Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 12, 2019)
Time for more heroics via Season Four of Supergirl. This four-disc set includes 24 episodes, a run that also features crossover programs from other DC series. The plot synopses come from the package’s liner notes.
American Alien: “Supergirl (Melissa Benoist) is called into action when Cadmus sows fear.”
The episode digs into the notion of hate crimes and the integration of aliens, themes that could make “American” seem timely. Instead, it seems preachy and obvious. A few good threads emerge but the episode comes across as too pedantic.
Fallout: “Supergirl sets out to capture Mercy Graves (Rhona Mitra).”
The anti-immigrant analogies continue apace here, with about the same results. Again, we find a few useful moments but the heavy-handed nature of “Fallout” causes problems.
Man of Steel: “Ben Lockwood (Sam Witwer) transforms into a villainous Agent Liberty.”
For a series that seems to support the pro-immigrant side, “Steel” feels like an odd choice, as it appears to justify the bigots. I guess someone thought this would be a good way to balance the series’ opinions, but it ends up akin to an apology for prejudice.
Despite my issues with the themes, “Steel” becomes interesting as a flashback/origin story. Even with its spotty ideas, the show turns into the most interesting episode of this season to date.
Ahmisa: “J’onn J’onzz (David Harewood) encounters Manchester Black (David Ajala).”
Although J’onn becomes arguably the series’ most three-dimensional character, Supergirl tends to make him feel dull. That becomes an issue here, as the generally bland take on this role drags down the overall narrative.
Parasite Lost: “Colonel Haley (April Parker Jones) makes a surprising decision.”
Though he comes across like an outcast from X-Men, at least Parasite creates a fairly intriguing villain. I really wish Season Four would move on from the “Trump’s America” analogies, but I have a bad feeling these themes will dominate the whole year.
Call to Action: “Kara Danvers feels down after her debate with Lockwood.”
Some other series might be able to pull off the social commentary attempted in S4, but Supergirl isn’t the one to do it. I understand why the “Apple pie” environment of the character seems ripe for this material in a way other DC series might not, but the series’ writers can’t muster the necessary insight, so we end up with bland, superficial stories like “Action”.
Rather the Fallen Angel: “James Olsen (Mehcad Brooks) falls in deeper with the Children of Liberty.”
That implies James starts to embrace the CoL’s nativism, but “Angel” doesn’t follow that path at all. Instead, it goes for fairly easy concepts and becomes another lackluster episode.
Bunker Hill: “Nia Nal (Nicole Maines) begins to embrace her powers.”
Nia offers S4’s most prominent new characters, and “Hill” allows her to develop some. That doesn’t make her an especially compelling role, though, so don’t expect much from “Hill”. More screen time with Brainiac helps, at least – he’s the series’ best character.
Elseworlds: “Barry (Grant Gustin) and Oliver (Stephen Amell) wake up to find they've swapped bodies, but Team Flash doesn't believe them, so the two heroes travel to Smallville on Earth-38 to get help from Supergirl.”
The DC TV universe loves its series-spanning stories, and the three-part “Elseworlds” fills that slot for 2018-19. In earlier years, Warner forced fans to own all the Blu-ray releases to see the whole package, a factor that meant you might miss some parts.
As was the case with Season Three’s “Crisis on Earth-X, S4 delivers the whole three-part “Elseworlds” saga. Don’t expect the whole thing to make sense if you watch it out of step with the other series, though.
Despite these annoyances, “Elseworlds” offers satisfying adventure. The first two parts fare best and become consistently delightful, whereas the third episode gets a little bogged down in the confusing complexities of the plot. Nonetheless, “Elseworlds” adds up to a highly entertaining crossover package.
Suspicious Minds: “Colonel Haley is determined to find out Supergirl’s identity.”
Stories related to the potential reveal of secret identities act as a decades-old superhero trope, and “Minds” brings nothing new to the table. It also works worse than usual because of Benoist – no one notices that Kara and Supergirl have the same scar near their eyebrows? “Minds” moves along some other areas but doesn’t really go anywhere.
