This was the weakest episode of the series by far.
I’m actually really upset, mostly because they completely wasted the concept of Black Mercy, they executed the major beats for that story completely incorrectly, and what could have been the best character-driven episode of the show utterly failed to do anything with Kara’s character.
This is based loosely on Alan Moore’s “For the Man Who Has Everything” comic book Superman story, which was all about Kal El living in a fantasy so completely engrossing that he never wants to leave, and the challenge is not just in him escaping from mind control, but needing to essentially gut his own soul and memories in order to return to the real world. His victory over the Black Mercy is more bitter than sweet, as he now needs to return from a heavenly paradise into a cruel world.
That’s a major character moment, and the potential to do a satisfying twist on that with Kara’s show was here in spades: we have an internal conflict with Kara feeling like she’s living in her cousin’s shadow, that she feels simultaneously accepted on Earth but also alienated from it; we have Astra’s side of what went down on Krypton and how that’s effected Kara’s image of her mom, and likewise planted several seeds of self-doubt and doubled the loss of her world (that she now knows that there was someone who was on the verge of saving it, even if it was by dubious means); and we have her various relationships with her human family and friends. ANY of those issues could have been explored and that would’ve been a fascinating episode in and of itself, but this episode didn’t even TRY to explore anything.
Kara’s dreamscape is immediately false because she wakes up and is confused right away. This is completely at odds with what the Black Mercy is supposed to do: give you a fantasy that you do not question. So why is Kara questioning it? It’s a major stumbling block that didn’t need to be there at all, as later in the episode Kara’s accepted her fantasy world anyway. Her reaction to this world once she’s accepted it is one of ambivalence and mundaneness; she doesn’t seem happy, she seems dazed. And I love Benoist as an actor, but come on, she’s much better than this normally. Moreover, I as an audience member did not feel like this was a fantasy world; there’s little here that entices me beyond the physical spectacle of Krypton, which hey, credit where it’s due, the CGI on this show is amazing for a TV budget. But the heart and soul of Kara’s world is absent from this. The fantasy world could have seen Kara at her happiest, of having this responsibility of Supergirl and having to put on a front for a public acquainted with her cousin now lifted. Instead, we have snippets of this world that do little to actually explore Kara as a person or explore Krypton as a planet; it’s amazing that we got more in ten minutes of dreamscape screentime from the Justice League Unlimited rendition of Moore’s story than we do in the roughly twenty minutes of Kara’s that we see here.
In the real world, things aren’t much better. Alex does have some good character moments, fleshing her out as a sister to Kara, but manifesting that in the plot of “she must go find Kara and rescue her literally in her dream” was boring and unconvincing. Sure, have Alex be Kara’s anchor to Earth, but don’t make that literal. I also didn’t get the whole Jimmy stopping Hank thing that went down. I get that they were trying to play up the intensity amongst the characters, which is fine, but this whole thing with Winn and Jimmy in the DEO felt forced and unnatural as a whole, and that strand of sub-subplot very much so.
Indeed, much of the real world material felt disconnected and disparate from the actual Black Mercy story they were trying to tell in the first two-thirds of the episode, and given that the real world is the majority of that… y’know… I mean, it just seems like such an obvious thing to explore Kara and her character more here and have the real world elements elevate that instead of doing two thematically separate arcs that are connected only by plot. I don’t know what the writers were trying to do; it felt like they didn’t have a new angle to put on the Black Mercy story so they just said fuck it and didn’t do any angle - not even doing the original story properly.
Because I’m fine with a twist, that’s what makes new riffs on old ideas unique and interesting. But to just throw such a loaded story like this away, with all the story and character and thematic potential it has… it’s just such a shame.
I guess I should mention Astra’s “death.” I’m putting that in quotes because yeah, there’s no way she’s dead. I can’t imagine that they’d make such a foolhardy story decision (even in an episode as weak as this one). It also would’ve been much stronger had Kara been the one to face off with her; that would’ve really packed an emotional punch, having Kara, with her Black Mercy memories fresh in her mind, trying to talk Astra down, having those various stories from previous episodes come together somewhat here in a confrontation that might have had the two women hash out their different views of the world and of Krypton and all that. Instead we get a not un-entertaining fight between Martian Manhunter and Astra. On the flip, we have Supergirl versus Non, with some of the worst battle dialogue Benoist has ever said. Seriously, I cringed when this happened. It was all so aware of itself and familiar, the “do you have any idea what you’ve done to me” line in particular. Just so on-the-nose. This, coupled with the fact that I’d actually just re-watched the JLU episode yesterday too, so all that was fresh in my mind and really just showed how far this episode is from that one.
So yeah, overall, I’m obviously not happy. I’m not even mad so much as just goddamned disappointed. Wasted potential has never had a more accurate incarnation. If it had focussed up and centered itself around Kara instead of having that be a consequence of a larger plot, it might’ve gelled better. As it stands, this is my least favorite episode of an otherwise cheery and thoroughly enjoyable show. I am looking forward to next week!