Supergirl – Season 2 Episode 21
Supergirl brings back Cat Grant and the President of the United States as Rhea’s Daxamite army occupies National City.
A big issue with all of the shows in this universe is that finales feel disturbingly familiar every year. Arrow had 3 seasons in a row where the city was under siege by the villain and Supergirl dealt with an alien invasion last year. There are notable differences but also a lot of similarities.
This isn’t quite the finale but the penultimate season 1 episode was very similar in many of the story beats. A hopeless situation gave way to some hope when a plan was formed built around a very difficult choice and the resolution came from an impassioned speech inspiring people into action.
I bring this up because this is a formula that these shows need to break in order to deliver really compelling storytelling. Repetition isn’t necessarily a bad thing and in this case there is definitely a lot of good but I can’t help thinking that something else could have been done.
Supergirl has always had a villain problem. Barring a couple of exceptions this show has been lacking in compelling antagonists. Astra was the most memorable but had an unsatisfying end and Livewire has a lot of personality but beyond that there aren’t many others making an impression.
Rhea looked like a shift in the right direction. She appeared complex and fascinating right from her first appearance with her connection to Mon’El and an overall self-serving agenda that she would go to any lengths to achieve. Posing as a businesswoman and forming a connection with Lena added to what made her interesting so she was well placed as an end of season antagonist.
This episode abandons a lot of that complexity in order to have her chew the scenery. Any scene she shares with Lena shows this change clearly as she is bereft of any affection or compassion when talking to her. Teri Hatcher completely nails the regal tone and always comes across as someone who’s important but this episode should have leant into her relationship with Lena rather than try to forget it. As I’ve said before, the best villains are those who don’t see themselves that way and it seems that Rhea now sees herself as the “bad guy” rather than someone who is doing unthinkable things to save her people.
She has always had a superiority complex. This was made clear by the way she would interact with Kara or talk about others as if they are beneath her. This is definitely still present but there was a real opportunity to explore how her perspective had started to change through working with Lena who could have shown her the value of human beings. There is an element of that with her deciding that Lena is worthy of marrying her son and producing a child but that’s plot driven rather than character driven.
Despite the lack of depth to Rhea she is great to watch. As I’ve said she chews the scenery wonderfully and her “holier than thou” attitude is consistent throughout. She has a lot of presence as a villain even if she doesn’t quite have the nuance to back that up. It’s interesting that her threat is entirely intellectual rather than physical. She is the leader of her army but doesn’t go into battle herself because that’s beneath her.
That shows the major difference between Kara and Rhea. Kara isn’t the leader of an army but she does lead a team. She takes action and puts herself in danger rather than relying on others. Arguably that could be a failing on her part because she is unable to depend on others and take risks with other people’s lives. It’s an admirable position to hold but it’s also limiting. Rhea is the exact opposite and has no problem giving orders or risking the lives for others. She’s a cold leadership type and it makes her an effective villain in that regard.
This conflict should have been at the root of this episode but sadly it doesn’t happen as Kara and Rhea only share one scene together. It’s a good scene that shows how confident Rhea is that she has the upper hand but it’s not enough to create a profound connection between them. A big problem with this episode is that much of it feels very superficial when it comes to Rhea as a villain. I do find her brainwashing of Superman interesting in theory though.
Her decision to force Mon’El and Lena to get married is fairly baffling as it doesn’t make much sense. In a more compelling version of this episode she would have a warped sense of altruism that would let her think that Lena was the best match for her son. It could be meant as a compliment in her mind to allow her son to marry a human which means that she gladly accepts Lena as part of her family. This would have been an interesting angle to see play out but it doesn’t really go anywhere other than providing a ticking clock for Kara to get there to stop the wedding. The writers also missed a trick by not having Kara loudly object to the union when she rescued them. It would have been cheesy but I think it would have worked.
This episode sees the return of Cat Grant and with it comes a reminder of just how much this show has lost without her in it. Her introduction was perfect. Appearing on Air Force One with the President is one of those situations where everything just fits together. Cat Grant is on Air Force One because…where else would she be?
Her opening words slotted her right back into her former role as a beacon of feminism. It was rarely -if ever- done in a malicious way and this is a good example of that. She shows up in the middle of a back and forth between Rhea and the President and tells them both how stupid they’re being. The comparison to how males tend to boast about how powerful they are is completely on the nose but fits in with the positive feminist stance this show often takes. This scene is also a really clever way of showing how formidable a threat Rhea is. When other shows would have the villain throw the strongest character across the room to show how powerful they are, this show pits their villains against Cat Grant in an argument.
