Despite opening the season with great strength and purpose, Supergirl‘s third season ended on a strangely rushed and incomplete note last night. At the beginning of the year, Reign (Odette Annable) was presented with an interesting story prompt: how does a caring mother turn into a supervillain. It’s a great idea, but somewhere along the way, the creative forces behind the show became gunshy about that concept. Reign and her human persona, Sam Arias, became distinct individuals who could vie for control of their body. In doing so, it weakened the initial concept and a very potent challenge for Kara (Melissa Benoist): truly facing the possibility that she will have to kill the villain.
Instead of pushing forward with those ideas — and the emotional toll Kara, Alex (Chyler Leigh) and Lena (Katie McGrath) would face when they learned Sam was Reign — the show spun out of control after it returned from the winter break and especially after its second hiatus to accommodate Legends of Tomorrow and reported production problems. After a great mid-season cliffhanger, in which Kara ended up in a coma after a fight with Reign, the creaking feeling began.
The Legion of Superheroes was properly introduced with a great performance from Jesse Rath as Brainiac 5, but their story and their stakes seemed to change from week to week; indicating the writers were grasping for a good reason to include them. Where it initially seemed six Legionnaires would rotate into the cast, we only ever met two new characters. Alex was stuck in a permanent loop taking care of Sam’s daughter Ruby (Emma Tremblay) without any sense of growth over the last seven episodes. Mon-El (Chris Wood) switched from being a heroic leader of the Legion to a clingy and somewhat creepy third arm around Kara (despite being married to another Legionnaire!) Then there was the surprise arrival of Argo City and Kara’s mother Alura (Erica Durance), which had the unfortunate feeling of a Band-Aid over some lost story point and debuting as a complete dud in one of the worst episodes the show has ever aired.
To be fair to the show, it faced a major behind-the-scenes upheaval when executive producer and showrunner Andrew Kreisberg was fired after Warner Bros. Television concluded he sexually harassed members of his staff. Whatever his plans for Argo, Reign, and the Legion might have been, replacement showrunners Jessica Queller and Robert Rovner clearly abandoned it, but never found a way to use the ideas already set in place effectively. Reign spent weeks sedated in Lena’s lab and the Legion muddled about.
There were a few bright spots, like the episode in which Kara took Live Wire (Brit Morgan) and Psy (Yael Grobglas) to Fort Rozz; proving once again that Kara’s greatest power is her empathy even if Reign is immune to it. Another great episode in the later half saw the focus finally shift to Winn Schott (Jeremy Jordan) in the wake of her father’s death and his mother’s return. Of course, the episode sort of cheated by casting Laurie Metcalf as his mother and using her great talents. A similar casting trick was the introduction of Carl Lumbly (the animated Justice League‘s J’onn J’onzz) as J’onn’s (David Harewood) father M’yrnn. Every scene with Lumbly was a delight which elevated the material.
But somewhere along the way, the show forgot its strength was in the bond between Kara and Alex, who spent most of the season separated by their griefs and goals despite an early episode’s attempt to bring them back together as sisters. That bond was also extending to Lena and Sam, but in the later half, it broke all of those connections in favor of unrelenting (and often out of left field) conflict.
The show could still right itself, even with the clear tease of Lena going bad and the odd notion of Kara’s twin in Siberia. Rath’s continued presence as Brainy is a major reason to keep watching, as is the always rock-solid work of Benoist. But one thing the show desperately needs to reconnect with is its sense of fun. It also needs to embrace the idea that a season-long villain may not actually work for the format it developed over three years.
Supergirl returns in the Fall.