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Supergirl - The Gauntlet - Review: Let the Totem Games Begin


The race for the totems that comprise the AllStone on Supergirl has begun. The heroic totem quest gets off to a rocky start in Episode 6x13, The Gauntlet that should highlight Supergirl (Melissa Benoist) and Nyxly (Peta Sergeant)'s battle but instead suffers from what is becoming a recurrent problem in recent episodes, questionable storytelling decisions, and weak writing. What does save this episode is outstanding comedic work from original cast members Chyler Leigh (Alex) and David Harewood (J'onn) and the show's best cast addition, Jesse Rath (Brainy).

Like the horcruxes of Harry Potter each totem is a symbol of what it represents. In this episode, the slingshot David used on Goliath in the Bible (although David didn't really use a slingshot), which was oddly on display in a museum of Science and Technology represented the Courage totem. In their first encounter to possess the totem, Supergirl and Nyxly do battle which results in Supergirl splitting the totem. This sends her and Nyxly on a race to complete an emotionally charged gauntlet to restore it and gain possession.
Any hero's quest is fraught with success and failure, so it was inevitable that Supergirl would fail her first test about courage which involved a nice throwback to the show's pilot and her rescue of Alex's plane. The voice of the totem told them both they must "face the past, face yourself at the moment you lacked true courage." While Supergirl struggles to reach that moment, Nyxly succeeds on her second try by making herself vulnerable to the brother who betrayed her. Going forward Supergirl is going to have to face unpleasant memories or truths to prevent the imp from gaining all the totems.
The result of Nyxly passing her gauntlet restores it to its original form, but not before creating an odd psychic bond between her and Supergirl. This could lead to some interesting moments as the quest for the remaining totems continues. The episode also does an excellent job of showing how each battle for the totems is going to adversely affect some while ironically helping others. In this case, the divided totem emitted a surge of extra magical courage each time Supergirl and Nyxly failed their tests to some unusual results. Alex and J'onn became overly courageous to almost disastrous, but visually comic results. The usually pragmatic Alex became dangerously optimistic and reckless like charging toward a dragon's fire, while J'onn's overwhelming expression of his emotions caused him to lose his rapid decision-making. These switches offered both Leigh and Harewood to show serious comedic chops as the two looked as though they were having fun with corralling a dragon (another great throwback moment to when Supergirl first encountered Spike in season 4 and illustrating both Danvers sisters have a way with reptiles) and J'onn actually trying to reason with the angry dragon while expressing his pride in how Alex and Supergirl had grown into heroes.
While the extra dose of courage could have been detrimental to Alex and J'onn it ends up helping William (Staz Nair) who had been suffering from PTSD since Eve shot him last season. Sadly, this storyline of William afflicted this way is too little too late for the character. The writers could have done a better job in developing his character instead of waiting until the final episodes of the final season to explore him more. It is the same mistake they are making with Lena’s witch storyline. While the debate between magic and science has merit this is a case of them not really knowing what to do with a character and thusly giving them a belated and bizarre story. Why wait until the final season to explore these things? Greater character development could have been explored had these things been addressed in earlier seasons.
Other pluses to this somewhat uneven episode were the guest appearance of Holly Deveaux (Jesse Rath's real-life wife) as lightning scientist Dr. Beatrice Lahr (kudos for the vague Wizard of Oz actor Bert Lahr reference with her name); the budding friendship and co-worker support between Nia (Nicole Maines) and William; the continued fine work by Sergeant as Nyxly – this week showing a slight vulnerability in the villain's character added to her veritas in becoming the show's most complex villain; the return of Rosemary Hochschild as the Kryptonian witch Vita from season 3; and a special shout out to Jesse Rath's stellar work as the Vita possessed Brainy, it was a masterful turn for Rath who perfectly captured Hochschild's mannerisms and voice/speech patterns.
As obvious as it was that Supergirl would fail her first test of the gauntlet, it is also obvious that the focus of the quest for the totem of love is going to be Alex and Kelly (Azie Tesfai)'s relationship. Nice scenes showing the growth of their bond where they talk about what they want in their lives for the future make that a given. The episode also gives the first official team-up of Sentinel and Guardian although why Lena would call Kelly to back up Supergirl and Alex is a major plot hole. Why did she call Kelly, when did she know she was Guardian and why would she think a hero with a metal shield would be helpful in a battle involving a lightning storm? None of those things are logical.
Going forward in the quest for the totems is going to be an interesting wrap-up to Supergirl, however here's hoping that the writers remembered that their lead character is Supergirl. After a good start to the final season in that regard, it appears in recent episodes that they're more concerned with secondary characters than their lead. Watching Supergirl in this final heroic quest was a clever idea, but again the show is stumbling with its storytelling decisions.

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