Supergirl – Season 6 Episode 15
“Hope For Tomorrow”
Supergirl continues the totem plot with a hunt for the Hope Totem as Alex and Kelly deal with the challenges of parenting a powered child.
Episodes like this are all too common on this show. By that I mean episodes that have an excellent character driven plot running concurrently with a questionable action driven plot that defies all common sense. The questionable plot relates to the hunt for the Hope Totem and what Kara has to do to prove herself worthy of it.
It is stated in the episode that this one should be easy as hope is very much within her wheelhouse. The totem issues her a vague challenge to “inspire a hope that burns longer and brighter than the sun”. Not only is it vague but it’s also a very tall order that seems impossible to fulfil. Kara has no idea how to go about this but falls back on traditional superheroing as a potential solution. She steps up her day to day heroics like saving cats out of trees and the like but it’s not enough to impress the totem.
Lena suggests that Kara the journalist might be a source of inspiration in a way that Kara the superhero can’t be so she tries writing a story with a positive spin that people can read and feel good about. Andrea rejects it because she sees it as Kara stepping on William’s toes and has issues with the positive slant because she sees the world as being a terrible place and would rather report on that basis. Outside of minor suggestions of depth throughout this season Andrea is mostly positioned as little more than an obstacle getting in the way of what William, Kara and Nia want to do in their day jobs. If the intent is to create tension in that area of their lives then it falls far short. It’s also unfortunate that Kara’s ability to influence and inspire hope as a journalist goes nowhere and receives almost no exploration with it being dismissed almost instantly.
In the background there is a budding nuclear conflict between Kaznia and Corto Maltese that is causing a great deal of concern. The threat of a nuclear conflict breaking out is very real with the leaders lurching towards it. This is down to the influence of the totem heightening tensions which goes some of the way towards explaining the rapid escalation of the conflict but even at that it seems to come out of nowhere with the severity of the conflict bizarrely downplayed. Supergirl as a show often has situations that have widespread implications thrown in the mix and treated as if it’s a day at the office for the characters. Considering what they deal with on a consistent basis it’s not entirely unreasonable but it feels off to have this sitting in the background with limited focus for much of the episode. Early on it seems to be a plot for J’Onn to sink his teeth into given the emotional manipulation at play but his contribution is slight and passive.
The threat of nuclear conflict is referenced throughout the episode through news reports indicating how concerned the public are. This is in service of delivering the message that people are losing hope that there will even be a future for them which naturally ties to Kara trying to figure out how to bring people hope to prove herself worthy of the totem. It seems like an impossible task in the face of such despair though the episode is trying to communicate that the answer is staring her right in the face. It does successfully communicate this but it’s very awkward and forced.
Kara and Lena have a discussion about her intervening in the conflict that sparks a compelling ethical dilemma. Superheroes stopping villains or criminals, assisting in helping people survive natural disasters and dealing with accidents in various forms is one thing but interfering in politics in order to force what they consider to be the right thing is quite another. This debate is too broad and complex to introduce so late in the life of Supergirl and it’s not something this episode is equipped to resolve in any meaningful way. There’s a quick discussion around why Kara doesn’t intervene and remove the nuclear threat entirely where she tries to argue that it isn’t her place to do so because she is forbidden for interfering in Human history.
The use of the word “forbidden” is curious as that suggests someone forbade her from doing so but there has been no evidence of this in any season of this show. It’s bizarre that this is brought up now with nothing to back it up. Lena cites the decision made in the previous episode to force people to behave violently to draw out Nyxly. Kara dismissed that as being entirely different because the motivation there was to stop a villain and the situation was a temporary one where interfering in the political arena is widespread and entirely different in terms of motivation. Kara’s argument is that nations should determine how they operate because that’s freedom and she is unquestionably fighting for freedom. The debate itself becomes largely moot because Kara decides to get involved and throws the nukes into the sun. Whether the consequences of that are to be explored in the coming episodes is unknown but my gut feeling is that this will be an episodic problem that will barely -if ever- be mentioned again.
J’Onn being asked to change the minds of the disputing leaders using his powers is another interesting moral quandary that is glossed over. As expected, J’Onn refuses to do so because brainwashing is something he sees as inherently wrong but the counter argument is that he’d simply be speeding along an inevitable decision but J’Onn rightly points out that there’s no way of predicting that would be the case and the episode proves that the opposite is true by what both leaders ultimately decide to do. Trying to tackle this issue is admirable certainly but there is no way to do it properly in the space of a single episode.
This speaks to a systemic issue with this show that I’ve referenced on many occasions. Big issues are raised and glossed over in favour of moving the story forward. Presenting the audience with two nations ready to go to War with one another along with the threat of nuclear fallout impacting on a global scale is a huge issue that requires extensive coverage to be explored properly. Superheroes refusing to embroil themselves in political issues is easy to understand but the prospect of nuclear fallout is arguably something that a superhero should proactively engage with. In actual fact, Kara and J’Onn plucking the missiles out of the air after they’re launched makes sense as they’re making a decision that benefits people so in that case it isn’t about appearing on the political stage to dictate how things should work. Removing the missiles that haven’t been launched yet is a far thornier issue because it’s likely that they would be launched but arguably it isn’t their place to do this but it’s a compromise of sorts. It’s a predictably clumsy outcome but there was no other way to resolve this given the framework that was chosen.
