As I watch each Arrowverse show, I make little notes on my laptop. A few from this episode include notes like “Pete finds stuff almost immediately that no one was supposed to know about just by being a very good library man,” and “J’onn and M’gann do a smooch.” I have almost every plot beat written down for most of the season somewhere in the depths of our site’s versioning system. And yet, I still feel like I don’t have a great grip on what this season of Supergirl has been about. There are inklings here and there, but there’s so much going on that it’s hard to even explain it. But dangit, I’m going to try. Spoilers follow for Supergirl Season 5, Episode 18, “The Missing Link.”
“The Missing Link”
It’s good to look back at what’s happened as we head into the end of the season. This is a weird year thanks to COVID-19, and thus the season isn’t going to end with the same planned cadence it would’ve otherwise. But we’re not going to go over everything that happened over the last 17 “television hours,” but rather just deep enough to see if it helps us make sense of where we are.
Our central figures this season are Lex and Lena Luthor, J’onn J’onzz, Andrea Rojas, and Kara and Alex Danvers. The biggest relationships are Kara and Lena, Lex and Lena, Andrea and Lena, and Brainy and Nia.
The first half of the season, set before the Crisis on Infinite Earths, kicks off with Catco Magazine being bought again, and Lena deep in her own head over what she perceives as a betrayal by Kara. J’onn and his brother, Malefic, are at war. Malefic allies himself with Lena to help her revenge project. She’s planning to eliminate all desire for violence from the world, and Malefic’s ability to control peoples’ behavior with his mind makes him a useful tool for her to exploit. Lena plays a tech trick to capture Malefic, who helps her master the Q-Waves that will power her Non-Nocere device. Eventually, J’onn and Malefic mindmeld to better understand each other, becoming brothers again.
In the background, Leviathan is working its plans. The organization goes back millennia and has been creating natural disasters. A new plan is underway that requires Andrea Rojas, who has the power to move between shadows as Acrata. The team has a run-in with Leviathan’s Rama Khan in the pre-Crisis finale. Malefic works with the heroes to repel Rama Khan. James Olsen leaves Central City to run a small-town newspaper while Brainy and Nia try to make a relationship work.
Post-Crisis, Lex Luthor is once again alive. Some post-Crisis hijinks have Brainy meeting his themselves, merging with them, and dropping his logic inhibitors. This new Brainy sees that he has to work with Lex to stop Leviathan. Meanwhile, Lex executes step 1 of ?? in his great plan by unleashing an alternate-world version of Winn Schott, Toyman, on the world and the DEO.
In what might be the best episode of the season, Kara encounters Mr. Mxyzptlk, who helps her examine her relationship with Lena to realize that there is nothing she could’ve done to stop Lena’s turn. Kara tells Lena that she is responsible for her own actions regardless of her hurt feelings. Leviathan and Lex’s plans kick into overdrive. Two different terrorists go after Obsidian; first a jilted lover using Obsidian’s VR platform to get revenge on the man his wife cheated with. Then, a woman who lost her husband to VR addiction. Alex and J’onn investigate missing VR users while Nia faces down a slasher who resents her status as a transgender hero.
Finally, Alex and Kara find out their father is dead, and a grief-stricken Alex ends up stuck in virtual reality under the belief that she’s Supergirl. We find out in the next episode that virtually everything bad that’s happened in the three months since the Crisis on Infinite Earths has been a direct result of Lex Luthor’s intervention and planning. This was Melissa Benoist’s first episode as director.
That brings us up to now. Obsidian North’s virtual reality platform is a wildly popular success, and Leviathan plans to use it as a vector through which to kill a huge portion of the population, culling humanity Thanos-style. Lex is continuing to work with Leviathan, but is becoming increasingly focused on Supergirl. Alex continues to struggle with her post-military life, while J’onn is reunited with his old flame M’gann.
This week we start off in the prison where Lena is testing her Non-Nocere experiment. It had been wildly successful, and we see her favorite subject leading a yoga class with prisoners he’d previously been terrified of. These prisoners are, in theory, incapable of violence, but when an elevator locks down, a claustrophobic prisoner ends up putting another prisoner in the infirmary.
