Monday, October 16, 2017

REVIEW: 'Supergirl' - A Battle of the Minds Has the Potential to Cripple Kara in 'Triggers'

The CW's Supergirl - Episode 3.02 "Triggers"

Psi, a thief with psychic powers, attacks National City. Able to immobilize people by tapping into their worst fears, Psi proves a formidable opponent for Supergirl. James and Lena are at an impasse. Samantha starts her new job at L-Corp.

"Triggers" is a much better episode in theory than in execution. There are so many solid ideas at the heart of this episode. And yet, the show doesn't push the story far enough. It gets hung up on some weird things. It's surprisingly light in the overall plot as well. It's a weird blend that the show ended on for the final product. Yes, there are a number of truly terrific scenes - especially when Alex needs to motivate Kara into action to move past her fears. But the way the show tries to depict this battle of the minds is a little awkward and not all that imaginative. Again, it's a solid idea. Kara's internal struggles are much more on display this season. She's not fighting to figure out her identity as a superhero. That's what the previous seasons have been about. This season is focusing on how she can feel fulfilled again after such an incredible loss. She's mourning the loss of Mon-El because she truly believes that she sent him to his death. And now, that pain and uncertainty is being used against her as her greatest fears. There's so much fascinating story potential in that premise. However, it takes a long time to actually build to that reveal. The show opts to slowly ease into this idea of Kara's greatest fears being used against her. As such, it's a build across this entire hour instead of hitting Kara and the audience with it all at once. That's a stylistic choice that didn't work for me. It made the big realization in the end feel a little more empty than it should.

It's a big deal that Kara is still not herself and grieving what happened to Mon-El. She's not as cold and distant as she was in the season premiere. She's more like herself this week. And yet, she's not completely back to normal. That's a good thing for the show though. It would feel false if she was suddenly able to be okay with everything that had happened after six months of alienating her closest friends. The premiere ended on her smiling as she got a drink with her friends once more. It was her taking the first step towards being her old self again. The show could have easily picked up with her being that person again. It would have felt wrong and forced. But it's still an option the show could have pursued. Because the show doesn't and is willing to explore how this loss is affecting Kara, the narrative is better off. It opens the series up to a number of interesting story possibilities. It makes it appropriate that Supergirl's strength won't ultimately defeat the latest villain of the week. Her abilities as a hero have been well-defined at this point and can defeat any villain who crosses her path. She's very skilled and has proven herself as the hero National City needs right now. Those skills provide her with comfort at the moment. So taking them away from her in dealing with this new foe is a very compelling storyline.

And then, it all just becomes about Kara dealing with claustrophobia. That's such a weird moment because it incorporates a fear that the audience didn't know about at all. It's a way for the show to dramatize Psi's abilities while still allowing them to be mysterious. Kara rushes into the bank not knowing what she's up against. She knows that Psi has some sort of powers. There's something incredibly terrifying about a villain who can bring about a person's deepest fears without lifting a single finger. And yet, Psi doesn't have much nuance to her at all. It's a shame because Jane the Virgin has proven just how terrific an actress Yael Grobglas can be. This role doesn't ask much of her outside of doing a couple menacing stares. Psi's motivations for robbing banks are very ill-defined too. She says at one point that power is money. But that's all the show really does to explain why all of this is happening in the first place. As such, it becomes such a lackluster story. It builds slowly and with purpose. Psi can get inside Kara's head unlike anyone else. She can cripple her in an instant by getting her right back in that pod as she escapes Krypton's destruction. That's a fear that makes sense because the show has put in the time and effort to explain the incredible loss she felt from that experience. It's enough to give Kara a panic attack by the sheer thought of facing off with Psi once more. But that just feels like a rushed plot development that ultimately doesn't mean anything.

