TV

Supergirl: Season 1, Episode 6 - "Red Faced"

Gregory L. Reece

Supergirl is at its best when it maintains a nice balance between earnest but absurd superheroics and lightly drawn and funny human drama; in other words, between robot fights and game night.


Supergirl

Airtime: Mondays, 8 pm
Cast: Melissa Benoist, Jeremy Jordan, Iddo Goldberg, Calista Flockhart, Peter Facinelli, Jenna Dewan Tatum, Glenn Morshower, Chyler Leigh, Mehcad Brooks
Subtitle: Season 1, Episode 6 - "Red Faced"
Network: CBS
Air date: 2015-11-30
Amazon

"Does the robot fight mean that game night's cancelled?" Winn (Jeremy Jordan) asks Kara/Supergirl (Melissa Benoist) in the latest episode of the new CBS series.

"No," Kara replies. "No. Game night is the last shred of normalcy that remains in our crime stopping, alien hunting, D.E.O. hacking lives. Game night survives. It has to."

That delightful interaction is a pretty good example of what makes Supergirl a treat. Like its sister program, the still-superior The Flash, Supergirl is at its best when it maintains a nice balance between earnest but absurd superheroics and lightly drawn and funny human drama. This balance is the secret to the success of Greg Berlanti's superhero TV universe, a universe that also includes Arrow and the upcoming Legends of Tomorrow, which air alongside the The Flash on CW.

Robot fights and game nights.

The robot fight, at least in this episode, is to be taken literally. Supergirl is called upon by the military to engage in a test battle with a humanoid robot designed to challenge hostile aliens. The battle, of course, goes wrong, and the robot and his creator end up posing a threat to National City, a threat that Supergirl has to confront.

For longtime fans of DC Comics' Justice League of America (JLA), the robot menace will be a familiar one. The Red Tornado, created by Gardner Fox and Dick Dillin, made his first appearance in that magazine back in 1968. Although he was at first a villain, he soon joined the ranks of the JLA, serving as their resident android hero and as a counterpoint to the more successful android Avenger, the Vision, over at Marvel Comics. I always liked the Red Tornado, even though he was pretty moody for an android, and always seemed to make stupid mistakes that caused more trouble for the team. (The Tornado was later given an elaborate backstory I won't go into here.)

Supergirl's Red Tornado (played by Iddo Goldberg) is a pretty good version of the character. Once again, however, he suffers in comparison to Marvel's Vision, featured in Marvel's Avengers: Age of Ultron summer blockbuster. I’d seen some promotional stills of the Tornado beforehand and was pretty worried, but digital enhancements worked their magic and made the character look a lot better in the final version. Unfortunately, the Tornado doesn’t get the chance for much development, and serves mostly as a punching bag for Supergirl as she works out her anger issues. Here's hoping that the character, and his nefarious creator T. O. Morrow (also played by Iddo Goldberg), will get a chance for a return engagement. I would love to see the character's moody melodrama added into the mix.

While the robotic villain is, of course, literally red-faced, the title of this episode is equally descriptive of the "game night" side of the story. Kara/Supergirl is having a lot of trouble controlling her temper, both in battles with robot menaces and at work. As a matter of fact, for as much as the Supergirl/Red Tornado battles were fun to watch, it was even more fun to see Kara raise her voice at her boss, Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart). Once again, Flockhart is given the very best scenes in this episode as she goes toe-to-toe with her overbearingly successful mother (Joan Julie Buck) and proves to be a kind and caring mentor to Kara. Cat's advice to Kara is a game changer for the hero, who learns to control her anger after uncovering its roots.

This being a superhero drama, the source of Supergirl's anger is found in her relationship with her parents. I suppose we can thank Batman and Spider-Man for providing super origin stories that place parent/child relationships as the central motivating factor for the hero's birth and mission.

Indeed, in "Red Faced", parent issues are everywhere. In throwaway lines, Winn and Maxwell Lord (Peter Facinelli) confess their parent issues. Lucy Lane (Jenna Dewan Tatum) struggles to gain independence from her overbearing father (Glenn Morshower). Cat has that thing with her mom. Alex (Chyler Leigh) digs up more secrets about her missing father (Dean Cain). The Red Tornado and his creator play out their own version of a father/son drama. And Kara digs deep into her anger and realizes that her parents' decision to put her in that rocket and launch her into space continues to shape her destiny in ways that she can't control.

Just as there’s a literal robot in this issue, the game night’s for real, too. Kara, Winn, Lucy, and James (Mehcad Brooks) get to have a bit of fun that also manages to reveal more of the relationship dynamics between these four characters. Winn, forgetting that Lucy doesn’t know about Kara's secret identity, almost divulges more than he should. I thought for a moment that Kara was going to invite Cat to the party. I wish she had. Maybe she will.

Overall, "Red Faced" is a lot of fun. The balance between special effects adventuring and human drama is pretty near perfect.

As it turns out, this Supergirl can do it all: stand her ground with her boss and with a humanoid killing machine, fetch hangover meds for Cat and save schoolchildren from a reckless driver, work out her anger on a punching bag (OK, so it’s a car suspended by its bumper), and use that anger to blast the villain with heat vision.

In this episode, Supergirl flies high, punches hard, breathes ice, and shoots lasers out of her eyes.

But game night? Game night survives.

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