Photo: Katie Yu (The CW)

Let me start by saying this: I don’t think any of the plot points in “Not Kansas” are unworkable. Turning a show about vigilante superheroes into a lesson in gun control isn’t the most natural fit (just ask The Punisher), but I’m not inherently opposed to the idea. Nor am I inherently opposed to the idea of Supergirl dramatically shaking up its status quo by revealing that Kara’s home city and her mother both survived the destruction of Krypton. As I mentioned in last week’s review, Argo City has long been part of Supergirl’s comic book mythos, and it makes sense that the show would want to incorporate that in some form. And the concept of Kara reuniting with her mom has incredible emotional potential—especially given how much the Kara/Alura relationship anchored the show’s first season. No, the problems with “Not Kansas” stem not from unworkable concepts but from baffling execution and even more baffling placement within the season. To quote a meme from eight years ago, “Supergirl what, what, what are you doing?”

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Supergirl’s third season started off with a lot of promise and for a while, the slow and steady introduction of Reign seemed poised to make this the most cohesive season yet. Sure, the Guardian storyline remained an awkward fit for the series, CatCo was underutilized, and there were still filler episodes here and there. But it felt like Supergirl was purposefully building to something bigger while also introducing fascinating tangents like Thomas Coville’s cult. Yet somewhere along the way something went wrong. Supergirl lost its focus. First Mon-El returned, and the Legion of Superheroes began to take up more and more screentime. Then Supergirl took an unplanned hiatus and came back eager to wipe the slate clean. Bye-bye, Worldkillers. Bye-bye, Legionnaires. Hello, Argo City?

Again, the problem isn’t the reveal of Argo City itself—it’s the bizarrely emotionless way in which Supergirl has handled the whole thing. And while you could maybe explain away that emotionlessness last week because Kara was in such a rush to get back to Earth and stop Reign, “Not Kansas” is theoretically all about the emotions of Kara’s homecoming. But rather than feel like a reunion with her long-lost home world, it feels more like an awkward high school reunion in which Kara has to make small talk with the teachers and classmates she mostly forgot about.

To be fair, some of that awkwardness is intentional. We’re meant to see that Kara is having a hard time reconnecting to her childhood-bestie-turned-Argo-City-police-chief Thara Ak-Var. But “Not Kansas” makes zero attempts to deepen the Kara/Alura relationship, which seems like it should be the heart of the episode. They hardly even have any scenes together, despite the fact that—as I mentioned last week—the reveal that Kara’s mom is alive is the single biggest thing Supergirl has ever done.

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“Not Kansas” attempts to return to Kara’s emotional arc from the beginning of the season, when she was coping with Mon-El’s departure by suppressing her human side and becoming a stoic Kryptonian. This episode seems to set up a final leg of that arc in which Kara comes to realize that despite the appeal of returning to a simpler life as Kara Zor-El, her time on Earth has made her a fundamentally different person. Supergirl and Kara Danvers aren’t acts she’s adopted—they’re who she really is now. At least I think that’s what the show’s getting at. The problem is, the latter half of Kara’s season-long arc has been so tied up in her feelings toward Mon-El that it can sometimes be hard to track how she’s evolving independently of that. For instance, the reason we get so few Kara/Alura scenes in this episode is because the show is much more interested in exploring Kara and Mon-El’s relationship.

Kara’s love life is a hot-button issue among fans, but, personally, I don’t mind Kara and Mon-El being paired romantically. What I do mind is the way Mon-El has become Kara’s constant companion recently, to the detriment of storylines in which she’s either working on her own or paired with other characters. The way Kara casually invites Mon-El to join her on her trip to Argo City felt particularly bizarre to me. If anything, Alex would seem like a much more natural companion for the trip (assuming she could survive it), given how deeply invested she is in Kara’s past. But Supergirl has settled into a status quo in which Kara and Mon-El do everything together while Alex either hangs out with J’onn and M’yrnn or babysits Ruby. The lovely but brief Kara/Alex scene in this episode is a reminder of just how underutilized their sisterhood has been lately.

Photo: Dean Buscher (The CW)

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And then there’s the gun control portion of this episode, which I’d need a whole separate review to really dig into properly. As a rule, I tend to be pretty forgiving of didacticism when it comes to important social issues. So I don’t necessarily mind the show making clunky but important points about, say, the regularity with which military-grade assault weapons are sold to the public, the legality of bump stocks, or the lack of records tracking who guns are sold to. But beyond feeling like an awkward PSA, the bigger problem is that the gun control storyline is just poorly thought out. It continues a weird trend of TV shows arguing that the best way to stop mass shooters is to literally stand in front of their loaded guns and reach out to them with empathy (see also: 13 Reasons Why’s second season). And even as someone very open to real-world discussions about disarming the police, J’onn’s plan to immediately remove all guns from the DEO seems absolutely bonkers.

The problem is, trying to graft real-world issues of gun control onto a series where evil aliens and supervillians regularly attack National City just doesn’t work. Lena may own a gun, but she also lives in a world where she’s a high-profile target for evil people with literal superpowers; that doesn’t exactly reflect the average gun owner’s experience. Most importantly, the gun control storyline doesn’t work when it’s crammed alongside a game-changing storyline about Kara heading back to her Kryptonian hometown. If Supergirl really wanted to tackle gun control, it should have made that the sole focus of one of its mid-season episodes. And it definitely should have had trigger-happy Alex and empathetic Kara there to weigh in on the issue, rather than making it solely a J’onn and James storyline.

Ultimately, I just don’t understand why Supergirl is rushing through so much material at such a breakneck pace rather than waiting and using some of that stuff as fodder for the show’s fourth season. (“Not Kansas” begins and ends with hurried montages that are full of enough plot to fill entire episodes.) I’ll admit, however, that does make me curious to see what Supergirl has up its sleeve for its final two episodes. “Not Kansas” directly references and even flashes back to Kara’s dream from the season premiere, and for a moment I thought the show was going to reveal that this entire season had been a dream, or, at the very least, that Kara’s still stuck in that coma state from “Legion Of Superheroes.” And maybe it still will. Given the mysterious note this episode ends on, it definitely feels like the show is building to some sort of major rug pull. (It can’t just be coincidence that Alura repeated Alex’s words verbatim, right?) All that remains to be seen is whether that twist is better or worse than the show’s current uneven status quo.

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Stray observations

  • Other things that happen in this episode: Sam is cured and then (seemingly) un-cured; Lena throws Kara a going-away party even though that makes no sense; James plays basketball in his Guardian suit; M’yrnn announces he’s dying and must transfer his memories to J’onn via a ceremony called “The Reach”; Lena discovers the revolutionary scientific potential of the Rock of Yuda Kal; Alex decides she wants to adopt; Selena and her witchy friends steal Kara’s ship, head to Earth to meet Thomas Coville, and rebuild the Fortress Of Sanctuary; Thara Ak-Var is having gazebo troubles.
  • Did Kara tell Clark that a huge chunk of Krypton (including his aunt) survived?
  • For all of Kara’s talk about how hard it was to adjust to life on Earth, Kryptonian culture seems to be pretty similar—right down to the restaurant designs. Maybe it was just the lack of Christian-cult-esque floor-length dresses that threw Kara off?
  • Speaking of which, does Alura only own one outfit?
  • The reveal that Eve Teschmacher studied nuclear physics at Yale is fun, but also yet another chance for the show to take a CatCo character and place them on the superhero side of things.
  • I’m not sure I felt the full emotional weight of Kara and Mon-El’s greenhouse conversation because I was so distracted by the fact that the entire scene seemed to have been redubbed with automated dialog replacement.

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Next week: Who even knows at this point?