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Supergirl tackles transphobic hate

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Photograph: Shane Harvey (The CW)

TV ReviewsAll of our TV opinions in a single handy place.

When it rains it pours on Supergirl. The massive subject with “Actuality Bytes” is that it has two equally compelling however tonally totally different storylines vying to be its central focus. In a single, Alex and J’onn examine a lacking individual case tied into Obsidian Platinum VR, and within the different, Nia discovers {that a} bigot is concentrating on the trans group within the hopes of drawing out Dreamer. Each storylines simply might’ve carried their very own episodes, and so they’re considerably diminished by being crammed collectively—particularly as a result of they don’t actually dovetail in any significant method. Nonetheless, having an excessive amount of of a great factor might be higher than not having sufficient. “Actuality Bytes” could also be a bit overstuffed, nevertheless it carries on the identical confidence from final week whereas utilizing the present’s superhero lens to shine a light-weight on essential real-world risks dealing with the trans group.

Since there’s extra to dig into on the Nia facet of issues, let’s get the Alex/J’onn stuff out of the way in which first. They get a brand new case courtesy of bar-owner Al, who pops by to ask them to search for his lacking brother Trevor (Excessive College Musical’s Corbin Bleu). In a form of horror-movie riff on Ready Player One, it seems Trevor is being held captive in a digital escape room by pc programmer Richard Bates (Jesse Moss), the husband of the girl Trevor had been having some “innocent enjoyable” with within the VR world. The entire thing raises questions in regards to the ethical and moral strains of digital areas. (Is digital romance dishonest? Is digital torture tried homicide?!?) Even pro-technology Kelly is anxious as a result of Richard was in a position to manipulate a glitch that ought to have been fastened months in the past.

Alex’s journey into the Obsidian Platinum program is a welcome new visible world for Supergirl, and one I think we’ll see once more. You’ll be able to’t tease a retro-flavored Digital Las Vegas with a (really) all-you-can eat buffet and simply depart it at that! We additionally get some intriguing teases about what kind of “expertise choices” Alex’s unconscious desires to discover. For now, nevertheless, her heroic journey into Obsidian Platinum offers her an opportunity to take management of a digital world in the way in which she’s been struggling to in the true one. Because the episode is so overstuffed, nevertheless, there’s little room to actually dig into the professionals and cons of VR or to discover why Trevor withdrew from his brother in favor of digital relationships. Nonetheless, it’s good to see Alex and Kelly each play significant roles right here.

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The identical is true of Nia too. Nia has been a improbable addition to the Supergirl universe, one who all the time shines when the present offers her its focus. In some ways, Nia is following Kara’s hero’s journey from the primary few seasons of the present, and it’s nice to revisit a few of these early themes with Kara in a mentor position this time round. But Supergirl can also be cautious to emphasise that as a lot as Nia’s journey echoes Kara’s, she has her personal distinctive story too. Nia not solely faces anti-trans bigotry in her more and more public position as Dreamer, she additionally feels super stress to make use of her powers to guard the trans group, who’re too typically forgotten or actively ignored by legislation enforcement.

Photograph: Dean Buscher (The CW)

Whereas superhero and sci-fi reveals typically discover bigotry through metaphor (i.e. mutant prejudice in X-Males), “Actuality Bytes” demonstrates the facility of tackling real-world points immediately, even inside a style context. Supergirl cites the real-world stat that over 24 trans people have been murdered within the U.S. in 2019 (which most likely below represents the true variety of circumstances as properly). And the present emphasizes that trans girls of shade are notably in danger when Nia’s lovable roommate Yvette (Roxy Wooden) is catfished and viciously attacked by the Dreamer-hating Gregory Bauer (Pierson Fode). In one of many episode’s most well-earned moments, Nia tells Kara that this isn’t an issue she will simply deal with with a giant speech about hope, optimism, and the facility of redemption.

Although Nia and Alex’s storylines each go to some darkish locations, the Nia throughline carries rather more weight due to its real-world connections. Supergirl doesn’t draw back from the horrors of Gregory’s violent bigotry, which facilities on the misguided concept that Nia is “tricking” individuals together with her gender and that she’s not “the proper kind of position mannequin.” But it’s right here the place the episode’s bifurcated construction begins to turn out to be a hinderance. (It doesn’t assist that the 2 generically named white man villains really feel a bit interchangeable.) We bounce by means of main beats in Nia’s emotional arc with out all the time seeing the connective tissue between them. I might’ve liked to spend extra time in her headspace as she finally decides to lure out Gregory with the intention of killing him.

Nia’s arc is held collectively by Nicole Maines, who’s lengthy been a Supergirl MVP, however who will get tasked together with her greatest performing problem but on this episode. Maines is genuinely terrifying (in a form of Batman/Daredevil method) within the scene the place Nia almost kills Gregory. And she or he’s totally heartbreaking within the second Nia breaks down on the CatCo Balcony of Deep Ideas. She’s horrified that she almost dedicated homicide and that a part of her nonetheless desires to. Ultimately, it’s solely a plea from Kara that stops her from going by means of with it.

Photograph: Dean Buscher (The CW)

As Kara sympathizes, being the great man sucks generally; but it’s a hero’s refusal to sink to the extent of their enemies that units them aside and permits them to function an inspiration to others. Once more, nevertheless, I might’ve liked to spend extra time in Nia’s headspace main as much as this second. Although the point out of her mother’s loss of life is a welcome second of continuity, I’m truly not sure if Nia is speaking about her sister or Brainy when she says the one that supported her since day one simply broke her coronary heart. (Whether it is Brainy, the concept that Nia drew validation and a way of self from their relationship seems like a model new concept.)

Nonetheless, extra works right here than doesn’t, and the general effort is so well-meaning that I’m inclined to look previous the weaker moments. Kara’s position as a mentor brings out a complete new facet of her persona and demonstrates simply how a lot she’s grown over the previous 5 seasons. Her line about how simple it might be to only wipe out her enemies is a reminder of how highly effective Kara really is and the way a lot her heroism comes from restraint as a lot as from motion. And the way in which Kara helps Nia cope with her frustration and anger calls to thoughts the way in which Cat Grant as soon as did the similar for her.

Actually, from its zippily upbeat opening scenes to its somber emotional moments, “Actuality Bytes” jogged my memory of Supergirl’s first season. For each clunky beat, there’s an concept that’s splendidly earnest and distinctive, which is a steadiness Supergirl typically struck in its early days. The episode even ends with a callback to a personality we first met method again within the present’s pilot. After being on the run for the reason that second season episode “Exodus,” Jeremiah Danvers is lastly found useless. It’s a jarring reveal that units us up properly for subsequent week’s Alex-centric episode. Hopefully that one could have a contact extra focus.

Stray Observations

  • The opening of this episode makes such a giant deal about Kara and William’s first date after which we barely get to see the way it goes. In his few transient scenes, nevertheless, Staz Nair is probably the most likable he’s been all season.
  • I’m totally delighted that Nia’s house has its personal little Terrace Of Deep Ideas. That’s positively a precedence in Nationwide Metropolis actual property.
  • Gray-haired Leviathan agent Margot seemingly kills Richard after which shops his physique in some form of floating corpse facility. Creepy!
  • It is a very nice episode for Brainy, who doesn’t blow his unemotional cowl however instantly focuses on investigating Gregory’s anti-trans hate group after which turns its members’ names over to the police. “The DEO takes threats towards out sister superheroes critically.”
  • Love that actually indestructible Kara can nonetheless get bounce scared by Alex.
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