The greatest powers “Supergirl” has: suspension of disbelief–and Cat Grant

“The Last Children of Krypton.” Supergirl Season 2 Episode 2. Directed by Glen Winter. Written by Robert L. Rovner and Caitlin Parrish

This review contains spoilers for Supergirl, as well as Netflix’s Luke Cage.

“The Last Children of Krypton” is a Supergirl episode that requires substantial suspension of disbelief. This is not “you will believe a man can fly” disbelief, especially when this episode has impressive fight sequences (using a lot of shadows to obscure stunt doubles) and CGI animation (for not only Kara [Melissa Benoist] and Clark [Tyler Hoechlin] but also a good dose of J’onn [David Harewood] in Martian form).

Rather, it is suspension of disbelief over minute details that gets in the way of what is a decent story. This episode continues the marketing event of having Superman visiting National City (why didn’t this air as a two-hour special last week?) while also re-introducing more Season 1 details with a good dose of action.

Supergirl learns John Corbin (Frederick Schmidt) survived his gunshot wounds from his failed assassination attempt last week, transformed into Metallo, his comic book counterpart, a Kryptonite-powered cybernetic being. (Robot? Android? Cyborg? No, wait, that last one is in the Justice League–or the Teen Titans.) Corbin was transformed by Cadmus, the organization that Alex (Chyler Leigh) explains (for those who didn’t see Season 1), kidnapped her father. Cadmus claims responsibility for the attack, and that they are sending him to attack both National City and Metropolis to send a message that extraterrestrials, like those city’s superheroes, are threats to eliminate for public safety.

There is a lot to tease out from this adaptational change of Cadmus, traditionally in the comics a black ops governmental group, here seeming more like a rogue terrorist or anarchistic organization (as I use both of those political terms loosely and likely inaccurately). As an adaptational change, it’s awkward: we could have two secretive governmental groups, Cadmus and the DEO, in competition with each other. Last season even suggested James Harper and others were in Cadmus as a governmental group, not as whatever terrorist organization it seems to be in this episode. The plotting is also a bit underwhelming, mostly because Cadmus’s Anonymous-esque video montage seems like a summary of last season and as an introduction to this season arc, rather than teasing out the complexities of humans responding to alien threats. As the leader of Cadmus (Brenda Strong) tries to foment this division between the human Alex and her Kryptonian foster sister Kara, this teasing likely will persist all season, thank good.

Cadmus’s broadcast also invokes examples of dangerous aliens from last season, and is unfortunately a realistic response to the kind of paranoia and bigotry that emerges after terrorist attacks. This allegorizing of current post-9/11 xenophobic politicking is a bit heavy-handed and without nuance, so it’s easier to follow in this episode if treated as allusions rather than straight-up commentary about our current politics. It’s not like Supergirl last season didn’t use similar political symbols to get its point across as an unqualified buffoon like Trump runs for office: a senator was campaigning on a plan to build a wall around the planet, for crying out loud.

And this episode is a step up from the current and previous seasons of Agents of SHIELD, in terms of exploitation and violence. That show has used the Watchdogs, a rightwing militia in the Captain America comics, but used in SHIELD not to respond against Trump’s fear-mongering but as an anti-Inhumans organization, merely sensationalism to prop up Marvel’s fledging cinematic brand. In Supergirl, the political symbols are there without seeming exploitative of real-world concerns: you can read into them, but they are more like short-cuts to get a point across rather than to make irresponsible commentary about actual issues. Even Metallo II (Dr. Gilcrist [Rich Ting], transformed as well by Cadmus) is shown demolishing Krypton Park in Metropolis while keeping the carnage and fatalities off-screen for a pre-commercial cliffhanger–again, making the violence apparent, but not

While this change to Cadmus is significant, what distracted me in this episode were three tiny details that do not stand to scrutiny.

