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“We’re here, all of us, by her grace.” That’s the mantra adopted by Coville (Chad Lowe), our villain of the week for Episode 4 of Supergirl’s third season. Except, he isn’t really a villain at all: he’s a cult leader who believes, above all, in the power of Supergirl. A bold departure from the comic book telly norm, The Faithful is one of Supergirl’s strongest, and most unique, episodes to date.
Supergirl Versus Religion? It might sound like a bad evangelical cartoon, but The CW’s take on Superman’s cousin is at its most subtle and nuanced here, unafraid to present us with a bad guy who isn’t all that bad, and, in fact, might even be rather nice: his movement, we discover after Kara, James and Winn attend a meeting, involves a group of survivors coming together to celebrate the fact that they were all saved by Supergirl. They light a candle and follow the teachings of Kryptonian God, Rao.
“Do you remember them?” asks James, quietly, on the back row. “I remember all of them,” comes Kara’s quiet, almost tearful reply.
It’s a beautiful moment in an episode that explores all sides of faith with a typically open heart. The intelligent script sets the tone early on, with a cold open that’s a flashback to when Supergirl first used her powers to save the plane that Alex was on in Season 1 – and Coville, we learn, was a passenger on that plane. Grieving and with his life in ruins, he found a purpose, and a sense of awe, in that rescue – one that he passes on to others. There’s something nice about a cult that mostly revolves around passing on that positivity. That is, until more people want to join the club.
Enter a random dude, who decides that his fast ticket into the group is to start a fire in the middle of the city, so that he can be saved by Supergirl. She, of course, does help him, rewarding his unwavering faith in her abilities and compassion – but doing so only reinforces the unhealthy zeal with which these followers go about their faith. To attempt to quash it, Kara goes as a reporter to meet Coville and question him – but, in a brilliant piece of writing, he sees straight through her disguise, leaving him as the one with perception and insight, and her as the one who’s maybe misunderstanding the situation.
Kara trying to model herself as an angry, cautionary deity, of course, doesn’t quite work, and so the group continues regardless, convinced that they know better than their sacred figurehead. There’s an interesting line between freedom of speech and extremism, and Supergirl gently explores the boundaries with a sensitivity you could easily not expect from a superhero series (well, if you don’t watch Supergirl regularly, that is). There’ no judgement made here, or a sweeping speech to make things black and white. Ultimately, though, things do escalate to a stadium bombing, and it’s only when Kara is wounded by having to come into contact with Kryptonite (hidden inside the explosive) that her followers begin to become disillusioned – just enough of a nudge to help Coville remember that mass murder is not a worthy achievement. And so they work together to throw the bomb into a hole burned into the Earth by Kara’s heat vision. Day saved, right?
Not so fast. Kara’s ingenious move to stop people being harmed only leads to another object underground being disturbed – presumably the pod that we saw being sent away from Krypton at the end of Season 2? It appears that pod contains a nasty hooded creature, who winds up in the house of Samantha, where it tells her that she will one day “reign”.
We already suspected that Samantha would grow to become this season’s Big Bad, and her disturbing vision – including symbols and numbers all over her skin – is an ominous confirmation that something’s coming her way soon. You can’t help but feel sorry for her: it’s not as if she doesn’t have enough of a challenge trying to balance her job heading up Luther Corp with her daughter, Ruby. There’s a nice bit of female bonding before that sinister denouement, which is enough to make sure that we’re already on her side to some degree – and to reinforce the winning friendship between Lena and Kara. (If only the show could work out what to do with its male friends, Winn and James, who are thankfully no longer pursuing a Guardian subplot, but are sadly left without anything else going on.)
Speaking of nicely depicted female relationships, let’s take a moment to reflect on the sad prospect of Alex and Maggie breaking up permanently, after Alex and Maggie once again fail to agree on the wanting kids/not wanting kids issue. At least their marriage is called off in a mature, amicable way that doesn’t resort to unnecessary deaths or petty melodrama – but is this really the last we’ll see of them together? Say it ain’t so, Supergirl. Chyler Leigh and Floriana Lima have been two of the best things in this show for a long time.
Let’s also take a nice moment to reflect on the rather moving montage that wraps up events, as Supergirl manages that rare feat of making Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah not feel too cheesy – a cover of the song is accompanied by shots of Kara reciting the Kryptonian Rao prayer that Coville also recites in prson, while J’onn and his father have a brief moment of shared meditation. What a brave and important piece of writing this is.
Supergirl Season 3 is available on Sky 1 every Monday, within a week of its US broadcast. 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.