When Supergirl premiered, it felt like we needed her. Female-led superhero movies like Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel were still years away, and we were barely out of that strange period of asking celebrities whether they considered themselves feminists as some kind of “gottcha” question. At a time when our cultural image of female strength was at a tipping point, Melissa Benoist’s dazzling portrayal of the Girl of Steel offered a different kind of empowerment story. One that prioritized hope, help, and compassion for all—a mission statement the show took to new heights in response to the 2016 election, when Supergirl became more overtly political in its storytelling.
Over the past few years, however, Supergirl’s place in the ever-expanding, ever-diversifying live action superhero landscape has become a little less unique. Female-led superhero projects are no longer a novelty, which is perhaps why the past two seasons of the show have struggled to recapture the driving purpose of the first four. Plotwise, tonight’s two-part finale is a bizarre end to a bizarre season, with villains and storylines that are dispatched so casually it’s almost comical. And yet part of the magic of Supergirl is that even with those flaws, I can still come away impressed by how well the last half of the show’s last episode stuck the landing emotionally.
That’s because Supergirl is the definition of a show that’s greater than the sum of its parts. It never had a perfect season, and it only really had a handful of truly perfect episodes (I’m looking at you “Human for A Day”). And, yet, on the whole, I’d still consider it one of the most inspiring, emotionally rich series in the CW canon—particularly as its simplistic vision of feminism evolved into a more complex, intersectional one. Even when the storytelling faltered, Supergirl’s stellar cast and optimistic spirit always soared. So going out with some terrible plotting coupled with some massive emotional highs? Well, at least Supergirl stayed true to itself until the very end.
The first episode of tonight’s two-part finale, “The Last Gauntlet,” is one of the weakest episodes of the season, if not the series as a whole, and The CW was smart to pair it up with “Kara” in order to wash the bad taste out of our mouths as quickly as possible. The whole thing hinges on Lex and Nyxly trying to extract the Love Totem from a kidnapped Emse and then use her as a bargaining chip in order to get the other five totems from the Super Friends. It’s hard to say which is the weirdest plot swing: The way Brainy casually mentions that he can harness the power of the sun to supercharge Kara in exchange for the sun no longer working for six months. Or the fact that Kara nearly goes through with the plan before some pleas from the terrified population change her mind.
Whatever season six was trying to do with its “accountability for the Super Friends” angle never really worked. And while I’m all for storylines that highlight Kara’s flaws, the sun debacle is way too big of a swing this late in the game, especially when the next hour starts with Kara pulling one of her classic “empower people with a speech!” moves, which feels like it would’ve been far more effective if she hadn’t, you know, almost just destroyed the sun to get her niece back. Though it’s my understanding that season six was crafted as a final season, in practice it feels more like the writers had to hastily rewrite a pre-existing storyline to make it work as a series finale. After all that time spent on Nyxly’s potential redemption arc and her romance with Lex, in the end both villains are dispatched so unceremoniously that I almost wonder if The CW already has plans to bring them back on some other Arrowverse show. (Superman & Lois, maybe?) Ah well, at least we got some good Lillian Luthor content before she tragically sacrifices herself to save Lex. R.I.P. Mama Luthor.
Indeed, it would be easy to spend most of this review dissecting the many, many things this finale does wrong. And given that those missteps make up about 2/3s of tonight’s two-hour special, it might make more sense to do so. But as a wise time traveler once said, “Sprock logic!” When I think back on this series finale, the stuff I’m going to remember is the second half of the final episode, “Kara,” which takes place on and around Alex and Kelly’s wedding day. Despite its season-long plot stumbles, Supergirl miraculously manages to come up with pitch-perfect emotional endings for just about all of its characters. And, yes, that includes having Brainy decide he’d rather be with Nia than safe-guard the future and surprise her at the wedding, which is the moment I first started crying and basically didn’t stop from there.
“Kara” neatly avoids all the pitfalls I’d been afraid might come to pass. Kara doesn’t wind up traveling to the future to marry Mon-El. (In fact, this episode brings back Chris Wood largely to definitively close the book on his time with Kara.) Nor does she lose her powers, which is where I was afraid we were headed with that whole sun debacle. The show even manages to nod towards the importance of Kara and Lena’s friendship in a way that honors why fans are so drawn to that pairing but stays true to the show’s world as written too.
