Supergirl – Season 6 Episode 8
“Welcome Back, Kara”
Supergirl returns for its final run of episodes with an adjustment period for Kara and an environmental message.
It feels like a very long time since the last episode of Supergirl aired but it’s good to have the show back in all its optimistic glory with overt moralising lacking in any subtlety. That reads like a criticism but it’s actually one of the things I find most endearing about this show. It never set out to be subtle when exploring a particular idea. Kara wears her heart and her morality on her sleeve and that translates to how the show presents any issue she becomes involved in. Those looking for nuanced explorations of complicated issues should look elsewhere; Supergirl has a distinct position on a given issue and it will beat you over the head with what it has to say about it. That’s just how it works and has been part of the DNA of the show since it began.
The particular issue being tackled in this episode is the climate crisis. A satellite falling from orbit draws Kara and Team Supergirl’s attention to ocean pollution which leads Zor’El to examine how close to the tipping point Earth is when it comes to climate change. It’s a very relevant and topical issue given the lack of proper attention it receives in the world we live in. Zor’El tries to make it his mission to begin to solve climate change by finding a way to clean up the oceans while ignoring repeated assertions that it’s a complicated issue that is easily solved.
Zor’El is motivated to fix this because he blames himself for failing to do this on Krypton. He mentions that the destruction of the oceans was the tipping point that led to the destruction of the planet and he doesn’t want to see the same thing happen to Earth. This prompts him to recklessly combine alien technology that he doesn’t understand and create a different problem that the team need to get involved in. This is classic Supergirl; issues like immigration and climate change can’t be punched so things are engineered to create a physical threat that the team can fight. The issue itself is never solved but there is a catharsis to creating something tangible associated with it that allows for a victory of sorts.
This plot does highlight how uneven Zor’El is a character. There’s a detached quality to him that makes it very difficult for his presence to be as weighty as it needs to be. Some of it has to do with stilted dialogue and some of it has to do with Jason Behr’s largely passionless performance. The two may be linked as it must be difficult to connect with the dialogue as written but it all combines to make it difficult to invest in his character. This is especially apparent in the scenes he shares with Kara where there’s very little sense of a father/daughter dynamic. Attempts at comedy as he fumbles around CatCo failing to conceal his powers properly fall flat.
Despite the weaknesses the arc that Zor’El is given is well done. There’s a running PTSD theme that touches a few of the characters motivated by different things depending on who the character is. In Zor’El’s case he struggles with the notion of seeing history repeating itself and really wants to do something about it before Earth is doomed through inaction. There is urgency attached to it through the mention of the tipping point being close so Zor’El has it in his head that he needs to solve the problem quickly.
He does this through combining alien technology to clean up the oceans but it backfires because the alien tech doesn’t combine naturally. It’s a clear metaphor for the climate crisis being complicated because nations are unable to cooperate when it comes to tackling the issue. Proceeding without everyone being on the same page would likely make the situation worse just as it does when Zor’El recklessly takes action. The warnings about the issue being complicated and the problem created by Zor’El ignoring those warnings makes a clear point about this not being easily solved and offers a strong yet obvious moral message to ease audiences back into the world of Supergirl.
The giant trash monster is an impressive visual and turns the climate crisis into a physical problem that the team have to fight as I mentioned above. Of course defeating the monster doesn’t solve the climate crisis but it does hammer home the idea that it can’t be solved by a plucky team of superheroes who mean well. There are aspects of the issue that never come into play such as whether it’s Team Supergirl’s place to try to solve the world’s problems but the focus on the problem being so much larger than they are works well enough.
Zor’El’s arc culminates in him realising that he can’t solve massive problems on his own and that clarity allows him to understand that there was nothing he could have done on his own to save Krypton. He was part of a system that allowed the planet to be destroyed through inaction so his desire to fix it would never be enough. He imparts that wisdom to Kara by telling her that she doesn’t have to shoulder the weight of the world and that she shouldn’t feel guilty about simply being Human. This isn’t something that Kara struggles with most of the time but having it reiterated as fatherly advice following Zor’El internalising that lesson makes for a rare strong father/daughter moment. It isn’t covered extensively but having the father having to be guided by the daughter who has a better understanding of the world is an interesting subversion of the parent/child dynamic. His mention of feeling like he had to earn his return to Argo through making up for his perceived mistakes was compelling as well and feeds into the PTSD angle. From Zor’El’s point of view he didn’t want to return to his people in shame and wanted to show he was capable of making up for past mistakes but the actual lesson was to realise that he wasn’t responsible and start to let go of his guilt.
