Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Supergirl 2x06 Review: "Changing" (Life Can Be Draining) [Contributor: Deborah MacArthur]

Original Airdate: November 14, 2016

Wow, Supergirl is not playing around. Between the overarching, season-long villainous xenophobia of anti-alien opinion in organizations like Cadmus to the briefly pivotal role that climate change plays in this episode, the show has implemented way more political messages into its storylines than any other comic book show, as far as I can tell. It makes sense for this one to do it, too, since I think the Super line of comics, while susceptible to the general goofiness that all comic books fall into eventually, was a lot more into the ethics and morality than your average issue of The Flash. Or maybe it’s just because the writers of Supergirl are as fed up with dancing around issues that don’t need dancing around as we all should be. For real, how has it taken this long to get a moving, honest, nuanced, and non-exploitative coming out story from a mainstream TV show?


Speaking of which: I’m going to go ahead and declare Chyler Leigh is this week’s MVP. She carries the emotional weight of this episode perfectly, handling the highs and lows of Alex Danvers figuring out her feelings — for Maggie and in the grander, beyond-one-person scheme of things — with clumsiness that feels real, human, and important. For a character who’s usually straightforward and competent about everything she does, adding touches of awkwardness to Alex’s story helps the viewers connect with her, understand her emotions, and feel with her. The acting is assisted, of course, by the deftness of the writing staff and their clear understanding of Alex’s situation, plus a clear desire to make Alex’s coming out story feel as genuine as possible.

I’m not so sure how well this Alex plot would have gone down if they’d rushed it, or made it into a soapbox storyline that would then be forgotten like so many Very Special Episodes of the past. This was not a Very Special Episode. It was an accurate and careful handling of a situation that will certainly affect the character’s future, with zero indication that the show will turn away from this development or drop its importance. Currently, to me, a story like this feels safe in the Supergirl writers’ hands, and I hope more than anything that I’m right about that feeling.

Not that everything is sunshine and daisies in Alex’s relationship with Maggie or her experiences with coming out. First, she has to talk to her sister — something that Maggie encourages her to do, in order to really make the realization settle in. While Kara understands and accepts Alex, panic sets in and Alex decides she doesn’t want to talk about it anymore. Later, Kara seems standoffish, but — blessedly, since a lesser show would have pushed the Awkward Drama a lot longer — tells Alex that she was just following the order not to talk about it anymore.

Every single scene with Alex dealing with her feelings for Maggie, her realizing that Maggie isn’t a one-off attraction, and confessing everything to Kara is beautifully done. Like I said: Chyler Leigh as Alex carries all the emotional weight in this episode. A few minor plots involving Mon-El and Kara and morality/ethics happen, but they’re nothing compared to this storyline.

After Kara assures Alex that she’s going to love her sister no matter what, she tells her to go get the girl while Kara battles the latest alien threat to National City. Unfortunately for Alex, Maggie rejects her after a kiss — for good reason, though! Maggie makes an understandable argument that entering into a relationship with someone newly out of the closet isn’t the recipe for a successful couple, and it’s pretty obvious that Maggie wants them to be a success. To Alex, though, rejection is rejection, and she has to go cry on her sister’s shoulder in an incredibly well done and well acted scene and, for real. MV-freaking-P.


The title of the episode is “Changing” and, like most of Supergirl’s episode titles, it’s got a layered meaning in the plot. As far as I can see, there are four main “changes” happening this week: Alex’s changed understanding of herself and her feelings, the literal change of Dr. Jones the Scientist into Large Angry Alien (bonus: it’s propelled by anger over climate change!), James’s change from sidekick to superhero, and Mon-El’s disappointing inability to change into a character I care about. I mean, uh... into a decent person, like Kara wants him to be. I’m sure I’m probably missing some changing going on in “Changing” but those seem to be the big ones.

