I thought the season premier of Supergirl was disappointing. Honestly, I disliked and/or disagreed with almost every choice they made. The second episode was a bit better, but honestly, that bar is practically subterranean. Between some folks acting very out of character, and some new characters I really don’t care for, I’m really not sold on this new season. But there were a few good moments in “Stranger Beside Me.”
As seems to be the formula lately, the episode opens with Supergirl making a random rescue from a traffic accident. This one was caused by an idiot texting while walking. I do hate that, and call those people phone zombies myself. Supergirl, never one to miss a chance for a public lecture, talks about that being a problem, sees something she doesn’t like on a billboard, and flies off. Nia wakes up to a special treat that actually goes well, and Brainy babbles too much, as usual. After having changed and gotten coffee, Kara meets up with James to rant about Andrea Rojas, her new boss, while James talks about some new opportunities coming his way in the remarkably short span since he left his job. While I know what’s actually going on in the real world behind this, in-world, the message almost seems to be “Quit your job and your life will get better.” Tempting, that. Kara babbles about how much better she feels having told Lena her secret, because, of course, when you have a secret identity you’re worried about, the best thing to do is talk about it in public. Hey, Kara, look up “secret.”
Alex tries to do something special for Kelly which doesn’t go as planned, and that rattles the usually unflappable Alex. Because National City is apparently more like National Village, Kara and James’ walk takes them to J’Onn’s office, where they find him out cold after the attack last episode. J’Onn talks about Martian and personal history, and Brainy offers an idea for a way to help J’Onn, which ties, naturally, into some high-tech work that Kelly the psychiatrist is doing. Did she get a science degree they forgot to mention? With a worried phone call from Nia, Kara is reminded that she has a day job to deal with.
Hiding in the shadows and in a borrowed form, Malefic plots his revenge with an unseen ally, who eventually steps forward, and was a big surprise to me. In her lab, Lena seems to be sliding further and further down the villain slope without even realizing it. I strongly suspect her new AI, Hope, is going to be part of the process. Lena is working on something that sounds like a stretch even by comic book science standards, and, considering what she’s keeping in a hidden room, looks like the villain label is fitting better and better. At CatCo, Rojas continues her reign of terror by changing how stories will be filed, switching assignments, and using Kara speaking up as an example of what happens when you do. So far, Rojas isn’t an actual villain in the super- sense, but she has powers in the comics, is acting mean to our main characters, and owns a tech company. I suspect it’s coming.
Kelly begins her treatment of J’Onn’s problems, because Earth tech should totally be up to the standard of dealing with Martian psionic abilities, right? Lena has a meeting with a captive audience, where she pushes someone to drop their excuses and be honest about something. In one of the subplots for the week I liked least, Nia suffers from the law of unintended consequences after her compliments that morning, which at least does Kara some good. Besides this plot just being silly, it makes Brainiac 5 look bad. All the talk of inclusion on these shows to one side, I’m really tired of the “Genius has no social skills. Because it’s funny,” Idea that seems to be infesting the entire Arrowverse, with the arguable exceptions of Caitlin Snow and Cisco Ramone on Flash. The genius in question works with Alex to try and find Malefic (not that anyone knows his name yet), and the two compare mornings with their respective loved ones.
Kelly and J’Onn attempt to continue the treatment, but it causes J’Onn a lot of pain. Kelly gets some disturbing results on her scans, and decides the best way to help is to go inside with her patient. While I get them sharing a Virtual Reality experience, the fact that the machine seems to be linked to J’Onn’s actual memory doesn’t really work for me. If this was tech from the Fortress or something, maybe I’d buy it. In this weird virtual layout of J’Onn’s brain, they find a hidden room and the Manhunter makes a disturbing discovery. Whatever they’re up to, it triggers a reaction in Malefic, which lets Brainy get a hit on where the villainous Martian is hiding. Getting the call, Kara ducks out of work, which somehow makes her annoying new coworker William Day suspicious enough to start calling in favors about her. Dude, for leaving an office during the day when her job is being a reporter? Which means, y’know, talking to people and doing research, except in the Rojas era. While Kelly, James, and J’Onn talk options, Supergirl, Alex, and Brainy take a walk on the pungent side. Naturally, they get into a fight, and somehow Day has managed to follow the Girl of Steel into the sewers. Either he got some weird tracking thing on her that survived the costume change, or she’s carrying her phone around in both identities, which seems like a bad plan. So that’s probably what happened. Kelly helps J’Onn, which somehow helps Malefic, and the bad guys get away down below, which means that, for a while, Alex and Brainy were fighting way out of their weight-class. This, too, I find improbable.
