For all of Supergirl‘s struggles throughout Seasons 5 and 6, one thing remains true about the show: the cast is really, really good. Melissa Benoist (Kara Danvers/Supergirl), Jesse Rath (Brainy), Katie McGrath (Lena Luthor), Nicole Maines (Nia Nal), and David Harewood (J’onn J’onzz/Martian Manhunter) have all elevated what can otherwise be hammy writing, making scenes emotionally resonant that would otherwise fall flat. Not much happen this week, but the cast makes it work. Spoilers follow for Supergirl Season 6, Episode 7, “Fear Knot.”
If you wanted to be really reductive, the plot summary for this episode is really short. The Superfriends venture into the Phantom Zone in J’onn’s ship, they have fear hallucinations, defeat them, and rescue Supergirl and Zor-El. End of episode. It’s a pretty straightforward plot, especially when compared to lots of CW episodes that feel more like interpersonal knots than plot threads.
J’onn, it seems, put his ship on top of the Tower, the Superfriends’ headquarters. Who knows when he had time to construct the hatch that hides it, but it’s there, it’s theatrical as hell, and I kind of love it. The team–J’onn, Brainy, Nia, Alex, Kelly, and Lena–venture into the Phantom Zone to track down Kara and bring her home once and for all.
The Phantom Zone is a place meant to prey on your fears, though, and the Phantoms glom onto the new ship immediately. It’s unclear what’s happening at first; Alex is insistent that she needs to go with J’onn outside the ship to rescue Kara. Unfortunately a Phantom gets loose and she’s wounded–there’s a countdown until she turns into one herself. The show does a good job of not telegraphing too much at first that we’re in an illusion, and the way the mission goes sideways is totally plausible.
And then time rewinds by ten minutes.
One by one, the show plays on the fears of Alex, Nia, Lena, Kelly, and Brainy. The show does a good job of playing with each of these characters’ fears. Alex’s, of course, is that she’s the reason the whole mission fails. The only one that fell a little flat for me was Lena’s, in which she manifests a Kelpie to play on her fear of drowning associated with her mother. This feels like it was kind of just slotted in because they couldn’t think of a believable fear for one of the smartest women on the planet. I don’t remember this being a part of her backstory previously, so it doesn’t fit as well as the others.
Later, though, there’s a nice moment of levity when Brainy’s fear manifests as a bunch of balloons falling from the ceiling. It’s a pretty relatable, simple fear, but it’s also pretty silly. This works because we spent a lot of time with Brainy in the last couple of episodes, and as a 12th-level intellect or whatever he is, it makes sense that the fear he’d experience would be pretty basic and easy for him to defeat. It’s a good way to bring some humor into the episode without breaking the logic of it.
The rhythm is simple: fear nightmare, rewind, fear nightmare, rewind, and so on. It gives each of the actors, especially McGrath, Leigh, and Maines, some dedicated screen time to just act. These nightmares work because the show has done such a good job of making these characters likeable and believable, and the fears they go through remind us that they’re vulnerable.
Hints of what’s to come
One moment hints at an upcoming storyline; when Kelly is fighting the Phantoms, she picks up a sheet of metal that had fallen off the ship walls when the phantoms rocked it, and skillfully deflects a blow from one of the monsters. She’ll be stepping into the body armor her brother, James Olsen, used to wear, becoming the new Guardian when the show picks back up in August.
Interestingly, the CW made a big deal out of announcing that Kelly’s actress, Azie Tesfai, would be the first Ethiopian/Eritrean actress to play a superhero. The episode gives us just a taste of that, but it doesn’t actually happen until the show comes back. This episode acts as Supergirl‘s mid-season finale, and it’s off the air for three months. Why did they make a big deal of announcing it now, when we have a quarter of a year to forget about the announcement?
One last hiatus
Overall, this is a strong episode to go into hiatus on. It has some great character moments and reunites the team. At the same time, the final moments show Nyxly the Imp riding on the outside of the ship, making her own way out of the Phantom Zone and posing her, presumably, as the big bad to finish out the rest of the show. So it gives us some resolution, some great performances, and sets the show on a new path forward.
All in all, this is a pretty good episode. I can’t help but think that the CW is caught between a rock and a hard place with Supergirl and Superman & Lois, having two “Super” shows with one on its last season and the other on its first. Superman & Lois has been doing well, but Supergirl doesn’t deserve the huge interruption, either. With Black Lightning nearly complete, it seems like they could put one of the shows there. Since we do have to wait, though, it’s good that we don’t have to worry about remembering where things were when we get back.