Supergirl – Season 2 Episode 22
“Nevertheless, She Persisted”
Supergirl closes off season 2 with a trial by combat to decide the fate of the Earth and the return of Superman.
The episode picks right up from last week with Clark attacking Kara seemingly under the control of Rhea. It turns out that he is but not in a direct sense. Rhea has infected him with Silver Kryptonite which causes him to see the face of his greatest enemy, in this case General Zod (Mark Gibbon) is the face of his greatest enemy and Clark takes “him” on because he believes that Zod means harm to the human race.
As reasons to get Clark and Kara fighting go this actually isn’t bad. Brainwashing is played out and robs the brainwashed character of their agency. This way Clark is still brainwashed but more in the sense that he is under a false assumption rather than actually losing control of himself. It’s also a good way to acknowledge Clark’s conflict with General Zod without the episode being about that. It just draws on something that happened in Clark’s past without going into detail and leaves it at that.
Clark vs. Kara is a small part of the episode and only really exists to start things off in a dramatic way before moving onto something else. The fight between Kara and Clark was really well choreographed and allowed both to show what they’re capable of in terms of their powers. This show sometimes struggles to make good use of Kara’s powers but in a fight like this she can really cut loose without fear of accidentally killing her opponent.
Many would say that Man of Steel suffered because of drawn out fight scenes where invincible people hit each other to the detriment of the world around them and that same accusation could be aimed at this episode. I can see why people might think that -and I don’t fully agree with the criticism lobbied against Man of Steel for this- but there was a lot behind this fight that made it worth investing in. Clark was under a false assumption so was throwing everything he has into taking on Kara which puts her at significant risk. Kara knows that Clark isn’t himself but has to fight him anyway otherwise she’ll be killed. Innocent bystanders aren’t really at risk from them as Clark hasn’t been brainwashed into hurting people so the conflict is entirely focused on Clark’s potential to kill Kara under a false assumption and that adds a lot of weight to it.
Kara managing to defeat Clark ends up informing her role in the rest of the episode. Clark graciously accepts defeat and points out that she’s the stronger of the two so deserves the title as Earth’s champion as far as he’s concerned. I continue to be impressed by the characterisation of this version of Superman and his humility in defeat is a good example of why. He’s confident but has no ego and there isn’t a hint of jealousy upon realising that he isn’t the strongest. Of course this is a way for Kara to retain her focus in her own show and answers the constant question “Why doesn’t Superman just deal with this?” once and for all. Superman doesn’t deal with it because he thinks Kara is more capable and trusts her to finish the job.
I can see revealing that Kara is stronger than Clark and able to defeat him in combat being a sore spot for some people and I can understand that to an extent. It’s not something I personally have a problem with as it makes sense given the way Kara has been developed. Clark was raised in a loving family, is respected in his occupation, has his Superman role down to a tee and is in a stable relationship with Lois. Reading between the lines it appears that Clark has had a relatively easy time getting to where he is. I’m sure that there has been hardships along the way but on the whole things seem pretty stable for him.
Kara is the opposite. She was sent to Earth to protect her cousin and quickly learned that it wasn’t necessary. Her life has been defined by the loss of her family and her home planet that she remembers clearly. Kara was raised by a loving family but has struggled to find her own sense of identity and is constantly fighting uphill to prove herself. It looks to me that she defeats Clark because she fights that bit harder. It fits with her nature and her victory feels satisfying because it channels Kara’s insecurities.
The result of this fight allows Kara to take the lead on the situation since Clark backs down after losing to her. He trusts her to do the right thing to solve the situation and is happy backing her up on whatever she decides. Her plan is to challenge Rhea to a trial by combat where the winner gets to decide what happens next. The prizes are simple; if Kara wins then the invasion stops and if Rhea wins the invasion is allowed to continue. It draws a clear line between them and outlines the stakes.
