Episode Title: “Red Faced”
Original Broadcast Date: 12-1-2015
Control. A well-established trope among the superhero comic fraternity is the constant fear of what happens when heroes lose control of. It’s been a long-running plot device that the comic Batman has a Kryptonite ring hidden in the Bat-cave for the very purpose of stopping Superman should the Man of Steel ever lose control, and need stopping. It was touched upon (very) briefly in Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, and now it’s Supergirl’s turn. After preventing a pair of road-ragers from ploughing through a footpath full of school kids, and inadvertently injuring the drivers before being portrayed as an out-of-control menace (by Maxwell Lord, of all people), Kara needs a bit of release from her pent-up anger; taking it out on a recently arrived military creation codenamed Red Tornado.
Given the propensity for people to fear what they don’t understand, or can’t control, Supergirl was always going to have to tackle the idea that not everybody loves her presence on Earth, least of all not the bullish General Lane (Glen Morshower), who despises Superman and obviously has a thing against aliens on Earth. For Lane, it’s all about control, and he sees the military industrial complex as the ultimate iteration of control; with Supergirl, and to a degree Superman, on Earth, this control is near redundant given their abilities, which makes Lane’s decision to pit the Girl Of Steel against the prototype Red Tornado, a humanoid artificial lifeform, akin to poking a bees nest with a big stick and then blaming the kid next to him. Morshower’s Sam Lane towers over this episode, not in the sense that he dominates it, but of all the subplots going on here, his relationship with Supergirl and the DEO is prime fodder for the series’ development of the young heroine.
Lane’s desire to control things includes his younger daughter, Lucy (Jenna Dewan-Tartum), who happens to be back together with former fiancee Jimmy Olsen (Mehcad Brooks), a fact Lane Sr doesn’t like. He flat out tells Jimmy he doesn’t approve of their relationship, and that he’d do anything to protect his daughters from those he considers “unworthy”. Jimmy takes it in his stride, of course, but a funny scene later on, where he and Kara engage in a little punching-bag venting (funny because Kara uses an elevated car as her “bag”) draws out some character development that’s revealing to all.
Also in frame is Cat Grant’s mother, Katherine, played by the divisive and controversial real-life actress and journalist Joan Juliet Buck. Considering Katherine’s disdain for her daughter, only matched by Cat’s contempt for her mother, it’s as an appropriately on-point piece of casting as I think I’ve ever seen in a serial show; the Grant’s respective needling of each other, and their prickly relationship which would evaporate if it weren’t based on their DNA bond, is a key element to Cat’s eventual maternal bonding moment with Kara after a particularly spectacular blow-up in the CatCo offices. Again, it’s about control: Cat can’t control her mother, and the frustration borne of this leads to confrontation.
Then there’s the villain of the week, the iconic DC character Red Tornado. Played in both human and robotic form by Iddo Goldberg, the Tornado look vastly similar to Marvel’s VISION, although they are vastly different beings. The Tornado’s symbiotic relationship with his creator, Dr T. O. Morrow, isn’t capitalised on (or even explained) anywhere near enough for my liking, although the final battle between Supergirl and Morrow’s creation is one of the best thus far – leastways in terms of giving Kara a chance to absolutely cut loose with her heat vision. In all honesty, though, I felt like the Tornado was underused, and the fate of the character seems over and done with which makes his brief, underused, throwaway appearance a
little lot disappointing.
Overarching subplots involving Hank Henshaw’s relationship to Alex Danvers’ thought-dead father are brough up again, although reveal little more than the fact that Henshaw is still hiding more than he’s revealing. Not to mention his predilection for strolling the corridor of the DEO’s headquarters with his eyes glowing red like some bizarre devil-thing; I’m not entirely sure he’s being careful to keep those secrets secret, you know… And the puzzling idea that the DEO would need to go off base, to visit Maxwell Lord, to get his help to track the AWOL Tornado; why exactly? The series looks to be setting up Alex and Maxwell for a romantic interlude, which will no doubt bring the conflict between them and Kara to a head down the track, but it doesn’t seem genuine, or organic. It feels more like a plot device to further some tension if only to create another episode to handle the inevitable showdown. I don’t buy it, and I don’t like it.
“Red Faced” has plenty going for it in the character development stakes, but loses some points for mishandling the Red Tornado, who is given secondary status when it would have been awesome to see him take centre stage. The arrival of Sam Lane is welcome to spice up the antagonism in such an overt manner, while the shrill camp of Calista Flockhart’s Cat Grant in the opening episodes has mellowed to a more rounded, approachable, and altogether not-dislikeable character with flaws. And it’s nice, finally, to see Supergirl actually cut loose for a change. One gets the sense she’s been holding back until now, but her unresolved anger issues being channelled into battle make her a formidable adversary heading further into the season.