With four seasons under its belt, Supergirl is no longer the scrappy new kid on the superhero block. That tonight’s season premiere follows the uneven debut of the new Arrowverse series Batwoman is a reminder of just how much Supergirl has grown since its own somewhat rocky early days. After last season’s politically charged/Lex Luthor-infused storytelling elevated the show to new heights, the fifth season premiere feels like a victory lap for a stalwart series that’s confident in what it is. Supergirl locked into its best ensemble dynamic yet last season, and this premiere takes the chance to revel in that. “Event Horizon” may not push the show’s storytelling boundaries, but it serves as an effective reminder of just how fun it is to hang out in this world.
Like a lot of Supergirl’s previous premieres, “Event Horizon” features a perfunctory villain-of-the-week to anchor an episode that’s mostly focused on reintroducing the series and laying out the major themes of the season. Even by those standards, however, Midnight (Jennifer Cheon Garcia) is a really lame threat who’s defeated in a lackluster (not to mention confusing) black-hole-centric climax. She may be “fueled by death,” but she feels more like holdover from a ’90s genre series. So it’s only appropriate that she’s defeated by a team-up that feels vaguely Captain Planet-esque. Still, there’s an undeniable thrill to seeing Kara, Alex, J’onn, Nia, and Brainy (okay, and Guardian) together again, even if Alex’s tossed off one-liner (“How do you guys change so fast?”) is more engaging than the final battle itself.
Yet it’s a character who’s not part of the Super Friends line-up that winds up stealing the show. Though Lena makes it clear that she doesn’t want to murder her erstwhile best friend (at least not outside of holographic simulations), she’s still reeling from the bombshell that Kara has been lying about her Supergirl alter ego for all the years they’ve known each other. And that inspires two of the episode’s best scenes. In the first, Lena absolutely relishes the chance to passive aggressively needle Kara by piling on the compliments about what a good and honest person she is. And in the second, Kara unexpectedly delivers the most heartfelt confession and apology imaginable.
It’s a testament to Melissa Benoist’s incredibly empathetic acting abilities that I was actually willing to buy that her apology was enough to turn Lena around. My only quibble was that Lena’s reversal felt too much like a retread of the stellar first season moment where Alex confessed to murdering Astra and Kara unexpectedly forgave her. Serves me right for underestimating a Luthor. Far from forgiving her best friend, Lena simply makes the calculated move to switch tactics as a means to achieve her own ends. Letting Kara think all is forgiven is a way for Lena to maintain the upper hand as she sets about fixing mankind on her own terms. Lena frequently works best when she’s straddling the line between good and evil, and though there’s a high level of difficulty when it comes to getting that balance just right, the idea of giving Katie McGrath deliciously complex material to chew on each week makes the risk seem worth it.
Indeed, Supergirl showrunners Jessica Queller and Robert Rovner have promised that the battle for Lena’s soul will be at the forefront of this season, and this episode is a statement of purpose in that regard. It even sets up an overarching theme for the season that ties in directly to Lena’s world: Technology. It’s something Lena trusts far more than fallible, emotion-driven human beings. And it’s something Kara scoffs at; she fears that technology encourages people to escape the real world, rather than face its challenges head on. It’s yet another rift between two women who both want to save the world, but who have very different opinions on the best way to go about doing that.
Admittedly, the technology theme feels just a little bit random. It lacks the sense of urgency and relevance of last season’s political storytelling, which was a more natural fit for Kara’s core ethos. Still, the technology throughline is at least broad enough to bring a lot of Supergirl’s disparate threads together. In addition to her romantic relationship with Alex (the two are now in full cutesy couple mode), Kelly is more firmly woven into the world of the show when she takes a new job with Andrea Rojas (Julie Gonzalo), heir to her family’s Buenos Aires-based tech company, Obsidian North. As the head of Obsidian North’s Virtual Augmented Reality department, Andrea pioneers new medical practices in the wing where Kelly works, creates the VR contacts that have become Lena’s primary form of therapy, and has recently added a certain high-profile media company to her portfolio too.
