Supergirl has never been a show that is extremely subtle. This week's episode invites some scorn in some of its choices, but it's hard not to enjoy how over the top it has become as it tries to be the most on the nose and earnest show on broadcast television. Anchored by a fully aware performance by Jon Cryer as Lex Luthor, the show is not just putting Lex Luthor on trial– nay nay!! The entire system is on trial! Misogyny is on trial! [Spoiler alert: misogyny has a really good lawyer! And his name is Lex Luthor!]
The episode begins with a raid on a blood bank by a guest character named Silas who is not a vampire, but he's an alien from the planet Transylvania ("which is a thing" as Dreamer tells us) who has fangs, turns into a bat, and drinks blood. Anyway, there are lots of vampire puns, which is basically the specific energy this episode is putting out. On one level: it's so stupid. On the other: is it knowingly just fun?
Regardless, Team Supergirl needs Silas because he knows how to get into the Phantom Zone, so he helps them build a portal to get there. But as we learn, their version of the Phantom Zone is guarded by actual soul-sucking phantoms. They're basically dementors from Harry Potter, complete with Dreamer and J'onn being able to use their expecto patronum mind powers to shield people from their psychic attacks. On one level, it works and is consistent. On the other, it's a bit on the nose. Ok, a lot on the nose.
Supergirl has never been a show that is afraid of wearing its heart on its sleeve, though, so why start now? And speaking of being a bit on the nose…
It's the trial of the century! Catco is already planning for Lex's downfall and dispatches both Nia (Nicole Maines) and William (Staz Nair) to cover the trial. In what is obviously a COVID-restriction production choice that they also try to make work for the story, the trial is restricted to only Lex, the prosecutor, the judge, and the witness while the jury joins via individual Zoom chat windows. How very 2020/2021.
But drawing on the title of the episode, the show tries very much to be its best courtroom drama. With Lex acting as his own lawyer (of course, he is- world's smartest man!) he tries to manipulate witnesses and the jury by playing on their anxieties about how powerful mean are now under attack in society. It is a choice, as they say.
What is nice is seeing Katie McGrath as Lena Luthor back in the pocket of where we want her as a character: stuck between the Luthor name and legacy and trying to do what's right. The courtroom scene between McGrath and Cryer is amazingly fun, especially the extent to which Cryer is simultaneously so over the top and also restrained. Eye twitches and jaw clenches show he is holding back how he really feels about all these little people, for whom he is putting on a show to play up the white mens' insecurities in the jury pool. And here's the only tonal mismatch: this is the only moment the show seems to be trying to be restrained and at least a little bit subtle. It would almost be refreshing for them to just have Lex Luthor literally just say, "I am misogyny incarnate! You can't put me on trial! YOU are on trial!" Have him wear a t-shirt that says "Toxic Masculinity." Vampire puns.
Again, this is the episode that begins with vampire puns and never really improves from there. Still, it's enjoyable. And a mid-episode speech about self-doubt and heroism from Dreamer feels really appropriate and timely. Kara being trapped in the Phantom Zone and announcing that she's going to fight every day no matter what makes us believe in heroes. J'onn and M'Gann discussing loss and trauma is important. It's where the show's superpower-as-earnestness really works.
So can we ultimately forgive the vampire puns, literal Phantom Zone phantoms, and putting Lex on trial for his crimes against humanity, but especially women? Sure. Because despite being on the nose, all of the strange choices work together to push toward theme, towards character development and growth, and so we can forgive some of the silliness.
Don't mistake it for Shakespeare, but inasmuch as it speaks to the cultural zeitgeist of 2021? Yes, it works.
It sounds like the homages will continue in next week's episode "Phantom Menaces" which will air April 13 at 8/7 pm on the CW.
Supergirl Season 6, Episode 3 "Phantom Menaces": BATTLE OF WITS – Supergirl (Melissa Benoist) makes a new ally. Lena (Katie McGrath) and Lex (guest star Jon Cryer) battle for control of Luthor Corp. Sudz Sutherland directed the episode written by Dana Horgan & Emilio Ortega Aldrich.