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In the first half-dozen episodes of the second season of Supergirl, Cadmus has lurked in the shadows as the series’ latest Big Bad. In the show’s seventh episode, fittingly titled “The Darkest Places,” we get our first up-close look at the mysterious organization. Previously we saw Cadmus operatives kidnap aliens, including Mon-El at the close of last week’s episode. This week’s episode reveals, in part, the purpose of those kidnappings: to draw out Supergirl. While on the hunt for the Guardian, who she believes to have executed a criminal he captured (more on that later), Supergirl receives a high-frequency message from the head scientist at Cadmus that Mon-El is at their facility. This draws Supergirl into a fight with Hank Henshaw—but not the Hank that she’s come to know and love. Who she meets instead is the “real” Hank, the DEO agent whose identity J’Onn assumed and who has a hatred for aliens that matches Cadmus’s.
Evil Hank (aka the Cyborg Superman) subdues Supergirl and she finds herself in an adjoining cell with Mon-El. It is then that the head of Cadmus formally reveals herself to Supergirl as Lillian Luthor, the mother of Lex and Lena. While the Luthor revelation isn’t news to us in the audience, given the meeting between Lena and Lillian we witnessed a few episodes back, we do learn new information about the Cadmus head in “The Darkest Places.”
Previous episodes established Lillian and Cadmus as distrusting of aliens, but the source of that animus is the relationship between Lex and Superman. Lillian holds Kara’s cousin responsible for betraying her son, “a real Superman” as she puts it, and making him a criminal in the eyes of the world. This reveal puts an interesting personal twist to the Supergirl-Cadmus dynamic as well as draws from our shared knowledge of the Superman mythos. Even if Lex hasn’t been formally introduced on Supergirl, the audience knows enough about the character that we can fill in the backstory. It’s another small yet ingenious example of the way in which the showrunners borrow from past continuity without being slavishly devoted to it.
With that said, the method behind Lillian’s madness in this episode is a bit murky. One would think that, with Supergirl powerless and in her clutches, Lillian would take the opportunity to kill her before she ruins her plans—which, given the conventions of superhero fiction, is exactly how this is going to end. What Lillian does instead is get Supergirl to voluntarily “burn out” her powers by threatening Mon-El’s life; the show cleverly plays with the character’s traditional vulnerability to lead by having Lillian shoot him with a handgun (which makes sense as bullets are made of lead). In her weakened condition, Supergirl is taken to a surgical room where Lillian draws blood from her. At first I assumed that Lillian’s plan was to create a Supergirl clone—the Cadmus Project in DC Comics has a long and storied history of creating clones—but that theory got upended by the end of the episode once I saw Cyborg Superman use Kara’s blood to access the Fortress of Solitude and ask about a project known as Medusa.
The proceedings at Cadmus form the spine of this Supergirl episode, as we get our first direct confrontation between the organization and the Girl of Steel. We also receive, for the first time this season, a glimpse of Jeremiah Danvers (who was revealed to be alive at the end of Supergirl Season 1). Apparently—and arguably improbably—on the run from Cadmus for the past 15 years, Jeremiah helps Supergirl and Mon-El escape the top-secret facility in order to fight another day. Being in captivity with Supergirl causes Mon-El to see her in a more romantic light as the outer-space lothario asks James and Winn if Kara is “bonded” to anyone. In truth, anyone with eyes could see the sparks between Kara and Mon-El in previous episodes just as they could with Alex and Maggie.
Speaking of the sapphic duo, “The Darkest Places” continues to build on their relationship in an organic way. As I did in last week’s review, I give the showrunners credit for their mature handling of the Alex-coming-out storyline. We see Alex deal with Maggie’s seeming rejection of her by acting aloof around her; perhaps she’s written as being a tad too petulant, but otherwise Alex’s reactions are completely understandable and human. Their ultimate reconciliation isn’t a romantic one—Alex sticks to her guns about not dating someone, as she puts it, “fresh off the boat”—but still illustrates how deeply the two care about one another. More than the other CW superhero shows, Supergirl takes relationships between its characters seriously. Even when it’s between two Martian characters like J’Onn and M’gann, we as the audience can relate it to our past feelings of betrayal, anger, and loss. By grounding the show in such human themes, Supergirl continues to soar.
This Week in References:
I’ve discussed in previous reviews the Cadmus that appears in DC Comics, so it’s interesting that Lillian Luthor would bring up its mythological namesake. The Cadmus of myth was not only the first Greek hero but also, as Lillian tells Supergirl, a slayer of monsters. Given that Supergirl is a hero herself and not a monster, it’s safe to say that Lillian shares her son’s (erroneous) self-image as being the hero.
This episode introduces the Evil Hank Henshaw to current Supergirl continuity. Although we in the audience and the characters in the show thought Hank had perished, it turns out that he was scooped up by Cadmus and turned into a cyborg. Although there’s precedent in the comics for a character named Hank Henshaw referring to himself as the Cyborg Superman, it’s odd that the Hank in Supergirl continuity would refer to himself as such. It simply doesn’t feel organic, if you’ll pardon the pun.
I barely touched on James’s adventure as the Guardian in “The Darkest Places” because, frankly, it wasn’t all that interesting. Still, I feel duty bound to point out that this episode makes use of DC’s Vigilante. The most popular incarnation of Vigilante was Adrian Chase, a former DA whose family was killed by mobsters and is thus inspired to take vengeance. Although he isn’t named Adrian Chase, the Vigilante in “The Darkest Places” shares the same MO, and both in turn are basically carbon copies of the Punisher. Nothing else to see here, move along.
Did anyone catch that subtle Batman reference in this episode? In discussing Guardian with her friends, Kara mentions how her cousin used to work with a vigilante with “lots of gadgets and lots of demons.” Although he isn’t specifically named, that sure sounds like the Dark Knight to me…