We’ve already discussed Alex’s plot, so let’s move on to the... technically A-plot of the episode? I’m not really sure how it balances against the emotion and empathy from Alex’s story, but usually the plot with the monster/villain is the A-plot. And it’s not that it’s a bad villain plot or anything! The premise — a parasitic alien life form that had been frozen for eons takes control of a climate change researcher/scientist and goes on a life-sucking rampage against those who oppose him — isn’t uninteresting, but it doesn’t exactly stand out against the other big changes that happen in the episode.

Then again, maybe it doesn’t need to. Maybe it’s just there to help instigate some of those other changes. After all, when Kara’s powers are zapped by the life-sucking Dr. Jones and James feels useless, that’s when he urges Winn to speed up the whole superhero super-suit construction process. Winn makes a bizarrely good techy sidekick to James (Confession: I think I like Winn when he’s around James? It may be too soon to tell.) and he gets the suit to him in time for the episode’s finale, but with some reservations on sending his pal into battle. Honestly though, Winn — between Guardian’s full face mask and the actually effective voice disguise, James Olsen is already ahead of the crowd, as far as costumed heroes go. He also has a motorcycle! Isn’t that exciting?

Less exciting: everything to do with Mon-El. The newly-Earthed alien is an unrepentant douche and Kara is finally learning that she can’t keep trying to guide a guy who insists on falling off cliffs anyway. And it’s not just that he’s apparently beating people up for money or that he refuses to be anything close to a decent person no matter how much Kara wants to believe in him. No, he actually tries to turn Kara’s heroics around on her, claiming that she’s only a hero because she likes getting the praise. Uh, I’m gonna go ahead and say that’s complete nonsense. Kara Danvers is healing sunshine and a field of aromatic wildflowers given humanoid form, and I will hear nothing against her altruistic activities, Mon-El.

I suppose it’s something of a change when Mon-El — after a well-deserved talking-to from Alex — does try to fight the Dr. Jones/Parasite at the end of the episode. Like, he fails completely and hilariously — he has to get saved by James as Guardian, and then the both of them have to get saved by Kara — but good effort? You get a participation trophy?

Something one of the Danvers sisters said got through Mon-El’s shrunken, Grinchian heart, apparently, because the last scene of the episode is him walking down the road and encountering a coughing homeless man. After a moment, Mon-El turns back to help the man, only to be cattle-prodded into submission and thrown into Lillian Luthor’s Shady Cadmus Van.

Hey, uh, so... I’m pretty sure that doesn’t make sense. I mean, how the heck did the Cadmus people know that Mon-El would grow a conscience at that very second and try to help? Was the Cadmus lackey just following Mon-El around for the last few days, trying to trick him into moments of empathy? I like imagining that, somewhere in the background of all Mon-El’s scenes, there’s been a Cadmus employee doing ridiculous things to get his attention. Fake-choking on a pretzel in the hopes that Mon-El would do the Heimlich maneuver on him. Dressing up as an old lady and staging a mugging. Tipping precariously out into traffic just as Mon-El walked by, utterly and selfishly ignorant of all the false calamities surrounding him.

Also, the fact that Cadmus framed the trap this way — based off the idea that the alien being they wanted to capture would be lured in by a person in need — kind of shines a spotlight on their cognitive dissonance, doesn't it? Aliens can't simultaneously be conquering overlords bent on the destruction of humanity and selfless heroes who would try and get a homeless person some food, shelter, or medicine for his cough. How did Lillian Luthor convince her workers that this plan made sense within the framework of the Cadmus mission statement?

Oh, Supergirl. Even in an episode very deserving of praise for the writing and handling of one storyline, you always gotta show your dumb comic book roots with another. I adore you.

Other Things:
  • J’onn J’onzz dealing with drunk!Kara at the beginning of the episode had me giggling.
  • Speaking of J’onn: there was a minor subplot where J’onn gets drained by Parasite and Alex, because she’s the hero this episode, goes to request a blood donation from M’gann. For some reason, the fact that M’gann and J’onn are two different species doesn’t factor into blood type, and J’onn is saved by a White Martian, and I am so confused by that.
  • Super Friends mention! That got a snicker out of me.


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