Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Review - 'Supergirl', S02E22 - 'Nevertheless, She Persisted'

Over the course of the past few episodes, Supergirl had finally managed to achieve a sense of narrative focus that it had been lacking for most of the season. Sure, the previous episode may have wasted some of the potential offered by the Daxamite invasion of Earth – but, at least, we finally had some sort of clearly defined challenge to bring us to the end of the season. Also, the final moments of the previous episode did manage to significantly raise the stakes, as we went into the finale, with the reveal that Superman had, somehow, fallen under Rhea's control.

It had felt like a fairly classic 'comic-book' moment to end things on, last week. Sure, given how likable Tyler Hoechlin was back at the beginning of the season, it would have been a shame to have wasted Superman's return by having him stuck in the role of a brainwashed slave, it also would have been a shame to not capitalise on the potential of some classic 'hero versus hero' action. Fortunately, the season's final episode was able to find room for both – opening on a very entertaining action sequence that pitted Superman and Supergirl against each other, before bringing a quick and decisive end to the whole sub-plot, as the episode moves on to more important matters.

I have to admit, though, that I'm not entirely sure how I feel about the idea that Supergirl actually defeated Superman in that fight. Not only did the episode go out of its way to establish that Superman was still very much at full strength during that fight but, thanks to the very specific effects of one of the many variations of kryptonite (silver, in this case), he believed himself to be fighting General Zod, at the time. On top of that, there's also the fact that he simply has much more experience than her. Also, he's Superman – one of the 'Big Three' of the DC Universe. Having Supergirl beat him in a one-on-one fight strikes me as existing on roughly the same level as Batman declaring that Robin is actually a better detective.

On the other hand, though, this is obviously Supergirl's show – and, as such, she clearly needs to take centre stage in the final fight against Rhea. Also, I think there actually is some comic-book precedent for the idea that Supergirl might be stronger, anyway. So, it's probably not worth dwelling on, to any great extent. In this universe, Supergirl is stronger – and, that's obviously just something that the audience is going to need to accept. Sure, the extent to which the episode went out of its way to get that point across (even having Superman declare her to be morally superior, as well as physically, toward the end of the episode) did feel a bit heavy-handed – but, then, Supergirl has never been a particularly subtle series.

And, besides, it really was a very entertaining action sequence.

Unfortunately, though, it was also the high-light of the episode, for me – with everything that comes after feeling like a bit of a let-down, by comparison. With Superman finally able to shake off his kryptonite-inspired hallucinations, Kara is finally able to turn her attention directly toward Rhea, and the Daxamite invasion of Earth – drawing on an obscure piece of Daxamite law to challenge her to a duel.

This is, of course, where things began to fall apart. Given the fact that the episode had already opened with a fight sequence that pitted Supergirl against Superman, there just didn't seem to be any way that another one-on-one fight-scene, this time between Supergirl and Rhea, could possibly compare favourably. It was a concern which turned out to be entirely justified when we actually reached that point, in the episode – with the entire sequence just feeling slow and sluggish, by comparison.

In her time on-screen, Rhea has always seemed to work best as a manipulator, or as the gloating would-be conquerer giving commands from her ship – but, she has never been portrayed as any sort of legitimate physical threat. So, the idea that the writer's would contrive to force her into a one-on-one duel just feels like a waste of both the character, and Teri Hatcher's entertaining performance.

Despite this, though, there were still elements of the broader conflict that proved to be entertaining – since, of course, Rhea never had any intention of honouring the terms of the duel. With the attack proceeding, in spite of Kara's best efforts, the escalating conflict is able to provide some fun moments, as Superman and the Martian Manhunter head out to defend the city. The writers were even able to work in the last-minute return of M'gann M'orzz (Sharon Leal) – who makes her return to Earth alongside some White Martian allies. Considering that I often felt as though she had been a poorly utilised character, earlier in the season, I was definitely glad to see her return.

In the end, though, I think that what bothered me most about this episode was that so much of it seemed to hinge on somewhat contrived plot developments. First, there's the fact that Rhea, apparently, bleeds kryptonite blood – something which, admittedly, does explain why she was so willing to accept Kara's challenge, but which also seems to come entirely out of nowhere. Sure, there's a half-heated explanation about it being a result of her being on Daxam during its destruction – but, does that mean that all Daxamites bleed kryptonite, now? And, if that's the case, then shouldn't they have been a much greater danger to both Superman and Supergirl? Kara has come face-to-face with multiple Daxamites before now, including Rhea, and this is the first time that their kryptonite blood has been a factor. And, what about Mon-el? I suppose we're just meant to assume that he fled Daxam early enough to avoid being saturated by kryptonite. Honestly, it just felt as though the writers chose to work this detail in as a last-minute plot-twist, without properly thinking through the broader implications.

Then, there's the fact that the conflict's final resolution hinges on a tiny box capable of pumping enough lead into the atmosphere to make the entire planet uninhabitable to Daxamites. Sure, it leads us directly to the dramatic moment where Mon-el is also forced to flee the planet, bringing an emotional end to his relationship with Kara – but, the while idea just felt like the worst sort of nonsensical 'comic-book' science (yes, this might be a 'comic-book' series – but, there should still be limits to what an audience is expected to accept).

The season's final episode may have had its fair share of entertaining moments, overall – but, unfortunately, it still struck me as something of a disappointment, in the end. The fact that so much of the season's final resolution hinged on last-minute plot developments, and that these plot developments would each come across as so horribly contrived, just seemed to undermine so much of the tension and drama that had been established over the course of the past few episodes. Honestly, even the tragedy of Mon-el being forced to leave Earth, as well-played as that moment was by both Melissa Benoist and Chris Wood, was undermined by the absurdity of the circumstances that lead them to that point.

Your own mileage may vary, of course – and, it could be that many in the audience aren't nearly as bothered by any of this as I was. But, in the end, it still felt like a somewhat disappointing way to end a season which had, overall, felt like such an improvement over the first.

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