NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “Supergirl” are present in this review
Supergirl didn’t universally hit a dramatic high note with its Thanksgiving episode last week, but it managed to gain some more significant momentum with this week’s episode. “Rather the Fallen Angel” pitted several characters against the Children of Liberty on their home turf, with each aiming to bring to the table a different outlook on their place in the war for human/alien relations on Earth-38. Lena also got a pretty big chance to shine this week, as she begins the first phase of her human trials in the effort to cure everything that ails mankind.
There was plenty going on in this week’s episode of Supergirl, and pretty much all of it was well done. Kara’s partnership with Manchester Black ended up taking quite a few interesting twists and turns, while James works with Tom, his new mole in the Children of Liberty, to try and get their side of the story. This episode focused heavily on duality and the intricate nature of humans, and this meant that Kara’s story arc somewhat took a back seat to James, Lena and Manchester this week, but the result led to some much stronger drama than what we’ve often gotten from Supergirl over the past few weeks. Perhaps this is due to more focused storytelling as well, since several leads, namely Alex and Brainy, almost entirely sat out this week’s episode, though this more select principal cast ultimately worked to create better pacing and focus, without diluting the themes that the episode wants to explore.
At first, Kara and Manchester seem to work fairly well together, finding clues as to the location of Agent Liberty, who is apparently running his operation out of Shelley Island, the former entry point through which immigrant aliens could enter Earth, via National City. There’s a nice bit of irony surrounding Agent Liberty’s base being right under an alien monument, one that was decommissioned after President Marsdin resigned. This also effectively played into James’ arc, since Agent Liberty ends up refusing to give James an interview, and instead coerces him to destroy Shelley Island’s monument as Guardian, to profess his pro-human support for the cause of the Children of Liberty. James getting backed into a corner for the sake of the story was pretty dramatic as well, even if Tom being his reason to endanger all of his friends, along with his personal and professional reputation, did feel like a bit of a stretch. James is really that easily persuaded to put so much on the line?
Regardless, the major story arcs do come together fairly well on Shelley Island, as Manchester ends up selling out Supergirl to get an audience with Agent Liberty, which results in Kara being de-powered by Shelley Island’s re-activated power dampeners, and soon after chained inside the monument that James is supposed to blow up. It’s sheer dumb luck that allows Manchester to deduce that the ‘Agent Liberty’ he’s meeting is fake, while James barely stops short of blowing up the monument with Kara inside. Kara is obviously able to eventually escape (complete with jamming her fingers through a stone wall to climb it, in what seems to be a nod to last year’s Wonder Woman movie), and James gets away without compromising his Guardian persona as well, but by then, it’s too late. Kara learns the horrible truth about Manchester being a murderous vigilante, whom even J’onn is helpless to talk down, instead being left to tearfully confess to Kara that he was wrong about his friend following a path of peace. Manchester ultimately defecting from Supergirl is a bit predictable for DC fans, since something similar happened with his DC Comics counterpart and Superman, but it will be interesting to see how Kara and J’onn pick up the pieces, now that they’ve positively identified someone who is hunting Agent Liberty and his cronies with extreme prejudice!
As much as the episode provided a nicely interpretive core conflict with Kara, James, Manchester and the Children of Liberty, the same was also mostly achieved with this week’s Lena subplot, as Lena desperately tries to de-humanize herself before dealing with the subject of her first human trial. This is a mostly strong subplot overall, as both Lena and the subject, whose name is eventually revealed to be Adam, gradually get each other to open up, and explore the ethics of life, death, playing with nature, and chaos theory. We actually learn quite a bit about Adam, and in turn, we also learn the circumstances behind how Lena came to be adopted into the Luthor family; She watched her mother drown as a four-year-old, and was simply handed off to the Luthor’s soon afterward. Lena’s material this week isn’t always perfect, mind you, since she does unrealistically lose her nerve in certain places, which doesn’t wholly feel consistent with her character, plus this doesn’t amount to much anyway, because the entire experiment with Adam is over and done with by the end of the episode.
Even if the subplot with Lena and Adam had a few sour notes, the bitter ending, wherein Lena reveals that Adam has died off-screen, was a nice gut punch to close things off on. It seems weird that the show would develop Adam so much, only to suddenly kill him off, but I suppose this could be put down to the themes of chaos theory, and bad things happening to supposedly good people in the name of progress. Sometimes, people are forced to deal with empty, senseless tragedy, and Lena having to face this did tie in well with Manchester separately giving in to his inner demons, and accepting his blackened soul as he goes to start violently executing any Children of Liberty in his way. Sometimes, it’s frustrating when things senselessly happen for no reason on Supergirl, but this is a strong example of the show doing senselessness right. Lena gets hit so hard by everything in fact that she even puts off a reconciliation effort from James, turning down some of her favourite food, in favour of seeing James the next day. It’s not often that Lena gets hit so hard, but there’s good irony here too, since Lena is clearly not as good at de-humanizing herself as she thinks she is. Thus, in a strange way, Adam ends up being posthumously proven right after having told Lena that she’s not a monster, and can’t blame herself for what happened to her mother.
Not every note was perfect, but it’s good to see Supergirl tighten its storytelling and deliver a stronger episode again this week, one that nicely explored themes of tragedy and symbolism. The latest plot by Agent Liberty felt a lot smarter this week, even if Kara, James and Manchester still managed to foil it, while Lena’s experiment felt nicely unpredictable and challenging, forcing her to confront the supposed limitations of her humanity, while ironically solidifying that she in fact has a heart, and isn’t truly like her adopted family. The episode would have really soared if James wasn’t so easily coerced into nearly perverting his Guardian persona beyond repair, but at least he still had to effectively confront his own challenges in taking his own unique stance, namely trying to be impartial, and simply get to the objective truth behind a conflict that seemingly can’t be stopped from spiraling out of control. James’ character continues to be one of the best elements of the Supergirl cast this season, amazingly, and it seems like he’s finally no longer coming off like a weird add-on to everybody else’s story arc. Now that we’re dealing with a conflict that can more believably involve a human perspective, Guardian is finally a truly useful and pivotal hero for this show. I think it’s safe to say as well that, despite Guardian not ultimately going along with the destruction of the Shelley Island Monument, Agent Liberty is far from done with National City’s human hero!
- Smarter, more effective plan for the Children of Liberty
- Kara and J'onn confronting the bitter truth about Manchester
- Lena finding her humanity through trying to lose it
- James' motivations for going along with Agent Liberty are a bit suspect
- Lena's occasional forced drama with Adam