If last week’s edition of Supergirl helped restart some of the character relationships that elevated season 1, this latest offering brought back the antagonist who has done much to make Season 2 a success. As the title indicated, episode 12 dove deeply into the history between Cadmus Director Lillian Luthor and her apostate daughter, Lena. It also emphasized the personal friendship between Lena Luthor and Kara Danvers. At one point, Kara even became Lena’s sole defender in National City. It proved an engrossing story. However, there would be one frustrating character turn in this chapter, showing that the series’ change in networks (from CBS to The CW) hasn’t been a complete success. Below are my reactions for “Luthors”.
What Went Right
The CW struck gold in casting Brenda Strong for its main villain. In this installment, we saw Lillian Luthor at her manipulative best. Whether revealing Lena’s blood relation to the Luthor family (the child of a Lionel affair), or confiding her regret at not being a supportive mother, or displaying her chilling resolve to achieve an anti-alien holocaust…Strong nailed every scene. You can never tell if Lillian is truly sincere, executing a scheme, or both. That constant mystery is a tribute to what Strong brings to the character. Credit is also due to the writers for hatching plots for Lillian that both detail her arrogance and her cunning. This week, Lillian vainly believed she could upend Lena’s entire life as LuthorCorp CEO (by framing her for providing Metallo’s new kryptonite) and at the same time win her allegiance by emphasizing their familial connection. We also saw her self-centeredness as Lillian’s plan polarized (almost) everyone in National City against Lena, seemingly leaving her daughter with no choice but to side with her in order to have any future.
Similarly, Katie McGrath has kept excelling with the younger Luthor character. Lena’s pain from, and mistrust of, her mother has always been evident. Conversely, her warmth toward Kara has been unmistakable. McGrath convincingly played Lena’s gratitude for having someone she could rely on. Furthermore, an opportunity has never been missed for McGrath to exhibit either the grace or intelligence of LuthorCorp’s young leader. And just as with Lillian, Supergirl’s writers have given good material to help fully realize all these aspects. Lena is always catching up with any of her mother’s underhanded moves. In the episode, Lena’s strategic superiority was on display in two sequences. When Lillian asked for Lena’s help in penetrating the biometric safeguards on Lex Luthor’s store of weapons, Lena immediately saw through all of Lillian’s prior entreaties for a relationship. Congruently, we also saw flashbacks of Lena’s early years as a prodigy, besting her older brother Lex at chess. Her final on-screen appearance, in which she examined a chessboard in her office, inspired a question for this viewer as to whether she is remaining one step ahead of more than just her mother.
There will be no uncertainty about the heartbreak for Kara, if Lena does become an enemy this season. Melissa Benoist and Katie McGrath work very well together on screen and this edition only emphasized that point. Because of their bond, Kara stayed true as an advocate for Lena at the DEO, even after video footage surfaced of her removing LuthorCorp’s cache of kryptonite. Supergirl’s faith would reap two benefits. When the footage was found to be doctored by Cyborg Superman, Kara’s fidelity was obviously validated. More importantly, though, her lonely stand to exonerate Lena enabled Supergirl to be the kind of hero the audience wants to root for. Over the last several weeks, her lack of confidence in Winn and James as Guardian made Kara a less endearing character. Having a subplot in which Kara, more than anyone else, saw the good in someone else restored the optimism that helps define her identity.
All together, these three characters enjoyed a strong episode, with each being captivating in their own way. “Luthors” even featured some wonderful fan service as Lex Luthor’s fabled suit of armor was revealed within the arsenal that Lillian hoped to possess. Unfortunately, one character was once again stuck with a role that undercut his bond with the audience.
What Went Wrong
As stated before in this space, one of the most appealing traits of James Olsen in Season 1 was his belief in due process. The Super franchise, whether it be with the Man or Girl of Steel, has always involved its main hero representing ideas of “Truth, Justice and the American Way.” In fact, the fourteenth installment from last year carried a title of the same name. In it, the supporting character of Olsen displayed a foundational belief in habeas corpus. He challenged Kara to see through her imprisonment of Maxwell Lord without trial. Furthermore, as a journalist, James inhabits a profession in which he should always be asking questions, rather than leading a charge to convict. Yet, in “Luthors”, he harbored a prejudicial belief against Lena. Even before the doctored footage was discovered, James rushed to his conclusion. The fact that Lena had previously helped disarm Cadmus thugs, or that she had turned in her mother, or that she single-handedly stopped a potential genocide, did not seem to give him pause. Additionally, James had two moments of atrocious dialogue. In one case, he asked Kara to believe him instead of her own instincts regarding Lena. Yet, he has no relationship with Lena and Kara does. On what grounds should Kara simply defer her informed judgement to James’ prejudice? Even worse, James offered a cockamamie theory that Lillian secretly conspired with Lena to shoot John Corben so Cadmus could turn him into Metallo. Corben had originally been hired by Lillian to assassinate Lena (episodes 1 and 2 during Fall 2016).
While the weaponry and fight choreography of Guardian has provided some extra fun, it still appears that James Olsen does not have a well-defined role outside of being Kara’s season 1 love interest. Had James felt the same skepticism that Winn or J’onn did – AFTER the video of Lena was released – his miscalculation could be more excusable. But his early hostility toward Lena, much like his negative view of Mon-El, was both undue and overdone. It seems that James’ arc for this season isn’t benefitting his character and has even detracted from those around him. Admittedly a hindsight-inspired idea, perhaps he would be better served taking Snapper Carr’s role. Having long served as a journalist, stepping into the role of editor would be natural. James might also be a good contrast with Lena as a young corporate leader, particularly if she turns heel. Regardless, I hope the program’s showrunners can find a good consistent contribution for him to make.
What I Took Away
This year, Supergirl has been coming back to the notion of legacies. In “Medusa”, Kara wondered what memory her parents left behind. Her father, Zor-El, created the deadly Medusa virus as a means to defend Krypton. Alura, her mother, reacted too late to save their home planet from environmental destruction. Lena Luthor may also be grappling with the same quandary. She often fears being judged by her mother and brother’s actions. Moreover, she openly weighs whether she is bound by destiny to their path. Before Supergirl finishes its second run, I believe Mon-El will also face this test. An erstwhile prince of Daxam (I believe), he could possibly confront his own inheritance soon. The resolution of this question for all three ought to make a for an intriguing season finale. Next week is “Mr. and Mrs. Mxyzptlk,” named after the fifth dimension imp from the comics of Superman. Perhaps this development means we’ll be taking a break from these heavier considerations, or maybe we’ll see different possibilities for these characters depending on the answers they choose.
Submitted by Jody Money