Supergirl: 5.02 Stranger Beside Me
Supergirl continues to scrabble for a narrative hook in this underwhelming second episode of season five.
The main story this week focuses on J’onn’s long lost brother, who has turned up to cause havoc. I’m not the biggest fan of the evil sibling trope because its so used to death. But in fairness, its used so frequently in the comics from which this show takes its lead, I can’t blame them for using it. I just wish they’d gone a different route.
J’onn wants to try and access his hidden memories of his brother, so after some help from Nia, he heads off to see Kelly who just so happens to be working on the exact technology that could help him access those trapped memories. What a convenient coincidence. I feel like Kelly may be about to take the proverbial hacker role; a character who always has the perfect knowledge and tech for any random situation. Lets see…
Kelly, of course, agrees to put the work she’s being paid to do aside and check out her girlfriend’s mate’s mind for him instead. She enters a kind of VR mindscape where she and J’onn witness his earlier memories. In this mind world, everyone appears as human even though it takes place on Mars and everyone is a Martian. Obviously, this is due to budget constraints and Kelly gives some half arsed techno-reason why her being there is causing J’onn’s mind to process people as human.
Through these scenes we discover that J’onn’s little bro has a kind of explosive, untapped mental power that made him too dangerous to be around other people and so he was locked away for the safety of others. These scenes are well played by David Harewood and guest star Carl Lumbly. The scenes also seem to include a half decent de-aging effect on Harwood, though it could just be a mix of good lighting, make up and sheer acting! We discover that J’onn’s dad is the one who wiped J’onn’s mind so as to save him form the painful memories of his brother turning evil. This all leads to some great stuff of J’onn being furious with his father for his treatment of his brother and for violating his people’s laws and wiping their memories. I quite enjoy the Martian stuff but it does feel like a hodge-podge of rehashed ideas borrowed from Star Trek Vulcan and Klingon cultures.
Alex has a weird kind of freak out about her relationship with Kelly this week and while fine in itself, its all a bit ham-fisted, as things so often are on Supergirl. Alex’s main conflict is realising that while she’s head over heels about Kelly, despite the fact she actually barely knows anything about her. Fair enough but this is triggered when she makes Kelly blueberry pancakes and Kelly informs her they can kill her - but its okay, she always carries an epi-pen. Not knowing someone’s favourite colour or where they went to University or what their favourite band is are all perfectly acceptable things to not yet know about a new partner but by the way, I can’t eat blueberries they’ll kill me but I always carry an epi-pen just in case is kind of a biggie. That’s first date stuff, especially if you go for dinner.
In fact, Alex and Kelly went on a road trip before they even got together and stayed in a hotel together; that’s something you’d mention then “I won’t have breakfast, it’ll kill me”. Alex is shaken and upset by almost killing the woman she loves. Realising she doesn’t know her very well and the blueberry revelation give the characters and their relationship an appropriate narrative push but the allergy was a poor choice by the writers. Kelly using an inhaler after a jog and Alex being mortified that she didn’t know she had asthma would have been a far less extreme and more believable personal info oversight.
I have to confess, I really dislike Kelly and I’m not 100% sure why? I think on a basic level I find the actresses, Azie Tesfai a little unlikable in the role (I’m not familiar with her other work and its probably the character rather than her) and Kelly overall seems a bit dicky. Not telling Alex about her deadly allergy is kind of cavalier and thoughtless. I think I also find myself a little resistant to new characters on Supergirl because of the way the show really tries to force them on us with little to no initial development. The introduction and development of Maggie as a character coupled with Alex’s slow coming out was one of the most effective character introductions they’ve done and provided compelling narrative, so once Maggie started having storylines away from the core team we cared about her as well. To often now Supergirl just thrusts a new character into the mix and tells us the other characters like them and that’s meant to be enough for us. Much like Alex, I don’t feel like I really know anything about Kelly.
Kara is still struggling with work and its hardly surprising seeing as how she now works for a woman who has no concept about how a newspaper works. When Kara refuses to write a story about fashion, she is punished by being asked to do copy-editor work, which is just crazy because it’s a specialised job that would have a department and specific staff to work on it but really; Andrea has no idea how to run a paper. William is still being a sleaze but I do think he’s being set up as a romantic interest for Kara down the line. More sloppy writing though, as when Kara gets what to the outside observer, is a family emergency and slips away from work, William calls in an NSA favour to track her and follows her himself. Why, dude? We’re supposed to think he got a hunch maybe?
Cracks are showing in Nia and Brainy’s relationship already, with Brainy being a little overbearing in his affections and overdoing it with the romantic gestures. Brainy getting it wrong isn’t the most inspired choice but at least its consistent. I still find Nia a bit of an excess character who doesn’t really offer anything unique to the character mix. Nia was a great and important addition to the cast in terms exploring and promoting a trans characters in mainstream TV, especially in a family friendly show like Supergirl but apart from being a little bit ditsy and always looking slightly pained, she doesn’t bring much to table character wise. In a show with a lot of characters jostling for attention, I just wish Nia had a bit more to her.
Eventually J’onn discovers it was actually him who committed the terrible crime of memory wiping, having wanted to ease his father’s pain and his own guilt. I don’t want to shout this show down as too predictable and I may be proven wrong but I suspect J’onn’s brother will also have a redemptive arc, as we’ve now seen that not only is he working for someone else, he was a misunderstood child who was neglected by his family. He just fell in with the wrong crowd!
The episode ends on a slightly dark but disappointing note. Lena has Eve imprisoned in her lab and throughout the episode she spends the time trying to understand why Eve betrayed her. By the end of the episode Eve has opened up, which gave us a little more insight into her character and her dramatic double cross last season. In the final moments, however, Lena allows her totally not going to go evil AI Hope to inhabit Eve and take over her mind. This was a surprisingly dark twist and, even though I feel like Lena will eventually have a redemptive arc this season, this is quite an immoral and cruel thing to do and hard to come back from. I also feel like its pushing towards evil AI a little quickly as well.
This was an oddly low key, almost boring episode especially considering the show should still be riding the wave of a returning series. I liked that it focused heavily on character but it managed to be both slow moving and forward lurching with its development. I don’t know if the show is holding back a little with the Crisis on Infinite Earths on the way or perhaps trying to push through its own story beats quickly as Crisis will be taking over the narrative for a while? Whatever the reason, Supergirl season five, so far, isn’t very super.