Supergirl 4×12: “Menagerie” review
This week in the Arrowverse, Flash and Arrow are on hiatus, but Supergirl is back! . . . For one week. Then it’s off again to make room for the Oscars.
The CW’s scheduling gets to be hell this time of year, doesn’t it?
Love and heartbreak are in the air on Supergirl. After all, it’s Valentine’s Day!
Well, this episode actually aired three days after Valentine’s Day, and this review is going up a week after that, but everyone’s still in the Valentine’s Day spirit, right? I’m gonna assume that I’m right.
What’s interesting about this episode’s approach to love is how little focus it puts on traditional romantic relationships. Oh, James and Lena have some romance going on in their C-plot, and there’s some quasi-flirting that occurs between Brainy & Nia and Alex & Chick-She-Went-Out-With-A-Couple-Times. But the main love relationship on display this episode is the bond between sisters Alex & Kara, and it’s amazing how well the framework of a romantic breakup works for their drama this episode.
Kara & Alex have always been the heart of the show. Whatever else might not work on Supergirl (and as I’ve ranted many times in this column, there’s a lot that doesn’t) having these two bare their hearts to each other has always resulted in the show’s sweetest and most touching scenes. In many ways, their relationship takes up the space in their lives that would normally be filled by romantic partners. As J’onn said last episode, Kara has been Alex’s “primary relationship” for years, and his efforts to re-forge their working relationship this week are openly referred to by Kara as matchmaking.
It’s pretty easy to read Kara this week as a jilted lover, someone who has been “friendzoned” by the person they love. Her and Alex are still sisters, are still close, but since the mind-wipe, Kara can no longer share the Supergirl side of her life with Alex, and Alex can’t share the DEO side of her life with Kara. Their relationship has received a downgrade, and Kara is not taking it well.
She wants them to have what they used to have, to share every aspect of their lives, from pizza and movie nights to alien battles and crime scene investigations. It’s hard for her to accept that Alex is just not interested in her that way anymore.
Because while Kara wants to return to when her and Alex were the most important things in each other’s lives, Alex (though she doesn’t consciously realize it) is relishing her new freedom. There are things she wanted to do, other relationships she wanted to form, that she neglected because all her attention was on Kara. She wants to date other women, and someday have a child, not live and die solely for her sister. And when Kara tries squirming her way back into the dangerous side of Alex’s life, it becomes clear that the two of them are looking for different things, and need to let each other go their separate ways.
It makes for an intriguing conflict, one where no one is in the right or the wrong, their desires are just incompatible, and neither can directly raise their concerns to the other (Alex ‘cause she doesn’t actually know what’s going on, and Kara ‘cause she can’t tell Alex what’s going on). It’s the kind of conflict that Supergirl does its best work with. The show’s black-and-white worldview doesn’t often allow characters to be hostile towards each other without clearly taking one character’s side, whether or not their side makes the most sense. But when the conflict’s not between the characters, but between them and the awful situation that’s come between them, the show’s deep conviction in the fundamental goodness of its leadss lets the conflict play out in a way that’s sweet yet sad for everyone involved.
Kara may want something more from her relationship with Alex, but when she sees that rekindling that bond isn’t what’s best for her sister right now, she steps aside. She sacrifices her own happiness for the sake of the woman she loves, who will never even know Kara’s true feelings (at least not until the mindwipe gets undone, because, c’mon, who really believes that’s gonna last?)
‘Course, if you read the rift between Kara and Alex as analogous to a romantic breakup, that kinda makes Nia Kara’s rebound sister. If Kara can no longer save the day alongside Alex, then she’ll find another super-cool woman to team up with and fight monsters. Kara even refers to recruiting Nia for superhero work as bringing her into the family. And Nia, having just had a breakup with her own sister, on top of losing her mom, is maybe looking for a rebound family, too.
Maybe that’s putting it in slightly cynical terms (and possibly icky terms if you take the romantic comparison too far), but given the choice to tell this story of sisterly love against the backdrop of Valentine’s Day, the holiday for lovers, I don’t think the similarities are an accident. It may be a different kind of love, but the love between sisters can be every bit as powerful, especially if you’re a Danvers.
- I don’t really get Lena’s plotline. Everyone acts like the military getting access to her eventual superpower serum is crossing a line, something she would never have agreed to if she wasn’t desperate for results. But how was the military not getting hold of her research ever even an option? Did anyone seriously think that, when it becomes known that there’s a drug that gives people superpowers, the government wouldn’t immediately demand access to the formula? If nothing else, the FDA is going to need to know exactly how it works before it can be distributed to anyone.
- During the climax, Supergirl refers to the villain as Menagerie when talking to Alex. But that name was only said once before in the episode, when the only people around to hear it were Brainy, Alex, and her civilian sister Kara. I was expecting some quick bit where Alex is suspicious about how Supergirl knew that name, but nothing came of it.
- If I remember right, two seasons ago Alex loved Valentine’s Day, while her then-girlfriend Maggie was the one who hated it. Now Alex is telling Brainy that she hates Valentine’s Day. Is it character development? Poor continuity? Or did she only like Valentine’s Day because of some memory involving Kara’s alien superpowers which is now erased?
- It feels like, at some point in the development of this story, the villain literally ripping people’s hearts out was supposed to be used as a metaphor for all the broken hearted people this week, but that connection didn’t really make it into the final draft of the episode.
- Remains to be seen how well Nia will work as a superhero, but her costume is amazing. Seriously one of the best outfits ever done on these shows.
MVP of the Week: Brainiac-5
He was at his funniest and most relatably awkward this week. Being so frightened of snakes that he leaps onto the ceiling like a reverse-gravity cat? Just the icing on the cake.
Question of the Week: Which Arrowverse romances were you glad to see the shows finally drop?
There are no new Arrowverse episodes airing next week, but be sure to check out this space next Sunday, because I have something special planned.