Beyond the shift in the Lena/Kara status quo, the biggest change to Supergirl’s world is at CatCo, where Lena sells the company (for a cool $1.3 billion) to her old boarding school friend. In a move that feels just a little too real for this particular writer, Andrea’s plan is to transform CatCo into a click-driven, revenue-focused outlet for “fun, digestible watercooler news.” Though Kara butt heads with both Andrea and her obnoxious, ethically flexible new British co-worker William Dey (Staz Nair), she decides to stay at CatCo and try to reform it from within. James quits, however, and since a non-compete clause in his contract means he’s barred from working in journalism forever, it’s a pretty big shift for the show. (See the stray observations for more on that.)
Exploring the current state of crisis in the journalism industry is a bold choice, and easily the timeliest story Supergirl could tell with the CatCo side of its world. I’ll be curious to see whether the show is actually willing to dig into unpleasant realities or if it will ultimately default to the kind of easy wins that usually define the CatCo-side of the series. Like, for instance, the fact that Kara’s reporting on Lex Luthor earned her a PULITZER PRIZE. (I laughed out loud at that reveal. Never change Supergirl).
The other big shift this season is an aesthetic one, although it’s also tied to technology. When Kara’s cape is shredded during battle, Brainy takes the opportunity to redesign her suit and create a microscopic motion activator that allows it to automatically materialize when she forcefully whips off her glasses. (So much for those iconic shots of Kara ripping open her shirt to reveal the Supergirl emblem.) The show handles the costume adjustment in the best way possible, with Kara’s excited exclamation of “Pants!” acknowledging the change and then moving on with confidence. (It’s also a bit of a meta moment since Melissa Benoist has been pushing for a pants-based look for a while now, partially because it’s freezing in Vancouver, where Supergirl shoots.) Really, the biggest change to Kara’s look isn’t the pants or even her adorable new haircut; it’s the fact that there’s one scene where she appears as her human alter ego but doesn’t have her hair pulled back or up in some way. I’m pretty sure that’s a major first for the show.
All in all, “Event Horizon” is a pleasant return to the Supergirl world, one that strikes a nice balance between character-centric ensemble storytelling and narrative worldbuilding. Kara’s pants might establish this as a new era for the series, but Supergirl still very much feels like its old self. On the heels of an impressive fourth season, that’s definitely a good thing.
- It turns out that the shapeshifter who pulled Midnight out of the Phantom Zone is actually J’onn’s brother, who we saw The Monitor bring to Earth in the fourth season finale. Right now J’onn doesn’t even remember having a brother, so that will be another major storyline for the season—potentially one that will tie in with this year’s big crossover event, Crisis On Infinite Earths.
- The episode also ends with another tease for Eve Teschmacher’s connections to the mysterious Leviathan organization, as she’s kidnapped while leaving her incognito waitressing job.
- I tend to avoid discussing casting news in these reviews for the benefit of those who prefer to be as unspoiled as possible. But for those who are curious, there’s some big news out there relating to James’ future storyline.
- Brainy and Nia’s subplot feels like a slightly clunky way for the writers to have their first kiss happen on screen, since they failed to do that in last season’s finale. Honestly, totally worth it. It was a great kiss!
- Supergirl is really good at little, creative worldbuilding details. I love the idea of a “Lost World of Krypton” museum exhibit complete with Superman’s old pod and a Phantom Zone simulator.
- J’onn has fully morphed into Zen dad mode and now teaches tai chi classes for kids.
- When it comes to the greatest movie villain of all time, Nia votes Hannibal Lecter, Brainy argues for Miranda Priestly, Kara pushes for Voldemort, and Alex and Kelly both agree on Hans Gruber. My vote would probably go to someone from the Disney animated canon, but I’m torn between Maleficent, Ursula, and Scar.