Tuesday, January 9, 2018

"Solitude" Makes For A Better Supergirl!

The Good: Acting, Moments of actual character, Decent plot progression, Good direction/special effects
The Bad: Simple plot, Simple solution to the powerful villain, Continuity issue (failure to utilize Max Lord in the episode), Cat Grant.
The Basics: Supergirl spends one-on-one time with James Olsen in "Solitude," which gives a chance for all of the actors to (eventually) show off their range!

One of the big issues with the first season of Supergirl was that, in building the show's villains, the series inadvertently made them (even momentarily) more compelling than the heroes. For a decent period in the first season, the Myriad program that the Kryptonians Non and Astra are working on appears to be the aliens attempting to save Earth from an environmental catastrophe. So, when the show did Alien Of The Week episodes that were related to the recurring villains, it helped to better characterize the villains as bad people, despite their apparent environmentalism. "Solitude" was one such episode.

"Solitude" picks up after "Truth, Justice And The American Way" (reviewed here!) and with Non and Max Lord being the season's primary antagonists at this point, the introduction of Indigo as an ally of Non helps renew the idea that Non is more than just a misunderstood environmental terrorist. "Solitude" also begins with Kara out of the DEO, having left because she feels she cannot work with Hank Henshaw any longer. Since Alex killed Kara's aunt Astra, there has been a narrative time bomb waiting to go off.

Thirteen years ago in the Phantom Zone, Kara Zor-El unwittingly leads Fort Rozz out. In the present, Kara is visited by Alex, who tries to get Kara to return to the DEO. Failing that, Kara goes to work where she squares off with Siobhan Smythe. When Cat Grant refuses to use hacked data from an adultery website, Smythe takes the information to use herself. Shortly thereafter, Indigo hacks CatCo and threatens chaos. To prove her point, she turns all of the traffic lights in National City green. While Winn Schott attempts to locate the hacker, the alien Indigo reveals herself to Supergirl. After menacing Supergirl's friends, Indigo escapes through the internet and meets up with Non.

When Alex recruits Schott to help the DEO stop Indigo, Olsen suggests to Kara that they visit the Fortress Of Solitude. There, Kara learns that Indigo was considered the worst prisoner in Fort Rozz. Olsen is a little disturbed by how Kara turns to him for help, as her sole teammate in the attempt to stop Indigo, and his ire grows when he returns to CatCo and is reminded by Lucy that they were supposed to have a date the night before. Lucy and Schott, independent of one another, come to the conclusion that Indigo's target is General Mathers. Indigo's plan to uncover Mathers's online footprint reveals to the agents and superhero that Brainiac-8 (as Indigo is also known) intends to use the General's access to launch a nuclear missile at National City!

Cat Grant continues to be characterized in "Solitude" as an absolutely terrible leader. Grant is supposed to be a strong woman who has built a major multinational company, but in "Solitude," she continues to be characterized as, unfortunately, a maniacal bitch. Instead of inspiring or illustrating any level of charisma that could make it realistic that she could have risen to the heights she has, she hits her employees' soft points (calling Winn "Toy Maker Junior"), referring to her assistants as "Tweedle Dee" to let them duke it out for her affection, and making unrealistic and ridiculous demands (asking Smythe, who just started work at CatCo, to contact her broker, without any realistic expectation that Smythe would have that information).

At the DEO, the relationship between Hank Henshaw and Alex Danvers is very realistically played out in "Solitude." The two had a friendship before Supergirl arrived on the scene and when Henshaw observes that the DEO has existed well before Supergirl. The idea that the DEO could - and should - operate without the assistance of Supergirl makes sense and is a compelling direction that is under-developed. In a similar fashion, it is very cool and makes great plot sense for Alex to attempt to recruit Schott in order to try to thwart Indigo. In some ways, Supergirl suffers when it insists upon being a team series because the team portion of the show existed as a fairly well-oiled machine prior to Kara coming out publicly.

Indigo is an instantly compelling villain for Supergirl and her characterization is such that it makes it almost entirely unrealistic that she could be defeated. "Solitude" is missing something from its failure to include Max Lord. Lord's entire powerbase is built on gathering information and being connected to electronic devices; the idea that to defeat Indigo might require a Revolution>-style power outage would have a direct effect upon Max Lord's agenda and industry. His failure to appear in "Solitude" is somewhat problematic for his overall arc in Supergirl. Indigo is so powerful and well-characterized that the solution Schott comes up with to defeat her seems painfully simplistic.

The interpersonal drama in "Solitude" actually plays out comparatively well. James Olsen has prioritized his relationships with Supergirl and Kara above his day to day relationship with Lucy Lane and in "Solitude," that becomes more evident than in the past. Olsen told Kara the story of how he got his father's camera and Kara inadvertently reveals that story to Lane, which clues Lane in to the idea that Olsen is more open with other people than with her. The realism of that type of subtle moment plays out better than much of the melodrama in the first season of Supergirl and it makes the inevitable feeling that Olsen and Lane cannot endure together feel much more true than a story point.

Laura Vandervoort and Jeremy Jordan dominate the positive moments of "Solitude." Jordan makes Winn Schott feel utterly indispensable and while the episode telegraphs the connection between Schott and Smythe, Jordan makes it feel more organic than it otherwise could. Vandervoort plays Indigo with a coldness and malice that is very different from her other villainous characters. The physical performance Vandervoort gives expands her range while also playing to her strengths for playing an adversary.

Actually, all of the performances in "Solitude" allow the performers to actually show off more depth than usual, though it takes most of the episode for the actors to be given the opportunity. Mehcad Brooks and Jenna Dewan Tatum play a break-up scene amazingly well without a hint of melodrama. And the final full scene of "Solitude" gives Melissa Benoist, Chyler Leigh, and David Harewood the chance to interact with subtlety and subtext beyond their lines and make a legitimate tearjerker of a scene.

In the end, "Solitude" manages to course correct the first season of Supergirl astonishingly well while still using the essential plot conceit of the Alien Of The Week style episode!

For other works with Laura Vandervoort, please visit my reviews of:
V - Season 2
V - Season 1


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

© 2018 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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