Supergirl – Season 6 Episode 13

Sep 29, 2021 | Posted by in TV

“The Gauntlet”

Supergirl deals with the concept of courage as a magical artefact tests the characters in different ways.

With this being the final season it’s only natural that calling back to where it all began would happen. Taking stock of how things started in order to highlight how far Kara has come makes sense and there’s a lot of potential associated with Kara reflecting on her own journey.


Team Supergirl on task

This episode finds a reason to do that with one of the totems that Nyxly is looking for coming with a trial that needs to be passed in order to become worthy of it. Kara’s trial takes her back to saving the crashing plane that Alex was in back in “Pilot”. A voice within the totem makes cryptic remarks about lacking courage and challenges her to overcome it but the solution is far from obvious. Kara sees her actions that night as a courageous act because she came out of hiding and risked revealing herself to the world in order to save Alex as well as everyone else on the plane. The meaning of the test seems to present itself when she hears a voice calling for help that she ignored at the time out of fear of being seen but going to help doesn’t result in a passing grade for the totem.

Curiously she never passes the test though it isn’t for lack of trying. Kara’s main problem is that she doesn’t understand what the totem wants her to do which means she’s unable to pass the test. Another attempt has her flying around National City on that night saving everyone she can find but that doesn’t fix the problem either so the definition of courage as far as the totem is concerned remains elusive to her. The solution to the test where Kara is concerned isn’t really the point though the frustration associated with being unable to crack it is understandable. On a thematic level the point was for Kara to consider the values she embodies and where they came from. Saving the plane was the beginning of a long and complicated journey that led her to where she currently is so having her address what prompted that action and how everything has changed since then works well. Kara doesn’t come to any conclusions due to the confusion over what the totem wants from her to pass the test but it starts her thinking about everything and for the audience it serves as a charming reminder of a simpler time.

This reflection does end up being useful in other ways. Towards the end of the episode when the stakes are at their highest she abandons the notion of passing the test because the greater good is more important. Kara acknowledges that she needs her team at full strength in order to combat the problem at hand so pushes aside the apparent need to be worthy of the totem in order to accomplish that. It’s a strong risk based leadership decision where she knows that she’ll have to accept a loss in order to solve the current problem which is a far cry from the naive idealistic young woman who stopped a plane from crashing. She has developed from someone who took action without understanding the implications of those actions to a strong and confident hero who capably leads a team of other heroes. That is undeniable growth and the episode showcases that with a lack of subtlety which I maintain isn’t a bad thing. Supergirl never pretends to be subtle in how it presents its ideas and this is no exception. It’s effective, the point is well made and Melissa Benoist expertly takes to the material to make that growth believable. It’s also interesting to see her transpose her confidence and experience into the time period of that first act which highlights how much she has changed for the better since then.


Back to where it all began

There is a promise of further reflection to come as there are a number of other totems still to find, each with their own emotional gimmick. This one was centred around courage and it may yet be revealed what Kara has to do to pass that test but even if it isn’t then there are other artefacts that will challenge her values in different ways and likely call back to other key moments in the show’s history. As long as the focus remains on highlighting how far Kara has come and offers profound personal realisations for her the gimmicky nature of the plot device hunt will easily be forgiven.

The depiction of courage through the totem affecting the other characters creates a varied showcase of the notion of courage by itself not being enough. It has to be tempered by experience and rational thought otherwise it can be a very dangerous trait. This manifests particularly through J’Onn, Alex and Brainy who all have their inner courage heightened. It’s also shown through bystanders which creates chaos and even informs the special effects driven finale but its most interesting when applied to the core characters.

