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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Supergirl’s production limitations yield some great character scenes

Illustration for article titled Supergirl’s production limitations yield some great character scenes
Photo: The CW
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One consequence of Supergirl sending its leading lady to the Phantom Zone is that the show has become much more serialized than usual. We’re following the nitty gritty details of Kara’s journey through her newfound prison, as well as the day-to-day reality of how the Super Friends are coping without her. The upside is a nice sense of emotional and logistical continuity; the downside is a frustrating sense of same-y-ness. Phantoms and angst have dominated this smartly conceived but unevenly executed start to season six, and I’m looking forward to the show moving in a drastically different direction next week. But, for now, “Lost Souls” at least uses its familiar plotting to deliver some satisfying character work along the way.

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After the great Lena/Brainy showcase last week, this week puts Alex and Lena’s equally engaging dynamic front and center. During Lena’s first day as an official Super Friend, the two women deliver a breezy Arrowverse answer to Marvel’s “Science Bros” as they team-up to create a device that can locate Kara in the Phantom Zone. But when the Prime Phantom’s ever-growing powers put all of National City in jeopardy, Alex makes the tough call to give up the surefire way to find Kara in order to defeat the more immediate threat first. And though Lena doesn’t go so far as to put up a fight, it’s clear that worldwide heroism isn’t her first priority when her best friend’s life is on the line.

When Lena later approaches Alex on the Tower Balcony of Deep Thoughts to explain that she doesn’t have the selfless heroism to be a true Super Friend, I was worried the show was going to agree with her. Supergirl has a tendency to stick to the status quo, and I could see a world where the writers eagerly find an excuse to separate Lena back into her own plotlines. Instead, Supergirl managed to genuinely surprise me with Alex’s empathetic answer: The fact that Lena thinks differently than the rest of the team isn’t a liability, it’s an asset. The value of the Super Friends is that they all bring their diverse perspectives and experiences to the group. And Alex assures Lena that she’s meant to be there, even if, like the rest of the team, she sometimes has wobbles about the cost of being a hero.

Illustration for article titled Supergirl’s production limitations yield some great character scenes
Photo: The CW

I really love the way this season is exploring Kara’s legacy through how much she’s influenced and inspired those around her. Lena is now willing to trust other people and apologize when she’s wrong. Alex, meanwhile, has grown into a deeply empathetic leader who can give uplifting pep talks with the best of them. It’s a far cry from how these two fiercely independent, frequently stoic women were first introduced. And it’s a nice way to ensure Kara’s ethos still lives on in National City, even as she’s stuck halfway across the galaxy.

In fact, just like her sister, Kara has to make a big sacrificial play this week. Though she finds a mirrored Fort Rozz portal that will transport her right back to the Fortress of Solitude, she winds up smashing it to stop Nyxly from wreaking havoc across Earth. Because—in an expected but still wildly fun twist—it turns out that Nyxly is actually a gleefully vengeful imp, not a humble lost soul. Peta Sergeant is once again a blast to watch in the role, especially because there seems to be a kernel of truth to Nyxly’s daddy issues. But just as I was jotting down a note about how much fun the show could have with Nyxly as a season-long antagonist, she just... dies?

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The ending of this week’s Phantom Zone storyline is so bizarre that I almost want to wait until it’s resolved to comment on it. Blowing up Nyxly (and Kara’s dad??) at this juncture would be a complete waste of those characters, which gives me hope that the show has something else in store—especially because we’ve yet to see an example of how the Phantom Zone tricks its prisoners into hopelessness. But as is often the case on Supergirl, it can be hard to tell when an odd piece of storytelling (like Kara’s weirdly cold dynamic with her dad) is intentionally strange and when it’s just a result of bad writing. For now, I’m giving Supergirl the benefit of the doubt and leaving the whole Fort Rozz self-destruct cliffhanger in the “wait and see” box. There’s too much potential in the Kara/Nyxly dynamic to just toss it away like that.

Illustration for article titled Supergirl’s production limitations yield some great character scenes
Photo: The CW
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Though “Lost Souls” suffers from some uneven plotting, it helps that it’s the most dynamic looking episode of the season so far. Supergirl is clearly working with some pretty severe production limitations this year, but director Alysse Leite-Rogers manages to add a little extra visual flair that goes a long way towards elevating the exposition-heavy Phantom-hunting plotline. The scene of the Super Friends fighting Phantoms in a sewer has some nice horror movie atmosphere, particularly in the shot of Brainy getting sucked into the dark. And the big heroic climax where Nia, Brainy, and J’onn return to help Alex capture the Prime Phantom is more cohesive and exhilarating than Supergirl’s action scenes have tended to be as of late.

Four episodes in, Supergirl’s sixth season is still finding its feet, sometimes a little inelegantly and sometimes with surprising grace. This episode offers a lovely showcase for both Chyler Leigh and especially Katie McGrath, who’s clearly having a blast playing this lighter but also more guilt-ridden version of Lena. (The scene where she explains that Kara getting trapped in the Phantom Zone was her fault was particularly heartbreaking.) But after several episodes that have felt fairly similar, I’m looking forward to Supergirl swerving towards something entirely new next week with a time travel trip back to Midvale High.

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Stray observations

  • The “My name is Kara Zor-El...” intro is back with a brand new season six upgrade!
  • After Nia’s random absence last week, Kelly is nowhere to be seen tonight. I’m assuming there’s a budgetary reason why the show’s massive ensemble are seldom all in the same episode together.
  • I love that after years of everyone being onboard with Brainy’s pop culture references, Lena is entirely unmoved by his attempt to compare her “prototrap” to the ghost trap from Ghostbusters.
  • The show gives a nod to our current reality as J’onn refers to the Phantoms’ progeny creation as being akin to a “global pandemic.”
  • Brainy and Nia get a nice little subplot about helping each other manage their shared sense of hopelessness, and I’m really excited to see them team up for a time travel adventure next week!
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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.