Dearly beloved, we have gathered here today to say goodbye to one of the original cornerstones of Supergirl’s worldbuilding, The Department of Extranormal Operations. And while I’m slightly concerned the season finale is going to pull some kind of “the DEO is a people, not a place” malarkey, for now let’s hope we’ve really and truly seen the last of an organization Supergirl hasn’t really needed since it moved away from its original villain-of-the-week storytelling mode. You served us well DEO, but with the enticing prospect of the Super Friends becoming full-on vigilante heroes/gumshoe detectives, I can’t say I didn’t let out a little cheer at watching you crumble into oblivion. May your drab black outfits and confused ethical boundaries rest in peace.
The destruction of the DEO is just one of the many major events that unfold in “The Missing Link,” which was written as this season’s antepenultimate episode, but now serves as its second-to-last outing due to coronavirus production shutdowns. Thanks to either a lucky break in the writing or some post-production re-editing, “The Missing Link” has all the pomp and circumstance of a penultimate episode. And while some of its shifts feel rather abrupt (namely the Lena stuff), this is an appropriately dramatic, action-packed hour to send Supergirl barreling towards the finish line.
The best thing about “The Missing Link” is that all of Supergirl’s major players get something meaningful to do, which hasn’t always been the case in a season where Nia, J’onn, and even Kara herself have occasionally disappeared for episodes at a time. Here, Kara, Nia, Alex, J’onn, and M’gann attempt to track down Rama Khan (remember him?) while William and Kelly work on a side investigation involving Andrea and Eve. Elsewhere, Lena and Brainy try to figure out where they stand with Lex. Plus Sean Astin makes another surprise cameo, this time playing the actual military veteran that Malefic impersonated back in “Blurred Lines.”
Like a lot of episodes in the back half of season five, “The Missing Link” is a strong hour that can’t quite make up for the fundamentally shaky ground this season was built on. Leviathan is just too broad and vague a threat, not to mention an odd fit for this technology-focused season. And while the past few episodes mitigated that by delivering more character-centric hours, “The Missing Link” puts the ancient alien clan front and center again. Gemma enlists Rama Khan to pull a classic “I meant to be captured” bad guy plan in order to steal the DEO’s Kryptonite (and destroy the building in the process). And though Rama Khan’s Earth-bending powers look way cooler here than they did back in “Tremors” and “The Wrath Of Rama Khan,” the Leviathan stuff still feels like it’s pulling focus from the season’s more compelling throughlines.
The biggest of those is Lena’s turn away from Lex and back to the Super Friends. It’s the moment Supergirl has been building to all season, and yet because this episode is so overstuffed, Lena’s climatic shift winds up feeling a tad rushed. Lena is horrified to discover that Non Nocere causes its users to go haywire when their natural survival instincts kick in, eventually spreading like a zombie virus among the inmates at the Luthor prison. Though it’s a cool (and eerily timely) concept, I’m not quite sure why this is the failure that finally convinces Lena her dream project is a bust when she’s fought through so many setbacks before. Seeing Lena confront her hubris has been a long time coming, but it would’ve been more compelling if we’d spent more time following her slow-building realization throughout this episode.
Thankfully, Katie McGrath and Jon Cryer are both in top form in the explosive verbal sparring match that follows. As Lex makes his big pitch to Lena about controlling the human race, rather than fixing it, she slowly starts to realize just how much her big brother has been manipulating her. It’s a great moment that confirms Lena has always had the fundamental moral compass her brother lacks. Horrified at just how big of a mistake she’s made—and at the idea of Lex using Non Nocere for evil—Lena makes her way to Kara’s doorstep for a heartfelt apology.
Yet the decision to turn Lena’s apology scene into a bit of a cliffhanger also winds up undercutting its impact (although it’s possible I’ll feel differently after we see how Kara responds next week). Supergirl requires a high tolerance for plot contrivances and melodrama, but in its best moments the show can pack a genuine emotional wallop, like with Kara and Lena’s fight in the Fortress of Solitude back in “Tremors.” While Lena’s apology hits all the right beats on the page, it just didn’t fully land for me emotionally. The down side of stringing along a storyline for this long, is that it sets a high level of difficulty for resolving it satisfactorily.
Though Leviathan, Lex, Obsidian North, and the battle for Lena’s soul are ostensibly linked, they’re just too much for one episode (or even one season) to handle. Still, the interwoven narratives and some propulsive action scenes help “The Missing Link” skate by on momentum. It’s thrilling to watch Lex deliver hand-to-hand combat (and Looney Tunes-esque portal antics) during the prison riot, and the fight leading up to the DEO’s collapse is appropriately tense, especially once Rama Khan steals the building’s Kryptonite. As with a lot of penultimate episodes, the success of this one will depend on how well the finale follows through on everything it sets up—or blows up, as the case may be.
- J’onn and M’gann share a big romantic kiss, and it’s great! Way to go Space Dad!
- I’m curious what Lex stole from the Fortress that could make Kryptonite even more of a threat to Kara than it already is.
- I wish this season had done a better job defining what it meant for Brainy to take off his personality inhibitors, and how much his actions are colored by that vs. his “lesser of two evils” philosophy towards Lex.
- Alex and Kelly aren’t always the most compelling couple, but you can’t say Kelly doesn’t know the way to her girlfriend’s heart: “If you’re gonna be a vigilante, you might as well go all the way.”
- Speaking of which, I really hope next season makes Alex’s post-DEO journey a major throughline. There’s so much rich material there, as highlighted by Pete’s monologue about the difficulty of transitioning from the military back to civilian life. And Chyler Leigh is clearly up for the task—and the mask!
- Lex blowing up his prison with all the prisoners still inside is one of the darkest things Supergirl has ever done.
- More points for William: Cats love him!