Monday, April 18, 2016

REVIEW: 'Supergirl' - Kara Risks Everything to Save Earth from Complete Destruction in 'Better Angels'

CBS' Supergirl - Episode 1.20 "Better Angels"

Supergirl is forced to do battle with an unexpected foe and must risk everything - including her life - to prevent Non and Indigo from destroying every person on the planet.

Supergirl went into its first season finale with a very effective tease of doom as Supergirl, Cat and Max were fighting against the odds to protect humanity from Non and Indigo. Last week's episode saw the villains put Myriad into motion as a way to save Earth from destruction. It wasn't that great of a reveal and showed the season's pretty major failings with the season-long story. But nevertheless, it ended on the thrilling note of Kara having to face her sister, Alex, in battle after she too falls victim to the mind control. It was a fantastic tease leading into the season finale. The one person she loves the most in this world is her opponent in the battle to safe humanity from her Kryptonian family who wishes it harm.

And then, that fight is over with in under two minutes. It's a weird way to start this finale. Lots of stuff happens throughout this episode. But a lot of it also feels rushed in order to put the whole world into peril and force Kara to truly embrace what it means to be a hero and to protect an entire planet from aliens plotting its destruction. So ultimately, the fight at the top of the hour is shortchanged in order to hit those required plot beats. Kara and Alex fight for a little bit. And then, a miraculously still alive J'onn brings Eliza to the battlefield who is able to snap Alex out of the mind control. It's an effective tease that proves that a message of hope is all that's necessary to break the humans free from the control of Myriad. Supergirl delivers an impassioned speech that saves the city. Honor and order is restored and everyone is celebratory of the good work she has just done for the world.

However, Supergirl still needs to deal with the threat that Non and Indigo still pose to the planet. After their big mission to save Earth fails, they ultimately just decide to kill all of humanity and move on to the next planet in the universe to take over. It's a move that cements the two of them as one-note bad guys without a whole lot of nuance to them. That's probably the most problematic part of this finale and story arc. It's just so hard to car about Non and Indigo. They are simply angry that Myriad has failed and decide to just blow everything up and embrace the true villainy that they've always denied being. It's a simplification that doesn't quite work all that well. It simply creates a situation where Supergirl needs to risk her life in order to serve and protect all of humanity. With the mind control version of Myriad, she simply had to broadcast a message of hope. But when Non and Indigo alter the frequency so that it will kill all humans, she actually has to engage in battle with them.

Not a lot is made of the tough decision Kara will have to face in this battle. Non is still a connection to her family and life on Krypton. She has support from a new family on Earth - plus, Superman still chats with her on occasion. And yet, she has no problem with the morality of having to kill him in order to protect Earth from the destruction he has planned for it. Instead, all of that time is spent on Kara believing this is a mission that she likely won't come back from. Her life has changed radically over the last year as she has embraced her superhero abilities. For years, she didn't know if she could be a hero just like her cousin. And now, this finale proves that she is every bit as heroic as he is. She is willing to risk everything just in order to save Earth from destruction. She has formed so many strong bonds of friendship while on Earth. She has great moments with each of her friends before the big fight with Non. She's essentially saying goodbye and making sure they all know just how much they've each meant to her on this journey.

The personal dynamics between the characters is really what sells this episode to success. Yes, there are still a couple problematic relationships that need to be fixed moving forward. But it's still so moving as Kara is facing her reality while being appreciative of what her life on Earth has been. Free of mind control, she is potentially saying goodbye for the last time. She is proud of how good of a friend Wynn has been throughout this entire experience. She's grateful for all the knowledge and wisdom that Cat has given to her. The scene with James is a bit more complicated because she's basically saying they can't be together. That's true because of the stakes of this mission. It's just a brief obstacle for them to deal with. The show had been building to their relationship. And now, they're allowed to finally address that kiss from two episodes ago. But it has to wait until after the big battle for the two to explore what a relationship would really mean. It just shortchanges their goodbye scene because he has done more for her than just being a romantic interest. Not much but it's still apparent that quality is what's defining them more than anything else.

