Supergirl: 5.16 Alex in Wonderland
In this week’s episode, Alex avoids dealing with her father's death in a well-acted but ultimately cliché ridden filler episode.
I love Alex; she’s possibly my favourite character on the show. When she’s used well she’s fantastic, but she often gets forgotten and I feel like her storylines have stagnated since her coupling with Kelly. I’m still not a fan of the Kelly character; it's not simply being with her that has stunted Alex’s developments but that the writers have parked her character. Her relationship with Maggie was constantly pushing her forward and evolving, with the audience learning new things about Alex and Maggie. Recently Alex has had very perfunctory emotional evolution.
This week, after finding out Dad Cain has died off screen, Alex is drinking heavily and refusing to go to his funeral. I’m not sure how I feel about this reaction. I always like it when Alex drinks to deal with her problems, it’s a consistent and established coping mechanism the character has, but her extreme reaction to her father’s death doesn’t quite ring true. She basically goes off on one at Kara about how much she resents her dad not being there for her properly when they were kids along with the fact he was always looking out for Kara and then he left.
I did like Alex trying to tell Kara that she has a different relationship to their father than she does; they touched on the difference between biological and adopted relationships briefly without hammering it home or getting cruel - but over all, I felt like we’d already addressed a lot of these issues in previous episodes. Death and grief can have big effects on people but I wasn’t totally sold on Alex’s reaction.
Chyler Leigh though is fantastic in these early scenes (and the whole episode) and her performance against Azie Tesfai really highlighted, for me at least, the disparity between the performances and the characterisations. Kelly feels a pretty passive, bland character and Azie Tesfai’s performance lacks any oomph; this may be entirely the writing or a mixture of writing and performance choices but it just doesn’t hold up realistically against Alex’s character or Leigh’s performance.
The episode proper revolves around Alex jumping into Kelly’s prototype VR system to escape her emotions. Once inside, she becomes Supergirl. Leigh looks great as an actual superhero and I’d happily see her step up to a more tights and capes role in this or any other superhero franchise. She bounces around doing some super stuff, having fun but quickly notices people who seems to be lost in their virtual reality personas. Initially she encounters a young woman playing as an Indiana Jones type character (seems Andrea has spent a lot of money on developing her VR system but couldn’t splash out for any mainstream IPs) who gives her a few tip on navigating the VR world. When she sees her again later, the young woman has lost her real world identity and now thinks she’s off-brand Indy for real. When Alex encounters another Supergirl, she gets confused as she starts to lose herself and the story shifts into a standard rescue from VR scenario.
There is nothing wrong with the episode as such; it pushes forward the idea that the tech isn’t working correctly and pieces a few more parts of the puzzle together for the Big Bad, but a character getting stuck in a virtual world is so over done, even by this show on several occasions, that it kind of undermines the character beats of the story. I would have rather spent some proper time with Alex grieving and working through her issues with her father. Not everything needs to be an adventure; this is an example where I would have been happy with Chyler Leigh and Helen Slater sat in their family home talking. Instead, we get Alex in a wig and cat-suit fighting dragons.
The side plot this week involves Kelly and William teaming up to investigate the Obsidian connected satellites Lex launched. This is the most B team B plot this show has ever offered up. They can’t find any nefarious Lex plotting (of course not, he’s Lex) but they do find out that the end program glitch hasn’t been fixed. Kelly confronts Andrea who reassures her this was an oversight with budgets getting caught in red tape but it’ll get fixed. She asks her not to tell anyone, which is a big red flag, Kelly! I’m not sure if Kelly is naive or dumb that it’s taken her so long to question the company she works for considering some of their practices (unfortunately, I think its simply that the writers didn’t need her to question it until now). This leads them to investigate the missing Obsidian users and in turn, to look for Alex. The teaming up of Kelly and William just felt… odd and a bit boring. While I find Kelly bland, William is at least an emotionally positive character but he’s also incredibly vanilla and dull when he’s not interacting with Kara. The two together is just about the most boring team up imaginable.
Alex spends the episode having fun in her fantasy world with fantasy versions of her friends. What I enjoyed here is that J’onn and Brainy are kind of reverted to earlier season versions of themselves, showing Alex harking back to happier times, or at least a time when she understood her pace in the world. I would have loved to see Alex, in her fantasy world, in a relationship with Maggie with a couple of kids. This could have opened up a whole wealth of emotional material and really hammered home the sense of being lost but obviously that doesn’t fit with where the show wants to take her and Kelly’s character. While I feel like it would have been a great opportunity to trigger some emotional development, I’m not in favour of conflict simply for the sake of drama... it would've been cool though.
Eventually Kelly finds Alex and has to enter the simulation, talks her down and rescues her and Alex decides to go to her father’s funeral. The outcome of the episode was pretty predictable, which is fine but the journey to get there was kind of underwhelming. The key cast are all on top form, with David Harewood having fun playing cheesy versions of J’onn and pantomime evil Hank Henshaw and Jesse Rath goofs off as a slightly spoofy Brainiac.
There are some fun sight gags like Abraham Lincoln doing karaoke in the bar but overall, the VR worlds they create are still very provincial AND I don’t understand how the world is being generated by Alex but other people are there? Who has priority over the simulation? What if I imagine Oxford Circus and another player wanders over and tries to get on the VR tube but I imagine a button that turns Oxford Circus into my living room? Is that person suddenly in my living room? Do they disappear? This is a silly sci-fi comic book show with lots of crazy and goofy stuff going on; I suspend my disbelief a lot when watching but I can't help feeling one, annoying, consistent thing about the VR system (apart from the fact its incredibly dangerous and no one seems to be addressing this publicly) and that is that the Obsidian VR world is simply, a bit crap.
Shout out to Anne Hollister, playing off brand Indy; she gave a really likable and real performance in a very short amount of time and really helped add warmth to a character that was nothing more than a plot beat for our main characters.
After all the drama, Alex of course goes to the funeral and William thinks he’s found the trapped Obsidian users (but can’t find them because they’re hidden and he simply didn’t look hard enough). Andrea is shown to be in cahoots with Gemma and Gemma is shown to be working with… Eve Teschmacher. Dum Dum DUUUM!