Supergirl 5×17 Review – The Secret Life of Lex Luthor

Supergirl 5x17 - Deus Lex Machina
Supergirl -- "Deus Lex Machina" -- Image Number: SPG517a_0102b.jpg -- Pictured: Jon Cryer as Lex Luthor -- Photo: Kailey Schwerman/The CW -- © 2020 The CW Network, LLC. All rights reserved.

Whether in movies or TV, actors often find their way behind the camera. Over on Arrow, David Ramsey (Diggle) and Katie Cassidy (Laurel Lance) both directed episodes, while The Flash has seen Danielle Panabaker (Caitlin Snow) and Tom Cavanaugh (Wells) step behind the camera. This week’s Supergirl marks show star Melissa Benoist’s first time directing an episode of her own show. She joins Legends of Tomorrow‘s Caity Lotz, who directed the “Mortal Khanbat” episode of her own show this year. Spoilers follow for Supergirl Season 5, Episode 17, “Deus Lex Machina.”

“Deus Lex Machina”

Supergirl 5x17

Our story opens in media res. Supergirl and Martian Manhunter arrive at the facility where Leviathan stored the people trapped inside the Obsidian VR system. They find Lex Luthor, his hands covered in blood. The old woman who acted as Leviathan’s messenger since the end of season 4 is dead. Finally, the whole world will see… what a hero he is?!

This week is Lex Luthor’s story, or how everything that’s happened this year has been a direct result of Lex Luthor’s planning or intervention.

Okay, campers, rise and shine!

We quickly jump back 90 days to the morning after the end of the Crisis on Infinite Earths. The first thing Lex does, of course, is meet up with his mother, Lilian. The two discuss the state of the world, and Lex explains that the Lilian to whom he’s speaking isn’t his mother. This is the first acknowledgment of how complicated the idea of creating a unified Earth is, and I’d love to see this explored more in this and other Arrowverse shows.

Lilian points out how Lex’s intense obsession with Kryptonians is a continual distraction and hindrance to his success. She tells him to slow down and focus on getting his equally-smart, equally-dangerous sister on his side. Lena, with her memory restored, tells Lex all about Leviathan.

The story that follows is almost a sort of clips episode, but they’re clips from a different perspective.

Miss Tessmacher

Supergirl 5x17

Lex manipulates Eve Tessmacher into working for him just like he did in the previous timeline, letting him implement and retain the glitch that traps people inside VR. He talks Richard, the torture-house guy from a few weeks back, into moving forward with his revenge and gives Amy, the purple-powered terrorist, the gauntlets to do something about her frustration. Side note: the wig and bracelet that Lex dons to roleplay bartender for Richard is killer fashion.

Lex ingratiates himself with Gemma and Leviathan, too. He acts first as a salesman for the product–which gets us a fun montage of Lex schilling Obsidian to “The Man Who Sold the World”–and then as security for the product. He talks Gemma out of simply flipping a kill switch on the product when it goes live, killing everyone wearing it at once. We find out that the VR lenses have 40% saturation worldwide, which amounts to about 3 billion people all buying a new piece of technology at launch. In a show about flying alien superheroes, this might be the most unbelievable part of the whole show.

You guys can’t be friends!

Later, Lex catches Lena and Kara starting to make up, and flies into a rage. He manipulates Brainy into pointing Kara toward reversing the polarity on Myriad, the mind-control tech from the first season, to interrupt the Q-Waves that make the Obsidian VR lenses work, and then points out to Lena that Kara’s doing exactly that.

This is the good Lex stuff I enjoy. Lex doesn’t do dirty work himself, and he doesn’t even order other people to do dirty work for him. By the time they realize what they’ve done, it’s far too late and they can’t hold anyone but themselves responsible for their actions.

The climax of the episode has Kara, J’onn, and a surprise guest appearance by M’gann M’orzz–a.k.a. Miss Martian–fighting a Sun Eater while Lex finally does some dirty work, bringing us back to the beginning of the episode.

Lex uses the moment to point Gemma and Leviathan at Supergirl, suggesting that their plan can’t possibly work with someone as powerful as Supergirl in the way. That takes the heat off of him.

I did it my way, again

At the end of the episode, Lex gloats about everything he’s accomplished to his not-mother Lilian, saying that he did it “my way” while the Frank Sinatra classic plays just as it did when he first joined the world of Supergirl last year. Then he teleports himself to the one place in the world he’s wanted to see since time immemorial: The Fortress of Solitude.

There’s a lot I like about this episode. I love that Lex provides context for so many of the things that have happened after Crisis, making them seem less random. I believe that this was the plan from the beginning, too.

But even with that connective tissue now revealed, the season feels wildly unfocused. Leviathan isn’t a very interesting big bad. Lex is the only thing holding all of this together. And that speaks a lot to the writers’ understanding of the character and Jon Cryer’s portrayal of him. Cryer is still my favorite live-action Lex. But right now, he’s the only part of Supergirl I could call strong. He’s the only interesting character.

I’m frustrated with this season of Supergirl.  Season 4 showed us what the writers can do. I want more of that. Right now, though, I’m pretty bored.