Monday, October 31, 2016

REVIEW: 'Supergirl' - Kara, Alex and Maggie Discover an Alien Fight Club in National City in 'Survivors'

The CW's Supergirl - Episode 2.04 "Survivors"

When Kara and Alex investigate the murder of an unregistered alien, the trail leads to an alien fight club run by Roulette, the ringmaster who commands aliens to fight in mortal combat for the entertainment of rich humans. Supergirl and Martian Manhunter find themselves up against a surprising opponent. J'onn is thrilled to have found another Martian and tries to get to know M'Gann better. Supergirl takes Mon-El under her wing and begins to train him.

This season of Supergirl has gotten a ton of great thematic value out of its "aliens as refugees" story. It positions aliens as outsiders. Foreigners who face the full brunt of discrimination. It's a topical story that can apply to a number of minority groups throughout the world. There is just so much thematic value to it. It has given this season such a strong focus. It has been a pretty sudden change from the mentality towards aliens last season though. In Season 1, aliens were a secret. They existed in the shadows. Supergirl and Superman were the only ones who rose up as Gods to protect this world from strange and new threats. And now, aliens are just commonplace throughout this world. The President's executive order has given aliens freedom and rights in America. But they are still a group of beings that are shunned by the rest of society. It allows for a scene where the DEO and NCPD are able to walk up to a crime scene with a dead alien like any other procedural out there. But that's still just a wild change of pace that the show is still getting used to. It provides a number of great material throughout "Survivors" that focuses on survival and survivor's guilt. But it also gets lost in the theme as well.

Alien fight clubs have started popping up in National City. That's what led to the dead alien at the center of Alex and Maggie's new investigation. The fights are being organized by a woman named Roulette. It's a fun, scenery chewing performance from Dichen Lachman - who boasts quite an impressive sci-fi resume as of late with arcs on The 100 and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. At times, Roulette is too much of a one-note character. But she does come alive because of how Lachman plays her. Plus, things aren't neatly resolved with her at the end of the episode either. So, she could continue on a recurring basis this season as well. That would be a fun treat as the show digs deeper into the conflict brewing between humans and aliens. Roulette stages these fights because humans care more about animals than other people. It's a powerful argument that she makes. It's absolutely brutal and horrific. But it also gets into the complexity of accepting a community vastly different than one's own. It's difficult to do and can be very damaging to the outsiders in the situation as well.

Some aliens resist fighting in the fight club. They have to be taken off the streets and thrown in the ring in order to compete. But the majority actually volunteer for it. It's a way for them to make something of their lives on Earth. Most of them can't blend into society as well as Kara, Clark or J'onn can. So, they see this life as the best way to make money. They can serve as entertainment to humanity. It's cruel and horrifying. But it's also the best case scenario for them. It's up to Kara to stand up for them. To give them a voice that is uplifting and encourages them to aspire to greater things in life. It's a genuinely moving moment. The aliens protect Roulette when the DEO comes in to break up the fight club. All it takes is Supergirl inspiring them about greater things for them to turn against Roulette. It's a simple solution to the fight club going on in the city. But it's not the end of the alien struggle. They've accepted that there can be more to life than this kind of violence. They have to be willing to accept that. But it will still be a path filled with so much resistance because humanity is still so afraid of what aliens are capable of doing.

Meanwhile, the other green martian that J'onn found, M'Gann, happens to be competing in the fight club as well. She seems to be a willing participant. She has a no-kill policy. But this is the life she has made for herself. She's happy and surprised to see another green martian on this planet. She thought she was the last of her kind just like J'onn did. He wants to celebrate with all of the customs from their planet. She just wants to run away from the past while also punishing herself for surviving all of it. That's apparently the reason why she goes into the ring for Roulette. It's honestly not that great of a story. It's thematically relevant to all of the big ideas the show is hitting throughout the hour. But the specific details don't really add up to a whole lot. It's fascinating to watch J'onn not know how to talk to this woman in an understandable or healthy way. It's also intense when they face off in the ring together. But it's through exposition where J'onn basically explains things to M'Gann about why she's doing all of this. It's a moment that doesn't work. It explains things too late in the hour for them to be all that important. And yet, it's still such an ominous tease at the end of the hour when the audience learns that M'Gann is actually a white martian in disguise. She may be the white martian who broke ranks and fled her cause. Or she could be more villainous than what she appears to be.

Honestly, this really isn't that big or important an episode for Kara. She doesn't really have a main story to center the whole episode around. She's vital to the overall stakes of the hour. However, she's just reacting to everything going on in the main plot. Yes, she also covers it as her first official story for CatCo. She even finds a way to use Supergirl as a source. That could become very complicated in the future. But for right now, it's acceptable as she's still learning the job. The rest of the hour though has other concerns. Mon-El and Winn are off in a subplot about Mon-El not being able to leave the DEO until the full extent of his powers are known. Of course, they don't listen to that protocol and go out for a night on the town anyway. That's a fun sequence. But it also highlights how fitting in on Earth won't be as easy as Mon-El thinks. He's a god with powers amongst men. It's a good thing he has Kara to nurture and mentor him on this new journey. She understands what he's going through with the destruction of his planet. Earth is his home now too. And yet, it just takes a long time to actually get to that moment where Kara is willing to help him. The journey getting to that point seems oddly forced and awkward.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Survivors" was written by Paula Yoo & Eric Carrasco and directed by James Marshall.
  • Is it just me or is there sexual chemistry brewing in a lot of character pairings right now? Alex and Maggie? Most definitely! Winn and Mon-El? Sure. Kara and Mon-El? More than likely. Mon-El and the prince he was protecting? Maybe. It's fascinating to watch but perhaps a little too blunt.
  • Alex and Maggie already have a short hand. Even though they've only known each other for a brief amount of time, they work great as partners solving alien crimes. Even Kara is surprised by how in sync they are. They don't really need her at all to solve this case of the dead alien.
  • Lena Luther is old friends with Roulette. That's how Kara is able to learn where the new location of the fight club is. It's a leap that she makes hoping Lena got an invitation given her stature in society. It also sets up Kara owing Lena a favor which could be an interesting tease for the future.
  • Snapper is starting to become a little too annoying and obnoxious. He is right a lot of the time though. Kara needs to put more work into actually developing her stories. She can't just approach him with every vague idea she has. But CatCo has become this minor part of the world that doesn't have as much value as it used to when Cat was in charge.
  • Speaking of CatCo, James doesn't appear at all in this episode. His presence wasn't missed in the slightest. Plus, Kara has more chemistry with Mon-El than she ever did with James. His absence probably won't last long. But he still doesn't have a clear purpose on the show this season.
  • Mon-El is able to convince Winn to let him out of the DEO simply by appealing to his ego and his desire to make a superhero outfit and give him his name. It's all just so Mon-El can get out of the facility. But it could be nice to see these two develop a friendship.
  • Part of why Roulette is such a one-note character throughout the episode is the fact that she wears the same outfit in every scene and is always sipping on a glass of champagne. It's over-the-top and does a great job defining her as a character. It shows her smooth confidence. But it does very little else.