Things at least somewhat under control for now, the heroes split up after some banter about after-effects of the trip to the sewers. One of them has a job to get to, and one is being followed. Making it back to CatCo, Kara continues to have a bad day with her new boss. Rojas isn’t evil in terms of trying to kill people or take over the world (as far as we know), but she does seem to delight in tormenting her employees. Annoying boss lady gets called away by an aide, and Kara clashes with Day over what he’s been doing. I’m really not clear on where anything in National City is anymore (is everyone in the same building now?), but Rojas manages to get to Lena’s office, interrupt a meeting Lena was having, and go on about stolen tech and being taken seriously. Only in contrast to Rojas is Lena seeming at all like the good guy she’s been until now. Lex would be laughing in his grave if I believed for a moment he was dead. In the wake of this confrontation, Lena reevaluates a few things.
In a few moments’ time, Brainy fails at his job and finds out he’s not doing things right with Nia. The boy needs therapy, or a counselor, or something. Is life really this different in the future he’s from? Mon-El fit in ok. Needing a break from the toxic mess CatCo is becoming, Kara visits with J’Onn, and they talk about his past. There’s been a double-standard on this show before, like how it was fine for James to go public as Guardian but Kara should keep her ID secret, and now they’re doing it again. James quit, life is good, Kara’s not happy, she should tough it out. Seems inequitable to me.
Something Alex probably won’t want to keep follows her home, and we get the classic shapeshifter impersonation trope. Alex, of course, figures it out, clinches it with something from earlier that morning, and then things start getting complicated. The signal watch alerts Kara she’s needed, which is what it’s supposed to do, but now alerts Guardian, too? In the past, those have worked off emitting a signal only the enhanced senses of the Kryptonians can hear. I’m not sure what they monkeyed with to make it go to Guardian. At any rate, there’s a lot of fighting after Supergirl smashes into Alex’s poor apartment, more shapeshifting shenanigans, and J’Onn and Guardian both show up to get sidelined by helping civilians. I guess Brainy was too busy making an idiot of himself to make this fight. As an aside, that ring of his that was so important to him last season? Why is he using trucks to get around if he has it back?
After the big fight, the team regroups and discusses strategies, missing that their meeting was literally bugged. Returning to work, Kara sort of confronts Day in an anemic showdown. Breakfast didn’t go well, but dinner is a lot better for Alex and Kelly, with some more important information exchanged. Nia gets home to find that Brainy still doesn’t get it. And I guess he has a key to her place.
Things wrap up with assorted small scenes. Lena takes another big step towards villaindom, and a character with several past incarnations gets another one. I’ll even believe Lena might have some good intentions here, but she’s sounding like a villain more and more. While J’Onn meditates and James considers some options, Alex and Kelly have some good couples time, Nia and Brainy less so. Really, Nia, if you want this to work, you need to start speaking simply, and directly, and standing up for yourself. Our titular heroine drops off some work on her boss’ desk and tries to push to fit in to this new version of CatCo. Rojas goes to check in on her Obsidian Tech company, and Kara notices her coworker has slipped out. We get to see where Day has gone, and it’s not at all what I was expecting. Malefic makes more plans, and is possibly talking to himself, but maybe not. We end with Lena embarking on a really shady new project.
What I liked: This was, at least, better than the first episode. I’m impressed, even if I don’t believe, that Alex and Brainy alone could apparently stand off the powerful foe that they did. I had thought that Alex and Kelly’s relationship came out of nowhere, and they at least acknowledge that here to an extent. I’m glad they’re giving James some good things for his future.
What I didn’t: Rojas and Day are just plain annoying, and seem to enjoy being dicks to those around them. I get enough of that in the real world, thanks. After it being such a huge plot point last season, they seem to have forgotten Brainy’s ring entirely. I don’t get why it’s ok for James to quit, and not Kara. I’m seriously concerned about Lena, and her “guest” after the last scene or two. As mentioned above, the machine into J’Onn’s mind seems a bit odd.
Well, as I said, better than the first episode, but not great. I’ll boost this to a 3 out of 5.