Photo: Supergirl (CBS)

How would Krypton’s last daughter spend her final hours on Earth? That’s the most interesting question lurking at the heart of this uneven season finale. Kara Zo El’s journey towards becoming Supergirl began the moment her parents forced her into space to survive the destruction of her home world. Tonight Supergirl returns to the cosmos of her own volition, this time to sacrifice her life to save her adoptive home world from similar destruction.

Naturally, of course, Supergirl doesn’t actually wind up dead (the show bears her name, after all), but she does get a chance to prove her mettle on a global scale. With Superman conveniently incapacitated during Earth’s time of need, it’s up to Kara to save not only National City but the entire human race. When this season began, Kara was struggling to figure out the basics of superheroing. Tonight she proves she’s the hero Earth both needs and deserves.

Ask yourself one thing Kara: What would Perdy Hapley do?

Given how uneven this first season of Supergirl has been, it only feels appropriate to end with a choppy finale. “Better Angels” has plenty of interesting ideas, strong character work, and genuinely emotional beats, but it weaves them together with an inelegance that’s been a hallmark of this freshmen series. This episode—like most of season—isn’t greater than the sum of its parts. In fact, it feels more like a collection of fascinating, frustrating moments than it does one streamlined story.

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As it’s done a few times before, Supergirl introduces a high-stakes cliffhanger one week only to resolve it as quickly as possible the next. I’m fine with the show engaging in some goofy, sentimental comic book logic now and again, but it needs to at least be internally consistent with how it presents this stuff. Last week, Myriad was an unstoppable mental force that allowed Non to control every person in National City. This week it’s a device that blocks optimism and can be fairly easily overcome with a little discussion of hope.

So that means Alex is freed from Myriad’s spell as soon as she thinks about her father (I guess almost killing Kara wasn’t enough to jar her senses?) and Supergirl’s impassioned televised plea ends Myriad’s hold on the entire city with minimal fuss. It’s not a very satisfying thwarting of Non’s plan, especially because Kara made similar pleas to both Winn and James in person last week. Why was that not enough to snap them out of Myriad but her TV monologue insistently does the trick? In isolation the monologue is a lovely encapsulation of Supergirl’s strong thematic through-line that hope and empathy are more powerful than brute force. In context, however, it leads to some disjointed storytelling.

In trying to both resolve last week’s cliffhanger and tell an even more climatic story this week, Supergirl bites off more than it can chew. And the show has to make several big logic jumps—not to mention some tonal ones—to fit everything into the episode’s run time. That means Hank allows himself to be put back in DEO custody despite the fact that he was just on the run from them. And everyone at the DEO is remarkably calm about the news that Indigo and Uncle Non-Descript are going wipe out humanity in four hours with a revamped version of Myriad. In fact, Lucy and Alex tell Maxwell Lord to handle it while they run off to deal with an issue in the armory. It’s hard to imagine a problem that could be bigger than the complete destruction of all mankind, but you know, you do you, ladies.

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The second Myriad threat adds to the stop-start nature of this episode, which bounces between world-ending threats and CatCo character drama a little too frequently. But the time crunch does force Kara to prioritize how she wants to spend her final few hours on Earth before setting off on what she assumes will be a suicide mission. Having missed the opportunity for proper goodbyes when she left Krypton, Kara makes sure she says what she needs to say this time around. She reaches out to Winn and Cat with genuine appreciation, tries to protect James from the emotional impact of her death by pushing him away (a subtly selfless act on her part), and refuses to even say goodbye to Alex lest she lose her courage. The one person she does speak openly to is Hank, the only other superpowered protector who can understand her burden.

Alien psuedo dads need forehead kisses too.

