This week's Supergirl is a little on the melodramatic side, but what do you expect from former frenemies turned best friends who have now been lying and betraying one another for almost half a season? Most importantly, it places the personal conflict between Kara (Melissa Benoist) and Lena (Katie McGrath) front and center in an episode where we actually learn a lot about Leviathan and their place in all of this. We also have a surprisingly raw and satisfying end to some of the conflict between J'onn (David Harewood) and his forgotten brother Malefic (Phil LaMarr).
But before we get to the betrayal, let's set the scene. We actually start our episode with a nice sparring session between J'onn and Kara, with both of them working out their various frustrations.
This sets up our basic conflicts of the episode quite well, although neither Kara nor J'onn will truly be able to meet their main challenges through punching things. At the same time, we see Leviathan come after Lena, who devises the best bank shot in the history of supervillainy on the show.
Using the protagonist's innate goodness against them is almost cliche for a villain, but the fact that Kara doesn't know that Lena has turned against her is a nice touch. What's hard to watch is over and over in the episode we see Lena manipulating Kara into getting what she wants. Kara comes off as super naive about so many of these things (yes, by all means, invite her to the Fortress of Solitude!) but it's also not only in character, but also a great indicator of where Kara's head is. Still holding on to a lot of guilt for lying to her friend over the years, she's overcompensating by trying to fulfill all of her friend's needs. We've seen this so many times previously, from flying around the world to get Lena's favorite pastries to being willing to break into military facilities to steal Lex's journals.
Of course, cue Lena's sudden but inevitable betrayal and her admission she's been manipulating Kara these past months. And this is where the episode gets a little bit melodramatic. While I am usually the first to praise Katie McGrath, this performance felt a little unhinged. No doubt this is an attempt to show her full heel-turn, but it would have still worked if it had dialed back just a little bit. I get it that the dam of emotion is bursting open, but this is also someone who has spent the last few months purging her negative emotions in computer simulations where she punches Supergirl in the face.
The bigger question is what this means for Lena's character moving forward. One of the things that has been so effective about her this season is she doesn't actually seem to be doing that much that is bad. Sure, mind control is generally bad, but her purpose is to try to purge all humans of anger, hatred, and violence. That seems downright humanitarian. Start printing the "Lena Luthor Did Nothing Wrong!" t-shirts! This specific heel-turn threatens the view of the more redeemable Lena, although no doubt the major conflict from here out will be Kara trying to "rescue" her former friend's soul and the guilt she will feel about it.
This makes the secondary storyline involving J'onn and Malefic all the more interesting. Cutting to the very end, we see the two brothers no only reunited, but overcoming their differences and reconciling. Not only is this a beautiful, touching scene between Harewood and LaMarr, but it begs some important questions about "Crisis". Originally The Monitor had brought Malefic out of The Phantom Zone to confront J'onn J'onzz in the Season 4 finale. It was unclear why he would do something like this to prepare our heroes to face the Crisis, but perhaps this is a tease that Malefic will join the heroes' side? I can get behind that.
And this doesn't even touch all of the big reveals about Leviathan, which becomes incredibly interesting. Alex (Chyler Leigh) and Brainy (Jesse Rath) end up tracking down Leviathan's headquarters. We're introduced not only to their lair but also some of their internal politics. It seems as though they've been following the leadership of Rama Khan (Mitch Pileggi). First, it's always good to see Mitch Pileggi in a genre show again. Second, it's interesting that they'd give him the identity as Rama Khan, whose comics origins and backstory are more tied to Atlantis than Leviathan. This continues Supergirl's pattern this season of taking comics characters (Rip Roar, Andrea Rojas/Acrata) and radically changing them for the show. This is all fine and good, and has been pretty standard for the Arrowverse, but these last few seem particularly untethered to their comics backstories.
But as for Pileggi as Rama Khan, as a leader for Leviathan, he is tied to disasters throughout history, from Pompeii to "Noah's Flood." Leviathan seems much more like the Nolan-verse League of Shadows in their desire to cleanse humanity any time they become too self-indulgent and evil. And now? They're worried about technology and peoples' faces being buried in their screens. Ok, Boomer. But still, it gives them an interesting edge.
And one of the most interesting and important points here in all of this is that none of our antagonists are completely wrong or necessarily evil in their pursuits. The best villains are always those who believe they are the heroes, and both Rama Khan and Lena Luthor seem to fit that bill. So, despite some soap opera moments, this episode works well in moving our characters forward.
And next week we come to the midseason finale, "The Wrath of Rama Khan," which continues the trend of every episode this season being a movie, music, or book reference– most of them from the 80's and 90's.