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TV

Supergirl: Season 1, Episode 4 - "Livewire"

Gregory L. Reece

A cool villain and the marvelous Calista Flockhart weren't quite enough to save this episode from the family drama and boring backstory that threaten to bring this series down to earth.


Supergirl

Airtime: Mondays, 8 pm
Cast: Melissa Benoist, Jeremy Jordan, Mehcad Brooks, Helen Slater, David Harewood, Brit Morgan, Calista Flockhart
Subtitle: Season 1, Episode 4 - "Livewire"
Network: CBS
Air date: 2015-11-17
Amazon

If you felt like you were missing something when you watched this week's episode of CBS's Supergirl, you were right. CBS wisely decided to pull the episode that was originally scheduled for air this week, the true fourth episode in the series, because the events depicted in the drama bore too close a resemblance to the horrific real-life events in Paris and Beirut. That explains one cryptic comment from Winn (Jeremy Jordan) about bombs, and it explains the change in relationship dynamics between Kara (Melissa Benoist) and James (Mehcad Brooks). It also explains the sick feeling you might have noticed when you settled in to watch another hour of escapist television but found that you couldn't stop thinking about Paris, politicians, warplanes, and refugees.

Instead of watching the now unsettling spectacle of Supergirl trying to stop bombs from blowing up National City, "Livewire" moved the action ahead a week so that we could watch Supergirl have Thanksgiving dinner with her family. It was all rather dramatic, I suppose. Alex (Chyler Leigh) was worried that her mother, Eliza (played by the original Supergirl, Helen Slater), would be angry that she let Kara "come out" as a super-powered alien.

"Coming out" is a term that is thrown around pretty liberally in this episode, though it is hard for me to see exactly how Kara's decision to don the cape and costume made famous by her cousin, Superman, bears much resemblance to what we usually think of as "coming out". Granted, by doing so, Kara has taken a courageous step, one that puts her at risk of rejection by her family and friends, and one that potentially puts her life and safety in jeopardy. But, on the other hand, Kara has worked hard to keep Supergirl's real identity a secret; indeed, she’s established the kind of dual identity that’s usually thought of as the opposite of "coming out". It all struck me as a little weird, as if the writers' are trying too hard to make this bit of escapist entertainment have something relevant to say. I'm not saying that’s not possible, mind you, just that equating what Kara has done with "coming out" seems like something of a stretch. If the writers want to have Supergirl have something important to say about gay rights, give her a strong, intelligent, caring girlfriend and put them in a loving and kind relationship. We're past the day when we need to speak about such things by metaphor alone.

The family drama in this episode is a bit tiresome anyway, especially considering that the secrets shared around the Thanksgiving dinner table reveal that Kara's and Alex's family have a longer history with the Department of Extranormal Operations (DEO) and the completely unlikable Hank Henshaw (David Harewood) than had previously been revealed. I've already expressed my unhappiness with the DEO subplot that seems to be shaping up as the backbone for the larger story arc of the season, so it should come as no surprise that I'm not pleased to see that story worm its way even deeper into the DNA of the narrative. My least favorite part of this show is when Supergirl and Alex have to take orders from and show deference to Henshaw, who we all know is going to turn out to be evil in the end. Harewood is a fine actor who seems to be doing his best with what he has been given, but the character has none of the charm of The Flash's "character you love to hate" Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh).

Aside from the family drama, however, there were some really strong elements in the episode, particularly those associated with the new super-villain, Livewire (Brit Morgan). Before gaining her superpowers, Livewire was shock-jock Leslie Willis, and, to be honest, the character is so compelling that I regret that they’ve moved her into super-villain territory so quickly. It might’ve been nice to keep Willis on the air a little longer to add a bit more drama to Kara's life and, for that matter, Cat Grant's (Calista Flockhart) too. I hope that the writers have plans for the character's future; she’s too good to waste with the ridiculous defeat that she suffers in this episode.

The best parts of the episode are clearly the ones where Flockhart gets to shine. For the first time, Cat Grant learns a little about Kara's past (even if Kara does misrepresent the facts), and as a consequence shows more complexity and humanity than we have yet seen from her. The scenes with Cat and Livewire are especially electric. (Sorry!) It’s then that Cat is given some really great dialogue, the kind of stuff that I hope we see more of in this series.

"You and I got through you not supporting Hillary in 2008", Cat says to the villain. "We can get through this".

Livewire fires back, "The only thing I want from you is your skin. There are so many ways to skin . . . "

"A cat. Yes", Cat responds. "Congratulations, you have the wit of a YouTube comment".

That's fun dialogue. Now let's see the writer's give Supergirl a little of this attitude.

The real world impacted Supergirl this week, meaning that Thanksgiving came too early. A cool villain and Calista Flockhart weren't quite enough to save us from the unfolding family drama and boring backstory that threatens to bring this series down to earth. Not that I'm giving up hope. There is still plenty to like in Supergirl, especially the budding relationship between Benoist and Flockhart and the sheer enthusiasm that Supergirl brings to her job of saving the world.

It needs saving, that's for sure.

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