Alex becomes far more reckless with no consideration of the consequences of her actions or the danger that they pose to herself. She is shown to be throwing herself into danger on a number of occasions such as fighting a dragon and putting herself in the path of lightning. All of the examples are motivated by a desire to protect others -as well as the excitement of going one on one with a dragon- so her heroic tendencies are intact but the danger comes from her not considering her own safety when approaching the situations. This puts her in obvious peril but it also means she isn’t considering the team or bystanders as her focus is on taking everything on herself. It’s a deliberate exaggeration of what we’ve seen from Alex before and it’s believable because her behaviour is in line with her personality once inhibitions are removed. Chyler Leigh clearly has a lot of fun playing the dialled up version of Alex who becomes excited by the prospect of risking her life.


Revisiting the past

J’Onn gains the courage to be uninhibited in terms of how he expresses himself which offers another distraction. Instead of offering words of caution as he would normally he is delighted by the prospect of Alex throwing herself into danger and becomes very excited by the strong emotions on display during dangerous situations. As with Alex he is recognisably J’Onn but with amplified traits that are commonly associated with him. In a way it paints J’Onn as someone who is on some level afraid of expressing the full range of his emotions so the increase in courage removes that block and the result is him being distracted to the point of being of limited use. As with Chyler Leigh, David Harewood really dials up his performance and it’s excellent to see.

Brainy’s shift is far less radical and only becomes known at a key point. The increase in courage allows him to be far less precise with his calculations which means that he makes some glaring mistakes. One of his significant traits is making sure data is accurate which turns out to be as a result of an inner fear of not getting things right. Increased courage means he is massively confident in his ability so doesn’t check his work. The moment this was pointed out to be a problem was glaringly obvious  but it got the information across and highlights that Brainy being detail oriented is an advantage. As with the others affected he is of limited use because his information is wrong and if it weren’t for Lena noticing his slip up then Team Supergirl would have gone to the wrong place. All three cases aren’t especially deep insights into any of the characters but it’s nonetheless interesting to see the characters behaving differently while remaining true to themselves.

The courage idea bleeds into William following being chewed out by Andrea for being less than committed to his job. She gives him a lecture about the journalist who would once stop at nothing to get a story. This included embedding himself in Warzones, going undercover with criminal gangs and various other risky actions. His newfound caution is explained as PTSD relating to a gunshot which is a good explanation though strangely goes largely unexplored. He doesn’t directly react to the magical increase in courage but it gives him added clarity to push himself in  a particular direction which will involve him asking to be embedded with Team Supergirl.


Leaders make tough choices

Nia looks concerned when told but William is committed to the idea and knowing the show as well as I do there is a 0% chance that his request will be declined. If this leads to William processing his PTSD by becoming more comfortable with taking controlled risks while offering a compelling outside perspective on Team Supergirl then it could be a worthwhile subplot to carry into the final episodes. As I said above a final season can -and possibly should- reflect on the show as a whole so having an embedded journalist enabling commentary on how things have changed and what the team stand for is a good way to do that.

Courage also feeds into Nyxly with the conflict between her and Kara being more indirect as they race to pass their tests. Nyxly is taken back to the point of the coup where she was betrayed by her brother and banished for trying to overthrow her father. At first she misreads what the totem wants from her and thinks that courage means killing her father. Eventually she comes to understand that vulnerability is what will allow her to pass the test and she releases her feelings around being betrayed to her brother. This accomplishes two things; the first is the viewer gaining a meaningful insight into Nyxly’s history and motivation that enhances what was previously established and provides strong emotional grounding for what drove her to her current actions. The second is that Nyxly learns an important lesson about her behaviour. Her desire for revenge and predisposition towards violence is far from ideal and seeing a better path starts her down the road to realising that. Redemption may not be where this character ends up but it’s starting to look like her downfall will be orchestrated through her becoming a better person.

This is only one totem with more to be found so it’s likely that each of them will force Nyxly to confront an aspect of herself she either denies or is unaware of. If passing the various trials amounts to growth on her part then the show could be ending on a high as far as antagonists go. She has been a compelling presence since her introduction and the promise of continued growth for the character going into the final episodes is enticing.


