Taking a page from video games, Supergirl and Nyxly are in a race to collect seven totems that, when together, give the user unimaginable power. Just like the TriForce from Zelda, one of them is even the Totem of Courage. Spoilers follow for Supergirl Season 6, Episode 13, “The Gauntlet.”
Superhero stories talk about courage constantly; it’s one of the primary virtues required for superherodom. But rarely do they delve into the idea of too much courage–foolhardiness. This week, Kara and her team find the Totem of Courage (which is different from a Paragon of Courage) at the same time as Nyxly, and Kara accidentally splits it in two, sending a blast of distilled courage into the people around them, and we see what it looks like when courage goes awry.
This is a really neat idea, but the show struggles with what to do with it at times, and it almost feels like two or three episodes condensed into one. We get so many peeks into how many characters might handle an overdose of courage, but we don’t get to explore them at all.
You’re doing great
The funniest example of courage comes from J’onn and Alex, who find the courage to be vulnerable and optimistic, respectively. That means that J’onn is almost constantly overwhelmed with emotion at the smallest accomplishments of the people he views as daughters, while Alex is so confident that things will turn out alright that she rushes headlong into battles she can’t win with absolute certainty that she’ll come out victorious.
David Harewood and Chyler Leigh both excel with these moments, but Harewood is the highlight of the episode for sure. J’onn is so reserved a character that these emotional outbursts work really well. The genuine version was effective back when J’onn was helping his father cope with Alzheimer’s, while this version is played for laughs. These two don’t contradict each other; quite the opposite, actually. J’onn is so overwhelmed that he pauses in battle to compliment the women, and even tries to talk a dragon down. This is an example where seasons of playing a character straight can be used to great effect.
A disappointing example of how the show handles this courage comes from William. While most of the characters end up endangering themselves, William gets something positive from it. Earlier in the episode, Andrea is hammering him to go back into dangerous undercover work, but he flashes back to the time when Eve Teschmacher shot him. As a side note, Andrea Rojas has gone from a relatable character to basically CatCo’s J. Jonah Jameson, and it doesn’t quite work with the character they built for her.
For William, the blast gives him the courage to face the trauma from that life-threatening event. It’s a sweet idea, but we haven’t had any development of this trauma–the show hasn’t referenced that event since it happened, and that was well over a year ago. It’s clearly an afterthought resulting from the need to give William something to do since the Kara-William romance has been put on (hopefully permanent) pause.
Another is an offhanded mention that the blast gave Nia the courage to go deeper into her dream state than ever before. That would be a bit like if Ant-Man talked about going into the Quantum Realm but never actually showed it–why even bother if you’re not going to let us see it?
The show also tries to develop Lena’s “Witch” arc and it continues to feel like a really weird turn for her. The upside is that Katie McGrath is great and elevates every scene she’s in. Lena and Kara have a heart-to-heart this week that feels like the two finally becoming true friends and confidants again. McGrath and Benoist have some of the best chemistry on this show and maybe even in the Arrowverse, and their scenes together always improve the show.
A couple of asides about Brainy and the actor that plays him, Jesse Rath, worth noting: At one point, a Kryptonian witch possesses Brainy, and Rath makes himself the other funny highlight of the episode as he hams it up. Also, the scientist who figures heavily into this episode is Rath’s significant other. She does fine–the show doesn’t give her a ton to work with, so that’s hardly a judgment; it’s just a fun fact.
A Test of Courage
The core arc of the episode, though, happens between Kara and Nyxly. With the two halves of the Totem of Courage in their hands, they both have to endure trials to claim ownership of the totem. We spend time in each character’s trial; for Kara, the trial takes place on the night she first became Supergirl, rescuing Alex’s falling plane; Nyxly’s comes from the day her family betrayed her.
Two interesting things come of this. One is that Kara doesn’t actually pass her test, and we’re never told how she would’ve. Was she supposed to let the plane crash? Stay after rescuing it? Not help the mugger she stopped right after? It feels like a puzzle they should’ve revealed the solution to–the solution could’ve told us something about Kara or the totem.
The other interesting reveal is that I honestly don’t give a heck (this is a family site) about Nyxly. When we flashback to her betrayal, we’re faced with these new characters we’ve never met and will probably never see again, and all we know is that she’s really mad and hurt over it. But we never see or feel that hurt. We’re just told that that’s how it should be.
This is honestly an enjoyable episode thanks in large part to the funny turns for J’onn and Brainy, and the Kara-Lena bonding time, but the core storyline just doesn’t interest me that much this week. That speaks to how strong the core cast is and how much the story writing has struggled throughout. I hope that before the season is out, the team can find its footing on both sides.