Supergirl Season 1 Episode 1 “Rebirth”
Director: Jesse Warn
Starring: Melissa Benoist, Chyler Leigh, Katie McGrath, Jesse Rath, Nicole Maines, Azie Tesfai, Julie Gonzalo, Staz Nair, David Harewood, Jon Cryer, Cara Buono, Brenda Strong, Andrea Brooks, Sharon Leal, Lynda Boyd
Runtime: 43 minutes
The beginnings and endings of a lot of recent television seasons have been rendered awkward due to changes in production schedules forced by the COVID pandemic but it’s especially frustrating in Supergirl‘s case because it’s sixth season has also been announced to be its last. But because of the production shutdown at the onset of the pandemic the Season 6 premiere effectively also has to serve as a proper ending to Season 5 so it’s not necessarily able to make the kind of ambitious storytelling choices one might hope for as the show enters its final run. The episode is full of hasty resolutions to characters’ Season 5 roles and while this works to an extent for Kara/Supergirl (Melissa Benoist) and the Luthors it doesn’t for many of the supporting characters, and several of their arcs from the last year are left feeling frustratingly irrelevant. Still, the intense charisma of Jon Cryer’s Lex Luthor brings a lot of swagger to the show and there is a plot twist that sets up an interesting new status quo for the first of the final episodes.
Picking up right where the Season 5 finale left off, “Rebirth” opens with Brainiac 5/Brainy (Jesse Rath) near death in Leviathan’s ship. Nia Nal/Dreamer (Nicole Maines) arrives to save him but the two are then attacked by Gamemnae (Cara Buono), the last remaining member of Leviathan. Fortunately, the rest of the Super Friends also arrive to rescue them. Kara, J’onn J’onzz/Martian Manhunter (David Harewood), and M’gann M’orzz/ Miss Martian (Sharon Leal), are able to fight off Gamemnae and on Brainy’s instructions Alex Danvers (Chyler Leigh) and Kara are able to use the Anti-Life Equation to destroy her. This battle is fun enough but it’s also too fast paced for it’s own good. I’m glad the Leviathan plot is mostly over as it never really took off but this resolution is still very rushed and makes all the time viewers spent watching it over the last year feel wasted, especially as there’s no follow-up on the hints about Gamemnae’s mysterious boss. Likewise, while it’s not surprising that Brainy survived his sacrifice play, the fact that neither that nor his questionable strategy of working undercover with Lex and Leviathan seem like they’ll have lasting ramifications on the character also makes his Season 5 role feel superfluous.
The one good thing about Leviathan being wrapped up so quickly is that it means the episode can devote much of its runtime and attention to the Super Friends battling Lex. Season 5 didn’t blend Lex into Supergirl‘s world as seamlessly as Season 4 did and the show has become so enamored with the character that some of the others are getting short-changed. But Cryer is so good in the role that it’s easy to see why the creators are so taken with him and this is another episode that he elevates with his powerful, engaging screen presence. Cryer’s performance is extremely hammy but he and the show continue to make Lex’s scenes the right kind of ridiculous. Seeing him dance around the conquered Fortress of Solitude to “We Are the Champions” is extremely cheesy, even for Supergirl, but it’s also a ton of fun, made even more so by how much Cryer is clearly enjoying himself. After absorbing the powers of the other Leviathan members Lex is now a physical force beyond the Kryptonians he hates so much but of course that’s not enough for him. Kara was able to free Obsidian tech users from Leviathan’s mind-control plot but Lex has his own and it’s the most gloriously Lex plan one can imagine: he’s going to brainwash half the world into loving him no matter what horrible things he does and the half he can’t control he simply plans to kill. Even more comical, he’s gleefully dubbed the plan “I Love Lexi”. He’s elected to leave his mother, Lillian (Brenda Strong), free and she eventually manages to convince him not to control or kill Lena either, even though he petulantly points out that “She killed me first!” I’m not sure Supergirl will be able to deliver a satisfying redemption arc for Lillian where she suddenly cares about Lena at this point but I’ll be interested to see the show try if that’s indeed where it’s going. Cryer, McGrath, and Strong always make the Luthor family drama some of the show’s most enjoyable material and it also emphasizes one of the things that makes Lex such a compelling villain, that being that he has genuine vulnerabilities which often play more of a hand in defeating him than the actual superheroes do.
