Supergirl has had its ups and downs since it started, but season four really worked. Here’s why.
I’ll admit that I’ve always been a fan of the show – partly because I love the mythology of the Superman/Supergirl stories, and partly because the show makes a good fit alongside its family (brooding uncle Arrow, bouncy cousin The Flash and wacky in-laws The Legends).
Bold story move
From episode one it was clear that they were making a bold story move – the tension between the humans and the “newcomer” aliens. And that was a great move as it elevated the show to more than just a comic book show, and instead it interrogated the issues in society today.
This hearkens back to some of the best aspects of the “comics”, where they have tackled gender equality, race, politics and corruption and more. Erik Lehnsherr’s hatred of humans dating back to the Holocaust in 2000s first X-Men movie gave his actions an understandable motivation. While not on such a horrific scale, the “villain” for most of the season had his reasons.
Sam Witwer (you may remember him from Smallville) makes a great appearance this season as academic Ben Lockwood who transitions from uncomfortable with the concept of aliens on earth, to frustrated that they have an economic impact on his family, to anger that their arrival is ruining human lives. Before long he is wearing a metal mask and leading a group called the “Children of Liberty” who want revenge. Towards the end of the season his anger turns to hate when an alien he victimised kills his wife, and his son turns against him.
We have the masked group pedalling their intolerant agenda, the repeal of the Alien Amnesty Act, the compromised president, the evil shadowy billionaire manipulating everything from behind the scenes. Unlike previous seasons, the show was tackling issues ripped from the headlines – a superhero allegory of political issues in the USA and across the world. It didn’t quite advocate building a great big beautiful wall, but it wasn’t far from it.
A key appeal this season was that it was relatively self-contained and didn’t fuss over trying to connect to previous storylines or the more fantastical space stories of previous years. Superman and Lois were removed at the start of the season to go and have a baby and visit to Argo, a planet where surviving Kryptonians are living. I’m not a fan of Superman in this series as his presence severely reduces Supergirl’s influence and abilities, so this was a welcome move.
As the alien discrimination storyline progressed, the show took time to deal with J’onn J’onzz and his father (J’onn deciding to leave his powers behind and become a private eye), the development of Nia Nal’s powers until she becomes Dreamer and Lena Luthor’s character becoming indispensable to the team with her knowledge and technology.
Paranoid Conspiracy Thriller
As a lover of paranoid conspiracy thrillers, it was also great to have the introduction of April Parker Jones to the D.E.O. as the seemingly shady Colonel Haley and how they were now under direct control of the President, tasked with tracking down and stopping aliens. A great development that emerged from this was J’onn wiping Alex’s memory to ensure that she was unable to reveal Supergirl’s real identity under regular interrogation. This paranoia works well and puts all our heroes on the defence for most of the year.
Kara, separated from that intimacy with her sister instead grew ever closer to Lena, which will pay dividends in the next season.
The ‘Red Daughter’ storyline, teased at the end of last season, is delayed for a while, but when it arrives, it works brilliantly – who doesn’t want to have a Russian-accented superhuman doppelganger of Supergirl being trained up an a remote Kasnian military base? This becomes another element of the conspiracy storyline, for late in the season there was the big reveal that it wasn’t the Kasnians/Russians coordinating her training but, wait for it, Lex Luthor!
Jon Cryer (Two and a Half Men and Lex Luthor’s nephew from Superman IV: The Quest for Peace) makes an appearance as Luthor and clearly has a great time interpreting the character for the screen – stopping short of chewing the scenery, but playing with the range of manipulative Luthor behaviours, double-crossing everyone he deals with, and enjoying singing Sinatra as he saves America in his alien tech faux Iron Man suit.
The reveal that EVERYTHING this season has been manipulated by Luthor – Ben Lockwood and The Children of Liberty, the fear of aliens, The President, the Kasnian military, Red Daughter and Miss Tassmacher is very Luthor (bearing a pleasing resemblance to Batman V Superman) and quite satisfyingly complex, although it is a bit of a shame that it rushes from one revelation to another in the final episode.
Oh, and spoilers – Lena shoots her own brother dead (although he gets to have the satisfaction of one final manipulation when he reveals that Kara is Supergirl and that her “gang” have been lying to her all along).
The season ends with a montage showing the return of The Monitor (from last years crossover episodes) who welcomes J’onn’s brother to earth seeking revenge, and then goes to visit Luthor’s corpse. Lena and the gang all meet up for game night, and while Kara confides to Alex that she really wants to explain her identity to Lena, they again defer that till another time. That won’t go well.
And then there is the late tease of the mysterious group “Leviathan” who were controlling Miss Tessmacher and are not happy at the way things have turned out.
One continual highlight of the show (and the others in the “Arrowverse”) is the fantastic cast. Melissa Benoist is great as Kara/Supergirl, playing the “human” vulnerability, yet showing more strength than in previous seasons. Yes, it is a continual frustration when Supergirl gets her ass handed to her in EVERY fight, but I hope that this will gradually change. Dreamer had a great kick-ass first fight which Supergirl could only, em, dream of, so let’s hope in future we’ll see some more of Supergirl’s steel. At least this year there wasn’t a musical number! (Although Melissa Benoist is a fantastic singer!).
Chyler Leigh (Alex Danvers), Mehcad Brooks (James Olsen), David Harewood (J’onn J’onzz), Jesse Rath (Brainy) and Katie McGrath (Lena Luthor) all make a welcome return, and Nicole Maines is a great recruit as Nia Nal/Dreamer.
I really enjoyed the self-contained nature of the season, the social and political issues which bear a resemblance to regrettable elements of our world, and the grand conspiracy of Lex. It was great to see Helen Slater (Supergirl 1984) again as Kara/Alex’s mother, Brenda Strong reappearing as Lillian Luthor, and Carl Lumbly as J’onn’s father – that great tradition of DC characters and their relationships with their parents, right?
Supergirl made a strong leap forward this year – and the dangling thread of Lena’s possible descent into villainy is tantalising for next year. Here’s to Kara spending more time kicking ass, and less time landing on it in Season Five.