For the first several episodes of the series, Supergirl has been busy getting all of its storylines moving. With this week’s episode, “Childish Things”, it finally feels as if all of the balls are in the air. The office dynamics and interpersonal relationships that often make Kara’s job at CatCo the most interesting part of the show are established. There’s the crackling relationship between Kara (Melissa Benoist) and her boss, Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart), and the office romantic quadrangle in which Winn Schott (Jeremy Jordan) has a crush on Kara, who in turn has a thing for James (Mehcad Brooks), who’s in a relationship with Lucy (Jenna Dewan Tatum). In this episode, Cat offers Lucy a job, and the foursome find themselves in even closer quarters.
Likewise, we’re finally on the backside of the mystery of Hank Henshaw (David Harewood). As it turns out he is the shape-shifting Martian superhero J’onn J’onnz, known to DC Comics fans as the Martian Manhunter. In the process of revealing his true nature, Hank has been transformed from a mostly unlikable member of the cast into a critical part of the team that includes Kara and her sister Alex (Chyler Leigh). Their secret organization, the Department of Extra-Normal Operations, is busy rounding up escaped extraterrestrial prisoners, including a group of militant Kryptonians, and trying to unravel the plots of millionaire scientist Maxwell Lord (Peter Facinelli). Things are finally starting to click in what has been the weakest part of the series.
The main storyline in this episode involves the usually third-wheel character of Winn Schott. Comic book fans have suspected all along that Winn is related to the old-time Superman villain, Toyman, whose alter ego in the comics is Winslow Schott. As it turns out, Toyman is Winn’s father who, after a dramatic jail break, comes looking for his son in order to seek revenge on those who stole the toy maker’s ideas.
It’s great fun to see such a traditional gimmicky supervillain make an appearance on Supergirl, especially considering that the villains so far have been remarkably undeveloped and sort of boring. Toyman is played by Henry Czerny as an icy, calculating villain, a good choice that allows this bad guy to seem distinct from the similarly obsessed Trickster, played by Mark Hamill on The Flash as a cackling mad man in the tradition of the Joker. The Toyman has a lot of cool but deadly toys, and it’s fun to see how Supergirl uses her vast power set to thwart him at every move. The most ludicrous — and most fun — scene sees the Kryptonian hero using her heat vision to set off a sprinkler system and her freeze breath to transform the water into a wall of ice that shields innocents from the Toyman’s bombs. Nutty, I know, but true to Supergirl’s, and Toyman’s, classic comic book origins.
Toyman’s arrival on the scene also allows Winn to come out of the shadows for the first time, and leads to an awkward kiss with Kara that promises to further complicate their relationship. As a short-nerdy guy myself, I found myself rooting for Kara to come to her senses, to wise up and see that Winn’s better for her than the taller, better-looking, and more successful James.
The secondary storyline was also pretty compelling this week; a welcome change from what we’ve seen in the past. A large part of that can be attributed to the rehabilitation of Hank Henshaw. As far as I’m concerned, the more of his Martian Manhunter that comes to the fore, the better. This week, his investigation of Maxwell Lord leads him to use his powers, against his better judgment and with rather mixed results. I like it and want to see more.
As a matter of fact, my absolute favorite part of the episode happens right at the beginning, when Supergirl gets a flying lesson from the more experienced Manhunter. I realize that it probably costs a pretty penny every time that the computer-generated version of the green-skinned alien is on the screen, but I still want to see more. (I remember feeling the same way as a kid when watching a show about another green-skinned hero: the Incredible Hulk. That television show’s budget only allowed Lou Ferrigno’s Hulk to make two relatively brief appearances an episode. It always left me feeling a bit cheated. I feel the same way about the Martian Manhunter.)
Overall, this is one of the best episodes of the series so far. With the development of Hank Henshaw into a genuinely heroic character, the addition of an interesting (if traditional) supervillain, and the further development of the interesting and fun personal relationships between the CatCo staff, this episode of Supergirl pulls off its juggling act with a lot of charm. With “Childish Things”, Supergirl manages the kind of quirky comic book storytelling combined with genuinely interesting characterizations that make for the very best in superhero television.