Supergirl – Season 6 Episode 16
“Nightmare in National City”
Supergirl has Nia confront a long standing familial conflict as Kara is forced to deal with the realities of juggling her time consuming responsibilities.
I have often said that Supergirl is at its best when it favours characterisation over story. In an ideal world it would be able to nail both but it’s a long standing problem that the plotting in this show is lacking. In a way expecting the story playing out to be incoherent and nonsensical has become one of the conceits that has to be accepted when watching the show. For me I can live with that when the characterisation is so strong.
This episode focuses on Nia and Kara; two compelling characters played by very talented actors so an episode that has them in the spotlight has a better than average chance of being a strong one. Kara in particular has been on the back-burner more often than not since her return from the Phantom Zone which is a curious choice considering she’s the lead but she is now receiving some much needed attention with elements being set up to play with in the final run of episodes.
The main issue surrounding Kara in this episode is that of time. She is juggling her responsibilities as Supergirl and her responsibilities to CatCo with the two not complimenting each other. The previous episode detailed her being unwilling to relax and enjoy leisure time so this is expanded on in this episode with her rapidly approaching burnout. Kara mentions feeling like she’s constantly a step behind in all aspects of life since her return from the Phantom Zone which certainly puts the idea in the viewer’s mind and it’s supported by what happens in the episode making for a great example of showing rather than telling.
As is the norm on this show a case study is provided to illustrate the point being made. Kara being given the opportunity to interview the political heads of Kaznia and Corto Maltese is the commitment running counter to her responsibilities as Supergirl. Things that need her attention as Supergirl keep getting in the way and she misses every chance she has to carry out the interviews. Melissa Benoist’s performance shows the impact failing to be able to successfully juggle both has on Kara wonderfully. She is visibly shaking when she realises she has missed the interview which makes it clear how difficult Kara is finding having so many demands on her time. Kara’s difficulty juggling her two lives has often been explored over the course of this show with some examples being better than others. This is a particularly poignant example because the significant pressures associated with the two identities are highlighted.
She opens up to William about feeling overwhelmed by everything she feels she has to do. She uses the classic line of feeling like there isn’t enough hours in the day and there being more to do the next day if she manages to keep on top of everything. It’s an intensely relatable scenario that comes to life because of Melissa Benoist’s portrayal of Kara’s anguish as she mulls over how to solve this problem. William tries to console her by asking her to be kinder to herself and accept that everyone is entitled to a bad day once in a while. He also cites external factors which isn’t a helpful example as Kara also feels responsible for those external factors. Her general view is that she can’t ever have a bad day which is a direct reference to her responsibilities as Supergirl. Dropping the ball as Supergirl potentially means that people die or massive destruction occurs. This feels more important to her than attending an interview.
For a time Kara believed she could have it all and went through periods where she was able to juggle her two lives but it always loops back around to them being in conflict with one another. Previously Kara would power through it and work to find that balance again but she has reached the point where she believes that isn’t possible in the long run. Andrea chewing her out rings loudly in her ears because of all the allowances she was making without Kara being aware of them. She references ignoring the fact that she disappears throughout the day with no indication where she’s going or when she’ll be back, accepting her returning from her long absence with nothing to show for it and other general allowances because her work is “flawless”. This show may never have actually managed to show that Kara is as good at her job as others say she is but that doesn’t prevent Andrea’s words from resonating because they highlight that there are limits to the leniency and they have now been reached.
All of this fuels her decision to step away from CatCo because she can’t give it the attention Andrea needs her to. She also can’t live up to her own standards when it comes to doing the job so she feels it’s better for her to not have that part of her life at all. This isn’t the first time Supergirl has threatened to discard CatCo as a pillar of Kara’s life and judging by Andrea’s stunned reaction Kara’s decision won’t be the last word on it but the fact Kara makes that decision is notable because she is doing something to try and take some sort of control of her life. Stepping back from an obligation whether that be self imposed or placed on you by other parties is never an easy thing to do and it’s not a decision Kara makes lightly. Her pained reaction to telling Andrea she’s quitting beautifully illustrates that as well as her quick walk out of the office with her on the verge of breaking down. It’s a powerful character driven story and probably marks the start of whatever her end point in the season finale will be.
