Three seasons in, The CW’s ‘Supergirl’ still doesn’t know what it wants

April 20, 2018, 2:00 a.m.

For anybody who has read my writing, I’m a self-proclaimed nerd. I started watching “Supergirl” at the end of high school in an attempt to balance my Marvel obsession with some DC content. “Supergirl” was moved from CBS after its first season to The CW and was immediately embraced by the fans of the network, namely those who follow “Legends of Tomorrow,” “Arrow,” “The Flash” and now “Riverdale” and other teen-oriented shows. Arguably, the content that is presented for all of these shows isn’t purely stereotypically adolescent in nature, but the presentation certainly is. When I begin to watch shows, I usually make a commitment to follow them through until they end or they’re canceled — and I’ve begun to develop a love-hate relationship with “Supergirl,” which was just renewed for a fourth season. Now, I usually “hate-watch” the show, even though I admittedly still love the superhero format and sometimes can’t even explain why.

“Supergirl” was placed on a mysterious hiatus for a couple months before being brought back with the 14 episode of its third season, “Schott Through the Heart” (a terrifyingly awful play off of Winn Schott, one of the supporting characters on the show). In an attempt to revitalize the show, “Supergirl” brought on Laure Metcalf as its first guest star after the hiatus. Despite pulling in many relatively high-profile guest stars (former Superman Dean Cain, for one) throughout the show’s run, the glowing Metcalf almost felt too good for this CW show. Metcalf played Winn’s estranged mother, an impish parental figure who was forced to leave him when he was little because of her husband’s abuse (and ultimate descent into super-villain-hood). Coming right off of “Lady Bird,” I was almost unsettled by the nature of Metcalf’s performance — I began to question the pure absurdity of “Supergirl,” which had crafted this superhero-centered world that didn’t allow for outside interactions beyond the realm of the characters that existed within the framework of the three seasons of the show. This even goes without barely a single mention of Winn’s mother other than the first season episode of “Childish Things,” to the extent that Winn’s cheery nature is completely and utterly overhauled when his mother appears — not so much an issue that there is clearly deep-rooted anger and trauma but that “Supergirl” failed to uncover it until three years in.

Its nearly laughable CGI notwithstanding (I truly thought they fixed it after it moved to The CW) in this episode, “Schott Through the Heart” presents what “Supergirl” truly fails to accomplish. It stands as an episode without a cohesive backstory — even if it does only act as a stepping stone in the entire “Supergirl” narrative surrounding the Worldkillers, for any viewers out there. “Supergirl” completely lost its charm after failing to find successful narratives with Winn Schott (Jeremy Jordan) and James Olsen (Mehcad Brooks), a former love interest for Kara Danvers/Supergirl (Melissa Benoist). The “Supergirl” team literally does not know what to do with Winn and James after a recent stint to attempt to include them in the superhero world by moving Winn to the DEO (the government organization of Supergirl and her sister, Agent Alex Danvers — played by Chyler Leigh) and making James an impromptu superhero. James spends his entire episode in cameos, a tiny moment singing at karaoke night at the “Superfriends’” favorite dive bar and the rest calling Lena Luthor (Katie McGrath), Lex Luthor’s tightly wound, soft-at-heart CEO turned potential-villain turned Kara’s best friend turned the Supergirl fandom’s desired love interest for Kara (Google “Supercorp,” I dare you). His appearances are essentially a benchmark for the show, a tribute to the devolving plot lines of “Supergirl.”

Even further, the karaoke scene in “Schott Through the Heart” reminds viewers of a failed attempt to both include musical elements in the show (capitalizing on Benoist’s stint on “Glee” and pulling another “Glee” alumnus, Grant Gustin, from “Arrow” into a number of bizarre, convoluted crossover episodes) as well as to combine humor and drama. The purely gratuitous nature of such a cold opening led me to drift away from the actual content of the episode and more towards the fact that “something dramatic had to happen soon.” The episode even attempts to gently touch upon the unfortunately failed romance of Alex with Maggie Sawyer (Floriana Lima), the beloved relationship of the queer (and the general) Supergirl fandom. I can’t (and won’t) begin to even try to get into the complicated importance of the Alex + Maggie — “Sanvers” — relationship within queer-represented, young adult-oriented television. After Maggie’s (spoiler alert) choice to break off her engagement to Alex after discovering an unresolvable difference in wanting to have children, Alex is granted one episode of mourning, and then she’s back on the job. In “Schott Through the Heart,” fans are tossed a scrawny, unfulfilling morsel from the “Supergirl” writers when Alex sings a sad song and cries onscreen for no more than five seconds before moving away to the next shot.

Don’t even get me started on Mon-El (Chris Wood), a character introduced at the end of season two as Kara’s love interest. Plenty of controversy has surrounded his character as the embodiment of fragile masculinity, hypocrisy, patriarchy and justification of violent and abusive behavior. The show explicitly makes his character a deceitful alien slave-owner (who knows why they thought that was a good idea) in an attempt to set up a redemption arc, only to be completely torn apart by the Supergirl fandom. Nevertheless, apparently his appearance on the show garnered enough fans to create a relationship dubbed on the internet as “Karamel” and to continue his appearance on season three, and it’s been said that season three will be his last. However, the inclusion of his character begins to take the show into corners — time travel, a relationship with another character that isn’t Kara and some attempt at a futile apology — that are just too complicated for a show that can’t even handle its own existing plots.

When the show moved from CBS to The CW, fans of the show mourned the loss of actual character development and exploration but reveled in its narrative strength (or as much as it could grasp). I thoroughly enjoyed the second season more, not just because the CGI was not as cringeworthy but because of the narrative-driven nature of dramatic television that requires a story to actually exist. Nevertheless, a show can’t survive without both characters and a narrative, and season three provides little of either. Seeing this show through its third season is going to be an interesting ride, to say the least — the tropes that “Supergirl” embodies and perpetuates never fails to impress me over how much the show can’t seem to get a hold of what it wants.

Contact Olivia Popp at oliviapopp ‘at’

Olivia Popp was a managing editor of Arts & Life for volumes 251 through 254 and the editor-at-large for The Stanford Daily's board of directors for volumes 254 and 255. She hails from Michigan and enjoys science fiction TV shows, independent film festivals, and the Bay Area theater scene.

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