Photo: Supergirl (The CW)

In its first season, Supergirl was a show about a young, inexperienced superhero balancing the demands of her double life. Despite some wonky characterizations and a lot of unsubtle feminism, the show had a clear sense of the story it was trying to tell, and that only grew stronger as the season went along. Though season two started with a bang and has in some ways improved upon the weak spots of the first, it’s becoming clear that Supergirl has lost the strong central focus that once propelled it. It’s gone from a show about a superhero/aspiring career woman finding her feet to a show about, well, I’m not really sure to be honest. Aliens fitting into society? Kara training a protégé? The dangers of vigilante justice? Kara becoming a full-fledged reporter? The importance of putting aside prejudice to find love? All of those themes and more have been raised this season, but the lack of a central focus has left Supergirl’s sophomore outing feeling entertaining but unmoored.

I almost feel bad coming down harshly on “Mr. & Mrs. Mxyzptlk,” which is one of the more fun and original episodes in Supergirl’s run. Once Upon A Time In Wonderland’s Peter Gadiot relishes the chance to play a fifth dimensional imp named Mr. Mxyzptlk (Mxy if you’re nasty) who’s hellbent on marrying Kara Zor-El. His nearly infinite set of powers gives the show a whole new visual sandbox to play in. And the episode maintains a cheesy-but-charming tone that feels like a throwback to some of the more comedic episodes of Buffy The Vampire Slayer or Star Trek. But while there’s a lot to like around the edges of “Mr. & Mrs. Mxyzptlk,” the episode unfortunately layers all that charm on top of a core that just can’t sustain it: Mon-El and his man problems.

When Mxy crashes Kara and Mon-El’s first kiss with an over-the-top (and Aladdin-themed) attempt to woo Kara, Mon-El is thrown into a panic. He becomes convinced that Kara will be won over by Mxy’s powers and falls into a petulant sulk. And fueled by jealousy and a fear of losing Kara, Mon-El regresses back to his worst macho posturing impulses.

To be fair, Supergirl knows that Mon-El is in the wrong. Kara openly calls him out on his condescension and paternalism. But, unfortunately, the episode doesn’t quite realize the extent to which Mon-El is in the wrong. His adamant belief that Kara will be won over by Mxy is the equivalent of assuming an unsolicited dick pic is going to lure your girlfriend away from you. It’s an insane thing to think and a clear indication that Mon-El doesn’t actually know Kara as well as he thinks he does, especially given how often he directly disobeys her request not to get involved. But rather than sell his regression as a comedic overreaction, the episode tries to make it work as a real emotional beat. We’re supposed to genuinely feel for Mon-El as he apologies to Kara with tears in his eyes. The problem is I just don’t want to be rooting for the guy who lashes out at his girlfriend for receiving unsolicited dick pics and then hunts down the dick pic-sender to literally murder him in a duel. That doesn’t make for a sympathetic or likable romantic hero, which is clearly what Supergirl wants Mon-El to be.

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The other problem is that Supergirl already explored the “Mon-El needs to learn to trust and respect Kara” story just a few episodes ago in “We Can Be Heroes.” It’s fine for Mon-El to be a flawed character, but having him repeat the same flaws over and over again just makes him seem like an unworthy match for Kara. Other than just straight-up wanting to jump his bones (which, fair), it’s unclear what Kara actually sees in Mon-El, a man who has repeatedly undermined and insulted her (in this episode he directly states that she’s not a good judge of what she can handle). And given that her breakup with James at the beginning of the season was so poorly motivated, the collective weight of Kara’s relationship problems is starting to make her seem flighty and shallow.

In contrast to the repetitive Mon-El/Kara storyline, the Alex/Maggie one proves the Supergirl writers do know how to write conflict while also letting relationships evolve. After exploring Alex’s romantic issues in previous episodes, we finally see a chink in Maggie’s armor for the first time too. She reveals that her coming out wasn’t as smooth as she claimed it was. Her parents kicked her out of the house after learning she had invited another girl to her school’s Valentine’s Day dance. And that soured Maggie on the holiday altogether, something that disappoints Alex, who had been looking forward to celebrating with a loving partner for the first time. In the end, both Alex and Maggie learn a lesson about the importance of compromising and listening in a relationship, and they throw a Valentine’s Day themed prom that makes up for both of their imperfect past experiences.

True, the Valentine’s Day woes of #Sanvers isn’t the most riveting story in Supergirl’s history. But it at least explores a new facet of Maggie and Alex’s relationship and allows both women to act like mature adults in the end (even if they do so in a high school setting). In contrast, Supergirl hits the reset button on the Kara/Mon-El relationship just to get in a few more scenes of sparky Chris Wood/Melissa Benoist banter before pairing them up again. The show sacrifices long-term goals for short term pleasures, which is another sign that Supergirl’s second season has lost its focus.

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Yet as I mentioned above, I’d be lying if I said “Mr. & Mrs. Mxyzptlk” wasn’t a fun episode to watch on a scene-to-scene basis. It introduces one of the most memorable antagonists in Supergirl history and even manages to stage a funny but tense duel on the Hamilton stage, of all places (albeit with some inaccurate set pieces). The final Fortress Of Solitude showdown offers the great visual of Kara battling a giant ice sculpture of her uncle and allows our heroine of steel to save the day in a way we’ve never seen before: with intelligence, acting skills, and a Kryptonian keyboard.

It seems like every week I take a “some was good, some was bad” approach to my Supergirl review. And while, sure, that could speak to my indecisiveness as a reviewer, I think it also speaks to the patchwork nature of Supergirl’s second season. At its best, the cast make the material feel more cohesive than it is by sheer force of will. But this time around, not even Chris Wood’s herculean charms can save the inherent problems in Mon-El’s characterization. Hopefully putting a (seemingly) definitive answer on the Kara/Mon-El “will-they-won’t-they” will allow the show to find a central focus for both Supergirls leading lady and its second season.

Stray observations

  • Elsewhere, Winn starts wooing an alien who looks suspiciously like one of the vampires from Buffy. Plus apparently aliens are now just openly going on dinner dates in National City?
  • This episode seems like it would’ve played better a few days before Valentine’s Day rather than a few days after it…
  • Using his powers, Mr. Mxyzptlk turns some guns against their owners and then claims he got the idea from a movie. I’m 99 percent sure that movie is X-Men, which means Fox’s X-Men franchise exists in the Supergirl universe.
  • Melissa Benoist looked stunning in that wedding dress.
  • So this is a really specific pull, but in addition to his Q-like powers, Mr. Mxyzptlk also really reminded me of the marriage-obsessed Wolf from the 2000 fairy tale miniseries The 10th Kingdom. Anyone else get that vibe too? Anyone? Bueller?
  • “What kind of stuff does Maggie like?” “I don’t know. Guns?”

Next week: Dean Cain Returns!

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