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Supergirl - Double Review - Fallout and Man of Steel: Taking Risks

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***NOTE: Regular Supergirl reviewer zandarl is on assignment.

Often the fourth season of a show is the one that can make or break it creatively. By now, the writers, producers, and actors know their show, characters so well they are comfortable in taking risks in their storytelling. Sometimes these risks work, others they do not. Fortunately for Supergirl, Sundays at 7/8 CST/EST on the CW, early in this new fourth season it appears the risks they are taking are paying off. The show has followed a solid premiere with two powerful but different hours that continue to lay out their complicated storyline of the season – Agent Liberty and the growth of the anti-alien sentiment in National City and the world. It's a creative and successful use of storytelling to mirror current events in the world. In doing so they've given Supergirl a challenge unlike many others she has faced. Instead of battling a tangible villain, Supergirl's greatest foe is distrust and fear.

They also haven't forgotten that at its core, Supergirl (Melissa Benoist) is and remains, as disgraced President Olivia Marsden (Lynda Carter) tells her at the beginning of Fallout, the symbol of hope the world needs. Then, in a vivid call back to the optimism of the Christopher Reeve Superman films, illustrates Marsden's point with a near iconic image of Supergirl catching and firmly planting a falling American flag in front of the White House. It's not the first time the show has paid homage to Reeve's Superman, and it won't be the last.

In the rest of the aptly titled episode, the fallout of the revelation that the President is an alien affects everyone around Supergirl. New director of the DEO, Alex (Chyler Leigh), has to deal with dissent among her agents; James Olsen (Mechad Brooks) tries to keep Catco neutral but eventually learns as Editor-In-Chief he has to take a stand, Brainy (Jesse Rath) gets an unpleasant, first-hand taste of the hatred in this world and time but finds a new friend who boldly stands up for him; and J'onn's (David Harewood) search for his support group friend, Fiona (Tiya Sircar), leads him to an ugly truth at a rally led by Agent Liberty (Sam Witwer). The episode also had its share of surprising revelations such as Lena (Katie McGrath) telling Kara of her almost sister-like relationship with the murderous Mercy Graves (Rhona Mitra); the first glimpses of Nia's (Nicole Maines) hidden powers as the Dreamer including subtle touches of energy powder and drinks on her desk indicating she's having trouble staying awake; and the fact that the missing Fiona's English fiancée is none other than Manchester Black.

As the anti-alien sentiment grows there is a profound impact on Supergirl's world and friends. Mercy Graves has launched a cyber-attack using stolen L-Corp laptop on the network that powers image inducers used by aliens to look human. Among the first affected is Brainy, whose inducer quits working as he is ordering pizzas as comfort food he believes will help calm tensions at the DEO. Storyline wise it makes sense for his inducer to be affected, however, one could ask why his inducer is affected at all, as it was first used last season and the audience was led to believe it was technology he brought from the future. He is saved from being attacked by a suddenly confident Nia who steps between him and his attackers. He's intrigued by the young woman who stood up for him.

The attack, however, has shaken him and causes him to make what could have been a disastrous miscalculation for Supergirl. Thankfully, he has a good leader in Alex, who recognizes he is shaken and takes steps to reassure him by first talking to him when he returns with the pizzas and then telling him everyone makes mistakes and not everyone is going to react like the pizza shop owner did. She then tells him if someone does bother him to send them to her and she'd deal with them. This touches Brainy and he pays her the highest compliment by saying, "Every alien needs an Alex Danvers. The growing relationship between Alex and Brainy continues to be a highlight of the season, with some very nice moments between Leigh and Rath.

Nicole Maines has some very nice moments in the episode as well as Nia. She shines when she mysteriously shows up at the pizza place when Brainy is, supposedly in search of an espresso. Perhaps she had a dream there was going to be trouble? Then, she finds her voice to challenge James to take action in support of aliens who are being attacked. In proving her point to him that it was time to take a stand she reveals to him she is a transgender woman who understands about being attacked for being different. This was a nicely written and beautifully played scene between her and Brooks.

But the outstanding performance of the episode came from Melissa Benoist, not in her role as the title character of Supergirl, but as her alter ego Kara Danvers. Benoist has rightfully earned praise for her handling of the dramatic and action sequences as the Girl of Steel, however in this episode viewers were given a glimpse of her impeccable comedic timing. Kara's attempts to slip away from Lena and Miss Teschmacher (Andrea Brooks) to become Supergirl when they're in lockdown at L-Corp due to Mercy's attack are sheer genius. (And just an aside, whoever decided to move Miss Teschmacher from Catco to the role of Lena's assistant at L-Corp deserves a raise, Brooks and McGrath make a wonderful acting team. Can we please make her a regular, already?)

From her near panic in Lena's office, catching and throwing bullets while on the run, using a super-sneeze to slow down attackers and a well-placed high heel to block a door were a delight. Through her body language, facial expressions of exasperation and faux courage when she and Lena confront Mercy, Benoist embodied Kara in a style very reminiscent of Christopher Reeves' awkward and gawky Clark Kent. The strongest person on the planet acting scared and afraid and letting someone else protect her, in this case allowing Lena to be the protector. The entire sequence was a delight.

Once Mercy is captured and placed in a cell at the DEO next to her brother Otis (Robert Baker), Kara is back in her Supergirl persona. Benoist is reunited with her most reliable screen partner, Leigh in a scene that illustrates that the Danvers Sisters scenes are the foundation of the show. Their timing and rhythm in this short scene are impeccable. And, once again, the writers draw a nice contrast between the good siblings and the evil siblings this season.

