Supergirl – Building From Season 1

I recently gave my opinions on Supergirl‘s first season (spoiler: generally favorable). As we await a final decision on a second season (the rumor mill is juggling many options), I thought I’d pass the time, put on my writer’s cap (it’s actually more of a rakish bandana) and talk about some of the things that worked and didn’t work to varying degrees with these first twenty episodes and how that can inform developments in season 2. (Hopefully with more parenthetical restraint than this opening paragraph has demonstrated.)

Maxwell Lord

SG-B-001 800The National City version of Lex Luthor was vexing until 0113, “For the Girl Who Has Everything”. On the surface, this vexation was because of his general anti-Supergirl stance. I mean, how dare he hate on our hero. Once we scratch under that public presentation, we find that our annoyance isn’t because of his antagonist agenda, it’s because we were given no context for it. Why was it so personal? Why did it matter to him?

The thing is, it could have been resolved in a line or two. At the tag of episode 0105, “How Does She Do It?”, Max Lord said as Supergirl flew away after confronting him:

            MAX
The fun is just beginning.

What if, instead, he’d said something like:

            MAX
Yeah, no need to stay. Earth has a protector.

It is functionally ambiguous, but it sets up Max’s mindset early in the season. He’s not going after Supergirl because he’s merely anti-alien, he’s gathering the data and creating the tools he needs to vanquish a variety of threats — presumably that includes select humans as well. Because the line is a personal aside, and not grandstanding for an audience, it resonates. It sets him up as being a hero in his own way, or at least his own mind, and not just a bigoted billionaire ass. Now the character becomes both more threatening and more interesting. Imagine how you’d view the episodes that followed differently with no other change than that line.

This was borne out once he effectively became Supergirl’s — I’m hesitant to say ally, let’s allow that he was a helpful non-antagonist for now: “the enemy of my enemy” sort of thing. He was still fervently trying to protect the Earth, but he targeted his resources away from those who weren’t working against that goal. And yet, he still has his own agenda as made evident then General Lane handed over a variety of Fort Rozz artifacts, including an omegahedron, to Lord in the season finale.

This all serves as a cautionary tale for future antagonists: whenever possible, give them enough contextual depth that the audience can comprehend that their motivation is something more than hatred of their judge and sentencer.

Astra and Non

The season-long arc of Kryptonians who were jailed for actions intended to save Krypton trying to use the same methods to “save” Earth was interesting but sabotaged.

SG-B-002 328The first point of sabotage was Astra’s death in 0113. I’m not saying that the death may not have been necessary (for reasons other than Laura Benanti doing a play). I’m still not sure the repercussions of that paid off enough to justify it, but that’s just a matter of taste. The failure was in getting rid of the one enemy who’d actually been fleshed out enough to be interesting. Worse, it left us with Non.

Non was a problem from his introduction. I don’t know if the fault was with written characterization, acting, direction, or what, but it never felt like the character was played right nor given enough depth to even root against.

I don’t think any viewer bought for a minute that he didn’t fancy himself in charge of the whole Myriad shebang. Given that he was a Lieutenant and Astra was a General, he should have been presented as being more clearly subordinate — him being her husband notwithstanding. In fact, he never showed any real respect or emotion about Astra at any point — or if he did it came off as patronizing. Even her funeral and two-week attack moratorium was more pro forma than heartfelt.

Non’s gruff single-mindedness of mission (and fierce determination to never suck on a throat lozenge) made him nothing more than a cardboard, mustache-twirling villain — something set in sharp relief to Astra’s more rounded character — and a wasted opportunity considering how many episodes he was in.

Then there was the problem with the vagueness of the mission. Yes, yes — save the Earth. But to what end? Population subjugation? Again, to what end? Once the world was saved, would they just let everyone be let loose of Myriad’s grip to live happy, productive lives? No war that starts with showiness and fine intentions but lacks a clear end game ever ends well. Lacking that visionary goal, and letting the audience in on it, makes the plan itself a mockery. It doesn’t have to necessarily be a good plan, but it does need to have some reason for being.

Now that Non has been heat-vision-lobotomized, who knows what his next incarnation will be like? Maybe he gets a second chance to become interesting.

One Million Tonnes

SGS1-013 820One of the possible continuity issues revolved around Supergirl’s ability to lift one million tonnes. She did it twice in the first season. The first time was to hoist the key to the Fortress of Solitude which, James explained, was “made of one million tonnes of condensed dwarf star.” Supergirl lifted it without much of an issue. (I won’t even speculate about what that mass would do to the ice it rested on.) Jimmy did also say that Superman told him, “Only a select few can pick it up.” So, perhaps there are other Kryptonian magicks/technologies affecting its pick-up-ability, especially for members of the House of El.

Coincidentally, Fort Rozz was said, by General Lane, to also mass one million tonnes. That one required no small effort on Supergirl’s part to launch it to the heavens. Even J’onn J’onzz seemed astonished that she did it. Perhaps the general was just pulling a number out of his hat. Still, one million tonnes ain’t nothing; it is about the same as almost 2400 ISSs or about 10 Nimitz- or Ford-class supercarriers. Say what you will, the Girl of Steel can lift.

Lucy, Lucy, Lucy…and That Other DEO Agent

Lucy Lane was almost never not a problem. There may be a few targets to point a finger at, but the most obvious issue was the character was never much more than a plot device. Both personally and professionally, Lucy was all over the place. The fact is, this character is probably the most replaceable one of the roster, even more than some supporting characters.

