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Some comic book goofiness almost saves a weak Supergirl

Photo: Dean Buscher (The CW)
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“Dangerous Liaisons” opens with a fantastically trippy advertisement for Obsidian North’s latest piece of tech: Collective Dream VR lenses that allow you to mentally commune with your friends and family while transforming into butterflies and tossing rainbows back and forth. The opening totally nails the soothing, self-serious tone of a real-world tech ad, and sets the stage for an episode that’s itself just a little bit weird. Unfortunately, that weirdness feels less like an intentional choice and more like the result of some tonally confused writing.

For an episode built around a big central mystery and anchored around the launch of dream-based tech that blurs fantasy and reality, “Dangerous Liaisons” is disappointingly straightforward. Kara teams up with William on his mission to investigate the Rojas family. (She’s motivated by the justice, not the desire for a story!) She brings him into the DEO under the guise that her sister is the director there. Yet rather than have fun with the idea of Kara going undercover as a civilian at Supergirl’s place of employment, the episode gets straight down to case-of-week business.

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It turns out the spider tattoo lady from “Blurred Lines” and the wind-based villain from last week both work for the same mysterious organization. Another one of their fellow contract killers is a multi-armed man named Rip Roar, who previously killed William’s friend (and Andrea’s former fiancé), Russell Rogers, which is what sent William on this investigative mission in the first place. But while we’re meant to be wondering who Rip Roar is, why he killed Russell, and who hired him in the first place, I spent most of this episode wondering why William couldn’t see through his friend’s Doc Ock cosplay.

Given the “my friend was killed by a superpowered assassin but they never found his body!” motivation behind William’s investigation, it was probably always going to be obvious that Russell Rogers and Rip Roar are actually one and the same. (The parallel alliteration doesn’t help.) But in giving us an extended William/Russell flashback while also failing to fully cover Rip Roar’s face, the whole deception just starts to feel insulting. The audience shouldn’t be this far ahead of the show if there aren’t more twists and turns at play.

William himself is maybe the biggest disappointment of “Dangerous Liaisons.” I had hoped the reveal of his undercover investigation would bring out a whole new side of his character, but, unfortunately, he feels just as arrogant and petulant as before—even if he’s now more willing to listen to Kara’s point of view. As with Mon-El, Supergirl seems to think that having Kara teach her potential love interest (which William very much feels like at this point) to be a better person is an interesting romantic dynamic, which I’m not convinced it is. And while Chris Wood at least brought a ton of charisma to his role, Staz Nair has yet to deliver in the same way.

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Photo: Robert Falconer (The CW)

The other problem with William and his investigation into Andrea is that it’s hard to buy that all of this is so earth-shattering for Kara. In one bluntly written scene, Kara explains to J’onn that she feels deeply shaken by the lack of certainty in her life. A week ago, she thought William was evil and Andrea was just annoying. Now it might be the other way around. How can she know what’s real? It loosely ties in with the dream VR hook of the episode, but I’m not sure it makes much sense for Kara as a character. She’s experienced so much over the years—including uncovering massive secrets about her own family members—that it’s hard to feel like William being good and Andrea maybe being evil would actually be that much of a shock.

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Between its trippy opening sequence and the eerie early scene where Andrea demands that every member of CatCo find a way to work the VR launch into their articles (cue Nia and Kara: “Gross.” “Double gross.”), “Dangerous Liaisons” starts off strong enough. It just kind of loses itself in the middle as it devolves into an investigation that’s not all that interesting. Yet just as I was ready to write off this episode as a fully lackluster outing, it delivers such a wacky, unexpected action climax that it almost kind of won me back around.

This is the first episode of the season to explicitly pick up on the “Leviathan” tease of the fourth season finale. The mysterious white-haired woman who tracked down Hope in that episode controls Rip Roar here. She orders him to modify Lex Luthor’s “marathon laser” (which is able to hit a target 26.2 miles away) into a powerful “Fusion Canon.” Then, like any good supervillian would, he uses that weapon to blast the polar ice caps in an attempt to flood the Earth a la Noah’s Ark. It’s such a ridiculously over-the-top plan I was wondering if it might all turn out to be part of a dream. (It’s not.) Still, given how often Supergirl falls back on hand-to-hand combat as its default action mode, it’s exhilarating to watch the show embrace a big global threat worthy of its leading lady.

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Photo: Robert Falconer (The CW)

Unfortuantely, Kara, J’onn, and Nia manage to stop a giant tidal wave and seal off a gushing Antarctic geyser way too easily. Even if Supergirl doesn’t have the budget to depict those massive disasters in action, it could’ve mined way more human terror and tension from the idea that the DEO crew have less than an hour to stop the entire Pacific Coast (including National City!) from being demolished. Instead, the ending winds up feeling weirdly anticlimactic, with Nia vibing the tidal wave away and only Kelly left traumatized by the whole thing. Nor is there nearly enough payoff for the Dream VR launch, which mostly just serves as a minor inconvenience during the almost-disaster and a way for William to privately vent his frustrations at a dream version of Andrea.

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Still, the few brief moments where Supergirl embraces big, gonzo comic book storytelling are so fun that the episode almost gets away with it. “Dangerous Liaisons” captures the energy of a kid making up a superhero story as they go, which I probably shouldn’t mean as a compliment, but I guess I kind of do. And while there’s more about “Dangerous Liaisons” that doesn’t work than does, I’m much more immediately intrigued by Leviathan than I was by the Malefic arc. Especially now that they’ve shown up to recruit Andrea just as Kara and co. have written her off as a suspect.


Stray observations

  • Malefic falls for the oldest trick in the Luthor book as he agrees to let Lena study his brain if she promises to help him kill his brother. Lena reneges, of course, and since she’s just invented mind control (!!!), she’s able to silence Malefic’s complaints.
  • Alex doesn’t want to jump to arresting Andrea Rojas too fast—not because she’s worried about due process or lack of probable clause, but because she doesn’t want her girlfriend’s feelings to get hurt. Love to see governmental checks and balances in action!
  • Pairing up Nia and Kelly as friends is a bit random, but I’m curious to see what comes of it.
  • I wish this episode hadn’t over-egged the pudding by adding all those dramatic camera angles to the scene where Brainy becomes the host for the spider tattoo alien. It wound up undercutting Jesse Rath’s villainous performance rather than adding to it.
  • In case you’re not as up on your Keanu Reeves canon as Brainy, his “pop quiz, hotshot” trigger word comes from Speed.
  • I love that the only thing this episode does to try to sell Russell’s very American looking house as a British home is hang up a Union Jack flag.
  • Alex dressing up in a purple silk robe definitely tracks, but I’m not sure I buy her having a Pinterest board—even if it is filled with motorcycle gear.
  • Considering Brainy has been surprised to see both Q-Waves and the Fusion Canon pop up this early in the timeline, I’m wondering if there’s going to be some kind of time travel element to this season. Maybe Leviathan is stealing tech specs from the future and bringing them back to the present?
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About the author

Caroline Siede

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Caroline Siede is a pop culture critic in Chicago, where the cold never bothers her anyway. Her interests include superhero movies, feminist theory, and Jane Austen novels.