Supergirl – Season 5 Episode 17
“Deus Lex Machina”
Supergirl returns from a production hiatus with a look back at the post Crisis life of Lex Luthor.
As with all the shows, real life meant that I missed a couple of episodes worth of reviews so here’s a brief summary of what I thought of them. I think that this season is generally muddled on what it is trying to be about. The cautionary tale about technology is being treated too broadly to have the desired weight and the Leviathan plot is moving a little too slowly. Between the Obsidian Platinum plot, the Leviathan plot and the Lex Luthor plot there’s a lot of competition for focus which inevitably means that none of them are serviced particularly well. There is some attempt to have Lex move between them in an effort to join everything up but it doesn’t work as well as it needs to. It should all be noted that telling a story about technology alienating people from others is an accidentally tone deaf message in this Coronavirus lockdown world as technology is actually keeping people together in healthy and necessary ways when we are being told to keep apart physically. The last thing to note is that this episode is Melissa Benoist’s directorial debut and she does an excellent job in this inaugural outing in that role.
It’s becoming standard for Supergirl to dedicate an episode to exploring what has been happening in the background of the events of a season. The idea is to show that characters use events to take action in ways that might not be considered. “Man of Steel” chronicled how Ben Lockwood was impacted by the events of previous seasons and how that shaped his anti-Alien viewpoint, “The House of L” revealed how Lex had been manipulating events unseen for quite some time and “Confidence Women” delivers insight into Andrea’s history. The latter doesn’t make the same amount of use of events we know as the other two but it is different perspective to the norm. I’m always an advocate for off format episodes because they can provide a compelling alternate viewpoint that changes the way events are viewed plus it freshens things up by altering the style for a short time. This episode is focused on Lex and how he deals with waking up in an unfamiliar world after the events of “Crisis on Infinite Earths”.
This version of Lex is great because he operates on a different intellectual level to everyone around him. Any move made against him will likely fail because he has anticipated it and come up with a few contingency plans that he can divert to if things don’t go exactly as planned. Pretty much everyone else reacted to the new world with confusion and uncertainty where Lex saw it as an opportunity to dominate a brand new world. He already has a head start because the Luthors are well regarded in this world so he already seen as a man who can do now wrong. All he has to do is maintain that persona while manipulating events and people to achieve his goals. His current obsession is Leviathan because they represent power and influence he didn’t know about that he sees as a direct threat to him. It makes sense to some degree but the level of his obsession with bringing them down isn’t all that well developed.
Considering how good Jon Cryer is in this role it almost doesn’t matter that his reasons for wanting to bring down Leviathan are flimsy. He plays Lex with such casual sinister confidence that makes him seem equal parts charismatic and slimy. It’s easy to see why people would want to believe in him and the contempt he has for everyone who isn’t him or related to him is always behind the eyes. Lex knows he’s smarter than everyone else around him and believes that this makes him far better than them. The trouble with the post Crisis world is that very few people are telling him otherwise so his superiority complex is completely out of control. I really like the way he reacts when something doesn’t go his way on the rare occasion he hasn’t prepared for it. He clearly thought that Lena had been broken down to the point that all trust and compassion for Kara had been extinguished. He’s forced to admit he was wrong when he witnesses Lena approaching her to offer sympathies for the loss of Jeremiah Danvers. She gifts Kara a book that brought her comfort in the face of loss which shows that on some level Lena still cares deeply for Kara and doesn’t want to see her come to harm. Lex hadn’t anticipated that and can see his plan unravelling completely if Lena continues to indulge her compassion for Kara.
One major pawn in Lex’ plan is Eve who he finds after Leviathan murdered her father and threatened her mother in order to ensure compliance. Lex gives her hope by offering her his help, enlisting her as a double agent and encouraging her to fall in love with him. Her betraying him in the pre Crisis world seems to have inspired him to get revenge by tormenting this version of her. It’s hard not to feel sorry for Eve in this context as she is incredibly vulnerable and prone to latching onto what Lex can offer her. She’s a genius -which Lex recognises- but she’s also governed by her emotions and blinded by her devotion to Lex to the degree that she confuses his actions for genuine affection. It’s genuinely heartbreaking when Lex reveals that he has been manipulating her all this time and has plenty of leverage over her should she even think about betraying him. There’s an argument to be had over whether Eve brought this on herself but nobody deserves what Lex did to her.
I did think the death of Jeremiah Danvers in the previous episode was a completely random aside that existed to get Dean Cain off the board completely with little actual consequence to the main plot other than pushing Alex in a specific direction but having Eve be his killer and Lex be the one to orchestrate it was a really nice touch as it further reinforces Lex as a villain who will stop at nothing to achieve his goals while allowing another very personal reason for Kara and Alex to despise him. There’s also an extra layer of tension associated with anticipating how they will react when they inevitably find out Eve was responsible. This is a good way to make an off screen death more meaningful.
There were two noteworthy musical moments in the episode, both of which revolved around Lex. The first was a montage of Lex giving speeches about the merits of Obsidian Platinum to David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World”. It was a very appropriate song choice given all the talk about allowing people to control their own worlds in a virtual setting and how that’s a selling point of the technology. It’s also appropriate for Lex personally in his well documented desire for power and influence. The second was an instrumental version of “My Way” as he enters the Fortress of Solitude as a herald of some really bad things coming our way now that Lex has access to it.
