Supergirl – Season 5 Episode 13
“It’s a Super Life”
Supergirl celebrates 100 episodes with a trip down memory lane to explore how the world would be impacted if Kara was honest with Lena earlier.
It’s very much the norm at this point for Arrowverse shows to revisit the past in some way when celebrating its 100th episode. Arrow did this -in the middle of a crossover no less- to explore how loss has changed Oliver Queen and The Flash visited the past in its 100th episode pretty much for something to do. One inarguable fact is that these shows all earned the right to indulge in nostalgia to commemorate such an important milestone. Those involved deserve to celebrate their success by looking back on what brought them to this moment.
That is very much the underlying theme of this episode; Kara examining the choices that led her to her life as it is now. A surprise appearance by Mxyzptlk -hereafter referred to as Mxy- (now played by Thomas Lennon) offers Kara the opportunity to change the past so that her friendship with Lena goes down a more positive path. It’s an enticing offer and Mxy seems to be reformed after being ordered to help those he has wronged in some way so Kara ultimately agrees to give it a shot.
Choices are often difficult to make because it’s unknown what the consequences of a particular decision will be. There’s no way to predict what the correct choice is because things will always play out in ways you wouldn’t expect. Earlier this season Kara made the decision to tell Lena the truth about her double identity which had the unfortunate consequence of pushing her into wanting to change Humanity so that people are incapable of hurting others and working with Lex to achieve that goal. Neither of these things are what Kara wanted as a consequence of her decision so her initial desire to change the past and repair their friendship makes a lot of sense.
This involves revisiting different moments over the course of the past four seasons through some really creative visual touches that do a good job of hiding the fact that a fair chunk of this episode is a clip show. It sets itself apart from a standard clip show because the events being viewed take on added meaning and are altered by Kara having Mxy sub her in at key points. The title of the episode references It’s a Wonderful Life and the plot bears a not insignificant resemblance to that film. Supergirl isn’t the first TV show to deliver its own take on that iconic film and it won’t be the last. A character reflecting on their choices by witnessing how things would play out had they made different ones is always going to capture the imagination of viewers and it’s something that lends itself to an infinite variety of scenarios.
The purpose of Kara’s journey into the past of her friendship with Lena is to realise that there was no right time to tell Lena the truth as there would always be far reaching consequences no matter when she did it. Of the scenarios shown only one of them didn’t result in Lena feeling betrayed by Kara but it led to its own set of problems. In many of the occasions it’s hard to see how Kara telling Lena the truth could spiral into the outcomes that are shown. For example it’s difficult to see how Kara telling Lena the truth shortly after their first meeting could result in Ben Lockwood and the Children of Liberty successfully hunting down and killing everyone close to Kara. It’s certainly a bit of a stretch though it could be written off as Mxy exaggerating the outcome to prove his point. This presupposes that his true aim was to help Kara realise that her actions will always have consequences and she has to live with them though that doesn’t seem to be the case since he manages to get them stuck in the darkest timeline.
This storytelling device allows characters that haven’t been seen in a while to make a welcome return. Chris Wood’s Mon’El and Odette Annable’s Sam are the most prominent examples with Mon’El being given a really meaningful scene with Kara that sums up the lesson she has to learn in the episode. He tells her that it’s ok to mess up and uses himself as an example as she forgives him no matter how many mistakes he has made. He encourages her to feel that she deserves the same compassion from others that she freely dispenses and tells her that he agrees with her decision to hide the truth from Lena because it was a well intentioned choice as opposed to her own family who betrayed her for selfish reasons. Kara isn’t ready to fully absorb this lesson at that point because she still blames herself for creating the current situation with Lena but the episode is very much about getting her to a place where she can fully understand what Mon’El means and apply it to her life.
Exploring the altered realities is a lot of fun for a variety of reasons. For one thing it allows a “what if…?” scenario to be indulged that often results in the deaths of major characters and for another it gives Katie McGrath the rare opportunity to explore different facets of Lena. The character created in the reactions to learning the truth about Kara at different times is different to the Lena we have now while still being recognisable. I especially liked her warm and gleeful reaction during the scenario where Kara tells her the truth early in their friendship.
In each case except the reality where Kara opens up to her at an early point in their friendship she struggles to process the information and ends up either being absent or in a very different mindset during key moments in the show’s history which results in something far more catastrophic than what actually played out. In one reality Kara even dies because Lena wasn’t in a position to remove the Kryptonite from the atmosphere so the evidence continues to mount that the current timeline might be the best possible one. Once again the outcomes feel far fetched in some cases but the message remains effective nonetheless.
The darkest timeline is the only reality that feels as if it has any stakes. Kara and Mxy find themselves stuck there and it’s the worst possible place to be. This timeline exists because Kara wanted to see a world where she and Lena never became friends as she mistakenly believes that it’s the best possible outcome for her. This couldn’t be further from the truth as it means that Kara was absent during the assassination attempt way back at the start of season 2 which led to Lena’s body being badly broken and restored through the use of Metallo technology. It’s basically an excuse for some action scenes and it’s a good one with some really impressive visual flourishes such as J’Onn taking on Reign and Nia showing greater mastery over her powers.
