Supergirl – Season 3 Episode 21

Jun 5, 2018 | Posted by in TV
Supergirl

“Not Kansas”

Supergirl sends Kara back to Argo City to live her life among her people as James and J’Onn deal with an influx of dangerous weapons into National City.

It would be fair to say that this is a really busy episode with so many different things going on that don’t really add up to a satisfying whole. You might be forgiven for not remembering how the episode began as the aim seemed to be dispensing with those earlier events as quickly as possible so that they could easily be forgotten.

Supergirl

Curing Sam of her Reign infestation

The episode picks up right where the previous one left off with Kara and Mon’El returning with the much needed rock just as Reign escapes. A short chaotic fight ensues and Reign is apparently cured which restores Sam completely. The episode spends some time reuniting Sam with Ruby and establishing that everyone is glad to have her back but it’s very workmanlike and short lived before the episode gets into what it really wants to be about.

Kara and Alex have a discussion about everything that was discovered last week and how Kara feels about it. The dialogue suggests that Kara is elated that her mother is alive and a large amount of Kryptonians survived the destruction of the planet. She should be really happy because it’s a really big deal to learn that not everything was lost when Krypton was destroyed. Kara grieved for her parents, mourned her people and struggled to build a life for herself on Earth after losing everything at such a young age so learning that many of her people are alive and well is a monumental shift in everything Kara thought she knew.

The problem with this is something about it all feels off. As I said the dialogue suggests that Kara couldn’t be happier to learn but the emotion doesn’t quite connect which surprises me as Melissa Benoist is normally great at handling emotionally rich storytelling. Her natural vulnerability and empathy normally carry entire episodes and create a profound emotional connection between the audience and the material. For some reason that isn’t the case here which makes this colony of Kryptonians feel anything but monumental.

Supergirl

A slow day for superheroes

Kara’s conversation with Alex seems to exist only to establish that Kara wants to go back and deliver a sisterly moment before Kara leaves but it falls flat. The Kara/Alex sisterly bond is normally one of the major pillars of the show that guarantees an engaging scene. This was even true during the problematic Alex season 1 days; these scenes delivered characterisation for Alex where there was very little but I got the impression their scene together was a means to an end in this episode.

I think part of the problem is the writing with some of the blame being shared by the direction. The episode appears to be in such a rush and burns through plot at an extended rate in order to cover everything at the expense of giving any meaning to what it sets out to do. Kara’s goodbye party is a great example of that as there’s a brief speech about how much she will miss everyone and how she will be missed before cutting to a narrated montage to get Kara back to Ago City.

None of it has any weight. Everyone says the right things about missing her and Kara returns the sentiment but I struggle to believe any of it. It’s almost as if the actors are unable to engage with the material because they know that it can never be a permanent change so it becomes difficult for the audience to be invested in it. Alex should be devastated that her sister is leaving but happy that Kara hasn’t lost as much as she thought she had, J’Onn should feel like he’s losing a daughter, Winn is losing his best friend, James is losing a close friend and Kara is basically leaving her entire life on Earth so there’s more than enough emotion to go around.

Supergirl

James and Lena disagree on the issue of gun control

Kara’s decision to leave and her going away celebration has enough potential to fill an entire episode and should have been given that room to breathe rather than being wrapped up in the first act. Despite what the characters say it comes across as if leaving was an easy decision and her life on Earth is something she can easily turn her back on which we as viewers definitely know that not to be the case.

Similarly problematic is Kara’s return to Argo City. The episode goes through the motions of having her adjust to life among her people again, reconnecting with her mother and catching up with old friends but there’s no weight to this either. Part of this is due to missing the point on what the core of this plot should be. Kara and Alura are the most important relationship here because they both have to deal with having the other back in their life while adjusting to how much has changed in the intervening years. This is especially true for Alura who now has an adult daughter who is vastly different from the preteen she sent to Earth in order to protect her.

This episode completely fails to establish a baseline for their relationship which means there’s nothing to build on. Alura isn’t a character, she’s a delivery system for clumsy dialogue while having absolutely nothing to distinguish her from any other random Kryptonian beyond the fact that she’s Kara’s mother. Even that doesn’t come across because Erica Durance and Melissa Benoist don’t connect in any meaningful way. I know this isn’t the fault of the actors as I have praised Melissa Benoist’s performance repeatedly and Erica Durance remains my favourite onscreen Lois Lane to this day.