SG-B-003 800I’d argue that Agent Vasquez, who has been consistent support for Supergirl at the DEO since the pilot episode, was the one more deserving of Supergirl’s hug after she recovered from the spacing of Fort Rozz than Lucy was.

Vasquez becoming a more visible friend of Supergirl might actually be the way to go as this has been a relationship that has quietly grown through the course of the season. This was underscored in 0117, “Manhunter”, when she employed subterfuge to give Supergirl access to her earpiece so as to listen in on Alex’s interrogation. And even later, once the dust had settled, she mentioned that there was a bank being robbed…you know, just in case Supergirl might want to tend to that.

The Closet of Solitude

SG-B-004 800In 0102, “Stronger Together”, Alex presents her sister with a gift: a room where she can talk to her mother’s AI. It’s in a room with a hand scanner whose door “will only open for you.” Well…apparently not so much. People entered the room without Kara’s presence in 0107, “Human For a Day” as well as in 0113. While it’s perfectly reasonable for Alex to have programmed in a “back door” to allow access to someone other than Kara (namely, her), why even lie about it? Kara was bound to find out at some point. That it was only five episodes later is kind of embarrassing.

A Myriad of Hope

A major opportunity was missed with the resolution of Myriad, but that was hardly its only problem.

SG-B-005 800Ostensibly, people broke away from Myriad’s thrall once the message of hope seeped into their mind. While suggested, it wasn’t firmly stated that the pathway was via the analog signal generated at Cat’s old broadcast station. It wasn’t just about the pictures on screens, it was about riding the Myriad signal to enter minds far enough to get them to pay attention. This explains why Supergirl imploring Winn and James in person didn’t get through. Unfortunately, it doesn’t explain why Eliza’s in-person pleas to Alex did. Yeah, small little continuity hiccup there.

What was missed was a call-back to an earlier episode, the oft-cited 0113. There, Kara was in a fantasy created by a parasite. Her only escape was for Alex to wend her way in and nudge Kara so she’d find her own way out. That was, essentially, the same solution for Myriad: Supergirl wends her way in and nudges people with a message of hope so they will then find their own way out. With two clear examples, it’s clear that Myriad was built to be an electronic analog to the Black Mercy. It seems like a very (evil) Kryptonian solution. Unfortunately, the connection between the two was never made on-screen. Because of that, it made the solution seem overly convenient (the word most used in the forums was “cheesy”).

James “Jimmy” Olsen

James has been a very pleasant surprise. Not because of the attempts at romance. Those have fallen as flat as a pancake under a one million tonne…well…anything. What makes James sing is that he’s being written as Jimmy Olsen. With only minor changes, the character could be acted by an 80s-era Marc McClure (aka that decade’s Jimmy Olsen). That he’s being played by someone who, in an earlier age, would be immortalized in marble makes it all the better. It subtly twists the audience’s expectations without going off book. Casting Mehcad for the role was inspired.

The Future

As I mentioned at the start, Supergirl is currently in renewal limbo. Will it stay on CBS? Will it get a full episode order? Will it move to the CW? Will production move from L.A. to Vancouver? Will some other network pick it up? (All are current rumors.) While a couple of those could affect the stories that get told, there’s no reason for me not to put out a wish list.

The show has a solid foundation that can definitely be helped with a little extra character development, especially with the antagonists. Solidifying continuity (or perceived continuity) should always be a goal. Making each story seem like a chapter of a coherent whole is always a plus. While too many call-backs start to make the show impenetrable to casual viewers, some well-chosen ones help keep the larger story tied together.

I like having overlapping short-run story arcs. The episodes have no need to be contiguous, as the Myriad story wasn’t, but two-to-five episode arcs allow for better development of the villains and (hopefully) more care with the diabolical plans and their resolutions — even partnerships. Of course a few standalones are fine, but I don’t think the show can rely on them at this point. Having limited arcs also avoids being stuck in a protracted story that might not entice the audience or has to be stretched to fill the demands of the season. Shorter arcs also grant flexibility regardless of the ultimate number of episodes that get ordered.

Obviously there needs to be a little bit of continuing character development for all the principles. Even something as minor as where does Alex live when she’s off-duty and not at Kara’s apartment adds a useful dollop of texture.

SG-B-006 800I’d especially like to see some exploration of the Kryptonian culture that Kara lost. I’ve made no secret that I’d like to see the Kryptonian pod that landed at the end of the finale being filled with precious Kryptonian artifacts. Some would no doubt be religious, some would have scientific value, some might even be terrifyingly dangerous. Once known, any number of Indiana Jones types (Max Lord, included), governments, and aliens could create a lot of trouble for the last daughter of the great House of El and her family, friends, and allies.

As an extension of this, I wouldn’t mind bringing up one bit of Supergirl lore that they haven’t quite focused on: her intelligence. Comics-wise, she has genius-level intelligence and is particularly adept with computers and STEM subjects; i.e. she should make Winn look like a freshman in computer science. Her lack of prowess to this point can easily be written off as her having been so encouraged to just be normal that she doesn’t try to attract attention to what she’s really capable of — especially since she already has adequate help.

I could, of course, keep on speculating. (My history shows that I can speculate with a vengeance.) It’s a bit early to put too much effort into it. What I do wish is for there a to a little more focus on the details and long-term plans of the saga so the show has a high bar for internal consistency. It’s not a lot, but like that suggested line above from Max and the Myriad-Black Mercy connection show, it doesn’t need a lot to make an impact. Thing is, it’s hard to do that if you don’t have a strong vision of the finish line. As long as the creative team does that, I think we could be in for a fun flight.

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