team succeed in taking out the prisoner transport van, getting J’onn and Alex out of harm's way. But then J’onn has to wipe Harper’s memory of the events, which he’s apparently gotten better at since that one time several episodes ago when he totally scrambled a dude’s noggin trying the same thing. In the process, he accidentally sees into Harper’s mind and finds out that Jeremiah Danvers is actually still alive, being held captive at Project Cadmus. Alex and J’onn decide that getting him out is a good mission, since they’re both basically jobless and on the run, and J’onn’s Martian mental manipulation leads to the DEO being left in Lucy’s capable hands. I’m mostly okay with this, because of the redemption and the fact that Lucy was only super annoying in this episode because the writers needed her to be.

  • The opening scene features Kara gloomily watching the news to the song “Wise Up” by Aimee Mann, which I’m sure was meant to be poignant but I can’t hear it without thinking of the scene in Community where Joel McHale and Chevy Chase perform a bizarre slow-motion Spanish presentation to the same tune.
  • Why is Winn always at media meetings? He’s in IT. He shouldn’t be there.
  • For some reason, I found James answering Cat’s phone and Cat smiling at him really cute.
  • "So there is life on Mars." David Bowie's greatest question, finally answered.
  • I noticed in this episode that Kara actually has little snaps instead of proper buttons on her shirt, so that she can dramatically open the shirt to reveal her Supergirl symbol. Do you think she sews those on herself?
  • Is Siobhan a metahuman, then? Do they exist in this universe? All previous superpowered people in Supergirl were aliens, right?
  • Next week we get a Supergirl/The Flash crossover! The cuteness levels will be through the roof, people!


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