The problem distracting Kara from her civilian life is the emergence of a creature that feeds on dream energy -or nuclear energy in a pinch- threatening the city. Lena’s Hail Mary solution is to dome off a chunk of the city to prevent the creature from reaching the nuclear power plant. As a temporary solution thought up on the fly it definitely works but it creates other issues that Team Supergirl are ill equipped to deal with. Unfortunately the episode doesn’t have time to properly address the consequence of this quick decision so they awkwardly linger in the background being periodically mentioned but receiving little in the way of overall exploration.
William handily summarises the key points by pointing out that they covered half of the city in an impenetrable energy dome without consulting anyone. Kara’s point is that they wasn’t time to form a committee to debate the particulars of such a decision which William acknowledges but he also states that people are being cut off from work and their families. There are tangible domestic issued caused by these knee jerk unilateral decisions and with some care a really compelling story could be told. Supergirl has delivered episodes that are told from different perspectives in the past though it’s unlikely to happen here. It is mentioned that this decision impacts a lot of people and that the public are unhappy with it regardless of the obvious benefit of not being irradiated. The best single image to highlight the street level impact is the food truck cut in two by the formation of the dome. It’s a clear visual of separation that does something to set up the problems created for people because of this.
The exploration of the consequences of the decision is very surface level with only William’s quick summary as well as mention of how the city is reacting to go on. It does bring up the question of accountability again and keeps it as an ongoing issue albeit a shallowly portrayed one. Kara’s speech to the people taking responsibility for what happened isn’t as punchy as it needs to be and keeping it in the background is a misstep considering how important it is to one of the major themes that have been part of the recent run of episodes.
Nia’s desire to master her powers leads her to an encounter with her sister, Maeve who changed her name and became known to Nia when a dream pointer her in Maeve’s direction. The animosity between them still exists with palpable resentment from Maeve’s side. It’s the same argument as before; Maeve studied and prepared for years to become Dreamer for Nia to inherit the powers. Maeve’s transphobic statement where she said that Nia isn’t a “real woman” still resonates powerfully and forms the root of the tension between the sisters.
Maeve takes every opportunity to belittle Nia for her lack of knowledge about her powers and shows her the wealth of reading material she needs to work through in order to truly master her powers. The resentment is unfair and comes from a place of bitterness though is understandable to a degree because Maeve spent most of her life expecting to receive these powers only to have the opportunity -from her perspective- stolen from her. She unfairly blames Nia for this because Nia had nothing to do with her powers manifesting as it happened outwith her control. She wasn’t prepared for them because she never thought they would come to her so she is being blamed for something that she didn’t choose or even want.
These interactions happen alongside them trying to find the Dream Totem which involves travelling to the Dream Realm and solving some really easy puzzles to point them in the right direction. As I’ve said before the plot is less interesting than the characterisation. This is about having both characters stew in the resentment coming from Maeve as well as allowing Maeve to see how Nia has grown into her powers to very large degrees. She is visibly impressed at some of Nia’s displays and slowly comes round to the idea that she is very capable despite what she considers to be her disadvantages.
It isn’t enough for Maeve to be entirely convinced that Nia is worthy of the powers which comes to a head when they find the totem and Maeve tries to take it. The totem rejects her because it recognises what she’s doing and it leads to a heated argument where Maeve reiterates her view that Nia doesn’t deserve the powers and hasn’t earned the right to have them since. Nia pulls no punches in her rebuttal where she reminds Maeve that she never asked for the powers and makes it very clear how hurt she is by Maeve’s decision to cut ties with her. She points out that her decision meant that they had to mourn their mother alone and how much she needed her sister during that time so Nia doesn’t sugarcoat her feelings in the least. This also comes with a powerful affirmation from Nia that she knows who she is and proudly claims the Dreamer name because she feels that she has earned it. Nicole Maines’ performance in this scene is excellent with all of Nia’s pent up feelings and unsaid words finally being released. This needed said for a very long time and the catharsis associated with it is evident.
