Supergirl recap: Lena Luthor and the ethics of spider-saving
After a string of solid-to-excellent episodes, “Rather the Fallen Angel” feels like a bit of a stumble as characters make questionable decisions, with James’ once again topping the list. Still, the Lena storyline was fascinating, so let’s start there this week.
Our favorite Luthor is commencing her Harun-El trials with Subject 0331, whose name she’d rather not know. At first, he assumes she’s a lab tech, but once he apologies for his sexism, they start opening up.
His brother died on the operating table while donating a kidney to 0331, who now carries that guilt. He wants to know why “Dr. Kieran” (Lena introduced herself with her middle name), picked him from the 88 acceptable applicants. She says it’s because the two of them had the same answer to Nagel’s spider-in-the-shower conundrum: Rather than free or kill the trapped spider, only the two of them would leave it alone because they don’t know what the spider actually wants. Ergo, 0331’s the best subject to be imbued with superhuman powers.
0331, whom Lena eventually calls by his given name, Adam, doesn’t want that responsibility, but Lena assures him that bad choices, not bad luck, make you a bad person. And she’s a bad person for not calling for help when her biological mother drowned when Lena was four. Then she spent the rest of her life fighting the terrible legacy of her adoptive family, all the time believing that she actually deserved that legacy, too.
Having shared these confidences and not wanting another death on her hands, Lena tries to end the experiment, but Adam begs her to move forward; the risk is worth it to him. So she injects him with liquid Harun-El, which gives him three minutes and fourteen seconds of superhuman abilities before he dies.
Lena now has an 87 percent probability of success on her next trial, and, alone in her office, she apologizes to Adam, admitting, “I moved the spider.”
Now, moving on to choppier storylines, Supergirl and Manchester strike an uneasy alliance to track down the Children of Liberty. Although she’s uncomfortable with his willingness to bust out the brass knuckles, they discover that the Children are after fission rods and Nalcyite, which under the right conditions could serve as a tiny, precise nuclear explosion.
Evidence demonstrates that the Nalcyite was unloaded in secret at Shelley Island, where newly arrived aliens used to be processed. It’s been shut down since the resignation of President Marsden, which makes it an ideal base for the Children of Liberty to get up to their nefarious activities.
Supergirl wants to call in the DEO, but Manchester persuades her that Agent Liberty will see the whole gang coming from miles away, so it’s better for the two of them to sneak in and get the job done themselves.
For reasons I do not understand, Supergirl agrees to this and doesn’t even give Alex a heads up about her plans. Not smart, particularly because she was nervous enough about Manchester’s violent streak that she asked J’onn to vouch for him, which he did.
Shelley Island is also where James ends up this week when he’s escorted by armed Children to meet with Agent Liberty. James tries to be a journalist for approximately fifteen seconds, giving Agent Liberty the chance to trot out his usual song and dance about the rights of humans and the evils of aliens.
Then Agent Liberty offers James the chance as Guardian to galvanize and inspire in the name of human exceptionalism … by blowing up the tower on Shelley Island. James tries to refuse but is told he doesn’t really have a choice in the matter, particularly when Tom, his original guide into the Children of Liberty, has a change of heart and tries to sneak James out.
Instead, they’re caught, and the Children threaten to kill Tom if James doesn’t blow up the tower. In their holding cell, James tells Tom that he’ll comply because his reputation as Guardian doesn’t matter as much as Tom’s life does.
And I’m sorry, but this. is. so. dumb. This isn’t about Guardian’s reputation; it’s about the credibility that Guardian brings to the cause of the Children of Liberty by publicly siding with them. Sure, if/when they release James, he can tell the world that he was coerced into doing it, but it’s so bizarre that James doesn’t really consider the larger implications of Guardian blowing up an alien monument in the name of human rights. That said, sure, it’s nice that he wants to save Tom’s life.