Supergirl

Mother/Daughter time

I’m left wondering why Argo City was introduced as an idea for the show to play with. Revealing that Kara’s mother has been alive this whole time is a risky choice because it risks invalidating everything that is supposed to motivate her. It also cheapens the concept of death in this show if a city of peaceful Kryptonians is out there with her mother in a position of power then it sends the message that anyone that dies might not be truly dead. It’s a common problem in superhero stories so I’m curious as to the reasoning behind the decision to go down this route. On some level it seems to contribute to Kara’s ongoing struggle with her sense of identity. Recent dealings with Lena have caused further conflict between the Kara and Supergirl personas so she is experiencing a period of uncertainty in her life. She sees Argo City as the solution to this problem as she makes several references to finally being herself without worrying about who might need her to save them though it’s clear that this isn’t the answer because as as soon as there appears to be people in danger and a problem that needs solving she falls right back on old habits. In this episode she makes a self serving decision to leave Earth behind but given time I imagine her sense of responsibility would start to eat away at her. Perhaps the point of this plot will become apparent in the remaining two episodes but for now it appears to be muddled. I also wonder if she told Clark that a large chunk of his home planet had survived along with his Aunt. It does feel like something he should be involved in.

There are some good ideas peppered throughout the Argo City scenes. Kara being on edge when she has no need to be because her time as Supergirl has conditioned her to see danger everywhere is great in theory because it does show that there is a lot for her to adjust to. Naturally her paranoia proves correct because the overall season plot needs to move on but a better version of this plot would have had Kara be wrong and slowly come to terms with the fact that Argo City is truly peaceful and accidents have no ulterior motive behind them. This could eventually lead to her feeling foolish for letting her guard down as she fails to see the danger lurking behind those accidents.

The hint that Kara’s childhood friend grew up to be someone she has nothing in common with was an interesting idea as well. At first she was excited that her oldest friend was still alive and later came the awkward realisation that they no longer have very much in common. Having Thara Ak-Var (Esmé Bianco) obsessed with the orientation of a gazebo outside her house is the trigger point for Kara realising that people have changed in her absence and could have been used to explore how much Kara misses her friends on Earth that she actually does connect with. Sadly this doesn’t really happen other than a clumsy conversation with Mon’El about her sense of unease.

Supergirl

Not this again!

Another misstep is Kara’s relationship with Mon’El. It has uncomfortably become on of the things that defines her which is really irritating as the show focuses so much on the will they/won’t they nature of their connection that it robs Kara of the opportunity to work on her own or with other characters. The other more interesting relationships she shares with different characters stagnate because of this one. It’s really misguided and the confirmation that their romance is about to resume feels more frustrating than anything else. Tying this into Kara’s dreams earlier in the season is a really confusing decision though there is still time for this to amount to something.

Serena making her move and heading to Earth is something that works really well on a conceptual level. Up until this point Argo City had largely been portrayed as an idyllic society so having that darkness beneath veneer of perfection is compelling. The notion of Serena biding her time waiting for the moment to take action while being on the council contributes to this idea by having corruption as part of the peaceful society.

Back on Earth the other characters are dealing with Kara not being around to handle the heroics which provides an amusing James moment where he plays basketball in his Guardian costume. This leads a subplot that tries to tackle the issue of gun control through DEO weaponry finding its way into the hands of civilians. As issues go this is about as current as you can get and the gun debate in the context of a superhero TV show is absolutely worth having. As with everything in this episode the execution is off base as the characters involved only have superficial discussions that don’t deliver any real insight into the issue. James is on the anti-gun side of the argument because he believes that there’s no need for people to be armed with military grade weaponry. It’s a fair point and completely justified on its own as it’s fairly self evident why military grade hardware in the hands of civilians is dangerous. What isn’t clear is why he’s in opposition to people being armed as a rule. James talks about being against it and how it isn’t required for everyone to be armed but he’s arguing for one side of a lively debate so his position needed to be stronger for the purposes of the episode.

Supergirl

J’Onn implements a controversial rule

Lena takes the opposite side of the debate. She has a gun that she has used to defend herself on numerous occasions. Given how frequently she comes under attack from aliens and Humans like it’s easy to see why she might feel safer being armed. To her it means if anyone comes after her then she doesn’t have to rely on others to protect her. Katie McGrath’s performance shows that she stands by that conviction and shoots James down with his impractical argument. That in itself is fairly awkward because Lena basically dismisses what James has to say as them not seeing eye to eye on an issue. They don’t discuss it so there’s no real scope for any points to be raised, valid or otherwise. It’s almost as if the episode wanted to include the debate but the writers weren’t sure what they actually wanted to get out of it other than addressing something that the audience will naturally have an opinion on.

