Supergirl – Season 6 Episode 1
Supergirl returns for its sixth and final season with a continuation of the Leviathan plot as well as Lex Luthor’s plan for domination.
Similar to The Flash, the previous season of this show was forced to end prematurely due to COVID preventing the completion of filming. All things considered I felt that the unintended finale of the previous season felt enough like a finale even if there were issues with the content. I always say that external factors don’t matter as it is what is presented to the viewer that ultimately makes the difference. Years from now when COVID is -hopefully- a distant memory there will be no awareness of production issues perhaps being responsible for the impacted quality of the work.
In a lot of ways there’s an old school quality to the way the previous season ended and this one begins. It was common practice in the 90s and early 2000s for genre shows to end a season on a cliffhanger with the next one picking up right where it left off. It’s now more common for a story arc to conclude with the tease of the next one but COVID has necessitated a return to old school practices. It suits Supergirl as it has often felt like a bit of a 90s throwback. The question remains whether the content being delivered is actually any good or not. The answer to that is complicated as is so often the case. There are certain things this show consistently does very well and certain things it consistently does very poorly.
This episode features both in abundance and mixes them in really bizarre ways. It’s best to start with the elements the episode doesn’t do quite so well. The most glaring issues come from the storytelling in general. Season 5 started with some lofty goals about exploring the loss of meaningful personal connection going hand in hand with the growth of technology which ended up being a bit tone deaf given how reliant we became on using technology to remain connected in our daily lives but it was a valid contemporary issue to explore. As I pointed out in numerous reviews this show wasn’t equipped to tackle the nuance associated with such a topic which ended up not mattering as it became a nefarious mind control scheme by the end with Lex Luthor pulling his own strings so any semblance of cultural commentary evaporated before it had the chance to take hold.
By the end of the season the problem in front of Team Supergirl was actually a fairly simple one that was solved with an impassioned speech from Kara that convinced everyone to abandon the platform. Unfortunately that’s not the end of the story as those who used the lenses ended up being brainwashed to be wholly devoted to Lex Luthor with a plan in place to use satellites to kill everyone who didn’t engage with the platform. It’s unfortunate that Lex’ meticulously crafted plan amounts to something so profoundly uninteresting. His appeal comes from his ability to scheme and out think everyone around him where this comes down to standard megalomania. He also grants himself powers once again which runs counter to the character that has been established. Traditionally Lex doesn’t have powers because he represents an intellectual threat to Superman and in this show he is framed as that intellectual threat but keeps ending up with super powers that allow him to actively participate in action sequences. It’s a manufactured way to elevate his threat level after losing sight of the intricacies of his plan and turns him into another bland physical threat.
His hatred of Kryptonians being a noted weak spot predictably forms the basis of his downfall. He even admits that it’s a distraction he’s unable to resist so Kara offering herself as a sacrifice in exchange for him shutting down his satellites is too tempting for him to pass up. Lillian is there on the sidelines pointing out exactly what Lex is setting himself up for an it’s something he recognises but is also unable to resist. He feels that his abilities are now more than a match for her so doesn’t consider there to be any threat from her. Of course there is but he still achieves victory by sending Kara to the Phantom Zone which amounts to an equitable trade for the loss of his powers where he’s concerned.
Lex has been a great fixture on this show except when missteps are taken. In general he’s a strong antagonist and Jon Cryer play him very well. Having his memory of Kara’s identity erased will allow him to be a recurring threat in a less extreme way though it does risk taking away a lot of what made him compelling. Resetting him back to being a known villain rather than a shrewd businessman who hides his villainous practices is also unfortunate as it removes a lot of potential that was gained from the post Crisis status quo. The whole idea is that Lex could never keep people fooled for long because he is massively governed by his obsessions and they will always point towards his own downfall.
