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Supergirl puts the rom-com in prom

Illustration for article titled Supergirl puts the rom-com in prom
Photo: The CW
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When you review a show long enough, it’s hard not to root for it. Even in its worst moments, I’m always hoping that Supergirl can find a way back to its best self. Which is why this exhilarating time travel two-parter has been such a joy to watch. “Prom Night!” and “Prom Again!” feel like the show re-finding its spark after a slightly bumpy start to the season. And even without most of the main cast around, these episodes manage to provide some lovely full-circle commentary on where Supergirl started and how far it’s come.

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“Prom Again!” is basically Back To The Future 2 to last week’s Back To The Future. Brainy and Nia’s meddling eventually messes up the timeline to the point where they need to redo the past few hours to put everything right. In truth, the pacing of this episode is a little off. It probably would’ve been more effective to move the timeline redux to earlier in the episode, or at least build a better sense of chaos leading up to it. As is, there’s a little too much exposition-heavy dialogue for an alien hunter storyline that ultimately winds up getting erased anyway. But, still, when so much of the episode works, it’s hard to complain too much about the stuff that doesn’t.

And where “Prom Again!” works best is as a sweet, emotionally mature little rom-com. Supergirl has had a fairly uneven track record with romance over the years. (Remember when Lena and James dated?!?) But “Prom Again!” proves the show’s writers can deliver love stories when they put their minds to it—and when the actors are up for it. Brainy’s flabbergasted reaction to Nia’s prom dress and their subsequent dance to Nora Jones’ “Come Away With Me” are perfect rom-com scenes, beautifully played by Jesse Rath and Nicole Maines. And their kiss towards the end of the episode genuinely took my breath away in how earnest and spontaneous it felt.

“Prom Again!” does a lovely job of demonstrating how well Brainy and Nia work as team, both when it comes to superhero logistics and emotional crises. There’s a strong sense of mutual respect and admiration in how they lift each other up throughout the episode. Brainy makes peace with his new inhibitor-free life by realizing that living through tough emotions makes you appreciate the good ones. Meanwhile, Nia’s slow growing confidence is represented by her newfound ability to take something from her dreams and manifest it into the real world. It’s a really cool addition to her power set. And like that kiss, it’s all the better for how confidently the show throws it in as an unexpected surprise.

Illustration for article titled Supergirl puts the rom-com in prom
Photo: The CW

Elsewhere, Kara and Kenny make for another great, mutually respectful rom-com couple, albeit one that end up in a bittersweet place. After several fake-outs teasing young Kenny’s untimely demise (first by aliens and then by meteors), Supergirl winds up telling a more grounded story of high school love and loss. Kara and Kenny both come to the realization that they aren’t ready to settle down into a life of small town superheroing. Kara needs the freedom to choose who she wants to become outside of the bounds of fate. And Kenny wants to learn how to save himself without just relying on his superpowered partner. You can tell how much the two teens love each other in how much they respect the other’s dream.

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It’s a great case study in how Supergirl’s feminism has evolved over the years. This two-parter slots Kenny into the standard template of a classic superhero love interest, right down to the modern self-empowerment angle. But it doesn’t treat that as a joke or winking reversal. These past two episodes have been about the fact that it’s okay for men to have self-doubt and vulnerabilities—and that it’s okay for them to find their greatest sources of inspiration in women.

Illustration for article titled Supergirl puts the rom-com in prom
Photo: The CW
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Of course, it’s hard not to be inspired by Kara Zor-El. Though it’s been a little strange to have two episodes in a row without Melissa Benoist in them, Izabela Vidovic does such a fantastic job channeling her spirit that it hardly feels like an absence. And “Prom Again!” is a great Kara episode—particularly in the reveal that Kara stowed away on Brainy and Nia’s second hop through time. Young Kara’s actions are motivated by the mix of hope and responsibility that have always been the cornerstone of her character. But “Prom Again!” also offers a fascinating glimpse into her younger, more indecisive days too. This two-parter provides an effective preamble to the Kara we met way back in the show’s pilot. There, we watched her experience the joy of finally becoming a superhero. Here, we see her relatable fear of going public with her powers—especially when she still doesn’t know how to do laundry or cook rice.

Given how much “Prom Again!” gets right about Kara, it’s a little frustrating that it doesn’t do better by Alex. (Especially since Chyler Leigh directed the episode!) The Kara/Kenny relationship winds up pulling focus from the Kara/Alex one, to the point where Alex seeing Kara’s Kryptonite vulnerabilities for the first time almost passes like an afterthought. What feels like it should be a formative moment for the two sisters doesn’t really get its due in either timeline. But, hey, at least we get to see Alex casually pick a lock with the skills she learned at college!

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Quibbles aside, this two-parter has been exactly what Supergirl needed to refresh the season and bring a new tone to this final run of episodes. It’s a wonderful example of the writers taking production and cast limitations, and using them to create something that feels new and innovative. That’s a crucial skill to have in this challenging production year. And like Brainy, I’m feeling more hopeful than ever about Supergirl’s future.


Stray observations

  • I’m still confused by the timeline of Cat Grant’s life and career, but I really enjoyed the scene where she gives Kenny a classic season one stern but supportive pep talk, complete with mispronouncing his name.
  • Kara smashing a meteor like a firework looked so cool that it almost made up for the show teasing a “Plutonian Land Shark” and then not actually showing us one!
  • My two favorite bits of Brainy-related comedy: His failed attempts to sing “9 To 5,” and the fact that he’s clearly super intimidated by teen Alex.
  • Kara’s prom look has both a skirt and pants, therefore providing the perfect midpoint between her two superhero styles.
  • Just based on how much screentime Kenny has in this episode, I feel like Supergirl has to be setting up his present day return, right?
  • It’s a bummer that we didn’t get any Eliza in either of these episodes. Hopefully Helen Slater makes it back for an appearance before the show ends.
  • Speaking of which, it’s already time for the mid-season finale next week! After that, Supergirl gives its timeslot back to Superman & Lois, and then returns for its final 13 episodes starting August 24th.
  • “That’s a bit formal for college.” “I’m minoring in performance art.”
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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.