Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Review - 'Supergirl', S02E10 - 'We Can Be Heroes'

While it may still have its weak-points, the second season of Supergirl has still managed to feel like a fairly significant improvement over the first. There are many factors that have contributed to this, of course – but, the most important is clearly the increased emphasis that the season has placed on Kara's role as a superhero. The change in network may have been seen as a sign of failure by some viewers. But, it was also this very change that served as the catalyst for the improvements that have been made – so, it has become increasingly difficult to see it as a 'bad thing'.

The season's tenth episode represents a particularly interesting challenge for Supergirl, though – as it also sees the return of one of the first season's most disappointing villains, in the form of Livewire (Brit Morgan). Despite making two seperate appearances throughout the first season (one of which taking place on the otherwise very entertaining Supergirl/The Flash cross-over), Livewire never quite managed to feel like a fully-realised character, or a particularly credible threat. Instead, her 'shock jock turns super-villain' persona just came across as somewhat one-dimensional, and more than a little grating, to me (in much the same way that real-life 'shock jocks' often do, funnily enough).

Unfortunately, one of the first things that I was forced to admit about this episode was that, at least as far as Livewire is concerned, nothing had really changed – though, fortunately, it also became just as obvious , fairly early on, that this episode wasn't actually going to be about Livewire, at all. Instead, as you might be able to guess from the episode's title, this episode is one that very concerned with the idea of heroism – and, in particular, with what it actually takes to be a hero.

With two aspiring heroes stepping forward, eager to help capture to recently escaped super-villain, the contrast that the episode was intent on establishing between James, as Guardian, and Mon-El felt very obvious – but, fortunately, it managed to avoid coming across as heavy-handed. With Mon-El, we have someone who shared some of Kara's enhanced abilities – but, who is also reckless, and clearly motivated as much by self-interest as any urge to actually 'do good', With James, on the other hand, we have someone who does not have any enhanced abilities to fall back on but who clearly has the best intentions.

With the two men so obviously set up to contrast each other, the implicit question that the episode asks is which, if either, is best suited to being called a 'hero' Of course, while the question seems to be left at least somewhat open-ended, for the audience, Kara has clearly formed her own ideas – already going out of her way to encourage, and train, Mon-El while being almost aggressively dismissive of Guardian. This, of course, all comes to a head when she is finally given the opportunity to learn that James and Guardian are actually one and the same.

I have to admit that Kara's reaction, and her behaviour throughout much of the episode, managed to strike a strange balance between being incredibly frustrating, while also feeling very genuine. I can understand why she would be so concerned about James's safety, of course – but, her stern disapproval (to the extent that she was even willing to threaten to force James to stop, if he didn't listen to her) would have to be the first time that Kara has ever been allowed to appear unlikable. Similarly, her shaken confidence in Mon-El, after seeing first-hand the way in which he puts his concern for her above that of the innocent bystanders they are supposed to be protecting, felt like an important moment in his own gradual development.

While I haven't been entirely won over by either James's rapid transition into costumed crime-fighter, or Mon-El's general level of 'frat boy' obnoxiousness, I do have to admit that this episode would have to represent the point at which I came to believe that there actually was some value in their respective story-lines. In the past, I haven't found James's sudden desire to become a hero to be all that convincing – but now, if only because Supergirl's somewhat patronising attitude toward the idea of humans who want to be heroes genuinely annoyed me, I actually feel a little more invested in the idea of James and Winn continuing their partnership, and succeeding. On a similar note, Mon-El actually being able to admit, both to himself and to Kara, that his recent decision had more to do with his feelings for her, than any genuine desire to be a hero, felt like an important moment in his own character-arc.

In the end, though, it still felt like a a bit of a shame for so much of the episode to be based around Livewire's 'escape' from prison. For one thing, as I've already mentioned, she still doesn't manage to come across as a very compelling figure, even in her third appearance. Also, while the surprise twist of actually placing her in a 'victim' role, here, was a nice surprise, it was also a decision which ultimately left us saddled with an even less compelling villain, in the form of an unnamed scientist intent on recreating Livewire's powers, for reasons of his own.

Worst of all, though, is the fact that the episode's focus on this primary plot-line took time and attention away from a sub-plot which actually proved to be much more interesting – as focus is shifted back to the Martians, J'onn and M'gann, and their still unresolved issues. With M'gann left catatonic, following a sudden psychic attack, J'onn is left with the difficult decision of whether or not to help a member of the alien species responsible for wiping out his own people. It is, obviously, an extremely important point in their respective story-lines. It also serves as the source of some genuinely great scenes for both David Harewood and Sharon Leal. But, unfortunately, it is also a sub-plot that feels incredibly rushed.

This episode's primary plot-line was fine, for what it was – and, it allowed for two members of the supporting cast to make some much needed progress on their respective character-arcs. But, I still can't shake the fact that it came at the expense of such an important sub-plot. In the end, I was just left feeling as though it was a mistake for these two plot-lines to be placed in the same episode. J'onn and M'gann's story of redemption and forgiveness just felt like something that deserved to be treated with more care and attention, and certainly much more screen-time, then it was given, here. But, then, it seems as though the next episode is going to be heavily based around M'gann M'orzz – so, hopefully, that will go some way toward making up for this mistake.

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