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“This world has sunken into chaos and sin. Too many have eluded judgment.” That’s the sound of Supergirl, well, not sounding like Supergirl. Season 3 of The CW’s superhero series has been slowly building to the unveiling of its Big Bad, and now that it’s ready, Episode 9 (the midseason finale) doesn’t just unveil her: it tears down the entire show to reveal her in her full terror.
Titled “Reign”, these 40 minutes are the darkest, most violent slice of Supergirl we’ve had to date – and it’s a dazzling tour de force that leaves your eyeballs bruised from the punches. Reign, of course, is Samantha (Odette Annable), the new BFF of Lena (Katie McGrath) and Kara (Melissa Benoist). She’s been gradually discovering her darker side for eight episodes. While the explicit glimpses of Reign taking over have been tantalising, though, it’s the subtler bits of out-of-character behaviour that have really unsettled. As our crew watch the stranger Reign symbol appearing throughout the city, Lena suggests it’s the work of fear-mongering misogynist Morgan. They all sigh, tut and slag him off. Samantha? She stares at his picture. “He doesn’t deserve to live,” she mutters.
Reign’s disturbing ruthlessness doesn’t just disrupt the group dynamic, though: it ends up taking over the whole show, the fear of that non-Kryptonian symbol seeping through the script and right into the visuals. By the time we see a drug deal being sabotaged by a superpowered forced, it’s the dead of night, with people fleeing on handheld cameras and a shadowy spectre swooping overhead, like Batman just gate-crashed events. As for Morgan, well, he lives, but only after being subject to a brutal assault on his building long after business hours.
There’s still room for humour, particularly from Winn – and a splash of romance, as James and Lena kiss (after he saves her life several times), finally giving him both a renewed place on the programme and his heroism actual relevance. There’s also time for heartbreak, as Kara continues struggling to get over Mon-El’s return, and his amusingly charming and kind-hearted wife. In another show’s hands, such soap opera-like details could feel trashy, but it’s those touches, acted with sincerity by the cast, that keeps the show going, even through its weaker episodes.
And they also make the show’s decision to double down on the darkness all the more effective. Halfway through the episode, Kara decides enough is enough and calls out Reign with a symbol of her own – and Reign appears instantly, leading to one heck of a smackdown. Supergirl has often failed to give our hero a worthy foe, but Reign is more than that: she’s stronger, faster, more willing to cross a moral line. And so when they clash, they do so with stunning, unflinching intensity.
It’s directed with real flair and wit, juxtaposing their blows with an office Christmas party, as they tear through a tinsel-strewn meeting room where Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree is playing. Then, they’re in the streets, swinging at each other in slow-motion, surrounded by shining rain. It’s blockbusting stuff, literally, even more so than Kara and Superman slugging it out last season. “Is she dead?” asks one onlooker. “I’m gonna kill you,” threatens Reign, and we absolutely believe it. These are words that we’d never expect to hear in an episode of Supergirl, but here they are, and they’re hugely chilling.
There’s a spooky, philosophical weight to the whole thing, after our fanatical prophet from a few episodes ago pops up again in prison to warn Kara that Reign is coming. The idea that he’s actually right only helps to wrong-foot both Kara and us, for our faith in her usually-correct POV. For all his talk of gods and Kara needing to fall for a new god to rise, though, Reign announces her righteous claim to rule with a nasty bluntness. “You’re no god, just as I’m no devil,” she declares to Supergirl. “All I am is truth.” Is she dead? For a moment, we actually suspect she might be. The only thing worse is the thought of Sam’s daughter waking up on Christmas Day and going downstairs to find her Not Mum in the living room. Cliffhangers don’t come better wrapped than that.
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.