It’s graduation season, and Supergirl has more than earned the right to graduate from guilty pleasure to legitimately good TV.
This post contains spoilers for season 4 of Supergirl, including the season finale.
It’s hard not to feel a sense of pride while watching a show grow from guilty pleasure to legitimately good television.
That’s the experience most probably had watching Supergirl’s stellar fourth season, which ended on a high note last Sunday. No offense to the more high-profile finale that aired the same night, but Supergirl stuck its landing with much more grace and heart than HBO’s juggernaut proved capable of doing during its home stretch.
It was obvious that Supergirl had taken a huge leap in quality during its fourth season, mostly due to a well-executed cast reshuffling and the presence of some interesting villains for once. The only question was whether it could keep up that momentum for an entire season and not crater under the weight of the lofty expectations it had created for itself.
Thankfully, the show was able to sustain its excellence and gave us a finale worthy of the smart choices that brought us to that point. Now that it has proven it can maintain that standard for an entire season, it feels wrong to refer to Supergirl as a guilty pleasure. Until otherwise proven, the show can officially be considered unironically good TV.
First and foremost, let’s give it up for Jon Cryer as Lex Luthor. When it was announced he would be playing Superman’s most iconic villain, it was hard to picture the meek weirdo from Two and a Half Men being able to capture Lex’s insane brilliance. And yet, Cryer quickly became the season 4 MVP as a truly unhinged version of Luthor bent on world domination while also playing the hero he sees himself as.
Just watch his gleeful mania as he betrays both Red Daughter and the entire Kasnian army while singing along to Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” in his power suit. It’s not subtle stuff, but it perfectly encapsulates everything that made Cryer’s Luthor the fun, effective villain that had eluded Supergirl for so long.
It also can’t be overstated enough that Supergirl went from having zero to three awesome villains this season.
Pour one out for Manchester Black, a misguided soul who pushed J’onn far enough that he was willing to murder him. He represented the anarchist in all of us that desperately wants to fight back against injustice, consequences be damned. Manchester was clearly wrong, but he left a huge mark on J’onn and the show’s moral compass.
And then there’s Ben Lockwood, a.k.a. Agent Liberty, portrayed expertly by Sam Witwer. Supergirl constructed a tragic villain who committed so hard to his hateful cause – in this case stripping aliens of their rights – that he ended up losing his wife, son and eventually his freedom. He now gets to rot in jail thinking about the pain and destruction he caused during his anti-alien crusade.
Lockwood’s oratory skills and charisma were great assets to this season’s success. There are very few folks who can spar with Kara Danvers on national TV and come out the victor. Hopefully we haven’t seen the last of Agent Liberty.
Notice how we haven’t even begun to talk about the show’s heroes, who (mostly) had equally compelling arcs. That’s a testament to how well-crafted and acted Supergirl‘s rogues gallery was this year.
Let’s start with Kara herself, who as usual was put through the ringer this season. She is rarely confronted with a problem that she couldn’t solve by punching or melting with her laser eyes, but she found herself powerless to stop Agent Liberty’s racist ideas from spreading. Kara also had to deal with Red Daughter discrediting Supergirl’s good name by making it look like she attacked the White House.
Red Daughter herself was a fascinating character, a Kasnian-raised Kara clone who Lex trained to hate the United States and gave Melissa Benoist a chance to flex her accent skills. She may have come as close to killing Supergirl as anyone has in this show’s history. It’s a good thing there were some sunlight-harnessing plants around, or Kara would’ve been a goner.
That scene dovetails nicely into discussing Alex’s storyline, whose memory of her sister’s alter ego had to be erased during a DEO investigation into Supergirl’s secret identity. Watching Kara struggle with keeping her sister in the dark was heartbreaking, as was Alex being so close to the truth but never quite recapturing her lost memories until watching her sister in pain brought them rushing back.
Her adoption efforts and love story with Kelly Olsen also provided some much-needed human drama in the middle of the sci-fi madness happening around them. Chyler Leigh is always great, and she really stepped her game up this year.
More fantastical stories were left to J’onn, Brainy and Nia, three very different characters going on very different journeys. For J’onn, it was coming to terms with not being the “man of peace” that he believed his father wanted him to be. Instead, he had to embrace his identity as the Martian Manhunter so he could fight the good fight against prejudice.
Nia and Brainy were two newcomers to the series who both proved to be vibrant personalities. Their awkward flirting was always enjoyable, and Nia in particular enjoyed an emotionally resonant journey from reluctantly accepting her role as Dreamer to becoming a symbol of hope for aliens everywhere.
Brainy, on the other hand, spent most of the season trying to compartmentalize his feelings for Nia and the growing anti-alien hysteria. Spoiler alert: It didn’t work, as Brainy’s cold, logical mind couldn’t handle the emotions he was experiencing. Jesse Rath deserves some sort of recognition for his work in the last two episodes as Brainy’s nature was altered multiple times in startling ways.
The only weak links of the season were, as usual, James and Lena. Lena faired the best of the two, especially as she helped Kara investigate her brother’s misdeeds in Kasnia. Her standout moment was by far when she murdered Lex in the finale and learned that Kara was Supergirl all in the same scene. Katie McGrath really knocked Lena’s whirlwind of emotions out of the park.
Supergirl even was able to seamlessly set up next season with Lena being unsure how to handle Kara’s lies about her secret identity, the emergence of Leviathan, the introduction of J’onn’s Martian brother and whatever The Monitor has in store for Lex’s corpse.
This series’ future is brighter than it’s ever been thanks to some impressive plotting, acting and character work from everyone involved.
Congratulations, Supergirl: You’ve officially graduated from guilty pleasure to the pantheon of TV’s best shows. Keep up the good work next season!