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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Illustration for article titled A post-iCrisis Supergirl/i resets its universe
Photo: Diyah Pera (The CW)
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In the past, the Arrowverse’s big crossover events were self-contained enough that you could pretty much skip them and still follow along with Supergirl’s storytelling just fine. That’s very much not the case for Crisis On Infinite Earths, an event that rewrote the fundamental worldbuilding of the Arrowverse moving forward. If tonight’s Batwoman is an indication, all of the CW superhero shows are going to feel some after effects from condensing multiple Earths into one. But by the very nature of its setup, Supergirl was always going to feel that shift the most. After all, a big reason for even going through the rigmarole of the Crisis storyline was to rewrite the hiccup that saw Supergirl set on a different Earth because the show initially debuted on CBS.

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So, yes, as was established in the Crisis finale, Earth-38 (a.k.a. the Supergirl universe), Earth-1 (a.k.a. the Arrow, Flash, Legends Of Tomorrow, and Batwoman universe), and the unnumbered Black Lightning Earth have now combined into Earth Prime. Save for the select few people who’ve had their memories restored (namely all of our main characters), the rest of the world thinks this merged reality is how it’s always been. And in this world, it’s perfectly normal to see the Flash team up with Supergirl or to watch hailed humanitarian Lex Luthor accept the Nobel Peace Prize.

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The Luthor wrinkle is by far the biggest, most unexpected twist to come out of Crisis On Infinite Earths. It indicates that far from viewing the Crisis compression as a retcon to rush past, the Supergirl writes intend to use it as a major storytelling engine going forward. Not only is Lex alive and beloved, LuthorCorp owns the DEO, which means Lex and Lena are Kara and Alex’s direct bosses. The cheesy DEO commercial that kickstarts the episode is the perfect surreal intro to the new world where Supergirl and the Luthors happily stand side-by-side. As Kara puts it (after asking someone to gag her with a spoon), “This is literally my nightmare.” For those of us who’ve enjoyed Jon Cryer’s take on Lex, however, it’s kind of a dream come true.

Around its margins, “The Bottle Episode” is focused on getting our main heroes to a point where it makes sense that they’d be willing to work with Lex, rather than immediately attempt to overthrow him. Lex pitches Alex and Kara on the idea of privately playing a game of chess rather than publicly waging war on one another. Though Alex has her ethical doubts, J’onn encourages her to do the most good, rather than try to follow any strict moral guidelines. For now, that means the Danvers sisters seem to begrudgingly agree to Lex’s terms.

Also begrudgingly agreeing to Lex’s terms is Lena, who spends most of this episode deciding whether she wants to partner with the best friend who betrayed her or the brother she murdered for betraying her. Interestingly, part of Lex’s deal with The Monitor involved bringing Lena back with her memories intact. Under the influence of a truth seeker he admits that after experiencing death he doesn’t want to be alone anymore, even if he’ll absolutely turn on Lena whenever their partnership becomes an inconvenience. Though Lena was initially leaning towards working with Kara (a fascinating insight!), a push from her newly petal-pink mom encourages her to partner with the devil she’s known longer. Of course, that’s just part of Lillian’s own plan to get on Lex’s good side.

As Lex successfully fortifies his power, “The Bottle Episode” reassures viewers that this season doesn’t plan to drop the Obsidian North, William Dey, Non Nocere, or Leviathan throughlines, even if some of them might look pretty different moving forward. (See the Stray Observations for more on all that.) But in a move that screams “you were the only actor who wasn’t busy filming Crisis,” the big reintroduction to Supergirl’s new world is, of all things, a Brainy episode. Or, more accurately, a Brainy, Brainy, Brainy, Brainy, and Brainy episode.

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The storyline starts out strong enough, with some kind of glitch in the Matrix resulting in an abundance of Brainiac-5s running around National City. In addition to our Brainy Prime, there’s a yellow-belt-wearing Brainy, a Punk Brainy, a Lady Brainy (Jesse Rath’s real-life sister Meaghan Rath), and a Doomed Brainy who dies just in time to let us know that danger is afoot. The DEO team soon figure out that Al’s newly swankified bar somehow became a wormhole hub for the “orphans” left behind when their planets winked out of existence. In addition to the Brainiacs, those orphans include less evil versions of the Kryptonian witches who tried to terraform the Earth for Reign at the end of season three (a storyline I’d mostly tried to block out) and a duplicate of Al, who takes the whole thing in stride.