Of course, it's also weird that Kara only shares what's going on with Psi's powers to Winn. She doesn't open up to Alex - who is her sister and knows how to motivate her to overcome her fears - or J'onn - who is an actual psychic as well. That's weird. It's a forced plot development to keep the story as tense as possible for the middle stretch of the episode. The moment where Alex just needs to be quietly menacing to get the information out of Winn is pretty amusing. Plus, it's still building to that inevitable conversation between Kara and Alex. But there's no reason why that scene couldn't happen exactly as is if Alex was also in the know from the early going. Kara has to be willing to accept that help in order to listen to what Alex has to say. It's powerful that the show hinges this entire conflict around Kara and Alex having a conversation and empowering one another. That continues to be such a special and fantastic character dynamic. As such, it's also weird and forced when they try to keep secrets from one another. Kara needs Alex in order to prevail in this fight. She needs Alex to reason with her about Mon-El's fate. Kara is spiraling out of control out of fear that Mon-El has died and it's all her fault. Alex is the one who remains positive. She doesn't know what happened to him but trusts that he is still alive somehow and somewhere. That gives Kara the strength to prevail. It's just a little too formulaic to be all that effective in the end.

Plus, the show is also splitting its time with some of the supporting characters as well. It's fascinating to see Lena at CatCo. That office needed a burst of energy this season. Last season the show really didn't know what to do with the office dynamic after Cat left and James decided to become Guardian. Stories there seemed inconsequential. That may still be the case now that Lena is there as well. But it at least gives the sense that it will be a bit more relevant there moving forward. Sure, it's still incredibly frustrating that Lena doesn't know that Kara is Supergirl. That would help explain why she's constantly leaving work and why there's now a hole in the building. But it's also great to see them have that conversation in the end about needing that friendship to be better people. So, the show may still be planning things slowly when it comes to that big reveal with Lena. That also appears to be the case with what's going on with Samantha. The end of this episode provides the connection for the main characters. Samantha is going to be replacing Lena as the head of L-Corp while Lena takes on a bigger role at CatCo. That's a fascinating shakeup that could be quite compelling. But the show spends a considerable amount of time with Samantha before that grand reveal. It's mostly caught up in an annoying teenager story. That's not all that great. Her daughter, Ruby, needs to believe that her mom has superpowers. The fact that she doesn't now is a very intriguing tease. So, it appears the show is telling a different type of origin story with her. Right now, it's just important to build the bond between Samantha and Rudy. It's a little cliche. But it will probably be effective once it's clear where this story is headed.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Triggers" was written by Gabriel Llanas & Anna Musky-Goldwyn and directed by David McWhirter.
  • James being annoyed by how Lena wants to run CatCo is a story that ultimately doesn't have any legs to it whatsoever. At the moment, it seems like the show is casting them as workplace adversaries just so they can later become romantically involved. If that's the case, then it's really obvious at this point. Plus, I can't say that the chemistry is all that impressive either.
  • At times, the show remembers just how powerful J'onn is as well. He can be a huge ally in the field for Kara. Most of the time he is back at the DEO. Here, he tries to build a psychic protection for Kara in this fight. But he ends up being crippled by Psi as well. It mostly happens to showcase how J'onn won't be effective in helping take this villain down at all.
  • Of course, J'onn is also at the center of an intriguing tease at the end of the episode. M'Gann appears via their psychic connection to tell him he needs to return to Mars immediately. That could possibly signal something very tense that should be dealt with in next week's episode. It would be his grand return to his home planet. That's bound to be very emotional.
  • The hour opens with Alex and Maggie getting into a fight about their wedding. It's a simple fight over whether to have a band or a DJ. But the story later on reveals that a big disagreement may be coming soon. Alex wants to have kids and is good with Ruby in their brief interaction. Meanwhile, Maggie doesn't see herself as being a mother. It's nothing right now. But it could easily boil up into something later on.
  • The big reveal regarding Samantha's job is played as this massive twist. When Samantha is talking with Ruby, it seems like it's a step up for them because it's a job that comes with more money. Of course, that was hard to believe because their house made it impossible to think that they were a struggling family. It all makes sense in the end. It's just a little manipulative as well.