So, Kara heads into battle with J'onn by her side fully aware of the stakes. She needs to do whatever it takes to stop Non and Indigo. Once again, this fight feels too brief with Kara handling Non and J'onn taking on Indigo. It's a battle of strength and survival. Both sides are fighting to protect the world as they see it. Only the strongest will survive. Fortunately, Kara and J'onn prevail. J'onn is able to rip Indigo in half - which is somehow more deadly than the virus Wynn gave her in her debut episode. Plus, Kara is able to overpower Non in the battle of heat vision. But the much more daunting task is stopping Myriad from killing everyone. That's what makes this final conflict personal. Kara needs to transport Fort Rozz off the planet in order to save humanity. That may kill her in the process. She's willing to make that sacrifice though. That action proves just how heroic she is. And Alex rescuing her from the depths of space shows that she is as well. That dynamic between the sisters is so important to this show. It's the thing that truly defines this universe and the specifics of the story. As long as that works, the show can get away with a lot in its storytelling.

So, the finale ends on a very celebratory note. It's a lightness that is much appreciated from the superhero genre. Kara has saved the day and is able to continue to protect and serve Earth from any alien threat. Clark is thankful that she was able to do that in his absence. But she's also grateful for the support that she has from the family around her. They face an uncertain future. They had to delay searching for Project Cadmus in order to deal with Myriad. They still don't know if Jeremiah is alive or not. But everyone is united. This group of friends is critical to Kara's success as Supergirl. The future will have many changes. J'onn is given a full pardon and is reinstated as head of the DEO with a declaration that there will no longer be any secrets. Cat gives Kara a promotion and the opportunity to decide what kind of journalist she wants to be at CatCo. But then, the season ends with a mysterious and new alien threat. A pod just like the one Kara arrived in from Krypton shoots across the sky. It's unclear who or what is inside. It's a cliffhanger that shows that the creative team is operating under the impression that there will be a Season 2. It's a fine tease of more to this story. But this finale works because of the personal message of family and friendship being key to survival.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Better Angels" was directed by Larry Teng with story by Andrew Kreisberg & Ali Adler and teleplay by Robert Rovner & Jessica Queller.
  • The show does a really awkward job explaining how Superman cannot help with any threat that Kara is dealing with - even when the planet is in danger. Last week, he fell victim to Myriad for unknown reasons. This week, he's just unconscious for the whole ordeal. It's just not good at all.
  • It's still disappointing that Cat doesn't know that Kara is Supergirl. And yet, that moment when she shows Kara to her new office is wonderful. It's so emotional and heart-warming. Kara has had an effect in Cat's life and she wants to show her own appreciation for that - even though it means having to find a new assistant.
  • Kara also lingers on the fact that she couldn't save everyone from Myriad - remember that one co-worker at CatCo died because Kara chose to save Wynn and James last week.
  • Also, Wynn really wasn't an active part of this final story with Myriad at all. He's simply Kara's friendly face at work and that's it. He could have given some of his expertise to the DEO during this time of crisis. But Max largely had that covered.
  • It was also so fascinating to see Kara and Max on the same side. It's an interesting dynamic after a season where Max didn't trust that Kara had Earth's best interests in mind.
  • However, Kara brings back a Kryptonian power device from her battle with Non and Indigo. Max gives it to General Lane. That's a rather ambiguous moment. It's hard to care if they are doing the right thing with it or will use it for nefarious purposes.
  • All of the stuff between Lucy and her father really felt out of place as well. There's tension between them over what to do with J'onn. It's just not that interesting at all. Plus, it's unclear if Lucy will remain with the DEO after J'onn is officially reinstated. She just can't seem to land anywhere.
  • After all the fighting, Kara and James kiss and both really enjoy it. That could signal an actual relationship between the two in the future. Does anyone want that though? It still feels like a forced plot beat despite the chemistry between the two.
  • Any guesses as to who or what is in that pod?