Team Supergirl, meanwhile, is taking a multi-pronged approach to figuring out what’s going on with Leviathan. Kara and Alex go to talk to Pete Andrews, who you might remember as Sean Astin’s character from earlier in the season, though this time he’s not possessed by Malefic.
Finally, it feels like things are moving toward some kind of endgame. That’s good, because this is the second-to-last episode of the season.
“Ethical Prison Experiment,” said no one ever
Lena works frantically to figure out what’s going on with her not-at-all-unethical prison experiment. Lex acts the hero, protecting his sister. At one point, he even goes out to distract the rioting prisoners while she works on a cure for her cure. In a perfectly Lex moment, just when it looks like he’s going to get his hands dirty, he starts using his teleporter to mess with the zombified inmates. When Lena finally stops the riot, all the prisoners are free of her Non-Nocere trance, and back to their normally-violent selves. When she finally admits that Non-Nocere was never going to work, Lex’s true intentions come out. He sees the earth in need of a guiding hand to lead it and, more importantly, a human guiding hand. Lena calls Lex a monster and he goes berserk.
I love this moment. Jon Cryer has played Lex so cool and cocky the whole time. Even when the literal universe was ending, he was still calm and collected. When he lets loose on Lena, it’s a first for this character. It’s also not a side of Jon Cryer we get to see very often. Who thought Jon Cryer could be kind of scary? Not me.
Over on Team Supergirl, the team is taking a multi-pronged approach that leads one team to discover Eve Tessmacher as the Leviathan mole within Obsidian, but no one on this version of Earth knows that she’s dangerous. Alex runs into a Leviathan agent and almost gets herself and an old friend–the character played by Sean Astin–killed. Kelly suggests that if Alex doesn’t have a badge anymore, that maybe she needs a mask. Nia quite literally dreams up the location of Leviathan’s earth bender, Rama Khan. Supergirl, Dreamer, and both J’onn and M’gann go to fight him and win, only for Brainy to show up with the DEO and claim the defeated alien.
As Brainy questions Rama Khan in his own language, Nia starts to figure out that something is wrong. The situation goes sideways, and Khan escapes. Inside the DEO, he uses his powers to pull all of the Kryptonite that Lex had installed. With Supergirl down, Rama Khan is handily beating both Nia and Brainy until the Martians come to their rescue. This, too, was Lex’s plan. He’s given Leviathan what it wants and earned the organization’s trust. Khan destroys the DEO, bringing the tower that has served as the show’s central set for years down in a pile of rubble. The DEO set has seen less and less use with Kara and Alex severing ties, but now it’s really gone for good. That’s actually pretty huge.
Lena shows up at Kara’s door. This might be my favorite scene of the season. Katie McGrath and Melissa Benoist have incredible chemistry, and I get so much out of little things like the way Kara squares her jaw when Lena is at her door. Lena admits her mistake, admits her arrogance, and says she wants to help Kara stop Lex. Some of my favorite stories in Supergirl have been about Lena and Kara working together, with Lena pushing back against her lineage. That’s what the finale of this shortened season seems to be promising.
So what has this season been about? It seems like the Luthors’ whims have been at center stage more than anything. While the show has given J’onn, Alex, Brainy, and Nia each some time to shine in isolated stories, but the consistent themes throughout have been Lena’s hurt anger and Lex’s gloating megalomania. The two came to a head this week and finally split the siblings. Looking back through the season, though, it feels like the character we’ve spent the least time with and seen the least of is Kara. Melissa is Supergirl‘s best asset, and she shines in moments like this week’s confrontation with Lena or in the Mr. Mxyzptlk episode.
Last season’s story was interesting because it put Kara at the center and gave her a problem she couldn’t punch away. This season ignored Kara altogether and it feels like we have the least focused season of the show hot on the heels of its most focused. Even with a few more episodes, I don’t know if it could’ve brought things together. It’s a weird year, but the season was already shaping up to be a slog before conditions changed.