In the end, it's simple: Supergirl works because it has conviction.
The show has come a long way in season one — from bright-and-sunny fun to impassioned-superhero manifesto to outright better-than-the-recent Superman-movies — and although it didn't steadily improve every week, it was always trying. As is often the case, Supergirl spent parts of its first season stumbling around. Unlike most other shows, it always knew what it wanted to be, and sometimes it even reached those heights. Kind of like its hero.
Maybe Batman Begins is to blame, but pop culture's current fascination with superheroes is fundamentally different from previous eras in one major way: It's all about the origin story. This is even more pronounced in TV. Superhero fare of the ’90s and earlier wasn't too concerned with serialized arcs that explain how heroes came to be; they just arrived fully formed and faced weekly challenges. Lois & Clark, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the animated versions of Spider-Man, X-Men, and every series set in the terrific DC Animated Universe — all of them were largely uninterested in origin stories. (Smallville is the one exception. A very successful exception.)
Not anymore. Today's superhero shows are about people we don't know becoming the legends we do. But unlike Arrow or even The Flash, Kara Danvers simply is Supergirl. There is no transformation. The trick behind Supergirl isn't that Kara is inherently good, but that we all are capable of being good. As Kara learns how to navigate the public eye — how to be an exemplar for those around her — she reminds people of the good they can do in the world.
Or, to borrow a phrase, remind them of their better angels.
That's what makes Team Supergirl's big plan so perfect. They'll dust off CatCo's ancient broadcast array, then put Supergirl and her shield on every screen in National City, so she can simply talk to everybody about hope and helplessness and love. Sincerity and earnestness are not well-received sentiments in modern culture; they're corny and cheesy and don't play well to audiences looking for conflict. Apathy is easy, caring is not. Being sincere is difficult, but when you're as powerful as Supergirl, it's the only way to really face a grave threat.
Myriad made National City itself into a weapon against Supergirl. Max Lord came up with a way to punch back. But being a hero is about realizing that there are some problems you can't punch. Sometimes, moral fortitude is the answer. You choose to fight with conviction.
Punches are thrown in the finale, of course. After Supergirl's broadcast breaks Myriad's spell, Non and Indigo crank up its volume, gradually juicing it to the point that it'll overload the brains of everyone in the world and make their heads explode.
No really, that's what it will do. I know it sounds like a joke — and I know this is a place where I sometimes make jokes — but that is not a joke.
That said, I should take the opportunity to mention that "Better Angels" is the first season of Supergirl in microcosm: equal parts cheesy, soapy, heartfelt, fun, and brilliant. Your opinion of it will almost certainly correlate to your feelings about the show as a whole. It's not changing anyone's mind.
Anyway, back to the punching. Max Lord and the DEO trace the source of the Myriad Wave to Fort Rozz, and Lord tells Supergirl the odds of surviving its effects don't look good. After stopping by CatCo to cryptically thank her friends and say good-bye, she and J'onn J'onzz take on Indigo and Non in a knock-down, drag-out fight that's intercut with citizens of National City succumbing to Myriad. It's a great sequence, one that ends with J'onn ripping Indigo in half and Kara beating Non in a heat-vision stare-down.
Their short-lived victory won't do anything to stop Myriad, so Kara has to fly the entirety of Fort Rozz into space — a setting where she can't survive or even fly, as Supergirl curiously establishes. It's not up for debate: She willingly sacrifices herself, losing consciousness moments after tossing the space station into the void.
Except, Alex got her hands on the Kryptonian pod that brought Kara to Earth and flies it into orbit to bring her sister back home. Yep, the pod from episode one. Call it Chekhov's Space Cradle.
With the threat resolved, "Better Angels" leaves plenty of time for things to wind down. The characters get to rally together without an immediate crisis on their hands, and the finale is all the better for it. That's one of the things that's most important to Supergirl — people learning how to express what they mean to each other. And so, J'onn J'onzz is pardoned by Madame President via the formerly xenophobic Sam Lane. Then, J'onn commends Lucy for her admirable performance. And Cat Grant promotes Kara in the season's best Cat Grant scene, which is saying something, since this show sometimes came dangerously close to being renamed Cat Grant Says Things and It's Awesome.
"This is your 'end of Working Girl' moment," Cat tells Kara. "And if you really take advantage of it, you can really change the world."
With all that mayhem tucked away, the first season ends happily. Team Supergirl gathers together at Kara's apartment for dinner, where James sweetly presents her with a photo he took of Supergirl — and it's actually a framed shot of Kara. They kiss and everything is wonderful.
That is, until another pod suddenly rips through the sky. Kara and J'onn fly off to see where it lands, and when they crack it open, Kara is shocked. Cut to black.
Damn it, CBS, this show better get a second season.
Truth, Justice, and Miscellaneous Notes
- Sister fight. I didn't really spend much time on this because it was resolved in short order, but the resolution itself is a bit of a surprise. With the help of Eliza Danvers, whom Hank flies in and shields from Myriad to talk to Alex, it's another reminder of the important role family played this season, and provides an opportunity to let the Danvers girls tell their mother that they know their father is alive.
- And the best cameo goes to … Superman's boots. This is the funniest thing I've seen on television all year. Supergirl can't feature Superman himself, so it's revealed that Myriad left him incapacitated for some unknown reason, and he's left on a gurney unconscious for pretty much the entire episode. The first time we see the boots, it's funny but understandable. When we keep seeing them, it's goofy and distracting. I guess I'm glad they committed to the gag?
- Indigo's makeup. It's not good.
- No news on season two just yet. Though CBS has yet to renew Supergirl, there's a nice chunk of fodder to work with going forward: Cadmus, Jeremiah Danvers, the Kryptonian Tech that Max Lord obtained thanks to helping fight Myriad, and this new pod. Should be a good time.
- This was really fun. There was no telling where Supergirl would end up, but I'm glad I stuck with it. Thanks so much for reading these recaps. The commenters here are pretty nice! Keep being nice. Stronger together, and all that.