Monday, November 21, 2016

Cyborg Superman At Last! Supergirl Visits "The Darkest Place!"

The Good: Wonderful character development, Engaging storylines, Decent ethics, Awesome effects
The Bad: Introduces a number of elements without paying them off well (a lot of blood and underuse of Cyborg Superman!)
The Basics: Supergirl goes into "The Darkest Place" with its full cast and manages to tell a wonderful story without it seeming stupidly cluttered!

Since the beginning of Supergirl, the moment Hank Henshaw first appeared on screen, DC Comics fans began to geek out. There was absolutely no reason to use Hank Henshaw as a character in Supergirl unless the Cyborg Superman would eventually pop up. After all, Hank Henshaw is a distinct character in the DC Comics pantheon and putting him into Supergirl without ever paying off the potential of that character would have been an entirely needless waste. Supergirl does not keep fans waiting very long as early in the second season, the Cyborg Superman finally appear! The episode is "The Darkest Place" and introducing Cyborg Superman on the heels of Metallo and Parasite is a fairly logical progression of Supergirl villains adapted from the Superman mythos. "The Darkest Place" manages to introduce the Cyborg Superman while utilizing the full cast of Supergirl surprisingly well in continuing the arcs that put all of the characters in the show in play.

Given that "Changing" (reviewed here!) ended with Cadmus capturing Mon-El, it is pretty predictable that "The Darkest Place" follows right up on the cliffhanger left by the prior episode. It is impossible to reasonably discuss "The Darkest Place" without some references as to where "Changing" left off; between the Mon-El cliffhanger and the revelation of the identity of the mysterious Cadmus operative, "Changing" was heavy on last-act reversals. "The Darkest Place" follows up on those reversals and continues to develop the characters and storylines the previous episode left dangling.

Twenty-four hours before she is thrown through a wall by Hank Henshaw, Kara and her friends are out at the alien bar when she expresses some doubts about Guardian and his place in National City. Winn and James Olsen disagree with Alex and Kara about Guardian's trustworthiness. Mon-El makes an escape attempt from Cadmus custody, but when he sees J'onn J'onnz threatened by the director of Cadmus, he willingly goes back to his cell. It is not, actually, J'onnz that he sees, though as J'onnz is at the DEO, where he is recovering from his wounds from Parasite. When the Guardian appears to kill a suspect, James Olsen clashes with Snapper Carr about the Guardian's stance as a hero in National City.

In trying to clear his name, Olsen suits up as The Guardian to stop a drug deal and he is confronted by the gun-toting killer who took out his prior suspect. Supergirl is headed to apprehend The Guardian when she is contacted by Cadmus. Arriving at the Cadmus facility to rescue Mon-El, Supergirl encounters Hank Henshaw. In the fight with him, Supergirl discovers that Henshaw is a cyborg who has reflexes and strength about equal to hers. Captured by Cadmus and weakened by Lillian Luthor after Mon-El's life is put in jeopardy, Supergirl is subjected to tests designed to give Cadmus her blood. While Winn and Olsen figure out who the doppelganger is, Alex and J'onnz realize what has been done to J'onnz. In the ensuing fight, J'onn J'onnz has to make peace with his past while Kara comes face to face with someone from her own past!

Alex does not simply return to the closet in "The Darkest Place," which is nice. The tension between her and Maggie, who does not want a romantic relationship with Alex given that she is "fresh off the boat," is well-executed. Not neglecting Alex or her reasonable feelings of being led on by Maggie is a good use of continuity for Alex's character arc. So, when Alex has to turn to Maggie for a favor, the conflict between them reaches a very interesting boiling point that plays in an interesting way throughout "The Darkest Place."

Similarly, having J'onn J'onnz wrestling with the consequences of his blood transfusion from the prior episode is handled in a compelling way. J'onnz is experiencing hallucinations of his family after getting a transfusion from a white martian and it tracks well that he does not instantly recognize the symbolism of the clues his visions are giving him. The conflict between J'onn J'onnz and the white martian is handled with both surprising maturity - the white martian is not monolithically evil - and with an awesome special effects sequence for the inevitable fight.

Winn Schott remains delightfully human in "The Darkest Place." Schott folds like a cheap card table to Alex and that continues to make his character watchable and relatable. Lillian Luthor is presented as a compelling villain for the first time in "The Darkest Place" as her backstory is more explicitly spelled out.

One of the issues with the Superman franchise is that Superman has become virtually invincible. Supergirl gets around that in "The Darkest Place" by providing a mechanism by which Kara Zor-El essentially becomes human by having her powers drained organically. Having a weakness other than Kryptonite is a good way to develop Supergirl to keep her compelling for the television series. "The Darkest Place" executes the idea that Supergirl can willingly drain her powers well, which keeps the idea that Kara is not invincible palpable and real.

"The Darkest Place" does an excellent job of telling a story while putting a number of character and story threads in play at the same time. The episode finds the perfect balance of humor and action and the fight sequences are legitimately awesome (who would have thought Guardian could carry a cool fight sequence?!). The introduction of a larger arc for J'onn J'onnz, the mention of the Medusa project and seeds of Cadmus experimenting on Supergirl are all handled well. Even Mon-El developing a clear romantic attachment to Kara is well-delivered, as is the potential in Alex and Maggie's friendship/potential romance.

The performances in "The Darkest Place" are good, the special effects are wonderful (which is saying something when it causes the viewer to wince when a CG-character is smacked in the head!), and the infusion of higher ethics into the story make for a surprisingly solid episode of Supergirl!

For other works directed by Glen Winter, please visit my reviews of:
"The Adventures Of Supergirl" - Supergirl
"Pilot" - Legends Of Tomorrow
"Trajectory" - The Flash

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Supergirl - The Complete Second Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the sophomore season of the Kryptonian superheroine here!


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

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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