Supergirl season 3 episode 20 review: Dark Side of the Moon


Four episodes from the season finale, Supergirl throws a major twist in Kara’s path, throwing her past (and perhaps her future) into question.

Voyages to the stars have become routine for Supergirl by now. In season 1, the show stayed earthbound, acclimating Kara and viewers to life in National City. Season 2 introduced Mon-El and M’gann, offering a glimpse of the sprawling universe beyond our orbit; hints of a space opera trickled into the crime-fighting adventures. This season, the DEO has a pair of spaceships on hand, thanks to J’onn and the Legion; interplanetary travel is like a trip to the supermarket.

“Dark Side of the Moon” underwhelms for a number of reasons. As a chapter in the overarching narrative of season 3, it’s negligible, neither advancing nor deepening the plot; it could’ve easily been condensed into a cold open. As a standalone episode, it’s devoid of tension. Kara’s journey to Argo City consists almost entirely of exposition, and Alex’s search for her enemy is so clearly superfluous that it’s difficult to get invested in it. Strangely, the hour’s most crucial storyline –Lena’s conflict over whether to kill Reign — garners the least attention.

Of course, there is more to storytelling than plot. Like most Supergirl episodes, “Dark Side of the Moon” ties its various plots together with a loose theme. One member of the Argo council sums it up: “What value is our civilization if we don’t use our stolen time to right the sins of the past?”

Supergirl — “Dark Side of the Moon” — Image Number: SPG320a_0001.jpg — Pictured (L-R): Chris Wood as Mon-El and Melissa Benoist as Kara/Supergirl — Photo: Katie Yu/The CW — © 2018 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved

Every character this week struggles to reckon with their past actions. After learning that part of Krypton survived, Kara wonders if she should have kept searching for her home. Alura strives to atone for her role in Krypton’s destruction by doing what she can to preserve its remnants and help Argo thrive. The attempt on Alex’s life forces her to acknowledge the risky nature of her work. Winn bonds with Ruby over their mutual experiences with homicidal parents. Lastly, Lena continues to wrestle with her family history as Reign pushes her to take drastic measures. Only she ultimately takes the “dark” route, though given the circumstances, you can’t fault her. James is right that Samantha would agree if she could.

So, all of the plots technically do have a point. But they have no sense of urgency. “Dark Side of the Moon” opens with Kara and Mon-El in J’onn’s spaceship, hurtling at light-speed toward the meteor on which they’ve located traces of Black Rock. Mon-El casually remarks that he “always forgets how beautiful it is this far out in space.”

On one hand, there is something beautiful about the quiet that envelops the ship, the commotion of National City traffic a distant memory. You could almost forget that the world lies on the brink of being killed. Yet, director Hanelle Culpepper presents space as a black void riddled with white streaks. It looks hazy, two-dimensional — dull. We’ve seen Star Wars too many times to find the image of blurred stars awe-inspiring anymore. (That said, I genuinely appreciated that the tractor beam that captures the ship looks like a visual effect from a 1960s serial.)

Maybe I am nitpicking. But the moment brings into focus a major flaw of the show. Even as it grows more fantastic, expanding its scope and mythology, Supergirl has lost its ability to conjure wonder. To some extent, it’s inevitable. By season 3, the characters and their world are no longer novel. You can’t expect to still feel the urge to burst into cheers and/or tears whenever Supergirl flies.

Why not, though? Of all their transgressions, from their muddled action sequences to their sheer ubiquity, the greatest crime of modern superhero movies and shows is their banality. With rare exceptions (perhaps most notably, the No-Man’s-Land scene in last year’s Wonder Woman), they exhibit little interest in putting the “super” in “superhero” (or, for that matter, the “hero”). At first, Supergirl seemed like a refreshing antidote, brimming with energy and optimism. But it too has succumbed to fatigue, for the most part.

Interplanetary travel shouldn’t feel like a trip to the supermarket.

Supergirl — “Dark Side of the Moon” — Image Number: SPG320a_0049.jpg — Pictured: Erica Durance as Alura Zor-El — Photo: Katie Yu/The CW — © 2018 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved

Similarly, “Dark Side of the Moon” treats the revelation that Alura is alive with as perfunctory — just another plot point. For starters, the promotional images spoiled it. Then, when Kara reunites with the mother whose death created a grief embedded in her like DNA, they hug. That’s it. Kara doesn’t express any confusion or anger or delirious joy. And their conversations afterward have all the enthusiasm of “previously on” voiceover narration. We don’t need to hear Kara tell Alura what she has been up to; we’ve seen it ourselves. We need some sense of their history together and how they’ve changed — emotions, not events.

Alura died, and now she’s alive. If you’re going to reverse such a crucial part of your heroine’s backstory, you better give it weight. Resurrection shouldn’t feel like a trip to the supermarket.

I care because I know Supergirl can do better. At the end of the season 1 episode “Solitude”, Alex confesses that she killed Astra, not J’onn. While talking, she breaks down in tears, and, moved, Kara suppresses her initial rage and embraces her. It’s raw and complicated (Melissa Benoist’s face hints at the suppressed rage) and surprising. And, in a weird way, it seemed brave.

Plenty of other superhero stories have emotion (at its best, Arrow is as much about trauma as violence), but rarely is it so unrestrained, so unapologetic. They’re rarely emotional, letting their characters fall apart and showing the painful process of putting themselves back together.

That moment provided a glimpse of what Supergirl could be. It could be, for lack of a better word, human.

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Supergirl airs Mondays at 8 p.m. EST on The CW.