Supergirl is a show about a human-looking alien named Kara (Melissa Benoist) who crashes onto Earth and, powered by Earth's yellow sun, can fly and shoot eye lasers and punch really, really hard. She has a band of merry men and women who are a mix of government operatives, Martians, do-gooding humans, and one Daxamite (which kind of sounds like an offensive thing to call someone). There's interdimensional travel. There are magic crystals that affect Kara's strength and mood (depending on the color). And then there's the fact that heists somehow still happen even though there's a frost-breathing demigod flying around from whom no ordinary citizen can escape.
And, yet, with all that fantasy, Supergirl can still get mired in its own reality.
The show has been heavily pushing a Mon-El (Chris Wood) and Kara agenda for most of this season by carving out time in every episode for at least a moment or three for awkward tension between the two, particularly during that precious final scene time slot. But it's been very up and down for them since Kara's stoicism and her selfless service to the cause of humanity gets in the way of her Season 2 mission statement of finding what's up with the Kara Danvers on the inside. That's been melting the last couple episodes as Kara's been more in touch with her feelings and Alex (Chyler Leigh) has been more supportive of her getting down with the chiseled alien bro.
But, they still needed to get over a hump. Even with the almost kiss at the end of "The Luthors," the scene still felt off, especially after Kara muttering that maybe she could "still have it all." It was a line that made me glad that that wasn't the moment to seal the deal between them. It seemed so iconoclastic to the institution of Supergirl that's been built over the past season and a half. The sentiment is real, the fact that Kara would feel it is real, but her saying it out loud somehow crashed against the moment. And then we were spared via the trickster, Mxyzptlk (Peter Gadiot).
Tricksters are a time-honored tradition for fantasy series. While dreams can help a character realize emotions through hyperrealistic means, they have no stakes. The character wakes up and everything we saw evaporates, leaving only the condensation of the revelation and none of the consequences. Tricksters can invoke a sense of surreality but with all the stakes of regular old reality. The stuff is actually happening and, especially in the case of a chaotic crazy like Mxyzptlk, the stuff is really dangerous.
The surrealism has a way to also bring out those hyperrealistic feelings and emotions that might've otherwise been hard to draw from stones like Kara and Mon-El. Mon-El had a small amount of competitiveness with James (Mehcad Brooks, who's been kind of in and out lately) but a fifth-dimensional being who can bend reality and who has nothing on his mind but a charm offensive is seemingly the only being that can bring out jealousy in a Daxamite. That led to the bickering match they had in the middle of the DEO. Can you imagine being a regular human, just doing your day job, working for the weekend, and having to deal with two super-powered aliens fighting about their feelings in the middle of your office? Is this what it was like for the mythological Greeks when, like, Zeus and Hera were at each other's throats?
The actual dream-like scenarios are also important. Mxy is able to snap into existence roses, string orchestras, and a gown all while singing her lines from Aladdin. It's important to note that he's singing her lines from a movie about a man who woos a woman using the ephemeral and ultimately false powers of a genie (which Winn accuses fifth-dimensional tricksters of being as recorded by history). This is something Kara has survived before in the Black Mercy, the little sucking alien which drew life from her while giving her a false fantasy world with her parents alive and her world not all explode-y. Her rejection of this fantasy is an important trial. Mxy has to up his game.
So he launches into being a hero or, at the very least, helping Kara being a hero. Of course, human life isn't nearly as important to a fifth-dimensional being (who has time for all these squishy know-nothings?) which is antithetical to Kara's purpose. Rather than investing himself in the actual defense of humans, he shifts his focus onto his rival, Mon-El. Note that Mxy dresses up like a Kryptonian to really overshadow the Daxamite. I don't know if they care about incestuous relationships in the fifth dimension since he did dress up like Kara's cousin, but the point to be made was that (1) he could fight for truth and justice and (2) he was better than the planet of slave-driving, Idiocratic douche-bros.
This, of course, escalates into the interesting Hamilton reference where Mxy poses as Burr and puts Mon-El in the place of the slain Hamilton (spoiler alert). Kara is the stand-in for power and they both desperately want to be in "The Room Where It Happens." Mxy casting himself as the one who kills the person closest to entering that room (I swear I didn't mean that to be a euphemism) feels natural, especially considering that Aaron Burr (particularly in the musical) misinterprets his failure to seduce power as being blocked by an undeserving and conniving political agent rather than because his ideas are false and his manipulation is transparent.
Mon-El as Hamilton, an orphan distant from his home who works on himself to be a great man in order to gain power but is also inherently flawed, isn't a bad cast either even if the cultural reference is a little ham-fisted. Mon-El is laid bare throughout the episode both by being vulnerable for Kara and being an inferior being to Mxyzptlk. And while Mon-El has been using his Moment of Kara at the end of the episodes to spill about his feelings, the stakes in the episode make them much more important than those scenes.
Compare this to the lackadaisical approach last year when James and Kara tried to nurture their spark. There were too many distractions, too much world-building, too little attention paid for James to get those coveted final scene moments or a high stakes, hyperrealistic battle to push them over the edge. It's kind of criminal. But maybe they're setting James up for something better once this whole Mon-El thing falls through.
It's important, however, that Kara is the one to fool the trickster, lest this become a situation where the Last Daughter of Krypton is reduced to a sexual token. (And she fools him with the threat of yet another atomic meltdown for the third episode in a row. Is this some writers' room in-joke now that there has to be a literal ticking nuclear bomb to raise the stakes every episode?) The smoochy, squishy, smooshy concepts surrounding Valentine's Day combined with a trickster episode is a perfect storm to get her and Mon-El over that last hurdle of their feelings to begin their clearly doomed relationship.
The ever-present romance, including very sweet (awwww, Sanvers!) and sometimes very dirty (oh my, Winn) accessory plots plus the hyperrealism allows you to forget that Mon-El is still learning not to be a jerk regarding strong women and Kara is still learning to be vulnerable. Whatever is about to happen here, it's not going to be forever. But for this brief moment, during their blurry humping in the background of two roses, Mon-El and Kara worked. But it took the magic of a trickster to get us there.
Supergirl airs Mondays at 8/7c on The CW.
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