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Everybody gets an origin story on this week’s Supergirl

Photo: Supergirl (CBS)
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Never let it be said Supergirl doesn’t embrace change. The events of “Falling” reverberate throughout “Manhunter.” Supergirl has yet to earn back National City’s trust following her Red Kryptonite-inspired rampage. And Hank Henshaw’s public transformation into his alien form has turned him into an enemy combatant in the eyes of the military. By the end of tonight’s episode Hank and Alex are fugitives and Lucy not only knows Kara’s secret, she’s running the entire DEO. Plus Siobhan Smythe has screaming powers and Jeremiah Danvers is still alive! That’s a lot of forward momentum, but, interestingly, it all takes place in an episode that’s first and foremost focused on the past.

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“Manhunter” doesn’t feature a traditional superpowered villain-of-the-week. Instead its main goal is to provide “origin stories” for Hank, Alex, and Kara—exploring how the three members of this makeshift family got started on the journeys that brought them all together. (Sidebar: I know his real name is J’onn J’onzz but until the show starts referring to him as that full time, I’m mostly going to stick with Hank.)

Following Hank’s arrest, Lucy Lane and Colonel James Harper arrive at the DEO to interrogate him and try to figure out which members of his team knew his secret and failed to report it. Though it’s called “Manhunter,” Hank’s flashbacks are actually the least interesting part of this episode. The Martian Manhunter CGI looks fantastic and it’s sweet to see Jeremiah Danvers and J’onn bond over fatherhood, but none of this complicates or deepens the story we already heard him tell in “Human For A Day.” The real Hank Henshaw (who was kind of an asshole) tried to kill J’onn, but Jeremiah stepped in to save him. Both humans wound up dead in the process, causing J’onn to step into Hank’s life (I guess he read his mind really quickly to know how to impersonate him?) and try to reform the DEO from within. Though Hank explains all this to Lucy and Harper, they’re disinclined to believe anyone would infiltrate a military organization for altruistic reasons.

"Kaa, have you seen Mowgli around here lately?"

What’s disappointing is that the episode wants us to see Colonel Harper solely as a villain—evidenced by the fact that his ultimate plan is to take Hank and Alex to “Project Cadmus” where he will experiment on Hank and do god knows what with Alex. While Harper’s plan is horrific, I don’t think the military is inherently wrong to be suspicious of Hank. Impersonating a dead person in the hopes of doing good may be a moral gray area, but it’s unquestionably illegal. And, yes, if I found out the old friend who hung out with my family was actually an alien imposter I’d probably be pretty freaked out too. The show could’ve used this as an opportunity to challenge Hank about the morality of his impersonation, but instead it merely presents him as a sympathetic victim.

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“Manhunter” is stronger when it sticks to character conflicts rather than ethical ones, as it does with Alex and Kara’s flashbacks. It turns out Alex was something of an adrift party girl before Hank pulled her into the DEO, making good on his promise to look after Jeremiah’s daughters. And we get some more insight into Kara’s earthbound childhood as well. She felt a pull to help people from a very early age, but Jeremiah gently squashed his new daughter’s heroic instincts, telling her the world already has a Superman and she should just try to fit in. Kara listened to his advice for years and sought purpose in her CatCo job, but it’s clear during her initial interview with Cat that Kara always longed to do more with her life.

Kara tells Lucy about all this as she tries to explain why an alien would pretend to be human. I was genuinely shocked that Kara finally told Lucy her secret and I love that the reveal is completely removed from the show’s romantic subplots. That said, I don’t really buy the way Kara tries to tie her choice to lead a double life to Hank’s choice to infiltrate the DEO to Lucy’s willingness to go along with Colonel Harper’s witch-hunt because she wants to fit into the military. That last one is really a stretch, especially because Lucy seems as intent if not more so on prosecuting Hank than Harper is. After all she’s the one who pushes to arrest Alex even though she passed the lie detector test.

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I guess the idea is that once you get to know an outsider, they don’t seem so scary anymore. Lucy has already spent a lot of time with Kara so she’s inclined to trust her even when she learns she’s been lying about her identity (which is also roughly what happened when Hank revealed his alien origin to Alex). But, again, I don’t know if that should be enough to allow a military lawyer to write off high-level impersonation. Harper’s villainy is kind of a cop-out because Lucy’s choice becomes about life or death rather than right or wrong. Naturally Lucy chooses to save Hank’s life, which she and Kara do via a stealth motorcycle chase that’s both incredibly random and pretty cool looking. I’ve always been impressed by the way Supergirl avoided presenting Lucy and Kara as catty rivals, and the fact that they’re now full-on friends and partners has me even more excited.

Indeed what “Manhunter” does best is get me excited for this season’s final three episodes. The most interesting scene in this episode is the short news clip in which Supergirl shows up to stop a bank robbery only for both the thieves and bystanders to cower in fear at her appearance. I’m really curious to see how Supergirl will deal with this public distrust going forward.

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“Did I do that?”

Meanwhile bringing Lucy into the DEO (and in on Kara’s secret) gives her more narrative purpose while sending Hank and Alex away from the DEO means the show might not feel as required to use that personality-free location as often. Elsewhere Winn’s connection to Siobhan and her hatred of both Kara and Supergirl open up a whole bunch of different storytelling possibilities for the future. And, hey, the fact that next week’s episode features an appearance from Central City’s scarlet speedster has me pretty jazzed too.

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Stray observations

  • Perd Watch: The word from Perd is that a mysterious alien remains a mysterious mystery.
  • I love that Cat Grant immediately sees through Siobhan’s angry email ruse. Also apparently she’s on a first name basis with Kate Middleton.
  • Pretty convenient that Hank finally figured out how to control his memory erasing powers since “Childish Things,” huh? Sometimes all it takes is 300 years and two months to master a skill.
  • The DEO might do well to educate its agents about indigenous wildlife because I’m pretty sure that boa constrictor wouldn’t have done anything other than slither on past Jeremiah.
  • I really loved the young Kara stuff this week, particularly the scene in which Jeremiah gently warns her against using her powers and gives her lead lined glasses (!!), which dull vision and remind her to suppress her powers.
  • “I’m sorry, we didn’t have birds on my planet!”
  • Main takeaway of this episode: Don’t get into a wrestling match with someone when you’re a few feet away from a giant cliff.
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