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SUPERGIRL Recap: Flashbacks, Origin Stories & More in “Manhunter”

By on March 22, 2016

Photo: Darren Michaels/CBS

As the title of this week’s episode of Supergirl suggests, “Manhunter” focuses on the J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter, revealing, through flashbacks, the role that he’s played in the lives of the Danvers family.

Flashback episodes are tricky—they’re usually really fun or really bad. In this case, we need to go back, because we need to see exactly what happened between J’onn, Jeremiah Danvers, and the original Hank Henshaw.

We’ve been told quite a bit of the story, but a TV audience really does need to see developments like that, whenever possible. And, most importantly for developments at the end of this episode, we need to be reminded of the complicated Danvers family dynamics. So we also get flashbacks for both Alex and Kara.

The episode opens with Kara, still moping about the fact that she’s lost the city’s trust (as Aimee Mann’s “Wise Up”, from the Magnolia soundtrack plays). They should have gone the extra step and just had the entire cast sing along). So Kara’s calling in sick, Siobhan’s whining to Winn as she drowns her sorrows in mimosas, and Alex and Hank are bonding over cookies while he chills in the DEO’s alien containment cell.

Lucy shows up at the DEO, along with Colonel James Harper, to interrogate Hank and Alex to find out who knew what, when. Actor Eddie McClintock plays Harper as if he was Chet from Weird Science—a dimwitted, macho super patriot with absolutely nothing interesting about him. It really drags down the tension of the interrogation scenes to have Hank and Alex facing off against a guy that you expect to call J’onn a “butthead!” at any moment.

We flash back ten years, to see, for the first time, the real Hank Henshaw, played by Harewood with more hair and more attitude. Basically, this Henshaw is a cocky jackass. He’s obsessed with finding the Manhunter, who he’s tracked through local myths and legends around the globe. We’re not really given any reason that Henshaw has to hate the Manhunter the way he does, other than the fact that he’s cut from the same cloth as his “best friend,” Colonel Harper. That’s a little disappointing for a show that’s usually strong with character motivation.

They track the Manhunter to the rainforest, where the alien saves Jeremiah Danvers from an impending snake attack. The two bond over their daughters—Danvers shows J’onn a picture of his kids, and tells him that Kara is also from another world. J’onn says “I, too, have daughters.” This sweet moment doesn’t last long, as Henshaw comes along and attacks the Manhunter, readying to kill J’onn before Danvers stops him. The two fight, which comes to an abrupt end when Jeremiah Danvers throws Henshaw off a damn cliff, and then succumbs to injuries sustained during the fight. Then we see J’onn striding into the DEO in the form of Hank Henshaw, turning to the camera to do that red glowy-eye thing, which he will apparently be doing when nobody’s looking for the next ten years of his life.

He tells Lucy and Colonel Harper, “I’ve dedicated my life to protecting this world. If you want to take me down for being different, so be it.”

Meanwhile, they also interrogate Alex, which leads to a flashback to party-girl Alex dancing to LMFAO and then trying to drive away while absolutely hammered. The cops pick her up, and Hank comes to bail her out. He says he knows her, he knows her story, he knows about Kara, and furthermore, he knows how Alex feels about her. “Someone comes into your life with these extraordinary powers, and you feel like you can never measure up, like you’re not special. But you are special, Alex.” So he recruits her for the DEO, and gives her direction and purpose.

During the interrogation, Alex is then asked if she ever knew that Hank was an alien. She says “no”, which is a lie, but she passes the test. But Lucy realizes that she’s lying, so (based on Lucy’s hunch!), they prepare to send both J’onn and Alex to something called Project Cadmus, which is a super secret alien dissection lab. Of course, if it’s such a secret, why does Harper throw it in Supergirl’s face? Only to tell the audience—and to foreshadow developments at the end of the episode (I’m getting to it!).

