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Photo: Dean Buscher (The CW)
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Supergirl isn’t a show I watch for plot, which is good because “Back From The Future—Part One” doesn’t really have one. Okay, technically there are events that bring our heroes together and a desperate rush to save the future that ostensibly gives the whole thing stakes. But, for the most part, that’s just a loose framework for a character-centric hour that eases us into Supergirl’s post-Crisis status quo even more gently than last week’s bombastic winter premiere. Coupled with some innovative action sequences and the long anticipated return of Jeremy Jordan (in a dual performance!), “Back From The Future—Part One” is a table setting episode in the best sense of the term. “You always give the best hugs, Papa Bear,” Winn tells J’onn. This episode kind of feels like a bear hug too.

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A big part of that warmth comes from Jordan himself, whose return seems to bring out the best in the whole main cast. (It probably doesn’t hurt that David Harewood a.k.a. Space Dad himself is behind the camera directing this episode.) Winn was a huge part of Supergirl for its first three seasons, and Jordan unexpectedly emerged as one of the show’s strongest performers. While I wouldn’t say Supergirl has suffered from not having him around, it’s certainly wonderful to have him back. In addition to playing a more mature version of the Winn we know and love (a.k.a. the one who headed off to the future with the Legion of Superheroes in the third season finale), Jordan also gets to have fun chewing the scenery as an alternate Earth version of Winslow Schott who took up his dad’s Toyman mantle.

Toyman Jr. gives this episode an enjoyably campy villain-of-the-week and a chance to comment on the dangers of toxic online culture. (Don’t worry, by 2126 anti-trolling legislation wipes out the problem and averts World War III!) For the most part, however, “Back From The Future—Part One” is a chance for original flavor Winn to shine. His sweet reunions with Kara, Alex, and J’onn are a testament to the chemistry of the main cast and a reminder of the long history they have together. After some hilarious comedy about the stomach-churning stress of getting all his pre-Crisis memories back, Winn even delivers a sweet shout-out to his old buddy James. (“James runs a small town newspaper and mentors small children? That’s adorable!”)

One of the big themes of “Back From The Future—Part One” is legacy. Evil Winslow is trying to avenge the legacy of his father, while Winn is fighting to save the future legacy of his wife and daughter. Supergirl gets to dig into all that on its brand new Balcony of Deep Thoughts—one that’s located at “The Tower,” the new secret facility J’onn created now that Lex runs the DEO. That’s where Winn forges a lovely bond with Nia based on his future friendship with her descendant Nura Nal. And it’s where Winn opens up to Kara about the experience of being a parent and how it’s changed the stakes of fighting for a better future. This episode takes on even more resonance if you know that Jordan himself became a father just last year.

Photo: Supergirl (The CW)
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The character who’s most conflicted about his legacy is Brainy, who’s struggling to find himself after removing his personality inhibiters and following Lady Brainy’s advice to maintain the utmost secrecy while teaming up with Lex as part of a larger anti-Leviathan plan. Brainy’s distanced himself from his Super Friends, which is never a good sign on this show. At the moment, however, I’m slightly confused as to exactly what’s going on in Brainy’s head. For instance, is his claim that he now runs solely on logic a genuine result of his inhibitor-free personality shift or a cover story to get Lex to trust him?

Also confusing: The scene where Brainy breaks down and confesses to Winn that he’s working with Lex. (Brainy and Lex freed Toyman in order force Winn—and, more importantly, his Legion ship—to return from the future.) Though Winn starts with anger and moves to forgiveness, Jordan plays the scene with such an underlying sense of menace that I genuinely thought we were headed towards a reveal that Toyman had taken his place. Maybe that reveal is still coming (this is only “Part One” after all) or maybe I just misread the scene. (The teaser of a computerized Toyman sure seems to imply the next episode will be headed in a new direction.) Either way, it’s a moment that jarred and added to my confusion over Brainy’s arc.

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Photo: Dean Buscher (The CW)

Elsewhere, “Back From The Future—Part One” continues to clarify the status quo of Supergirl’s post-Crisis world. Though Leviathan haven’t activated Andrea yet, her history otherwise seems to be mostly the same as what we saw in “Confidence Women.” Lena makes faux amends with her erstwhile bestie in order to ensure she and Lex are the first to know about any Leviathan-related rumblings. (Katie McGrath and Julie Gonzalo are both fantastic in this scene.) Meanwhile, Lex searches through the Legion ship’s Memory Cube for info on Leviathan, and then passes the cube over to Lena as a source of Q-Waves for Project Non Nocere. For now, at least, the Luthor siblings’ uneasy but mutually fruitful partnership remains intact.

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Over on the CatCo side of things, “Back From The Future—Part One” doesn’t exactly clarify William’s post-Crisis backstory so much as give the character a clean slate, which is probably for the best. When Lex privately threatens William’s life, Kara’s initial instinct is to dissuade her co-worker from moving forward with his “Lexposé.” Yet some wise words from Winn help her realize that facing danger is part of the life of a hero (superpowered or journalistic), and that the best thing she can do for William is to be there to help him. Though William still isn’t a character who totally works for me, this equal partnership is a far superior starting place than that weird storyline where he was rude to Kara as part of his undercover investigation.

In addition to its solid character beats, “Back From The Future—Part One” also excels with its action. There’s a great opening sequence where Brainy uses his knowledge of physics to crash a prison bus and spring Toyman. And the final “Eye Of The Tiger” fight scene is everything last week’s *NSYNC bar brawl tried and failed to be. In this case, the song choice makes far more sense (the Super Friends are literally fighting Toyman’s giant mechanical tigers) and the sequence has a much clearer corny-cool tone. Harewood also ensures that the sequence prioritizes character as much as stunts, zeroing in on the joy of Nia unlocking new powers or the conflict Brainy feels about his role in creating this whole mess.

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Photo: Dean Buscher (The CW)

After an uneven start to the season, the universe-altering events of Crisis On Infinite Earths have given Supergirl a welcome chance to ditch what wasn’t working and streamline what was. These past two episodes have shown that Jon Cryer’s Lex Luthor can be an ongoing main player without overwhelming the show. (His cheerful sniping with Kara at Toy Con is a huge episode highlight.) And this episode in particular proves that Supergirl can deliver strong character-centric writing when it puts its mind to it. “Back From The Future—Part One” is the sort of episode that looks so effortless, you don’t quite realize just how much it’s actually pulling off. Winn may not be able to stick around forever, but his return is a lovely way to get Supergirl back on track.

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Stay observations

  • Supergirl is off for the next two weeks, so enjoy the Super Bowl and the Oscars and I’ll see you back here on February 16th!
  • I’m incredibly impressed by the way this episode is able to make Winn and Nura’s friendship feel real and lived-in, just by how lovingly Winn talks about her. Some of that is down to Jordan’s performance, but Dana Horgan & Katie Rose Rogers also do phenomenal character building throughout their script.
  • William gets a coveted game night invite, partly out of sandwich-related pity.
  • Winn’s also at game night, as he’ll be sticking around for the next two episodes. To disguise his now infamous face, he borrows a pair of Kara’s glasses and poses as “Marty.” (A nice little nod to Marty McFly.)
  • I laugh every single time William mentions The Times Of London.
  • With the introduction of The Tower and its cool superhero call signals, Supergirl moves one step closer to finally dropping the DEO entirely.
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Contributor, The A.V. Club. Caroline Siede is a pop culture critic in Chicago, where the cold never bothers her anyway. Her interests include superhero movies, feminist theory, and Jane Austen novels.

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