Of course Rhea doesn’t play by the rules and her forces continue to attack the city. I found this choice confusing as it invalidates the conflict between Kara and Rhea. If Rhea refuses to play by the rules then why does Kara continue? This should have stopped the fight since it was clear that victory wouldn’t stop the invasion anyway. It does serve to highlight the differences between them since Kara does the honourable thing and Rhea doesn’t but it makes no sense to carry on the conflict.
Kara does have a really difficult choice to make. Lena and Lillian come up with an idea to irradiate the Earth’s atmosphere with Lead to make it lethal to Daxamites. It is a worst case scenario as it would also mean that Mon’El can’t stay on Earth but Kara does the smart thing and asks them to work on it anyway rather than optimistically assuming her plan to defeat Rhea in honourable combat will succeed. Dare I say that this suggests growth for Kara as her optimism is giving way to reality?
Ultimately she does make the decision to set off the bomb and make Earth uninhabitable for Daxamites. It does feel like a quick and neat solution but it’s grounded in really powerful character beats. Villains threatening the fate of the world is something that is badly overused but when it becomes about the main character losing someone close to them then the stakes feel more personal and work better as a result. The Kara/Mon’El relationship has been well developed enough and relatively angst free so there is definitely enough investment in this pairing to make them parting significant.
I found this to be really strong as I was genuinely surprised that it got to the stage where the bomb was set off. My expectation was that it would get near to that stage but be stopped at the last second. Heroes having to make difficult choices for the greater good is used a lot and with good reason, it’s compelling to see a character faced with the prospect of making a personal sacrifice in order to protect the world and this episode handled the moment wonderfully. Kara makes the decision without hesitation but with a lot of pain in her facial expression showing that the decision was tearing her apart but she was willing to make it. This proves Kara’s commitment to protecting her city and the entire Earth but also shows that it wasn’t an easy decision to make.
Kara and Mon’El’s farewell scene was really powerful. Melissa Benoist and Chris Wood have always had great chemistry and use that to great effect here. It’s a tragic story and the moment is allowed to linger for the required time to make it really effective. I wouldn’t be surprised if some kind of cure is found for him next season but for now it’s a memorable ending for a relationship.
The impact of this is felt for the remainder of the episode. I like how it taints the victory in a big way for Kara and she feels completely isolated. She points out that everyone important to her has someone to go home to -except James but who remembers him?- when she doesn’t. Kara saved the world but feels like she lost because she can never see Mon’El again. It’s a little melodramatic but Kara has lost her first serious relationship and the pain she feels is going to be significant. Melissa Benoist’s performance conveys that wonderfully. She presents the appearance of someone fighting to appear strong and failing. She does a good job of almost crying which is more effective than seeing her break down.
Her conversation with Alex is a nice sisterly moment where Alex is able to give Kara her support and remind her that she does have people in her life who care about her. Alex also tells her that she’s proud of her which needs to be said even if Kara isn’t ready to hear it. Again, it’s very melodramatic but with such talented actresses delivering the admittedly hokey dialogue then it works.
Cat Grant is able to deliver a much needed pep talk and continues her role as a beacon of feminism. She tells Kara about all the pain she has felt in her life and how she managed to work her way through it. It may seem hopeless but there is another side of it and according to her women have the advantage here because they are able to be vulnerable, face their emotions and find a way to overcome them, becoming stronger in the process. It’s a positive message about not burying feelings and could be applied to anyone so as a piece of advice it does resonate. Kara hears Cat’s words and at least manages to focus on being Supergirl so it can be seen as the first step in her healing. This conversation also confirms that Cat knows Kara’s secret and is pretending that she doesn’t which I’ve suspected all along. Does that also mean she knows that Clark is Superman or is she not allowed to be that smart?
The other characters get something of a raw deal this episode. Outside of some solid early moments where he gets to show his genuine decency, Clark is very much a supporting player who fights the Daxamites and saves people. It’s a fair role for him to take in this conflict but he has very little in the way of meaty material.
Alex and Maggie are essentially background characters who don’t really contribute much. Alex does have her powerful scene with Kara but beyond that she’s completely sidelined. Proposing to Maggie feels like it comes out of nowhere as well.