Blood Memory: “Nia and Kara visit Nia’s hometown.”
For a while, it appears “Memory” will essentially bypass S4’s usual anti-alien theme, and I like that side of the show, as it’s nice to avoid these overbearing overtones. “Memory” eventually throws some of that material at us, but it’s still a better than average show because it explores Nia’s role.
Menagerie: “When Kara teams up with J’onn, they cross paths with Alex (Chyler Leigh) and Menagerie (Jessica Meraz).”
That synopsis feels misleading, as it implies Alex and Chyler form a team though they don’t. “Menagerie” turns into more of a mystery thriller than usual, and it actually moves along the Children of Liberty elements in a fairly satisfying manner. I wouldn’t call it a great show, but it’s pretty good.
What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice and the American Way?: “Manchester Black breaks out of prison with The Elite.”
When “Truth” indulges Black and his crew, it works well. Supergirl can feel bland at times, and the Elite spice up matters. They’re enough to bring some life to S4.
Stand and Deliver: “Supergirl takes a stand against Lockwood at an anti-alien rally.”
When “Deliver” digs into the Elite, it works well, but when it goes into its heavy-handed immigration themes, it sputters – again. The former still entertains enough to redeem the show.
O Brother, Where Art Thou?: “Lex Luthor (Jon Cryer) visits his sister Lena (Katie McGrath) to seek her help.”
Supergirl likes its connection to other Super-films, and that occurs here, as Cryer played Lex’s sidekick in 1987’s catastrophic Superman IV. Though this qualifies as stunt casting, Cryer does fine in the part, though he doesn’t threaten to make us forget Gene Hackman.
Despite that infusion of guest star power, “Brother” feels less than engaging. We get more melodrama than I’d like, and an emphasis on boring J’onn doesn’t help, though it ends on a tantalizing note.
The House of L: “Lex continues to wreak havoc.”
“House” acts as a flashback episode to set up Lex’s current shenanigans as well as the development of the “Russian Supergirl” S4 has teased occasionally. It delves into these areas well and becomes a satisfying tale that points us toward further drama in the future.
All About Eve: “Supergirl faces the destructive aftermath of Lex’s plans.”
I do enjoy the way that S4 brought in the classic team of Lex, Miss Tessmacher and Otis, so those moments add spark to “Eve”. Unfortunately, much of the rest plods into melodrama, so this becomes a spotty show, though some vivid action at the end redeems it.
Crime and Punishment: “Supergirl and Lena search for clues on how to defeat Lex.”
“Crime” feels like a plot-thickener, and it pursues that path pretty well. Throw in some good action and “Crime” moves along S4 well.
American Dreamer: “Dreamer takes over as Kara tries to clear Supergirl’s name.”
As I’ve noted, S4 works worst when it gets heavy-handed, and “Dreamer” suffers from that issue. It comes across more like an editorial than a compelling story.
Will the Real Miss Tessmacher Please Stand Up?: “Miss Tessmacher (Andrea Brooks) sets a trap for Kara and Lena.”
That side of “Real” ramps up the tension and helps the overall story progress. A detour about Alex’s pursuit of motherhood feels less compelling, but most of the episode achieves its goals.
Red Dawn: “Supergirl engages in an epic battle with Red Daughter.”
With little time left in S4, “Dawn” ramps up the action via the inevitable Supergirl vs. “Supergirl” fight. Though I’m not wild about the choreography in use, these parts still fare pretty well, and they carry us toward the finale.
The Quest for Peace: “Lex returns.”
Is it really a good idea to give this episode a title that hearkens back to the disastrous Superman IV? Probably not, but even with that cursed moniker, “Quest” concludes the season on a high note.
Its lows mean S4 doesn’t dazzle, but at least it picks up as it goes. Throw in a good guest turn from Jon Cryer as Superman’s most famous foe and there’s enough here to keep us engaged.