21 December 2015

Supergirl S1E8 "Hostile Takeover" review

Supergirl’s mid season finale arrived this week, bringing back some characters that haven’t been seen since the beginning of the show and some moments that reflect on DC’s recent attempt at a live action Superman. Was it a culmination of all the progress made since it’s start or a reminder of the wasted potential that defines the majority of the first half of the series?

For a start, it brings back plot elements that were introduced far earlier in the series. It seems to remember the little plot line about Kara's evil super-powered aunt and the whole jail full of escaped alien criminals. Carrying on from their sudden appearance at the end of the previous episode, they fight Supergirl several times over the course of this instalment but their end goal is never really explained. While it intends to show villains with a layered and complex plan, it comes across as messy and confusing.

This episode also brings back flashbacks from Krypton, which is an opportunity that the show has not been taking advantage of. With these returning elements combined it feels like this was an episode that was written along with the initial few and all others in between were either filler or a completely separate story. It would explain the strange disconnect between the episodes and how some feel like they don't fit together, both in tone and narrative. This is exemplified by other smaller elements such as Kara’s combat training, of which we only saw her start, but now appears to be an expert. It would make things feel more natural if we saw these progressions throughout the series, if only briefly.

The rest of the episode deals with Kara’s boss, Cat, whose email account has been hacked, leaking her personal emails to the world. Of course, she puts the only people we know who work at Cat Co on the case to find out who did it and to try and control any damages that might be caused. For the most part this plot works as it allows Cat to expand on the side of her personality that has made her the most entertaining side character on the show. It also gives opportunity for a few humorous moments, such as discussing the e-mails of Cat asking out Idris Elba and being rejected or ones that show Cat heavily investing into a Jekyll and Hyde musical.

The real focus of the episode is on Kara trying to stop her Kryptonian aunt, Astra. It shows in greater detail than before, some much needed back-story between Kara and Astra through flashbacks that take place on Krypton. The show tries to make us empathise with both characters by showing how close they were before the planet's destruction. But it’s too little, too late. If this had been shown earlier in the series then and developed as it continued, or even had been shown a small glimpse into their relationship, then we could have seen the impact this is having on Kara. We could have seen how hard it is for her to fight someone she was so close to, especially someone who has a strong link to her childhood on Krypton. Instead the aunt comes across as a generic bad guy who we know nearly nothing about. By not focusing on the emotions of the characters or character development, they can’t expect the audience to care about Astra. It’s a shame too as some of the story elements that are raised during this episode start to open up the characters and could start some interesting plot lines.

At the midpoint, a large scale confrontation between Kara and Astra takes place that uses a lot of call backs to Man of Steel. Aside from the fact that it is a fight involving two Kryptonians in a large built up city, there were multiple camera angles that mirror some of the camera work in Man of Steel, such as the shots that follows the back of the character as they punch their opponent through the air or the high angle wide shots used when someone is sent flying through a building. There are even a few destroyed buildings and people in danger thrown in for good measure.

If this was on purpose I'm sure it was display the differences between Supergirl and Clark Kent’s last silver screen appearance. They make sure to place a strong emphasis on Kara saving bystanders from falling debris caused from the fight and on the choices Kara has on how to handle a rogue Kryptonian. It seems that even someone in DC was displeased with Man of Steel's decisions. While the action is passable, it’s obvious call backs to Man of Steel highlight the differences in budget and CGI between them. While it doesn't take too much away from the episode as a whole, it isn't the most engrossing action and broke my immersion with how rough some of it looks.

There’s a moment very near the beginning of the episode that sums up most of my feelings about Supergirl so far. They establish that the escaped Kryptonians can stop the effects of Kryptonite by wearing specific clothing. Alongside the very large ramifications to the Superman mythos it has if this is plot is continued, it just felt like a lazy plot device with ramifications that they haven’t thought too far into the future about. A lot of this episode feels lazy, actually. It’s not bad but nothing special, which is a only a problem as this is the mid-season finale which should finish on the highest note possible. For every stride they take forward, there's always something holding the show back from it’s full potential.

That’s not to say it doesn't have its good moments. By bringing back some ideas from early episodes, certain moments in this episode display it’s greatest strengths. By combining clever storytelling, Kara’s memories of Krypton along with her mother’s hologram, it delivers surprisingly deep character moments that show her struggle with her aunt and mother. Along with Cat’s position as a surrogate mother for Kara, it highlights a strength of this show and the story it can tell of Kara’s unique position of an alien torn between two worlds. One of a child that couldn't, and still can’t, understand the decisions that her parents made. It’s at its best when we get to see Kara start to realise why they acted that way and the effects it has on her current life.

While the story of Cat’s hacked e-mails is wrapped up a little too perfectly, a few twists are thrown in during the last 10 minutes, including one that could have some long lasting impacts on the show (doesn't that sound familiar?). But just as the plot is coming to a conclusion, it just ends in the middle of a fight scene. There is a huge difference between leaving the audience on a cliff hanger and just not showing the end to a story.

Overall, I guess it’s both a culmination of all the progress made since the start of the show and a reminder of the wasted potential that defines Supergirl. When the characters, plot and tone all come together, scenes can make the most of the potential of Kara’s story, that show her character struggling to find her place in an alien world. At other times, it feels infuriatingly lazy and cheap. I'm hopeful for the second half of the season as the foundations for strong characters and interesting plots have been already set up, but on the other hand when the time comes, I wouldn't be too surprised to see these mishandled and the opportunity wasted.

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