After last week's somewhat disappointing episode, the CW's Supergirl is (mostly) back to form – with "American Dreamer" (as the title suggests) putting Nia Nal aka Dreamer (Nicole Maines) front and center while Supergirl (Melissa Benoist) takes a break from the public eye.
Hey, that's what being "Public Enemy Number 1" will do when you're framed for attacking the White House, right?
Also front and center this episode are very personal stories of trauma, especially from Jimmy Olson (Mehcad Brooks) and an increasingly self-isolating and self-flagellating Lena Luthor (Katie McGrath). We also start to see some cracks in the homefront of Ben Lockwood (Sam Witwer) as his son George starts having a change of heart about aliens as he sees how his fathers literal gestapo tactics are tearing families and communities apart.
However, the episode starts slowly. It sort of meanders around for its first thirty minutes and then really sticks a strong landing in its finale. It's not wholly unenjoyable but it just seems unevenly paced. While much of this has to do with the script and the large amount of set up and exposition the first two thirds shoulder, part of it may have to do with director David Harewood.
Yup, J'onn J'onzz directed this episode and it's mostly… fine, really. Some moments are truly great, in fact, such as the performance he's able to coax out of Brooks. Maybe this isn't a fair comparison, but since we just had an episode last week guest directed by one of their main cast members, Danielle Panabaker, it's hard not to want to compare the two. Panabaker had such a great visual sense with the episode and it is one of the highlights of the season. This episode starts slow but ends really strongly without really distinguishing itself visually. Which is fine: given the breakneck speed of television production, we shouldn't expect every episode to look like Roger Deakins filmed it. So, overall? Good job, David.
What really worked in this episode were its quieter moments. Some of the action scenes got a little silly… like Dreamer defending the bar, which had been set up as an alien sanctuary, and she hits the jukebox and it starts playing Lenny Kravitz's cover of "American Woman." Hey, I really like that song, but… try harder. Personally I would've gone for the Dead Kennedys' "Nazi Punks F@#$ Off" or Sweet's "Ballroom Blitz" or maybe something from this decade? but, that's okay.
But again, the smaller personal moments? That's what worked. While the main storyline wanted to focus on Dreamer and her work to protect the streets in Supergirl's absence, the more compelling story was the personal one of James Olson dealing with his PTSD – which had been superpowered by the Harun-El.
Going into his "mind palace," they find the source of his trauma actually has nothing to do with Lex Luthor at all but a long-buried trauma associated with the death of James and Kelly's father. But this battle teases some important things – like James being able to control some limited superpowers thanks to the Harun-El. But it's the moments with his sister that mean the most and work best in this episode.
Perhaps one of the most pivotal of these other smaller moments took place during the bar battle when lil Georgie Lockwood sees one of his friends and says, "Why didn't you tell me you were an alien?" Proper response? "Why do you think?" Ummmm… yeah. Your dad runs a human-supremacist paramilitary organization. You might not be a "safe" person to talk to. Later in the episode, we see George text this friend and tell him that anything he needs to let him know. Looks like the homefront might be fracturing for Ben Lockwood. Speaking of…
What happened in the final scene?!?
Not going to give away this particular spoiler… but this is not going to end well.
Lockwood continues to be a great villain, with Witwer scary in his ability to go from "dad" to "rage-monster" in three seconds. And his final confrontation with Dreamer, Kara, and Jimmy is amazing. Whatever failings this episode may have had before, it more than made up for with this part.
Let's deconstruct this for a moment. "Agent Liberty" is mad because Dreamer is an alien and her speaking out about human-alien peaceful coexistence. So he and his thugs go to shut down the broadcast at Catco and arrest Dreamer "for inciting violence."
What is the most hilarious thing about this is Dreamer's speech was essentially her reading off her most recent Buzzfeed quiz results. She's a Gryffindor and House Stark. But most importantly, she's half-human… and (though no one brings this up) an American citizen. While for Nia it's important to point out how she is the same as everyone else despite being part alien (and a trans woman – something that deserves a deeper dive of its own), what hoists Lockwood on his own petard is how he is subverting the Constitution he claims to love in favor of his jack booted human supremacy fascism.
For someone who talks a big game about "The Founding Fathers" and respecting what they did, Lockwood sure wants to throw out The First Amendment pretty quickly… and the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth. Probably the Seventh and Eighth, too, but we don't see that on screen. Like all fascists, they talk a big game about patriotism and love of their country, but really they only want "liberty" for people who look like them. They are the real "roaches" – and it was awesome to see James Olson tell him where to shove it.
Then there was the most beautiful, heartwarming scene near the end where Kara and Lena hug it out. Lena unburdens herself of all the guilt she's been feeling and Kara tells her it isn't weak to feel compassion for family – even when "that brother" is Lex and you know he's manipulating you. Through this breakthrough, the two friends also unravel a major part of Lex's conspiracy.
Next week, it looks like we continue hot on Lex's trail with "Will The Real Miss Tessmacher Please Stand Up?" Between this and the Kravitz, I'm starting to think the Supergirl writers room is a maybe little obsessed with the music of 1999. (I mean, who isn't, but…) I swear to Rao if they slip a Smash Mouth "All Star" meme into one of these episodes, I'm gonna lose it.
But the episode itself looks pretty amazing. Kryptonite? Lockwood getting powers? A showdown with Guardian and Dreamer? Count me in. Supergirl airs on Sunday nights at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CW, with "Will The Real Miss Tessmacher Please Stand Up?" airing on May 5.
Supergirl season 4, episode 20 "Will The Real Miss Tessmacher Please Stand Up?": MISS TESSMACHER RETURNS WITH A VENGEANCE — Kara (Melissa Benoist) and Lena (Katie McGrath) head to Kaznia to hunt down Lex. However, Eve Tessmacher (guest star Andrea Brooks) sets a trap for the duo that could ultimately reveal that Kara is Supergirl. Meanwhile, Alex (Chyler Leigh) gets a long-awaited phone call, James (Mehcad Brooks) practices using his powers, and Ben Lockwood (Sam Witwer) takes a dangerous stand inside the DEO. Shannon Kohli directed the episode with story by Derek Simon and teleplay by Katie Rose Rogers & Natalie Abrams.