After an incredibly strong fourth season, Supergirl dove into season 5 by shuffling the field. This week, it has to get things moving and there are so many moving parts that it feels like it’s trying to get a tank up to speed. I’m hoping it fires like a tank, too, because right now it just feels unwieldy. Spoilers for Supergirl season 5, episode 2 follow.
“Stranger Beside Me”
There’s a ton of stuff happening in this episode, and it’s so hard to tell right now if it’s going to work when it’s finally going. I’ll give the writers this: they have a solid concept in the episode. Every scene, every moment, is about under-developed relationships in some form or another. Relationships that are stunted or are trying to grow; relationships that are being nurtured or used as tools.
The episode starts with a parallel scene of a giddy Alex and Brainy preparing breakfast for their loved ones. Kelly reveals to Alex that she has a severe blueberry allergy, which sends Alex spiraling. Brainy uses his brainy brain to figure out that Nia likes breakfast burritos a lot. We find out shortly thereafter that Brainy doesn’t understand chilling out for a minute when he sends 30-plus bento boxes to Nia at work.
Lena on the precipice
When we visit Lena, we find her struggling with three relationships: Her relationship with her old friend Eve, that with her old friend Andrea Rojas (roll every consonant in that to get the pronunciation just right), and – most importantly – her relationship with humanity.
The three work in tandem throughout the episode to play off each other. We find out that Lena kidnapped Eve in the previous episode. Eve tries to warn Lena about Leviathan, the entity she met at the end of season 4, and which has been giving her marching orders since she was a teenager. Lena, rightfully, doesn’t trust Eve. The same way she doesn’t trust Kara. Lena doesn’t trust humans.
Lena has a plan: to make it impossible for humans to hurt each other the same way that her AI cannot harm humans (via the deeply-flawed Three Laws of Robotics, of course). Here, we start to see her Luthor creeping in. After resisting it for 3 seasons, she’s finally given in. She has a well-intentioned but wrong-minded plan and now refers to humans as “them” instead of “us.”
I’m still ticked about this; I don’t think Lena wears ‘Deeply Misguided Villain’ very well. Maybe actress Katie McGrath will grow into it, but I thought that she and Kara working together was a much more interesting dynamic. One of the few relationships this episode doesn’t explore is the dynamic between Kara and Lena; Kara comments on how it felt to tell Lena the truth and how happy she is, but that’s it.
To accomplish her plan, Lena is hacking the VR contact lenses that Andrea Rojas is marketing to the world. The contacts, if it wasn’t obvious, are a commentary on Facebook. We find out that Rojas knew about Lena’s hacking the moment Lena broke the contacts open. She’s not just aware that someone hacked her hardware, but that Lena specifically did it. Meanwhile, everyone wearing them has these creepy blank eyes and they’re all staring off into space.
It’s around this point that we find out that Lena never planned to let Eve out. And then she does one of the most horrifying things we’ve seen on an Arrowverse show. With the AI nanites that make up her assistant Hope, Lena takes over Eve’s body and mind, giving Hope form. I don’t know if Eve is still locked up in there, or if Eve is now a soulless walking body. It’s a nightmare to think about.
The J’onzz Family
Meanwhile, J’onn J’onzz is dealing with his own relationship troubles. That is, his relationship with the brother he didn’t know he had. After we wade through a bunch of pseudoscience words, J’onn dives into his mind-palace with the help of Kelly Olsen. There, he discovers that segments of his memory are just missing. The show does some cool stuff with shifting visual environments here, and J’onn finds out that someone mind-wiped him. Credit where credit is due: David Harewood really owns all those Martian words he has to say, and it makes every story he’s involved in on Supergirl much more believable. If anyone can compare to Melissa Benoist in terms of how much they bring to the show through pure commitment, it has to be Harewood.
But while Supergirl has used the Martian shapeshifting for comedy and plot a few times, it took until season 5 for them to commit the greatest sin in shapeshifter fiction. I mentioned earlier that Alex and Kelly had a strange moment when Alex found out about Kelly’s allergies after cooking her a breakfast full of dangerberries.
When J’onn’s brother, Malefic (mal-uh-fic), takes on Kelly’s form, Alex knows immediately because of her very deep connection to Kelly. When Malefic turns into Alex, Supergirl knows immediately, too. Later, Alex faces down two Kellys, and they go through that trope-y “shoot her, she’s the bad one” crap. They top it off with the worst green-screen effect the show has ever used as Supergirl saves Kelly from falling to her death.
We haven’t even talked about Kara yet.
See, he’s British
While all this is going on, Kara is struggling at work. For the second time, a powerful, wealthy, and assertive woman has taken over her magazine as a side-gig but is apparently also taking a direct hands-on role with the company, too. That’s not how that happens, ever.
Andrea Rojas is gunning for Kara, it seems, pushing her to write fluff pieces and then punishing her with copyediting when she doesn’t hand the stories in on time. Here at Batman-News, I punish our editor with copy-editing my work just because it makes me happy.
This is one of the new relationships Kara has to navigate. It’s infuriating, which I’ll admit means that it’s working as planned. Andrea’s extreme hands-on management style is designed to stymie Kara at every opportunity while also making it more difficult to be Supergirl.
And then there’s the attractive British man, William. William, too, is here to frustrate Kara. The show frames him as someone who has built a career and life out of lies. But then there’s a split second where Kara is flustered by his directness, attractiveness and most importantly, his Britishness. And then we see him going to a soup kitchen where he serves soup to poor people, which is how you know he’s also a good person in addition to being a dick.
There’s probably some rhyme and reason behind him interfering with Kara’s work, following her (and likely finding out that she’s Supergirl), but right now it looks like the writers are just dumping wrenches into the works to see what happens.
Oh, and James might be running for senator, which would definitely be a good reason for James to leave the show without dying.
There’s so much happening here that it’s hard to keep straight. I left things out. I didn’t talk about Brainy’s poetry corner or all the times the show flashed us green eyes so that we would know there was a Martian there (it has to be at least five), or Kara’s excellent chemistry with J’onn, or how enjoyable the scene between Lena and Andrea was. There’s just so much. Supergirl has been one of the most consistent CW shows thus far. It started out solid and then got really good. I understand what the writers were getting at, focusing on relationships for the show, but I’m having a really hard time telling where they’re going. I have faith in Supergirl, but I can’t say I’m not a little concerned.