Naturally Cat has an existing relationship with the President of the United States. Apparently they were Sorority Sisters and Cat has a memory of seeing her alien form in a weed induced haze that she conveniently recalls once her true origins come to light.
The reveal that the President is an alien to everyone is really low key and goes down the road of her intentions being completely genuine. She shows sympathy towards alien refugees because she is one and wants to make sure that anyone without a home feels comfortable making Earth theirs. It’s simple, elegant and makes an already busy episode a lot less busy. It also validates the respect Kara has for her and shows that she is an excellent judge of character.
Cat has a really meaningful interaction with Kara about the situation. The President has given orders to use a previously unmentioned weapon to destroy the Daxamite ship which would mean the loss of Mon’El and Lena. Kara is torn between her loyalty to her friends and her pledge to protect all of humanity. Could Mon’El and Lena be considered acceptable losses if it means saving the entire human race? Cat seems to think that the loss isn’t acceptable because it goes against the reason Kara helps people in the first place. Destroying the ship is a brutal act and Kara needs to see that love and compassion are her strengths rather than her weaknesses. She relates this to a voyage of self discovery she recently went on that stripped away everything other than the people around her and it allowed her to gain a renewed perspective on what’s important in life. Other people make life worth living and Kara needs to understand that before she can take action. It’s a really good pep talk that is well acted by Calista Flockhart. It hits the right emotional beat to move the plot along while staying connected to the character.
I really liked Cat’s scenes with Winn. We haven’t seen much of these characters together since the show began so they never quite had a defined relationship but Winn was always afraid of her and he definitely is here. Even though she recognises his intelligence and value Winn looks like he’s ready for her to destroy him with a glance and it makes for a good dynamic. Their scenes together are fairly mechanical otherwise but there’s a lot of personality to them.
Cat’s speech to National City about resisting those who claim they want to “make the world great again” is completely on the nose but no less effective. Calista Flockhart delivers it with heartfelt sincerity and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a clear comment on the current political situation in the United States. It’s too obviously worded not to be and it certainly gets the point across if that was the aim.
Sniffing around in the background is Lillian Luthor and Hank Henshaw who offer their help. They haven’t seen the light all of a sudden but do recognise that working with Supergirl in this instance is the right thing to do because they have a shared enemy in the Daxamites. Opinions are divided on whether team Supergirl should work with them but Kara ultimately decides that it’s worth the risk and takes action on that front. Alex doesn’t agree but she trusts her sister and the plan to blow up the ship is still in play. This leads to an emotional scene where Alex and Kara say goodbye to one another knowing very well that it could be permanent. Alex begs Kara to be faster than her trigger finger and the sisters part on really emotional terms. It’s a solid character beat in the middle of a lot of chaos.
Of course Lillian and Hank betray her but I like that Kara was prepared for it and came up with a way to counter their betrayal. It’s somewhat out of place but works really well because it’s so unexpected. We rarely get to see Kara retain lessons between episodes so it’s good to see this happen and prove that she is able to prepare for the worst. It’s a testament to her relationship with Alex where Kara always hopes for the best and Alex prepares for the worst. The two compliment each other as can be seen here.
I have to comment on the baffling way that secret identities are handled in this episode. Cat is working with Kara’s sister as well as someone she knows to be one of Kara’s friends but doesn’t manage to connect the dots that Kara is actually Supergirl. She even asks Winn where Kara is in the midst of all this chaos. I’ve said this many times but the only explanation is that she knows the truth and is acting as if she doesn’t. It’s made worse by the fact that she recognises James because his eyes are visible through the slit in his helmet. There’s no way she shouldn’t recognise Kara.
Equally bizarre is Lena on the Daxamite ship where she learns that Mon’El is a Daxamite Prince. She fails to come to the conclusion that Kara is Supergirl from that despite how obvious it should be. It’s possible that she just didn’t mention it and this will be dealt with next week. I did find Kara’s sloppy attempt to pretend she didn’t know Mon’El that well really amusing though.
An entertaining episode with some really well put together emotional beats. Rhea loses some of her nuance from previous episodes because she becomes a theatrical villain with very little sense behind her actions. There were ways to improve this such as grounding her actions in the relationship she forged with Lena or focusing on the differences between her and Kara to inform the conflict. Teri Hatcher does nail the regal tone but she could have been a much more compelling villain.
Cat Grant’s return worked brilliantly. Her introduction was perfect and she had some excellent moments throughout the episode where she helped Kara decide what action to take, had a solid back and forth with Winn and delivered a sincere impassioned speech to the public encouraging them to fight back. It was great to have her around again and felt like old times. The inclusion of Cadmus was fine but very predictable though I liked that Kara was prepared for their betrayal.