Be careful what you wish for.... you just might get it, goes the old saying. The all too often case of being unable to differentiate between the things we want and the things we need. Without thinking through the ramifications, we hope and pray for what turns out to be the worst things for us. The dream job that can’t cut it in reality or the dream crush that you actually have nothing in common with. For superheroes, it’s often much simpler: they dream of having a normal life. Away from their powers and the responsibilities, they ask to just be like everyone else only to realize that doing heroic things is what makes them who they are, and nothing could be worse than being powerless to help those you care about. The idea of a sudden power loss is a classic story in almost any superhero’s lore. This week, we see Supergirl telling hers as the girl of steel becomes..... well, just the girl.
Human For A Day – After blowing out her powers fighting Red Tornado, Kara is left human and vulnerable for a few days waiting for their return. When the worst earthquake in decades hits National City, Kara struggles with not being able to help people those in need. Meanwhile, an alien breakout induced lockdown at the DEO sees Alex finally confronting Hank about her father but the truth is far more than she expected.
So the show’s take on a de-powered episode focuses away from the changes on Kara and her personal life to keep the attention firmly on her role as Supergirl and being powerless when people need her the most. It attempts to cover a lot of ground along a few different themes. This runs the danger of getting its messages mixed but thankfully, the episode is well-paced, and the script is filled with smarts to separate them out. The early impact of the earthquake disaster sees Kara devastated by the lives she can’t save, including a great scene of having to let someone’s father die from their injuries. This leads to James consoling her that, even if she had her powers, some people would still get hurt, “No hero can save everyone not even Superman”. With that embedded, the episode explores more familiar territory of getting to discover that she can be a hero even without her powers. Save the big end reveal, this is the highlight of episode as we witness a costumed but vulnerable Kara trying to talk down an armed looter while intercutting with Cat Grant’s rallying news broadcast. The little touches are fantastic, like Kara’s injured arm shaking slightly as she tries to hold her composure or Cat ditching the planned speech to speak from the heart and give people hope. It’s an idea that plenty of superhero shows have covered in the past but still executed superbly to deliver to desired impact. This story also makes good use of Maxwell Lord to throw a little more mystery over his intentions. While he dishes out his usual Supergirl media bashing, his efforts to help with the relief work appear entirely genuine. It implies that he’s not opposed to the idea of aliens/superheroes only the notion of dependence upon them: That humanity becomes weaker believing they will be saved rather than trying to save themselves. It’s an interesting idea, that while still leaning him towards villainy, it makes him far more sympathetic than what earlier episodes implied.
Away from the bigger drama, the episode does find great ways to use the power outage idea for lighter and comic relief in smaller doses. The opening act packs in a few gems as Kara experiences her first cold much to Cat’s displeasure. Or Kara getting annoyed at Alex for not mentioning how much breaking bones hurts. As the events progress, it also manages to incorporate some of this nicely into the action like Winn’s lying reassurances to the upper floor that they’ll be fine. The resulting lift sequence delivers some good de-powered thrills and gives James a rare moment in the action spotlight. The only lighter element that feels out-of-place is the brief love triangle moments with James, Kara and Winn. There’s so much else going on in this episode that this should have taken a week off, and as such feels very surplus to requirements.
In many ways, this is a two-story episode with Alex, Hank and the DEO being completely removed from Kara, and the rest after the opening minutes. Yet despite being the smaller of the two parts, this alien manhunt really impresses with scenes in delivers. The lockdown atmosphere transforms many familiar set locations into dark, tense and even creepy settings as the red emergency lighting dominates the colour pallet. At many points, it feels reminiscent of James Cameron’s Aliens, compounded even further as a team of soldiers hunts the escaped Jemm (an alien with mind control powers) with helmet cameras while Alex and the rest watch their feed on screens. The only real criticism is some painfully obvious “red shirting” of certain DEO members but otherwise, this series actually takes a satisfying toe dip into the horror genre as it plays with suspense and unseen terrors. We even get to see Alex in full-on guns-blazing Ellen Ripley mode as she takes on the physically superior Jemm, which delivers one of her best character moments to date. However, the big takeaway is the reveal of Hank Henshaw’s character. For the past couple of episodes, this secret has started to feel a little frustrating as it’s been stringed on without any new information. Even when Alex asks Hank the question, we’re expecting to just get the next breadcrumb. Instead, it seems that the writers were carefully holding onto their cards because contrary to expectations, this episode doesn’t just show their hand, it plays for the win! The past episode teases that implied Hank’s comic persona (a cyborg-based entity) are revealed as nothing but a rope-a-dope for someone even bigger! The script perfectly times the reveal as the tit bits of dialogue will see anyone even vaguely familiar with the comics clocking on just long enough to gasp before everything is confirmed. It’s someone that will make a lot of fans extremely happy to see on-screen and opens up some wonderful possibilities for the season to come (no spoilers..... but it’s definitely not John Cena).
Although it can be a frequent title in a show’s early days, Human For A Day is still Supergirl’s best episode so far. The clear applause deserving MVP's are writers Yahlin Chang & Ted Sullivan, who have more than redeemed their earlier down note effort in episode 5. Although it’s quite a sudden end jolt, the episode positions itself well for next week’s mid-season finale. For a week that show’s us an ordinary Supergirl, this is an extraordinary episode.