Winn and James are massively underserved as well. James only has one scene where he doesn’t suit up as Guardian and Winn shows up throughout but doesn’t contribute anything memorable. Hopefully the writers will find more for them to do next season.
There are some nice touches that really needed more time to have a lasting impact. M’Gann’s return because J’Onn telepathically called to her when he was injured feels very convenient especially when she brings a squad of White Martians fighting on the side of the Angels to help take on the Daxamites. This relationship wasn’t very well developed in the first place so seeing them reunited doesn’t quite have the impact it should have. M’Gann might have a short role at the beginning of next season but for the purposes of this episode it feels somewhat limited.
Lena had very little to do as well other than build a bomb with her mother. That task could basically have been handled by anyone as the ongoing conflict she has with Lillian is barely touched on beyond a scene early in the episode. Lena is returning next season but her contribution could have been more significant here. I did like that the seems to feel slightly embarrassed trusting Rhea but blames her mother for that as she is looking for validation from a strong mentor figure. Lena knows her weaknesses and has to overcome them.
This episode is very ambitious in the way it handles its action and it mostly succeeds in what it sets out to do. Some of the CGI is ropey but the fight choreography is impressive and many of the combat ready characters get to show what they can do in short but well executed engagements. Doing a full scale alien invasion on a TV budget is a tall order and the end result here is noteworthy.
Season 2 of Supergirl has lacked a consistent through line which may be a deliberate attempt to make this the most episodic of the DC Superhero shows. It could also be an accidental result of wanting to cover so much and trying to cram it all into a single season with varying levels of success.
This season has been about a lot of things which has been both a blessing and a curse. Without a consistent theme that the narrative can return to the season has felt somewhat jumbled. It looked like the main focus would be anti-alien hysteria which did come and go throughout the season but isn’t present in this episode at all and a Daxamite invasion is something that could have been built a lot. As such there is a lack of satisfying pay-off to this finale as it doesn’t connect to anything significant that needed to be resolved. Everything is still lingering in one form or another so hopefully season 3 will be a lot tighter in its construction.
The episode also comes with two teases for season 3. The first is Mon’El being sucked into a portal of some kind and the second is a Kryptonian child/experiment that left the same time Kara and Clark did. There isn’t enough to go on to make any sort of prediction but I’ll go ahead and suggest Doomsday or Reign right now. I’ll be back reviewing this in season 3 so we can find out together.
An enjoyable finale that mostly delivers on the alien invasion plot and has a lot of well executed emotional beats. The fight between Clark and Kara is well choreographed and delivered a slightly different spin on the brainwashing trope. Clark retains his agency but fights under a false assumption. The fight also explains why Kara takes the lead on dealing with the situation since she managed to defeat a full strength Clark in a fight. Kara challenging Rhea to a trial by combat also works well with impressive fight choreography. Rhea proving herself untrustworthy by continuing the invasion is confusing as Kara has no reason to remain honourable in this situation but the stakes are clear. Kara making a difficult choice to poison the atmosphere for Daxamites has a lot of weight because the focus is on her relationship with Mon’El who is forced to leave. The farewell is handled wonderfully and the lasting impact it has on Kara is well done.
This episode suffers in how it handles the other characters. Clark has very little to do other than support Kara which is fair enough considering the setup. Winn and James have almost nothing to do as well. Alex has a really good emotional moment with Kara but beyond that is stuck on the sidelines though proposing to Maggie comes out of nowhere. Lena does little more than make a bomb and have a brief chat with her mother explaining how she was manipulated by Rhea which shows that Lena knows her weaknesses. Cat gets a really powerful moment with Kara that helps her begin the healing process while also revealing that Cat knows Kara’s secret but is pretending not to. Season 2 in general has had a lot of potential that it didn’t quite manage to capitalise on but hopefully this will be fixed next season. The teases for next season are intriguing so far and I will be back on the reviews when Supergirl returns.