Welp, the last thing I expected to be crying about on this lovely autumnal evening was Supergirl warmly telling her new alien niece, “I was adopted too.” One thing the past few seasons of Supergirl have done really well is to reframe the Super Friends as a found family. And adding sweet little Esme into the mix drills that point home. When Alex becomes a mom overnight, that means Kara becomes an instant aunt and J’onn gets to inherit the title of Space Grandad. Though I suspect the sweet, bubbly opening scene of Esme meeting her new extended family is the sort of thing that could be just a touch too saccharine for some viewers, it really hit home for me. The ’90s Star Trek shows all found a way to squeeze a kid in there at some point, and working from that model, it’s fitting that Supergirl does too.
In fact, I found the Esme stuff to be the most successful element of “Hope For Tomorrow.” Though it’s a little weird that Kelly and Alex leap into motherhood without any discussion of how this ratchets up the seriousness of their own relationship (they only just moved in together earlier this season!), for the most part the Esme throughline delivers a nice blend of domestic drama with a sci-fi twist. The fact that Esme is an alien with the ability to mimic other alien’s powers is a pretty big otherworldly challenge for Alex and Kelly to help her face. But, on the other hand, so much of their struggle to adjust to their newfound role as parents is universally relatable—for biological and adoptive parents alike.
As for the rest of the episode, it’s… fine? It’s probably the weakest installment of the “Totem Saga” yet, although it’s not without its merits—just more in the setup than the payoff. This hour is devoted to the Totem of Hope, which is locked within a “Hand of the Flower” statue that sits at The Hague as a symbol of peace. Unlike the past two totems, this one is immovable until you pass its gauntlet, which demands that its wielder “inspire a hope that burns longer and brighter than the sun.” Since Nyxly correctly identifies that she’s never going to beat Supergirl at the whole “hope” thing, she decides she’d be smarter to try to leverage the totem away after the fact. That leaves poor Kara struggling to figure out how she can give the world more hope than she already has—especially with Kaznia and Corto Maltese on the brink of nuclear war.
Who and what now, you might ask? While “Hope For Tomorrow” cuts back on the deadening technobabble, it replaces it with some heretofore unmentioned geopolitics. If the Kaznia/Corto Maltese conflict had been a major runner throughout the season, this episode could’ve served as an effective climax for it. Alas, along with the reveal that Kara is “forbidden from interfering in human history,” it’s an episodic roadblock that kind of comes out of nowhere. Just who is forbidding her? And why has this never come up before?
It’s actually a shame that it hasn’t. The idea that there’s a difference between stopping a supervillain and influencing the self-determination of independent nation states is one of the many fascinating ethical dilemmas introduced in an appreciably talky script from Emilio Ortega Aldrich & Nicki Holcomb (with a story by Robert Rovner). But it’s too big of an idea to introduce this late into the show’s run, especially when it’s really just there so that Kara can eventually decide to go against it by throwing both country’s nuclear weapons into the sun.
Perhaps that’s because this episode seems to have been designed first and foremost as an homage to Superman IV: The Quest For Peace, in which Christopher Reeve’s Superman similarly decides to throw the world’s supply of nuclear warheads into the sun. Here, however, the moment Kara makes the same choice is rushed and underwhelming, especially because she isn’t even the one to take the weapons into space herself. She has J’onn and Brainy take care of that while she swoops back down to claim the Totem of Hope, which apparently had a very specific image of what hope looks like.
Indeed, one of the big struggles of this episode is that it fails to articulate and interrogate the concept of hope. Though I was actually really intrigued by the idea that Kara might be able to inspire more hope as a reporter than she does as a superhero, that fascinating idea is quickly dropped in favor of more conventional superhero antics—the same with the underdeveloped thread of J’onn serving as a calming force during the heated-by-magic peace talks. (It’s the closest he’s come to having a storyline in ages!) Instead, there’s a lot about the ending of this episode that feels fairly rote, from Lena struggling to master yet another spell to William briefly being kidnapped by Nyxly to serve as her leverage. Even the way William just grabs the Totem of Courage from Nyxly feels a little too convenient—especially after the fascinating moment Kara failed to pass its gauntlet two episodes ago.
To its credit, “Hope For Tomorrow” ultimately ends in a more interesting place than I was expecting. Even with all three active totems in hand, Kara decides that the most effective way to stop Nyxly is to destroy one of them and prevent the imp princess from ever having the chance to complete the AllStone. Banking on their ability to inspire optimism, she and the team decide that the Totem of Hope is the one they can afford to sacrifice. So we do at least get to see Kara throw something into the sun, as she tosses away the totem and seemingly upends the quest narrative this latter portion of the season has been built around.
Of course, the fact that Nyxly ultimately gets a protective suit from her “secret admirer” suggests the battle is far from over. But I appreciate Supergirl’s willingness to shake up the expected formula a bit, even in an episode that’s just a touch too formulaic elsewhere. Still, when I think back on “Hope For Tomorrow,” I suspect it wouldn’t be the Totem of Hope stuff I’ll remember. It’ll be the moments the Super Friends welcome a new generation into their midst—and inspire a different kind of hope along the way.
- Heads up: While the promo notes that there are five episodes of Supergirl left, the show will actually only be on for four more weeks as the finale is a two-hour special. It’s set to air November 9th.
- I’m fascinated by the choice to commit to Brainy being green full-time in the show’s final run of episodes. Why now?
- Truly, the opening scene of Alex painting the mural and Kara bringing the toys and Esme shaking J’onn’s hand was just so damn cute!!! Also pairing Brainy with a kid is such a good dynamic that I can’t believe the show hasn’t thought to do it before!
- There’s also such good adult drama to the way Alex idealizes her mom’s relationship with Kara, only for Kelly to remind her that Kara and Eliza had their own growing pains too. Alex and Kelly make for a really strong couple in this episode.
- Love that Kara has a soft spot for Kaznia.
- “I guess hope does trump fear.”