Episode Title: Livewire*
Original Airdate: 11-16-15
*Author’s note: Due to a major terrorist attack in Paris on November 13, the original episode due to be broadcast, “How Does She Do It?”, was pulled from airing by CBS due to similarities between the plot and the tragic events in France. “Livewire” was intended to be the 5th episode of the season. “How Does She Do It?” will be transmitted on November 23rd.
Family. You can’t choose it, and it’s something that defines us. “Livewire” sees the arrival of Kara’s adopted mother, Eliza Danvers, for more than the début episode’s cameo, which gives us the always awesome Helen Slater. Eliza’s fractured relationship with Alex brings with it a nice little plot twist in Hank Henshaw’s involvement with Supergirl. The show’s always really been about family, and “Livewire” has a focus on this aspect of the franchise (due mainly to its Thanksgiving setting) that is rather touching. Even the episode’s villain, the titular Livewire, finds herself brought into the framework of family in a way that actually gives the normally fractious Cat Grant a moment of melancholy. Okay, it’s not all warm-fuzzies here, but thus far in the show’s run it hasn’t taken this much time out of its breakneck pacing to actually deliver character moments that work as well as they do here.
Alex (Chyler Leigh) and Kara (Melissa Benoist) await the arrival of their mother, Eliza, for Thanksgiving with a degree of fear – notably Alex, who never seems to be able to live up to her mother’s high expectations, and who sees her mother’s constant praise of Kara as a failing in their relationship. Cat Grant’s motherly relationship with National City shock-jock Leslie Willis (Brit Morgan) comes back to haunt her after the latter is struck by lighting during a rescue by Supergirl, and is transformed into an electrical being of untapped energy. Wynn’s sad family background is alluded to since he has nobody to spend Thanksgiving with, and ends up being invited to Kara’s (if only to get closer to her), while Kara’s possible romantic interest, Jimmy Olsen** is spending time with his ex-fiancée Lucy Lane – yet still finds time to call Kara anyway, the sly dog – and then there’s Hank Henshaw (David Harewood), whose relationship with Kara and Alex is expanded further by a revelation that he’s known about Kara for a lot longer than we thought. A lot longer.
Family dynamics aside, the key selling point in “Livewire” is, well, Livewire, a Superman villain I’ve wanted to see on screen in a convincing manner since forever. Kudos to the Supergirl team for delivering a really cool depiction of Livewire’s ability to use electricity to transport herself, as well as battle Supergirl in the street. While the extent of Livewire’s actual powers sat firmly in “I’m just learning” mode, if the character ever does come back it’s gonna be one hell of a smackdown. It was also enjoyable watching Brit Morgan be a worse version of Cat Grant than Cat Grant, which is interesting considering I actually think this episode features one of Calista Flockhart’s better performances. At least the writers are giving her a few softer edges, relaxing the monotonous bitchiness with a few cracks in the façade, as it were. In previous episodes, she’s been a camp, 1-dimensional character. Here, possibly for the first time, we glimpse vestiges of actual humanity buried beneath the snark.
The episode’s core character moment comes with a confrontation between Alex and Eliza, a strained relationship at best but one sorely tested during the holiday weekend, and as the revelations begin to appear, Chyler Leigh’s development in the role is possibly the best of the season so far; at least her and Kara are no longer the bickering, vaguely antagonistic pairing we’ve had to-date, and this episode goes a long way to explaining why it’s been that way all this time. The onion-layers of subplot continue to unwrap as this series progresses (similarly to Arrow and The Flash, two other Greg Berlanti productions, although I’m yet to be convinced of any specific overarching plot (see The Flash’s use of Harrison Wells’ villainy to act as a motivator for that show’s début season) hidden within the brisk pacing Supergirl continues to enjoy.
At the risk of sounding offhandedly belittling to people who really died this past week, the fact that we know this episode was set to screen a week later than it ultimately did brings with it some crucial plot development from the previous episode. When we left Supergirl the previous week, Jimmy and Lucy had only just re-met following the former’s move to National City, and yet here they are, all cuddling and canoodling – which is going to make next week’s screening of the original episode, “How Does She Do It?”, a little less impactful given we can kinda see how that “cliffhanger” is going to resolve itself. And it’s going to annoy me that the revelation on Hank Henshaw isn’t going to be referred to at all in the rescheduling of “How Does She Do It?”, so we’ll effectively have to wait another week to see that little tidbit start to play out. It’s minor stuff, I know, but if I had to be honest, perhaps had CBS just skipped a week and done a “double episode” a week later, this would have played better to audiences following along.
“Livewire” is a sparkling (heh) episode of Supergirl that jettisons the breakneck pacing of previous episodes in favour of at least a few more minutes of actual character development and plot development. There’s still enough action to fulfil the premise of a super-strong alien punching things a lot, but the heart of the episode involves the “family” conceit that the show has generated a strength for, over the course of barely four episodes.
**yep, still refusing to call him “James”…