Photo: Supergirl (CBS)

To be clear, when I asked for more women of color on Supergirl, this isn’t exactly what I had in mind. This week Laura Vandervoort (who played Supergirl on Smallville) throws on an unlicensed Mystique Halloween costume to play Kara’s latest nemesis, Indigo, a villain who is alternately described as a “living internet,” an “alien cyberthreat,” and “a glorified Windows Vista.” She’s meant to be a cutting edge technological threat, but she comes across as a dated ‘90s throwback. As with most episodes of Supergirl, “Solitude” does a few things things really well and everything else really poorly. Unfortunately, Indigo falls into the latter camp.

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Vandervoort does her best and no one could blame her for failing to commit to playing a sentient computer who wants to wipe out humanity with a plan that involves leaking their Ashley Madison—excuse me, Diamond Discretions—accounts. But the character design looks distractingly cheap. Why on Earth would someone wear a jumpsuit that is the exact same color as their skin? Did CBS run out of a blue body paint?

The bigger problem is that the best villains have some sort of thematic connection to the material—like Master Jailer’s merciless vengeance contrasting with Kara’s turn to the cutthroat or Toyman’s complicated relationship with his son. But Indigo’s desire to kill all of humanity is just generic villain 101. The reveal that she helped Kara (and Fort Rozz) escape the Phantom Zone doesn’t really pack that much of a punch, and her tête-à-tête with Uncle Non-Descript just makes her motives more confusing: Indigo was convinced Astra’s plan to live alongside humans (which is apparently what Myriad is?) would fail but she nevertheless waited until Astra was dead to launch her own counterattack on humanity. And despite the fact that she was thrown into Fort Rozz for trying to wipe out life on Krypton, she now seems content to let the remaining Kryptonians live alongside her on Earth. Based on that last scene with Non, it looks like Indigo will be coming back in the future so hopefully her motivations will crystalize a bit.

Indigo aside, the big theme of “Solitude” is—unsurprisingly—solitude, which manifests in characters emotionally and physically isolating themselves from one another. Kara has officially split from the DEO after deciding she can’t work with the man who (she thinks) killed her aunt. So she and the DEO each try to solve National City’s blue hacker problem until the situation becomes so dire that they’re forced to rejoin forces to prevent a nuclear missile from killing 7 million people.

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While I have a lot of problems with this episode, the climactic finale in which Kara races to stop the missile is one of my favorite pieces of Supergirl action to date. It’s tense, high-stakes, and shows off the kind of flying action sequences that can only be found on Supergirl at the moment. It’s clear Supergirl invested some real money into the sequence (it looks far better than the cheesy chain CGI we got last week), and even though I obviously knew Kara would save the day, I still found myself on the edge of my seat watching it all unfold.

Yet as exhilarating as that sequence is, it’s too little too late in an episode that can’t seem to find its footing. In addition to Kara separating from the DEO, James and Lucy are also at odds because he keeps ditching her for Supergirl. And even though James and Kara are functioning well as a team, it’s clear that their inability to confess their feelings for one another is stunting their relationship too. Given that James and Lucy don’t have much chemistry together and don’t even really seem to enjoy each others’ company that much, it’s unclear to me why James hasn’t just broken-up with Lucy to go after Kara, who is clearly into him. Thankfully Lucy finally realizes how annoying all of this relationship drama is, informing James that she won’t be a weird pawn in this love triangle anymore.

Elsewhere, Siobhan gets a little more shading tonight, revealing to Winn that her own standoffish behavior stems from the fact that her dad is a dick (and that she potentially saw his dick when she walked in on him having an affair with his personal assistant). Winn reassures her that he understands what it’s like to have a crappy parent and that not everyone will betray her, leading her to impulsively kiss him, giving the show a new romance with definite Cordelia/Xander vibes.

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And the final character feeling isolated is Alex, not only because Kara is refusing to work with the DEO, but also because she can’t bear hiding the fact that she was the one who actually killed Astra. The scene in which she finally breaks down and confesses is moving because Chyler Leigh and Melissa Benoist imbue their performances with real emotion and because Kara’s decision to immediately forgive her sister is so unexpected. But it’s also pretty much the only non-action scene that really works this week.

Supergirl has solid core ideas almost every episode, but it lacks the nuance necessary to turn those ideas into something great. Take for instance James and Kara’s trip to the Fortress of Solitude, which offers a lovely visual design and a nice nod for Superman fans but nothing deeper. Supergirl could have used the Fortress of Solitude to explore Kara’s relationship to her home world, her feelings of isolation and frustration, her relationship to her cousin, or, most obviously, her relationship to James. Instead it exists just to provide a few lines of exposition about Indigo while inadvertently raising even more questions about why Kara isn’t contacting Superman to help her deal with the most dangerous Fort Rozz prisoner of all time. Rather than use this new secluded location to subtly demonstrate why Kara and James are such a great match, Supergirl has Kara explicitly point out his loyalty as the scene ends. That’s hardly the way to build a compelling central romance.

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On a macro scale, Supergirl is still getting a lot of things right, like Kara forgiving Alex while reaffirming the fact that she is better at saving the world when she has her friends at her side. But when it comes to the details of creating an engaging superhero series, I’m growing less and less optimistic about Supergirl’s potential.

Stray observation

  • Just one week after I gave up my #WhereIsPerd campaign, PERD IS BACK! To make up for his long absence, Supergirl even features him twice in this episode. That may or may not account for the “+” in this week’s grade.
  • Why on Earth did that Fort Pemberton guard remind a murderous alien attacker that she needs two people to turn the nuclear missile launch keys?!?
  • Briefly glimpsed in the Fortress of Solitude: Superman’s Legion Flight Ring, which can be used to contact other members of the Legion of Super-Heroes.
  • As in the Teen Titans comic, this version of Indigo is also a member of the Brainiac family known as Brainiac 8.
  • I don’t think Kara was sabotaging James’ relationship on purpose, but describing all of the things you love about someone’s boyfriend is a pretty tone deaf way to offer support.
  • Supergirl is off next week then returns March 14 with an episode in which Red Kryptonite unleashes Kara’s dark side.

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