Supergirl – Season 6 Episode 5
Supergirl sends Brainy and Nia back to 2009 in search of a DNA sample that will prove instrumental in freeing Kara from the Phantom Zone.
Time travel is often handled with a lack of sophistication in the Arrowverse and in many ways this episode is no exception but it does provide an opportunity for Izabela Vidovic to return as young Kara and Olivia Nikkanen to return as young Alex. Their last outing in these roles was excellent due to how believable they were as younger versions of the established characters so getting to see that again was always going to be an exciting prospect on its own.
Nia and Brainy taking the lead on an episode is a good idea especially at the moment as they are both dealing with the prospect of having to step up in a big way. In Kara’s absence Nia has to handle heroics without Kara’s support and Brainy is still dealing with adjusting to his new normal following the removal of his emotional inhibitors. There are a lot of development opportunities for these characters and their strong dynamic is more than enough to carry an episode that leans towards being a more light hearted experience.
The plan fails almost immediately when the crashing Legion ship is noticed and they are discovered by the very people they want to avoid. Kara immediately offers to do everything she can to help them. She assumes they’re aliens and relates to them on that level while also being an innately decent person who finds helping others as natural as breathing. This further reinforces Kara’s values and what defines her as a hero with a slight twist as it highlights that those values were always there and came to define her in the present day of the show. It’s not the first appearance of Kara in the episode but it’s a succinct reminder of who she is as a person.
Being in the past prompts Nia to properly address her insecurities around her powers. She has been struggling with her inability to interpret her dreams because she was never taught that skill by her mother and sees that as a major weakness as she believes that she is unable to react to threats as quickly as she would otherwise be able to. She opens up to Kara about the loss of her mother and the fact that she’s not on speaking terms with her sister, her tone heavy with regret and it occurs to her that the current circumstances mean that it’s possible for her to talk to her mother. All she has to do is pick up the phone and she will be able to hear her voice. The camera lingering on the phone perfectly encapsulates the associated temptation that she will wrestle with over the course of the episode. I do wonder if one of the lessons learned will encourage Nia to try to reconnect with her sister though it’s clear she will eventually speak to her mother before returning to her own time.
Nia and Kara’s natural friendship is a joy to watch unfold over the course of the episode. They have an instant connection founded on the losses they have experienced. Kara talks about understanding how Nia feels as she remembers the family that she lost when Krypton was destroyed but approaches the situation with her typical optimism and assures Nia that it does get better. This is a conversation that they could easily have as adults which further highlights how consistent Kara’s personality has been through her entire life. The subsequent moment where they play with their powers is incredibly charming. This episode provides multiple opportunities for the show to play to its strengths.
A large part of the episode deals with coping mechanisms. Brainy is still inclined to stress eat and comes to realise that removing the inhibitors started an emotional development that currently has him at the level of adolescence. He’s unable to cope with the strong emotions associated with that period of emotional development which manifests as stress eating in his case but his experience of being in the past opens him up to other options that would never have occurred to him otherwise. In a short period of time he is exposed to various extracurricular activities such as baseball and Glee Club which shows him there are ways for him to channel his emotions towards healthy outlets. It’s a lesson well learned that he will be able to take back to the present and make good use of. This leads to a strong character beat when he asks Nia what her main coping mechanism when she was at school was and it turns out she would sing “9 to 5” because it would make her feel like anything is possible. Nicole Maines’ performance as she works her way through the song perfectly illustrates the power this has on her. The tone of her singing gradually shifts towards happiness and confidence; it makes for infectious viewing and it shifts her attitude notably for the remainder of the episode.
There are numerous reminders that Kara and Alex weren’t always as close as they are in the present. Alex has returned from college and is less than pleased to learn that Kara and Kenny (Peter Sudarso) -who didn’t die in the post-Crisis timeline- have taken on the role of town saviours working to protect people using Kara’s powers. Alex is less than pleased because of the same argument they were having in the “Midvale” episode around the sacrifices that were made in the family in order to protect Kara. The main reason Alex resents Kara flaunting her powers around Midvale as she sees it as a slap in the face considering all that was done to protect Kara. Their mother had to alter her career trajectory, their father was killed after being conscripted into the DEO and Alex had to pass up some opportunities of her own in order to make sure that Kara’s origins remained a secret. Alex’ position on the issue makes perfect sense and is entirely valid based on her experience of being thrust into the role of the older sibling so suddenly.
Kara’s perspective is equally valid which makes the conflict so interesting. She is naturally resentful of Alex trying to make her feel guilty for a situation that she never asked for and dislikes that she is encouraged to downplay her knowledge of other worlds as well as her super powers while her adoptive family treat her as someone in need of protection. She is proving herself to be very capable and Kenny is clearly able to support her effectively considering there are only reports of good deeds being done with no evidence of what is causing them. Kara has proven her ability to cover her tracks which only supports her stance that it’s not necessary for Alex or anyone else to be so overprotective of her.
