It was probably always too much to expect “The Quest For Peace” to be able to put a full-throated exclamation mark on Supergirl’s stellar fourth season. There were just too many dangling threads to resolve to leave time for the kind of emotional storytelling that has always been Supergirl’s bread and butter. In retrospect, last week’s episode seemed designed to clear the emotional decks in order to leave this episode free to deal with narrative pyrotechnics. All in all, “The Quest For Peace” is a good episode, not a great one. But considering the lows Supergirl has hit in the past, there are far, far worse places to be.
Red Daughter is the character who suffers the most under the accelerated pacing of “The Quest For Peace.” The storytelling beats are there—she’s devastated to learn that she’s just a pawn in Lex’s plan and eventually sacrifices herself to protect Kara from dying at Lex’s hand—but there’s just not enough time to let them breathe. In particular, I would’ve loved more from the Kara/Red Daughter dynamic, or for the show to do more with the idea of Kara absorbing Red Daughter back into her. I didn’t necessarily need Red Daughter to have a simplistic happy ending reunited with Mikhail, her young Kaznian friend Otis secretly saved instead of killing. But something a little more substantial would’ve been nice.
There are a couple other plotlines that are similarly handwaved away. James’ superpowers are removed just as easily and pointlessly as they were granted. Brainy “realigns” himself back to normal without much fuss, and his confession of love to Nia feels curiously underplayed. (Couldn’t they at least have kissed?!?) Ben Lockwood is also de-powered and arrested fairly easily, without too much wrap up for the Children of Liberty storyline that dominated so much of the first half of the season. None of that stuff is actively bad, it’s just not wildly satisfying either, even as it takes up a decent amount of screentime.
As has often been the case in the past few seasons of Supergirl, Kara also gets a bit lost in her own series. Ostensibly she wins on two fronts: Kara Danvers publishes the groundbreaking article that reveals Lex’s schemes to the public, while Supergirl defeats Lex in combat. But we just don’t spend enough time on either event—or in Kara’s headspace in general—for those wins to fully land. Kara defeating Lex and then immediately trying to save his life is the perfect distillation of Supergirl’s ethos. And it’s great that Kara’s focus on journalism winds up mattering so much in this finale. Again, I just wanted more room to let that stuff breathe.
Instead, the characters who wind up being best served by this finale are the Luthors, particularly Lex and Lena, although Lillian gets in some pretty killer barbs along the way. (“Try not to quote Hitler in public, dear. It’ll hurt the brand.”) The episode’s best action sequence comes in the first five minutes, as we flashback to see Lex’s false flag attack play out to “My Way,” like he’s some kind of demented, Sinatra-obsessed Iron Man. With President Baker as his long-time puppet, Lex installs himself as Secretary of Alien Affairs and reaches out with genuine familial affection to Lena and Lillian to fill them in on his masterplan—a plan so secret even Eve didn’t know the full extent of it.
Lex has been transporting captured aliens to Shelley Island in order to fatally drain them of their powers and provide Earth with a lifetime supply of energy. It’s a brutal genocide that’s also being used to power another genocide: Lex plans to use some of that alien energy to power a weapon that will destroy Argo City and kill Superman once and for all. Only it turns out there were three things Lex’s intricately plotted masterplan didn’t account for: The Danvers sisters’ love that brought Kara back from the dead last week, Red Daughter’s anger towards the “Alex” who betrayed her, and Lena’s loyalty to the good side.
Though he seems to fall to his death after refusing Kara’s mid-air help, Lex actually manages to teleport back to his lab, where Lena is there to strip away his superpowers and shoot him. It’s a brutal scene and the episode’s best moment. Lex is genuinely shocked that Lena actually has the gall to kill him; it’s the only time he’s genuinely underestimated her. Yet he still manages to get the last laugh by revealing Kara’s secret identity and convincing Lena that without him, she’s surrounded by people who have been lying to her and treating her like a fool for years. That Lex would be the one to reveal Kara’s secret identity doesn’t come as much of a surprise, but the scene is still a gut-punch because of how strongly it hits Lena. She keeps her cool at “family” (awww!) game night, but her potentially vengeful hurt looks like it will be a major storyline for next season to pick up.
