Early this afternoon it occurred to me that I was genuinely looking forward to watching another episode of Supergirl. While this show is far from perfect, it doesn’t feel like a chore to watch. At the very least, I know I’ll get a winning performance from Melissa Benoist, one or two lines that make me laugh, and some creative action sequences. Thankfully, my faith is not misplaced as Supergirl turns in an all-around solid episode tonight—maybe its best one yet. The show is clearly still finding its feet, but more stuff works here than doesn’t.
This episode was originally supposed to air last week but was swapped with “Livewire” to place some distance between its terrorism-related plot and the attacks in Paris. It’s not a seamless switch (for instance Cat asks about Kara’s mom and Alex still trusts Hank), but an entirely understandable one given this episode’s subject matter.
“How Does She Do It?” is all about Kara stretching herself too thin as she tries to balance her personal, professional, and superheroic life. As usual, Supergirl pushes its message a little too hard when Cat gives a speech about whether women really can have it all (they can, they just need to go slow, is her bizarre explanation). But the idea of Kara being overwhelmed works much better on a character level than a feminist one.
The good news is I finally understand what this show is trying to do with the Kara/James/Winn and now Lucy Lane love triangle (square?). Winn is pining after Kara, Kara is pining after James, and James is giving it another shot with Lucy after Kara encourages him to resolve his feelings before he moves on (to her, although that part goes unspoken). Though I have a visceral reaction against the term “friend zone,” I love that Supergirl acknowledges being in love with your friends isn’t an exclusively male phenomenon. Even better, the show describes the friend zone not as something James is doing to Kara, but as something Kara is doing to herself every time she gets close to him without making her romantic feelings known. Similarly friend-zoned Winn comes off a little more endearing than creepy tonight, which is a nice change of pace.
Meanwhile, Kara’s professional life is extra stressful this week as she has to handle not only her usual CatCo duties, but also babysitting Cat’s socially awkward son Carter. There’s a lot of potential in the storyline of Kara bonding with one of Supergirl’s biggest fans, but the Carter subplot is pretty half-baked. I don’t quite understand the logistics of the babysitting (Why is Kara watching him at the office? Does she even stay with him overnight or was he just wandering around alone after the bombing?), and he’s clearly just there to add extra stakes to the climax. That said, I did enjoy Cat’s admiration of what she assumed was Kara’s attempt to butter her up by offering to watch her son. And it’s nice that this show is presenting Supergirl as a hero for both girls and boys to look up to. Sure Carter has a crush on Supergirl, but he also admires her bravery and empathy.
On the superheroing side of things, Kara has to utilize all of her powers to deal with a series of bombs exploding around National City. Our current TV landscape is littered with superhero series that focus on street-level fighting, and it’s a nice change of pace to center on a hero with an expansive skill-set. Though the CGI occasionally looks a bit like a video game, watching a hero hold up a falling building or fly a bomb out of the city is just something you can’t see anywhere else on TV at the moment.
Supergirl raises the stakes even more in its genuinely thrilling climax. Forced to choose between dealing with a bomb at the airport or one on Maxwell Lord’s new high-speed train, Kara chooses the location with fewer people but more personal stakes. She wants to save Carter, yes, but she also thinks she has a chance to appeal to the bomber directly.
When Kara comes face to face with bomber Ethan Knox, she explains that even though he’s angry over being fired from Lord’s company and losing custody of his now-sick daughter, he doesn’t have to turn to violence. But while Knox gives Kara a window to save the rest of the passengers, her appeal isn’t enough to save him. Technically the train rescue is a win for Kara, but Knox’s death adds a downer note to the proceedings.
Rather than just quickly wrap things up after its action climax, as it has in past weeks, Supergirl adds another twist: While everyone around her keeps dismissing Knox as a crazy man, Kara’s empathy once again serves her well. She recognizes he was sad, not angry, and goes digging into his history to uncover the fact that Lord paid for Knox’s daughter’s medical care in exchange for his help carrying out the bombings. When Kara confronts Lord, he all too excitedly reveals the bombs were a way to test Supergirl’s abilities. That moves him from sleazy businessman to virtual psychopath and he joins Evil Twin Astra as yet another overarching big bad for the show. Supergirl is still an unquestionably sunny series, but I’m glad to see it’s not afraid to go dark with its villains.
Because Supergirl is interested in telling the story of a superhero still learning to use her powers, it has to find ways to let Kara fail without making her constantly seem weak or stupid. She makes a lot of choices this week that one could argue aren’t objectively the smartest, including offering to babysit Carter, pushing James back into Lucy’s arms, and saving the train over the airport. But those choices aren’t objectively wrong, either, and—more importantly—they’re always made out of a desire to help others. As Carter notes, Kara’s strength (and her legs) are impressive, but it’s her heart that makes her a real hero.
- If you’d like to hear me talk about a very different type of female hero, I binge-watched and binge-reviewed all 13 episodes of the Netflix series Marvel’s Jessica Jones this weekend. Though some might argue Jessica Jones is a superior show because of its high production values and darker themes, I’m just thrilled to live in an era where female heroes as different as Jessica and Kara are on our screens at the same time.
- The DEO portions of this show continue to be the least interesting thing about it. Alex is assigned to watch over government-hating Maxwell Lord and their scenes definitely have a romantic undercurrent to them. Meanwhile Hank Henshaw deactivates/smashes a bomb with his bare hands.
- James rushing to the airport to save Lucy made me feel very swoony.
- I loved Kara accidentally snapping that stapler in half.
- If we graded shows based on their worst line, this episode would get an F for, “You’ve spent more time in the friend zone than the Phantom Zone.”
- “I liked school. Learning all about this new planet… that I’m also from.”