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This season of Supergirl hasn’t been successful when focusing on present events, so why not experience a blast from the past? At least that’s the theory at work in the flashback episode “Midvale,” named after the town where Kara and Alex grew up. The Danvers sisters revisit the old burg so that Alex can lick her wounds after her recent breakup with Maggie. Both Kara and Alex come back home with some hurt in their heart: Kara has shut down her human side that still mourns the loss of Mon-El by throwing herself into her job as Supergirl, while Alex resents her superpowered sister for taking her on a trip back to the old haunts she didn’t want. With the current state of affairs between the sisters being so contentious, “Midvale” takes us back to the halcyon times of a decade ago when the relationship between Kara and Alex was similarly acrimonious.
When they were high school teens, Alex was the Regina George to Kara’s Cady Heron—that is to say, it was like Mean Girls if one of the girls had godlike powers. Alex is bitter toward an adopted sister from outer space she didn’t want (and who is now obliged to look after per her mother’s orders) and who she blames for her father’s disappearance. For her part, Kara is bored by the rudimentary math and science curricula of her adopted planet, and is disinterested enough in American history that she can’t distinguish George Washington from Isaiah Washington. Kara’s only friend at school is Kenny Li, a bright, sensitive boy who, like Kara, is an outcast at school. Kara and Kenny share a night under the stars that almost results in Kara’s first kiss (at least with a boy from Earth). The next day, Kenny turns up dead. The question is: who did it?
If the premise to “Midvale” sounds eerily similar to another CW series that ends in an “-ale” suffix, you wouldn’t be the only one to think it. In addition to the “small town student is mysteriously murdered” angle, “Midvale” has an illicit relationship between teacher and student as the first season of Riverdale had between Archie and Ms. Grundy. Of course, while Riverdale treated the Archie/Ms. Grundy affair as something salacious yet sexy, “Midvale” treats it as the criminal act it is. (Also, it’s kind of hard to critique “Midvale” for a copycat storyline given how unfortunately prevalent statutory rape is in our society.) Kara and Alex think they’ve found the man responsible for Kenny’s murder in the aforementioned teacher, as Kenny had incriminating evidence on his laptop of him and Alex’s friend Josie together. The sisters naturally conclude that the teacher had a motive to kill Kenny in order to destroy evidence of his criminality. They also believe their teacher to be the one behind the wheel of the car that runs them off the road and would’ve killed him were it not for Kara’s powers. But as it turns out, Josie has an alibi for the criminal teacher that proves he couldn’t have been the attempted hit-and-run driver. So once again: who actually killed Kenny?
The answer is revealed when young Alex takes her latest findings about the case to the town’s sheriff. Simultaneously, Kara gets the restored files from Kenny’s computers from Chloe Sullivan (of Smallville fame) and discovers that the sheriff and some of his officers are drug traffickers. Just as Kara calls Alex to share this revelation, Alex finds a gun shoved in her face by the sheriff. Although Kara had been warned by Agent Noel Neill (named after the actress who played Lois Lane in the 1950’s Adventures of Superman series) not to use her powers, she decides to take the plunge away. (Incidentally, Agent Neill bears an uncanny resemblance to Kara’s Kryptonian mom, which turns out not to be a coincidence at all because she’s actually J’onn J’onzz in disguise.) From there, Kara quickly dispatches the crooked sheriff and brings Kenny’s killer to justice.
The events of “Midvale” aren’t especially earth shattering, and indeed aren’t meant to be. The relatively small-scale heroics sounds like it would be a snooze, but in fact are more interesting and emotionally involving than much of the current Supergirl season has been. We find in these younger versions of the Danvers sisters anything but the morally upright paragons they’re meant to be as adults. The journey is finding out how they became the people they are today, as well as develop the relationship that has survived whatever lovers the two of them have had. Both Izabela Vidovic (as young Kara) and Olivia Nikkanen (as young Alex) are highly believable as younger versions of their adult counterparts, and the episode does a fine job of mining the awkwardness and angst that makes the teenage years so hard to endure for so many. It may not be a perfect episode, but it’s a perfectly timed one given how off its game Supergirl has felt this season. As it turns out, going back to the past can help make the future look great.