Supergirl: Season 5 — a review

I was looking back through my posts and discovered something I had forgotten. I never wrote reviews for Supergirl: Season 4 or The Flash: Season 5.

I remember what happened. I did watch all the episodes of both of those seasons, growing increasingly dejected as I did so. I’ve described this before as DC-on-CW fatigue. The Berlanti series that once brought me joy were no longer doing the trick. Including two of my top three shows, The Flash and, this surprisingly good take on Supergirl. Because I am not a professional critic, I try to not waste too much productive time writing reviews for things I didn’t like. Today, in hindsight, I would give both seasons a solid C+ grade (perhaps even a B-). Back then, I didn’t trust myself to write fair reviews.

I was sick of all the Berlanti shows (at least those on The CW), and had put all of them on hiatus. I watched the final two seasons of Arrow before any another, because they were the final two seasons. I returned to The Flash and Supergirl a few months before their 2021 seasons began, after the COVID-19 delays that will be a footnote asterisk for anything written about 2020 for decades to come. The Flash was always my favorite of the shows (sorry, Kara), especially after Arrow stopped making any kind of sense. I have to admit that I’ve returned to Supergirl this soon only because Season 6 (now playing) is the final season of the series.

I’m watching the Season 6 episodes now as they air. It’s that completist thing, the collector’s curse. I have to collect the entire set.

After putting them on hiatus, I’ve never returned to watching DC’s Legends of Tomorrow or Black Lightning. I’m not saying that I never will, but it’s beginning to seem less and less likely. I haven’t watched Batwoman or Superman & Lois (not yet), but I did enjoy the non-CW Berlanti shows Titans and Doom Patrol.

I haven’t given up on DC Comics superheroes (although you know my primary colors are Marvel Red). I haven’t given up on Greg Berlanti. What he’s created in an even less restrictive environment than The CW has been interesting so far. And, I haven’t given up on Supergirl, even if the series itself is coming to a conclusion.

Melissa Benoist is now indelibly printed upon my brain as the quintessential Supergirl. Just as Lynda Carter was always my Wonder Woman and Christopher Reeve was Superman. Yeah, yeah. I know about Gal Gadot and Henry Cavill. They’re not bad, either.

All new seasons are about changes. Change implies uncertainty, often leads to the reveal of new mysteries to solve, and keeps the narrative in motion. The status quo is the enemy of all good drama. Things need to be shaken up occasionally.

When we last saw Supergirl and her circle of friends (I know the term “Superfriends” was supposedly coined by Winn Schott, but I just can’t bring myself to use it with a straight face), Lex Luthor (Jon Cryer) had told his sister, Lena Luthor (Katie McGrath) about Supergirl’s secret identity, Lena’s good friend Kara Danvers. Lena killed her brother immediately after hearing this. You know how those Luthors can be. So, immediately, we know there is tension between Lena and Kara as we go into this season, even if Kara doesn’t know it yet.

CatCo also has a new owner, because that’s one big way to shake things up on the show. Lena sells CatCo to an old friend, Andrea Rojas (Julie Gonzalo), who immediately replaces James Olsen (Mehcad Brooks) as editor-in-chief, and changes the CatCo format from hard-hitting journalism to something more modern and click-baitish, more Buzzfeed than New York Times. Considering that Kara Danvers just won a Pulitzer for her work at CatCo, this change comes as a bit of a surprise.

The move also leads to James Olsen’s departure from the series in the fourth episode of the season (sorry: spoilers). Mehcad Brooks was one of my favorite actors on the show. His leaving may have just been another symptom of a ship that’s increasingly taking on more water than the bilge pumps can eliminate. Or, since I already know Season 6 is the final season, this may just be another example of hindsight being 20/20. I know that Brooks was writing a book, and has released music as KING GVPSV. I’ve also read that he was developing a series he intends to star in.

