Supergirl: 3.03 Far from the Tree
Things spring into life a little with this third episode of the new season in a story that largely leaves Kara on the sidelines.
After getting a message from M’gann at the end of last weeks episode, J’onn has to take a trip to Mars to help her with some unknown problem. At first I thought this might end up being like a Klingon episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation (usually a slog) but it actually became a fun and emotionally solid story. Kara decides that Supergirl needs to go with J’onn for back up. Narratively this is a pretty sloppy choice as she does nothing, she literally stands around while J’onn deals with his Martian stuff and while she does provide a great and funny distraction in the big finale fight, she doesn’t contribute to it in a way that stopped her presence being superfluous.
While this is all going on on Mars, our earth bound story centers around Maggie and Alex’s engagement party. This is a strong, interesting and poignant side story that brings us back to the heights of the early season two Maggie and Alex storytelling.
On Mars, J’onn and Kara discover that M’gann has gathered a little band of freedom fighters to help her in her cause to free Mars. Turns out there is an ancient, mythological holy relic that the Bad White Martians want to find and use as a weapon. The only man who knows where this is, so the resistance can find it first, is M'yrnn J'onzz – J’onn’s father. Both men thought the other was dead and so J’onn has to convince his father, who was imprisoned and tortured for decades, that he is in fact real and can be trusted with the whereabouts of the relic.
This results in some genuinely heartfelt scenes and the show is heavy on the CGI characters (even if there are a few cheeky excuses for Martians to stay as people a bit longer than would be necessary) but its nice to see them used for dramatic, emotional scenes rather than just the big fights and explosions. An extended dream/memory sequences is particularly effective and almost fully CG. Its impressive to see them use their FX budget on these kinds of scenes.
What also helps pack an emotional punch with the Martian side of the story is the casting of Carl Lumbly as J’onn’s father. A great actor in his own right but also the voice of Martian Manhunter for many years across various Justice League animated shows. Supergirl is big on Legacy Actors and its great to see them treat the actors from animated DC shows with the same dignity and respect as a Dean Cain or Erica Durance, especially when you consider that the Justice League animated shows represent the most significant on screen portrayal of Martian Manhunter we’ve had so far (no disrespect to Smallville’s Phil Morris, who I’d love to see pop up on this show but his was a reoccurring cameo and never got the chance to explore J’onn too deeply).
While J’onn is bonding with his father on Mars, Maggie has a similar experience on Earth. After some gentle digging by Alex and her mum, we learn just how cruel Maggie’s dad was after discovering she was gay but after a good old pep talk from Alex, she invited him to her engagement party.
The show reminds us that its actually capable of some of the best, mainstream storytelling centered around the pains of coming out. Last season felt both honest and positive with Alex’s sexual realization and coming out and this week gives us some great insight into Maggie’s process. After we meet her dad and we have the requisite ‘he’s been following your career all these years' stuff he freaks out when he sees Alex and Maggie kiss. Maggie’s confrontation with him on the street, however, is a little more interesting than I’d expected it to be. While they shout about why he feels the way he does he talks about being an immigrant, how hard he worked to create a life for her, the bullying he underwent to do this and the fact that her being gay gives people another reason to hate her and belittle him. It was an interesting twist and more insightful on the usual old fashioned views trope.
Its very clear now that Maggie and Alex will break up over wanting kids. Whether infidelity plays a part (Sam has a kid, right?) is yet to be seen but the mix of Alex not standing her ground and Maggie steamrolling over the idea at each conversation means this is The Thing. And fair enough. Kids and a family is a big deal. Some people know from an early age that they do or don’t want kids and that doesn’t always change with age. I’d say its fair that more people change from don’t to do but there's no guarantee that someone will and I’m happy for that to be the catalyst for their break up, it feels far more real and far more un-workaroundable than simple cheating or work getting in the way or some other soap opera reason.
This was a fun episode in no small part due to Supergirl aka Kara Sulky Pants, taking such a back seat. However, when she does get involved, she straight up kills a bunch of dudes. Like, in the finale. She just grabs the relic (a staff) and holds it out and vaporizes a bunch of white Martians – after admitting she can’t tell the difference between the good guys and the bad guys – and shows no remorse, no emotion, no nothing. This was a bit jarring. In Smallville, Clark was always accidentally killing people in the finale, especially in the early years, but there was usually some level of remorse. In fact his character became a relentless guilt monster - and they were always accidents caused by saving someone. Kara, now, has racked up a couple of don’t give a crap kills and this episode was the worst one because these casual kills weren’t character work, it was just sloppy scripting and it really didn’t sit well.
So far the best episode of season threeI am a bit worried that the best episode of Supergirl so far is the one with hardly any Supergirl in it. I did really like J’onn’s convertible spaceship though.