Thanks to a combination of COVID-19 and the growing and shifting universe of CW superhero shows, Supergirl‘s final season has been weird. The network aired the first seven episodes of the season in the spring, and then put the show on pause for three months to give Superman and Lois room to breathe. Now Supergirl is back for its final run. Spoilers follow for Supergirl Season 6, Episode 8, “Welcome Back, Kara.”
“Welcome Back, Kara”
If this episode is indicative of this last batch of episodes, we might be in for a good time before Supergirl flies off into the sunset. This episode brings us back into the story and catches us up on the main characters, and then actually grounds its characters by making them handle their emotions and deal with what they went through to some degree.
Things kick off with Brainy navigating foot traffic, nimbly carrying a box while avoiding all manner of obstacles. He’s carrying a cake to celebrate Kara’s return to Earth. Meanwhile, Kara is rejuvenating under a sun lamp when nightmares of the Phantom Zone awaken her.
Back to Normal
Kara tries to go back to normal while also getting reacquainted with her father, Zor-El. At CatCo, Andrea Rojas peppers her with questions about where she’s been and assigns her a story about interviewing Supergirl and all the victims of the Phantom attacks. Meanwhile, Kara and Nia work to help Zor-El feel at home on Earth, even having him suit up to help stop a falling satellite.
These two events bring together Kara and Zor-El’s stories for this episode. Despite being strong enough to lift a building and fly at the same time, Kara has endured an immense amount of personal trauma; Zor-El, for the second time in his life, finds himself on a planet with dangerous environmental problems. Both characters are dealing with very different forms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
For Zor-El, coping with those feelings comes in the form of building ambitious technology meant to save worlds but without testing it. This is a little thing, but it’s interesting to compare how methodical Lena has been throughout the series–we’ve had a whole bunch of scenes of her in her lab, trying different things, failing sometimes, and succeeding others. Meanwhile, Zor-El just plugs a bunch of different alien technologies together and throws them out into the field.
Ripped from the Headlines!
This plotline is very on-the-nose; when Zor-El and Kara are out stopping the falling satellite, they spot a garbage island off the coast of National City with DEO-related junk floating on top. Zor-El flashes back–not visually, sadly–to Krypton’s final days and throws himself at assessing the problem.
It goes poorly, of course, because he was trying to slap-dash a solution together for a quick fix rather than researching the issue and trying to address it at a systemic level. It’s not an easy problem to fix whether in real life or in Supergirl where you can point futuristic robots with shrink rays at the problem.
Meanwhile, despite the giant robot battle that acts as a centerpiece for this episode, Kara is much more the main character than Supergirl. Supergirl isn’t accountable to anyone; Kara has a job and relationships built partially on a foundation of lies. She can’t tell her boss that writing about the Phantoms would be wildly traumatic for her for obvious reasons.
How to Deal with Trauma
For both characters, the lesson is that trauma has to be faced head-on. Supergirl’s superpower (aside from flying and punching) is making great, capable, and dedicated friends, but it’s the one power she doesn’t lean on in these situations. Zor-El is a brilliant scientist, but one man can’t save a whole world in a day (Lex, are you listening?), and falling back on that behavior is more of a way of assuaging personal trauma-related guilt than it is getting anything useful done.
Interestingly, the show kind of side-eyes its answer to Kara’s problem. She’s going to deal with her trauma by writing about it and interviewing victims, which is beat-for-beat the same way Iris handled it after the Mirror Monarch event on The Flash, and Kara actually points out that Iris did exactly this. So the writers know that this isn’t an original or novel solution, but they still go ahead with it anyway. With that said, sometimes the tried-and-true methods work, and getting things out in the open is a pretty well-tested method for positively coping.
Around these events are lots of little moments that make me curious about what’s to come. Nia, Lena, and Kara are all connected by the fact that their parents were taken from them when they were young, before they were ready. Kara magically found her dad in spooky space jail, but both Nia and Lena are dealing with the complicated feelings of seeing someone get their parent back while reality continues unabated for everybody else.
Lena, who is still grappling with the fear hallucinations she saw in the previous episode, decides that she has to actively seek out information about her biological mother rather than just resenting the family who kept her from knowing. Lena is going to Ireland, which will also help explains years of unresolved questions about her barely-masked Irish accent.
Kara runs into William, the square-jawed hunk journalist the show was trying to pair her up with throughout seasons 5 and 6, and it turns out that while she was gone, he met and is dating someone. This is the smartest thing Supergirl has done with Kara’s personal life in nearly two seasons. Kara deserves to be in a happy relationship, but the show has been hellbent on pairing her with someone tall dark and handsome for too long–it’s never gelled, even with the costar who she ended up marrying in real life. Supergirl might just not be relationship material. At least not in this incarnation.
Severing the romantic connection between her and William is absolutely necessary at this stage. With the show on the way out, there just isn’t time to even try to develop that stunted relationship.
This is one of the better episodes of Supergirl this season, and I hope it’s a sign of things to come. I’d really like for Supergirl to end on a positive note after some really rough material over the last couple seasons.