Supergirl -- “Phantom Menaces” -- Image Number: SPG602fg_0009r.jpg -- Pictured: Melissa Benoist as Supergirl Photo: The CW -- © 2021 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

When watching a show or a movie, it can be tough to balance what you know with what the characters know. Watching Avengers: Infinity War, it was hard not to think about how many of those characters had announced sequels or had just come off of billion-dollar movies. It’s the same with Supergirl. To Alex and J’onn, Kara is straight-up gone, in a place where she can never be found. She’s basically dead. Even knowing that, it’s hard not to think the characters are overreacting a little at times. Spoilers follow for Supergirl Season 6, Episode 3, “Phantom Menaces.”

“Phantom Menaces”

First, let’s talk about that title. Phantom menaces. It’s the silliest and most perfect title the writers could’ve come up with, and they should be proud. There are things called Phantoms, and they’re menacing National City. Perfect.

But on to the episode. This week has three primary storylines. Supergirl is trapped in the Phantom Zone, but she meets a new friend. Or is it the enemy? Maybe a little of both. Alex and J’onn are continuing to work on getting Kara back home, but are waylaid when they discover that a Phantom has escaped out into the city and could be making more of itself. Brainy and Lena are working together, but both are distracted and frustrated by the roles they played in Lex’s success.

A New Friend

In the Phantom Zone, the Paragon of Hope is still doing her best to escape. She breaks her leg and ends up in the care of a rather strange woman who, we discover, is Princess Nyxlysptlnz, a fifth-dimensional imp just like Mr. Mxyzptlk. Only Nyxly ended up in the Phantom Zone so that her father could keep his power, at least by her telling.

Kara and Nyxly go back and forth about the Phantom Zone and the value in trying in a hopeless situation. Nyxly gives Kara a bit of hope herself when she shows her the one bit of magic she has access to, her crystal ball. Seeing her father alive is enough to keep Kara going, and her hope seems to infect Nyxly, who manages to break her bindings and regain control of her magic.

Is it magic, or weird writing?

This story is really weird. Nyxly is an imp, and that means she can’t be trusted. The performance from actress Peta Sergeant only complicates this. It’s hard to tell if it’s completely intentional. Sergeant makes these strange faces and changes tone at weird times. It feels like she could betray Kara at any point. Her idea to break out of her bindings is essentially to crack open her bindings using her crystal ball, with the idea being that there’s enough magic in the ball to help shatter the bindings.

In theory, she hadn’t done it yet because she was so afraid of losing her last little thread of magic. It’s hard to imagine a story reason that would explain why Nyxly was sitting and waiting for Kara, or why she’d betray the person who has committed her to getting out–especially when this person seems to have a good relationship with another imp.

I don’t know where this is going, but I can’t tell if it’s because of a weird performance or something else. This is kind of like Barry’s reactions to the Speed Force manifestation, using the form of his dead mother, moving in with him and his wife. Fans had theorized that Barry suspected something about the Speed Force, but really he was just weirded out by his Speed Force Mom being around him in the real world and having feelings. Similarly, is Nyxly getting ready to betray Kara, or is she just an already-weird imp, further weirded by what amounts to solitary confinement? I’m eager to find out.

In the Mourning

Meanwhile, Alex, J’onn, and M’gann find themselves pulled away from their mission to save Kara when one of the Phantoms from last week escapes. All the Phantom has to do to make another phantom is, basically, vampire them right in the neck. J’onn explains in a bit of exposition that they weren’t originally called Phantoms but became that when they were left in the Phantom Zone. This feels a lot like backing into an explanation.

M’gann gets herself infected, and they have to take some extreme measures to rescue her while also trying to capture the Phantoms and keep them from spreading their sickness any further.

This whole storyline seems to be about dealing with grief in the face of dire possibilities. Alex and J’onn take turns pep-talking each other about soldiering on and surviving, with Kelly and M’gann occasionally getting in on the action. Knowing that Kara is definitely going to come back, this is where it gets hard to reconcile things. The episode spends a lot of time on Alex crying, and it’s not hard to understand why Alex is doing so. But being that we know this situation has a solution of some kind coming, it feels like the story spends way too long on this, more to fill time than anything else.

Empty Rage

The more interesting emotional arc of the episode is between Brainy and Lena. The two are, of course, the smartest people on Team Supergirl by a wide margin, but another thing bonds them. Both geniuses played significant roles in helping Lex Luthor nearly succeed in his plan to kill one half of the world and brainwash the other half, and in his successful attempt to get off scot-free from the whole ordeal.

While the two work on the data-driven aspects of Kara’s rescue, Lex is making moves on television, and the two find themselves frustrated. They take a clever kind of revenge in donating a large portion of his fortune to a children’s hospital, only for Lex to blow it up and find a way to blame Lena.

Brainy and Lena rage about their culpability and helplessness, and both Katie McGrath and Jesse Rath are firing on all cylinders. It’s more emotionally resonant than J’onn and Alex’s because Brainy and Lena are not just currently helpless, but we as viewers know just how dangerous Lex is. We know their hopelessness is earned and won’t suddenly disappear in a puff of logic.

That’s enough

Has K

Lena has an epiphany, and it makes for another great scene. Lex shows up at her office to gloat, but Lena tells him that she’s done. She won’t play cat and mouse anymore. She’s finally realized that so many things he does are specifically to agitate her; the only way to not lose the game is to not play at all.

“You can’t just walk away. You hate me too much,” Lex says to her. “I do hate you,” Lena replies. “I just love me more.”

Of course we know Lex isn’t going to take such an unreasonable stance from one of his favorite playmates sitting down, so it’ll be interesting to see where Lex ends up in the story. On the one hand, it seems like he’s done all he can do. On the other, the show sure doesn’t want to let go of Cryer just yet.

With Supergirl focusing on its core cast and giving them superhero-level stuff to do, I’m actually having fun with this season so far despite some misgivings. The machinations of Catco, Obsidian, and Leviathan were boring, and that stuff seems to have been backburnered. I really, really hope it stays that way.