Supergirl: 5.17 Deus Lex Machina
This is definitely one of the show’s better titles but this week’s Supergirl feels a little like padding, adding extraneous details to an already cluttered story. It's another flashback, seeing events from another perspective episode and really, I’m over it. I was genuinely impressed when they first properly introduced and used this idea for Agent Liberty. Framing a new character’s development in parallel to the show at large was a great idea and done well. But since that first success, they’ve been using the same technique over and over again. I feel like we’ve had a variation on this theme about four times in this season alone. But here we are again…
We open up 90 days after Crisis on Infinite Earths, to see Lex in the warehouse where the creepy old lady was keeping all the people trapped in Obsidian. The lady is dead at Lex’s hand; he is, it would seem, a hero! I was pleased to see Tilly, the VR player who befriended Alex last episode, was safe. I liked her. Give her a spin off. Then we get the episode highlight (well, for me at least); a flashback montage of Lex during Crisis on Infinite Earths including lots of footage of SuperRouth, because if you’ve made that awesome suit you might as well get your money's worth. Lex then wakes up from Crisis on Infinite Earths to find himself at home, in his bed, a butler bringing him his breakfast along with the news he’s about to receive the Nobel Piece Prize. Of course it takes Lex no time at all to piece together what has happened and slip into his new position of standing and respectability.
Lex teams up with his mother to hatch a plan to take out Supergirl, because she will remember him pre-Crisis and could stop his rise to power. He then decides to try and get Lena on side and, after a chat with her, goes looking for the new Earth Prime Eve Teschmacher. I’m really not sure how I feel about how the show has treated Eve; it's like the show wants to have its cake and eat it. When they first introduced her it seemed like a cheeky gag; a ditsy blonde working at CatCo. Then she gets promoted and we find out she’s actually a genius and Lena hires her as an assistant.
This was a great use of and kind of reclaiming of, the character. When, several seasons later, she turned out to be working with Lex the whole time is was a good, earned character twist. They really made an interesting support character. Then Lena wiped her mind and reprogrammed her brain and… that wasn’t cool. And it seems that won’t be addressed? Lena, on any spiritual, emotional, physiological level, killed Eve. She removed her consciousness from existence and replaced it with one of her own choosing… but now that didn’t happen? So Lena’s moral slate is wiped clean? And we’re reintroduced to Eve who is now an assassin working for Leviathan under threat of her mother's death. This desire to use Eve for shock twists while also trying to keep her redeemable, has led to a really messy character arc and I’d quite happily not see her again – although Andrea Brooks is very likeable in the role.
Supergirl takes a bit of a back seat this week, in part I'm sure because the episode is Melissa Benoist’s directorial debut. The story works well on its own without Supergirl/Kara being directly involved as we’re really focusing on Lex, and Benoist does a solid job for her first time behind the camera. These DC shows are very formulaic, so it can be hard to put your own stamp on them and there is no immediate, striking visual flare here, but it’ll be interesting to see how she develops as a director over time.
We continue to follow Lex as we watch him manipulate everyone around him and we see how he has been controlling the narrative behind the scenes post-Crisis. He convinces Eve to work for him as a double agent and she slowly falls in love with him. This is sweet but quick and we don’t quite get to develop the ideas around why she falls so easily for Lex. But knowing the characters, we can fill in the gaps; she’s vulnerable, he’s manipulative.
Lex’s main scheme is to use Obsidian to develop a god killer program and ingratiate himself with Gemma so he can be invited onto the Immortal’s ship and release the program, thus taking out the Immortals and rising to ultimate power. Along the way, he plans to use the Immortals to take out Supergirl. It's all pretty complicated; fortunately Lex spends a LOT of time this week explaining what he’s doing. This show does have a bad habit of info dumping on the audience and considering they’ve constructed an episode to show what Lex was doing behind the scenes, its disappointing that so much of this time is spent in a room, with Eve, explaining his plan.
As we get closer to the present, we see Lex manipulate Eve in to going and killing Kara and Alex’s dad (claiming Jeremiah is the man who murdered Eve’s own father). We learn that Lex has created the kill-switch flaw in the Obsidian system so he can fix it and earn Gemma’s trust – thus get him closer to being invited on her ship. Lex manipulating everything worked last season when he was first introduced, but this season has been such a mess of plot strands, rushed ideas and abandoned character beats that everything in this episode feels drastically convoluted. I don’t know if it’s a conscious effort to try and reign in and clear up any confusion - especially post-Crisis – but it doesn’t work. The episode still feels a little muddled and I still feel like we have too many characters with sloppy motivation.
Towards the end of the episode we start to catch up to present time, Lex manages to manipulate William into thinking Lex has kidnapped the Obsidian users, which in turn manipulates Supergirl into using Myriad to try and find those missing users. This results in Lena going to the Fortress to confront Supergirl about her hypocrisy in using Myriad. Also an invisible Morae tags along and a sun eater gets released. All of this is part of Lex’s master plan. With Kara and the super friends distracted re-capturing the sun eater, Lex is able to ‘rescue’ the Obsidian users. The sun eater stuff is really good and a highlight of the episode. The special effects are effective and look really good and the sequence doesn’t feel rushed the way they sometimes do on this show.
Eventually Lex convinces Gemma they need to keep Supergirl around to help with their endgame. After Eve confesses her love for Lex, he tells her that he doesn’t care about her and pretty much spills the beans that he’s been using her - and threatens to kill her mum if she tries to leave. I would have liked to see more time spent on the development of this abusive relationship and I was left feeling like the show was trading off known characters, even though they’ve been drastically reshaped by Crisis on Finite Earths.
Something that doesn’t sit well for me at the end of this episode is how Lex is shown to be manipulating a series of women; Gemma, Lena, Eve, Andrea and Supergirl are all portrayed as powerful, intelligent women. To see Lex so easily manipulate them is a little uncomfortable and I hope the show is going to address this in some way. I can’t believe that Lena, especially, would be so easily manipulated by her brother - or Gemma, for that matter, considering she’s had millennia of experience. The problem is that Lex and his plan are not that sophisticated; convoluted, yes, but not that clever and I’m not convinced that his cartoon shoulder-devil style whispering in ears is enough to trick all these intelligent women.
An overused concept with nothing much new to say or add to the story, this episode felt like nothing more than lazy exposition and filler to bring us closer to the finale. A real disappointment.