There are other storytelling issues around how events play out. The defeat of Gamemnae is so abrupt that it’s barely worth mentioning though if it puts an end to the tedious Leviathan plot then it could end up being a blessing. Following that there are a number of other problems to resolve and they result in various characters standing around speaking meaningless nonsense to one another that is supposed to form the basis of a plan. It’s a general weakness this show has and tends to naturally flow from raising the stakes to such a ridiculous extent that the only viable solution is to make up a Martian ability that has never been referenced before or introduce elements that exist only to solve a problem. Both things happen here with a Martian ability that allows them to destroy the orbiting satellites and a rock that can strip Lex of his powers. Both all too neat solutions to problems that don’t need to exist. Ideally stakes should be raised through the actions of the characters and resolved in the same way. Having to invent solutions to problems that add nothing of value is a complete waste.
Consequences of both of those things are suggested but don’t come to much. J’Onn is reluctant to engage in this particular Martian ritual as it involves opening himself up to M’Gann on the most intimate of levels meaning that she will become aware of every negative or violent thought he’s ever had, every action he’s ever taken and generally see him for who he really is. J’Onn has always carried around a measure of shame for his past actions and survivor’s guilt is very much a core pillar of his character so the reluctance to be so unguarded with someone makes a lot of sense though the reasons given don’t really work. It amounts to a brief conversation with Alex where she assures him that he’s a good person and then it never comes up again. There’s implied difficulty in performing the ritual judging by the pain they experience but it’s a fairly meaningless sequence with no physical or emotional fallout for either J’Onn or M’Gann. Since this part of the plot fails to enrich the characters in any way it comes across as superfluous spectacle.
The magic rock that removes Lex’ powers is used as an excuse to explore Kara’s sacrifice which feels bizarrely out of place. It was most definitely a dire situation though it didn’t come across as any more dire than previous situations the team had dealt with. Kara’s apparent sacrifice was all part of a plan to trick Lex into placing himself in a vulnerable position which seems great on the surface as the most appropriate defeat for Lex Luthor is to have someone out-think him but the execution left a lot to be desired with the catharsis overpowered by the moment itself being overly busy.
Kara recording an archive to leave behind following her death did at least establish that she didn’t believe she would come back from this. As I said the content of the episode didn’t support this but seeing her do this when nothing else has ever driven her to record a farewell to those she cares about stood out. Her disappearance into the Phantom Zone comes with a promise from everyone else to tirelessly work to get her back which means they won’t watch what she’s recorded because they don’t consider her lost. It’s likely these recordings will come into play in the last ever episode and this created the excuse for Kara to make them thought that is just rampant speculation.
Despite the problems within this episode there are a lot of things the show consistently does well. Character interactions are always where Supergirl is at its strongest and there are some great examples to be found here. The exploration of the Brainy/Nia relationship works really well as a reaffirmation of their connection following plenty of strife between them in the previous season. Jesse Rath has to be commended for the work he’s put into characterising Brainy particularly over the course of the previous season. The loss of his inhibitors changed him massively while still retaining the core of the character and the impact this had on his relationship with Nia as well as the rest of the team was always compelling. Brainy and Nia finally have that open conversation that has eluded them before now where he admits he did everything that he did in order to protect her while she reminds him that she’s not someone who is in need of protection. They are able to draw a line in the sand and agree that there should be no more secrets between them while acknowledging that their feelings have never gone away. This definitely won’t be the end of their complications but it’s an important first step towards rebuilding their connection while strengthening it.
Also in need of rebuilding is Kara and Lena’s friendship. They were able to start the process last season and Lena is working really hard to prove that she’s worthy of the trust she jeopardised through her misguided actions. Kara admits to Alex that they have a long way to go but there’s genuine motivation towards getting there from Kara’s perspective. Lena’s perspective has changed a lot and she now understands that secrets are sometimes necessary while also recognising that honesty is important. It’s a lesson hard learned because she felt a sense of entitlement to Kara’s secret before understanding the reasons it was kept from her. Removing that information from Lex and Lillian’s mind is a practical showcase of that understanding and a true acceptance on her part of how important it can be for information to be kept from certain people. Kara revealing the truth to Lena when she did was a sign of trust on her part and after working through her pain Lena now understands that but the effort now has to go into repairing their friendship following the damage done to it.