The theme of PTSD extends to Lena and to a lesser extent Nia though the latter is laying groundwork for coverage later in the season. Lena talks about her experience in the Phantom Zone and finally comes to the realisation that she has unresolved feelings in regards to her birth mother. Her journey towards this is very much in the background but she does have a couple of engaging conversations with Nia where she admits that she doesn’t understand what her hallucination meant and that it will continue to bother her until she figures it out. Eventually she does and realises she has to deal with these unresolved issues. Lena’s feelings over the loss of her birth parents have always been in the background of her character but have deliberately received very little coverage. It’s well established that she actively compartmentalises emotional issues rather than dealing with them in a healthy way and that it consistently causes her problems. It seems that she’s starting to realise that she can’t keep doing that and she intends to take steps to fix it. Hopefully this will actually be shown rather than this being a reason for Lena to be absent for a period of time before returning having worked through what she left to deal with. It’s interesting to see Lena taking an active role in dealing with emotional trauma and it creates a lot of potential.
PTSD is also explored through Kara who is struggling to deal with what she experienced in the Phantom Zone. The isolation and hopelessness has taken a major toll on her and as the episode begins she is unwilling to talk about it. She is shown to be haunted by nightmares and keeps insisting she’s fine whenever anyone asks her how she’s holding up. Kara tries to maintain her sunny disposition but it’s a front that hides the pain that she’s experiencing. None of the other characters push her to open up as it’s understood that she needs time to process what she has experienced so no pressure is put on her to talk about her experiences. There’s also merit to Kara’s determination to get back to normal as quickly as possible probably because she believes it will accelerate the healing process. She doesn’t acknowledge that she needs time to readjust which ends up making things worse for her.
There are a couple of triggers identified as she tries to get back to her life. One is the mention of Phantoms. It’s not something she wants to address but the issue is forced when Andrea assigns her to write a story about the recent Phantom attacks. This is difficult for Kara for a couple of reasons; the first is that thinking about Phantoms forces her to confront memories she’d rather leave buried and the second is that she feels responsible for the Phantoms attacking National City as they happened because of attempts to rescue her. She is reassured by Nia who assures her that Lex is to blame for trapping her there in the first place but Kara isn’t someone who can absolve herself of responsibility easily so continues to blame herself.
Getting back to her normal life is made more difficult by the changes that she becomes aware of. William is now seeing someone so any trajectory towards a romantic connection between them is now stopped though it doesn’t mean that they can’t still be friends and there could be something in them as journalistic partners if things progress down that route. It’s no big loss as the prospect of a romantic relationship was never that interesting so it could be engaging to see them as friends and colleagues. Kara does seem slightly disappointed or at the very least taken aback by this news but also recognises that she was gone a long time and couldn’t expect William to wait around for her.
Things at CatCo are also different as Andrea is firmly entrenched in crisis mode as CatCo is declining in favour compared to other media outlets. Andrea wants to get it back on top and is especially motivated to do so as advertisers are starting to pull away because it’s no longer attractive to be associated with it. It’s well worn ground for Andrea to be really pushy in pursuit of popularity but it does create conflicts for Kara to deal with as she is put on stories that she doesn’t want to cover and is generally uncomfortable with the direction of travel. Kara being uncomfortable with how CatCo is being run comes up a lot and the show normally positions Kara as being right in whatever the scenario happens to be. This makes sense given that the show is about her but there is a consistent failure to address that when working for someone else it’s common to be made to work on something that you personally aren’t engaged by or agree with. There is a measure of entitlement constantly running through the CatCo aspect of the show where Kara constantly gets to work on whatever she wants rather than what she’s told to do. The ethics behind Andrea’s motivation for running the outlet her way are a separate issue that can be debated but Kara and the others should understand that they are employees who have to do what they are told.
