Let’s just start with tonight’s big reveal: Hank Henshaw is J’onn J’onzz, a.k.a. Martian Manhunter! Did this reveal excite you? It should! Martian Manhunter is actually a great character, despite what some (cough, David Goyer, cough) might tell you. How can you hate an Oreo-loving alien? But, I’m getting ahead of myself. There’s a lot to go through before we get here.
“Human for a Day” tackles one of the biggest tropes of the superhero genre: a powerless superhero. The point of stories like this is to show that being a superhero doesn’t just mean having powers, and the show’s exploration of this theme is quite effective. A powerless Kara also allows for characters like James, Cat, and Alex to shine.
It’s been two days since where we ended last episode, and a powerless Kara has spent most of that time being poked and prodded by the DEO. Hologram Alura informs Kara that her fight with Red Tornado has drained her Kryptonian cells of all the solar energy they stored and they’ll need some time to recharge, you know, like battery. So, in the meantime, Kara will receive a crash course in what it means to be human, like suffering through the common cold.
When Kara arrives at work sneezing, Cat sends her home because if Cat gets sick, the world will fall into a deadly recession — she’s that important. On her way home, Kara runs into James who is on his way to check out apartments for him and Lucy. But, thankfully, he has time for some exposition to explain Kara’s power loss: In her fight with Red Tornado, Kara unlocked a new power that her cousin calls solar flare; it usually puts Superman out of action for about 48 hours. (ASIDE: This is a recent addition to the Superman mythos, making its appearance in the New 52 right before the June relaunch, and I’m so glad the show is already incorporating some of the best parts of the current Superman run.)
An earthquake hits National City as Kara and James are talking, and in the confusion, Kara breaks her arm. The shockwave temporarily knocks out the DEO’s power, which isn’t good because they are currently holding Jemm, an alien with telepathic powers who is very keen to escape this underground cell. On Hank’s orders, Alex reluctantly locks down the base. (She isn’t looking forward to being trapped in there with the man who probably killed her father). Using neuro-inhibitors to block the alien’s powers, Hank and two other agents head out to recapture the alien, and Alex stays behind on Hank’s orders, which further annoys her and makes her suspicious of his motives.
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Meanwhile, National City is kind of struggling without Supergirl. Maxwell Lord takes advantage of the disaster to further smear Supergirl by calling her “the world’s most unreliable superhero.” Wishing to protect Supergirl’s name and brand, Cat orders Winn, who she found out works for her, to set up a live feed in her office for her to address the city.
Kara can’t stand doing nothing, so she asks James to come with her as she goes out to talk to Maxwell. She wants to convince him to stop spreading panic and to offer a message of hope, but he refuses because he thinks Supergirl actually isn’t coming back. Turns out Maxwell knows about the solar flare and knows it usually takes Superman 48 hours to recharge and assumes that Supergirl is a permanently dead battery because it’s been longer than that.
Back at the DEO, Alex and another agent named Donovan monitor Hank and his team’s progress via video feed. Hank disappears during an attack by Jemm, and the two agents die, further raising Alex’s suspicions. Alex decides to go looking for Hank, but Hank shows up at the locked door and tells them that the two agents’ neuro-inhibitors were destroyed in the struggle. They figure out Jemm is planning on using the knowledge he stole from those two agents to free the rest of the aliens being held captive and use them to escape the facility. Because Hank has the only working inhibitor left, he decide to go back out on his own.
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As this is happening, Kara, Maxwell and James are rushing to help a woman whose father was injured in the quake. Unfortunately, there’s nothing Maxwell, a trained doctor, can do to help him in the field, and there isn’t enough time to get the man to the hospital. This moment of powerlessness challenges Kara more than her cold or broken arm. Because she’s a good person, she can’t stand not being able to do anything and worries she isn’t a hero without her powers. “No hero can save everyone, not even Superman. But a real hero doesn’t stop trying,” James says, comforting Kara. Unfortunately, she takes his advice a bit too far and decides to stop a robbery without her powers.
As Kara suits up and heads into the store to talk the robber down, Winn is finally able to get Cat on the air, and we jump back between these two scenes. Cat implores the people of National City to act like superheroes even though they aren’t. At the same time, Kara appeals to robber’s humanity and says she has faith he’ll choose to be better man. And, her faith is rewarded because the robber hands over the gun.
It’s a powerful, moving moment that reminds me of one of my favorite scenes in All-Star Superman. It’s a reminder of what makes Supergirl, Superman and most superheroes great. As Grant Morrison writes in his book Supergods, “We love our superheroes because they refuse to give up on us.” Supergirl is an aspirational figure, and tonight’s episode captures what makes her such a strong one.
Alex and Donovan disobey Hank and go out after him. They find the two dead agents whose inhibitors are intact, which means Hank lied because liars gonna lie. Donovan doesn’t get his on in time, and Jemm takes control of his mind, so Alex runs off and right into Hank, who takes her into a side room. Hank tries to explain away his lie, but Alex doesn’t buy it and handcuffs him. She decides to meet with Jemm on her own, promising to let him go without him having to release all of the other aliens.
Back at CatCo, Kara is riding on a high from her recent save, which leads to tender hug with James. Winn walks in on this and is upset for many reasons and reminds Kara of two thing: First, James is with Lucy, and two, “the superhero never gets the guy” because it’s impossible for her to have a normal life. That last one hurts Kara a lot. Somewhere in there, he also informs her that, based on his calculations, Kara needs a surge of adrenaline to get her powers back.
Thankfully, that adrenaline rush comes when there’s an explosion a few floors above the CatCo offices. James heroically opens the elevator shaft, climbs up the rope, and helps people down. There’s another explosion, which cuts the rope and sends James falling. Kara springs into action and manages to save him. With her powers back, she takes off and goes to help the rest of the city, and her return annoys Maxwell Lord.
Meanwhile, we finally get to see what Alex is really made off. She breaks out all of her skills in a fight with Jemm: assault rifles, shotguns, flashing grenades, dual wielding pistols. The show backed up the claim made earlier in the episode that Alex is the DEO’s top agent. Eventually, Jemm gets the upper hand, but Hank arrives in time and snaps his neck.
In the aftermath of the fight, Alex confronts Hank about his secret, and Hank reveals his true identity. J’onn J’onzz is the last survivor of Mars and was stranded on this planet. The real Hank Henshaw was obsessed with finding him, even though he didn’t mean any harm. Jeremiah Danvers, realizing J’onn’s good intentions, sacrificed himself to save him and, in return, J’onn promised to protect his daughter. This is why J’onn/Hank recruited her and why he was so intent on keeping her out of harm’s way today. J’onn also took Hank’s identity to reform the DEO. He tells her she can’t tell anyone, including her sister.
Even after Kara saves the day, Winn is still “disappointed” in (read: mostly jealous of) Kara’s behavior with James. Before leaving for the day, Kara decides to suit up and pay Cat a visit to thank her for what she said today. (The moment develops Supergirl and Cat’s relationship and makes me excited to see more of it.) But we end on an ominous note: As Kara begins to take off into the sky, Aunt Astra’s goons knock her down and take her prisoner.