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

Supergirl puts Lex Luthor on trial

Image for article titled Supergirl puts Lex Luthor on trial
Photo: The CW

A grieving space vampire tech whiz? Lex Luthor representing himself in court? The Phantom Zone inexplicably taking away Kara’s bangs?!? Tonight’s episode of Supergirl has all the zippy, cohesive spark I was missing from last week’s finale-premiere hybrid. And the big upside of the show’s pandemic-related production delay is that this final season is now able to seamlessly build on last year’s dangling threads without clunkily introducing a whole bunch of new elements for just one final run of episodes. Instead of anchoring this final season around a new plot-heavy big bad, “A Few Good Women” suggests that Supergirl is going to anchor the season around theme: What is the legacy of Supergirl’s heroism? What does she mean to both the world at large and to those who know her best?

Advertisement

“A Few Good Women” starts to answer that question without falling back on simplistic, easy optimism. By the end of this hour, the Super Friends fail hard, Lex wins big, and a literal Phantom of fear winds up invading National City. But as Brainy reminds Nia, the most important part of Kara’s heroism isn’t that she always wins, it’s that she never stops trying. It wasn’t until Brainy actually met the woman who inspired the mission of the Legion of Super-Heroes that he came to understand that it’s Kara’s humanity (well, you know what I mean) that makes her a true beacon of hope. And Kara herself embodies that ideal in one of her best monologues in ages. As Kara tells her dad (!!!), she’ll never stop fighting to leave the Phantom Zone, even if she only gets an inch further each day.

This episode’s strong thematic backbone helps smooth over some of its clunkier storytelling choices and some pretty obvious COVID-era filming restrictions. Much like how Kara reuniting with her (not dead) mom on Argo City was treated as a bizarre anticlimax back in season three, Kara reuniting with her (not dead) dad in the Phantom Zone is similarly underplayed here. In this case, however, I’m wondering if Zor-El (Jason Behr) might be a Phantom Zone projection designed to trick Kara? I’m actually unclear if Supergirl wants me to be asking that question or not. It almost feels like we skip over a scene that would more firmly establish at least the basic rules and stakes of Kara’s new temporary home base.

Image for article titled Supergirl puts Lex Luthor on trial
Photo: The CW

Instead, the most compelling stuff in “A Few Good Women” takes place back in National City, and, specifically, in the sparsely populated but much-watched courtroom where Lex’s trial is taking place. Supergirl offered a brief flashback to a Lex-centric trial back in season four, but here we get to see the full thing in action, with Lex showboating his way through his own defense—which mostly amounts to suggesting that Eve and Lena are bitter women trying to take down an innocent man whose only crime was wanting total unchecked power. In one of the most upsetting twists Supergirl has ever delivered, Lex’s unhinged self-justification simply… works. As one jurist puts it, you wouldn’t want to set a precedent for people being able to take down powerful, unhinged men just because.

As ever, Supergirl is pretty blatant in its parallels to real-world figures ranging from Donald Trump to Brett Kavanaugh. But what makes this particular storyline sing is that Lex himself is shocked that it worked. He was certain he’d lost the jury after falling for Lena’s expert sibling rivalry manipulations. And he’s as surprised as anyone that people like him more when he lets his villainy show—at least when he offers up the right scapegoats in his place. It’s sharper satire than just making Lex a direct one-to-one stand-in for any one real-world figure. Even legendary villain Lex Luthor can’t believe what rich, powerful men are able to get away with these days.

Advertisement
Image for article titled Supergirl puts Lex Luthor on trial
Photo: The CW

Yet just like how our heroes’ failed first attempt to rescue Kara from the Phantom Zone doesn’t crush their spirits, Lex’s acquittal doesn’t slow them down either. William and Nia vow to take him down using the power of the press, thereby continuing to live up to Kara’s journalistic ideals. And Andrea and Lena make amends and vow to take him down by working together, thereby embodying Kara’s spirit of forgiveness, compassion, and friendship. Fittingly for a hero with a secret identity, Kara’s legacy continues to shape the lives of characters who don’t even know she’s Supergirl.

Advertisement

But, rightly so, the two characters that “A Few Good Women” positions as the emotional heart of this season are Alex and J’onn—the two members of Kara’s team who aren’t just friends but family. Instead of approaching their rescue mission with the logistical precision of experienced superheroes looking for a missing comrade, they dive in with the emotional impulsivity of two family members desperately searching for a lost relative. And when the rescue mission goes south, they respond to their overwhelming grief in two very different ways.

Alex sinks into depression and despondency—a fear that she’ll never see her sister again, or that even if she does, Kara will be permanently scarred by her time in the Phantom Zone. J’onn, meanwhile, decides to shut down his feelings entirely and approach this mission solely as a solider, which is a callback to his more stoic season one demeanor. Neither coping mechanism is healthy, of course, but they’re both understandable, and they set up strong arcs for J’onn and Alex to follow across this Kara-lite stretch of episodes. Though Alex and J’onn don’t get the most screentime tonight, it’s reassuring that Supergirl seems to be gearing up to prioritize them in this final season, even with so many other characters in the show’s ever-expanding ensemble.

Advertisement
Image for article titled Supergirl puts Lex Luthor on trial
Photo: The CW

It’s also refreshing that Supergirl has the confidence to anchor “A Few Good Women” first and foremost around character scenes rather than technobabble-heavy exposition or lackluster CGI battles. For those who’ve stuck with Supergirl through six seasons of dwindling effects budgets, the frequently lackluster action isn’t really what we’re here for anymore. I’d much rather that Supergirl stick the landing emotionally than stretch itself thin visually. And “A Few Good Women” lays some promising groundwork for getting the emotional stuff right—both for its leading lady and the many people she’s inspired.

Advertisement

Stray observations

  • So did Alex tell Kelly about Kara being Supergirl offscreen? It’s a weird thing to skip over after making such a big deal about it last week. Anyway, I like how the Super Friends have adopted Kelly as their counselor. It adds to the Star Trek: The Next Generation vibes that Supergirl has long embraced (and literally shouts out tonight).
  • The events of “Crisis On Infinite Earths” have apparently turned the Phantom Zone into an “interdimensional archipelago.” To be honest, I never fully understood what it was in the first place, but that sounds cool!
  • I’d been really hoping this season would finally resolve the dangling thread of Nia’s fractured relationship with her sister from season four, and the mention of Nia needing to learn to fully control her powers makes me think that it will.
  • I believe that the traumatic memory Kara describes of her friends all dying in a cave is a reference to the third season finale, but, to be honest, I’ve mostly blocked that period of the show out of my mind.
  • It’s fun seeing Otis Graves back as Lex’s henchman, and I really enjoyed his disappointment at not needing to blow up the courtroom to free Lex.
  • Having Lillian call Lex “Mama’s Number One Boy” is a truly inspired salute to Succession.
Advertisement