“The Quest For Peace” finds its greatest success in zeroing in on the more personal story of the Luthors vs. the Supes, but that comes at the cost of losing some of the metaphorical political resonance of this season’s alien xenophobia storyline. The beginning of the season did such an effective job establishing the sprawling threat of the Children of Liberty that it’s hard to believe their xenophobic rhetoric was stopped with a single CatCo article and a nice speech from Ben Lockwood’s son.
I don’t want to be too nitpicky about an episode that’s really fun and kinetic and engaging to watch. The action scenes are strong, with some compelling use of slow motion and some weird but cool looking mid-air jumps from Kara during her fight with Lex. Ultimately, however, “The Quest For Peace” is the kind of episode that works better in the moment than it does upon deeper reflection.
As Supergirl tends to do in its season finales, “The Quest For Peace” doesn’t just wrap up this season, it teases the next one as well. It turns out Eve has been working with (or more like coerced into working for) a mysterious organization called Levithan, which is described as being “everywhere and everyone.” Plus The Monitor from the Elseworlds crossover event returns to bring a nefarious Green Martian to Earth (is that J’onn’s evil twin?) and maybe bring Lex Luthor back from the dead too. Presumably, that’s all part of the setup for the epic five-part Crisis On Infinite Earths crossover The CW has planned for next season. In addition to Supergirl, The Flash, Legends Of Tomorrow, the upcoming Batwoman, and the departing Arrow will all be involved, and it could very well reset the Arrowverse in a pretty major way.
That’s for the future, however. For now it’s worth celebrating just how strong Supergirl’s fourth season has been. I’ve still got quite a lot of fondness for the show’s first season, but this has definitely been the strongest season of The CW era. Even more importantly, it’s introduced a ton of great elements the show can carry on into the future. Brainy and Nia have been absolutely fantastic additions, and I can’t wait to see more from them. J’onn never became the Martian P.I. that I thought he would this season, but that’s still on the table for next season. And it feels like season four finally found the right balance in highlighting the heroism of both sides of Kara’s double life.
From the beginning, Supergirl has never been afraid to wear its heart on its sleeve, but in place of the more simplistic “girl power” feminism of the show’s early days, this season turned its optimistic, openhearted ethos to tricky contemporary issues. Supergirl isn’t the kind of show that can provide a realistic roadmap for working through issues of racism, xenophobia, and political corruption. But it is the kind of show that can inspire us to keep fighting and keep finding hope—even when Lex Luthor’s in the White House.
- This episode’s title is a nod to the fourth and final Christopher Reeve Superman film, the one in which Jon Cryer played Lex Luthor’s nephew.
- I’m unclear on whether James lost his eye or just temporarily injured it. Either way, it’s an appropriately random note on which to end another random James Olsen arc.
- I assumed Alex and Kelly’s early courtship would be storytelling fodder for next season, but they jump into full-on dating (or at least full-on kissing) in this episode. I’m not sure I’m totally feeling their chemistry yet, but here’s hoping!
- Lex’s factoid about the South Lawn being famous for its Easter Egg roll was delightfully bizarre.
- Colonel Haley winds up serving as the interim Secretary of Alien Affairs. I’m not sure if that’s an excuse to write her off the show or a chance for the DEO to have her as a government liaison next season.
- J’onn’s arc was a little jumbled this season (R.I.P. whatever longer Manchester Black storyline seemed to get nipped in the bud), but his line about risking his life to save Argo City in order to make up for having fled Mars somehow managed to give the whole thing a sense of cohesion. God bless David Harewood’s emotional delivery, and let’s hope season five gives him even more to do.
- Speaking of which, here’s my shout-out to the entire Supergirl cast for once again elevating all of the material they’re given. Melissa Benoist is so great that there were a couple moments in this episode where I genuinely forgot that Supergirl and Red Daughter were played by the same person. Katie McGrath is absolutely terrific in this episode too. And Jon Cryer turned out to be such a pitch perfect Lex Luthor that I would’ve felt sure the show would’ve found a way to bring him back somehow, even without that final Monitor tease.
- Thanks for following along on another year of Supergirl reviews! This season was a real joy to write about, even on the nights it kept me from watching the final season of Game Of Thrones live. If you want to talk anything Supes in the off season, you can always find me on Twitter!