After spending the season learning to embrace his Martian form again, Hank (okay, J’onn J’onzz) winds up serving as Kara’s backup for her final confrontation with Non and Indigo. Like the earlier fight with Alex, there’s a visceral quality to this action sequence that serves the show well. Hank even tears Indigo in half while she shrieks in pain, which is a shockingly dark visual for such a family-friendly show. And Kara defeats Non in an emotional laser eye battle that looks suspiciously like a Harry Potter duel. The whole thing is over a little too quickly and a little too easily considering how much time we’ve spent with these villains (pretty convenient that their army was taking a nap, huh?), but it’s clear the show is saving its budget for its final setpiece.

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The image of Kara flying Fort Rozz into space looks fantastic and is unlike anything the show has done so far. And it carries even more weight than the Non/Indigo battle because it comes on the heels of her emotional goodbye to Alex. The show initially positioned Kara and Alex’s relationship at its heart and while their sisterhood has occasionally taken a backseat to Kara’s relationship with Cat, it feels right to center this climax on their bond. While the shot of Alex piloting Kara’s Kryptonian pod looked a little silly, the episode at least knows to cut away from it pretty quickly and spend more time with the beautiful imagery of Kara floating in space.

For all this season’s flaws—and there are a lot of them—“Better Angels” highlights just how far Supergirl has come over the course of the past 20 episodes. Alex and Kara’s relationship has deepened since they’ve become more honest with one another. Hank and Cat have gone from one-note authority figures to the show’s two most compelling supporting players. And they both get moments to shine here, particularly as Cat gives Kara a rather nebulous promotion and finally gets her name right. Though Melissa Benoist has been a pitch-perfect Supergirl since the beginning, her performance has only improved as she’s settled into the role. And if the show has never quite had a handle on its romantic subplots, I remain impressed by how it transitioned Winn from love interest to friend. Plus there’s a chemistry to James and Kara’s final kiss that has me intrigued to see how their relationship would actually unfold, despite the fact that I was pretty neutral on it beforehand.

The show still has a long way to go before it reaches a comfortable level of consistency, but it’s steadily improved ever since it realized that presenting a complex female superhero is far more impactful than awkwardly inserting feminist talking points. And in terms of feminism, it’s worth pointing out that Supergirl’s first season has consistently put female relationships front and center, more so than Agent Carter or Jessica Jones ever did. Given how often female protagonists exist in a male dominated world (I’m looking at you Star Wars: Rogue One), the extended focus on Kara’s relationships with Alex, Cat, Lucy, Alura, and Astra is a pretty big deal.

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Though the show has struggled—and at times outright failed—to live up to its potential, Supergirl’s first season has been incredibly smart about how it uses themes of optimism, inspiring heroism, and female friendship. And episodes like “Strange Visitor from Another Planet,” “Worlds Finest,” and especially “Human For A Day” and “Falling” prove that when Supergirl gets its act together, it can really soar. Let’s hope it gets a chance to do so again in a second season.

Stray observations

  • Kara’s “champagne trick” is a nice little nod to Superman II.
  • I’m 99% sure Kara’s hair shouldn’t be blowing in the breeze in the middle of outer space.
  • I can’t really explain why, but I immediately burst into tears when Kara told Alex, “I need you to promise me that when you find Jeremiah you’ll tell him that I never stopped wearing the glasses.”
  • Supergirl’s eyeliner is on point this week.
  • Cat’s advice to “reject the latte and take the green juice” seems like the opposite of carpe diem to me.
  • I’m fine with the fact that unlike in most versions of Superman, this show’s Kyrptonians can’t survive in outer space. But if that’s the case, the show probably shouldn’t have used the excuse that Superman was “off world” last week. Does he have his own spaceship he regularly travels in?
  • The DEO has been on the hunt for a group of Fort Rozz escapees and they never thought they might be, I don’t know, IN FORT ROZZ?!? Maybe General Lane was right to hate them…
  • I’m looking forward to hearing all your theories on just what is inside that crashed Kryptonian pod. My personal hope is that it’s Perd Hapley. #PerdsInThePod
  • Thanks for following along this season! I’ve really enjoyed discussing this show in both these reviews and the comments section. If you’d like to discuss more superhero stuff before Supergirl (hopefully!) returns for a second season, you can find me on Twitter.

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