Photo: Supergirl (The CW)

Chris Wood is an insanely charismatic actor. He has the uncanny ability to take a throwaway line and turn it into a delightful one-liner. And though I’m not sure he has the emotional range of Melissa Benoist, Chyler Leigh, or Jeremy Jordan, if there were an Oscar for charisma, he would rightly be in the running for it. But Chris Wood’s inherent likability is separate from a question I’ve been asking myself about this season of Supergirl: Is Mon-El a good character? I’ve been on the fence for a while, but after watching “Distant Sun,” I’ve finally decided that the answer is no.

Or rather, Mon-El is not a character worthy of as much time as Supergirl has given him this season. Supergirl has always been an ensemble series that lets different characters take prominence in different episodes, but Mon-El has gotten far more than his fair share of screentime this season. And rather than use him as a lens through which to explore Kara (a frequent role of a superhero love interest), the writers just like to focus on Mon-El full stop, especially in episodes like “Mr. & Mrs. Mxyzptlk” and “Homecoming.” He’s not only filled the hole left by Cat Grant, but sometimes pushed into the narrative place of James, Alex, and J’onn too. In fact, at times it feels like Mon-El is a co-lead of the series.

I don’t think the rise of Mon-El comes from a malicious place in the writer’s room, although it does have the unfortunate side effect of centering a white male lead in a show that used to focus on women and feature an interracial relationship. If I had to make a guess as to why Mon-El has become such a focus, I would wager that after spending a whole season writing for their main ensemble, crafting stories for a new character is a much easier source of creativity for the writers. And, again, the charm Wood can bring to an episode no doubt makes the writers want to favor him as well. But his exaggerated importance this season has thrown off Supergirl’s equilibrium. And that’s once again apparent in “Distant Sun.”

Anyone who missed the delightful The Flash musical crossover episode (and especially anyone binging this show in the future on Netflix) will likely be confused to see Kara and Mon-El in relationship bliss after their major falling out last week. But after a trip to a mental musical universe, Kara and Mon-El are happier than ever. Instead the drama of the episode stems from Mon-El’s parents, who are still hanging out in Earth’s orbit hoping their son will change his mind and join them on their mission to make Daxam great again. And when that doesn’t seem to be in the cards, they’re happy to coerce him into joining them instead.

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Whatever nuance and humanity the show seemed to find in Queen Rhea last week goes out the window as she transforms into the most moustache twirling of villains. Her plan to get her son back is to brutally murder his girlfriend in front of him, which seems like a terrible way to bring him to her side. And later she has no qualms about locking her son in a cell for their four-year journey after he dares to express an independent thought, so I guess she cares more about Mon-El physically being in her life than actually liking her. Teri Hatcher really commits to the over-the-top villainy, but Rhea’s obvious deviousness robs the episode of any emotional resonance it might have had. Rather than have Mon-El feel torn between his duty to his people and his love for Kara, it’s just an episode about escaping the clutches of an evil supervillain.

The first half of “Distant Sun” has some fun with the idea of an intergalactic bounty being place on Kara’s head. There’s a great fight between Kara and a mind-controlled Mon-El, which mines its tension from the fact that neither actually wants to hurt the other (although it seems like Kara could’ve just flown out of his reach since I’m pretty sure Mon-El can’t fly). But once Rhea and Lar Gand (or Lard Na as I keep calling him in my head) show up, the episode devolves into yet another Mon-El-centric outing. And while Mon-El’s party-boy-turned-hero schtick works well enough for a supporting player, he’s just not as deep of a character as the show seems to think he is.

It also doesn’t help that “Distant Sun” features some of the clunkiest dialogue this show has had in a while. The amount of vague platitudes spoken here feels like a throwback to the cheesy dialogue that characterized the first half of season one. And that carries over into one of the weirdest B-plots in Supergirl history: Alex becoming absolutely obsessed with Maggie reconnecting with her ex. The climactic scene in which Alex tells Maggie she doesn’t need to hide her imperfections is sweet, but the plot surrounding it is absolutely nonsensical. Not only does Alex set up and attend a dinner between Maggie and her ex, she also goes to said ex’s hotel to chastise her for not showing up. It’s so far beyond the bounds of normal human behavior that it’s hard to tell what to make of it, but at least it’s not the artificial source of any Maggie/Alex friction.

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Other than a fun moment in which J’onn disguises himself as Kara as a way to distract Rhea and her Kyrptonite blades, the episode’s final fight feels like it’s just going through the motions. Once it’s clear just how evil Rhea is, there’s no danger that Mon-El will decide to return to Daxam of his own volition. And for a story about some pretty extreme familial betrayal, “Distant Sun” is oddly emotionless. Mon-El, Rhea, and Lar Gand feel more like polite acquaintances than they do an actual family. To its credit, “Distant Sun” tries to use Mon-El’s familial woes as a way to explore Kara’s character. But the platitudes she calls up about people’s capacity for change just aren’t all that interesting.

Though I initially thought this episode might be setting up his exit, “Distant Sun” ends with Kara and Mon-El reaffirming their love for one another. Mon-El, it seems, it here to stay. And that’s fine! There’s definitely a place for Mon-El—and especially for Chris Wood’s charms—on Supergirl. But perhaps that place doesn’t have to be at the center of the series quite so often.

Stray observations

  • If you only watch one number from the Flash/Supergirl musical, make it this one. (But really you should watch the whole thing because it’s delightful.)

  • Kevin Smith directed this episode and it (coincidentally?) featured the return of the portal from “Supergirl Lives,” which is the last Supergirl episode he directed.
  • There was some noticeably bad fight choreography and/or editing going on in that opening battle with the Rhino alien. There were a couple moments where it was really obvious Kara wasn’t actually landing her punches.
  • I assumed the previous episode downplayed Kevin Sorbo because he couldn’t handle the acting, but I actually thought he turned in quite a nice performance this week. Rest in peace Lar Gand.
  • I was very tickled by the look of pure joy that appeared on Jeremy Jordan’s face when Mon-El made a Star Wars reference.
  • President Wonder Woman is back via Skype. Also she’s an alien. Make of that what you will.

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Next week: Supergirl is randomly taking the next three weeks off, but the show will return on April 24. To tide you over until then, here’s David Harewood doing a “cartwheel draw.”