Photo: Supergirl (CBS)

Watching Supergirl often feels like watching a really good high school play: Sure the production values aren’t quite there, the student director doesn’t fully have a handle on the play’s tone, and the cast are either chewing the scenery or swallowing their lines, but on the other hand, one or two actors are legitimately great and there’s so much damn conviction to the whole thing that it’s hard not to get swept away by its infectious energy. At least that’s how I’m able to rationalize the fact that I like Supergirl probably a little more than it deserves. It seldom fully succeeds at what it’s trying to do, but like that high school production, you have to admire its commitment.

In keeping with that theme, “Myriad” is simultaneously totally bonkers and really boring, which is actually a fairly impressive combination if you think about it. This is an episode that offers nearly half a dozen cringeworthy villain monologues while also making me seriously contemplate the horror of Krypton’s destruction in a way I never have before. Is it great? Is it terrible? No, it’s Supergirl! And like most episodes of this show, “Myriad” is a rollercoaster ride of quality.

“I’m here for the exposition you inexplicably withheld until the penultimate episode.”

The main purpose of “Myriad” is to get as many high-stakes situations into place as possible before next week’s season finale. And for the first 30 minutes or so, the episode does a fairly good job of rearranging the pieces without losing its momentum. Supergirl fights a campy bad guy! She flies to the Fortress of Solitude! Cat steals the show! Superman almost (almost!) gets a close-up! But as the episode moved into its weaker second half, it became clear just how much “Myriad” was pulling its punches to save the real drama for next week.

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As we glimpsed at the tail end of “Worlds Finest,” the entirety of National City is under the control of Myriad, which Kara learns (with remarkably little fuss after half a season of stalling) is a mind-control program that Non and Astra developed to save their home world by forcing all Kryptonians to follow their eco-friendly orders. Though I still don’t understand why Astra didn’t just tell her niece this information earlier, Myriad at least makes a fairly effective threat on which to center the episode. As Non points out (via Winn), he was able to stop all crime in National City in one second while also erasing racial/political divisions and dedicating the entirety of National City’s brainpower to solving the world’s problems. Comic book movies are full of villains whose motivations and goals make very little sense (check out Batman V. Superman and Age Of Ultron for two recent examples), and it’s nice that Non’s master plan is both understandable and even a little appealing on some level, even if it’s also absolutely terrifying.

“Kneel before Non.”

The beginning of the episode is especially effective as Kara is left stranded all alone in a city full of mind-controlled citizens. She’s a hero who works best with a team (as she explained in “Stronger Together”), and isolating her from her friends ups the stakes of the episode immediately. The show even addresses a common fan complaint head-on by having Kara immediately seek out Superman’s help only to discover first that he’s off-world and later that he’s not immune to Myriad because, uh… nature vs. nurture? For a show that wants to acknowledge Superman while not casting him, this is probably the best Supergirl could do, and I appreciate the effort if not the logic of Superman’s Sesame Street-inspired humanity.

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With Superman incapacitated, Kara must craft a make-shift support team out of the only other sentient people left in National City: Cat Grant and Maxwell Lord. Personally I would’ve been all for the idea that Cat is just too strong willed to be mind-controlled, but it turns out she’s unknowingly wearing Lord’s ion blockers (disguised as earrings) because he sensed that shit was about to go down and decided his only priorities were saving himself and saving Cat (I feel you, Lord). They’re an unlikely trio of heroes, which makes it all the more exciting to watch them scramble to take on a seemingly unstoppable threat with very little resources at their disposal.

“Did we just become best friends?”

In addition to a high school thespian troupe, this episode also reminded me of Star Trek, which is another show that frequently used its genre elements to address big ethical questions. While there’s something fascinating about Non’s belief that stripping humanity of their free will is the best way to let the species flourish, the episode doesn’t really allow our heroes empathize with his point of view. Instead the debate centers on how to stop Non. Is it worth sacrificing eight percent of the population with a Kryptonian dust bomb in order to save the rest of National City? Lord says yes and Cat says no, leaving Supergirl caught in the middle. Her mom was once faced with a similar ethical dilemma about how best to help her planet, and Kara believes Alura’s passivity is what ultimately led to Krypton’s destruction. Considering how much her mom’s poor judgement cost her and her people, Kara doesn’t want to make the same mistake.

