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Sci-fi and fantasy make awkward bedfellows in Supergirl’s penultimate episode

Illustration for article titled Sci-fi and fantasy make awkward bedfellows in iSupergirl/i’s penultimate episodeem/em
Photo: Diyah Pera (The CW)
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Sci-fi and fantasy are both difficult genres to get right. Genre worldbuilding doesn’t always need to make complete logical sense, but it requires conviction on the part of the creators so that the audience can invest in the world with equal conviction. Misjudge the tone or the execution, and it’s easy for sci-fi and fantasy to feel weightless or nonsensical, especially if you combine them in haphazard ways. Supergirl has always been a show with sci-fi connections, but the show’s third season has pushed that even further while also increasing the fantasy elements as well. What started as a character-driven superhero procedural has become a planet-hopping sci-fi/fantasy epic with a sprawling ensemble. And it would be fair to say this season has had some growing pains as it’s steered the ship in that fantastical direction.

“Make It Reign” is about three evil Kryptonian witches who arrive on Earth to revive Reign’s splintered spirit in order to terraform the planet and transform it into New Krypton. Elsewhere, Kara and Mon-El try to transmat their way across the universe, Alex and Kara science the shit out of Sam’s deteriorating health, and J’onn and his dad begin a Martian memory transfer ceremony that will serve as the beginning of M’yrnn’s death (I think). It’s a lot for one episode to handle, especially given how many of those storylines are late-season additions. And even moments that are paying off season-long arcs—like J’onn and M’rynn’s mind meld—feel rushed. Sure, we’ve known about M’yrnn’s memory issues for a while now, but the idea of “The Reach” itself was only introduced last week.


Still, “Make It Reign” is a stronger episode than last week’s “Not Kansas,” if only because it has a handful of moments that are genuinely compelling. The Daughter of Jerru’s initial attack on the DEO is impressively cinematic. And though I remain frustrated at how often Supergirl falls back on hand-to-hand combat despite featuring aliens heroes with a diverse set of powers, action scenes remain the one place where Supergirl feels the most comfortable and confident these days. Plus I’ll gladly watch Alex jump-kick some Kryptonian witches any day of the week.

But apart from that exhilarating fight sequence (which also features the death of Agent Demos, RIP), “Make It Reign” struggles with the same problems that have plagued the latter half of Supergirl’s third season: The show feels like it’s making up its plot as it goes along. Take, for instance, the bizarre moment in which Selena’s booby-trapped home explodes, but somehow only Thara is injured. Plenty of stories rely on plot contrivances when they need to move things along, but in this case Supergirl doesn’t even have the energy to pretend that explosion is anything other than a plot contrivance. It just sort of happens and then it’s over.

In fact, “it just sort of happens and then it’s over” could describe pretty much everything that takes place on Argo City in this episode. Plot demands dictate that Kara and Mon-El can’t get back to Earth before all the proper Reign plot mechanics are in place. But rather than use that extra time to deepen its characters, the episode gets lost in expositional technobabble about crystals and beacons and portals. You’d think Kara—whose season-long character arc has been about figuring out where she belongs—would have some kind of emotional reaction to the fact that just days after deciding to leave Earth, everyone she loves there is in mortal peril. But instead there’s a bizarre lack of urgency to everything on Argo City. In fact, Kara, Mon-El, and Alura even have time to chitchat about Kara and Mon-El’s ongoing relationship drama.

Thankfully, the DEO/L-Corp portions of the episode are somewhat stronger. There’s plenty of sci-fi mumbo jumbo in Lena and Alex’s research into Sam’s rapidly deteriorating health, but at least that dilemma has comprehensible stakes and is rooted in character. Lena and Alex are determined to do everything they can to help their friend. Meanwhile, Sam is determined to fight off Reign in order to protect her daughter. Even if it’s plagued by too much technobabble and an imperfect blend of sci-fi and fantasy (I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to accept that the “Dark Valley” as a literal place rather than a metaphorical representation of Sam’s subconscious), I at least understand the emotional heart of what the storyline is getting at.


M’yrnn and J’onn’s storyline also mostly works on an emotional level. I found M’yrnn’s goodbye to Alex really moving (“You would have made an excellent Green Martian”). And there’s something unexpected but understandable in the relief and comfort M’yrnn clearly feels at being able to preserve his memories and control the manner of his death—things he thought he’d be denied as a White Martian prisoner. Unfortunately, the storyline suffers from being crammed into such a jam-packed episode. Supergirl is clearly hellbent on having every single one of this season’s storylines converge in its finale (including the DEO’s new non-lethal weapons, a concept introduced just last week!). But that “quantity over quality” approach hurts the richness that could’ve been drawn from this J’onn/M’yrnn storyline if it were given more time to breathe.

Elsewhere, “Make It Reign” most struggles to blend its sci-fi and fantasy elements with Selena and her fellow Dark Kryptonians. I think Supergirl is taking a Thor approach to the idea that science and magic are just two different ways to describe the same ideas. But it feels strange to have an episode in which Lena runs a detailed analysis of Sam’s white blood cells also be an episode where Reign can be “reborn” as an entity separate from Sam yet somehow also still connected to her. The visuals of Reign’s fiery rebirth are cool, but there’s also something frustratingly intangible about all this Worldkiller stuff. Again, it’s hard to invest in the stakes when it feels like Supergirl is making up the rules as it goes along.


Given just how many storylines this episode leaves hanging, I’m worried we’re in for a similarly overstuffed finale. But since a version of Superman once claimed the “S” on his chest stood for “hope,” here’s hoping the Supergirl finale miraculously sticks the landing.

Stray observations

  • I love that this episode officially introduces Selena and her crew as the “Daughters of Juru” but eventually gives up and just starts calling them “Dark Kryptonians.”
  • Maybe Kara shouldn’t have cockily thrown Pestilence and Purity’s blood to Selena if she wasn’t 100 percent sure she could destroy it midair?
  • I think it’s meant to serve as a testament to their friendship, but James definitely should have warned National City about an impending Kryptonian attack before going to cheer up Winn.
  • Since the show clearly can’t or won’t bring back Tyler Hoechlin as Superman, I can’t decide if it’s better for Supergirl to just pretend Superman doesn’t exist (as it seems to be doing now) or if I’d prefer a convoluted handwave about why he can’t help save the world.
  • I’m confused how we got from “Kryptonite and guns are both unequivocally evil” to “Alex has a super cool gun that fires Kryptonite bullets!” Is that considered a “non-lethal” DEO weapon? Surely it could kill a human, right?
  • In addition to killing off Agent Demos, this episode also seems to kill off Thomas Coville too. Kudos to both Curtis Lum and Chad Lowe for their work on the series.

Next week: It’s time for the Supergirl third season finale!

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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