Supergirl: “Livewire”

(Episode 1.04)

TV Reviews Supergirl
Supergirl: “Livewire”

So a week earlier than expected, Supergirl brings us a Thanksgiving episode. Despite giving me a near-heart attack because of a weird quirk of network timing (I mean, seriously, I have groceries to buy CBS. Not cool.), it seems only fitting that I talk about what this episode leaves us to be thankful for. And maybe a little bit about the things for which we shouldn’t be so grateful.

I’m thankful for the depiction of a truly dysfunctional family Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving episodes can be difficult. Throw too much angst in and you begin to wonder why these people talk at all. Too much love and you end up stuck with a weird saccharine aftertaste. Often the solution is to throw in a lot of easily solved conflict. This usually falls into the plot line of “Character A is cooking by them self for the first time and accidentally screws it up” or “Character B bets everyone that they can eat a whole turkey,” or “Character C doesn’t know the silly reason that Character D’s parents don’t like them”…which, now that I think about it are all plot lines from Friends. So yeah, as a general rule, not the best choices for dramatic television.

But last night, Supergirl struck a blow for dysfunctional mother/daughter relationships everywhere. While Doctor Danvers may be a bit of an uneven character (her dialogue and acting are one of the show’s not-so-shining moments), the stress she presents for Alex is certainly familiar. Everything about it rings painfully true, from Alex’s insistent paranoia to Kara’s obliviousness, to Winn’s poor caught-in-the-middle timing. The holidays have a way of forcing families to confront each other, and for anyone who’s ever had to sit at a dinner table with that much tension, waiting for the inevitable fight to break out is just one more Thanksgiving tradition. That’s not to say that we still don’t have a loving family moment at the end, but that’s kind of how real families work too. We complain, we judge, we fight, and right before everyone goes home, we set everything aside for one last dysfunctional family moment.

I’m thankful for Dean Cain. Okay, well, maybe not Dean Cain exactly. His flashback sequences are a little clunky and it might just be me, but he was definitely a better actor on Lois & Clark. But I’m thankful for the back story those flashbacks left us with. Suddenly Supergirl took a major step up from episodic villain of the week to long-term emotional arch. Yes, there was always the promise of long term battles with General Astra, but to have the mystery of what happened to Jeremiah Danvers hanging over our heroines’ heads, gives them a long-term purpose and much higher stakes regarding the DEO.

I’m thankful for bad “feminist,” Leslie “Livewire” Willis. Leslie isn’t really a bad feminist. In all honesty, she doesn’t do anything all that feminist the whole episode. She’s really just a bad person—a “mean girl”: the worst kind of bully. She doesn’t criticize Supergirl’s ideas or actions—the things that have actual impact—but surface issues. These are issues we all have little control over. They are easy, lazy places to hit people because they lean into our most obvious insecurities. It’s an unfortunate reality that when someone (meaning both men and women) disagrees with a woman’s ideas or actions they rarely criticize them directly. Instead it’s often the woman’s looks, or age, or sexuality that bare the brunt of the critical party’s ire. So in a way, Leslie Willis in her shock jock form achieves this show’s goal admirably by showing the struggles that face young female heroines, or really any woman who lives in the public eye.

By introducing Livewire, the show once again takes a turn into making Supergirl a real DC hero. It marks the first addition to Supergirl’s rouges’ gallery. The aliens she’s fought and even General Astra are her mother’s enemies. They are villains without a personal connection to Kara, introduced and defeated completely in one episode. By making Supergirl directly involved in Livewire’s creation, giving them personal history, and leaving Livewire alive at the end, we begin to see the building of a very important concept in all superhero mythology: The idea of consequences. The undeniable truth that even as every hero tries their hardest to do good, sometimes the results fall short.

But what am I most thankful for? That’s easy. Cat Grant, as played by Calista Flockhart. I’ve written before about my affection for the Queen of all media. Her general sassiness and non-apologetic boss status are enough reason to applaud both the writing and acting with regards to this character. Still, I have to confess that I underestimated Supergirl when it comes to her. I assumed that Cat’s purpose would mostly lie in holding a mirror up to Kara. To serve as a foil to Kara’s wide-eyed naïveté, and create a position Kara could disagree with, that wasn’t that of a blatant bad guy. That, and to provide me with witty quips. Last night Cat proved that she’s more than just a collection of character functions. Not only did we learn more about her personal life, we got to see beyond the tough boss exterior. We learned about her tough love approach to mentoring, and saw her actually caring about Kara. Most importantly, we watched her be self-sacrificing and brave.

It’s easy to qualify aggressive, self-interested characters as also being selfish and uncaring. On paper, these qualities more often describe villains than heroes, but in Cat Grant Supergirl is once again trying something different. Instead of showing a strong, aggressive businesswoman as being hard and uncaring, they’re creating a much more realistic person. She’s a person who puts herself in danger to help save her city; a person who may need time to admit her failings, but will ultimately try to improve; a person who sends her assistant down to get help, knowing that it will do nothing except save their assistant’s life. Kara is proving herself to be a pretty cool Supergirl, but for my money Cat Grant is Superwoman.

Katherine Siegel is a Chicago-based freelance writer and director and a regular contributor to Paste. You can find out more by checking out her website, or follow her on Twitter.

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