First, if there is a mole in the DEO, shouldn’t J’onn’s telepathy let him weed out that information? While J’onn was off-site at the Fortress of Solitude (and, hey, Kellex the robot is back!), he was back in time for Alex to tell him about her plan. And on a related note, why did Alex rush in alone to confront the mole in the DEO, McGill (Sachin Sahel), rather than wait for J’onn’s arrival? J’onn’s presence may have been a tip-off to McGill that something was up and he would attempt to back out of the deal, and it’s not like Alex could coordinate with other DEO agents without fear that they were also moles–yet some explanation would be appreciated. Even Luke Cage offered some explanation when a police officer tries to do an investigation on their own rather than seeking backup. This is as goofy as J’onn just letting Superman walk off with the Kryptonite, when J’onn and the show has proven repeatedly that having that stuff around in case of rogue Kryptonians is not a bad idea. (So, I guess my first detail is actually three separate sub-details.)

Second, why did the two Metallos go only for the Super-symbols on Kara and Clark’s chests rather than aiming for any other part of their bodies? There is a bit of a mythology gag to this decision: Frank Miller added a retroactive explanation that Batman added the yellow backdrop to the bat-shield on his chest as a target to be shot at, which Batman already made bulletproof anyway. But that the Metallos did so against the Super Cousins, when their Kryptonite blasts still could impair any part of their bodies, seems foolish on the villains’ part. I’m guessing there could be a scientific explanation by Winn (Jeremy Jordan)–that the contraptions he made fed anti-Kryptonite rays (lead-rays?) through their bodies to fend off the Kryptonite radiation, yet that explanation is thin. I know the show wanted to have Kara and Clark fighting with as little impediments as possible, and I know what is in animation can look less silly than it would in live-action, but there is something so practical, still filmable, and just campy enough about Kara and Clark in lead-lined anti-Kryptonite suits, like from Superman: The Animated Series, that come across better than these silly chest-guards.  

Finally, as the last detail, there is Cat Grant’s separation from the show. As her actor Calista Flockhart is still used in the promos to publicize Supergirl, and as Cat specifies she will be back, this is not a permanent separation, but it is a messy one, far messier than the complaints over minor details such as the DEO relocation. (Although, an extraterrestrial research prison in the middle of downtown is impractical.) As great as Flockhart is in selling Cat’s dialogue, that writing does not hold up: she is vague as to what reasons motivate her from leaving. Granted (no pun intended), I’m pleased she is not leaving for a cliche reason: “I’m not dying,” she says, giving relief to Kara, and me. I also notice the show avoids having Cat mention that her departure from CatCo is related to her role as a parent to Carter, who was featured last season and name-dropped many times. I wanted Carter named here, yet I recognize that to do so, without really good writing, makes it sound like her departure is to admit what she denied in last season’s episode “How Does She Do It?”–that she can’t do it all. Cat is separating from CatGo not because of time but because of passion–and we’re not told why that passion dissipates. It’s realistic to have her be vague, and it’s realistic that two people are not going to give an awkward exposition dump to justify their exit. While this episode kept Cat’s reasons realistic by making them vague, this episode also makes her departure sound like poor plotting. Ignore the behind-the-scenes reason for Cat’s departure–Flockhart did not want to follow with the show from Los Angeles to Vancouver to film for an entire season–and focus just on what is in front of us: we are not going to get ideal conditions, a writer has to work in less than ideal conditions, and I don’t think the writers pulled it off with explaining Cat’s exit.

Here’s what the writers did get right with Cat, though: she gets really good goodbyes with both Kara and Supergirl. “Did you know my real name is Catharine?” Cat tests, only for Supergirl to rely that she is not revealing her real name in exchange–hilarious. It works for this episode, and it reaffirms both Kara and Supergirl’s work. Cat does not over-sell either one to ignore their flaws, and she’s not asking the audience to like these aspects to our protagonist. This is a mentor-mentee relationship between two women that largely avoids a lot of condescension. It bothers me that Cat won’t be around more this season to the point that Cat’s motivational speeches can be a bit more self-deprecating, a la how other Slayers were getting sick of hearing them from Buffy Summers. But as a cap to this episode, it’s good. The only detail that would make it better is if, when Supergirl departs, Cat did whisper, “Goodbye, Kara.” But, hey, we already did the “Cat discovers Supergirl’s identity” story last season, so we’re not playing that game again.

