Supergirl -- “I Believe In A Thing Called Love” -- Image Number: SPG617c_0047r -- Pictured (L-R): Jon Cryer as Lex Luthor -- Photo: Bettina Strauss/The CW -- © 2021 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Another day, another totem. Such is the life of Supergirl, freelance superhero. After quitting her job at CatCo, Kara is focusing full-time on dealing with the threat of Nyxly, jilted fifth-dimensional imp princess. Spoilers follow for Supergirl Season 6, Episode 17, “I Believe In A Thing Called Love.”

“I Believe In A Thing Called Love”

LEX RETURNS — When Lex Luthor (guest star Jon Cryer) appears by Nyxly’s (Peta Sergeant) side, Supergirl (Melissa Benoist) and team must deal with the emotional fallout of facing their two biggest foes at the same time. Alex (Chyler Leigh) makes plans for the perfect proposal to Kelly (Azie Tesfai), but work keeps getting in the way.

We’ve been here before

Ever since Supergirl introduced the idea of collecting a bunch of totems, I’ve been thinking about video games. It feels like a very video game-y to have the heroes chasing after a specific number of totems. A consistent problem with modern video games, especially big open-world games and such, is padding. The publisher requires a certain number of hours of content, or the developer is worried it’ll be short enough that people will complain, so they end up adding a bunch of content in the middle that doesn’t contribute to the story or gameplay in any meaningful way. It’s just extra fluff to make sure the game fills a certain amount of space.

Of course, TV shows having filler is nothing new. Legends of Tomorrow played with the idea of a clips show just this week, and “filler episode” is a standard term for episodes that contribute nothing to the overall season of a show with a serial story.

But what’s happening on Supergirl isn’t the same as filler. These episodes are all part of the same ongoing story, and they’re all new content. They’re not budget-saving measures.

We’ve been here before

Instead, these episodes are the same thing over and over. We have to do the thing first. We failed to do the thing. Now we have to come together as a team to do the thing. Oh but there’s another thing! Multiply that by six or seven. It truly feels like a game with a bunch of repetitive sequences meant to make the game feel longer. Not sidequests, not optional collectibles,  but a bunch of junk you have to slog through to get to the final boss.

The story could’ve done this with three totems instead of seven, for example. It feels like we’re running on a television treadmill, and even little twists don’t do much to make it feel fresh.

If you look at the episode synopsis, it feels like big things are happening. Lex Luthor shows up and confesses that he’s in love with Nyxly. Alex and Kelly propose to each other. Lena embraces her magical abilities. And yet, because of the Nyxly story at the core, it all feels like just the same thing over and over again.

Lexy in Love

The Lex Luthor story at the core rings hollow, as well. this is the fourth-to-last episode of Supergirl, and bringing one of her greatest enemies back totally makes sense. Lex was a big threat, and thanks to the debacle of a trial that the season started with, he has every reason to show up and hassle Supergirl.

But Lex Luthor being madly in love with someone, so much so that he would put himself in harm’s way to protect them? That’s a lot harder to swallow. With three and a half episodes left, the show wants to back into that idea. I don’t think that works. You have to work up to it. Instead of feeling like a new path for Lex, it feels like a contrivance designed specifically to bring him back, not a believable path for the story.

All those other threads

Other parts feel better; Alex and Kelly’s relationship has evolved organically over the course of the series, and for them to pick out the same way to propose to each other makes sense. For the Love totem to end up in Alex’s possession as a result also rings true here. Lena’s path from a woman of science to someone who wields science and magic in equal measure actually works for me now despite the weird start to it.

The show also goes hard on Supercorp this week–the term for people who want to see Lena and Kara become a couple (or have decided they already are)–with the two supporting and talking to each other in a way that feels like it transcends friendship. Their scenes have more romantic vibes than Nia and Brainy, who are together and who are already a believable couple. Is the show really not going to do anything with this?

Another thing the show seems to do way too little with is the fallout from Kara quitting her job. They acknowledge it, but this is a huge change for Kara and the show. And yet, it gets some minor lip service. Andrea mentions that she’s down a Pulitzer winner, and Kara mentions that she’s focusing full-time on super-heroics. That’s really it, though.

I like Supergirl, but I wish the showrunners had cut out like five or six episodes from this season. We didn’t need a super-treadmill to finishes out the series.