This ends in a second chance from Maeve with it being made clear that this is also the last chance. It’s good to see that the relationship isn’t smoothed over and reset to a point where all is forgiven because that’s far from real. Maeve admits that she behaved improperly, said things she didn’t mean and is interested in having a relationship with her sister where Nia recognises the sincerity but also feels that it will take a lot of time to heal and for trust to be rebuilt after everything that has happened. This is set up nicely when Maeve physically shows her acceptance by willingly giving Nia the necklace that she treasures because it will help her powers increase. She very much gives Nia something she was missing through giving up her erroneous claim to that power. Whether Maeve will be a presence over the final episodes or someone that Nia refers to periodically remains to be seen but there is a strong sense that they are at the start of a very long road towards true reconciliation and that is fully earned by the content found in this episode. It’s an important step forward for Nia who is challenged to display her confidence as well as performing a plot function in terms of introducing another totem. That part was less interesting but when put alongside such great character work it can easily be forgiven.
A strong episode that provides excellent relatable challenges for Kara to deal with along with powerful emotional content for Nia. Kara approaching burnout and struggling to juggle her responsibilities is well worn territory for this show but is very strongly portrayed in this episode. Missing out on interview opportunities because she is needed as Supergirl causes issues in her civilian live as it makes Andrea unhappy with her. Melissa Benoist performs beautifully in this episode with visible indications that Kara’s inability to do everything she considers an obligation weighs on her. The shaking when she misses the interview is a key example. Being torn between conflicting obligations is a relatable issue and the build-up to a difficult decision being made around where her priorities lie is fully organic. She decides to prioritise Supergirl and quit CatCo because being absent as Supergirl means that lives are potentially lost. The difficulty of the decision is clearly shown in Melissa Benoist’s performance and Andrea’s shocked reaction indicates that this conflict doesn’t end here. The plot pulling Kara away from her CatCo responsibilities is less well developed but does maintain the questions of accountability that have been present over recent episodes. Covering a chunk of the city in an energy dome has consequences for the people who live there with William summarising the notion that Team Supergirl didn’t consult anyone before doing so. It can’t be denied that there wasn’t time but it also has to be acknowledged that the impact is widespread. Unfortunately the development of this is surface level with Kara’s speech lacking the needed punch.
Nia’s contribution to the episode is really strong. The tension in her relationship with Maeve is palpable and comes to a head when Maeve’s resentment is made apparent. It’s unfair for Maeve to resent Nia but also understandable considering the background. Nia is being blamed for something she has no control over and for having powers that she didn’t even want. Every opportunity is taken to belittle Nia over how unprepared she is though some ground is given back when Maeve sees how much she has learned since the powers manifested. The builds to a heated exchange where Maeve repeats her reasons for resenting Nia which causes a rebuttal that pulls no punches. It also comes with a powerful affirmation from Nia where she states that she knows who she is and takes ownership of the Dreamer name. Maeve does apologise, admits that she behaved improperly and said things that she didn’t mean. She is interested in having a relationship with Nia and Nia accepts though makes it very clear that this is the last chance. Things are smoothed over but not fixed entirely which is very real and there’s a strong sense that they are at the beginning of a very long road towards reconciliation. This is fully earned by the content in the episode and makes the bland plotting forgivable in the presence of such excellent character work.
- the exploration of Kara approaching burnout due to juggling responsibilities
- tangible impact on Kara when she fails to do everything she feels she needs to
- Kara’s internal conflict being incredibly relatable
- Melissa Benoist’s excellent performance conveying this
- organic build-up to Kara’s difficult decision
- the tension in Nia and Maeve’s interactions
- Maeve’s resentment coming out when she continually belittles Nia for her lack of knowledge
- indications that Maeve realises that Nia has managed to learn a great deal
- Nia pulling no punches when calling Maeve out on her behaviour
- the powerful affirmation where Nia claims ownership of the dreamer identity
- Nia granting Maeve a second and final chance with it being clear that their conflict isn’t fully resolved
- haphazard plotting
- surface level coverage of the issue of consequences related to the dome
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