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It’s a great set-up that unfortuantely doesn’t work quite as well in execution. For one thing, Cat, Lord, and Kara spend far too long standing around CatCo chatting before we even get to the morality of the bomb idea. For other, Non’s threatening visit to CatCo doesn’t up the stakes as much as it needs to. (Which would make it more of a Non-threatening situation, I guess.) Again, though, it’s an interesting idea on paper: He orders Winn, James, and a red shirt named Kelly to jump off the CatCo building, forcing Kara to decide which two to save. Unfortuantely, some sloppy editing mostly makes it look like Kara was too lazy to save all three.

The horror of being forced to prioritize the lives of her two best friends over an innocent co-worker should be the thing that sets Kara over the edge and allows her to even consider using the bomb, which is pretty clearly an escalation of a relatively stable situation (National City’s citizens are walking and/or typing, not on the brink of death). But since we know next to nothing about Kelly and the physical brutality of her death is downplayed for the show’s family friend audience, that crucial turning point doesn’t fully land.

Still, however, the ethical conflict at least allows for a scene that proves Supergirl is second to none when it comes to discussions of optimistic heroism. On the show’s trademark “Balcony Of Deep Thoughts,” Cat openly acknowledges how much she’s changed since Supergirl came into her life. The demanding, heartless figure from the pilot has grown into a still demanding but more much compassionate woman. That’s because both Supergirl and Kara have inspired her to approach the world with optimism and hope rather than fear. The balcony conversation is an incredibly touching moment that highlights just how deep the mother/daughter relationship between Cat and Kara has become. And it gives Kara an idea about breaking Myriad using her own form of optimism, although we’ll have to wait until next week to see exactly how that plays out.

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Like the main CatCo plotline, the Alex/Hank stuff starts out pretty engaging (particularly their suspenseful bus ride), but ultimately stalls a bit. They successfully make it out of National City and into Eliza Danvers’ house only to immediately decide they have to return to help Kara. Alex’s refusal to be left behind is a great character moment that’s unfortuantely undone by the episode’s plot mechanics. Almost as soon as they arrive, Indigo is able to incapacitate them because Hank was expending extra energy to protect Alex’s mind. Hank is left for dead while Alex winds up a mind controlled puppet unwittingly battling Kara with a Kryptonite sword. The whole thing makes Alex, Hank, and even Kara look incredibly stupid (why doesn’t she just fly away instead of attacking Alex?!?), which I don’t think is what the episode was going for.

Like much of Supergirl, “Myriad” is an imperfect effort that nevertheless has its heart in the right place. And despite some confusing plotting and a lack of action, “Myriad” does manage to weave together a whole bunch of this season’s characters, plots, and themes, laying the stage for what could be a compelling finale. Let’s just hope next week’s episode aims a little bit higher.

Stray observations

  • The episode opens with the release of Maxima, Queen of the Planet Almerac (the WWE’s Eve Torres), who is potentially the show’s campiest villain yet. Thankfully her fight with Supergirl was fairly exhilarating because it was one of the only action sequences in the episode.
  • If anything, Indigo worked even less well for me here than she did in “Solitude.” I spent most of her scenes with Uncle Non-Descript trying to decide if she would look any better with matte make-up.
  • Is Cat at all worried about what her son is up to while under Kryptonian mind control?
  • I was thrilled that this episode remembered Eliza Danvers is a scientist and had her pepper Hank with questions about his alien DNA. Adorable and nerdy!
  • Speaking of which, I realize I should probably be calling him J’onn, but it feels weird to switch names when we only one review left. Let’s cross that bridge if/when Supergirl is renewed for a second season, okay?
  • Unlike last week’s meta CW joke, this week’s meta Harrison Ford joke was right up my alley.

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