Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Review - 'Supergirl', S02E13 - 'Mr. and Mrs. Mxyzptlk'

With the season's thirteenth episode being one that was, essentially, all about Valentine's Day it probably makes sense that Supergirl would choose to turn its attention to the various romantic woes of its central cast. Of course, whether that level of focus on what has always been, at least for me, the weakest element of your typical CW series would actually turn out to be a good thing is another matter, entirely.

Fortunately, despite some minor issues, the episode, as a whole, proves to be genuinely entertaining. Here, we had Alex and Maggie (in a romantic sub-plot that had, initially, been very well handled, but which seems to have been reduced to a source of occasional emotional drama, since then) encountering yet another surprising road-block in their relationship, over a difference of opinion on the value of Valentine's Day, itself. As relationship drama goes, it felt like a very conventional sub-plot, to me – and, I'll admit that I wasn't too thrilled with the idea of something so comparatively minor being the source of their latest dispute. But, at least, it did turn out that there was a very good reason behind Maggie's dislike for Valentine's Day – something that the two of them could work through, as they continue to pursue what would have to be one of the healthiest, and most mature, romantic relationships I have ever seen on a CW series. Although, now that this latest issue has been resolved, I just hope that the whole relationship will be given some time to simply exist, as it is, without constantly being used as a source of emotional angst for those involved.

Winn, meanwhile, was also drawn into a very random romantic sub-plot of his own, following a chance encounter with Lyra (Tamzin Merchant), an alien originally from Starhaven – a planet that Winn just so happens to have some familiarity with. While there was a very rushed quality to the whole thing (with what felt like a few episodes worth of gradual development taking place in little more than a day, or two), I was left with the distinct impression that the rapid pace was actually part of the 'joke'. Beginning with Lyra saving Winn from a pair of alien thugs at a bar, thing progress rapidly, from there – with the two having already slept together before even reaching the point of their first official date. It was very strange, and actually kind of hilarious – and, in the end, I found that I didn't actually have a problem with the rapid pace of this new relationship. I was, for example, perfectly willing to simply assume that this was just how relationships worked on Starhaven (and, that Winn was left too dazed and confused by Lyra's forwardness to truly question it).

It also doesn't hurt that Lyra, herself, seems to have the potential to become a genuinely interesting new addition to the show's supporting cast. She may by yet another example of the 'mostly-human' looking aliens we so often seem to get on these sorts of shows, sure – but, Tamzin Merchant does a good job of with the material she is given. Also, with her back story providing hints of yet another alien planet ravaged by some form of catastrophe, it is possible that Lyra may have a greater role to play throughout the rest of the season.

Of course, while each of these sub-plots is important to the episode, neither comes close to being its most notable feature. That honour would, of course, have to go to the appearance of the classic comic-book antagonist, Mr. Mxyzptlk – the reality-bending imp from the fifth dimension who has delighted in tormenting Superman since his initial creation in 1944.

With Mxyzptlk making his first appearance at the end of the previous episode, only to declare his love for Kara, it became immediately obvious what the main plot-line of this episode would be – and the episode, as a whole, truly went out of its way to make the most of the character's potential for entertaining chaos. The lengths that Mxyzptlk was prepared to go, in his horribly misguided efforts to win Kara's heart, proved a near constant source of humour, throughout the episode – with clear high-lights being his duel with Mon-El, and his temporary resurrection of former villain, Parasite, so that he could play the hero. Most importantly, though, Peter Gadiot was able to imbue the character with a genuine sense of manic energy which made him genuinely entertaining to watch. This may be a very different portrayal of the character than fans of the comics would be used to (where he is typically presented as short, somewhat goofy-looking, and garishly dressed) – but, it still worked for the episode.

Of course, the most notable thing about Mxyzptlk's presence, throughout the episode, was the very different sort of challenge he posed to our heroes. With his reality-warping abilities, and his seeming invulnerability, Mxyzptlk posed a significantly different challenge to anything that Supergirl had faced previously – and, this was something else that the episode made good use of. In keeping with the tradition set by the character's previous appearance, in various formats, the only way to defeat Mxyzptlk is to outsmart him by, somewhat, tricking him into saying his own name, backwards.

It is a rule that the character has been bound by for a very long time, of course – so, it is natural that it would become a plot-point in this episode, also. But, I would have to imagine that it is also the sort of thing that could become a source of stress and frustration for any writer. After all, coming up with a truly plausible way of tricking a character who is supposed to be both clever, and powerful, into saying his own name backwards would have to be challenging. With that in mind, it's really to the credit of the writers that the final confrontation of this episode was able to play out in such a genuinely clever way.

In the midst of Mxyzptlk's efforts to win Kara's heart, Mon-El also found himself, once more, forced to confront his own short-comings – with his lack of faith in Kara, and her abilities to handle such a difficult situation in her own way, proving to be a significant source of tension for the two of them. While it did feel like we were repeating a character arc that we have already seen with Mon-El, in previous episodes, Chris Wood still did a great job with the material that he was given, here, as Mon-El struggled with feelings that were still comparatively new to him. I'm still not entirely convinced that all of the effort that has gone into putting the two characters together is going to amount to anything interesting, of course – but, at least, it did feel like a worthwhile addition to this episode.

In the end, the thirteenth episode of the second season of Supergirl turned out to be about as entertaining as an episode devoted entirely to Valentine's Day is probably capable of being. While it would be fair to say that a large part of that success can be attributed to the pure entertainment provided by Mr Mxyzptlk, and his reality-bending antics, it is also worth noting that each of the episode's romantic plot-threads is allowed to play out in a way that feels 'real' in its own way – despite whatever minor issues I may have had.

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