One of his issues is that twisted family dynamic but the bigger one, is, of course, his obsessive hatred of Kryptonians, and Kara knows this. When the team discovers that an element called Jarhanpurium can remove Lex’s new powers she volunteers to confront him herself as a distraction until her friends are ready to deliver the finishing blow. Lex’s massive power level makes this a potential suicide mission and Kara gets emotional about the possibility of losing her life. Unfortunately, the episode doesn’t make time to really dig into the idea of her potentially sacrificing herself. The set up is similar to the Season 1 finale “Better Angels”, which also saw Kara preparing for a potentially lethal battle. That episode drew created rich emotions by focusing on what Kara thought would be her last few hours with her friends and family but there’s too much technobabble and rushed Season 5 resolution to get through with the other characters to do that here. We see Kara finishing up a holographic will message to everybody but we don’t really hear most of its content and the rushed pacing makes it impossible for the show to deliver the kind of extreme emotions such a situation should really have, even though Melissa Benoist is as great as ever.
Lex easily incapacitates Kara with Kryptonite soon after she arrives at the Fortress but the rest of the Super Friends soon show up with the Jarhanpurium and de-power the villain, while J’onn and M’gann use their Martian powers to destroy the Obsidian satellites. Unfortunately, before being defeated, Lex manages to blast Kara with a Phantom Zone projector, banishing her to the nightmarish realm where Krypton used to store its prisoners and the episode ends with Kara awakening in the Zone, surrounded by its frightening Phantom inhabitants. Melissa Benoist was on maternity leave for the start of Season 6 filming and while the Phantom Zone twist is a pretty transparent way to accommodate this, it also works decently well as a story point, especially given that this is the final season. The twist’s main purpose is to facilitate the early episodes being devoted mostly to the supporting cast, with material featuring Kara surviving in the Phantom Zone presumably being shot later but it also helps start bringing the show full circle. One of the strongest points Supergirl ever made and which received particularly heavy emphasis in the early seasons is that Kara’s origin is significantly more traumatic than Superman’s. Unlike the infant Kal-El, Kara was entering her adolescence when Krypton was destroyed. She grew up with her birth parents and other friends and family so she had to deal with the pain of losing them much more directly and early episodes effectively demonstrated how she was traumatized by being one of the few survivors of such a devastating catastrophe. On top of that her pod then got stuck in the Phantom Zone (where time moves differently) for years before emerging so she could finally arrive on Earth. Sending her back to the Zone forces the character to relive these horrific experiences and hopefully the show can use the opportunity to start Kara on the kind of emotionally significant final journey she deserves. The Earth-based plots should also use the extra time with the supporting cast to zero in on how to best end their stories.
Ultimately, “Rebirth” just has too many disparate tasks to accomplish to really tell a full, compelling story. But with Season 5 wrapped up and the rest of Season 6 set up decently, hopefully Supergirl can get on with delivering a final run worthy of Kara.
- Arrowverse crossovers have to be limited this year because of COVID but David Ramsey will be appearing as John Diggle and directing an episode. Hopefully Tyler Hoechlin’s Superman and or Grant Gustin’s Flash can stop by briefly at some point too to say farewell to Kara, especially since the final episodes of Supergirl won’t be airing until late summer into early fall, a while after their shows’ current seasons end.
- Speaking of Superman, while Supergirl should probably take a break from Lex at least for a couple episodes I really hope Jon Cryer can make his way to Superman and Lois, even if it has to be further down the line.
- Obviously there were likely limits on what Benoist could film, especially immediately after returning to work, but the “fight” between Kara and Lex is completely lacking in any kind of energy. Once he starts blasting her with Kryptonite she kind of just sits there and takes it.
- While encouraging Alex to believe they’ll get Kara back J’onn christens her “Sentinel” after a Martian hero he knew. I’m against Alex becoming a superhero as it takes away some of what makes her unique (and her costume is pretty awful) but having her code name come from her surrogate dad was a nice touch.
- Supergirl‘s use of the Anti-Life Equation was really random and poor, to the point where it probably shouldn’t have delved into Jack Kirby’s Fourth World mythology at all. For a better use of the concept, see Zack Snyder’s Justice League.
- So this season is the moment of truth to see whether the show will abide by “SuperCorp” shippers’ wishes and make Kara and Lena a romantic couple. I think it’s unlikely they’ll fully commit to doing so but some more overt hints seem likely and I doubt Kara will end up paired with a man either at this point, even though William Dey (Staz Nair), still exists for some reason.