As this struggle’s playing out, Ben’s chilling in the greenroom before his new show, The Lockdown with Ben Lockwood. (Sample topic: Is Supergirl a hero, or the seed that will eradicate the human race? Holy false dichotomy, Batman!)
Ben’s working on his script lauding Guardian’s actions in blowing up the tower … and killing Supergirl. Doh! Meanwhile, on the ground, James makes the Children swear that nobody’s in the tower, and they’re all nope, no sirree, nobody in that tower, no way, no how. For some reason, James believes them.
But of course, Supergirl’s in the tower. When she and Manchester arrived at Shelley Island, which features power-dampening pylons to make alien processing more efficient, she learns that Manchester’s sabotaged her yellow sun grenade, rendering her powerless. It was all a setup he arranged in exchange for a meeting with Agent Liberty, made possible by torturing the name of a contact out of Officer Petrocelli last week. Curse his sudden but inevitable betrayal!
Supergirl ends up on the ground in chains, Christ on the cross-style, while Manchester’s taken to meet a masked man claiming to be Agent Liberty. But Manchester’s no dummy and quickly realizes that this isn’t the real Agent Liberty. He kills the henchmen but promises to spare the false Agent’s life in exchange for information. “I believe disloyalty should be rewarded,” he says.
So Supergirl’s locked in the tower like a powerless damsel while outside, James robotically reads from a script claiming that he believes in what the Children of Liberty stand for. Supergirl’s able to climb to a top window, where James eventually notices the flash of her laser eyes.
He activates his gauntlet at the same time that Manchester’s fighting his way through the Children stationed on the Island. In the melee, one of the Children sets off the countdown for the Nalcyite explosive, but thankfully, it’s around the time that Manchester shoots out the power dampeners.
This allows Supergirl to grab the explosive and fly it into the atmosphere, where it explodes without harming her or the building. And you know, even in a so-so episode, it’s always so much fun to watch Supergirl triumph.
When Ben hears the news, he’s extremely displeased. Understandable — there goes tonight’s show! Here’s hoping he had a backup topic planned; maybe a cooking segment to use up all that leftover turkey?
After the excitement, Kara and James meet at CatCo to discuss duality and how people can surprise you. She’s trying to puzzle out why Manchester would betray her and then help her, while James is frustrated about compromising himself by saving Tom’s life while risking his life, Kara’s life, and his reputation. (Again, there is no mention of the social clout the Children would gain with Guardian on their side, even temporarily. Bizarre.)
The experience gives James better insight into why Lena lied to him about going to the DA, so he shows up at her office with take-out pasta and a request for a do-over. But Lena just went through the wrenching experience of losing Adam and tells James to leave. He does, but it’s unclear whether he takes the pasta with him.
Having vouched for Manchester with Kara, J’onn now wants answers. “I’m empty, man,” he warns, slapping an empathy amplifier on J’onn to give him a psychic peek at all the people he’s actually killed. This weapon against empaths leaves J’onn with double the hurt and no way of flushing the emotions from his system. He makes his way to Kara’s apartment, where she hugs him as he weeps and tells her about Manchester’s body count.
As for Manchester, the fake Agent’s disloyalty paid off, and he pulls up outside of the old Lockwood steel plant.
Snaps of the cape
- I will never, ever get tired of Kara pulling food out of the oven without a mitt. Also, is she willing to share her pot pie recipe to use up Thanksgiving leftovers?
- No idea if this will ever come up again, but Eve’s cousin is in hospice thanks to metastasized cancer.
- In an episode that acknowledged the sexism inherent in assuming the scientist in charge of your clinical trial is a man, it’s interesting to note that Nagel’s original conundrum involved a spider, not in a gender-neutral shower, but in a urinal.
- Tonight’s Supergirl is brought to you by the blizzard warnings that enveloped every corner of my television screen. I’m not ready, winter! A pox on your snowy house!
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Kara (Melissa Benoist) steps out from her super-cousin’s shadow to become Supergirl and defend National City in the third Arrowverse show.