Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Dreams, duels, and a major death shake-up Supergirl

Illustration for article titled Dreams, duels, and a major death shake-up Supergirl

There’s a clear divide between what works and what doesn’t work on Supergirl: Unquestionably the best thing about the show is Supergirl herself, and not just because of Melissa Benoist’s winning performance. The show presents a pitch-perfect translation of the Supergirl ethos (empathy over brute strength) that works equally well for both comic book purists and newbies looking for an optimistic hero.

What doesn’t work—and perhaps what I’ve been a little too forgiving about in these reviews—is basically everything else. The DEO has yet to develop a personality or purpose after 13 episodes, the show isn’t nailing its comedy as confidently as The Flash, and its various romantic threads are tiresome at best and creepy at worst. Hank Henshaw and Cat Grant are the only two characters who come close to Supergirl’s level and they’re used frustratingly inconsistently (walking back Cat’s knowledge of Kara’s secret identity remains an aggressively weird choice).

Because the show gets as much really right as it gets really wrong, it’s easy to let one side outweigh the other: To argue that Supergirl is either a “great” show or a “terrible” show, when in reality it swings from being great to terrible and back again about half a dozen times within the course of a single episode. If it didn’t have such a firm handle on its heroine, there would be little to recommend here. But since Supergirl offers one of the most confident and engaging portrayals of a superhero currently on TV, writing-off the show entirely feels like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Which brings us to “For the Girl Who Has Everything,” which gets points for shaking-up the Supergirl format, even if it isn’t entirely successful in the attempt. Before Supergirl was picked up for an additional seven episodes, “For the Girl Who Has Everything” was designed to wrap-up the first season so everything here is heightened in a way that befits a season finale. Rather than split its time between a dramatic Supergirl/DEO plot and a lighter Kara/CatCo one, “For the Girl Who Has Everything” sends Kara into a fantasy dream world induced by a plant called the Black Mercy. Her evil relatives plot to take over the planet, her friends race to save her, and Kara reassess her place in the world (or, more accurately, the galaxy). Unfortunately, the show wastes a premise tailor made to explore its best character by cramming too much story into one episode.

The “perfect dream” is a pretty common trope in genre fare. Just off the top of my head I can think of the face-huggers in Doctor Who’s “Last Christmas,” the Nexus in Star Trek: Generations, and the Mirror of Erised in Harry Potter. But for the conceit to work the dream world and the real world must be equally appealing. We have to relate to both Captain Picard’s desire to be a family man and his love of Starfleet so that we share his agony over the fact that he can’t have both. But Supergirl’s version of Krypton is too sterile to feel like anything other than a speed bump on the way to Kara stopping Non and Astra. There’s no warmth to Kara’s interaction with her parents or little Kal-El as they sit around and awkwardly discuss her dating life in what looks like an empty Apple store.

“For the Man Who Has Everything,” the iconic Alan Moore Superman story on which this episode was based, allowed Clark’s fantasy world to grow progressively darker, complicating the idea that growing up on Krypton would have been better than growing up on Earth. When Justice League Unlimited adapted the story, meanwhile, it used the fantasy sequences to explore Clark’s personal life as he imagines himself on Kypton married to “Loana,” an amalgamation of his two Earth-bound love interests, Lana Lang and Lois Lane.


But the fantasy sequences in “For the Girl Who Has Everything” don’t reveal anything new about Kara. What little we see of them reinforces what we already know: She misses her parents (duh). Supergirl is too attached to the idea that every main character must be featured in every episode, so we spend more time watching Alex, Hank, James, Winn, and Maxwell Lord formulate a plan than we do exploring Kara’s psyche.

“For the Girl Who Has Everything” is too nervous to commit to its dream world premise, so much so that Kara breaking free from the Black Mercy isn’t even the episode’s climax. Instead there’s a tacked on finale in which Supergirl has to face off against Evil Twin Astra and Uncle Non-Descript. Downplaying the importance of the fantasy world is baffling decision made even more baffling by the fact that the episode forgoes the Kara/Astra dynamic it’s been building up since the second episode and instead has Kara face-off with Non while Alex unceremoniously stabs Astra through the chest with a Kryptonite katana.


