Episode Title: Human For A Day
Original Airdate: 12-7-15
Trust. When you have it, it’s a powerful ally. When you don’t… well, that’s bad. Following the events of “Red Faced”, Kara’s powers are gone, and both she and her sister Alex (Chyler Leigh) still have issues of trust regarding DEO head Hank Henshaw (David Harewood) and his history with their father. When an earthquake strikes National City, a superpowered alien named Jemm (Charles Halford) escapes DEO custody, and Maxwell Lord (Peter Facinelli) goes on a PR rampage undermining Supergirl’s lack of presence in the aftermath. Without powers, and facing a crisis of confidence, Kara (Melissa Benoist) and Jimmy Olsen (Mehcad Brooks) discover that sometimes it takes more than super strength, heat vision or the ability to fly to be a hero.
Early in 2015, the Superman comics unleashed a new power for the Man of Steel – the ability to produce what came to be known as a “solar flare”, where he expends all the solar energy within his body – and it appears this little nugget tugged at the producers of Supergirl, who quickly obtained the OK to use a similar scenario within the series. Supergirl’s fight with Red Tornado last episode saw her expend all her energy through her heat vision, so she gets to spend some time as a relatively normal human being. Naturally, she almost instantly picks up a flu, has her arm broken in the city’s earthquake, and can’t save a man critically injured in the same incident. It’s a moment of catharsis for Kara: Benoist handles the confusion and sense of helplessness with a real sense of aching humanity, the kind of emotion people feel when tragedy they cannot prevent arrives.
The romantic triangle between Kara, James and Winn, the latter who seems to transition from enthusiastic puppy-love to a more mature conciliatory acceptance that he’ll never “have” Kara’s affections in that way, is stepped up a notch here, as Winn walks in on Jimmy and Kara embracing (although they aren’t “entangled”, more than it’s merely a friendly consolation) and immediately jumps to the wrong conclusion. Winn’s sense of loyalty to Jimmy’s relationship with Lucy is indicative of just how thoughtful his character is, and it gives Jeremy Jordan a moment to actually act rather than blather about as his role typically demands.
As Maxwell Lord decries the city’s dependence on Supergirl to save them from all its problems, Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart) jerries up a remote broadcast from her tower to inspire the denizens of the metropolis to “be like Supergirl” even though they don’t have her powers. The difference between Lord and Grant is stark – at least Grant doesn’t give a crap what people think of her to her face, and she doesn’t care about hurting people’s feelings, while Lord is all about spin and PR. He detests Supergirl’s presence in National City, and actively reminds people not to rely on an “alien” for aide – it’s exceptionally xenophobic, which, considering the similar fears surrounding certain religious elements in the United States at the minute, is about as pertinent as this show has ever been.
While Kara is battling her own self doubt, Alex and Henshaw are trapped in the DEO’s underground bunker with Jemm on the loose. Jemm, for those versed with DC mythology, is a vaguely associated superpowered Martian similar to resident Justice League stalwart J’onn J’onzz, which makes the episodes jaw-dropping revelation (it’s about five minutes from the end….and nope, no spoilers) involving Alex, Henshaw, and truth behind Alex’s father’s death a real Oh Emm Gee moment for hardcore DC fans. In fact, for those following DC’s current plans for its cinematic legacy, this episode’s revelation is simply spectacular, and bests anything accomplished by both Arrow or The Flash, for that matter.
Then there’s the obligatory end-of-episode stinger, a cliffhanger to launch into the next episode. All season I’ve been awaiting the return of Kara’s Kryptonian aunt, Astra, who has designs of revenge that seem to have become waylaid somewhere between her previous appearance in the show’s second episode, and her return here. Although I hesitate to suggest that Astra’s sucker-punch return is an anticlimax compared to the Danvers/Henshaw/Jemm Reveal Bomb, it nevertheless sparks renewed interest in just how physically challenged Kara will be against her soon-to-be deadliest nemesis. While I guess the overarching plan for Astra is yet to be fully revealed, there has been almost no build-up to her existence on the fringes of Supergirl’s activities since before this episode began, so the reveal of her arrival back in National City kinda feels like “well, we have to have somebody come and challenge Kara again”. I’m good for a surprise and all (cue King Shark a few weeks back on The Flash) but Astra’s a villain who deserves build-up, not just being thrown at the screen because of…well, writers.
The issue of trust is core to “Human For a Day” (it’s funny, but Kara is actually powerless for around 72 hours, so not quite the day the title specifies), and with both Kara searching for her powers and Alex’s issues of paternal obscurity with Henshaw, the emotional centre of the episode is one of the strongest thus far in the show’s run. It’s by no means perfect, and Supergirl’s brisk pacing again limits just how much time is spent on the underlying aspects of each story point, but the balance between character and action is starting to find a nice rhythm. Oh, and many kudos for finally giving us the season’s first “school bus filled with kids about to drive off a collapsed bridge only to be saved by Supergirl” moment, because that was nice (if too brief) to see.