Thursday, September 28, 2017

Supergirl Bites Off More Than It Can Chew In "How Does She Do It?"

The Good: Development of Max Lord, Moments of fleshing out James Olsen, Plot pacing
The Bad: Melodramatic romantic subplots, Somewhat obvious plot progression, Forced character conflicts
The Basics: "How Does She Do It?" diminishes Supergirl some by mixing a smart series of antagonist revelations with a cheap series of romantic subplots and a generic "women must want kids" theme.

One of the unfortunate aspects of the first season of Supergirl was that the show was erratic, in terms of quality. The show oscillated between the worst soap opera conceits and a generic Villain Of The Week (usually aliens) plot that has become the bane of most super hero dramas. Coming off the stunningly good and smart episode "Livewire" (reviewed here!), Supergirl struggled to maintain the sense of originality and character complexity with "How Does She Do It?"

"How Does She Do It?" quickly gets mired in the melodramas of James Olsen's relationship with Lucy Lane and Kara babysitting Cat Grant's son. There is something pretty overtly sexist about the first major female superhero in the DC Television Universe getting saddled with episodes that focus on the most banal romantic relationships and have the super heroine stuck babysitting. Cat Grant, up until now, a strong independent feminist icon type character, is reduced to another female stereotype - she is the woman who "has it all" and in the process of bothering to have a child (for no clear, particular, reason) is a terrible, neglectful parent.

Supergirl is blissfully flying around National City when she is targeted by a drone, which she brings down and returns to the DEO. Hank Henshaw denies that the DEO developed the advanced drone and they begin investigating the origins of the drone. When Cat Grant wins the Siegel Prize - the first time she has beaten Lois Lane - Kara volunteers to take care of Grant's son. When Supergirl rescues a building from a bomb, a drone spies upon her and evaluates her capabilities. Alex Danvers figures out that the drone Supergirl disabled came from Lord Industries, so she and Henshaw investigate Lord's company, posing as FBI agents.

When a routine sweep of Lord Industries finds a bomb, about to go off, Alex calls in Supergirl and while Kara is able to get the bomb outside of National City, Supergirl is wounded. Rescued by Henshaw, Kara witnesses his mysterious eyes while she is being healed in a tanning bed. At CatCo, Winn Schott bonds with Grant's son, Carter, who has a crush on Supergirl. Eager to get out of the "friend zone" with Olsen, Kara inadvertently advocates for Lucy Lane. When Max Lord goes ahead with launching his environmentally-safe, super-fast train, Supergirl is sent to prevent sabotage. But when a bomb threat is called in to the airport and Carter ends up on Max Lord's train, Kara is torn between the two targets.

At its best moments, "How Does She Do It?" is a decent episode that slowly reveals Hank Henshaw's true nature and develops the idea that someone is testing Supergirl's abilities. The episode's high points feature Max Lord slowly developing as a scientist who appears to the world as an altruist who is more than he appears. Lord, known to fans of DC Comics, as a villain, starts to get peppered into the Supergirl narrative with his source material's character defects.

The thing is, the romantic character entanglements in "How Does She Do It?" are not all bad, but the forced inclusion of Kara into them is. "How Does She Do It?" establishes the first season as a mess of romantic entanglements that are painfully soap operatic. Kara has a crush on James Olsen, Winn Schott has a crush on Kara, Lucy Lane is legitimately fighting for her relationship with James Olsen and Olsen is torn between choosing between Kara and Lucy; the web is presented in an annoyingly melodramatic and with a sense of "who will end up with who?" as opposed to having substantive relationships beyond flirtations.

The issue with "How Does She Do It?" is that the story actually has a romantic relationship that could be compellingly explored: Lucy Lane and James Olsen. Lane is troubled by how Olsen's obsession with Superman, and now Supergirl, influenced their romantic relationship. While Olsen is sore over being dumped by Lane, Lucy has come to National City to try to work on the relationship because she wants to try to salvage the good parts. The often familiar relationship issue of how work comes between two people could be given a fresh spin on Supergirl, but instead of giving James Olsen a real sense of owning the episode and a genuine conflict of his own, "How Does She Do It?" pays lip service to the Lane/Olsen relationship in favor of framing Olsen's romantic problems as a medium for Kara Danvers to feel hope and crushed by Olsen's arc.

Supergirl does a decent job of making a slow revelation of Hank Henshaw, which is nice. However, the failure in "How Does She Do It?" of Alex or Kara to reference what Eliza told the pair in the prior episode is a problem with the show's neglect of its better serialized aspects. Henshaw is insinuated as having a nefarious past and Alex is suspicious of him in "How Does She Do It?" But when Alex gets new evidence that Henshaw might not be all she thought he was, she does not at all reference her father's fate.

Cat Grant is presented as problematic in "How Does She Do It?" as well. Before now, Carter has been referenced, but Cat Grant has shown absolutely no (good) maternal qualities. In "How Does She Do It?" Grant is erratically characterized as trying to get Carter to acknowledge Supergirl's non-physical attributes . . . right after deriding Kara's.

"How Does She Do It?" suffers because of its lack of focus. Knox is an interesting antagonist, as a bomber who seems to be a part of testing Supergirl's abilities. Olsen's character arc is potentially interesting, but it gets brushed aside in Kara's eagerness to get out of the friend zone and the wishy-washy relationship she has with Winn and (now) Carter. The episode feels distracted and while it is loaded with potential, the episode fails to satisfactorily develop any of its disparate plotlines.

For other works with Scott Michael Campbell, please visit my reviews of:
Brokeback Mountain


For other television and movie reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

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