Supergirl S3 has been, thus far, one of the best the show has produced. Taking all of its successful elements, the relationship between Supergirl/Kara Danvers/Kara Zor-El (Melissa Benoist) and her sister Alex Danvers (Chyler Leigh), the personal drama arising in the life of Martian Manhunter/Hank Henshaw (David Harewood, excellent), the dangerous friendship of Supergirl and Lena Luthor (Katie McGrath), the desire of James Olsen (Mehcad Brooks) to help the world and people around him, the show continued to build on these foundations and matured into something more complex. It also managed to correct some of the previous seasons’ mistakes in very creative and interesting ways.
This season sees Supergirl deal with the emotional aftermath of losing her boyfriend, Mon-El (Chris Wood) at the end of the previous season. There’s also a new threat emerging in the Kryptonian Worldkiller Reign (Odette Anabele). The overarching threat of Reign, her emergence and her plans are the driving force of the show. Supergirl is aided by the Legion of Superheroes to take down Reign. The Legion of Superheroes is a group of heroes from the 31st Century that was formed by Mon-El using the example of Supergirl to inspire a generation to fight for peace and justice. Supergirl and Lena also have to contend with evil industrialist Morgan Edge (Adrian Pasdar) and his nefarious plans for the city.
The overall theme of Supergirl S3 is identity. Mostly with the story of Samantha, whose split personality of Reign is awoken after an incident, but identity is also reflected in Supergirl and the entire cast of the show. Supergirl is also struggling with her place in this world, and how she should balance her responsibility as Supergirl and her life as Kara Danvers. Martian Manhunter is conflicted about his father’s dementia and how it’s changing him. Alex Danvers is worried about what she wants in life. Now that she found love, she also realizes she wants to be a mother, but it’s a goal that conflicts with her career. Winn is also worried about his own life and how he defines himself now that his father has passed away. Identity is the very fabric of the show and this season used that to its advantage.
One of the best episodes this season, and one that really hammers home the idea of identity, is a flashback episode between Kara and Alex. On a trip home, they both reminisce about their childhood and the painful memory of a friend they lost when they were younger. It’s a touching moment that brought the sisters closer as they managed to get themselves in harm’s way and work their way out of it. It shows how Kara’s life became a nightmare as she was stuck without a family on a foreign planet with no one who could understand her. Alex, for her part, felt that her own presence was diminished by having a godlike being like Kara as a sister. Their alienation in a way became the glue that held their relationship together.
The best element added to this season was the character of Reign/Samantha Arias, played by Odette Anabele. Her storyline is a bit convoluted, but Anabele is able to portray it perfectly and her conflicts really resonate throughout the season. Reign/Samantha’s journey begins as a baby: she was made by a Kryptonian cult hell-bent on conquering planets. Samantha — much like Kara — arrived on Earth as a baby in an escape pod, but grew up with a hateful, distant adoptive mother.
She eventually settles and tries to lead a normal life and has a daughter of her own that she named Ruby (Emma Tremblay). An accident awakens a dark side of her, a sort of split personality that was lying in wait like a sleeper agent. She blacks out and appears as the enhanced Kryptonian Worldkiller named Reign periodically before returning to her home. Throughout the season, we see Samantha struggle with that inner demon. At the heart of it is the fight for her very identity. Is she the being she was designed to be, or is she the mother, friend and individual she wants to be?
One of the things Supergirl managed to do throughout its run that really coalesced this season is how it used the lore of DC Comics’ famous stories from Superman and adapted them to the context of the show. The first season saw a pretty neat adaptation of the famous story “For the Man Who Has Everything.” The second season has a pseudo-Cyborg Superman. S3 adapts two different and pivotal elements of the Superman lore. The first and most obvious is “The Death of Superman,” this time casting Reign in Doomsday’s role. Supergirl is defeated and left for dead in a genuinely impressive and well-choreographed action sequence. The twist is that the Legion of Superheroes nurse Supergirl back to health. Thank god we didn’t have to go through a revival with four different versions of Supergirl (Steelgirl, Superkid Girl, Cyborg Supergirl and Eradicatress).
This season also takes one of my favourite corny moments of the Superman movies and transports it to Supergirl for the season finale. I’m talking, of course, about the ability to turn back time by going extremely fast around the planet and reversing the rotation of the Earth and all the events that have happened. It’s cheesy, corny and nonsensical and I loved it.
Much like how Kara saved the day in the first season by making people believe in hope, this ending is busy and a complete mess, but it’s done in good faith and it’s fun. There’s even a tease for the next season that these time-travel shenanigans are going to have consequences and lead to another adaptation of the Superman classic Red Son.
The best thing Supergirl S3 does is to correct the biggest mistake of the previous season, Mon-El. See, Mon-El was an absolutely horrible boyfriend to Kara in the previous season. But Kara grieves the lost of her love and also realizes that he wasn’t entirely the perfect man she saw through her rose-coloured glasses. When Mon-El returns with the Legion of Superheroes, years have passed for him and he’s now married to Imra Ardeen/Saturn Girl (Amy Jackson). But he’s still a bit of a jerk and he has feelings for Supergirl.
Thankfully, Kara deals with her feelings and even confronts him in a very cathartic encounter where she calls him out for being a shitty boyfriend and now a terrible husband to his wife. It was a great moment to see Supergirl stand up for herself and make an emotionally mature choice to stay away from a toxic relationship.
What really doesn’t work in this season is the crossover episode between Supergirl and the other CW shows (Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow). There have been crossovers every season, but the crossover episode in S3 derails the entire flow of the show and almost forces you to watch the episodes from the other shows to really understand what’s going on. Plus, the episode doesn’t contribute much to the overall plot that Supergirl builds throughout the season.
I suppose that’s a problem that plagues comics as well: having to track three different titles to understand what you read in your regular series is frustrating and distracting. It puts the onus on the reader/viewer to track down another piece of media to decipher the one you just witnessed. I respect my time too much to watch Arrow, especially when Wikipedia is free and available to tell you what you missed.
Still, Supergirl S3 built on its very strong foundations and became a much more mature and thoughtful show for it. I was surprised by how good this show has become since its launch. The show still has flaws: the writing is still very on the nose and dialogue can be very corny, but the show found its footing and is finally able to achieve new heights.
I’m also happy to report that this season continues the overall trend of terrible wigs, again with Livewire, but this time, adding Brainiac-5 (Jesse Rath) hair as a bonus. I’m convinced this show has a “one awful wig per season” rule it must adhere to, otherwise it’ll get cancelled.