In fact, one of the best things about “Kara” is that it doesn’t try to manufacture an artificial endpoint or preclude any future possibilities. Instead, this finale puts the idea of change and evolution right at its very center. As Lena tells Andrea, all of us have the power to make amends for our wrongs, choose who we want to be, and live a meaningful life. She’s living proof. And the idea of change becomes a central part of Kara’s story too—first through Orlando, a young man she helped mentor, and then through Cat Grant (Cat Grant!!!!!!!), the woman who helped mentor her.
Though Kara has delivered many a heroic speech before, watching Orlando become a beacon of hope for others helps change her focus slightly. She decides to empower people to become their own heroes, both to themselves and to others. Her vision is a future where superheroes don’t just punch bad guys, they serve as civil servants who tackle issues in a systemic, sustainable way—whether at Nia’s Dreamer Center for LGBT Outreach or J’onn’s new peace-oriented DEO. And it’s Cat who helps Kara see that she deserves to practice what she preaches too, as a fulfilled, fully integrated version of herself who doesn’t need to constantly toggle between her two identities.
Of course, having Kara decide to reveal her identity runs the risk of making the show’s previous ardent defense of her secret identify moot. But I like the way Cat frames it: “It doesn’t take Freud to see that you have a secret and it’s obstructing your life and it’s not serving you anymore. So screw it!” Just because there was a time and place for Kara’s secret identity doesn’t mean she has to hold onto it forever. As the circumstances of her life change, she’s allowed to evolve and make new choices too. It’s an idea that echoes this finale’s decision not to put some big, definitive endpoint on its storytelling. While Kara revealing her identity (and taking a job as CatCo’s editor-in-chief!) starts a whole new chapter for her, in many ways things are still the same as they ever were, with bustling family game nights to prove it.
More than anything, this finale gives its characters hope for the future—sometimes literally, as when Winn casually reveals that J’onn and M’gann have a son in the future. (It’s a shame the show couldn’t get Sharon Leal back, but I’ll take it!) Supergirl ends with a much more nuanced message than the clunky “girl power” theming it started with: Embrace your power, live authentically, prioritize your happiness and the happiness of others, and don’t be afraid to change. Considering how often this season (and this series) felt like it was building the plane as it flew, there’s something empowering about watching Supergirl get to end on its own ambitiously unambitious terms. While it might not have been a perfect show, the strongest moments of tonight’s finale capture why I’m sad to see Supergirl go up, up, and away one last time.
- Some moments that made me cheer: Mama Danvers firing a shot gun. The fact that the show kept Calista Flockhart’s return a surprise. Lena’s entire wedding look.
- Some moments that made me smile: Mon-El telling Kara that her speech changes the course of the future. Kara and Winn dueting on “We Belong.” The dancing montage. That sweet scene where Kara calls James and Winn the original Super Friends.
- Some moments that made me cry: Esme calling him “Grandpa J’onn.” James giving Kelly a beacon watch. Basically everything about the wedding, including the reveal that Alex and Kelly were in J’onn’s flying convertible.
- Some moments that made me laugh: J’onn saying: “I always knew Lex was dangerous, but this has gone too far.” The fact that Kara’s big plan to empower people also involved using magic to manipulate their minds and remove their defense mechanisms. Lex and Nyxly randomly changing into weird dinosaur monsters and the show barely addressing it. Never change, Supergirl, never change.
- On a personal note, thank you so much for following along with these reviews over the years. Supergirl was the first show I ever covered regularly at The A.V. Club, and save for one fill-in (thanks LaToya Ferguson!), I’ve reviewed every single episode of the series. Across three apartments, three presidents, and all sorts of career ups and downs, Supergirl has been one of the most consistent elements of my life over the past six years. It’s bittersweet to say goodbye, but it’s been an honor and a pleasure to grow alongside Kara Danvers—and to keep up with all your insights and riffs in the comments! If you’d like to stay in touch, you can follow me over on Twitter. Otherwise I’ll leave you with the Zor-El family motto, “El mayarah” a.k.a. “Stronger Together.”