Back in Supergirl’s third season, the show started with a promising arc about Odette Annable’s Reign only to make a bizarre, disastrous late season swerve into an arc about Argo City instead. Now Supergirl’s sixth season is following the opposite trajectory. While the season never quite found its foot with its opening Phantom Zone throughline and the transition period that followed, the random late season swerve to this totem storyline is one of the more exciting things the show has done in a while. It’s allowed the series to recapture the balance of zippy superhero fun and thoughtful ethical questions that once made the show so special. And it’s given Supergirl permission to be lighter and more character-centric in its final stretch of episodes, which is absolutely the right choice.
Best of all, “Magical Thinking” proves Supergirl has the capability to explore this seven-totem arc without making each episode feel like a repetitive quest. Though it’s unsurprising that this hour ultimately ends with the Super Friends claiming the Totem of Humanity to even the score with Nyxly (who still has the Totem of Courage), the path to getting there isn’t just a repeat of last week. Sure, the fact that the residents of National City go mad because they’re robbed of their humanity isn’t that different than last week, when the residents of National City went mad because they were hopped up on courage. But that background chaos is really just an excuse for the show to provide some requisite action while it puts its focus on the unique themes and ideas raised by each totem.
This week, those themes are all about compassion and empathy—the qualities that make us human, according to Lena. When Nyxly activates the Totem of Humanity, she drains those qualities from the people in the nearby vicinity, giving herself an accidental overdose of compassion in the process. It’s a plot device that lets Peta Sergeant give a performance that’s alternately hilarious and kind of wrenching, as Nyxly is suddenly forced to deal with an overwhelming amount of empathy for everything and everyone. (She can’t even get off the floor once she starts thinking about poverty, disease, hunger, and endangered snow leopards.) It’s yet another welcome dose of depth for this final season’s big bad. And that, in turn, lets Kara delve into some interesting new emotions too.
The opening scene where Kara is too worried about Nyxly to even think about taking an evening off for game night speaks to a level of panic we’ve never really seen from her before. And the way she’ll suddenly burst out in Nyxly’s emotions is a brilliant way to give Melissa Benoist more notes to play in her own performance. One downside of Supergirl’s elder statesmen years is that the series hasn’t always been the best at finding interesting emotional arcs for its leading lady now that she’s firmly settled into her role as Supergirl. So I’m glad this final season is starting to break that trend with something more complex for Benoist to play.
When “Magical Thinking” isn’t delivering compelling moments for Kara or sweet scenes for Lena and Nia (I love that friendship so much!), it’s zeroing in on two different ethical conundrums. William’s new role as the official Super Friends reporter raises some intriguing questions about the ethics of reporting on issues of national security in a way that keeps people informed without jeopardizing public safety. Meanwhile, Lena and Kara spend the episode’s emotional climax hashing out the ethics of a “for the greater good” argument. Kara wants Lena to use her magic to overwhelm Nyxly with compassion by sucking even more of it from the people of National City. But Lena doesn’t want her relationship with her new magical abilities to be defined by hurting people in the name of helping them—something that once took her mother down a dark path (and also calls to mind her whole Non Nocere thing too).
Unfortunately, the biggest weakness of this episode is the way it tries to resolve those two conundrums by tying them together. Though Lena and Kara briefly seem to reach a consensus that harming people is wrong, they ultimately decide that they can actually do pretty much whatever they want so long as they let William report their actions to National City after the fact, which doesn’t really make much sense to me. Meanwhile, William decides that the only truly ethical way to report on the Super Friends is to follow his own gut—rather than the story they want him to spin or the one Andrea pushes him to write. While it’s all supposed to be a commentary on transparency and accountability (and maybe comfort zones and friendship boundaries?), it mostly just feels like a shrug.
Still, when the rest of the episode is so gosh darn fun, it’s hard to mind too much. “Magical Thinking” has a sense of style that was desperately missing from the dour first half of the season. In his first time in the director’s chair, stunt coordinator Simon Burnett brings an eye for creative action beats—like Nia’s awesome thigh grab move or the sequence of Kara casually catching a bullet, which is one of the coolest images in the show’s history. Meanwhile, the script by Karen E. Maser and Derek Simon is really good at weaving character moments throughout the action. The way Kelly and Alex catch up on their days mid-battle sells their relationship better than any generic “bond over wine” scene ever could.
Speaking of which, kudos to this episode for taking the “Alex and Kelly adopt orphaned alien Esme” storyline from a bland inevitability to a genuinely moving addition to the season. Seeing the way Esme’s foster parents are willing to use her alien fire-breathing skills as their own emergency security system is a reminder of the dark side of humanity. And it also roots the Esme storyline in something more specific than just “Alex wants a kid!” In fact, thanks to the way this episode frames it, taking in a scared, lonely alien girl actually seems like a completely natural endpoint for Alex, a character whose entire life has been defined by protecting her alien sister.
I’m also both curious and intrigued by how much these past two episodes have positioned Lena and Kara’s friendship as the emotional heart of the series. Though I still have no idea what this show is building towards for its ultimate endgame, I’m really looking forward to watching it unfold. There are definitely still quibbles to be had with this final season—like the fact that J’onn hasn’t had anything resembling even a minor storyline lately—but the show also feels alive and activated in a way that hasn’t always been the case over the past few years. And that makes for a refreshing change of pace.
- I’m assuming Supergirl just doesn’t have the budget to include every cast member in every episode anymore. Poor Brainy is off scanning for Nyxly’s ship this entire hour.
- Lena casting a spell that accidentally causes Nia to lose her sense of left and right is a perfect excuse to let Nicole Maines do some comedy!
- I don’t know if this show strictly needs William as a character, but I actually really enjoyed the scene where he compared Lena using her mom’s spell book to his own experience trying to recreate his dad’s baking recipes.
- Less successful was the absolutely baffling choice to have William do a bunch of hand-to-hand combat when Kara was standing right there.
- Here’s a screenshot of the Super Friends’ big board of totem research. Next up, Nyxly is heading for the Totem of Hope, while Nia has her eyes set on the Totem of Dreams.