Supergirl Season 5 Episode 2 Review: Stranger Beside Me

Supergirl builds off the story threads introduced in the season premiere, with multiple threats brewing.

This Supergirl review contains spoilers.

Supergirl Season 5, Episode 2

J’onn J’onzz may be ready to let go of the past, but the past is not ready to let go of J’onn J’onzz. While we spent time with Malefic, J’onn’s brother, in the season premiere, it’s “Stranger Beside Me” that starts to truly delve into what his surprise return might mean, and it’s nothing good for J’onn and family he has built on Earth.

Supergirl is at its best when it is highlighting carefully-constructed relationships on the show, and the father-daughter relationship between Kara and J’onn is one of the best-earned dynamics on the series. The J’onn storyline in tonight’s episode takes a bit to get going, intiially bogged down in heavy backstory and the pop science of Kelly’s Obsidian Tech cure.

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The basics? Both J’onn and Malefic are afllicted by an ancient Martian curse, one that causes pain to brothers (and presumably sisters?) who face off against one another. Luckily, Kelly has a Q-Wave treatment that allows her to map J’onn’s brain to discover what is causing the problem. While she’s in J’onn’s mind palace, they discover that J’onn has some gaps in his memory. While he is able to remember what happened to his brother—he betrayed his people and was sentenced to the Phantom Zone for it—it is heavily implied there are parts of the story J’onn is missing.

While Team Supergirl manages to track Malefic down, they are unable to capture him, which means he is still out there, slowly gaining intel on J’onn and his friends with the ultimate goal of taking down his brother’s new family. This is when the stakes truly kick in because we know how much J’onn’s family means to him. Elsewhere in the episode, we see Kara confiding in J’onn about her struggles at CatCo since Andrea took over. The sweet, one-on-one scene is the kind of interpersonal fabric that make stories involving ancient Martian curses work better than they have any right to.

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Elsewhere in the episode, Lena is going full-on mad scientist. We discover that it was her who kidnapped Eve, one piece in her larger plan to “improve” humanity. Lena has decided that humans and aliens alike are not to be trusted—that it’s not our fault: we are built with a flaw in our system. But Lena is working on tech that would make it so people were unable to do harm against one another. It’s terrifying, and also sad in how Lena’s logic is so fueled by all of the pain she herself has been forced to endure since the time she was a child.

Over human relationships, Lena has a new bestie: Hope. She even gets her best friend a human body of her own. It’s horrifying that Lena has stolen Eve’s body (and mind?) from her against her will, and feels like the first step down a path she might not be able to come back from. It’s sad to see Kara speaking so happily about the healthiness of her friendship with Lena now that they don’t have the Supergirl secret between them, and to know that Lena is in such pain, keeping a massive and dangerous secret from Kara in return.

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While Kara has no idea what Lena is up to, Andrea knows that Lena is up to something—even if she has no idea just how big that something is. In what was probably the best scene of the episode, Andrea comes into Lena’s lab to confront her about smashing her tech (presumably, with the intent of stealing the IP). Lena is annoyed, but also in total control, despite the fact she has Eve in an apparently not soundproof cell in the very lab. Andrea has no idea who she is going up against, or just how ruthless and ambitious Lena can be, though I get the impression the same may be true of Andrea.

While we’ve yet to see the scope of what Andrea is planning, we know that she is making work hell for Kara in the meantime. While I agree with Kara when it comes to the danger of prioritizing clicks over investigative reporting, I couldn’t help but agree with Andrea and William’s complaints that Kara wasn’t doing her job. She is always running off to do superhero business. Like, it’s not so outrageous for Andrea to expect her to be on time for editorial meetings.

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After getting some bad advice from J’onn (sometimes, sticking it out is not the right answer, J’onn), Kara commits to her new normal at CatCo, doing the copyediting work that was assigned to her though, sadly, not getting a chance to write the story on what everyone wore to her own Pulitzer celebration (I was kind of looking forward to what she would have done with that). Meanwhile, Supergirl is trying to convince us that William has multitudes. Apparently, he spends his free time volunteering at soup kitchens. Oh god, is this show trying to make Kara/William happen. 

It may help to have William on her side. He called in a favor at the NSA to track Kara, which led him to following Supergirl instead. It’s left vague, and Kara realizes that she is being followed, but it’s not hard to imagine that William has figured out Kara’a secret. He may be a mercenary, but, from what we know of his backstory, he is also a good investigative journalist when he wants to be.

William is surely the least of Kara’s concerns right now. With Lena building some sort of tech solution for humanity’s weakness, complete with AI best friend, and Malefic plotting to destroy J’onn’s found family, Team Supergirl has a lot to worry about—even if they don’t fully realize it yet. 

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Additional thoughts.

We continue to get Nia/Brainy and Kelly/Alex’s relationships explored in parallel, which is an interesting choice. The episode begins with Brainy and Alex making breakfast for their respective partners. While the exploration of Brainy and Nia’s burgeoning relationship exists mainly as sweet, comic relief, we get some good development on the Kelly and Alex front. Alex admits that she is a little freaked out by the intensity of her feelings for Kelly, whom she still is getting to know, but when Malefic tries to trick Alex into thinking he is Kelly, Alex sees through the ruse not once, but twice, demonstrating just how strong their connection already is.

I would have liked to see a bit more interaction between Alex and J’onn here, as they have such a close relationship and J’onn was going through a very rough time for most of the episode. Then again, Alex was out there, looking for J’onn’s brother, which was an important part of the mission.

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Before being succombed by Hope, Eve mentions a few, vague-but-chilling details about Leviathan. She won’t say anything about who they actually are, for fear they will kill both her and Lena, but she does she they are everywhere. Apparently, they recruited Eve when she was a 16-year-old college kid with debts, and have had her under their thumb ever since.

Sadly, we don’t get to see Kara and Lena interact at all in this episode, which is a bummer after the big reveal moment in the premiere. It would have been nice to see what their new normal looks like.

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James is getting ready to get the heck out of dodge. With a potential Senate candidacy and a job at the Smithsonian lined up, things have never looked bright for Guardian. Because the character is leaving, the show is not investing much in exploring how James might feel about all of these changes, but it is nice to see him happy. 

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“This is specifically a Martian brand of agony.” This line made me laugh.

“I am going to make them better … I am going to rid humanity of their instincts to hurt each other.” Oh, you Luthors.

Andrea and Kara implied that the Who Wore What? piece is the opposite of high brow and elitist, and I know what they were going for with this point, but I think any article about what a bunch of affluent people wore to a fancy Pulitzer party is pretty damn elitist.

“My brother was a traitor. He poisoned us with H’ronmeer’s curse!” Bless you, David Harewood, for selling these lines.

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“You have us, and we know you.” – Kara, to J’onn

That deconstructed cover of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” bumped up the rating of this episode a half-point. I also love a montage!

Kayti Burt is a staff editor covering books, TV, movies, and fan culture at Den of Geek. Read more of her work here or follow her on Twitter @kaytiburt.

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3 out of 5