This past Sunday, NBC aired a multi-hour tribute to James Burrows, co-creator of Cheers and iconic director of that show, Friends, Taxi and so many others. The special was mostly cast reunions (because how the heck else are you gonna make people tune into a tribute to a TV director) but its existence made one thing clear: directors are the invisible backbone of the TV economy.
It’s writers and actors that get all the applause but it’s directors who marshall the resources and make the damn thing. And unless it’s something super exciting like that famous one-take shot from True Detective, nobody really remembers you.
All that said, tonight’s episode of Supergirl shows what happens when you take a talented, lesser-known director and let them play with a story that’s suited to their strengths. “Truth, Justice and the American Way,” written by Yahlin Chang and Caitlin Parrish from a story by Michael Grassi, brings in as director Lexi Alexander. Alexander, best known for Punisher: War Zone and Green Street and a former stunt woman and fighter, has drawn a lot of praise for the way she stages and executes action scenes. And she delivers on that praise here.
The fights here are, hands down, the best this show has had so far. Even with clear bashing up against budget and time constraints and some shots that went by so quick I had to rewind them multiple times to make sure I caught it, Alexander lays out every beat cleanly and efficiently. It’s good stuff.
It helps too that the episode–which sees Jimmy speak out against the DEO secretly holding Max Lord and Kara both observing Astra’s funeral and quietly try not to snap at Hank, who she’s still convinced did the deed–moves and includes all its story at a fiendishly fast pace. More importantly, every plot in this episode has the right amount of room to breathe. That’s crucial for a show juggling as many balls as late in the season as this.
Besides Jimmy and Kara hashing it out and Kara’s anger building, there’s also the matter of CatCo. What with the one-two punch of Kara dating then dumping Cat’s son as well as her outburst at Cat, Kara walks into work to find that she’s been demoted and upstart Siobhan Smythe (Italia Ricci) has become Cat’s new assistant while Kara is now “assistant number two.”
Also, Alex and Hank discover that a man with superpowered armor calling himself the Master Jailer (soap opera veteran Jeff Branson) is abducting escaped Fort Rozz prisoners and murdering them by laser guillotine (now, there’s a phrase I never thought I’d type). But Alexander has a steady enough hand and a economical sense of pacing to sweep everything along with equal speed for each segment.
It’s all tied together by some great performances. Melissa Benoist gets to indulge in some fine slow-burning anger as Kara wrestles with the aftermath of Astra’s death. Mehcad Brooks gets some nice emotional lifting in as James struggles with his loyalty to his friend and his journalistic ethics. There’s a particularly great conversation between him and Cat, as well as one between him and Supergirl, that underscores why this episode gets the title it does.
Also really winning is a turn by Todd Sherry as reformed Fort Rozz escapee and astronomy professor Luzano. He’s a nice counterpoint to Kara’s emotional state and when locked up by the Master Jailer, they have a really nice heart to heart. It’s lovely.
Alexander has really energized the show here and I hope it picks up on her momentum going forward. This was another solid outing and I hope the show picks up on it in the future.