Supergirl’s makeshift finale ends the season on a cliffhanger

While this certainly hasn’t been the worst season of Supergirl, it just might have been the scrambliest. Pretty much since the beginning, it’s felt like the writers have been scrambling to craft a story on the fly. The first half of the season mostly just filled time until the Crisis On Infinite Earths crossover event. And while a lot of the post-Crisis stuff has been an improvement (I much prefer William 2.0 to the original version, for instance), the season never quite recovered from its fundamentally shaky foundation. Add to that an early production shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, and “Immortal Kombat”—which was originally meant to be the penultimate episode—makes for a particularly scramble-y finale. Still, there’s some solid character work throughout tonight’s episode. And the fact that Supergirl managed to make an unintentional endpoint feel like a semi-purposeful cliffhanger is impressive in its own right.

Because of those extenuating pandemic circumstances, I’m inclined to give this episode itself a lot of grace (apparently Chyler Leigh hadn’t even finished filming all her scenes for it yet). But the bigger problem is that even the best finale in the world wouldn’t have been enough to retroactively salvage this shaky season. Not only was season five way too overstuffed, it struggled to define the rules and stakes of its increasingly complex worldbuilding. The idea of Kara fighting a group of immortal, element-bending gods isn’t inherently a bad one, but because nothing about Leviathan was ever clearly defined, they mostly just came across as vague and boring—which they very much do in “Immortal Kombat.”

I still have no idea what it means for Gemma to be a Goddess of Technology, nor how Leviathan can do things like control the success and failure of major corporations. The addition of Rama Khan’s “Earth, Wind, and Fire” element-bending team falls completely flat. And while I’m certainly not in favor of Leviathan murdering four billion people, I also feel like there’s a much bigger conversation to be had about taking out the all-powerful force that’s been guiding Earth’s evolution since the time of the dinosaurs.

The other frustratingly ill-defined throughline of the season is Brainy’s double agent storyline. There’s a version of this season where Brainy’s ultimate decision to sacrifice his life in order to bottle Leviathan and save his friends is an incredibly powerful one (Jesse Rath does some great work in this episode). But once again, I just don’t understand the rules and stakes and reasoning behind what’s happening. Brainy calls up Lady Brainy for moral support, and she seems confused by his decision to cut ties with his friends in order to save the world, even though the only reason he did any of this is because she told him too. Let’s hope Nia swoops in to save him and they put the whole messy storyline behind them.

Still, there are good things about this episode too. For one thing, the fact that Alex’s new vigilante costume is just a hood and a dramatic smokey eye is so ridiculous that it swings around to being amazing. The whole opening sequence of M’gann and J’onn posing as decoy Karas is a lot of fun. (Thankfully, J’onn avoids the fate of Hedwig.) And I love that the latest iteration of the Super Friends is just Space Dad and a diverse group of badass women. Adding M’gann into the mix these past few episodes has been great, and her conversation with Nia about relationships delivers just the right blend of sci-fi storytelling and emotional drama.

But the absolute highlight of “Immortal Kombat” is the slow thawing of Kara and Lena’s relationship. Though Kara accepts Lena’s apology to the point of being willing to work with her again, it takes a while to fully forgive her former bestie. They have a conversation that’s been a long time coming, with Kara laying into Lena for how manipulative and terrible she’s been. And Lena gets a chance to contextualize her behavior a bit. She explains that her feelings about Kara’s secret identity were complicated by the fact that she learned the truth while attempting to murder her own brother. And Lena also admits that she deals with betrayal by building an emotional wall that makes it nearly impossible for her to see other people’s points of view. That she can even acknowledge that flaw shows a huge amount of growth on her part.

There’s not one big moment that magically fixes Kara and Lena’s relationship. Instead, Lena gets the chance to prove her loyalty over and over again, sometimes in moments Kara doesn’t even see. The episode’s best sequence cuts between Kara convincing Obsidian Platinum users to leave the Unity Festival and Lena convincing Andrea not to murder Supergirl for Leviathan. Though this episode earns a laugh by lampshading just how often Kara saves the day with a big speech, I sincerely love that Supergirl is a superhero series that celebrates the power of empathy and communication, not just brute force.

The battle for Lena’s soul has been by far the most cohesive element of the season, and it’s nice that it gets some genuine resolution, even with the shortened episode order. While the original finale presumably would’ve seen Lena and Kara actually defeat Lex, the promise that they’re going to team up to do so works almost as well as an endpoint. Plus Kara and Lena vs. Lex and Lillian is a battle I’ll be very excited to tune back in for—whenever that may be.

For all its scrambliness, season five has also done a lot of long-term good for Supergirl. It wiped out the DEO, bid adieu to James, did its best to keep the CatCo stuff relevant, proved Lex could work as a semi-regular character, and introduced a vigilante base that seems like a great fit for this current iteration of the series. Most importantly, it got us down to a really solid cast ofplayers who have emotional relationships to one another that I genuinely care about. Those are strong building blocks to work with moving forward. Plot is in many ways the least important aspect of these Arrowverse shows, and that’s something I hope Supergirl realizes moving forward. It’s in keeping things simple and character-focused that Supergirl often shines brightest.

Stray observations

  • Thanks so much for following along with this season of reviews! If you want to keep in touch during what I suspect will be a very long off-season, you can find me on Twitter. I’m also going to be reviewing the latest Arrowverse series, Stargirl, which debuts Monday on the DC Universe streaming platform and then premieres Tuesday on The CW. So check back at The A.V. Club for those reviews as well!
  • Kara using her heat vision to cauterize William’s bullet wound gets a 10/10 for creative use of her powers.
  • I wonder if the plan is to keep Andrea around next season or if she’ll be carted off to Metropolis like Sam. I presume William was designed to be a more long-term love interest, but who knows.
  • What is wrong with me that the whole time Lex was talking about Leviathan’s ship I was picturing a cruise ship in the middle of the ocean and not a space ship???
  • I enjoyed Alex and Lena jinx-ing each other as they tried to give Kara the same pep talk.
  • Earth-PrimeEve gets a nice little redemption arc and a reunion with her mom.
  • There’s apparently a Leviathan higher-up that we haven’t seen yet, and, to be honest, I wouldn’t mind if we never learn who she is.
  • I’d love to hear your suggestions for what Alex’s new vigilante code name should be. I’d go with “Maybe She’s Born With It, Maybe It’s Maybelline.”

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