Funny, thoughtful, moving, and socially conscious. Those are the elements that Supergirl does best, and they’re also the qualities that are on display in “Dream Weaver,” another solid episodic adventure that inches the season’s bigger storytelling pieces forward. I like that Supergirl is taking a more scaled-back approach to this back half of its final season. Instead of stretching beyond its means with big action scenes it can’t pull off, “Dream Weaver” tells a small-scale, self-contained story that’s impact lies in its pointed social commentary and optimistic spirit.
The most impressive thing about “Dream Weaver” is the way it, well, weaves together just about every major element of Supergirl’s worldbuilding. Sure it’s a little convenient that the kid Kelly meets at her social worker job just happens to have an older brother who’s involved in the robberies that Kara and J’onn are investigating, which just happen to be connected to a prison warden that Kara previously wrote an article about. But I’ll take a little contrivance if it means that all the elements of Supergirl’s world feel equally relevant for once.
In particular, “Dream Weaver” does a fantastic job making CatCo feel like a vital part of Supergirl’s storytelling, which hasn’t always been the case in the CW era of the show. The smash cut from Kara and Co. having a game night to Andrea demanding to know what the Super Friends do for fun is great. And William and Kara work really well as platonic colleagues with a shared passion for hardhitting journalism. Plus Supergirl locates a smart, relevant conflict in the idea that in order for CatCo to have the resources to report the truth, it has to be able to sustain itself monetarily. And that means figuring out how to frame a story in a way that makes people want to engage with it—something that Kara eventually realizes she has a unique ability to do as Supergirl.
But while Kara does some recon with her Supergirl powers this week, the key to cracking the case comes more from her journalistic side, as she and William buckle down and follow the money. It turns out an organized crime lord is bribing a private prison warden into using alien prisoners to steal the materials he needs to build a dirty bomb. Adding insult to injury, the corruption is happening within a work release program that’s specifically meant to help incarcerated people learn skills that can help them reintegrate into the world after their sentences are up—a program that Kara previously praised in an article.
“Dream Weaver” is interested in systemic abuse, like the kind that EMP-powered alien Orlando Davis (Jhaleil Swaby) faces in prison or that his little brother Joey (Aiden Stoxx) faces in his cruel foster home. In fact, “Dream Weaver” pointedly sets out to explore the cycles of inhumanity that make up so much of American society: The Davis brothers wound up in their abusive situations because Orlando had to turn to robbery to make ends meet after their parents died. If he’d had more social services to help him in the first place, all of their trauma and separation could’ve been avoided. Indeed, Kelly’s beautifully empathetic approach stands in stark contrast to those larger systemic failures. But there’s only so much she can do as one small voice in a much bigger broken system.
As is often the case when Supergirl tackles a complex real-world issue, however, the show’s desire to deliver an optimistic ending is somewhat at odds with the less sunny reality of how these situations usually play out. While the idea of Supergirl becoming a voice for the incarcerated is lovely, there’s also something strange about presenting a relatively simple fictional solution to such a complicated real-world problem. I couldn’t argue with anyone who found the scene where Orlando gets a full pardon and reunites with Joey to be just a touch exploitative when it comes to mining real-world pain for easy superhero TV pathos.
Still, within the world of the show it works well. And it’s clear that Supergirl has all the best intentions in the world when it comes to shining a light on the dangers of private for-profit prisons and the lack of humanity that’s so often granted to the incarcerated (and to kids in foster homes). It helps that before Supergirl has Kara swoop in as a hero, it lets her be frustratingly naïve in terms of failing to see that Warden Wyatt Kote (Tom Jackson) is clearly in on the scam. And I like the episode’s ultimate thesis that Kara has just as much power in what she chooses to speak about as Supergirl as what she actually does with her Kryptonian abilities, which she proves by giving William an exclusive interview that condemns prison abuse while still defending work release programs in general.
While Kara’s impulse is often to segment her double life, this time around she realizes there’s a real value to working a story from both ends—as Kara Danvers and as Supergirl. And Kelly comes to a similar realization too. After recognizing the limitations of what she can do as a social worker alone, Kelly decides to take up her brother’s Guardian mantle to help protect vulnerable people through vigilante means. And while, again, there’s something a little weird about using a fictional solution to solve a complicated real-world problem, the spirit is lovely—and a much better exploration of what it means to be the Guardian than the show ever really gave James. Plus it’s worth it to see Alex excitedly break out the vigilante gear she’s been storing for Kelly ever since Crisis on Infinite Earths. Even more than their dominance at game night, this is the scene that really sells Alex and Kelly as a perfect pair. The couple that vigilantes together, stays together.
Rounding out “Dream Weaver” is a sadly not all that interesting runner about Nyxly infiltrating Nia’s dreams. While Nia’s powers are cool in theory, Supergirl has never been the best at finding visually interesting visions for her. Here her dreams start to get pretty repetitive—at least until a trippy talking owl jazzes things up a bit. Still, tying Nyxly and Nia together is yet another smart, economic storytelling choice that brings Nyxly back into the fold while continuing Nia’s arc about missing her mom. If Supergirl’s season-long storytelling has yet to start fully cooking with gas, at least it’s fanning the flames in an interesting direction.
- There’s some nice hand-to-hand combat in the scene where Kara and J’onn free the kidnapped prisoners.
- Jhaleil Swaby and Aiden Stoxx turn in really lovely performances as Orlando and Joey, which goes a long way towards making the brothers’ story feel lived-in and complex.
- So are Alex and Kelly only going to adopt Esme or are they going to wind up taking over the entire foster home too?
- Where has M’gann been lately? Did she go back to Mars?
- I thought William was the only one assigned the Super Friends story, but I absolutely love that Kara and Nia have been assigned to profile themselves too!