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Although billed as part one of a four-night crossover event, “Medusa” is first and foremost an episode of Supergirl. But not just any episode—“Medusa” feels like a climax point as several season-long storylines are seemingly wrapped up. This lends the episode a breakneck pace that feels like fun in the moment. In the aftermath, however, one wonders if the trip would’ve been more fulfilling if the show had taken the time to enjoy the sights.
“Medusa” sets the stage with Team Supergirl having Thanksgiving dinner at Kara’s place (not a unfamiliar scene for those of us who recently celebrated the holiday). This gives writers Jessica Queller and Derek Simon an opportunity to further recent plotlines. Alex struggles with coming to her mother Eliza (recurring guest star Helen Slater) while James and Winn struggle to come out, in a manner of speaking, with their extracurricular crimefighting activities. (Thankfully, the latter plot point is shelved in favor of other, more interesting developments.) Meanwhile, Mon-El tries to score brownie points with Eliza because whether on Earth or Daxam it’s always a good idea to get in good with the mother of a girl you like. Especially if it’s a Supergirl. But just as the gang is about to eat—and just as Alex is about to come out to her mother—a rip in the space-time continuum appears over Kara’s table. For most families, such an event would be the talk of Thanksgiving. For Team Supergirl, it’s just another Monday. They collectively decide to put a pin in it as they deal with a clear and more present danger.
With this episode we get our first extended exploration of the Lena and Lillian Luthor relationship. To say the least, it’s not as warm as the one between the other mother-adopted daughter pairing in this series—referring, of course, to Eliza and Kara Danvers—and “Medusa” makes sure to hammer that theme into viewers’ minds. Yet while Lillian is unambiguously evil, Lena is a bit more conflicted. On the one hand she has qualms (as any sane person might) about her mother’s plan to use Project Medusa, a weaponized virus designed to kill all alien life on the planet. But on the other hand, she defends her mother’s honor and the Luthor name generally when Kara (in both her regular and costumed identities) presents Lena with information about her mother’s machinations. Lena makes a sudden heel turn in the middle of the episode when she gives Lillian the isotope she needs to make her Medusa bomb work. The heel turn seems jarring in the moment and I was inclined to think it a sign of shaky writing. But to Queller and Simon’s credit, they turn the seeming shoddy characterization into an opportunity to have Lena turn on her mother at the climactic moment by giving her an isotope that made the bomb inert.
The Lena Luthor character arc in “Medusa” is satisfying because it plays well against the audience’s expectations. We tend to think that if there’s a Luthor on screen, he or she is up to no good. But as with the Mon-El storyline, we’re provided with an example of how thinking of people in terms of stereotypes is never a good thing. It also presumably means we’ll get to see more of Katie McGrath as Lena, which I’d also classify as a good thing. McGrath invests her portrayal of Lena with a steely-eyed confidence that’s been missing from the series since Cat Grant took a leave of absence. Frankly, Lena would be a much better fit as Kara’s mentor than her current CatCo editor, Lou Grant cosplayer Snapper Carr. Although Lena’s betrayal of her mother was satisfying, it felt anticlimactic to see Lillian thwarted so easily. I suspect that it won’t be the last we hear from her or Project Cadmus, however.
Aside from the Lena-Lillian Luthor dynamic, another central focus of this week’s Supergirl episode were the romantic subplots. To my surprise and disappointment, the handling of the Alex and Maggie relationship wasn’t nearly as deft as it had been all season. For one, when Alex does eventually come out to Eliza her mother’s nonplussed reaction makes the build up to that moment seem pointless. Certainly, being an enlightened 21st Century woman you’d expect Eliza to take the news well, so when she does accept Alex without reservation there isn’t the surprise or conflict that makes narrative interesting. Another element that felt false was Alex’s specifying about her gayness. For someone who only recently came out, it’s a sudden storytelling shift to have her declare her queerness as “her new normal.” While I’d support any of my real-life friends in a similar context, I would prefer that my “fictional friends” remain a bit more conflicted—again, for drama’s sake. By the time Alex and Maggie share their happily-ever-after kiss at the end of this episode, the moment doesn’t feel earned. It felt like the Supergirl showrunners were ready to pair Alex and Maggie up rather than continue the slow build previous episodes hinted at. Don’t get me wrong: as a long-time Alex-Maggie relationship proponent, I’m happy to see them together. I just fear that the delicious tension/longing that made their dynamic exciting will get lost in the process.
Perhaps the romantic tension in the series will be supplied by Supergirl and Mon-El. This episode made explicit the fact that Mon-El has a thing for Kara…and maybe Kara has a thing for him as well. True to form, Mon-El is aloof about his feelings toward Kara and even tries to play them off when she asks him directly about them. But in the midst of a fever brought on by the Medusa virus and thinking he may die, Mon-El finds the wherewithal to kiss Kara. He again denies having any memory of it, but the longing look he gives after she’s left the room says otherwise. Seeing as how other romances in this series rarely follow a straight line (no pun intended) it’ll be worth watching to see where things proceed from here. But hopefully the showrunners will take their time in getting there.