This Supergirl review contains spoilers.
Supergirl Season 5 Episode 17
Supergirl returns from its extended spring hiatus with the Lex Luthor-centric episode that none of us really asked for. “Deus Lex Machina” is an hour that re-centers the series’ universe post-Crisis on Infinite Earths, placing Jon Cryer’s supervillain at the epicenter of virtually everything that’s going on. And with just a handful of episodes left in Season 5, it’s not clear that this is necessarily a good thing.
The unfortunate realities of scheduling and production during the global COVID-19 outbreak means that we haven’t seen an episode of Supergirl in over a month. This presents us with a couple of problems. One, we don’t necessarily remember the minutiae of the many plots this episode counts on being at least somewhat fresh in our minds in order to work. And, two, it’s been so long since we’ve seen Kara and friends that a return episode focused almost entirely on Lex Luthor…well. Let’s just say it’s probably not what most of us wanted this week.
Notably, this episode marks Supergirl star Melissa Benoist’s directorial debut, and that’s certainly something worth celebrating. She’s charged with assembling a lot of disparate narrative pieces into something approaching a coherent whole, with a dollop of weird potentially sun-eating alien on top, and pulls it off admirably. This episode is a lot of fun to watch, despite the larger plot concerns that we’ll get to in a moment, and I definitely look forward to (hopefully) seeing more directorial work from her in Season 6.
Given how much of a general let-down Leviathan has been as a Big Bad for Season 5, it’s probably for the best that they’ve basically been usurped by Lex, who is at least an entertaining villain, if one that’s retreading fairly familiar ground. (We get it, we get it; you hate all Kryptonians and want to kill Supergirl. Much surprise. So shocking.) it’s unfortunate, however, that by giving Lex such an elevated role in the series’ endgame, Supergirl is basically giving up on the overarching “dangers of technology” theme the series promised to explore this season.
To be fair, it wasn’t doing that great of a job at that anyway. We’re seventeen episodes into the season at this point, and I still don’t think that I could concisely explain what it is that Leviathan is after, nor could I tell you how Obsidian Tech’s virtual reality lenses fit into any of this.
Despite producers’ initial insistence that it would be a major theme of the season, Supergirl never felt terribly interested in presenting a nuanced view of the dangers and benefits of technology. Instead, it has repeatedly doubled down on clunky ideas about the addictive properties of technology and possible mind control rather than tell stories about the many ways it can and has been used for good. So, maybe we were always destined to end up in an overly simplified narrative that involves Lex using these tools to try and kill Kara, because, well, if you’re a hammer, everything eventually looks like a nail. It doesn’t make it any less disappointing.
There’s a worthwhile conversation to be had about the wisdom of allowing Lex to dominate the narrative so strongly this season, particularly to the detriment of Lena’s, which continues to languish in her brother’s shadow. Perhaps Lex’s presence is the necessary price to truly push the Leviathan arc forward at last, but it’s hard not to feel as though his increased presence has somehow taken something away from the other Luthor on Supergirl’s canvas.
The best scene in “Deus Lex Machina” is the brief warming that takes place between Lena and Kara, in which the former breaks the ice between them to tell her friend she’s sorry that her father has died. Finally, you can hear Supercorp fans everywhere shrieking with one voice, some progress! Sure, these two women are still pretty far from BFF status, but at least Supergirl has chosen to acknowledge that they still care about one another. That has to mean something, right?
Just kidding, the joke’s on all of us, because by the end of the hour the two women are basically back where they started. Lena discovers Supergirl’s using Myriad, which she naturally takes as a personal insult and proof of her former friend’s snotty duplicity. The resulting argument feels like something we’ve seen before, and this one step forward five steps back dance is deeply tiresome.
On the plus side, the flashbacks in “Deus Lex Machina” are deftly plotted, and do help make some sense out of Lex’s behavior post-Crisis – it’s all an attempt to rectify his previous failures to see the ways Leviathan had been playing him in Supergirl’s previous reality. The hour touches on most of the series’ episodes since the crossover, illustrating the many Lex-driven and manipulations that were taking place behind the scenes of each. Much of this is genuinely entertaining to watch – his first meeting with Eve Teschmacher in a nightclub bathroom is particularly great, as is the montage set to David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World” that reveals the depth of his influence on the events we’ve seen this season. But, it also retroactively inserts Lex and his influence even further into the bones of this narrative in a way that’s less than ideal.
The return of Eve is also a welcome development, as is the way her post-Crisis story gives her more agency and presence here than the first time around. From the revelation that she killed Jeremiah thinking he was the man who had murdered her father to her feelings for Lex and his blackmailing of her, there’s suddenly more depth to Eve as a character than ever before. (Though one does hope she manages to find her way back into Lena’s orbit again somehow. Just another bit of her story that’s migrated over to Lex’s, I guess…)
The episode ends with Lex striding into the Fortress of Solitude in order to…who knows what exactly. Whatever it is, it already feels like just another example of how the previously declared focus of this season has drifted into something else entirely. Which may turn out to be a good thing, somehow. Supergirl’s use of Lex and Kryptonian legacy has surprised me before. But it’s still worth asking how we got here, and if the turn away from the season’s original narrative arc was a good decision or not.