Monday, May 1, 2017

"Alex" Delivers A Smart And Deadly Villain To Supergirl!

The Good: Good character work, Wonderful performances, Excellent sense of tension, Smartly-written for such a stale plot concept
The Bad: Lack of integrity for Lena Luthor.
The Basics: "Alex" raises the bar on Supergirl villains by giving her an enemy who is prepared to do battle against all of the D.E.O. staff and Maggie!

The second season of Supergirl has been plagued by a huge looming problem and as "Alex" begins, it is hard for fans not to believe that the problem is going to stop being implied and rush to the forefront. The second season of Supergirl expanded its cast, adding Mon-El, Lena Luthor, and Maggie Sawyer, while fundamentally altering James Olsen's role. Of the new characters, Lena Luthor is far and away the most interesting new character, but her part has come with the implied threat that Lena must be a villain. The problem is that Katie McGrath has done an incredible job of playing Lena Luthor to make her likable and in a show that utilizes reversals, arguably the smartest thing the show could do would be to allow Lena Luthor to be exactly who she appears to be; a good woman trying to make up for the sins of her deranged brother and mother. Sadly, though, at the outside of "Alex" there is the feeling that Lena is going over to the Dark Side.

At the climax of "Ace Reporter" (reviewed here!), Supergirl took a turn in that direction when a shocked Lena was visited by Rhea. The thing is, Lena being approached by Rhea comes on the heels of her being reassured by Kara Danvers and rescued by Supergirl; Lena has powerful allies and a losing a former boyfriend hardly seems like sufficient trauma to make her malleable to the manipulative alien queen. But, as "Alex" begins, the show does not follow up on that thread right away, it redirects with an Alex Danvers story.

Alex Danvers, to be fair, has had a rough go of the second season of Supergirl. Alex had a good arc early in the season where she came out of the closet and then she and Maggie Sawyer hooked up. Unfortunately, after that, the writers did not seem to know what to do with her - much like they completely lost focus with J'onn J'onzz. "Alex" puts Alex Danvers front and center, but sadly, as a damsel in distress.

Opening with Maggie Sawyer acting as a police negotiator to a bank robbery-turned hostage situation, Supergirl breaks the stalemate by disarming the gunmen. Alex, Maggie, Mon-El and Kara have dinner together and it turns into a heated debate on the nature of vigilantes. When the dinner breaks up, Alex follows Kara and Mon-El out, but is abducted in the process. At L Corp, Rhea visits Lena Luthor where the alien offers Lena matter transformation technology. The next day at Catco, Maggie visits moments before Kara gets a call from someone who knows that she is Supergirl and who wants Peter Thompson (a prisoner in National City) released in exchange for Alex.

Winn figures out that a former classmate of Kara's is Peter's son and Supergirl flies off to confront him. Rick quickly confirms that he has Alex and Supergirl is able to bring him back to the D.E.O. When Supergirl learns how Rick knew her identity, Maggie reasons the ideal way to manipulate him; by bringing his father to him. But Rick quickly sees through the charade and the D.E.O. agents find themselves squarely rooted in square one. Alex digs out her tracker, which pings the D.E.O.'s servers. Supergirl flies out to Alex's location, but that springs a booby trap, filling Alex's cell with water and giving Alex a four-hour death sentence. With time running out, Maggie and Kara desperately try to locate Alex while Alex fights to survive her cell.

"Alex" is a very typical hostage negotiation episode, with the twist of the villain knowing exactly who Supergirl is. The episode makes good use of all of the tools at Supergirl's disposal, including having J'onn J'onzz use his psychic powers on both Peter and Rick. Maggie, Kara and J'onn all participate in interrogations and that aids to the desperate tone of "Alex." Rick is able to recognize J'onn and resist his telepathy and he is characterized as a man who is an expert in planning.

Despite the fairly standard plot of "Alex," the episode does a decent job of amping up the tension and enhancing the various characters in the episode. Rick is surprisingly smart, though he points out beautifully just how thinly Kara has covered her tracks. People who were observant as children with Kara and Alex could easily figure out that Kara is Supergirl and use that knowledge against Kara or anyone in her family. "Alex" illustrates the vulnerability and liability exceptionally well.

The b-plot in "Alex" is initially very satisfying. Lena Luthor and Rhea exchange stories and instantly begin to bond. When Luthor recognizes Rhea as an alien, by having a foreign element in one of the Queen's designs, she cuts ties with Rhea. There is a brilliant moment of tension shortly after that in the episode where there seems the potential that Alex might actually die and Maggie would be left in a place where she is vulnerable enough to go over to Rhea on the Dark Side. When Rhea returns to Lena's side with an earnest plea to work together to make a trans-matter generator, it is hard not to get the sinking feeling in one's stomach when Lena does not immediately ask Rhea what exactly she wants the portal for. The smart money is on teleporting an invasion force to Earth to take Mon-El back or conquer the planet, but Lena again seems written like she is on the verge of temptation just because Kara cannot devote her full focus to one of her phone calls?! Really?!

Supergirl continues strong in "Alex" by both exposing the vulnerabilities of the D.E.O. team and giving Supergirl a chance to shine with her high-minded rhetoric. The episode has a strong life or death struggle that is not resolved by a physical confrontation and that is very refreshing to see played out. Chyler Leigh might get her biggest episode of the season limited to a box for the bulk of the episode, but she does well playing terrified. There is something very unfortunate about Alex's last big moment in the episode, which undermines quite a bit of the high-minded philosophy that preceded it.

One unfortunately predictable character peak and one punch are, sadly, enough to rob "Alex" of perfection. But the episode only misses the highest rating because it mortgages its greatness for one horrifying breach of civil rights and one pathetic tipping point that was so choreographed as to not even be a real reversal.

For other works with abduction scenarios, please check out my reviews of:
"Second Skin" - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
"Grodd Lives" - The Flash
"The Zygon Inversion" - Doctor Who

[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!

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