Andrea Rojas is also the head of Obsidian Tech, a company developing a VR contact lens that you just know will be a part of the seasonal story arc (it is: that’s not a spoiler). At CatCo, Rojas brings award-winning investigative journalist William Dey (Staz Nair) on board. Immediately, he becomes both Kara’s work rival and potential love interest.

The season becomes a convoluted story about Lena’s reaction to what she sees as Kara’s betrayal, and also about a secret Illuminati-type group of near-immortal superpowered individuals known as Leviathan. This group is represented by Rama Khan, played by Mitch Pileggi, who will always be Skinner from The X-Files to me (Grandpa Winchester from Supernatural, on an off day), but seems to be truly led by Gamemnae (Cara Buono), who also appears as the character Gemma Cooper. After our obligatory Crisis crossover episode, Lex Luthor is alive once again and he sort of hijacks the story, as his character tends to do.

A lot of stuff happens in these nineteen episodes. I’m not going to recount all of it to save you from additional spoilers. Also, because I’m writing this review several weeks after I finished watching these episodes, and I don’t remember everything that happened.

I do remember feeling like the series was suffering from too-many-characters syndrome, which seems to happen on these CW shows. I commonly think of these characters in terms of dyads. Kara, as the lead, has the most connections to other characters of course, but all of the characters seem to be keen on coupling.

Alex Danvers (Chyler Leigh) is in a relationship with Kelly Olsen (Azie Tesfai), James’ sister. Brainiac 5 (Jesse Rath) is paired with transgender superhero Nia Nal/Dreamer (Nichole Maines). J’onn J’onzz (David Harewood) has M’gann (Sharon Leal). Kara eventually has William Dey, of course; I won’t reveal whether Dey is a hero or a villain, although I suspect I may have just given this fact away.

In addition, J’onn J’onzz’s forgotten brother Malefic appears, the role played by Phil LaMarr, who has done a lot of voice-acting work in the DC Comics animated universe. He was also shot in the face as Marvin in Pulp Fiction, which makes him a certified star in my mind. Thomas Lennon makes a memorable appearance as Mister Mxyzptlk. Winn Schott (Jeremy Jordan) makes a three-episode guest appearance, also as the alternate universe version of Toyman. I’ve missed Winn since his departure from the series in Season 3, an event which also coincided with what I perceived as a quality decline in the show.

If not having a full understanding of everything that is going on is the hallmark of a great series, then this was a great season. It was busy, and a lot of things happen, sometimes all at once, which kept me from thinking too deeply about the plot. There were plenty of entertaining moments. I liked the change in Supergirl’s uniform, which ditched the skirt and gave her a pair of pants. The emotional center of the season, for me, was the friction between Kara and Lena, and I thought this was handled well. I liked that Lena was leaning heavily towards the supervillain side of her personality, which seems to be a dominant family trait. But, at the same time, I was rooting for her redemption.

If you’re looking for the simple plots and messages of Silver Age comic book stories, you won’t find that here. With the loss now of both Winn Schott and James Olsen (not to mention Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart)), the relationship between Kara and her sister Alex is all that remains of the series dynamic established back when the show was on CBS instead of The CW. The series no longer seems to be “about” any one thing. Instead, it continues to spread out like an infinite fractal, moving further and further away from its center.

It’s a superhero series based upon a comic book character. What am I complaining about?

I’ll continue watching the final season, of course. The superhero genre is not dead on television, as the influx of new series demonstrates. However, I suspect that Supergirl‘s best episodes are already past us. If I’m mistaken, I’ll admit it in my last review of the show.

Firewater’s Forgiveness-is-Something-You-Give-to-Yourself Report Card: C+

I’m not saying that this season is a complete disaster (although it did offer up a succession of disasters, plot-wise). It has plenty of entertaining moments. A lot of spectacle and a whole lot of life-affirming messages, as well as thinly-veiled potshots at the Trump administration (perhaps you remember this period of American history). I like many of the characters on the show, but can’t help but think they’d all gain more depth if there were fewer of them.

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