You win some, you lose some

Bubbling along in the background is Lena’s recently discovered heritage. Talking to the Kryptonian Witch forces her to further confront her views on magic and how it can be applied. She is initially dismissive as she sees it as inferior to science but after some convincing she comes to realise that it can be useful because magic by its nature defies the laws of physics and nature. Lena seeing the merit in that is an important step forward for her as it amounts to an acknowledgement of her heritage, her mind opening to new ideas and a realisation that there is more to the world than even science suggests. It’s a revelation that happens a little too quickly but Katie McGrath is very convincing and it ties in with the overall ongoing plot when she suggests to Kara that they explore using magic to fight Nyxly.

Outside of the plot machinations of Lena suggesting the add magic to their arsenal which would seem to elevate her to the status of a powered individual on the team there’s an even more important characterisation aspect to this suggestion. Added to it is Lena confiding in Kara about what she has learned about her own heritage after asking to park it earlier in the episode while she worked to process it. Given time, exposure to different ideas and a chance to internalise it she feels comfortable opening up to Kara which shows further growth on Lena’s part as she is allowing herself to be vulnerable rather than bottling everything up as she once did. Lena and Kara’s conversation is reminiscent of many conversations between Kara and Alex in terms of staging which really points to a development in their relationship towards sisterhood in their own way. Even though it’s currently a background detail the work being done on Lena this season is first rate.


Starting to look a lot like sisters


A strong episode that does a great deal with the idea of courage in terms of how it relates to Kara on a personal level as well as many of the other characters including the central antagonist. With this being the final season reflection on where the show began is almost expected so having Kara confront the person she was back then through the lens of courage is a strong idea. Presenting her with a test to pass around being courageous is interesting and her failing to realise what the totem wanted from her in this particular scenario was an unexpected yet compelling choice. This forces her to examine what courage is as well as look back on everything that has happened since she revealed herself to the world. Her examination culminates in a difficult leadership decision that highlights that growth in a very definitive way. The other characters are impacted through having their courage heightened which shows how dangerous untempered courage can be. It doesn’t reveal anything new about the characters as such but they are still recognisably themselves while being heightened. Chyler Leigh and David Harewood in particular channel that into really entertaining performances.

The exploration of courage through William being chewed out by Andrea worked well enough in terms of setting something up but less so in terms of characterisation. Mentioning the fearlessness he used to exhibit when chasing stories and citing PTSD as a reason for him being more cautious now is in theory interesting but isn’t explored in any way, at least so far. The idea of embedding a journalist within Team Supergirl is an ideal way to explore how the team have developed over the course of the series while also allowing William to explore his PTSD. Nyxly’s encounter with courage in the form of the test she has to pass reveals a lot about her character. For one thing it adds weight to her history and motivations and for another she learns an important lesson about vulnerability being better than violence. This sets up further lessons that suggests her arc will be about becoming better which makes her a very compelling antagonist. Lena taking time to process her heritage and come to realise that magic has its merits because it defies science showcases a lot of growth on her part. Instead of running from difficult emotional problems she embraces them and works though them. This is clearly shown through her interaction with Kara where she opens up while suggesting the use magic. Framing this conversation in a similar way to Alex and Kara’s common interactions suggests that their friendship is moving in a sisterly direction.

  • 8.5/10
    The Gauntlet - 8.5/10


Kneel Before…

  • a natural reason for Kara to consider how far she has come since her first save
  • showcasing her growth through her difficult yet confident leadership decision
  • the exploration of untempered courage being a dangerous trait
  • Chyler Leigh and David Harewood’s entertaining performances
  • the potential afforded by William embedding himself in Team Supergirl
  • adding weight to Nyxly’s history and motivations
  • Nyxly learning an important lesson about vulnerability being better than violence
  • further growth for Lena in how she confronts problems rather than hiding from them
  • the suggestion that Kara and Lena’s friendship is moving in a sisterly direction


Rise Against…

  • the lack of full coverage of William’s PTSD
  • the heightened courage not revealing much about the affected characters


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User Review
7.5/10 (2 votes)

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