Like the vast majority of superhero fiction, Supergirl is not one for subtleties. That makes sense in terms of the genre but also when you consider the broad, prime-time audience it’s trying to reach (which definitely includes kids). That’s great in a lot of respects–see the Alex/Maggie stuff from last week and the brilliant bits of both J’onn/Hank and Maggie talking about their experiences as minorities–but annoying in others–although he’s gotten more enjoyable since his debut, Ian Gomez’s Snapper Carr is still a shit.
“Survivors” doubles down on the bluntness of “Welcome to Earth” for good and for ill, mostly for good. But while the new cast members bring a pleasing energy to things, our villain for the episode–and seemingly for the future–is just horribly uninteresting. Still, though, the good outweighs the bad.
After a flashback of Mon-El (Chris Wood) explaining that he was a palace guard for the Daxamite royal family who was sent off in a Kryptonian shuttle belonging to envoys by his prince to escape the planet’s decimation, J’onn informs Mon-El that he has to stay inside the DEO until his powers are fully gauged. Meanwhile, J’onn is still frustrated that M’Gann (Sharon Leal) doesn’t want to telepathically share her memories with him.
Maggie Sawyer calls up Alex and asks “Wanna see a dead body?” Because that’s how you flirt, kids! Anyway, Alex and Supergirl show up to a crime scene of a small alien–from a planet Kara recognizes as a utopia–who apparently died in a fight with another alien and has a tusk embedded in his shoulder. Winn figures out who the other alien is but when Maggie & Alex confront him, he’s accosted by men in a van and spirited away.
Where to? To an underground alien fighting ring for rich people curated by Veronica “Roulette” Sinclair (Dollhouse and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. veteran Dichen Lachman). Where else?
The conceit of an underground alien fight club is a potent one, certainly. Especially given that, even with the Alien Amnesty Act signed into law last week, so many of the aliens, particularly the non-human ones, feel as if they have no other option. Unfortunately, the actual fights as staged by director James Marshall are dull and underlit.
Underlighting fight scenes to save money is a common trick on TV these days, even on foolproof hits like Chicago Fire. But here, it just feels cheap and hard to follow. When Supergirl fights the big alien gladiator Draaga (John DeSantis), it’s not that brutal because we barely see what happens. It’s just annoying.
Further, while Lichman accquits herself admirably and delivers the heck out of a villain speech, it doesn’t change that Roulette is just a really boring villain. She just has no underlying motivation besides cash and that just isn’t interesting.
Still, though, the good outweighs the bad. Snapper Carr is still a piece of shit but thankfully, writers Paula Yoo & Eric Carrasco tone that down in favor of his shittiness actually being about improving Kara’s skills as a reporter. There’s also a nice throughline of Kara grappling with an issue one way as herself and another way as Supergirl; hopefully, that continues.
Mon-El is a weird concept even in the Superman family but the streamlining of him plus Wood’s cocky confidence is real appealing. Maggie Sawyer is the best thing to happen to this show in a long time and having Miss Martian around opens up a whole lot more immigrant/refugee material for the show to explore, a well it seems determined to return to.
Overall, while saddled with a really week villain and bad visual choices, “Survivors” is still a solid episode and makes me want to see more of what the National City gang gets up to.
Tom Speelman is a contributor to Loser City and The Mary Sue and a regular writer/columnist at Comics Alliance. He’s a freelance writer and proofreader and is featured in the upcoming criticism anthology A Galaxy Far Far Away: Exploring Star Wars Comics from Sequart Publishing. Find him on Twitter @tomtificate.