Sunday, October 29, 2017

"Strange Visitor From Another Planet" Is Average Supergirl

The Good: Good performances from Melissa Benoist and David Harewood, Moments of character
The Bad: Very basic plot, Lack of realistic and lasting consequences.
The Basics: "Strange Visitor From Another Planet" is a fairly basic Supergirl shapeshifter episode that blends an internal conflict with Cat Grant and J'onn J'onzz awkwardly.

The DC Television Universe is, in some ways, hampered by its own sense of concepts. Most of the shows in the "Berlantiverse" are team-oriented, Villain Of The Week works with a serialized element that builds a season's primary antagonist. It is somewhat formulaic, especially considering that the Villain Of The Week is very specific to the show - Arrow has the criminal of the week, The Flash has Metahuman Of The Week, Legends Of Tomorrow goes with "Temporal Anomaly" Of The Week, and Supergirl began as a series that was, largely, Alien Of The Week. The problem with such a formulaic nature across the various DC Television Universe shows is that the X Of The Week often possesses some measure of overlap. In other words, it doesn't so much matter if it is Metahuman or Alien of the week when the hero is confronting a shapeshifter, electricity-manipulating entity or one that drains the heroes of their powers. Supergirl, in many ways, drew the conceptual short straw of the series' based simply on being produced last. "Strange Visitor From Another Planet" gives viewers yet another shapeshifter villain and, because the show is Supergirl, it is an alien.

"Strange Visitor From Another Planet" picks up after "Childish Things" (reviewed here!), but it picks up more elements from "Blood Bonds" (reviewed here!) than its immediate predecessor. It is impossible to discuss without some references to the season's big revelations that came in prior episodes. After all, Cat Grant suddenly has a new son, Lucy Lane is working for CatCo, and the anti-alien agenda is rising while Hank Henshaw wrestles with actually being J'onn J'onzz - the Martian Manhunter. In "Strange Visitor From Another Planet" the White Martians become a real threat on Supergirl, which menaces both National City and J'onzz.

After Kara rescues a family from a forest fire, she returns to National City where she laments the emotional distance she now has from Winn, who told her he loves her. While Cat Grant is surprised by her older, abandoned, son Adam Foster coming to CatCo, National City is visited by the anti-alien Senator Miranda Crane. When Crane's rally is interrupted by an attack by White Martians, Supergirl has to rescue Miranda Crane and extract her to the DEO. While Cat Grant struggles through a meal with her son, James Olsen and Kara go over hit photographs of the rally and realize there is a "tell" for the shape-shifting White Martians and that Senator Crane might have been replaced by a White Martian. At the DEO, Crane reveals herself to be a White Martian and attacks J'onn.

When Adam Foster rejects Cat and her clumsy attempt to relate to her adult son, Foster rejects Grant. Grant turns to Kara to step in and Kara tries to broker a relationship between the two. When the search for the White Martian leads to the sewers, Alex is captured by the White Martians and Kara and J'onn have to rescue her.

"Strange Visitor From Another Planet" has some weird plot issues, first and foremost being that Kara has to be called by James Olsen to come save Crane from the White Martian attack in the teaser. Why the D.E.O. and Supergirl would assume that violence or a problem would not break out at a rally for a bigot seems tragically naive. Director Glen Winter assumes viewers are idiots when Kara and Olsen recognize that the photographs Olsen took imply that Crane is a White Martian, then cut to Crane for a flash of her eyes going white to confirm it. That is lazy and insults the audience. In a similar way, why the DEO uses open comms in "Strange Visitor From Another Planet" which allows the White Martian to get the drop on Alex Danvers.

Cat Grant and Kara have an interesting relationship in "Strange Visitor From Another Planet." Grant immediately fires Kara when she realizes that Kara finished her letter and sent it to Adam, which is a realistic kneejerk reaction, but she does not stick to it. Kara manages to talk her way back into her job by pointing out how she would jump to have a conversation with her own mother, who has died. Kara attempts to prep Cat for a dinner with Adam, but is rebuked . . . but when Cat later complains to her about how Kara sent her in unprepared, Kara does not point out that she tried and Grant is being churlish. The relationship between estranged son and mother is actually an interesting one, but the tragedy of "Strange Visitor From Another Planet" is that trying to be honest with Foster does not fundamentally change the nature of Grant and Kara's relationship . . . or put Grant on a more interesting and honest path.

The D.E.O. plot is a pretty standard Alien Of The Week/shapeshifter plot. Alex Danvers struggles to help Hank Henshaw and keep him on mission. J'onn J'onzz reveals the Martian Holocaust to Danvers and his honesty is tempered with the knowledge that if he is involved in tracking down the White Martian, he will draw out the White Martian. That comes to pass almost immediately, but instead of keeping J'onzz off the table and letting a human rise to the occasion, J'onn J'onzz exposes himself to the White Martians. That mistake haunts J'onzz well into the third season, but it also establishes a forced "no kill" rule that is quickly swept aside in the face of larger battle sequences on Supergirl. "Strange Visitor From Another Planet" throws down the gauntlet between Earth and the White Martians, but the payoff still has not come, despite there being a number of fast transports between Earth and Mars in the Supergirl universe.

Melissa Benoist is quite good in "Strange Visitor From Another Planet." Danvers struggles in "Strange Visitor From Another Planet" with negotiating between Cat Grant and Adam Foster. Benoist finds the right balance between being flirtatious with Blake Jenner (Foster) and expressing deep and genuine emotions with Calista Flockhart's Grant. Benoist is emotive and portrays a genuine quality that is uncommon for what she is given to play on Supergirl.

Tawny Cypress is fine in the dual roles of Miranda Crane and the White Martian. Unfortunately for Cypress, she is not given the chance to make Crane into a well-developed adversary before she is undermined. In other words, it is hardly a dramatic transformation or a great expression of Cypress's range to do one inflammatory speech, then change the character into a reformed bigot. Cypress handles the physical performance of playing - essentially - an action hero well during that portion of "Strange Visitor From Another Planet."

The two big emotional journeys in "Strange Visitor From Another Planet" are robbed by the script. J'onn J'onzz makes a profound and personal revelation and blending his plotline with a somewhat more melodramatic arc for Cat Grant and her son. Similarly, Cat Grant's arc with Adam Foster is robbed of some of its importance - as is Kara's arc as a negotiator between the two - when Grant does not have any significant or fundamental changes as a result of her meeting and accepting her estranged son back in her life.

The result, ultimately, is that "Strange Visitor From Another Planet" is an average episode of Supergirl without the extraordinary moments the show seems to be building to.

For other works with Tawny Cypress, please visit my reviews of:
House Of Cards - Season 1
Heroes - Season 1
World Trade Center


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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