In the season's penultimate episode of the CW's Supergirl "Red Dawn" we get a climactic showdown between our hero and her Kasnian clone Red Daughter – but that is not the most precipitous event in tonight's episode, as Brainy, Dreamer, and J'onn chase down alien captives to find out what is happening to them, and we find out exactly what Lex has been up to.
But first, the battle royale and everything that leads up to it, as this episode begs, borrows and steals from some of our other favorites in the world of comics and film:
Supergirl often works so well because of its focus on the relationship of the two Danvers sisters – and this episode is no abberation. Alex (Chyler Leigh) is still reeling from almost being able to adopt and begins remembering little snippets of life with her adopted sister Kara. Except now she's remembering all of the parts J'onn erased to protect her memories of Supergirl's identity. There are several quieter moments between Alex and Supergirl that are the real fuel this show runs on.
But of course, we also still need the sturm und drang of the "Giant Superhero Showdown" – and we get that in spades. Early in the episode, Red Daughter has Kara tied up in a hotel room – kryptonite around her neck – and she's ready to put a bullet in Supergirl's head. Instead, they engage in a witty "tete-a-tete" about the putative sickness of American society. The dialogue is straight out of your favorite cold war spy thriller about "the decadent West" and is a lot of fun. Kara also fatefully warns the Krasnaya Doch that she is just another one of Lex's loose ends, and he will kill her when he is done with her. Oh, and we also get Kara pulling basically the same move Black Widow does in her opening scene in Avengers. We see what u did thar.
Then there's the climactic final battle.
Ummmm. . . wow.
Red Daughter has some extra powers up her sleeve, and putting her in the Destroyer suit is also a great idea both aesthetically to keep our clones separate visually, but it also helps reinforce that she is artificial, but also formidable. Perhaps the best part of the scene is where Kara basically pulls off the same force flip Rey does in the new The Rise of Skywalker trailer and tells her communist doppleganger, "I stand for Hope, Help, and Compassion for all." I suddenly feel incredibly patriotic. It's also great to hear the Supergirl motto incorporated so well into the scene. What is Red Daughter fighting for? She's the pawn of corrupt Kasnian apparatchiks and, ultimately, of American billionaire Lex Luthor. There is no greater purpose.
And then… well, and then things go a little haywire. Red Daughter literally punches Supergirl so hard it knocks her into the next time zone – or at least far enough away that it goes from being twilight to completely dark. Using her lightning powers, Red Daughter sucks enough energy from Kara to completely drain her. When Kara is knocked out and barely clinging to life, Alex is able to reach her, as is – conveniently enough – her adopted mom (Helen Slattery). Putting aside the "convenience" of that, it was nice for this to be a family moment – as all of Alex's memories of Kara come flooding back. In the dark, Alex begs Kara to recharge by pulling the sun's energy from nearby plants and grass. Now now, before we go all "continuity police" on this, writer Eric Carrasco on Twitter specifically mentions how both the lightning and the drawing the sun's energy from plants took inspiration from Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns.
I like it.
And we haven't even gotten into the absolutely bonkers other storylines of this episode! First, Lena and James try to track down Ben Lockwood to see if he will let them extract the Harun-El formula from him. No, he likes his superpowers very much, thank you – even if he is losing his hair and showing all sorts of signs of physical deterioration. When Lena tells him that he's been set up by Lex – that his entire journey has been masterminded by a billionaire supervillain – Lockwood snaps, and goes looking for answers himself.
And who does he find? Otis Graves! Playing video games, eating junk food, and spilling all of Mr. Luthor's secrets left and right – oh, yeah, you were totally just one of Lex's pawns, dummy! Ben Lockwood isn't taking to that news very well, which leads to a fight between him and Metall-Otis – which also ends up involving James, who has been following Lockwood with Lena.
Unfortunately, James is hurt – even with his powers from the Harun-El – so Lena rushes him back to her mother, who is able to help him out. Do we even trust her? Well, Lena sort of does, after an earlier scene with a truth-seeker wrapped around her arm. But desperate times, desperate measures and all.
Which leads us to the most desperate of our heroes: "Brainy, Dreamer, and J'onnz's Bogus Journey." While searching for some aliens who have been taken captive by the Sons of Liberty, they find a detention center and decide to infiltrate it. This leads to one of the most delightful pieces of acting we've seen from Sam Witwer all season, where he plays himself if Brainiac-5 were to be playing him. It's hilarious and wonderful and if Witwer isn't nominated for an acting Emmy people just aren't paying close enough attention.
Of course, their not-so-clever ruse is discovered and both of them are captured. The Sons put them through a process to drain some of their alien energy and it "reboots" Brainy.
The scene where this happens is heartbreaking, as we see actor Jesse Rath fighting off this change as it comes over him. At first it isn't clear how much of Querl Dox we may have lost and how much Brainiac has taken over… but it does not look good. Anyone who knows Brianiac-5's lineage and backstory knows how bad this could get, with the Brainiac program being one of the greatest and most dangerous villains in Superman's rogues gallery. Given what else he does in the episode and how he starts treating Dreamer and J'onn, its seems like he is going full Brainiac.
On the plus side, we also see some pretty amazing action scenes with him. If this is a tease for next season with him as the "Big Bad," that could get very interesting. Let the speculation begin!
But not before we get to the final scene of the episode, where all of the storylines converge. The aliens were having their energy absorbed to power a modified Claymore laser system (remember the one Supergirl destroyed earlier in the season?) small enough to power a supersuit for Lex, which he used to fight off a Kasnian attack and Red Daughter herself. As the president appears on television saying that a greatful nation thanks Lex Luthor, he cradles the (probably dead?) Red Daughter in his arms. Kara was right: this has all been a scam, with Lex playing everyone off of each other, to get exactly what he always wanted: adulation and recognition for his superior brilliance.
This episode was bananas… but in a good way. It took genuine risks and they paid off. It asked a lot of its actors, especially Rath in his transformation, and they rose to the challenge. But as I said before, it is many of the quieter moments – the love between sisters – that glued everything together.
It's also worth noting that this was the final episode for series head writer Carrasco, who tweeted a lovely thread about his feelings leaving the series. Not a bad way to go out on top…
Speaking of "going out on top," we still have our season finale next week! Audaciously enough, it is titled "The Quest for Peace." I applaud the writers for this, and truly hope there is peace by the end… but when you name-check the creative nadir of your franchise?
One has to wonder…
Still, I can't be more excited for where this ends up when Supergirl wraps up its season run (its best season so far) next Sunday, May 19, on the CW:
Supergirl season 4, episode 22: "The Quest for Peace": LEX LUTHOR RETURNS – Lex Luthor (guest star Jon Cryer) descends upon Washington, DC and summons Lena (Katie McGrath) and Lillian Luthor (guest star Brenda Strong) to the White House. Supergirl (Melissa Benoist) realizes she has one last chance to stop Lex and turns to the power of the press to help her. Jesse Warn directed the episode with story by Robert Rovner & Jessica Queller and teleplay by Rob Wright & Derek Simon