REVIEW: Supergirl, S3E19 – The Fanatical

Supergirl continues to excel at highlighting the plights of various supporting characters in “The Fanatical,” while the Worldkiller plot flails a little in comparison. Lena (Katie McGrath) and Supergirl (Melissa Benoist) are begrudgingly working together to find a cure for Sam (Odette Annable) and forward the plot all episode, but the heart of the story is shared between James (Mehcad Brooks), Alex (Chyler Leigh) and J’onn (David Harewood).

The power of friendship lives on.

James especially deals with a lot, and it’s perhaps Supergirl‘s most successful attempt at facing real-life issues head on. When a young Coville acolyte named Tanya begs him for help after escaping her cult, James’ secret identity as Guardian winds up being at stake. And to its credit, the show acknowledges the reality of cops being more suspicious of a black man than of literal white terrorists even if it doesn’t follow through on James having to out himself. Really, the only quibble I have with the conversation he and Tanya have is that they fail to mention that black women are brutalized as well, especially considering Julia’s treatment just a few weeks ago.

Nonetheless, Brooks gives a thoughtful and layered performance, weaving James’ childhood trauma and pain seamlessly into the man of integrity and action that he is today. He and Lena have a sweet scene where she listens to him recount unfair treatment, solidifying their relationship, but the bigger through line is his friendship with Kara and how much it’s grown over the course of the last few seasons. The fact that they manage to understand and overcome the breach of trust between them without resorting to dramatics is proof enough, but “The Fanatical” also does its best to parallel Kara’s secret identity with James’. While I disagree with the premise, I must admit James came the closest to convincing me. He respects Kara enough to let her forge her own path and keep her true self hidden if she feels it’s best, but he’s confident enough in himself and Guardian to come clean when the time is right.

Thankfully that time does not have to be now, because Tanya instead chooses to confront the other members of her cult rather than throw James to the wolves. Armed with a hilariously bumbling Mon-El (Chris Wood) as her undercover backup, she faces her old friends (including a now deranged Olivia, who Supergirl saved in the first half of the season) as they work to create a new Worldkiller in Reign’s absence. Lena and Winn (Jeremy Jordan) are thrilled to discover that the Rock of Yuda Kal’s properties could therefore be reversed in order to un-make Sam’s Worldkiller DNA, but first Kara must deal with Olivia and her cohorts.

The fight sequence itself is rather chaotic, an the best moments actually come before and after. Mon-El’s impression of a human in the form of “Mike” is one of his best scenes, for example, making abundant use of Wood’s comedic timing. And the true victory comes when Kara manages to reach Olivia with words of wisdom and comfort instead of violence. It’s a trick that works best when used sparingly, but in “The Fanatical” it rings true precisely because of the focus on faith and identity.

What does Lena think Kara is doing while all her friends are at the DEO?

Throughout Lena’s race to find a cure for Reign – which is made more urgent by the end of the episode when she breaks free of her restraints – her standoff against Supergirl continues unabated. While Kara’s concern over losing her friend is easy to sympathize with, it feels like an unnecessary tension to drop in when Lena is still doing the work required to save the day. “We don’t have a friendship, Supergirl” may be painful words to hear, but they’re also pretty accurate. It’s more painful to know that Lena is thinking of Kara when she claims that her real friends don’t lie to her. “The Fanatical” tries to justify the secrecy by pointing out that telling the truth at this juncture would only make Kara feel better, so it’s more noble to keep Lena in the dark. Except that doesn’t help Lena feel better either, so it’s kind of an empty argument. Perhaps Supergirl should have held off on this battle of wills until they could shore up Kara’s side of the debate.

Meanwhile, Alex’s attempts to cheer Ruby up in the wake of her mother turning out to be a Worldkiller are something of a disaster. Nothing from a motorcycle ride to a dye job to a pet cat seem to be doing the trick, so Alex teams up with J’onn to take their new families out for a day of fun at the arcade. Ruby and M’yrnn are less than impressed for different reasons. Ruby just wants to go home and wallow alone, but M’yrnn experiences a full breakdown imagining that he is being shot at for real. There’s a silver lining to every cloud, though, as this gives Ruby a chance to bond with the older gentleman and understand the road to recovery is still open. And then we get the most adorable game of Foosball ever shown onscreen. Speaking of adorable, Alex and Ruby also make up after their earlier tiff and strengthen their own bond. It’s true that we don’t know how Sam’s Reign DNA might affect Ruby, but with Alex on her side she has nothing to fear. This subtle journey of Alex’s, from wanting to be a mother to stepping into that role for Ruby, is one of my favorite arcs on Supergirl this season.

Finally, in keeping with the theme of keeping noble secrets, Mon-El has chosen not to tell Kara about his conflicted love for her and J’onn points out that he’s making the selfless call. This is probably the only time keeping a secret makes sense, but this love triangle is going to have to move in one direction or another soon because it’s already overstayed its welcome. Perhaps next week will tip the scales, since he and Kara will be on a mission alone together.

Supergirl airs Mondays at 8/7c on the CW.