Kara does eventually reach a point where she is able to start opening up about her experiences. She does so when alone with Alex which makes sense given the strength of their connection. Melissa Benoist’s performance throughout the episode is excellent. She plays Kara as being distant as she pretends to be fine through much of the episode with her feelings flooding out when she eventually allows them to. It’s clear that she has a long way to go but being able to vocalise her struggles is a massive stop forward. There’s comfort to be found in Alex articulating that she also found Kara’s absence difficult so they can help each other work through these issues. After a long period of the characters being separated it’s great to see a meaningful sisterly heart to heart so early on. The strength of this show has always been in the character relationships and it’s comforting to see this hasn’t been forgotten in the final season.
An impressive return that leans into the strengths of the characterisation while tackling a topical issue with the celebrated lack of subtlety. The handling of the climate crisis issue is completely lacking in subtlety as is common in this show. It forms the basis of an arc for Zor’El who suffers PTSD associated with Krypton’s destruction with the destruction of the oceans identified as the tipping point that resulted in Krypton’s end. He recklessly combines alien technology to quickly fix the problem but ends up creating another one when that technology doesn’t work together well. It’s an obvious metaphor for every nation needing to be on the same page to tackle climate change while also addressing that it’s too complicated an issue to be tackled by a group of plucky well meaning superheroes. Ultimately Zor’El comes to realise that he can’t solve this by himself and couldn’t do so on Krypton either. It’s an important realisation that allows him to impart the wisdom of not shouldering so much responsibility to Kara. Zor’El as a character is uneven because of the stilted dialogue and detached performance. This makes his interactions with Kara lack the emotional weight that they should though the subversion of the parent/child dynamic with Kara being the one to show him how the world works is a nice touch. The PTSD theme stretches to Lena and Nia -the latter as setup for later in the season- with Lena finally accepting she has unresolved issues around her birth mother and deciding to stop compartmentalising them. She goes looking to deal with them head on which is a fascinating beginning of an arc.
Kara is also dealing with PTSD as well as difficulty adjusting to being back to her normal life. The PTSD is around her time in the Phantom Zone and manifests through the memories haunting her. She chooses not to talk about it and everyone around her leaves applies no pressure for her to open up. Her return to CatCo comes with its own difficulties as she is forced to work on a story about the Phantoms attacking National City which is a major trigger for her both because of her experience in the Phantom Zone and the guilt she feels over the attack happening in the first place. Once again the realities of having to work on things your employer tells you to whether you like it or not is ignored but it works on an emotional level. Andrea’s fixation on popularity is well worn ground by this point but it ties into this well enough. Melissa Benoist’s performance is excellent. She plays her as distant with the feelings flooding out when she opens up to Alex about them. It’s great to have a meaningful sisterly heart to heart so soon after Kara’s return and there’s comfort to be found in them working through their issues together.
- the handling of the climate crisis plot with the metaphors for the real world approach coming across clearly
- using this to form the basis of a strong arc for Zor’El
- subverting the parent/child dynamic by having Kara be the one to show her father how the world works
- Lena finally accepting she has emotional issues around her birth mother that she needs to deal with
- Kara’s PTSD around her time in the Phantom Zone and the triggers that make it difficult to process her experience
- the other characters not pushing her to open up
- Melissa Benoist’s performance ranging from distant to emotionally honest as she progresses through her arc
- the meaningful sisterly heart to heart
- Zor’El being uneven as a character due to stilted dialogue and a passionless performance
- once again ignoring the fact that employers tell people to do things that they’re not comfortable with and they have to do them
What did you think? Select your rating in the “User Review” box below
User Review( votes)
We’d love to know your thoughts on this and anything else you might want to talk about. You can find us on Facebook and Twitter or just leave a comment in the comment section below. You’ll need an account for Disqus but it’s easy to set up. Don’t forget to share your rating in the “User Review” box
If you want to chat to me directly then I’m on Twitter as well.