Random Observations

  • Metallo looked goofy. No-skin-on-hand Metallo I? Cool. Chest-less shirt Metallo I and II? Kind of silly. If you’re not going to go full-robot, show, what will you do when the real Hank Henshaw returns as a robot?
  • “I’m with her.” Clark confirmed as a Clinton voter–what a cuck. Boo. Liberal Hollywood–filming shows in Vancouver–and using my superhero stories to prop up a qualified candidate rather than the unqualified fascistic bigot running against her. Trump/Zod 2016: “Let the World Go to Hell.”
  • Seriously, though, this is such a fun interpretation of Clark, not as clumsy as the Donner version, not cold like some interpretations, and so full of polite glee. If there is a flaw, however, it’s that the episode does trade too heavily on our goodwill towards this version of Clark to ignore J’onn pragmatic points that the DEO really does need that Kryptonite in case any Kryptonian went rogue. I can only hope that the small details with J’onn, such as his fluency in the Kryptonian language and history, and their shared mourning for homes they have lost, can do something more interesting with the characters than reducing J’onn to a Martian version of Bruce Wayne (“Bat-Martian”?).
  • “Eyes on the keys.” J’onn, if you are a typist, Winn shouldn’t need to look down to type.
  • Cat likes the Super-booty, comparing it to transcendental meditation. Some of us stare at rocks when meditating; Cat stares at Clark’s buns of steel.
  • Also, Cat x Clark was a thing in the comics for awhile, in-between Clark and Lois’s relationship.
  • After skipping over them last week, Alura and Non from last season are referenced, first with the anti-Kryptonian tech the DEO has developed based on what they left behind after their deaths, second with Alex reminding us she killed Alura.
  • There is a lot more to say about Alex’s reactions to Kara’s choice to depart for Metropolis, and feeling Clark encroaching on their lives. The details pass by so quickly that it is disappointing not more is done here, as well as resolving this conflict, for now, in the middle of a fight against Cadmus agents. The rift between the human sister and the Kryptonian sister has been there since Season 1, so I anticipate it will be referred to a few more times this season, especially should the DEO start to look more like Cadmus in an anti-alien posture. So, for now, I can point out how raw Alex was in admonishing Kara, even saying Clark abandoned her–so, just imagine what will happen should we get Alex saying that to Clark’s face.   
  • Spoiler: James (Mehcad Brooks) is confirmed to be the Guardian this season. Two points. First, as Jeff Harris reminded many of us, the Guardian originates from this season’s villain Cadmus, as seen as recently in Young Justice with James Harper, who also appeared in Supergirl Season 1. Will James therefore be collecting some of Cadmus’s own tech to fight the organization itself? Second, as Harris also reminded, Jimmy Olsen had one of his first comic book series written by renowned creator Jack Kirby, and Olsen’s enemy in those comics was none other than Cadmus–so, yes, we are going to have James against battling Cadmus. Neat.
  • Also, nice continuity with Kara’s apartment having on its wall James’s Superman photograph, which he gave to her in the very first episode of this series.
  • And if James is going to be the new acting director of CatCo–without, evidently, consulting the CatCo board first, I guess, even though he did fill in for Cat before in Season 1–any bets that he and Winn set up his Guardian lair inside the building? Maybe in that unfinished office they used with Kara in Season 1?
  • Clark receiving Perry White’s call: “I’ll be there in a jiffy! (pause) It’s a unit of measurement.” First, it’s “giffy,” Clark. Second, I just now realize Clark is basically doing a Bob Newhart skit.
  • Oh, and Mon-El is still here–and chokes Kara at the end when he wakes up. And he’s absorbing electricity for energy like how Kara and Clark absorb solar radiation–which means we’re setting up for Electric-Blue Superman. It’s like middle school for me all over again, only with fewer bullies.
  • Oh, and we introduce an older version of Snapper Carr (Ian Gomez), who has been the Justice League sidekick for a long time in the comics and has popped up in various media, whether as a younger teacher in Young Justice or as a reporter albeit younger in the animated Justice League television series. I keep emphasizing Snapper’s age because, aside from the name, this doesn’t seem like the character–which isn’t saying much, since the two versions I just mentioned from Young Justice and Justice League also have so little in common with each other or the comics that, really, this just shows Snapper Carr as a character was always a vessel for whatever writers wanted. The writers of Supergirl wanted a bitter veteran of journalism to mentor the idealistic Kara, so we got Snapper Carr: as long as he does indeed snap his fingers a lot at Kara, while offering us a representation of this mentorship that is not sickening misogynistic and agist, please proceed, show.

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