It’s All Part of the Plan

The season finale of Supergirl aired this past Monday on CBS, capping off a first season during which the series struggled to find its footing.  I really want to love this show, since we can always use superhero shows that are actually fun, and there are parts that are quite good.  It certainly hasn’t caused me the pain that drove me away from Gotham after its first season.  The best thing Supergirl has going for it by far is Melissa Benoist’s performance as Kara/Supergirl.  The other actors are fine, but, other than Calista Flockhart’s Cat Grant, they haven’t been given much to do.  And Cat can be fairly one-note. 

The real issue is the writing, which is wildly uneven.  The recent episode that featured a guest appearance by Grant Gustin as Barry Allen aka The Flash is a perfect example of this.  The scenes with Kara and Barry playing off of each other and with the other main characters were great and an absolute joy to watch.  The scenes with the episode’s villains, though, were painful.  And this has been generally true week after week.  Kara will have a great scene with her sister, Alex, and then rush off to fight some baddie of the week, who spouts a lot of generic “I will destroy you, Supergirl! Bwuahahahahaha!” type dialogue. 

Even worse has been the season’s overall threat, the band of Kryptonians that escaped from the Fort Rozz prison when it crashed to Earth.  Their dialogue is full of ominous pronouncements and posturing, but, for all of that, they really didn’t do very much. 

More than the clunky dialogue, the logic of them just sitting around is really the issue.  Based on the show’s timeline, Fort Rozz crashed to Earth 14 years before the start of the series, releasing its prisoners onto the planet.  Since then the DEO and presumably Superman have nabbed some of the escapees, but many of these aliens were apparently waiting for Supergirl to show up before they started causing trouble.

The Kryptonians, however, were…I have no idea what they were doing.  They had this plan involving the mysterious Myriad that they were name-dropping (ominously, of course) all season, but did that really take 14 years to do?  And did they really need to wait that long?  Astra and Non had at least a dozen other Kryptonians on their side.  Sure the DEO has Kryptonite (and lots of it, it seems), but that many super-powered Kryptonians would be a nearly unstoppable force.  There was really no reason for them to not just conquer the planet 10 minutes after they arrived.

And with that many of them, Supergirl wasn't going to stand a chance, even with help, so the show had to write all of them but Non out of the finale before the climactic battle in order to level the playing field.

The writers at Supergirl just don’t seem like they thought through the bad guys’ plan very thoroughly, and admittedly that can be difficult to keep going over the arc of a season.  There’s a balancing act.  The villain has to be a threat, but if that villain is shown to be too powerful right from the start, it begs the question why he/she doesn’t just roll over our heroes immediately.  Usually the answer involves making the seemingly-invincible foe suddenly weaker.  My beloved Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (Spoiler alert: I talked about Deep Space Nine in my Weekly Trek post this week.) was guilty of this when they introduced the Dominion.  In the second season finale, a couple of small Dominion ships are able to take out a Galaxy-class Federation starship with no trouble whatsoever with weapons that cut right through the starship’s shields.  Perhaps realizing that they’d made their new adversary a bit too powerful, the writers soon threw in dialogue stating that the Starfleet engineers had figured out a way to deal with the issue.  This wasn’t incredibly satisfying, but it kept things going.

The better method is to make sure the antagonist has a convincing reason not to just tear through the heroes.  Of course, your definition of convincing may vary.  This season on The Flash, Zoom very convincingly defeated Barry several episodes ago and could have killed him right there, but didn’t.  What we have learned since is that Zoom wants Barry to get faster, so that Zoom can then somehow steal Barry’s speed.  Zoom needs to absorb Barry’s speed in order to keep himself alive.  We as viewers have been fed this information in dribs and drabs, but it has explained why Zoom didn’t just kill Barry to begin with.  This gives Zoom a goal, but as a viewer it still felt to me like Zoom was sitting around waiting for the heroes to figure out how to kill him.  There were other ways he could coerce Barry into doing what he wanted, which finally came into play this week on the show.

If I could offer some advice to the writers of The Flash and Supergirl (Yes, I’m sure they want advice from some random guy pontificating on the Internet.), it’s to give the season’s villain an arc of their own.  What is the villain trying to achieve and what are they doing to achieve it?  Waiting around for the heroes to do something should not be an answer to that question.  The heroes’ job is to try to thwart the villains while piecing together the overall plan.  Supergirl took a stab at this in one episode in which the Kryptonians stole something from Maxwell Lord’s facility, but, as I said before, for the most part they just seemed to be sitting around for no reason.

Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD has actually been doing a pretty good job on this front this season with regards to Grant Ward and Hydra.  Ward began the season trying to set himself up as the new leader of Hydra and then ended up searching for who was truly still running the organization.  This made him a part of Hydra’s goal to bring back an Inhuman that had been stranded on an alien world.  In order to retrieve him, they needed to gather the components required to open a portal to said world.  Along the way, these steps have put Ward and Hydra at odds with SHIELD while still keeping it clear for the most part what Hydra is trying to accomplish. 

Perhaps the best example of a villain arc that I can think of is the Mayor is season three of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Throughout the season, the Mayor is focus on achieving his Ascension and takes actions to further that goal, including recruiting Buffy’s fellow slayer, Faith, to his side.  As part of his plan, he performs a ritual that makes him completely invulnerable for 100 days, which, when combined with his political power, leaves Buffy and her friends unable to do anything to stop him until the day of his actual Ascension, which is conveniently the season finale.  Over the course of several episodes, Buffy and company learn about the Mayor and figure out his plan while still dealing with the various other threats facing their town of Sunnydale.  It all comes to a head quite nicely at the end of the season.

Should Supergirl get a second season (It hadn’t been renewed as of this writing), I hope that the series’ writers and showrunner will take some time to really plot out what they want their next villains to be up to.  If anything, they should take some time to watch Buffy’s third season.  Because if there’s a model for them to follow in terms of character, dialogue, and plotting, that’s it.

- Alan Decker

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