Unfortunately, the Graves siblings manage to get to one of the new DEO recruits, Jensen (Anthony Konechny) and convince him to not only help him escape but to also steal Lena's lead-dispersal device that was used during the Daxamite invasion. Could Otis' capture have been part of their plan all along to infiltrate the DEO to get this device? They then modify and use the device to irradiate the atmosphere with Kryptonite just as Supergirl is flying back from Washington after she had assured the new President (Bruce Boxleitner). (Speaking of the new President, let's keep a wary eye on him.) The episode ends of the heart-stopping cliff-hanger of a stricken Supergirl plummeting to earth.

Thankfully Alex can reach J'onn who catches Supergirl and rushes her back to the DEO at the beginning of Man of Steel. There, Brainy and a desperate Alex find themselves virtually powerless to help her, there's nowhere they can take Supergirl to escape the Kryptonite radiation and trying to take her off-world will kill her. A determined Alex reaches out to Lena for help who buys them some time by bringing a portable containment suit that they promptly use on Supergirl. These scenes bookend the main story of the evening, the story of how an unassuming history professor at National City University is transformed into Agent Liberty, currently the most vocal and dangerous anti-alien in National City.

The writers of Supergirl are to be commended for finding unique and believable ways of keeping the story relevant while having limited filming access to their star, Melissa Benoist. This episode and next week's were among the first filmed for the new season, however, Benoist was not there as she was completing her successful run in Beautiful on Broadway. While not visibly on-screen for most of this episode and likely the next, Supergirl is still instrumental in the episode.

They cleverly worked around her absence by giving her limited screen time in Man of Steel and putting her character in that containment suit which covers her face for the next. Likely, her physical presence next week will be her stunt double in the suit, while Benoist looped her dialogue in once she returned to Vancouver.Her absence in this episode has given the show the opportunity to present a very unusual type of episode. And certainly, not one, typical of other Supergirl episodes. The focus of Man of Steel is this season's villain, Agent Liberty, certainly a risky decision. Man of Steel is an uncompromising look at the events that turned a good, family man and history professor, Ben Lockwood (Witwer) into the alien-hating villain, Agent of Liberty. It was a unique perspective, taking viewers back to the beginning of Supergirl and showing how significant events in the show's history affected an everyday, normal man and destroyed his world.

The writers and editors do an extraordinary job weaving the show's past into this present-day episode. There was a risk of making the villain sympathetic with an episode such as this. However, the reward comes in the form of a powerful episode that goes to great lengths to not create sympathy for the villain, but to give rare insight viewers don't often get with villains as to what went into creating this character. It shows insight into what makes this character tick. The storyline expertly shows how Ben Lockwood's story intersected with most of the major players in Supergirl's circle. At first, it may appear that characters such as Alex, Lena, James, and even Kara don't appear at their best, some appearing a bit brusque or unfeeling. For example, when treating Ben after their initial encounter at the factory, Alex seemed to be acting somewhat harsh, but then upon going back and looking at it again, you realize this story is being told strictly from Lockwood's perspective and naturally his take on the encounters are going to be slanted.

Lockwood's story is revelatory in pointing out that the anti-alien sentiment has always been in National City, lurking beneath the surface. In telling his story of his descent into his extreme descent into alien hatred, the writers expertly weave Supergirl history and clips from previous seasons to bookmark how major events affected everyday citizens. In this case, this series of events have driven Lockwood to become an Agent of Liberty, fighting to protect his home and country (at least in his mind) from alien invaders.

They start with Supergirl's "hope" speech she used when fighting Non (Chris Vance) and Myriad in the Season One finale. Next comes the Season Two finale with Queen Rhea (Teri Hatcher) and the Daxamite invasion, this results in his family's home being destroyed. We're later treated to a short clip on Calista Flockhart's Cat Grant as a Presidential spokesperson. Ben encounters Kara at the alien bar (in the same costume for karaoke night from Season Three's Schott Through the Heart) when he accosts his alien student, whom he believes cost him his job at the university. Then the Season Three finale battle with the Kryptonian witches results in his father's death and the destruction of his family's steel mill. At this point, Ben is pushed over the edge and retaliates by burning the alien nth metal factory across the way and results in his first alien kill. Ultimately, he is contacted by Mercy and Otis who offer him assistance and technology, most likely Lex Luthor created technology, for his cause. They then bring the story back to the present where Mercy and Otis bring new recruit Jensen to Agent Liberty's new base, his father's abandoned steel factory. While the Graves want to dispose of Jensen once he had delivered the lead dispersal device to them, Agent Liberty has other plans for the former DEO agent and plans on using him to sneak into the DEO.

Sam Witwer gives a bravura performance showcasing Lockwood's descent into Agent Liberty. You can see his anger and confusion grow in the subtle nuances he puts into a performance. His early scenes with the wonderful Xander Berkeley, as Ben's bigoted father, were outstanding. You can see his anger and confusion grow in the subtle nuances he puts into performance, as his posture. When you first meet Ben, he doesn't carry himself with a great deal of self-assurance, yet the more and more he becomes Agent Liberty he begins carrying himself more erect and confident like a warrior.

Man of Steel
is a powerful and at times difficult episode to watch. The show pulled no punches in the complex story they are telling, and at times bordered on being heavy-handed. However, they are telling an uncomfortable story in a direct and honest fashion. While the show is to be commended for telling the story, they need to be wary of alienating the much younger audience who make up the show's original fanbase who may be too young to understand the complexity and subtleties of their storytelling.

Supergirlis off to a magnificent start to Season Four with solid, intricately woven episodes and continues to show the maturity and growth mentioned in the preview of the Season Four premiere. What were your thoughts about Fallout and Man of Steel? Share them in the comments below.

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