Sprock yeah! It turns out all it took to kick this season into high gear was a time travel trip back to 2009. “Prom Night!” is an absolute pleasure to watch—an hour that delivers all the zippy, big-scale, open-air fun this more dour, claustrophobic season has been missing. And it’s also an episode that really rewards long-time Supergirl fans. Particularly those with a lengthy memory of the show’s many dangling plot threads. Brainy taking off his personality inhibitors in season five? Nia’s fractured family drama from season four? Kenny Li’s deeply upsetting death from the season three Midvale flashback episode? It all gets addressed here, and all for the better.
Ahead of tonight’s time-hopping adventure, I revisited Supergirl’s first teenage flashback episode, “Midvale,” and it’s remarkable just how much “Prom Night!” improves on the formula. While “Midvale” felt like well-cast, well-intentioned filler (Alex and Kara returned home and reflected on a formative teen sleuthing experience while processing their respective Maggie/Mon-El breakups), “Prom Night!” plays a much more meaningful role in this season’s storytelling. Part of that is because Brainy and Nia are there to tie the past-set story to the main season throughline. But it’s also because “Prom Night!” prioritizes character-centric storytelling over episodic villain-of-the-week plotting. That’s been an overall strength of Supergirl’s final season. And it’s a huge asset to the relaxed but focused pacing of the first part of this two-part adventure.
“Prom Night!” locks into the really fun idea that Brainy and Nia are basically the teenagers of the Super Friends family. So, naturally, high school is the perfect place for them to process their respective emotional arcs. Still frustrated by her inability to interpret her dreams, Nia longs for her mom’s guidance while bonding with teen Kara over their unique experiences as young superpowered women who’ve suffered great losses. Brainy, meanwhile, realizes that his new inhibitor-free personality is sort of like being a hormonal teenager. And like many an anxious, over-achieving high schooler, he buries himself in extracurriculars to cope.
There’s so much sitcom-y humor in “Prom Night!” that could fall flat on its face if Jesse Rath and Nicole Maines weren’t so great at selling it. Supergirl delivers an honest to joke “wassup” joke in the year of our lord 2021, and it genuinely made me laugh! Rath and Maines deftly handle the goofy comedy of Brainy and Nia posing as formalwear-loving aliens named Brandon and Brenda who’ve inadvertently crash landed in Midvale. But they’re also able to bring real dramatic weight to Brainy and Nia’s respective arcs too. The confidence of this episode stems directly from their great central performances. And if this doesn’t inspire The CW to give them their own spinoff series, I hope they at least get to become players on Legends Of Tomorrow after Supergirl is done.
The guest cast is equally great too. Eliza Helm does an uncanny Calista Flockhart impression as a young Cat—aka “CJ”—Grant, who arrives on the hunch that a secret superhero is making Midvale “the luckiest town in America.” And while I’m not sure that Cat’s age or career trajectory make much sense here (the pilot takes place only six years after this episode is set), it feels right that Supergirl should celebrate the haughty, dogged spirit of one of its most formative characters, even without Flockhart there to do it herself. Plus you can always handwave away any of the timeline weirdness as part of the Crisis reset.
In fact, that’s exactly what Supergirl does in one of its smartest, most unexpected storytelling choices. While the first “Midvale” episode centered on Alex and Kara solving Kenny Li’s murder at the hands of a corrupt local sheriff, in the post-Crisis timeline, Kenny lived and went on to become Kara’s high school boyfriend. It’s a clever retcon of a storyline that always felt just a little too dark for Supergirl’s sunny world. And it’s pretty remarkable that in just a single episode, humble, smart, supportive Kenny (Peter Sudarso) manages to emerge as the best love interest the show has ever given Kara. While teenage Kara presumably won’t accept his offer to stay in Midvale and do their superheroing out of a homemade Barn of Solitude, if Supergirl ultimately settles on a present-day Kara/Kenny endgame, I wouldn’t be mad about it.
Rightfully so, however, the teen relationship at the heart of this episode is the one between Kara and Alex. Like the last “Midvale” episode, “Prom Night!” digs into the central conflict of their close sisterly bond. When the Danvers took Kara in, their entire family structure shifted around her. Jeremiah lost his life protecting his new daughter’s secret identity, while Eliza encouraged Alex to make Kara her biggest priority. Alex resents being suddenly thrust into the pressures of older sibling responsibility, while Kara resents being guilt-tripped over something she never asked for—especially when her Earth family tends to downplay her galactic perspective and literal superpowers in favor of treating her like a little kid who need protecting.
It’s a great, nuanced conflict beautifully portrayed by Olivia Nikkanen and Izabela Vidovic. Supergirl is smart to let both young women have valid points of view as they argue in the way that only sisters can. While there’s some strong effects work and action throughout this episode—including a really fun truck rescue sequence—the most explosive scene is Alex and Kara’s fight about which one of them is more mature. As with a lot of things in “Prom Night!”, it’s mostly just set-up for next week’s climatic conclusion. But, even so, zeroing in on Kara and Alex’s tense teenage years helps makes their present-day bond feel even more earned.
All around, “Prom Night!” uses this season’s unusual production limitations as a springboard for creativity. After several episodes filled with needlessly complicated Phantom exposition, it’s a relief to see Supergirl strike a lighter, jazzier tone this week. Guardians Of The Galaxy-esque alien hunters Mitch (Matt Baram) and Professor Naxim Tork (Chris William Martin) are low-key antagonists who can provide both action and comedy without pulling too much focus from the more compelling character-centric stuff. The episode’s only downside is that it’s really just half a story. But whether or not next week’s resolution sticks the landing, “Prom Night!” gives me a lot of hope that Supergirl can still deliver surprises in its final season. And that’s “wassup.”
- So, are Nia and Brainy still dating? It’s weird how uncertain I am about. Hopefully next week’s prom-themed episode clears things up!
- I wasn’t sure how to feel about Nia singing “9 To 5” at first, but in the end, Nicole Maines’ earnestness (and lovely voice!) totally sold me on it.
- Similarly, the scene of Nia and Kara excitedly showing off their powers during a sleepover was pure, unfiltered Supergirl joy.
- At one point teen Alex says something along the lines of “we need help and we need weapons,” and that’s some great character continuity.
- It’s a nice, if somewhat inexplicable, touch that Alex has a “Midvale” license plate while Cat has a “Metropolis” one. I guess cars are licensed by cities, rather than states, on Earth Prime.
- “There’s nothing women love more than physics well applied.”