Supergirl, Season 1, Episode 4, “Livewire”
Written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa & Caitlin Parrish
Directed by Kevin Tancharoen
Airs Mondays at 8pm (ET) on CBS
Supergirl finally seems to be settling into its general week-to-week plan after three uneven installments of table setting and character background for Kara, Alex, and the whole superhero situation. There is a solid citizen-turned-villain adversary, a B-plot about familial relationships being affected by Kara’s status as National City’s new savior, and even minuscule progression in the “Wynn and Jimmy as romantic possibilities” arena. Whether the episode is actually good at executing what will be the show’s long term plan as a procedural is an entirely different discussion. While credit should be given to the fourth episode for slotting in more than satisfactorily for the third after CBS decided to reschedule the latter due to similarities in the episode to the tragic attacks on Paris this past Friday, the individual storylines still come off as stilted and separate from one another. The DEO revelations are tied to the formal introduction of Eliza and Jeremiah Danvers, but that has nothing to do with Cat becoming less of a caricature or Leslie Willis’ transformation into Livewire. Put more simply, the episode contains two semi-strong A-plots fighting for supremacy when almost by rule, one of them has to get bumped to second priority for an hour.
Taken separately, both major pieces of the episode work. It is only when the audience is asked to consider them in relation to each other that it becomes a slight problem, with the episode trying to do too much at once. An over-simplified one-plot-per-week model isn’t the solution, but it’s clear that the show in its current state isn’t up to the task of melding things together as seamlessly as possible either. It’s still early and the relative cogency of each story thread here is a good sign among the missteps. The Danvers family being tied directly to Alex’s work with the DEO and Kara’s coming out decision is a great choice and one that proves casting Helen Slater and Dean Cain as the girls’ parents is not just an easy gimmick and that they will get a chance to become a part of the overall conspiracy. It would have been easy for Supergirl to make Eliza a worried mother who only stops by to articulate how Alex and Kara’s crime-fighting are affecting the family as a whole and fuss over them. Likewise, Jeremiah could have been just a deceased father that informs how his biological and adopted children treat their mortality and incorporate what lessons they learned from him into their daily lives. And it’s not that the elder Danvers can’t still be these things, they are still parents on television after all, but the show makes them more than just parents and an actual thread in the of the conspiratorial tapestry in the background, and it’s a pleasant surprise. Slater and Cain are more than up to the task of portraying the pain and worry that the DEO’s long term involvement in their family’s life (and deaths) brings about.
Similarly, Cat Graham is finally expanded beyond the caricature of a boss and HBIC she has been thus far. Although the episode only includes a few lines of dialogue between her and Cat post-Livewire attacks, slowly adding in details to Cat’s background is as good a way as any to integrate her into the rest of the cast. Presumably, she will one day need to react to finding out Kara is Supergirl in an emotional way and without multiple layers of background to her and their relationship, that payoff down the road is all but impossible. However, a complete exposition dump similar to Alex or Jimmy’s introductions would be out of place this far into the season, so it makes sense that a few details about her overbearing mother, with more sure to come as the season progresses, is all the audience gets at this point. They may be predictable and generally bland details, but at least here is some sort of shading to her instead of just “mean boss”. Cat’s guilt over her protégé Leslie Willis turning into the super villain Livewire comes off less organically, and would translate better if there was more room for that origin story to breathe. Brit Morgan as Livewire is fun to watch and she is clearly having fun chewing as much scenery as possible in her short time on screen, both before the fateful lightning strike and afterwards. The pangs of guilt from both Kara and Cat make sense but are not complete superhero story clichés due to the way both actresses portray their feelings. Plus, that she is only neutralized at the end of the episode and not completely done away with opens up the possibility of a Livewire return, hopefully working in tandem with the for-now-MIA General Astra. Given all of the important story beats stuffed into one episode, without even including the romantic undertones of the Wynn-Kara-Jimmy-Lucy love trapezoid, that “Livewire” doesn’t completely buckle under the weight of these things is a testament to the interesting facets within. Even better would be if all of the disparate parts formed a cohesive whole on the way to the emotional payoffs.
- First Alex almost dies in a plane crash, then it’s revealed that Jeremiah was killed in one when the girls were younger? The Danvers family really needs to stop flying commercial.
- It isn’t remotely believable that a cute IT guy with a great sense of style can’t find a girlfriend, but it’s even less believable that now is the first time that Kara realizes Wynn has feelings for her. Get on Hinge, Wynn!
- Very minimal use of pronouns in place of saying Superman this week! Mostly because they barely talk about Superman, but credit where credit is due.
- Real talk: Getting transferred to a boring traffic copter and turning into a super villain who can shoot lightning out of their limbs is probably high on the best case scenario scale.
- Livewire’s lightning is much better as a special effect than Kara’s flying. They should really get the whole “flying looks really awkward” thing fixed sooner rather than later.
- Cat clearly never attends the office fire safety meetings otherwise she would know to take the stairs in an emergency evacuation situation.