For now, all we need to know is that this is a bad place, and that J’onn (and maybe Alex?) is going to be treated like a lab rat, studied for what use his alien powers may have for military purposes. So Kara runs to Jimmy and Jimmy runs to Lucy, and Lucy for some reason agrees to show up at Kara’s loft, where Kara reveals to Lucy that she is Supergirl. “It all makes sense now, Lucy says, “I just didn’t want to put it all together. I just didn’t want it to be true.”

When Lucy asks Kara why these aliens, including Kara herself, are hiding who they really are, Kara tells, through her own flashback, why she decided to hide her abilities from the world. The flashback begins with a great scene of the young Kara being overwhelmed with her powers—literally seeing through people with her x-ray vision and overhearing every bit of conversation in the schoolyard. That ties into one of my favorite parts of the Supergirl/Superman mythos, that these Kryptonians are constantly bombarded with information that we, as humans, are unaware of (one of the best Superman stories ever, Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman, ends with Lex Luthor gaining the powers of Superman for a day, then breaking down in tears).

We also see Kara saving a mother and her baby from a car accident, which leads Jeremiah Danvers to warn Kara that people would be frightened and confused to see a little girl with such abilities. “The world already has a Superman,” he says. “All you have to be is Kara Danvers.” He gives her glasses lined with lead to suppress her vision—a scene that was actually cut from the pilot, which gives, finally, a justification for those glasses other than the fact that they vaguely, kind of make her look slightly different than this other extremely beautiful person that is always saving people when Kara Danvers isn’t around (the reveal to Lucy, basically just Kara opening her shirt and taking off her glasses, is unintentionally hilarious as these moments always are).

So then we see Hank (‘J’onn? I’m getting increasingly confused about how to refer to this character—I trust you know who I’m talking about) and Alex in the back of an armored military transport on their way to big, bad Project Cadmus. They’re busted out of the truck by two mysterious figures on motorcycles. Would you ever guess, viewer? That was Lucy and Kara all along, apparently willing to shoot out the wheels of a military vehicle, putting the lives of the soldiers inside at risk, but whatever.

So they free Hank and Alex, and Hank uses his Martian mind-control powers to wipe Harper’s memory (and to implant the idea that Lucy should take over the DEO while he’s at it). While digging around in the colonel’s brain, Hank sees a vision of Jeremiah Danvers—alive and well at Project Cadmus (see? I got to it). So Alex and Hank go off to bust him out, while Kara zooms back home to begin winning back the trust of National City.

Throughout the episode we have a side-story featuring Siobhan sneaking into Catco to send Cat a fake, belligerent email from Kara’s email account. Cat never buys this, so she has Winn analyze the key strokes and words per minute, which reveals that the email could only have been typed by Siobhan. Cat double fires Siobhan, humiliating her. She gets wasted and goes up to the roof, whining to Winn about what happened. She gets so frustrated that she stamps her foot and shouts, “I just want to scream!“ Then she falls off the roof, only to catch herself before she splats on the pavement by unleashing a sonic scream to break her fall. As you do. So we won’t get some magical transformation into Silver Banshee, as we saw with Livewire. Apparently, this is already who Siobhan is—whether she knows this or not, and whether she’s an alien of not, we’ll have to see next week.

This was an interesting episode, packed with plot and information. Flashbacks can drag an episode down, but these were well-handled, staying true to the characters while giving us some much-needed exposition. It’s also an important step forward that so much of this episode, including almost the entire first half, does not focus directly on Kara. Supergirl has never struck me as a series with a particularly deep bench—yes, there are characters that we enjoy, but we usually enjoy them because of the way that they’re interacting with Kara, because of how solidly Kara/Benoist anchors the series. But this episode proves that these characters (and these actors) are strong enough to hold their own without Kara.

You’ll never have Supergirl without Supergirl, but it’s nice to know that an episode can focus on someone else without losing the tremendous momentum of the series overall.

Supergirl, Season One, Episode 17, “Manhunter”: B+

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