I previously reviewed the just-completed seasons of Arrow and The Flash in tandem, as the two shared a lot of common themes this year.
While the same is true of Supergirl and Legends, a lot more than I expected, I must acknowledge it’s like comparing a straight superhero story (Sterling Gates and Jamal Igle’s run on Supergirl, for example) to the Keith Giffen/J.M. Dematteis era of Justice League, where half the plot revolved around Booster Gold and Blue Beetle’s get-rich-quick schemes, the Martian Manhunter was addicted to Oreo-like treats, and Green Lantern Guy Gardner was laying the groundwork for the #metoo movement with every leer.
With that said, these two remarkably different shows both taught us this season that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself … but that fear itself has friends in high (and low) places.
Former TV Wonder Woman star Lynda Carter was introduced in the early days of Supergirl as an American president who — like reporter Kara Danvers and DEO leader “Hank Henshaw” (the Martian Manhunter) — was not what she seemed. Olivia Marsdin was a Durlan, a member of a shape-shifting race introduced in the Legion of Super-Heroes comics.
That secret comes out to the public early in the season, and America takes a turn for the xenophobic. Enter Sam Witwer (formerly of Smallville and the U.S. version of “Being Human”) as Ben Lockwood, small-town businessman by day, iron-masking wearing demagogue “Agent Liberty” by night, stirring up people’s resentments over jobs lost to extraterrestrials.
Mass detentions. Alien registries. “Earth First” signs waved at protests. And that’s not even getting to the introduction of Lex Luthor (a masterful Jon Cryer). Or James Olsen getting superpowers, but of a less wacky variety than in the comics.
Brainiac 5 gets a love interest: Dreamer, a trans* woman of Lallorian lineage, ancestor of his Legion teammate Dream Girl. Nicole Maines (trans activist turned model and actress) brings a great energy to the series — like Mon-El in season 2, she’s someone for Supergirl and J’onn (and Brainy) to mentor, but unlike Mon-El, she doesn’t pull Supergirl into a romantic subplot that overwhelms everything else. We get to see Jesse Rath — a regular this season as Brainy — run through a gamut of emotions this season, with hints at the less benevolent Brainiacs of the past.
Meanwhile, over on Legends, the team starts out the season facing a murderous unicorn that spits hallucinogenic goo at Woodstock and ends with a circus at a “monsters-are-people-too” theme park literally built overnight using a magic diary, and a double homage to both Wim Wenders’ film Wings of Desire AND the Disney animated classic Peter Pan.
In between, DC Comics demon Neron tries to collect a whole lot of souls by stirring up fear of magical creatures — including an ogre who just wants to sing, a minotaur who plays the guitar gently, the Baba Yaga, and a mummy — through creating a “monster spotting” app whose terms of service include handing one’s immortal soul over him. (No one reads the terms of service, right?)
Legends is the show about the underdogs. So of course, one of the season’s standout characters is a food delivery worker named Mona who ends up as monster dietician and all-around wrangler. And of course, when the team starts to feel a little big for its collective britches, there’s a heavier-than-expected price to pay.
But there are great character moments both serious and farcical all along the way. The Legends take a “hard pass” on the 2018-19 “Elseworlds” crossover, so Supergirl, The Flash, and Green Arrow take a “hard pass” on helping them out with something of seemingly lower stakes later.
Sara Lance and her girlfriend Ava’s romantic life gets sorted out in Ava’s personal Purgatory — an “IKEA Store from Hell.” Shipmate Zari (the modern-day version of the 1970s DC Saturday morning heroine “Isis,” except they can’t use that name now), a rare example of a Muslim heroine, gets some great characterization all along the way and some resolution to the crisis that brought her to the team in the first place.
Oh, and Tom Wilson — Biff from Back to the Future — will make you cry. More than once.
Though the Legends sat out this year’s crossover, all five shows (Flash, Arrow, Legends, Supergirl, and the new Batwoman series) will participate in the late-2019 “Crisis on Infinite Earths” event. And both of these season’s finales tease to it in their own ways.
Supergirl season 4: 5/5 stars
DC’s Legends of Tomorrow season 4: 4/5 stars
Jason Tippitt is a recovering seminarian and mostly recovered former journalist living a few miles beyond that place you stop to use the restroom off Interstate 40 between Nashville and Memphis.