We’re still a week a week away from quite possibly one of the most anticipated superhero team-ups on or off the big or small screen – no, not that (i.e., Batman v. Superman, coming to a multiplex near year in two or three days), but the other one – Supergirl (Melissa Benoist) and the Flash (Grant Gustin) in “World’s Finest,” Supergirl’s 18th episode. In the meantime, viewers will have to settle for not quite the next best thing, the Martian Manhunter/Hank Henshaw’s (David Harewood) origin story in the spot-on titled “Manhunter.” Stuffed with flashbacks typical of uber-producer Greg Berlanti’s other superhero-centered TV shows (i.e., Arrow, The Flash), “Manhunter” not only fills in the details of the Martian Manhunter’s origin (the last survivor of a Martian genocide), but also his connection to the Danvers clan, including both Jeremiah (Dean Cain, TV’s Lois & Clark) and Alex Danvers (Chyler Leigh), DEO (Department of Extra-Normal Operations) agent and Henshaw’s second-in-command, along with glimpses into young Kara’s difficult adjustment to life on Earth.
As always, however, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. When we catch up with Supergirl in episode 17, she’s still trying to overcome the mistrust and fear of her superpowers caused by her inadvertent exposure to red kryptonite in last week’s episode. She desperately wants to be the superhero her perpetually offscreen cousin, Superman/Kal-El, is and always will be. But since he’s nowhere to be found, Supergirl has to rely on her tight circle of friends and family, including Alex, Henshaw, Winn Schott (Jeremy Jordan), and James Olsen (Mehcad Brooks), for support. Except she can’t rely on Henshaw anymore. Henshaw outed himself as the Martian Manhunter to stop Supergirl’s rampage last week, leaving him with few, if any, palatable options. Rather than running or flying off into hiding, Henshaw gave himself up, a decision he probably regrets when Project Cadmus, another super-secret government organization, sends one of their own, Colonel James Harper (Eddie McClintock), to interrogate Henshaw and Alex.
Where the DEO captures and detains alien threats, Project Cadmus does something far more sinister: Captured aliens become the subjects of all kinds of experiments, up to and including dissection, to uncover and weaponize any superpowers or special abilities an alien might possess. It’s why, we’re told, Superman, refuses to work with or for the U.S. government. Though obviously concerned for Henshaw’s well-being, not to mention Alex’s when Harper decides to send Alex along with Henshaw to Project Cadmus’ super-secret HQ, Supergirl doesn’t think twice about continuing her collaboration with the DEO, especially after Lucy Lane (Jenna Dewan-Tatum), Olsen’s ex-girlfriend, becomes the temporary head of the DEO after Henshaw’s presumably permanent removal. Lane’s unexpected promotion gives Supergirl and Lane an equally unexpected moment to bond. Supergirl swoops in with emotional and verbal support when Lane expresses doubt in her abilities to effectively lead the DEO.
The multiple flashbacks segue from the first encounter between Jeremiah Danvers and the Martian Manhunter in the wilds of Peru, with an alien-hating, xenophobic, fear-drive Henshaw stepping in abruptly to ruin their Enemy Mine-inspired bonding, to young Kara’s first day in elementary school, where her superpowers temporarily get the better of her (a scene practically lifted wholesale from Man of Steel), to Kara literally springing into super-heroic action as a preteen when she saves a woman and child from a burning car wreck (another Man of Steel), to a talk between the over-protective Jeremiah and Kara about the need for Kara to fit in and hide her superpowers from the world. In Jeremiah’s view, the world already has a Superman; it doesn’t need a Supergirl (at least not yet). In another flashback, a twenty-something Kara interviews with Cat for the executive assistant position, winning over Cat with her humble description of her ordinariness and her uncanny ability to figure out what Cat needs or wants.
While Episode 17 ends with a new status quo –Henshaw and Alex on the run, simultaneously fugitives from justice and searchers for Project Cadmus’ HQ, Lane in charge of the DEO – another subplot involving Siobhan Smythe (Italia Ricci), Kara’s onetime rival for Cat Grant’s (Calista Flockhart) executive assistant position, fails to win Cat’s favor and with Cat’s favor, her job back after slipping back into CatCo Media Worldwide’s offices and sending a nasty takedown email from Kara’s computer. It almost succeeds, but Cat’s decision to turn to Winn, his hacking skills, and more importantly, for the case at hand, his longtime obsession with Kara, proves Siobhan’s ultimate undoing. A rooftop scene between Winn and Siobhan almost leaves Siobhan dead or seriously injured, but her until now unknown superpower (she’s the Silver Banshee, a super-villain with a long history of antagonism toward Supergirl/Superman in the comics) saves her. It also not so neatly sets up next week’s conflict between Siobhan/Silver Banshee and a returning Livewire on one side and Supergirl and the Flash on the other.