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Last week, I decided to give Supergirl one more episode to win me over. Time to figure out its characters, determine how to talk about feminism and real issues intelligently. Whatever. I was just looking for a demonstration of the show simply working. And I thought if any episode could do it, one with an iconic villain like Livewire could, surely. But despite being indicative of a fully-functioning show (and being further along than expected), “Livewire” was yet another bland and tiresome episode that highlighted my problems with the series.
Though it would be easy to jump right in and talk about the weak characterization of Brit Morgan’s Livewire, I want to first discuss what I saw as the more problematic component of the episode: Dr. Eliza Danvers. I don’t remember Helen Slater’s appearances on Smallville or Supernatural, but I’m going to place the blame for her wooden performance and stereotypical characterization squarely at the feet of the writers, because her character was memorably terrible. To recap, Alex is worried that her mom will blame her for letting Kara reveal herself to the world, but when she first appears, Eliza tells her adopted daughter that she’s doing great. A little, “why bother with making a big deal of Alex being worried?” but relatively fine so far. However, while Alex is looking on with pride at the news broadcast of Supergirl saving Leslie Willis’ life, Eliza tells Alex to “turn [the TV] off.” When Alex says she’s watching it, her response is one word: “Off.” And so the downward spiral begins. I’ve been using the word one-dimensional a lot in relation to Supergirl, but this took it a step further by making Eliza an overly traditional “do what I say” mother. With her looks of disapproval as Alex drinks wine, this feeling was only enhanced, and the episode also made her a pretty huge hypocrite. Typical mom joke about radioactive turkey aside, Eliza’s totally fine with asking Kara to cook a turkey with her heat vision, but she’s not willing to let her be the person she wants to be (in her case, a hero who saves people on the regular)? Not only that, but for all her huffing and puffing about Alex lying to her about working in a lab, she had been keeping the real circumstances of their father’s death a secret for longer.
Eliza’s characterization could’ve been salvaged with a substantial explanation for why she was so tough on Alex, but here’s where Supergirl really stumbles. “Kara was a little girl from another planet. She lost everything. I didn’t know how to do anything but accept her. You, you’re my daughter, Alex. I wanted you to be better than me. But that never meant I didn’t love you.” This is what Eliza says to Alex, in what is clearly the relationship-repairing moment of the episode. But am I the only one that missed the part where Eliza actually apologized or gave a reason for her chronic over-parenting? Not to mention the fact that she asks, “You mean why I was tough on you?” as if she was completely oblivious to her behavior being potentially out of line. A thought for the showrunners: If you want to send a nuanced message about the problems with over-parenting, don’t let the guilty party off so easily. Don’t validate their approach by refusing to do identify their behavior as a problem. A little heavy for Supergirl, perhaps, but if that call was made, why didn’t the showrunners allow Eliza to be the proud mom she seemed to be at the beginning of the episode? I get the need for tension, but showcasing a family built on love and trust would’ve been a big win for a series that hasn’t been able to talk about any issue in a substantial way.
My problems with Livewire were much more prosaic. For one thing, she looks like Meryl Streep’s character in Into the Woods. And while I don’t know how they could have done Livewire right (or if they’re saving cooler makeup for a future appearance), it reminded me of the kind of Halloween costume someone puts together just to say that they’re going as something. Effort, you know. For another, she goes from ragging on Supergirl for no apparent reason and being sidelined by Cat Grant to almost-murderer pretty quickly. “I really wanted one of you to watch the other one die,” she says, though I have no idea why she’d want to kill anyone. Soon after, we get “the only thing that you have that I want is your skin,” which is even more of a stretch than her wanting to murder someone. Her hackneyed line meant we got Cat’s hilarious interjection that Leslie had all the “wit of a YouTube comment,” but it’s not worth throwing her characterization out the window just to get to this moment.
The exploration of Cat Grant’s character was the episode’s only strength. Though there were certainly poor attempts to make us see her as more than a domineering boss (when she tells the comatose Leslie that she’s “tougher than a bolt of lightning,” for example), her letting Kara talk about the problems her sister and mother were having and saying,“there’s a lot I don’t know about you [Kara]. And that should probably change,” were pretty great. Even with her (and everyone’s) iffy character development on the show, these moments just felt real. I also really appreciated her message of responsible reporting in the media and how choosing to spotlight the people trying to do good in the community can have a positive impact.
I’m sad that the introduction of such a classic Superman villain wasn’t able to inject new life into Supergirl, but I’d be lying if I said I was disappointed that I won’t have to talk about the show’s awful writing and terrible CGI ever again. Try as it might, the show hasn’t been able to deliver an episode that was purely enjoyable. More than that, though, the series is just bland. Solid 5 bland. Could be that the show is able to improve by leaps and bounds by the end of the season, but I’m just not invested enough in these characters to wait around for that to happen.
*As CBS reordered episodes four and five, “How Does She Do It?” will be airing next week.
All images are via ComicBook.com.