Supergirl: 204 “Survivors” Review
Reviewed by Ben McClure.
Survivors, the fourth entry of Supergirl’s second season, plays out like a better version of last week’s episode. It features many of the same themes and story beats as Welcome to Earth, but told with greater nuance and intelligence.
Thus we have a superior subplot of Kara learning to be a reporter, a more meaningful take on the plight of aliens trapped on earth, and an even better interaction between Supergirl and Mon-El. Maybe part of the reason it’s all working more effectively is because the show no longer has to introduce these concepts. Indeed, it seems the season is finally done setting up its overall status quo, and for the first time they’re free to just tell the stories they want to tell.
I’m a particular fan of the way they are developing the relationship between Kara and Chris Wood’s Mon-El (seriously, it’d be good if they got around to acknowledging that his name makes him sound like a relative of Supergirl’s). He comes across as a genuinely likeable guy who is eager to “stretch his wings” but has the humility to recognize when that is a mistake. His awkwardness with earth culture is a bit inconsistent, but on the other hand it’s nice that they are not overplaying that shtick. The scene where Kara opens up to him about her reluctance to face her disappointment in her parents is one of the most emotionally grounded that the show has given us so far, and brings our hero into genuinely new territory. I’m looking forward to the dynamic between these characters as the season progresses, and am hoping against hope that they aren’t setting up the guy as the shock-twist villain of the season (like the nicest guy on Flash season 2 turned out to be).
This is also the best episode we’ve had so far dealing with Kara’s job as a reporter. Last week, she was cartoonishly naïve in how proud she was of her unprofessional bias, but this time we see her struggles in the role in a more plausible way. The idea of using her heroic identity as her own source is nothing new for comic book readers, but works well in this context. And Snapper Carr (Ian Gomez) gets to show there’s more to him than just that he’s a callous jerk. This is a good tone for this character: gruff but self-controlled, unwilling to be pushed around by someone whom he perceives as a princess, but willing to give credit where it’s due. It gives room for some sympathetic moments in the midst of the general antagonism, which I think will be good for the character and for work-based storylines to come.
We also briefly revisit Kara’s odd friendship with Lena Luthor. It remains as unmotivated as ever, but at least gives the impression that Lena is reaching out to Kara for some ulterior motive. It’s funny that Kara herself seems oblivious to this, but at least it gives me in the audience more of a confidence that the writers are building up to something. Still, it would have been better if they had worked a little harder to justify this ongoing interaction, but it’s a minor complaint, simply because so far Lena is such a small part of the series.
A bigger disappointment about the episode is how underwhelming the main plot of Roulette’s alien fight club is, particularly the fights themselves. Instead of the awesome bare-knuckles action that we were all hoping for, we get a couple of scenes that are abrupt and awkwardly staged. In the first one, Supergirl has a great arrival, but then just stares like a deer in the headlights as she’s announced as a contestant. Draaga turns up out of nowhere to pummel her while the fighters that Supergirl interrupted seem to just vanish. And then Draaga, who reckons he can kill a Kryptonian, scampers away because Alex Danvers points a pistol at him.
The second fight makes a bit more sense but is disappointingly short. I’d have rather saved time somewhere else and let that battle play out more dramatically. After Supergirl spent most of the episode being ineffectual in her costumed identity (losing to Draaga, backing down before Roulette) a strongly earned victory would not have come amiss. Maybe some of the Alex-Maggie camaraderie could have been trimmed?
Where we would not have wanted to lose anything was in the storyline with J’Onn J’Onzz. This is a character with a backstory truly worth exploring, and it’s exciting that they are going there. There are some good moments with Miss Martian and their dynamic has potential, especially if the shocking reveal at the end of the episode indicates that M’Gann is really the White Martian that she was talking about, the one who developed a conscience. Maybe she adopted the identity of a Green Martian that she was trying (but failed) to protect. It’d be a strong motivation for why the character puts herself into the fight ring ever night, more so than the survivor’s guilt that was presented, and would force our heroes to face their prejudices far more than the whole Krypton-Daxam antipathy does.
On the other hand, if it turns out that M’Gann is actually an evil White Martian and part of set-up for some sort of invasion story, well I’d be excited because it would mean we’re moving forward on the plot that I’m most interested in seeing in this series. But I’d also be disappointed because it doesn’t seem to make any sense. If the White Martians wanted to “entrap” J’Onn, why go about it by disguising yourself as someone who will betray him? In either case, it’s another hook that I’m keen to see play out as the season continues.
Incidentally, Mehcad Brooks’ James Olsen is completely absent this week, which feels like confirmation that the writers are struggling with what to do with him this year. He spent the first episode being part of a bad subplot about the end of Kara & James’ romance; he was only in the second episode for the closing minutes to reveal his improbable promotion to the presidency of Cat Grant’s company; and his only role in the third episode was limited to a shallow “power play” storyline about whether Snapper Carr would respect him as a boss. And now he’s missing all together. With no Kara romance and less of an emphasis on the goings-on in CatCo, James is quickly losing his purpose on the program. However, advanced press indicates that new developments are forthcoming. They look a little hard to swallow, but it could hardly be worse than what we’ve had so far.
But Survivors itself has got a lot of good stuff going for it, in spite of some weak spots, and makes me hopeful for how the season will continue.