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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Supergirl’s final season premiere eventually lands somewhere interesting

Illustration for article titled Supergirl’s final season premiere eventually lands somewhere interesting
Photo: Dean Buscher/The CW
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In an ideal world, the final season premiere of a long-running TV show gives the creators a chance to hone in on exactly what they want to say with the series in its culminating hours. Unfortunately, we aren’t living in an ideal world. Instead of offering a fresh start, Supergirl’s sixth and final season premiere has to wrap up all the dangling threads from last year’s makeshift finale, which ended the season an episode short due to the pandemic. And it has to find a workaround for the fact that its leading lady’s maternity leave meant she wasn’t around for the first few weeks of filming this season. It’s quite a hurdle, and while Supergirl doesn’t exactly leap it in a single bound, there are at least some interesting long-term storytelling ideas nestled in this rather clunky start to the season.

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The solution to Melissa Benoist’s scheduling is particularly clever: The end of this episode sends Kara back to the Phantom Zone, which not only calls back to her origin story, but also allows her absence to be an active plot-driver for the other characters going forward. With National City’s resident superhero gone, the Super Friends will each feel the pressure to step up to fill her knee-high boots. And maybe in her absence, Supergirl will be able to define exactly what Supergirl—and Kara Danvers—means to the world. Which is exactly the sort of theme a final season should be anchored around.

That’s for future episodes to tackle, however. For its own part, “Rebirth” is a bit of an awkward throat clear from season five. Even at the best of times, it was hard to remember exactly what was going on with Supergirl’s convoluted Leviathan/Obsidian North/post-Crisis Lex Luthor plot last season. And that’s definitely the case here, as this premiere picks up right where the finale left off with only a slightly extended “previously on” segment for guidance. I wish Supergirl had taken advantage of its unusual production hiccup to do something more creative with this premiere, like give the episode a framing device or simplify its status quo. Instead, Supergirl decides to barrel forward with what feels far more like an overstuffed finale than a streamlined premiere.

After more of a Leviathan wrap-up than I frankly really needed, “Rebirth” at least smartly shifts its focus to Lex, who is an always engaging threat for the series to fall back on. Though there’s still far too much technobabble exposition at play in his plotting, Lex’s motivation is easier to follow than Leviathan’s ever was. His long-standing god complex manifests in two different ways this week: On the one hand, he absorbs the powers of the bottled Leviathan gods to give himself physical dominance. And on the other, he uses an “I Love Lexie” upgrade in the Obsidian North VR code to give himself mental dominance over half the world’s population—with plans to destroy the half that doesn’t bend to his will. At least until his egotistical obsession with Kryptonians proves to be his downfall.

Illustration for article titled Supergirl’s final season premiere eventually lands somewhere interesting
Photo: Dean Buscher/The CW

Jon Cryer’s fun-as-hell performance is a massive boon to this shaky episode. (After Lillian tells him that he can’t kill Lena, Lex petulantly whines, “Why not? She killed me first!”) But even Cryer’s charisma isn’t enough to entirely paper over the cracks. Though Cryer has a blast camping it up Queen’s “We Are The Champions” after Lex takes control of the Fortress of Solitude, the static camera shots do little to add to the pomp and circumstance of the moment. Across the board, there’s little sense of art or elegance to this episode’s filmmaking. J’onn and M’gann’s much-discussed mind meld amounts to little more than some lackluster CGI and zero follow-up. Evidence abounds that this episode had a particularly Frankensteined construction process, not only in the choppiness of its storytelling, but also in a strange continuity error where Kara’s hair is suddenly pulled back for a few shots in the final fight.

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It doesn’t help that the stakes of Kara’s decision to use herself as bait for Lex are just a touch too murky. Kara seems to see it as a potential suicide mission, going so far as to record a sort of last will and testament in a Kryptonian recording crystal, which we’ve never seen her do before. But because the show also wants Kara’s disappearance to the Phantom Zone to come as a surprise, it has the rest of the Super Friends treat her risky plan pretty casually. Lena is worried, but Alex’s “I’ll see you later” goodbye is weirdly nonchalant and Kara doesn’t even have a goodbye scene with J’onn. As such, it’s hard to invest in how much we’re supposed to see the big Kara vs. Lex showdown as an actual threat to her life. The moment she “dies” only to be revived by Lena’s super suit feels more confusing than climatic—which you can say about a lot of this episode’s biggest storytelling choices.

Illustration for article titled Supergirl’s final season premiere eventually lands somewhere interesting
Photo: Dean Buscher/The CW
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Apart from a few strong character moments like Brainy and Lena bonding over their Lex-related traumas or Kara and Alex’s sweet sisterly dynamic in the Fortress, the most interesting ideas in “Rebirth” are what it sets up for the future. With Obsidian North tanked, Andrea pretty hilariously decides to pivot CatCo back to its status as a beacon for investigative journalism, which will hopefully make that leg of the series feel vital again in this final season. With William, Nia, and potentially Eve there to keep the CatCo lights on, Lena, M’gann, and Kelly will presumably be joining the Super Friends—a team that will be more important than ever now that Kara’s missing. There’s even hope for some non-angsty love stories for once, with J’onn/M’gann, Alex/Kelly, and, most importantly, Nia/Brainy all in potentially good places moving forward.

If there’s one thing I’d love for Supergirl to remember in its final season, it’s that this series works best when it’s at its most simple and character-centric. The Super Friends’ big flying battle against Lex is so chaotically staged and shoddily rendered that it barely registers. But the moment Lena punches her brother in the face (“Sorry, did you want to do that?” “No, family first”) carries a huge amount of impact, both literally and figuratively. On a show that’s been increasingly defined by the concept of teamwork, separating Kara from her friends is an intriguing way to reflect on who these characters have become since she emerged as National City’s protector—as well as who Kara is when she’s stuck on her own. Fingers crossed Supergirl remembers that less is often more when it comes to Kara’s inspiring heroism.

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Stray observations

  • Right now the plan is to air the first seven or so episodes of the season while Superman & Lois is on its pandemic-related hiatus until May 18th. Then the rest of Supergirl’s final season will air sometime later in the summer.
  • It’s nice that Alex’s new superhero code name comes from her Space Dad. J’onn suggests calling her “Sentinel” after a particularly loyal Green Martian he once knew.
  • Lex and Lillian have their memories of Kara’s secret identity wiped, but are still on the board as villains if the season wants to use them.
  • On a week when Chyler Leigh is returning to Grey’s Anatomy, Supergirl delivers plenty of treats for that show’s fanbase: Not only does Lena refer to Kelly as Alex’s “person,” we also get a Lexie Grey vs. Charles Percy (a.k.a. Otis Graves) showdown!
  • There’s no follow-up on the idea that Cara Buono’s Gamemnae answers to another Leviathan higher-up, and I very much hope it stays that way.
  • M’gann is off to track down someone with knowledge of the Phantom Zone, and I’ll be curious to see who that turns out to be.
  • Between this premiere and the Snyder Cut of Justice League, DC’s Anti-Life Equation has certainly been getting a showcase recently.
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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.