The idea of destroying the hope totem because Kara is sure Team Supergirl can pick up the slack if its destruction negatively affects the population of Earth is a really strong one. Its a proactive and decisive move that allows Kara to take control of the situation rather than simply waiting for Nyxly to make a move and trying to deal with the situation it creates. Nyxly can now no longer carry out her plan which changes up the conflict significantly while also showing a real confidence in what Team Supergirl can offer planet Earth as a group. Nyxly receiving a gift from her “secret admirer” strongly indicating that Lex is about to make a reappearance escalates things somewhat and sets up the remaining episodes to potentially go in an unpredictable direction.
A far better plot is the teething problems following Alex and Kelly’s adoption of Esme. The challenges of the aftermath of adoption are amplified for them by Esme being an alien who can mimic the powers when close to anyone who has them. The first showcase of this is when she accidentally phases through the wall because J’Onn is nearby. The desire to be a mother has been something Alex has been dealing with for many seasons with it only now just coming to fruition and she definitely wasn’t prepared for the reality of what motherhood was. That isn’t a criticism as she can’t be expected to know exactly what it entails particularly when it comes to dealing with the powers of an alien child. There’s a learning curve and it’s fascinating to see the show acknowledge that.
Alex goes about things entirely the wrong way at first. She thinks that the best way for Esme to master her powers and adjust to having them is to intensely practice. This matches up with Alex’ personality as she is used to throwing herself into whatever she learns until she masters it so wrongly assumes that Esme will be the same. She ignores Esme’s protests about being tired and fails to recognise her reluctance to continue. It’s certainly a flawed approach but a believably flawed one and her arc is around recognising that she does have to give Esme time to adjust. It reaches a point where Esme feels that she is letting Alex down and wants to be taken back to the group home because she believes that she doesn’t measure up to what her adopted parents expect of her. Alex’ heartbreak at seeing the unintended effect she has on Esme by pushing her far beyond her comfort zone is viscerally performed by Chyler Leigh who does an excellent job throughout this episode.
It is more or less neatly resolved by the time the credits roll but it feels like a step forward has been taken. Kelly’s more realistic approach by latching onto Esme’s emotional states and taking the time to make her feel comfortable. She has a persistent fear of being abandoned as shown by her quick suggestion to be taken back to the group home and constant concerns over whether she’s in trouble. It’s a great sense of character from Esme and gives a clear idea of her history. Alex and Kelly need to concentrate on making her feel loved and secure which is something Kelly understands immediately and Alex needs to learn. The discussion they have about some of the challenges that were encountered when Kara was growing up highlight that it’s easy to forget that positive relationships don’t always develop easily. Alex has to be reminded of that as she looks at the past as being unrealistically ideal Even though the focus is on training Esme to learn how to use her powers the emotional aspect is entirely relatable and easy to follow. There is even attention given to the fear parents have raising a child in a dangerous and unpredictable world so everything comes together naturally.
This plot isn’t entirely defined by the challenges as there’s a lot of positivity and happiness sprinkled in. The opening scene where Esme is welcomed home by her found family is adorable and the declaration that she loves her room at the end of the episode is powerfully endearing. Her interactions with Kara who immediately takes to being Aunt Kara are also great. Esme is so far proving to be a great addition to the final run of episodes and certainly gives Alex along with Kelly something meaty to chew on.
An uneven episode that is elevated by a heart-warming and powerfully executed character driven plot. The plot that focuses on the hunt for the Hope Totem and Kara’s challenge to inspire a certain type of hope on a global scale has a lot of the same issues that crop up whenever the show tries to handle other large scale issues namely not having the ability to cover them in the required detail. The background issue of two nations threatening to launch nukes at each other because the subject of a debate between Lena and Kara around whether Kara has the right to involve herself in the political landscape. It’s Kara’s view that she doesn’t because she sees doing so as a breach of the freedom she’s fighting for. This is undercut by her getting involved anyway and throwing the nukes owned by two nations into the sun. Arguably this is warranted because they will cause major damage to the world and end countless lives but it renders the debate moot because she ends up interfering. Similarly J’Onn stating that he is vehemently against brainwashing is only covered on a basic level. There are other issues such as Kara stating she is forbidden to interfere in Human history despite no prior indication ever being given that anyone forbade her from doing so. As always the ideas are interesting but there’s no way to cover them in detail. Kara’s quest to prove herself worthy of the totem is less than interesting as well as there’s no clear indication as to why she was successful though the destruction of the Hope Totem was a compelling development for many reasons. It’s a decisive and proactive move, shows Kara’s confidence in what Team Supergirl can offer Planet Earth and sets up the remainder of the season to proceed in an unpredictable direction.
The stronger plot was Alex and Kelly adjusting to parenthood. Most of the focus was on Alex and showing her going about things in the wrong way worked really well. Pushing Esme to continually practice using her powers in order to master them fits with her personality of throwing herself into learning a skill until she masters it. Being unable to recognise Esme’s growing discomfort forms her arc for the episode and helps make this sci-fi plot more relatable. Alex’ arc is around understanding how to meet Esme’s needs and a great deal of effort is put into characterising Esme as being afraid of being abandoned. Her fear of getting in trouble also says a lot about her upbringing. There is a fairly neat resolution to all of this but there is still work to be done on top of that. There is also lots of endearing moments such as Esme’s introduction to her found family along with Kara instantly adapting to being Aunt Kara and Esme declaring that she loves her room.
- the idea behind Kara and Lena’s debate around getting involved in political issues
- destroying the Hope Totem being a decisive and proactive move that makes the remainder of the season more unpredictable
- the complexities around Alex figuring out how to be a parent to Esme
- quickly establishing a lot about Esme as a character
- adorable moments as Esme adjusts to her new life and surroundings
- not being equipped to fully explore the complex issues on display
- the challenge to be worthy of the totem not being as clear as it should be
- continuing to position Andrea as little more than an obstacle to Kara, William and Nia
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