Supergirl S:01 E:04

Episode Title: How Does She Do It?

Original Airdate: 11-23-2015

Stretching yourself. The great superhero conundrum – who to save first – blossoms in this, the fourth episode of Supergirl. It’s a classic comic-book plot device: when a vengeful ex-employee of National City’s resident billionaire industrialist and Steve Jobs clone, Maxwell Lord (Peter Facinelli), goes on a bombing rampage, bringing Supergirl into the fight, she must make the choice between saving hundreds of people on a speeding train, or thousands at the city’s airport. Kara’s romantic interests peg up a notch with the dynamic between herself, fellow CatCo employee Jimmy Olsen (Mehcad Brooks), and Olsen’s ex-fiancée Lucy Lane (Jenna Dewan-Tatum) , and also an infatuated young son of her boss, Cat Grant. Oh, and the penny finally drops – Maxwell Lord is being set up as this series’ Lex Luthor.

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After being held back a week due to the tragic terrorist events in Paris on November 13th, “How Does She Do It?” deals with a city being terrorised by one of Maxwell Lord’s former employees, using bombs to spread panic through the streets. Lord, considering the Government (in the form of DEO agents Alex Danvers and Hank Henshaw, who pose as FBI Agents) no help at all, resolves to try and fix the problem himself, although inevitably he must rely on Supergirl when public safety is threatened during the episode’s climactic bombs-on-a-train-and-airport finale. The episode also focuses on the relationship between Jimmy and Kara, and Jimmy and Lucy, with as much unsaid between them as what is specifically within the dripping wet dialogue.

If “Livewire’s” momentary slowing of the show’s pacing allowed us to really get a handle on these characters, then “How Does She Do It?” ramps back up again, a breathless, breakneck episode filled with twisting subplots and character beats that just manage to breathe within the context of a 40-minute broadcast without being swamped by the admittedly broad-canvas scope of the villain’s plan. The episode chronologically before this one, “Fight Or Flight”, concluded with Lucy Lane arriving in National City and blindsiding Kara somewhat, and hinted that Hank Henshaw wasn’t entirely the human being he seemed, is given its pay-off in this ep, as Henshaw’s powers are given breadth, and Lucy Lane’s characterisation is brought to the forefront (in the previously broadcast episode, “Livewire”, we see a reunited Jimmy and Lucy heading off for Thanksgiving holidays, all happy, meaning we’re catching up a bit here).

I think Supergirl is still struggling to find its romantic feet, if you will: Kara’s unsaid but entirely unsubtle infatuation with Jimmy is like watching a puppy salivate over a bone it cannot have (and yes, there’s a Freudian element to that statement), while Winn Schott (Jeremy Jordan, possibly trying to find the right kind of love, dontcha know – little joke for 80’s kids, there)  pines for Kara in a way that’s bordering on creepy. The character dynamic between the trio isn’t quite as strong as it needs to be to make all the angst work beyond simplistic school-yard crush stuff, leaving much of Supergirl’s interpersonal wrangling feeling a tad undercooked. Worst offender is poor Mehcad Brooks’ Jimmy, who’s relationship with Lucy Lane is less clear now than it was before I watched the episode, and the ep does give the pair’s back-story some solid screen-time. Brooks’ Jimmy just feels a little emasculated here, which goes against what I thought the character was about when he first appeared on the scene. Anyway, the romantic love-triangle aspect of the episode will satisfy the teenage crowd demographic, I wager.

Where the episode truly shines is whenever Melissa Benoist is wearing the suit, and is flying around National City doing her thing. From saving people inside a a collapsing building, to chasing down a drone, to stopping an out-of-control train, Supergirl doesn’t seem to slow down at all here, fulfilling her duties in providing the multitude of competing parties seeking to discover more about here with plenty of new material. Key to it is Maxwell Lord, who, in a scene at the end of the episode, finally starts to reveal his true colours, and as I said at the start, it’s a full Lex Luthor work-over. I half expected some Machiavellian cackle to accompany his conversation with Supergirl, but it never eventuated. The subplot involving Cat Grant’s young son, Carter, is short-sheeted in its impact overall – the kid’s a plot device and lacks cohesive characterisation (as you’d expect given he’s barely in this episode, despite providing a crucial element of emotional investment for Kara throughout) and I hope he comes back at some point, if only to provide his absent mother (Cat herself is out of National City collecting some award) with developmental ballast that’s actually intriguing.

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The effects and use of stuntwork is top-notch here, although obviously never able to reach feature film levels; Benoist looks comfy in the suit, and the effects team do a great job giving her heat vision, x-ray vision (works a treat, that does) and widening the scope of the show’s relatively small-scale focus to the entire city – a speeding train, the kind in need of rescue as a clichéd superhero device, is ultra fast and difficult to stop, and the deft shot selection provides not only a sense of genuine tension but also legitimate spectacle when the sequence kicks into gear. The episode’s primary antagonist is limited to a bunch of double-speak MacGuffins about a sick kid, before being written out in a blaze of glory, leaving much of the story weight to land solidly on both Benoist, Chyler Leigh and, in a surprise, Peter Facinelli. Facinelli ain’t no Lex Luthor, no matter how slimy he tries to be (he was a better asshole in She’s All That than he is here, at least so far) and the revelation that he’s going to try and usurp Supergirl in the public’s favour will cause more problems down the line – although exactly how remains to be seen.

With five broadcast episodes now in the can, Supergirl’s blistering pacing doesn’t seem like slowing down any time soon. While such pacing doesn’t really allow for a genuine bond between audience and the supporting cast, Benoist’s charming central performance and anchoring presence throughout provides enough energy and fun to make it all seem like sugary candy-floss. Entirely upright, always bright and flavoured with just enough mystery seeded throughout to keep audiences coming back, “How Does She Do It?” doesn’t answer the question as much as it asks a bunch more at the same time.

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