Warning: This contains spoilers. For how to watch Supergirl, click here.
The longer superhero series go on for, the trickier it is for them to stay good. Why? Because of all the friends and sidekicks they have to juggle. While a normal TV protagonist can see their situation change and evolve, a superhero is stuck in a certain role, which means that everyone else has to provide the emotional development to keep us engaged. Supergirl suffered from that problem a lot in Season 2, but this third run has seen the show excel at balancing its growing ensemble, finding fresh roles for James and Winn, and ensuring that Lena has endless potential for interesting and surprising decisions.
As Season 3 nears its final chapters, Episode 19 is an expert demonstration of how to link various supporting characters’ stories together, not only tying up loose ends for narrative reasons but also doing so in a way that manages to be moving, genuine and highly satisfying. And so we see Kara almost take a step back so that we can focus on Alex and J’onn, both of whom have their own loved one to support: Ruby, who’s trying to deal with the fact that her mum is a Worldkiller, and Myr’nn, whose Alzhemimer’s is getting worse by the day.
Alex does her best to be there for Ruby, even reading up on every book on childhood trauma she can find, but her enthusiastic efforts to shake Ruby from her depression only end up annoying her – not least when she drags her to the local arcade. But that turns out to be just what she needs, when she rediscovers the joys of table football.
How? Enter Myr’nn, whom J’onn takes to the arcade because he’s read that 3D video games can help to strengthen brain activity amid dementia sufferers. Alas, when the video games involve guns and virtual warfare, that only triggers Myr’nn’s memories of war on Mars, and he begins to react violently. The cure for that? Table football with Ruby, as she’s distracted from her grief (understandably) by the revelation that J’onn’s dad is from Mars.
Alex and J’onn look on in surprised relief, as their problems are shared – and, even for a moment, made easier. And, of course, Ruby picks up on J’onn’s concern that what happened to his dad could happen to him – a fear that she has regarding her own mother’s condition. It’s a sign of how much progress she makes this episode that she admits this to Alex, and Alex, bless her, is finally able to be the supportive big sister she wanted to be. “I will fight to protect you as long as I live,” she asserts, and when it’s Chyler Leigh asserting something, you damn well better believe it.
The main plot of the episode brings back another supporting character: Colville, the fanatical leader of a Supergirl cult who switched to become a devotee of Reign. More specifically, it’s Olivia who’s the problem – the girl who Supergirl once saved and has now turned to even worse beliefs. She storms into CatCo with the result of Colville’s cult, when Tanya escapes their clutches to warn James that the movement is planning to build a bomb.
Tanya is kidnapped once more, but not before James Olsen can go to rescue her – only to have his mask shot off by the cult’s henchmen. (It’s not a cult without some henchmen.) His face exposed, he’s promptly held at gunpoint by the police, who don’t see James Olsen, beloved Editor of CatCo, or even Guardian, the occasionally unwelcome but well-meaning vigilante friend of Supergirl, but just a man who poses a threat because he’s black.
James escapes with a smoke bomb, winning a fan in the process (Tanya: “Don’t worry, I’m not gonna start a church or anything!”), but the cult threaten to out his secret identity, unless he returns Taya, and the book written in Kryptonian that she smuggled from the cult with her.
Meanwhile, Mon-El and Supergirl check out the cult’s HQ and find the ashen remains of a member. But some analysis from Lena reveals that it’s not actually a bomb being built, but the Rock of Yuda Kal that killed the unfortunate pile of dirt – a statue of the Kryptonian Goddess of Life, which Olivia wants to use in a ritual to make a new Worldkiller. The bad news? A new Wordkiller. The good news? If Lena can study the stone and reverse it, they can cure Reign. Needless to say, the ritual goes ahead, but Mon-El and Kara intercept just in time to have a punch-up with Olivia – and separate the stone from her hand and stop her from becoming a fully-fledged Worldkiller.
But that’s only the sideshow: the main attraction is James, who decides to beat the cult at their own game and hold a press conference to out himself. It’s a decision that leads to a heart-to-heart with Lena, in which he tells her about the first time he got handcuffed by the police… at the age of seven. It’s a moving monologue that Mehcad Brooks delivers with a heartfelt sincerity. That, he says, was the appeal of being Guardian: the chance to be judged by his actions not how he looks. Tanya surrenders herself, so his identity is kept secret, but Supergirl doesn’t shy away from the opportunity to address race in a way that feels entirely natural for the show – and particularly relevant to the real world right now.
He also has a moving chat with Kara, in which he reassures her over her lies to Lena over her own secret identity, saying that he respects, understands and appreciates that she does it to keep them all safe. For himself, though, he still wants to go public one day. “I think people like Tanya need to see heroes who look like me so they know what they’re capable of,” he decides. When Supergirl flies right, it soars.
Speaking of soaring, tune in next time, as we see what happens when Kara and Mon-El fly off in J’onn’s retro car spaceship to go and get a similar stone to the Rock of Yuda Kal (Lena and Winn traced its radiation signature to a nearby asteroid), hopefully in time to return and cure Alex, before Reign can break free.
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 14-day free trial is available for new subscribers.