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The Supergirl showrunners undoubtedly wanted their midseason premiere to be out of this world, and, on a literal level, they accomplish that goal. Much of the episode takes place off-world (although the CW production values still scream sound stage) as Supergirl and Mon-El are stuck on a planet with a red sun that neutralizes the duo’s powers. As usual, Mon-El is reluctant to enter the fray while Supergirl looks for a runaway teenage girl who was captured by alien slave traffickers. In the course of events, Mon-El evolves from callow pretty boy to hero.
On the supervillain front, we’re treated to a return appearance by Dichen Lachman as Roulette. Her appearance in the episode is relatively brief, unfortunately, but she once again proves to be a deliciously wicked foil for the virtuous Supergirl. It probably stretches disbelief that this heretofore terrestrial crime boss would be in league with aliens to sell human slave labor, but the character is delightful enough that, as a viewer, you’re willing to overlook it. We also see James Urbaniak (Difficult People) as an alien doctor who lures young humans into his office before abducting them using a “transmatter portal” (or Stargate, as Winn succinctly refers to it). Even with the presence of aliens and an alien planet as a backdrop, this episode of Supergirl is relatively low stakes, allowing the writers to focus on interpersonal drama.
One of the great things about Supergirl, relative to most other superhero shows, is that it delves into the romantic lives of its characters, even if that romance is often thwarted. With regard to Supergirl and Mon-El, the showrunners have teased the “will they or won’t they” potential between them for several episodes. The slow build to their potential union has probably been frustrating for a good many viewers, but I’d argue that it’s ultimately beneficial for the show to keep them apart for as long as possible. As we learned in the case of Alex and Maggie—more on them in a bit—satisfying the viewer’s desire to see two characters together doesn’t exactly make for the most exciting drama. After Supergirl and Mon El were rescued from the alien planet, it seemed as if the showrunners were going to let the two characters hook up but they stop just short of a somewhat intimate sharing of a blanket. We as the audience can see Supergirl’s influence in shaping Mon-El to be a better person, and, as this episode makes clear, Mon-El is drawn to and even inspired by Kara’s goodness. That basis in mutual respect makes me hopeful that if the show does decide to “ship” them that it’ll have been earned.
But if the Supergirl showrunners want to examine how boring it can be when you give the characters (and the audience) what they want, all they have to do is look to the current Alex and Maggie relationship. While I was excited as anyone when the two got together, the show seems to have lost the dynamic spark that made their initial flirtations such fun. In the aftermath of their passionate kiss during the midseason finale, “Supergirl Lives” shows the couple in contented domesticity.
The scenes of Alex making goo-goo eyes at Maggie and repeating how happy she is are so saccharine that they’re almost too much to take. Sure, the writers try to throw a monkey wrench into the works by having Alex flip out when her sister goes missing and dramatically declare to Maggie that their relationship isn’t going to work out. But it wasn’t hard to see through this ruse—you never got any real sense that their relationship was in danger, as there’s been too much invested into their pairing to dissolve it that easily. The show is in a tough spot: clearly, viewers want to see Alex and Maggie together, and rightfully so. But too much of a good thing can make you sick of it, so hopefully Supergirl learns to find the right balance between presenting a positive same-sex relationship and adding enough drama to keep things from getting too staid.
Parallel to the plotline that sees Mon-El find his inner hero is one where Winn has to overcome his own fears. After nearly getting killed during a mission assisting the Guardian (aka James Olsen), Winn reconsiders his stance on becoming a hero’s sidekick. Although I still have my doubts about the Guardian storyline, I do support the notion of giving James and Winn something to do besides being sideline characters in Supergirl’s adventures.
Because the protagonist—and indeed, many of the super powered sorts in this series—are practically invulnerable, we as an audience take it for granted that some characters are entirely vulnerable. Seeing as how Winn is among the most vulnerable within the primary cast, having nothing in the way of super powers or even combat training, it seemed logical to have him be the one to express doubts about the superhero lifestyle. These doubts are only temporary, of course, as Alex recruits him on a mission to rescue Kara on the alien planet, thereby allowing him to rediscover his courage and visit a far-away world for the first time, to boot.
It may interest readers to know that this episode was directed by noted fanboy fave Kevin Smith of Clerks and Chasing Amy fame. Smith’s fingerprints are all over this episode, from the title—“Supergirl Lives” is a homage to Superman Lives, a stillborn Superman film circa the mid-90s that was to use a script from Smith—to the casting of his daughter Harley Quinn Smith as the runaway Supergirl tracks down. Those idiosyncratic touches aside, Smith’s directorial work in this episode can best be described as workmanlike. This isn’t meant to be an insult, by the way: it’s a testament to Smith’s lack of ego that he subsumes his personal style into the DC/CW television universe. The result is an episode that doesn’t try to be anything more than an entertaining slice of bright superheroic fun. And on that basis, “Supergirl Lives” succeeds.