Monday, January 4, 2016

REVIEW: 'Supergirl' - A Prisoner Exchange Forces Kara to Confront the Anger and Fear of Her Past in 'Blood Bonds'

CBS' Supergirl - Episode 1.09 "Blood Bonds"

With Astra in captivity at the DEO, her husband, Non (Chris Vance), captures Hank, leading to a tense standoff between the two sides. Also, Kara continues to refute Cat's allegations that she is Supergirl.

Supergirl continues to do a number of really smart things and a number of really dumb things in "Blood Bonds." It's the need to balance everything that has kept the show from taking off as well as it could. Some decisions are so invigorating and exciting while others persist with their awfulness. This episode features a number of climatic moments that help define the second half of the season. There are a number of really great scenes in both Supergirl's world at the DEO and in Kara's life at CatCo. But both setups also have details that are a bit too one-note and contrived. The need to balance all of those little details needs to add up to something. In this episode, it largely just amounts to Kara choosing a low-level job at a newspaper instead of a top-secret role in the government. The show does enough to make that that seems like a fair fight. But it's still a tad frustrating to see how much of the status quo Supergirl wants to keep the same.

It's thrilling to watch as Kara faces off with Astra's husband, Non, in the opening minutes of the hour. The attack on Lord Technologies forced the DEO into action. Non and his army displayed just how powerful an enemy they really are. Kara and Non take to the sky to do battle. It's a fight that's interrupted by a plane. But it's also a fight where Non emerges victorious rather easily. He is then able to kidnap Hank, who he plans on using to orchestrate a trade for Astra. It's a compelling setup for the hour. The DEO has Astra in custody. Kara is able to talk to her. She learns just how different the world really is from Astra's perspective. It's a harsh reality that embraces big and violent actions in order to save the greater good. She's frustrated that killing people got her punished on Krypton when all she was trying to do was save the planet. This episode does a fantastic job in continuing to blur the lines of who's good and who's evil. There are moments where Astra and Non are the villainous threat simply because of the power they wield as aliens. But other aspects of this narrative also appear just as nefarious.

That's especially true once General Lane returns to take over the DEO in Hank's absence - instead of Alex who Hank had chosen to replace him. Lane refuses to move forward with this prisoner exchange. To him, all aliens are evil and must be destroyed. That makes him a very dangerous force to put in charge of this organization. The show isn't really subtle at all about Lane's motivations. He delivers this monologue about going to see The Day the Earth Stood Still and how that has always informed him with his decisions regarding aliens. And then, he promptly tortures Astra. This show passionately stands on the side of torture being a bad thing. When Kara and Alex enter the room, they are just as horrified by the sight as Astra is. In this regard, the humans are the enemies and Kara and Astra are able to sympathize with each other. That does lead to a nice heart-to-heart between the two where a compromise is able to be met.

Kara frees Astra and takes her to exchange for Hank. It's a decision she makes because she opens up to her aunt. She wants to know the truth. She doesn't just want to be hopelessly angry. She doesn't want fear to dictate her actions. That is a compelling moment. It's also a speech that hits close to home with Astra as well. She becomes the human face of this army of aliens. Non is solely motivated by eradicating this threat to their plan for the planet. He sees the DEO as a bunch of meaningless humans standing in his way. But Astra has seen their humanity. She has had time to reflect on the actions of her past. Kara has faith that this conflict will be able to end without any more bloodshed. But things are still very precarious for the future. This trade off doesn't start another battle. Both sides go their separate ways. That's entirely because of Astra's willingness to show her compassion to her niece and her human allies.

However, it's uncertain just how long peace will last for Kara. On top of dealing with this threat from Astra and Non, she also learns that Max is up to something pretty nefarious as well. He doesn't want anyone from the DEO snooping around his office building. James takes it upon himself to sneak in to find out what he's really up to. But that promptly gets him caught and beaten. It's enough to make Kara so angry. James and Winn are the only reasons why she doesn't succumb to that anger and just attack Max. She is reminded of what it means to be a symbol for good in this world. This story is a whole lot of teasing for the future though. It's basically saying there is some new mystery that's going to be important. The audience gets to see behind the mystery door unlike Kara, James and Winn though. It's a project Max is working on with a lot of passion. But it's hard to understand what this final tease actually means and how this new mystery woman will play a role in the conflict ahead.

And then, there's the show's frustrating decision to have Cat find out that Kara is Supergirl only for her to go back to not knowing the truth. The early episodes didn't sideline Cat too much because she was the only regular character who didn't know about Cat's secret identity. And yet, Cat being in on the secret would have opened her up so much as a character and really strengthened the dynamic between her and Kara. It's played as one big laugh throughout this episode as Cat's tries to catch Kara in this lie while Kara continues to persist that she's not Supergirl. This episode does a good enough job explaining what this job is so important to her. She needs her friends in order to stay grounded and be reminded of her values. Cat is a part of that. Kara needs Cat on her side. She needs to turn to her in times of need. But she still could do that even if Cat knew the truth. So, this story ultimately plays as nothing more than the show trolling the audience. The show doesn't want Cat to know right now. So, it bends over backwards to keep the secret secure. It's a really frustrating detail throughout the episode and really makes one question why the show even did this fake out in the first place.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Blood Bonds" was written by Ted Sullivan & Derek Simon and directed by Steve Shill.
  • Kara also finds out that Hank is really a shapeshifting alien from Mars. It happens in a really clumsy way too. Hank and Alex later criticize Kara for her inability to keep a secret when Alex did a pretty lousy job as well.
  • However, Kara knowing the truth wonderfully opens up her dynamic with Hank in a much more meaningful and genuine way. They have a fantastic rapport when Kara uses him in order to convince Cat that she's not Supergirl. That's just a great scene.
  • Kara really is too trusting of others. James didn't do a great job at covering up the fact that he found something shady at Lord Technologies. Fortunately, Winn is able to spot it. Though Winn isn't of much help once James actually breaks into the facility. 
  • It's a small but meaningful detail that not all of the soldiers who accompany Lane everywhere hold the same view towards aliens as he does. In fact, one lowers his gun just because Kara saved his life earlier in the hour.