Lena in this reality is an extreme example of what would happen to her if she lived her life without friends and never had her Humanity nurtured. She talks about being completely deconstructed and rebuilt as something else that is barely Human any more. There’s a hint that her hatred is the only thing keeping her alive which makes for a really tragic version of the character that Katie McGrath does a great job portraying. There’s a sadness behind the eyes in every word she says and the isolation is evident. It proves that Kara had a profound effect on her even if the end result was a negative one and also shows an extreme example of a possible future that could result from her partnership with Lex.
With several examples of timelines that are far worse when Kara opens up to Lena at earlier points the question becomes: what does Kara do with that information? How can she take that lesson and apply that to her life in the present day? She comes to an important realisation that she has made mistakes and has to live with them rather than wishing things were different. It’s the culmination of a well constructed arc that plays out throughout the episode and helps Kara grow significantly. If this lesson sticks then future episodes should feature a more confident Kara that doesn’t second guess her decisions. Exploring her past helps her see that she often makes the right calls with the world she lives in serving as proof of that.
She takes that knowledge and applies that to a very different conversation with Lena where she makes it clear that she’s done apologising to her for the pain she caused because she has done that on several occasions. The ball is left on Lena’s court as to what to do next; she can either forgive Kara or continue working with Lex to achieve their goal. If she chooses the first option then Kara will be there to support her but if she chooses the second then Kara will have no choice but to stop her like she would any other villain. That word especially stings because Lena feels that Kara treated her like the villain by hiding the truth from her but Kara flips that around by stating that her actions are turning her into one as far as she’s concerned. Lena is accountable for her own actions and Kara is going to stop blaming herself for what Lena has chosen to do. It’s a really mature conversation that clearly outlines the choices Lena has ahead of her.
The episode doesn’t have many failings but criminally underuses Alex and J’Onn. It is acknowledged in the final scene that they have been there for her through the good and the bad since day one. They do appear in the various alternate scenarios but they are far from significant outside of a couple of scenes here and there. The episode is very much about the Kara/Lena friendship and how that has impacted how the history of the show played out but the Kara/Alex relationship has been one of the emotional pillars since the beginning and the father/daughter dynamic she shares with J’Onn has been instrumental in shaping the woman she is now so it’s odd that a milestone episode such as this pushes them so far into the background. There’s no denying that the final scene is great and sure to warm the coldest of hearts.
An outstanding celebration of an important milestone for the show that delivers compelling alternate takes on key moments through the lens of choices and friendship allowing Kara to develop in a really profound way. The Kara/Lena relationship has been one of the main fixtures of this season with the fracturing of it informing so much of what’s going on. Mxyzptlk’s reappearance with a different actor creates the perfect excuse to revisit these key moments and explore how they could have played out differently. The overall purpose of the episode is for Kara to learn that there was no right time to tell Lena the truth because doing so would always have major consequences. Some of the scenarios are really far fetched to the point of being difficult to believe but it’s possible that Mxy is deliberately exaggerating them to get the point across. The point is well made regardless and it’s fun to explore these alternate scenarios. Kara gets to see why the choices she made actually led to a better outcome than the alternatives which encourages her to have confidence in her decisions and stop second guessing herself. It’s interesting to see Lena fundamentally altered in these alternate timelines with the most striking being the darkest timeline version where she has lost most of her Humanity due to having nobody in her life to nurture it. This shows how profound the impact of Kara’s friendship is for her.
The reappearance of characters that haven’t been seen in a while such as Mon’El and Sam was a welcome touch and there’s even a really good scene where Mon’El tells Kara that it’s ok to make mistakes and she deserves to have the same compassion she shows others returned to her. At that point she isn’t ready to fully absorb that lesson but she does by the end of the episode. She emerges from this more confident than she went in and with a greater understanding of the positive impact her choices have had. This also comes with the realisation that she has made mistakes and will continue to do so but she has to learn to live with them. She applies this lesson to a conversation with Lena that takes a vastly different turn to any other. This time she tells Lena that she’s done apologising to her because she has done so on several occasions so leaves the ball in her court as to whether she forgives Kara or continues to work with Lex. Option one nets her Kara’s support where option two forces Kara into a situation where she has to stop her. Lena is accountable for her own actions and Kara has resolved to stop blaming herself so the choices Lena has ahead of her are clearly outlined. It’s odd that a milestone episode would push Alex and J’Onn so far into the background given their significance to the DNA of the show. It makes sense that there wasn’t time but I would have expected more focus on the impact these characters have had. It is acknowledged and the final scene is sure to warm the coldest of hearts.
- revisiting key events in the show’s history and extrapolating how they might have gone differently
- a meaningful return for Mon’El
- Kara repeatedly being shown that many the choices she made over the years were good ones
- Kara learning that there was no right time to tell Lena the truth because there would always be consequences
- Kara coming to realise that mistakes are part of life and she has to live with them
- an excellent scene where Kara applies what she’s learned to dealing with Lena
- Katie McGrath having the opportunity to explore alternate versions of Lena
- a heart-warming end scene
- some of the scenarios feeling a little too far fetched
- very little focus on Alex and J’Onn despite how important they are to the DNA of the show
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