Illustration for article titled A post-iCrisis Supergirl/i resets its universe
Photo: Dean Buscher (The CW)
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Admittedly, the set-up sort of contradicts what we were told in the Crisis finale. That episode confirmed that the multiverse still exists, Oliver Queen just steered the reboot of the universe so that the CW-related Earths evolved as one planet. I can certainly buy that the reset somehow resulted in some extra orphaned doppelgängers running about, but it’s strange that this episode keeps stating that the multiverse no longer exists when we were explicitly told that it does.

But the real problem isn’t potential continuity errors, it’s that Brainy’s multifaceted, multi-charactered emotional journey is an odd anchor for this game-changing episode of Supergirl. Though it’s initially a whole lot of fun to watch Rath play all these different versions of the character (Yellow Belt Brainy, in particular, is a blast), the storyline falls apart as we’re asked to invest in the dark story of Punk Brainy (a.k.a. Evil Brainy), who bottled his world and its 7 million inhabitants before it could be destroyed. From that point on, “The Bottle Episode” can’t decide if it wants to be a goofy romp (i.e. the bar fight set to *NSYNC “It’s Gonna Be Me”) or a serious character piece (i.e. all the pathos about the Coluan practice of bottling worlds). So it winds up splitting the difference in an unsatisfying way.

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Our Brainy ultimately decides to take off his personality inhibitors (a.k.a. the three dots on his forehead) and embrace the “Big Brain” of the Colu as well as a natural green form that’s closer to his classic comic book look. For fans who’ve been longing to see a more comics accurate version of Brainy, I’m sure this moment was a huge thrill. For everyone else, it’s just weightless exposition on top of weightless exposition. (We learn that Brainy’s dad put the personality inhibitors on him as a kid after worrying his son would inherit his mother’s vengeful ruthlessness.)

After that, the episode just kind of peters out as the extra Brainys and those Kryptonian witches are dispatched fairly unceremoniously. Even worse, “The Bottle Episode” ends with a big twist wherein Brainy must break up with Nia in order to follow Lady Brainy’s advice about getting close to Lex and avoiding the Leviathan-related mishap that took place on her Earth. (Never mind that she just told him how valuable her own romantic relationship was to her uninhibited life!) The dramatic breakup would be a more meaningful shift to the status quo if it didn’t feel like Nia and Brainy have been splitting up and getting back together every other episode for the past season and a half.

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The eventual Brainy/Lex team-up is yet one more way in which Lex firmly worms his way into the show’s world, even if, in this case, it seems like Brainy is playing a long game against him. All things considered, “The Bottle Episode” is a bit of an awkward throat clear between Crisis On Infinite Earths and Supergirl’s new future. Still, there’s plenty to be excited about. Especially when the episode ends by teasing the return of our very own (or is he?) Winn Schott!


Stray observations

  • If you’re looking for The A.V. Club’s reviews of Crisis On Infinite Earth, here’s Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, and Part Five. In terms of Supergirl-related fallout, Argo City was restored and Lois and Clark now have not one but two sons—something that will presumably be explored on their spinoff TV show.
  • Though no one can find any trace of Leviathan in this new reality, Cara Buono (a.k.a. Leviathan’s Gamemnae) is introduced as Andrea Rojas’ former college mentor and current Obsidian board member, Gemma Cooper. She encourages Andrea to turn her VR tech into a Ready Player One-style full-on virtual universe.
  • Instead of investigating Andrea, this new version of William Dey took a job at CatCo hoping to spy on LuthorCorp. He doesn’t trust the Luthors, who he suspects had a hand in murdering his friend Russell Rogers. (R.I.P. in any universe, I guess.)
  • I know Kara is the Paragon of Hope, but just automatically assuming that love will be enough to keep an uninhibited Brainy in line makes her seem more like the Paragon of Recklessness. Shouldn’t she at least look into how Coluan psychology works?
  • It sort of feels like the whole bottled universe storyline was just an excuse to call this episode “The Bottle Episode.” Admittedly, it is a great title.
  • As part of his team-up with Lena, Lex hilariously agrees to commit “no unnecessary homicides.”
  • Tonight’s episode of Batwoman featured the titular heroine coming out as gay in a CatCo article written by Kara Danvers.
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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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