There’s another conflict brewing in the background between her and Kenny as they both have very different views on what their future should be. As far as Kenny is concerned they are attending college locally in order to hone their skills as a crime fighting duo and Kenny has solidified that intention by building her a base that they can operate from. It’s an incredibly thoughtful and romantic gesture on his part showing immense faith in their relationship but Kara is wrestling with her desire to leave Midvale and go to National City University. Her confined family life has created a desire in her to spread her wings and find a way to define herself free of those trappings which makes sense. In the old timeline it would have been an easy decision as Kenny wasn’t around to create any conflict between her desire to be with him and her desire to move away but this time he is that complication and she is finding it difficult to tell him the truth. The unveiling of the base that he built only makes it more difficult for her to have that difficult conversation so there is sure to be heartache in the next episode. It’s not clear how Kara’s fixation on being a hero will melt away to match up with her hiding her powers before finally emerging as Supergirl in this timeline but hopefully the next episode will be more illuminating.
There are a couple of missteps that the episode makes. One is with the introduction of the young Cat “CJ” Grant (Eliza Helm). She perfectly channels Calista Flockhart’s mannerisms and tone making her an easy match for the role but her purpose within the episode was less clear. Her presence is a mildly antagonistic one but it never comes across as if she is all that close to discovering the truth about Kara. There is some insight into the sexism that she battled against in her career and her desire to be taken seriously as a journalist which is all well and good but ultimately she comes across as a largely passive presence who amounts to little more than nuisance value. Perhaps her role will be expanded further in the next episode but for this one her presence is barely justified.
Another confusing addition is the two aliens looking for exhibits for their zoo. They are overly corny which isn’t uncommon on this show but they feel massively out of place especially with so little attention being given to them. The episode wants the audience to believe they’re a significant threat so much so that they merit build-up to be the main threat in the following episode. They are far from the most engaging antagonists this show has had so the cliffhanger ending where they are revealed to Nia and Brainy lacks the necessary punch.
These extraneous elements speak to another problem the episode has. This story likely didn’t need to be told over two episodes but there was probably a production driven need so the narrative was padded to make that possible. It could have been a perfectly engaging single episode that ticked all the same character boxes with Cat Grant serving as the main antagonist plaguing them constantly in their efforts to fix the ship and secure a sample of Kara’s DNA. What is delivered is strong for the reasons I’ve stated but it also comes across as more than a little bloated which unfortunately lets it down.
A strong episode that makes great use of the young Alex and Kara while offering meaningful development for Brainy and Nia through what they learn in the past. Kara’s immediate offer of assistance when discovering Nia and Brainy further reinforces her strong values and shows that she always held them therefore tying into the message being promoted by the season so far. Being in the past prompts Nia to address the insecurities around her powers such as her inability to interpret dreams due to never being taught how to do it. She opens up to Kara about it and they bond over their shared losses while also allowing Nia to realise that she can call her mother. She wrestles with this temptation over the course of the episode with a payoff sure to be delivered in the next one. Kara and Nia’s natural friendship in this different context is a joy to watch. In particular the moment where they play with their powers is incredibly charming. Exploring the idea of coping mechanisms through Brainy who identifies that the deactivation of his inhibitors has prompted an emotional development that currently resembles adolescence. He doesn’t know how to deal with the influx of strong emotion which manifests with stress eating as a coping mechanism. Through being in the past he is exposed to extra curricular activities and finds comfort in pursuing them which gives him another avenue to consider when returning to his own time. This leads to a really strong character beat where Nia’s attitude gradually shifts when she reveals her coping mechanism.
The reminders that Kara and Alex weren’t always as close as they are in the present work really well. Alex returning to Midvale and being less than pleased with Kara’s heroic exploits in her absence calls back to an old argument they had around the sacrifices made in order to protect them. She brings up the opportunities that had to be passed up and sees Kara’s actions as disrespecting those sacrifices. Countering that is Kara’s stance of not asking for her adoptive family to be overprotective and being resentful of having to hide her powers. It’s such a compelling argument because both sides are equally valid and there are no easy answers. The conflict brewing in the background between Kara and Kenny over their opposing views on what their future would be. Kenny is fixated on them going to college locally and honing their skills as a crime fighting duo where Kara wants to leave Midvale to go to National City University. She’s reluctant to have that difficult conversation and it’s made more difficult by him unveiling the base he has built for them. Another thing to be paid off in the following episode. There are a couple of missteps in the episode such as the inclusion of a young Cat Grant. The casting is excellent but she never becomes as prominent a presence as she needs to be so amounts to little more than nuisance value. Similarly the aliens looking for zoo exhibits fail to be sufficiently threatening. In general the episode comes across as if it’s spinning its wheels in order to be tell the story across two episodes where one would have been enough. There was probably a production need but there remains a failure to justify it.
- Izabela Vidovic and Olivia Nikkanen’s once again excellent performances as young Kara and Alex
- reinforcing Kara’s values and personality through how the younger version of her conducts herself
- Kara and Nia’s natural friendship framed through a different lens
- the charming moment where they play with their powers
- the temptation for Nia to call her mother and generally addressing her insecurities around her powers
- Brainy discovering alternate coping mechanisms
- Nia’s gradual change in attitude as she shows her coping mechanism
- Alex and Kara’s compelling conflict with both sides being valid
- the building conflict between Kara and Kenny
- the young Cat Grant casting
- Cat Grant’s presence failing to be as meaningful as it needed to be
- the aliens looking for zoo exhibits failing to be in any way threatening
- obvious padding of the narrative that fails to justify the requirement of two episodes
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