Other background elements come into play such as Andrea dedicating herself to proper journalism by moving CatCo away from being driven by clicks and revenue in favour of morally upright reporting of the facts. It does come across as a radical departure though it is in Andrea’s character to align herself in whatever direction will benefit her the most. With the DEO gone CatCo could be a major fixture over the final season and Andrea’s version of what morally upright journalism is could end up creating some interesting conflicts within that setting.
Kara being imprisoned in the Phantom Zone is perhaps unfortunate for the final season of the show is the lead is to spend a period of time away from the main cast and the world though it does present an opportunity for Team Supergirl to come into their own in different ways. We’ve seen that Kara became so confident in Nia’s ability to defend the city that she felt comfortable taking a night off so this is an ideal scenario to expand on that and define Dreamer as a hero in her own right. There will be natural differences that set her apart from what Supergirl represents but those difference could amount to something fascinatingly distinct.
A messy episode that gets caught up in overly convoluted plot details though still manages to deliver really strong character work. The biggest issues in the episode come from general storytelling. The resolution of the Lex plot works to an extent because of how engaging Jon Cryer is in the role and idea of his Krytonian obsession enabling his downfall is consistent with what has been established about him. Unfortunately the show leans on the misguided trope of giving him powers which counts against what the character is supposed to represent. It’s clear the intent was for Team Supergirl to out-think him but the execution is far too busy to effectively bring that across. Other storytelling issues plague the episode such as the defeat of Gamemnae being so abrupt that it barely leaves an impact though hopefully it brings an end to the tedious Leviathan plot. Other problems include raising the stakes to such a level that a new Martian ability had to be invented in order to deal with them. There are attempted consequences such as J’Onn being reluctant because it means completely opening himself up to M’Gann but it isn’t something that receives much in the way of coverage nor does it go anywhere. It amounts to an empty moment of spectacle and little else. The magic rock that can rob Lex of his powers sets up Kara’s sacrifice but there’s a failure to establish why this situation is more dangerous than anything else the team has dealt with. Kara recording an extended farewell points towards her having no plans to come back from this but the urgency isn’t earned by what is presented to the audience. It’s likely that the recordings are a setup to be paid off in the final episode of the show though that is mere speculation.
The show does do a lot of things well, namely around the characters. The Brainy/Nia relationship is really well done with each of them having an open conversation that clears the air following the significant changes Brainy went through in the previous season. There’s a real sense that they are positioned to work on restoring and strengthening their connection. Similarly the Kara/Lena friendship is in the midst of being repaired with Kara admitting that they have a long way to go and Lena working really hard to prove that she wants to make up for her behaviour. She demonstrated an understanding of the need for secrets in given circumstances when she removes Lex and Lillian’s memory of Kara’s identity and generally shows that she has gained a great deal of perspective. Andrea’s focus on CatCo and moving it to be a beacon of morally upright journalism runs counter to her previous decisions though makes sense given her propensity to head in whatever direction will benefit her the most. Setting CatCo up as a major fixture of the final season is promising and there could be interesting conflicts created by Andrea’s definition of morally upright journalism. Kara being imprisoned in the Phantom Zone provides an opportunity for the rest of the team to step up in a big way. Nia in particular has been developing as a distinct hero in her own right so there’s a real chance for her to show what she’s capable of.
- the exploration of the Nia/Brainy relationship
- Kara and Lena working towards repairing their friendship
- Lena recognising the need for secrets at times and demonstrating it by removing Lex and Lillian’s memories of Kara’s identity
- Jon Cryer’s always engaging performance as Lex
- positioning CatCo as a major fixture of the final season
- providing an opportunity for Nia to develop as a hero
- Lex having powers once again
- stakes being raised to ludicrous levels
- inventing magic rocks and new Martian abilities to deal with those stakes
- unearned urgency around Kara’s sacrifice
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