Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Awkward Thanksgiving, Awesome Supergirl Villain: "Livewire" Is A First-Season Hit!

The Good: Good realism for the family relationship, Special effects, Good villain, Character development
The Bad: Somewhat predictable plot, Chemistry between two of the leads
The Basics: Supergirl introduces its first big villain of the week as "Livewire" makes her debut in a spectacular episode.

In its first season, Supergirl got off to a rough start and the first few episodes were tough to get through. Before it hit its stride, Supergirl was an aimless super hero show that paid lip service to its female characters by pointing out time and again that they were women. The reason Supergirl survived its first season and managed to grow a fan base was because - for as erratic as the show is - it had some truly amazing episodes that transcended the somewhat stale superhero genre. The first knock-out episode of the series was "Livewire."

"Livewire" is the Supergirl Thanksgiving episode and it is the rare episode in the superhero drama that completely nails the realism of an uncomfortable interpersonal relationship. "Livewire," on its surface, is a Super-Villain Of The Week episode of Supergirl, but has a strong b-plot focused on the troubling way that Eliza Danvers treated her daughter Alex while growing up and the effects that she had on developing Alex. "Livewire" is preoccupied by illustrating the effects of both neglect of a child and giving a minor an adult level of responsibility. Fortunately for those who have experienced or witnessed those types of abuse, "Livewire" manages to not let Eliza Danvers off the mat; instead, Alex has the moral high ground and she keeps it for the episode without simply resolving her rightful anger and disappointment within the hour episode.

Supergirl is at the DEO when an alien prisoner gets loose. She has to subdue the alien while Alex waits for Kara to return home, where Alex frets about the impending arrival of their mother. National City's shock jock Leslie Willis begins criticizing Supergirl and, because she holds Willis's contract, an offended Cat Grant is able to transfer her to reporting on traffic from the CatCo traffic helicopter. Alex, in the meantime, is convinced that Eliza is quietly furious at her for allowing Kara to become Supergirl. When the traffic helicopter is caught in terrible weather, Supergirl attempts to rescue Willis, but she is struck by lightning during the rescue, transforming Willis.

Leaving the hospital, Willis is accosted by a jerk and when she inadvertently electrocutes him, she begins to explore her abilities. Transforming herself into pure electricity, Willis disappears into the power lines. At Kara's apartment, Eliza, Winn Schott, and Alex have a painfully awkward Thanksgiving, which includes Kara leaving the table to take a phone call from James Olsen. Somewhat drunk, Alex comes out to her mother about being a DEO agent. Kara is called into the CatCo offices to help with a technical issue when Willis manifests as Livewire. With the help of DEO technology, Supergirl and Cat Grant team up to thwart the villain.

Supergirl continues the trend of characters in various comic book franchises of having troubling relationships with their parents. Alex knows her mother well-enough to recognize that Eliza does not approve of Kara being in the public eye. Alex is held responsible for Kara's actions and seeing Eliza critical of her is tough to watch, but incredibly accurate for anyone who has an uncomfortable relationship with an emotionally aloof parent.

"Livewire" features a flashback scene that fleshes out the relationship of the young Kara and Alex and Eliza and Jeremiah Danvers. Eliza and Jeremiah have a troublingly cold relationship. Helen Slater and Dean Cain have no on-screen chemistry to make their relationship believable. Ironically, Malina Weissman and Jordan Mazarati have far better on-screen chemistry as the young Kara and Alex to play a realistic pair of young sisters. The flashback scenes also reveal how Hank Henshaw met the Danvers's and the episode fleshes out the backstories well.

While the villain of the "Livewire" is not initially incredible, Brit Morgan does well with the material she is given. The episode instead fleshes out the characters of Alex Danvers, Eliza Danvers, and Cat Grant remarkably well. In fact, none of the characters have bad arcs in "Livewire" - it is in this episode that Jeremiah Danvers is shown making the noble sacrifice for his family and Winn Schott tells Kara that his father is in prison. All of the characters are given something to do in "Livewire."

Alex Danvers, however, is the big winner of "Livewire." Alex Danvers, up until now in the season, has been a loyal operative of the Department Of Extranormal Operations (National City's anti-extraterrestrial government organization) and that was essentially a big twist for her character early on. She has been working behind-the-scenes to keep Kara safe and off the radar of those who hunt aliens and when Kara comes out as Supergirl, she brings Kara into the fold, allowing her to remain autonomous on Earth. Alex Danvers, however, is a far more interesting character than that by the fact that she has structured her entire life around keeping Kara safe. While that might seem like an honorable goal, in "Livewire" the origins of that characterization are revealed with much more destructive implications. Alex Danvers was charged with a parental level of responsibility when she was just a little girl and that, appropriately, messed her up. She has spent her adult life working on honoring her mother's edict without any positive reinforcement or affection from her mother. Alex Danvers is realistically screwed up, even if she has hid that fairly well up until this point. Chyler Leigh plays the revelations of how Alex was groomed quite well. Leigh plays the part with realism and while the sense of reversal is profound, Leigh plays the character with a consistency that never makes the revelations feel abrupt or unreal.

Cat Grant finally moves beyond being a monolithically "bitchy boss" character in "Livewire." In "Livewire," Cat Grant starts to see some of the consequences of her actions - like with Leigh's performance, Calista Flockhart manages to sell the transitions without feeling like they betray the core character. Grant fostered Willis's career to benefit her company without considering the larger ramifications of Willis's destructive nature of her broadcasts. Cat Grant's understanding of the consequences of her actions are balanced by Grant having no clue who Winn Schott is and her having no real understanding of Kara's backstory. The result is a character arc within the episode that feels very organic and not at all forced.

Helen Slater and Melissa Benoist are good in "Livewire." The two play their relationship as that of a protective mother and a daughter who is tired of watching her sister get treated poorly. Slater plays Eliza with a sense of (apparently) benign overprotectiveness. Eliza is not overtly abusive and in the course of the episode, her daughters standing up to her becomes a wake-up call for her to be honest with them. Benoist plays Kara with a realistic sense of concern. In "Livewire," Kara transitions from thinking Alex is being somewhat paranoid about how Eliza treats her to coming around and having the strength of character to stand up for her sister.

While "Livewire" has moments where it falls into the usual super hero conceits - taking down the titular character is painfully easy in the episode thanks to a macguffin from the DEO - the character-driven aspects of the episode are the dominant and most successful portions of the episode. The result is the first hit episode of Supergirl!

For other works with Brit Morgan, please visit my reviews of:
"We Can Be Heroes" - Supergirl
True Blood - Season 4
True Blood - Season 3


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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