Supergirl Season 5 Episode 16 Review: Alex in Wonderland
Chyler Leigh shines in an episode of Supergirl that finally gives Alex superpowers (sort of), only to remind us that it’s her heart that’s always made her a hero in the first place.
This Supergirl review contains spoilers.
Supergirl Season 5 Episode 16
It’s a shame that Supergirl has taken pretty much all season to give us a true Alex-centered episode, but wow does “Alex in Wonderland” more than come through in the clutch. This hour somehow manages to not only move the Leviathan plot forward at last, but adds some fresh layers of introspection and intimacy to the Danvers sisters’ relationship.
That’s largely due to the fact that somebody somewhere realized that half the fun of virtual reality being such a big plot point in Season 5 is that it can – and should – allow us to play with alternate worlds and different versions of the places and characters we know and love, without needing doppelgangers or world ending apocalypses. “Alex in Wonderland” gives us Alex-as-Supergirl, complete with a black House of El sigil, a dramatic cape, and Melissa Benoist bangs, and it’s as fun as anyone could have ever expected.
It’s also emotionally resonant in a way that only Supergirl could – or would have even tried to – pull off.
Alex’s joy at being suddenly able to wield superpowers, fly, and beat the crap out of bad guys is tremendously fun to watch, as is her mini-quest to bring down Hank Henshaw, complete with over the top sidekick routines from J’onn and Brainy at DEO Headquarters.
While she revels in the adulation that seems to follow Supergirl wherever she goes, it’s clear that Alex’s primary drive to be a more overtly superpowered sort of superhero is about protecting the people she cares about (she says as much to Henshaw when she believes that Kara has been taken and threatened). Which, when viewed in light of her father’s death makes a ton of sense.
Sure, she said some nasty things to Kara about the ways Jeremiah always her. She even implies that their father’s obsession with protecting Kara made Alex feel as though she mattered less in their own family. Perhaps that barb does have some truth to it on some level. After all, Alex’s behavior in the simulation indicates that she does enjoy the adulation and recognition that come with being Supergirl. But she’s also there to save people, and to protect her family (See also: Her palpable relief when VR Kara is safe). But no matter how many super suits she tries on, she can’t save Jeremiah. Not just because he’s gone, but because she can’t change the choices he made. She can’t make him – either then or now – make better decisions or prioritize the family he claimed to care about. There’s no reality in which she can force him to stick around.
Alex’s struggle to figure out how she feels about her father will be part of her life’s work, and her reaction to his sudden and unexpected death will always be a significant piece of that. Sometimes, it’s easy to hold on to our anger to people close to us – even when they deserve it – because we assume that we’ll always have time. Time for them to realize how wrong they were. An opportunity for us to get closure in some way. Time for them to apologize. Or for us to let them know all the ways that they’ve hurt us.
And yet…sometimes that assumed shot at closure never comes. And figuring out how you feel about that can often feel more daunting than anything else – what do you do with that anger, with that sorrow, when you can no longer tell the person who inspired it? When you missed your chance to tell them how you feel? To make your peace with the person you cared about, who loved you, but let you down?
Chyler Leigh’s performance is so good here precisely because it’s such a relatable portrait of grief. Of course, Alex is angry at her father for all the ways he failed her and her sister. But it’s equally understandable for her to have held on to the idea that someday he’d still figure out a way to fix things. That’s what dads do, after all. Her anger and hopelessness are such normal, everyday things to feel, and “Alex in Wonderland” works so well for reasons that have nothing to do with the fact that it puts Alex in a super suit (fun though that is). It’s an hour that reminds us that Alex’s emotional strength is her superpower, because yet again, she does the right thing for herself, for Kara and the rest of her family. She makes the choice her father didn’t – she shows up for the people she loves, and who need her to be there for them.
“Alex in Wonderland” is such a solid hour that it even manages to make the Leviathan plot interesting for the first time in weeks. Almost. At the very least it feels as though there’s some forward progress there for the first time in a long time. I’ve unfortunately given up on Supergirl bothering to tell a balanced tale of technology’s inner devils and better angels at this point in the season, so here’s hoping that the ultimate Big Bad story will at least be entertaining to watch.
Sure, we still have almost zero idea about what Leviathan is trying to accomplish, or why old lady Margot is busy stuffing the bodies of people trapped in the Obsidian virtual reality in a random warehouse. But at least Alex and Kelly have realized something’s up, and that something has organically built from the failsafe glitch from last week’s episode. Is it a little convenient that Kelly was able to use Teen Alex to reach her adult self? Probably. Did I tear up during that scene anyway? Heck yeah. It was a great moment. And sometimes, it’s more satisfying just to go with it rather than nitpick, and this is definitely one of those instances.
On a larger scale, the idea of losing control of your identity and your ability to distinguish real from unreal in a virtual world is distinctly terrifying. Particularly when the virtual realities already look so much like real life in the first place (I know I can’t be the only one who got caught by the first “Alex made it out of the simulation” red herring). But how do you fight to save people from a world – and an escape – of their own choosing?
Maybe next week we’ll finally start to find out.