Sometimes you lose sight of law and order in National City. As Supergirl (Melissa Benoist) zips through the concrete canyons and swoops down to punch giant purple monsters in the eye and to pinch the ears of all the humdrum ne'er-do-wells of pedestrian thievery, the inevitable clash between her and Maggie (Floriana Lima) as representative of the human superpower-less crime-fighting forces is never really in front of mind. You just take for granted that the police in National City must be yokels, a collection of navy-suited chuckleheads who would be royally screwed if Kara went on vacation.
But then Maggie turns it around. After Kara "saves the day" by smashing her way into a hostage situation and concusses people along the way, the high-ranking detective (who I guess is also in charge of negotiations?) spells out how punching her way through life has consequences. Consequences! I loved the idea of a "Supergirl defense," where criminals get their cases thrown out of court because all their evidence is tainted by an influx of debris Kara leaves in her wake because she doesn't know how to use a door.
This is where I raised an eyebrow. The eyebrow was not my usual flag for when my suspension of disbelief has been shattered. My eyebrow lifted, as I was impressed by a small bit of important world-building and a convincing argument that isn't pro-Supergirl. And I was even more impressed when Kara didn't cave immediately with apologies. There are two ways a Kryptonian seems to be able to behave in this world on the rare occasion that they're called out. One is to immediately concede the point, because humility is "The Right Thing to Do." The second, and more interesting way, is self-righteousness. And Kara walks that path with a rooster-style strut. "I saved the day, didn't I?"
Thus begins what I might consider to be the best episode since Season 1's "Falling." Last season, Kara suffered exposure to the dreaded red kryptonite fabricated by one Max Lord (Peter Facinelli) (remember that guy?). It flipped the Kryptonian psyche on its head, turning Kara into an id-powered maniac. It was great to see dimension to Kara -- even if it was because she was poisoned -- and, better yet, there were consequences to her actions.
Supergirl is at its best when it deals in those consequences, those difficult emotions, those other dimensions that sometimes get erased by story and a broad vocabulary. Just as adult fans of Karamel tune in for the latest adorable moment from Mon-El, little girls in capes run up to Melissa Benoist in the street to celebrate a strong, female role model. So as much as I joke and tease this show for the kind of convenience that results in a compressed plots or sitcom-level wrap-ups, I also understand this is a business, and who they're talking to is important.
"Alex" is an episode, though, that lets everyone in the cast, crew, and writer's room shine brightly. It's one where Kara isn't an absolute paragon of morality and responsibility. It's one that at least hints at the desperation of humanity and strong emotional bonds. I don't want to get carried away or descend into the hyperbolic. I'm just trying to say that this episode takes all the criticisms of the show (re: my criticisms of the show) and shows that what they've built here has the ability to rise to another level.
Let's start with the ladies. I've alluded to (okay, outright said) that the Mon-El plotline this season has led to a not insignificant amount of Kara erasure. Our strong female protagonist has taken a back seat as she deals with her loneliness and eventually falls for the Daxamite. But the female contingent in "Alex" is strong. Kara, Maggie, and Alex (Chyler Leigh) do exceptional work throughout the episode. Kara has dimensions. Maggie is vulnerable. Alex is a straight up badass. The shot with them all together, Alex in Maggie's lap and Kara holding her hand, was basically a Berlanti La Pietà. And it extended beyond the good guys to to Lena (Katie McGrath) and Rhea (Teri Hatcher) having tense, multi-layered conversations about surviving a mother and being a mother while also drawing an unwitting Luthor back to the dark side. It's powerful stuff.
Maggie and Alex as a couple is good example of how this episode elevates its material. While their relationship has been strong ever since Maggie caved in her reasonable, yet ill-fated, principles to date someone that'd just come out, Maggie's weepy eyes in this episode, as Alex tries to run through all the things she meant to say is extraordinarily raw for Supergirl. Their kiss near the end is that "love is love is love is love" moment that would swell even the grinchiest of hearts.
Maybe "raw" is the right word. While this episode was never gory or explicit (though watching Alex rip her skin apart with a broken credit card was slightly unnerving), it separated from its particular brand of sanitization. It's that Kara charm that spreads throughout the series and lenses everything in a metaphorical rose color. Here, Kara could do wrong. Villains had a humanity that didn't shy away from either Kara's privilege or from the suffering of abuse. To watch Rick (David Hoflin) rage-exposit about watching the Danvers girls grow up in a happy if fractured home (and kudos for bringing back a bit character from earlier in the series) may be something at home in an episode of SVU; but for Supergirl, it was a bit of realness the show rarely explores.
Even the requisite thinly veiled, if not clunky, political allegory didn't seem as forced in "Alex." The show didn't put the rhetoric of the alt-right or fascists or racists into the mouths of its villains nor did they capitulate to the tendency to make either Peter Thompson (Gregg Henry) or his son say something Trumpian to create punchable effigies. Rick didn't call Kara a "nasty woman" even once. But they did manage to call a white man a terrorist a number of times, including once with Alex pointing directly at the camera (and Rick). In that moment, it's hard not to say that they weren't making a point. But it was germane to the story, it never seemed out of place, and it's a true statement. This man was, indeed, a terrorist.
The episode just worked. It succeeded in evoking a range of emotion while telling a high stakes story and showing dimensions in characters that sometimes get elided by the show's necessary broadness. It felt almost weird to feel a level of anxiety about this show. You knew they weren't going to bury their gays here, but would they? Could they? It started with a sense of reality and not just a high-minded Kryptonian fever dream. They added some grit that usually only exists in the throat of Snapper Carr (Ian Gomez). And I know this can't be an every episode occurrence. But when Supergirl blooms, it's a thing of beauty.
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