Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Supergirl pushes technobabble to the max

Illustration for article titled iSupergirl /ipushes technobabble to the max
Photo: Sergei Bachlakov (The CW)
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The risk of anchoring a season of Supergirl around the theme of technology is that it’s easy for that concept to get real nebulous real fast. The word I wrote down most in my notes tonight was “sure.” Toyman Jr. used Obsidian lenses to download his consciousness into a laptop? Sure! You can’t destroy the DEO servers or it will melt the power core and destroy all life within a three-mile radius? Sure! The Legion ship has a device that allows Winn to temporarily enter a digital space? Sure! Eating virtual food provides real-world nutrients in the new Obsidian Platinum design? Actually, no, that one I absolutely refuse to accept, but you get what I mean.

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Because Supergirl is playing so far outside our own technological possibilities and because it hasn’t bothered to establish any consistent rules for how all this stuff works (particularly in the post-Crisis reset), there’s a complete lack of stakes to its plotting. It’s a problem that’s plagued many a sci-fi show (Star Trek: Voyager spent multiple seasons solving every goddamn problem with nanoprobes), but even though its main character is an alien, Supergirl has never felt quite as much like a sci-fi show as it does this season. It’s not nearly as natural a fit as last year’s alien rights theme was.

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If you’re willing to just go with all the technobabble goofiness, however (and I mostly am), “Back From The Future–Part Two” is actually a nicely paced little bottle episode with plenty of character-centric two-person scenes, which is a mode that suits Supergirl really well. As in the previous episode, Jeremy Jordan’s return brings such a fun, charming hangout vibe to the proceedings that the good outweighs the bad. As we glimpsed at the end of “Part One,” evil Winn/Toyman Jr. was able to upload his consciousness into an AI virus that could destroy the world if it manages to access the World Wide Web. So Kara, Winn, Alex, and Brainy have to rush to stop it before it can break through the DEO’s firewall. And by “rush,” I mean leisurely walk down a hallway while discussing Kara’s dating life. Again, it’s the sort of contrivance I’d find more frustrating if it weren’t so charming to watch Melissa Benoist and Jeremy Jordan onscreen together again.

The biggest emotional thoughline of the episode is about Winn confronting his traumatic childhood and reclaiming his family alias. I can’t say it’s an arc I was dying to see, but it works well enough as a way to give Jordan another episodic showcase. When Toyman Jr. uploaded himself, he accidentally uploaded an AI version of their dad as well. Henry Czerny returns as Winslow Schott Sr. and—in classic Supergirl fashion—he winds up being pulled towards the side of good after realizing that his son embodies all of his best traits. It’s a resolution that comes a bit too easily (although not as easily as the J’onn/Malefic reconciliation that’s alluded to here). Still, the fact that Winslow Sr. is wiped out of existence after his brief moment of heroism at leads lends a bittersweet edge to the sappiness.

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Illustration for article titled iSupergirl /ipushes technobabble to the max
Photo: Sergei Bachlakov (The CW)

The best thing about the bottle episode limitations of “Back From The Future–Part Two” is that it allows director Alexis Ostrander to get really creative with her action sequences. Most of them involve Supergirl and Co. facing off against possessed tech at the DEO, but there’s real panache to how the fights are staged and filmed. Admittedly, it doesn’t really feel like the DEO tech should be quite such a formidable threat for Supergirl, even with some kryptonite in the mix (apparently the post-Crisis Earth doesn’t have any anti-kryptonite suits). Still, it’s fun to see Kara and Alex square off back-to-back. The moment the possessed Lexosuit breaks apart to dodge a bullet is also incredibly cool, as is Brainy’s balletic, meme-related diversion.

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By the end of the episode, Alex finally makes the decision to quit the DEO, which is mostly shocking for how casually she delivers the news. She realizes that there’s no point trying to reform the system from within when Lex has eyes everywhere. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that J’onn can immediately offer her a new job (or a volunteer position? How are they getting paid?) at The Tower. That also means Brainy is promoted to DEO Director. Unfortunately, the “Brainy reluctantly works with Lex for the greater good” storyline continues to be a massive bore and a really dour use of Brainy’s character. As with the tech stuff this season, I’m finding it hard to understand the stakes of why Brainy needs to work with Lex, why he needs to keep it a secret, and what will happen if he doesn’t. Just ominously saying the word “Levithan” isn’t enough to justify yet another tedious “this secret is tearing me apart!” Supergirl storyline.

Speaking of which, let’s talk about William. The Crisis reset gave Supergirl a unique chance to redo a love interest character who just wasn’t working, and while the show is kind of taking advantage of that, I think it’d be helpful to more explicitly acknowledge that this version of William is a different person. That could easily be a plot point itself, with Kara discussing the fact that she disliked the faux-mean William she first met but that this reset version doesn’t have that same baggage.

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I also think we maybe could’ve used one more episode between Kara getting on friendly terms with William and him asking her out here. As is, Kara’s flirtatious interest in him kind of feels like it comes out of nowhere. Still, Winn’s advice about taking things one step at a time rather than immediately imagining the entire arc of a potential relationship is actually really solid dating advice, superpowered or not. And, for now, Kara’s decision to turn down William’s date seems more like setup for the show’s It’s A Wonderful Life-inspired 100th episode than a new status quo.

The other thing that elevates “Back From The Future–Part Two” is that it’s a really great episode for the Luthor siblings, who find common ground in their mutual manipulations of Obsidian North. Lena sabotages Andrea’s Obsidian Platinum project while Lex forms an alliance with Gemma Cooper. It’s unexpectedly sweet to see the two Luthors on such good terms (“Your big brother is proud of you”), although it turns out Gemma (and returning grey haired Leviathan woman Margot!) might very well be playing them. On the other hand, Lex ends this episode with the code he needs to turn himself into an immortal being (sure!) so it’s really anyone’s game.

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Stray observations

  • Putting Jeremy Jordan in an episode that opens on karaoke night and not having him sing is the cruelest thing Supergirl has ever done. No amount of Kara and William adorably dueting on Toto’s “Africa” will make up for that.
  • Lex has an old school phone that connects directly to the DEO. It seems to be workaround to allow Jon Cryer to film in fewer locations, but it’s an enjoyable addition nevertheless.
  • Before reclaiming the Toyman name, Winn’s Legion call sign was “Computer Lad.” Honestly, kind of seems like a lateral move to me.
  • Glad to see Kara’s sonic clap power in action again! That’s always a fun one.
  • I don’t think it’s supposed to be a joke, but J’onn casually offering to fly DEO tech into the sun really made me laugh. (And speaking of superpowered people flying weapons into the sun, I was recently on the Cinematic Universe podcast discussing Superman IV, if that’s something that interests you.)
  • William warmly mentions that his grandma says a good puzzle is better than antibiotics, and all I have to say to Kara is: Run.
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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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