Monday, January 30, 2017

Victims And The Weaknesses Of Villainy Make "We Can Be Heroes" Great Television!


The Good: Acting, Character arcs, Morals, Special effects, Plot pacing
The Bad: Special effects budget guts the realism of a key moment!
The Basics: "We Can Be Heroes" is the best episode Supergirl has done so far and it carries a timeless message of tolerance and forgiveness.


When it comes to television these days, despite how much I review, the way I know what genre shows are actually good is entirely in the anticipation. Supergirl is one of only two shows I find myself looking forward to on a weekly basis, which is quite a surprise even to me! I was not initially grabbed by Supergirl and it is not a show that I have any real attachment to based upon the source material or its relationship with Superman comics. Despite that, on its own, Supergirl has managed to become a show Iook forward to, which I realized as I sat down to "We Can Be Heroes."

"We Can Be Heroes" follows on "Supergirl Lives" (reviewed here!) and the effects of that episode resonate into the new episode. After all, "Supergirl Lives" found Mon-El learning a Very Important Lesson after he and Kara heroically led a rescue effort on a distant moon, where they saved a number of human slaves. At the same time, Alex's relationship with Maggie got stronger and Winn Schott suddenly became active in the field, despite getting punched in the face multiple times. "We Can Be Heroes" picks up the momentum of the various plotlines. In addition to dealing with everything that was already on the narrative plate for Supergirl, "We Can Be Heroes" marks the return of the first season villain Live Wire.

Mon-El begins his training in earnest with Kara, where he learns that he is still not careful or trained enough to truly protect everyone who might need it. On the streets of National City, Guardian gets wounded taking out thugs and both he and Winn start to suffer from the effects of working long nights. In her DEO jail cell, M'gann M'orzz begins to suffer nightmares and flashbacks about the white martians before she inadvertently breaks out of the cell. Elsewhere, Livewire is being counseled by Dr. Hampton, where she shows no remorse for her past crimes and she is broken out by a guard and an inmate. Kara arrives, frazzled, while Alex reveals to J'onn that M'gann is in a coma and dying . . . and only J'onn can save her.

When Livewire inevitably attacks, Supergirl and Mon-El step up to save police officers that she has cornered. In stopping her and her zombie thug, Guardian is wounded and his identity is finally revealed to Kara. When Kara confronts James Olsen, Olsen stands up for himself and warns Kara against relying upon Mon-El. But Livewire's escape is soon revealed to be something else and Kara is compelled to find her to rescue her, while J'onn steps up to try to save M'gann.

J'onn J'onzz's arc in "We Can Be Heroes" is a compelling one. J'onzz is faced with his worst enemy in the form of a white martian and Supergirl is a smart enough show to a level of rhetorical intelligence to satisfy viewers. The white martians are analogous to Nazis and the character of M'gann M'orzz on Supergirl is the character who essentially makes the argument that not all Germans in the 1930s and 40s were Nazis; that the place and time - even species - of one's birth does not determine their philosophy. M'orzz was a sympathizer to the green martians and deplored the genocidal tendencies of the white martian regime. J'onzz's arc in "We Can Be Heroes" has him slowly realizing that not all white martians are bad and that hatred is not enough of a motivation to keep going on.

"We Can Be Heroes" illustrates the effects of truly great acting in the story as two (mostly) supporting characters are given a somewhat bland exposition scenes and David Harewood and Sharon Leal pull off the critical scene amazingly well. The episode also illustrates how television special effects are truly limited. "We Can Be Heroes" has a key scene between two martians and in an ideal world where the project had a real and significant budget, the make-up and CG effects would be invested in to make the two martians look and feel entirely real. Instead, we get two human actors playing martians looking like humans and it actually does take something out of the scene.

Winn Schott opens his portion of "We Can Be Heroes" in a delightfully realistic way. Schott has no super powers and neither does James Olsen, so of course they would begin to feel real fatigue working as much as they do. Schott is frazzled and obsesses on having to make Mon-El a costume and his manic outburst at the DEO afterward is well-executed. Jeremy Jordan might be given a wide array of emotions to play in "We Can Be Heroes" that are somewhat erratic and occasionally annoying to watch, but he plays Winn's range very well! Winn's arc is flawed and very human, which is refreshing to see in an occasionally fantastic series like Supergirl.

Brit Morgan is surprisingly good as Livewire in "We Can Be Heroes." Morgan has great physical performances in "We Can Be Heroes;" there is a moment when she lolls her head and sticks out her tongue while talking that masterfully aids in the characterization of Livewire. Her unsettling performance is contrasted nicely by Sharon Leal and Melissa Benoist's more subtle and reserved acting.

"We Can Be Heroes" misses a minor opportunity for expanding the Earth of Supergirl into the full Berlantiverse by introducing Dr. Hampton; the role of a scientist interrogating Livewire could have been performed by Amanda Waller and made for a real geek out moment. Fortunately, Supergirl does not miss out on the opportunity to develop Kara and Mon-El. Kara is smart enough to recognize that Mon-El has some romantic notions toward her and the episode does not drag out that idea, but it manages to confront it in a very mature way (soundtrack in the scene notwithstanding).

The minutiae in "We Can Be Heroes" is not enough to rob it of a very strong recommendation. "We Can Be Heroes" is the high-water mark to date for Supergirl; the episode is smart, funny, mature, well-directed, amazingly well-performed and tells a good story in a compelling way. It is hard to ask more from network television . . . or television at all!

For other Supergirl works, please visit my reviews of:
2016 Supergirl Hallmark ornament
Supergirl, Volume 1: Last Daughter Of Krypton
Superman/Batman: Supergirl By Jeph Loeb

9.5/10

For other television season and episode reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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