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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Supergirl’s third season finale cuts its losses and looks to the future

Illustration for article titled Supergirl’s third season finale cuts its losses and looks to the future
Photo: Katie Yu (The CW)

To cap off a season that has grown increasingly rocky along the way, Supergirl’s third season finale mostly decides to look towards the future instead of worrying about the past. Only about a third of “Battles Lost And Won” is dedicated to wrapping up the arcs the show has built this season. The other two-thirds are about establishing the new status quo for the show’s fourth season. And while that makes for a lopsided, somewhat unsatisfying finale, I can at least appreciate the writers’ decision to cut their losses and move on to the next thing. This episode makes it clear that the writers know this season has lost its way, and, all things considered, that’s preferable to a reality where the writers think they’ve absolutely nailed it when they haven’t.


Before I get into the things that didn’t work about “Battles Lost And Won,” I’d liked to compliment a few things that did. In addition to some compelling hand-to-hand combat, there’s also some impressively ambitious big-scale action in this episode—including a cool moment in which Kara uses her ice breath to freeze a giant tidal wave. And while I’ve been feeling relatively emotionally detached from Supergirl since it returned from hiatus (and even a little before that too), this episode offers some moments of pathos that feel like old school Supergirl.

M’rynn and J’onn’s goodbye scene was incredibly wrenching and phenomenally played by both David Harewood and Carl Lumbly. Before sacrificing himself to stop Reign’s terraforming, M’yrnn passes on one final memory to his son—a memory that stems from the dawn of time and one that has been passed down through generations of Green Martians. It’s a beautiful metaphor for the idea of culture and tradition, and one I wish Supergirl had delved into more in the lead up to M’rynn’s death. (R.I.P. Space Grandad.)

The other moment that pulled on my heartstrings more than I expected was Kara’s decision to turn back time, Superman: The Movie-style. (Well, kind of, she uses a disruption in space rather than just spinning the Earth in the opposite direction.) It doesn’t make much logical sense, and it’s a moment that comes far too easily until the episode’s cliffhanger ending at least implies it did have some genuine consequences. But watching Kara once again place the weight of the world on her shoulders in order to save the people she loves felt like a return to the version of Supergirl I’ve always loved best. And even for viewers who suspected their deaths would be reversed, seeing Sam, Alura, and Mon-El get taken out by Reign was pretty shocking stuff. Melissa Benoist sells the hell out of both Kara’s shell-shocked reaction to her friends’ deaths and her subsequent determination to make things right.

Yet the strength of those moments—emotionally at least, if not plotwise (I have “this isn’t how time travel works” written in my notes three times)—also helped me pinpoint my biggest complaint about this season as a whole. As Supergirl has grown from a show about a budding female superhero to an ensemble series about a team of superheroes, it hasn’t yet figured out how to recalibrate Kara’s role within the series. Though she used to serve as the fulcrum of stories at both the DEO and CatCo, Kara is now often totally removed from major ongoing storylines, like Alex, J’onn, and M’rynn’s growing family dynamic. And that means she also winds up feeling far too emotionally removed from characters whose ongoing storylines don’t intersect directly with hers.

So it’s especially frustrating that after spending so much time on the Kara/Mon-El relationship (to the detriment of a lot of other relationships in Kara’s life), this finale gives them a rather lackluster climax. The show’s creators have explained they were going for a Casablanca-esque ending in which two noble people choose duty over love, but the whole thing feels far more anticlimactic than movingly melodramatic. In fact, Mon-El’s original departure in the second season finale was far more emotionally wrenching than his departure here. Though I suppose it’s nice that Kara and Mon-El get to have some actual emotional closure, I’m not sure this season needed to devote so much time to redeeming Mon-El only to send him back to the future. Hopefully with the Mon-El chapter closed (and Chris Wood officially off the show for season four), Supergirl will be able to better calibrate Kara’s role within the series moving forward.


