[This is a review of Supergirl season 1, episode 18. There will be SPOILERS]
From the moment The CW passed on adding the show to its own schedule, and it found its home on CBS, comic book fans have wondered if they would ever get the chance to see Supergirl's caped heroine cross paths with some of DC's other TV titans. Before long, it was The Flash who emerged as the top candidate, and after weeks and months of keeping their plans quiet, the time has finally come for Barry Allen of Earth and Kara Zor-El of Krypton to join forces - with predictable results. Everything else in the show... well, that's another story.
In "Worlds Finest," directed by Nick Gomez with story by Greg Berlanti and teleplay by Andrew Kreisberg & Michael Grassi, Kara's usual routine is thrown out the window when Barry Allen (guest star Grant Gustin) arrives in National City from a parallel world to meet this planet's newest Kryptonian superhero. Before he can return home, Kara recruits Barry to take down a newly-powered Siobhan Smythe (Italia Ricci) and DEO escapee (and former monster of the week) Livewire (Brit Morgan). Elsewhere... feelings.
By now, nobody needs to be told just how charming, likable, or easy Grant Gustin makes playing a DC Comics superhero seem. If there were Supergirl fans who were in the dark, his talents are on display from the very first moment he sets foot in the show's universe, signalling High Tide for its lighter, more nostalgic and charismatic side, and rising all ships along with it. The writing from Berlanti and Kreisberg shows their longstanding love for Barry Allen - determined to make him the poster boy for their network, put center stage for the CBS audience. Unsurprisingly, it shows their very best.
It isn't just the writing, though. Of course, Winn Schott (Jeremy Jordan) finds in Barry Allen the playmate he's been missing this entire time, Kara finds a man in her life who has no machinations on romance, and to whom she can truly relate, and James (Mehcad Brooks) realizes that there are bigger fish - or, at least, more spontaneous and rewarding ones - in the sea vying for Kara's attention. But with Gustin's arrival, the humor and lighter moments seem to be just symptoms of a bigger change: the cast is genuinely enjoying themselves.
The odds were always going to be unfairly stacked in The Flash's favor, since he is able to take playful shots at the stranger (or weaker) points of Supergirl's universe, as the only character not born in the same continuity. But it really is a sad reminder that Supergirl - considered a lighter, more colorful, playful, romanticized look at superheroes - pales in comparison to Gustin's actual ability to exude those very qualities. To be clear: Benoist, Jordan, and even Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart) herself all rise to the occasion, and would be at home in The Flash's universe. But it's hard to see this episode as anything but an opportunity for them to finally showcase it, when that shouldn't be the case at all.
Benoist and Jordan are at their most flexible and loose, and as a result, their most charming, endearing, and likable (it turns out being shoehorned into romantic subplots and facing homicidal aliens every week kind of hampers the chances of levity). In or out of their costumes, the chemistry between the two leads is as polished as could probably ever be hoped, and seeing Barry Allen be the one offering advice for a change is a welcome shift. One that shows he won't just make a reliable member of a TV Justice League down the road, but seems the most likely candidate to lead it. And if there'a a character to stand beside him in terms of the 'super' and the 'hero,' "Worlds Finest" proves Benoist is it.
Of course, it wouldn't be Supergirl without some rough edges or strange choices to explore. And this week, the lower points are hard to narrow down, beyond...
Although the very best moments of Supergirl and The Flash (fetching ice cream, 'The Blur,' multiverse explanations, etc.) can't be brought down by anything, it's a shame that the long-awaited crossover with a CW superhero turned out to also be the silliest, goofiest episode of Supergirl yet (which is saying something). It may be giving the odd choices, strange logic gaps and awkward pacing short shrift to just say that the Banshee/Livewire subplot is the absolute worst kind of superhero programming, but it's hard to think of a fan who would describe it as a 'superhero dream come true.'
Brit Morgan's Livewire mainly gets a pass here, since she's probably hitting the bullseye of the over-the-top, pun-happy comic book villain being aimed for - even if the writing surrounding her is laughably strange ("I hate helicopters!"). But the culmination of the Siobhan Smythe/Silver Banshee (Ricci) story may be the show's worst accomplishment thus far. And no, we're not even talking about the fact that she let Livewire buy her a (admittedly intricate) Halloween costume, or agreed to painting a skull on her face.
Skipping right by the gross misunderstanding on the writers' part here - that a good villain origin is focused on her name, power, and costume, as opposed to making her compelling in any way, whatsoever - we can now say that Siobhan/Banshee is the single most dumbfounding elements of Supergirl's first season. The elevator pitch of the subplot - "Winn's CatCo girlfriend (who happens to be competing with Kara for a job) turns bad, realizing a magical ancestral curse" - could work, even if it's stretching believability. But the execution has us genuinely wondering how anyone thought this was a good idea as it started to take shape.
If the idea here is that Winn is the only one to see Siobhan's softer side, then it was never actually shown. Otherwise, Winn is simply bending his will to the first woman who shows him affection. Either way, nearly every scene achieves only to make Winn - arguably the most endearing and likable audience cipher - flat-out unlikable; he's seeking approval and offering comfort from not just a terrible, cruel, spiteful person, but one who is actively sabotaging and venomous towards his best friend. The fact that a) Kara barely recognizes this passive betrayal, and b) the unintentional irony of Siobhan hating someone for merely exposing her deceit leave us completely lost.
And with Siobhan's story now over, according to showrunner Andrew Kreisberg, fans may begin to wonder how many scenes of Alex (Chyler Leigh), J'onn J'onzz (David Harewood), or chance for Winn to achieve some of his potential they were denied so that such a miserable character could take the spotlight (Editor's note: whoever decided to put Banshee in contrast to a background of red roses deserves the only credit).
Finally, where Barry's arrival puts James on the defensive, Gustin's easy chemistry with Benoist is ammunition for those still unconvinced that James and Kara are a match. In truth, eighteen episodes into the show, James Olsen is barely a character: how does he feel about Kara? Why is he unsure about pursuing her? What is his actual job? It's not a slight against Brooks, since he's able to deliver moments of charm and genuine comedy where possible. But as Barry Allen knows from his past with Iris West, Felicity Smoak, and Patty Spivot, love is a battlefield - but it's also supposed to be fun. And at this point, knowing that James and Kara are ignoring what's right in front of them is a problem when nobody watching can see it for themselves.
As a crossover with The Flash, "Worlds Finest" delivers in probably every way fans would hope (even if the fight scenes and battles are tailored to the required formula). But the unforeseen problem is that such a singing storyline can't help but throw Supergirl's dullest notes into sharp relief.
Supergirl returns with "Myriad" on Monday, April 14th @8pm on CBS.