Tied up in the overall discussion is J’Onn who believes that arming the agents of the DEO is necessary because of the threats they routinely face. James apparently doesn’t agree with this assessment and looks to convince J’Onn to disarm the agency. This is bafflingly naive and stupid as far as I’m concerned. The debate is initially framed around civilians having access to weaponry and whether that’s necessary in a civilised society so adding the military to that and extending the discussion to include anyone broadens the issue in a really haphazard way. I’m not saying the “should the military be armed?” debate isn’t one worth having but it definitely has nothing to do with what this episode was trying to get at. There’s a strong case for the DEO needing their weapons as they routinely face powerful alien threats that use lethal force so arguably need something equally dangerous in order to counter that. Not to mention them being in theory trained in proper use of those weapons and possibly understanding the ethical implications of using them. Once again the debate is certainly worth having but not in this episode because it has nothing to do with the initial argument. J’Onn’s unilateral decision to disarm the DEO was something else that I found baffling as I’m not sure it was really his decision to make considering the organisation is under government oversight. At least the reaction of the agents was realistic enough and I am interested to see what the consequences of that are especially given that Winn will be developing non lethal and presumably less effective weaponry.

The villain associated with this plot was both good and bad. Having him be a normal man driven mad by how his employer treated him is a relatable motivation that the episode doesn’t make enough of. Getting a hold of a military grade hunting rifle to gun them all down does feel like an unrealistically extreme reaction to the circumstances and the resolution felt very forced. J’Onn reaching out to him with empathy rather than violence echoes the approach taken by Kara on a few occasions which adds credence to them protecting the city in her honour but the fact that it works frames the antagonist as tragically misguided. If the purpose was to remind the audience of the various shootings that have taken place recently in the United States then stopping the shooter with empathy comes across as the wrong approach.

J’Onn is continuing to struggle with the acceptance of where his father’s illness is leading. M’Yrnn has been a lot better lately which naturally makes him happy but this is actually the last period of clarity before the end. M’Yrnn sees this as merciful as it gives him enough time to make clear headed decisions and really make the most of the end of his life. It’s also poetic in its own way because of that profound lucidity that M’Yrnn enjoys at the end of his life. He insists that a ritual called “The Reach” needs to be performed so that his memories can be preserved through his son but J’Onn is in denial about the whole thing. His arc in this episode is about admitting that his father is right and accepting what he has to do next. The reason for him arriving at this conclusion and changing his mind isn’t really made clear but the acting helps save this somewhat. M’Yrnn will likely make his exit before the end of the season and it promises to be really effective character moment.

Supergirl

More trouble


Verdict

An underwhelming episode that fails to accomplish what it sets out to do. Everything in this episode feels rushed to the point that it’s devoid of meaning or weight. The apparent defeat of Reign happens so quickly with barely any time given to how the aftermath of that affects the characters concerned. Kara’s goodbye is equally rushed with a lack of emotional impact to it despite how profound the relationships between the characters are. Similarly problematic is Kara’s time on Argo City. There seems to be a lack of connection with the material on the part of the actors and the episode fails to establish a baseline in the relationship between Kara and Alura so there’s nothing to build on. I’m left wondering what the point of resurrecting such an important figure in Kara’s life is and worry that all that will happen is that her motivation is cheapened as a result. The development of Kara’s soon to be romantic relationship is equally poor especially when the show spends so much time on this to the detriment of Kara’s relationship with others or her own personal growth. There are some promising ideas in the Argo City scenes such as the idea that there is darkness underneath the veneer of perfection.

The attempt to make a point about gun control falls somewhat flat as well because the episode can’t really decide what debate it wants to have. James takes the anti-gun stance because he believes that military grade weaponry in the hands of a civilian is self evidently dangerous and he certainly has a valid point as does Lena going down the self defence route but the discussion is never had because Lena dismisses him before it can become anything. Eventually the episode brings in opinions on whether the military should be armed which muddles the original point so it comes across as weak because of how unfocused the episode is when having that debate. J’Onn’s decision to disarm the DEO is problematic in its own way because it surely isn’t his decision to make but at least the reaction of the agents feels real enough. J’Onn being in denial about his father’s condition and how inevitable his death is works really well and sets up a really powerful emotional moment sure to drop in the next couple of episodes. The clarity before the end is a really poetic and dignified as is the portrayal of M’Yrnn’s acceptance of the inevitable.

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