But Mon-El isn’t the only character to make an unexpected departure in this finale. Winn joins him as the newest Legionnaire, swapping jobs with Brainy because the future is no longer safe for A.I. thanks to Brainy’s nefarious “distant relative.” News broke before the finale that Supergirl was bumping Jeremy Jordan down to a recurring role next season while promoting Jesse Rath to a series regular, so I had some sense that this episode was going to shake things up for Winn. But even so, Winn’s decision to join the Legion is still a pretty big shock. The episode even positions Winn’s departure as its major emotional fulcrum—far more so than M’yrnn’s death, Mon-El’s departure, or Kara choosing National City over Argo City. In fact, watching Alex tearfully hug Winn was far more emotionally charged than watching Kara say goodbye to her mom. (Bye bye Alura!)

It’s kind of remarkable just how much stuff “Battles Lost And Won” manages to squeeze into its runtime, far more than I can tackle in detail in this review (and far more than the episode itself can handle). A spiritual vision of her mother helps Sam find the strength to defeat Reign and become a full-fledged human; Kara develops a sudden staunch anti-killing stance that the show can’t really back up (although she’s cool with Reign being as-good-as killed in the Dark Valley); James decides to out himself as The Guardian, which probably means we’ve seen the last of CatCo as a location on the series; J’onn rebrands himself as a fedora-wearing do-gooder and leaves the DEO in the hands of Alex, who will now have the stability to be a single mother with a (slightly) less dangerous job. Plus we learn that Lena has secretly kept some of the Rock of Yuda Kal, and that there’s a mysterious version of Kara wandering around Siberia.


That’s all setup for next season, however. And while I’m intrigued by pretty much all of those dangling plot threads, they aren’t enough to make me forget about the weaknesses of season three. Like the beginning of season one or the middle of season two, the final third of season three was a real low point for Supergirl—perhaps its lowest point yet. But Supergirl is fundamentally a show about optimism and I remain optimistic about its ability to find its feet again. In a pop culture landscape where female superheroes are so often quippy assassins in catsuits, Supergirl offers a very different take on female heroism. And it’s one I continue to find both refreshing and heartening, even in a season I wish the show could go back in time and redo.

Stray observations

  • My interpretation of the episode’s mysterious cliffhanger ending is that Kara’s casual use of time travel somehow caused a splinter version of herself to emerge in Siberia. My guess is that the show is setting up a riff on the comic book miniseries Superman: Red Son, which centers on a version of Superman raised in the Soviet Union.
  • I enjoyed the way this episode wrote around Superman’s absence: He was on the other side of the world saving Madagascar from Reign’s terraforming. To quote James, “Kick some ass, Clark.”
  • Kara and Mon-El: Two space aliens who don’t have a great grasp on the Persephone myth. Kara’s right that Persephone eating the pomegranate seeds got her trapped in Hades, but it was only for part of each year, not for forever. (And that’s why we have winter.)
  • Speaking of Mon-El, are he and Imra just going to be Legion coworkers now? Seems like an incredible awkward situation.
  • Winn will apparently still have “big stories” in season four, despite his reduced role in the series. What Broadway show do you think Jeremy Jordan is planning to do with his newfound spare time? I think he’d make an adorable Cornelius in Hello, Dolly!
  • I don’t know if Odette Annable will be returning for season four (she’s still the LCorp CFO, right?), but kudos to her for being a standout addition to the cast this season. If you need more Odette Annable in your life, check out ABC’s short-lived series The Astronaut Wives Club.
  • My favorite episodes of the season were “Legion Of Superheroes” and “The Faithful.”
  • Thanks so much for following along with these reviews this season! Supergirl is moving to Sunday nights in the fall, so I’ll see you back here on the same Supes-channel, slightly different Supes-time. And if you want to chat in the off-season you can always find me on Twitter!

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Caroline Siede is a pop culture critic in Chicago, where the cold never bothers her anyway. She loves sci-fi, Jane Austen, and co-hosting the movie podcast, Role Calling.