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Morgan Edge. Whether you hate him or love to hate him, either way, Episode 12 of Supergirl’s third run gives you a chance to let your feelings out, as he returns for another showdown with Lena Luther. While you might be tired by their ongoing tit for tat, this episode reminds you just how effective he is as an antagonist – firstly, because he’s not a super-villain, which means that the threat he poses is rewardingly human, and secondly, because he’s not the enemy of Supergirl, but Lena.
Lena Luthor is increasingly the MVP of this series, as Melissa Benoist’s Kara generously gives screentime and the spotlight to Katie McGrath’s fantastic non-villain. Lena as an enemy would be fun, but Lena as an ally is far more entertaining – she brings a moral complexity that’s lacking from the primary-coloured super-series, with Kara and the DEO gang largely living by a simple black-and-white code. Not on the ride side of it? A smile and a good talking-to about forgiveness and you, too, can be part of the team. It’s a wonderfully positive basis for a TV series, particularly at a time when superheroes prefer to go dark, but Supergirl’s third season has succeeded because it understands that it needs a bit of shade to go with the sun – and so we have Reign, bringer of destruction on a level we’ve never seen before, and Lena, a character who wants to do good, but has the undoubtedly capacity to do something wrong at any point.
Edge is just the man to bring that quality out, and Adrian Pasdar’s self-obsessed, whiny bitterness is amusingly loathsome – and, when it sparks something nastier in Lena, carries a surprising amount of weight. It helps that, as this is a human-on-human quarrel, the stakes can be high at the drop of a hat: we open with Morgan’s car being hacked and trying to explode him into tiny bits. He survives and instantly blames Lena. Fast forward a few minutes and she’s suddenly poisoned by cyanide, almost dying until Kara and Alex manage to intervene (bonus points for the fact that Chyler Leigh’s DEO agent saves the day with her science knowledge, rather than Kara with her super-strength).
The assassination attempt also brings out the hero in James Olsen (Mehcad Brooks), who promptly sprints after the person hired to poison Lena’s coffee – but the hitman is shot down by someone we can’t see. And so Lena and Kara play detective, infiltrating a party hosted by Morgan, where Lena confronts him. She knows that he tried to bump her off, she warns, recording him with a dictaphone to get his confession on record – another neat human touch. When he tries to escape, following a violent kerfuffle, James again is on hand to stop him – and retrieve the recording.
It’s yet another sign of how much the series has improved that James finally has a place on the programme: with Cat Grant gone, Season 2 doubled down on its DEO antics, leaving James struggling to find relevance amid the superheroics. With James and Kara’s relationship therefore unbalanced, they upped the Mon-El quota to fill in the romantic blanks – a plotline that was well performed by Benoist and Chris Wood, but became a tad repetitive. Now, though, Mon-El has become the mature sidekick Kara needs, always supporting and never interfering, while James has become a hero – not for some ill-explained urge to put on a super-suit, but because he cares for and wants to protect Lena.
It’s a deftly balanced ensemble, and that equilibrium shines even more when Supergirl brings back Lillian Luthor for one more round of evils. Lena’s mother, like Edge, is another one determined to bring out Lena’s bad side, but she does so in a more overt way – namely, by gatecrashing Morgan’s party too, with a machine gun-wielding drone and an exoskeleton designed by Lex allowing her to fly and shoot. That kerfuffle we mentioned? That was her.
She reminds Lena that she has the potential to outdo her brother in this battle with Morgan – a speech that’s delivered with just the right balance between sinister manipulation and unnervingly maternal concern. All that speech does is spark Lena’s brain into action, reminding her that she can be clever and cunning without wanting to take over the world. Long may her character development continue, even if that does mean we see more of Edge in the future.
Speaking of world domination, what of Reign? The episode reinforces its more human concerns with a touching sideline that sees Sam seek help for memory blanks. Who does she turn to? Not the DEO or Supergirl, but to Alex (Chyler Leigh again, stealing all the scenes), who provides support as a friend, and takes her for an MRI scan. With nothing coming back, Sam is still confused as to what’s going on – but it’s clear that it won’t be long until she’s blowing things up again, as Winn begins to find a way to track the Worldkillers they suspect have already arrived on the planet. After an enjoyably down-to-Earth hour, we’re all too ready for another dose of action. See what we mean? Superbly balanced.
Supergirl Season 3 is available on Sky 1 every Monday at 8pm. Don’t have Sky? You can stream it live or catch up on-demand through NOW TV, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription, no contract. A 7-day free trial is available for new subscribers.