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My relationship with Season 2 of Supergirl has been one marked by frustration, the sort of frustration that a teacher might feel toward a talented yet underachieving student. You know that the show can do better if it just applied itself instead of wasting all its time on a bad boy with a heart of gold (in this case Mon-El). But as Supergirl wraps its sophomore year, the show has been working harder to raise its grades in my weekly reviews. And with “Alex,” the 19th episode of the season, the show gets my first “A.”
So what makes this episode so good, you might be asking? Is it an epic battle with a classic supervillain? A dramatic turning point in a long-running storyline? No, the episode doesn’t feature any of those cheap if captivating thrills. Instead, it’s about a regular guy from Alex and Kara’s hometown who kidnaps Alex and gives Kara an ultimatum: free his dad from prison or Alex dies. Again, just to be clear, this guy—Rick Malverne—has no powers, with the possible exception of amazing powers of deduction. Rick was present when Kara first used her powers to save people from a burning bus; when both Kara and Supergirl appeared on the scene at the same time, he put two and two together to reach the only logical result. After a year of planning, Rick caught Alex at a vulnerable moment, knocked her unconscious and left her at an undisclosed location so well hidden that even Supergirl can’t use her powers to find her.
But that’s not a big deal because she’s Supergirl and she can just make him talk, right? Again, it’s not quite that simple, and I wish you’d stop interrupting me while I tell you about what happened in this episode. Despite being a “regular guy,” Rick has the upper hand because he knows two things: 1) Kara’s secret identity as Supergirl and 2) the fact that Kara/Supergirl can’t afford to kill him because it means she’ll never know where Alex is. Even the Martian Manhunter with his mind-reading and shape-shifting abilities can’t get the information about Alex’s whereabouts out of Rick. Their only other recourse appears to be freeing Rick’s father—but given the fact that he’s got a rap sheet that includes armed robbery and murder, that option isn’t especially appealing either.
Because it’s a problem that can’t be solved through brute force, and notwithstanding the fact that sister’s life is on the line, Supergirl is at her wits end. Her behavior is in sharp contrast to Maggie’s, who with her law enforcement background takes a more pragmatic approach to dealing with Rick. Episode writers Eric Carrasco and Greg Baldwin sow the seeds of discord in a seemingly innocuous opening scene in which Maggie’s painstaking negotiations with hostage takers are prematurely ended when Supergirl smashes her way through and “saves” the day. The tension between Maggie and Supergirl at the workplace spills over during a subsequent family dinner between Alex, Kara, and their respective partners. From Maggie’s point of view, Supergirl represents the hammer to which every problem—from Daxamites to common criminals—looks like a nail. This conflict carries through to Alex’s kidnapping, where Supergirl is rash and incautious while Maggie preaches discernment before taking action.
Supergirl fails to heed Maggie’s advice and rushes off to save Alex when the DEO thinks they’ve located her. Instead, Supergirl exacerbates the problem by setting off a trap that causes the water levels in Alex’s underground cell to rise and the deadline clock to accelerate. With precious little time left, Maggie calls Rick’s bluff and frees his dad from prison. It’s then that Supergirl intervenes, except this time she doesn’t use her fists but rather emotionally affecting rhetoric. Supergirl prevails on Rick’s dad to save his son before he becomes a murderer. Sure, the speech is a bit cheesy but we accept some sentiment from a character like Supergirl.
Also, the speech is in keeping with a number of poignant moments in this episode. In particular, Floriana Lima as Maggie has an emotionally affecting exchange with Chyler Leigh’s Alex, which is made all the more impressive by the fact that Maggie is hunched over a laptop while communicating with a trapped Alex. Even Rick and his father are given more depth than your usual villain of the week types: Rick feels an especially strong bond toward his dad who took care of him after leaving an abusive mom. As a result, “Alex” is elevated from being yet another hour-long installment in the series but a standout episode that marries tension and emotion to great effect.
If that wasn’t all, we’re also treated to an intriguing subplot between Lena and Rhea. Because both are beautiful, brainy brunettes, it would seem that they would be a natural pairing. But they don’t actually become partners until Rhea comes (somewhat) clean about her intentions. The mechanics of Rhea’s plot are still a bit hazy at this point—surely it’ll be a major focus of the final episodes—but the chemistry between Katie McGrath as Lena and Teri Hatcher as Rhea is such that it hardly matters. You just want to see these two women, each powerful in their own right, share a scene together. And woe be to Supergirl once their plot is finally revealed.