I found Lex’ relationship with Lillian in the post Crisis world to be really interesting. In the pre Crisis world they were adversaries constantly trying to kill one another which made for an obviously unhealthy relationship but in this new world their goals are aligned, they understand each other and Lillian points him in a more measured direction when it comes to going after what he wants. She encourages him to put aside his hatred for Kryptonians since he runs the DEO, has a very public alliance with Supergirl and commands the adoration of the general public. His major weakness in the old world was his obsession with destroying Kryptonians and it ultimately led to his undoing so she makes a compelling argument for him doing things differently this time and pointing his focus in a different direction. The obsession is still there but he’s actively working to not let it define him which seems to be working for now.
Melissa Benoist being the director of this episode naturally means that Kara has a lot less to do than she does in other episodes. The structure of the episode lends itself to her being a supporting figure in the narrative but there was still some opportunity for a meaningful contribution from her. Having this episode feel as if it takes place in the background of other episodes allows for an interesting perspective shift on familiar moments. The most significant example is the standard scene of various configurations of the characters getting together to enjoy each other’s company and food with Eve peering at them from afar. It’s a good way to add a sinister edge to what is usually such a positive interaction and reinforces the idea that there’s a lot going on that Team Supergirl have no awareness of.
There is an action sequence where M’Gann returns out of nowhere to help J’Onn and Kara fight an escaped Sun-Eater. It’s a cool sequence though M’Gann’s return is very jarring because of how random it is and in general it feels out of place as a sequence because of how little consequence it has. Fair enough it serves as a distraction while Lex gets on with its plans but it comes and goes so quickly while not feeling as if it ever properly fits.
Kara has two meaningful scenes with Lena; the first I’ve already talked about where Lena offers her sympathies for Kara’s loss and the second is when Lena confronts Kara in the Fortress of Solitude because she’s using Myriad. It’s an interesting interaction because both sides have an understandable point of view. Kara is a flawed character who makes a lot of mistakes and is often unaware of how widespread the impact of her decisions is. She previously condemned Lena for using Myriad because it was too dangerous in any hands but fails to recognise that advice when she feels that she needs to use it. Lena is rightly upset by this because it acts as a further confirmation of Kara’s betrayal. Kara’s response is to become defensive because she believes that she has no choice but to use Myraid in this instance because of everything that’s at stake and is convinced that Lex is behind everything while also having resolved to treat Lena like a villain because she has chosen to work with Lex. At this point Lena’s behaviour is becoming harder and harder to justify from the point of view of the viewer understanding her point of view but this is a good example of her calling Kara out on the rules that she imposes on others without holding herself to that same standard. This episode does suggest that Lena is coming around to the idea of accepting Kara back in her life and being her friend again but the longer this drags on the harder to believe it becomes.
A strong episode that makes great use of Lex Luthor’s perspective to flesh out the ongoing narrative in interesting ways. These off format episodes are a good way to detail what has been going on in the background during the previous episodes and having Lex pulling strings in the background makes a lot of sense considering what is known about his character. Jon Cryer remains great in the role of Lex with his causal sinister confidence that only waivers when things don’t go according to plan such as when Lena expresses sympathy for Kara. His relationship with Lillian is really compelling in the post Crisis world because the nature of it has completely changed as has the standing of the Luthor family. She encourages him to forget about his vendetta against Kryptonians because it’s not relevant in this new world so he takes the advice as an opportunity to refocus his energies. His motivation for wanting to bring down Leviathan remains somewhat flimsy but it works well enough for now because Jon Cryer carries it so well. Using Lex to tie together the plots is a decent idea but it doesn’t entirely hide the fact that there are several different stories competing for attention in a way that harms all of them. The key relationship for Lex in this episode is with Eve. He manipulates her by letting her believe that he loves her until it gets to the point where she has done everything he needs and he lets her in on the harsh truth. It’s hard not to feel sorry for her in this instance with Lex’ casual disregard for her feelings the way he keeps control of her by putting her in horribly compromising situations. When the death of Jeremiah Danvers was announced I suspected it was a throwaway event but having Eve be the one to do it because Lex told her to adds a deeply personal touch to it that has the potential for widespread consequences. It should be noted that there are two impressive musical moments in the episode; the first is the montage of Lex’ global tour promoting Obsidian Platinum set to “The Man Who Sold the World” and the second was the instrumental of “My Way” as he enters the Fortress of Solitude. Both are appropriate to the moment and to him so they work brilliantly.
Melissa Benoist being in the director’s chair means that Kara has a lot less to do in the episode but the time she does have is used well. There is an action sequence where M’Gann returns that feels weirdly out of place despite how cool it looks. Eve looking in on a standard scene where Kara shares food and company with those she cares about reinforces the idea that she has no real idea what’s actually going on and her two scenes with Lena are meaningful for different reasons. The first is the strongest hint that Lena still values her as a friend and could possibly get back to that where the second highlights Kara’s flaws and reinforces how betrayed Lena fails while also serving as a reminder of all that is at stake. The longer this goes on the harder it is to accept Lena’s mindset but the actors consistently do well with the material.
- using Lex to tie the various plots together
- Jon Cryer’s excellent performance
- Lex’ shift in attitude when things don’t go as he planned
- the changed relationship between Lex and Lillian
- Lex’ manipulation of Eve
- Eve coming across as a sympathetic character
- Kara and Lena’s two meaningful scenes
- Lena’s mindset becoming increasingly difficult to accept the longer it goes on
- too many plots competing for attention affecting them all differently
- the weirdly out of place Sun-Eater sequence and M’Gann’s random return
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