There’s no doubt that the image of a glowing green sword emerging from Astra’s chest is a shocking moment and stunning visual, but it’s also weird storytelling choice. Taking Astra out of the picture this early—and without Kara’s involvement in her death—is a frustrating conclusion to her arc that cuts off storytelling possibilities for the future. (Unless, of course, Astra comes back to life, which is always a possibility on a superhero show.) I like seeing Alex’s ruthless streak continue and Hank’s cover-up could lead to some explosive drama down the line, but all the time we spent on the Astra/Kara relationship now feels kind of pointless.

Even worse, Astra’s death leaves boring Non as our central villain and given that Kara has no real relationship with her uncle (even her rage against him just kind of peters out after they fight for a bit), that feels like step backwards. Plus the once female-centric Supergirl now has two dudes as its main villains (Non and Maxwell Lord), not to mention a tendency to focus on James, Winn, and Hank, often to the exclusion of Alex and Cat.


Yet for all of its weaknesses, “For the Girl Who Has Everything” works far better than it should because it has the feel of an important episode, even if it’s slightly hollow underneath. The performances are uniformly great (give or take some Kryptonian stiltedness), the plot clips along, the special effects—including some extended time with a non-disguised J’onn J’onzz and a very convincing robot named Kelex—look good, Astra’s death is genuinely shocking, and the dramatic music goes a long way to adding gravitas to the proceedings. Benoist is characteristically wonderful as she’s asked to play a huge range of emotions (and pretend to be Hank pretending to be Kara), but tonight’s surprise MVP is Chyler Leigh.

Alex’s love for her sister is front and center in this episode as she fights tooth-and-nail to save Kara from the Black Mercy, jumping into the dream world to help jog her sister’s memories of Earth. Leigh sells every bit of Alex’s desperation, although I wish her pleas had more specificity to them. Rather than call up a memory from their childhood together to remind Kara about Earth, Alex merely speaks in platitudes about pain and the past.


Overall, specificity is something Supergirl is severely lacking. Its short scenes deliver efficient exposition while leaving little room for the kind of lived-in character beats and interactions that so often define a series. (When I think of Buffy, I think of the Scoobies riffing with one another, not of Giles delivering information about a particular demon.) But while the first 13 episodes have been uneven at best, Supergirl really has come a long way since the pilot, and I’m encouraged by its willingness to keep shaking up its status quo (we started with a boring DEO director and ended up with Martian Manhunter!). Tonight Winn and James are officially brought into the DEO fold while Hank gets to spend some time at CatCo. Hopefully means the show will find a way to better integrate its two worlds. Because the Girl Who Has Everything could still use a stronger series around her.

Stray observations

  • The show is off next week then returns with an episode directed by superhero stalwart Lexi Alexander.
  • Big news, Super Friends: Barry Allen is joining forces with Kara Danvers on a very special Supergirl/Flash crossover episode. Feel free to speculate wildly on how these two very different continuities will mash together. (Maybe Supergirl exists on “Earth 3” or something?)
  • I like the idea of Hank posing as Kara at CatCo, but I just didn’t find the material quite funny enough. Also Cat’s anger at Kara for breaking things off with Adam (after two dates!) feels incredibly petulant. Maybe she’s supposed to be projecting her frustrations with Adam onto her assistant, but if that’s the case Cat’s motivations should be explored head-on, not in a comedic runner.
  • I thought no one at the DEO knew Supergirl was actually Kara Danvers, but Alex calls her “my sister” in front of the two random DEO agents that are escorting Maxwell Lord to Kara’s bedside.
  • Astra/Non’s plan is called Myriad and it’s designed to bring humanity to its knees using solar flares and satellites and honestly I’m falling asleep just typing this sentence.
  • I felt like Winn’s awkwardness with Kara was resolved last week, but it’s resolved again tonight. As with Astra, Winn’s arc kind of went nowhere although I do like that Supergirl is depicting a friendship that survives a non-reciprocal crush.
  • #WhereIsPerd