WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Supergirl Season 6, Episode 7, "Fear Knot," which aired Tuesday on The CW.
Up until this point, Supergirl's final season
has been heavily shaped by factors in the real world. For starters, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic led to Season 5 being cut short and Season 6 having to tie off all its dangling plot threads before diving into its own narrative. Then there was Melissa Benoist's pregnancy, which necessitated the whole "Kara's trapped in the Phantom Zone" storyline as a way of taking the character out of commission for a while. And while the remainder of this season will continue to be affected by the social distancing measures in place during filming, the midseason finale, "Fear Knot," does a good job of setting up the Super Friends' final arcs while also subtly laying some additional groundwork for the series' endgame.
Written by J. Holtham and Elle Lipson, "Fear Knot" has one of the least conventional, but otherwise effective structures that Supergirl
has ever used. At first, the episode appears to pick up in medias res
, with Kara and Zor-El narrowly escaping the Anchor's destruction -- in the process destabilizing their region of the Phantom Zone -- before they're attacked by Phantoms, only to jump back to "Two Hours Earlier." However, it turns out this is setting the stage for the Super Friends to venture into the Phantom Zone and track Kara using the DNA Brainy and Nia gathered from their time-travel adventure in "Prom Night!"/"Prom Again!"
With J'onn having transformed their tower into a spacecraft ("I love Martian technology," Alex sighs in relief), the crew finally head off to rescue their beloved Girl of Steel.
The only problem? Lest we forget, the Phantoms' powers work differently on their home turf, allowing them to disorient their victims using Fear Visions that bring their deepest dread to life. (Cue Brainy and Nia referencing dementors and boggarts from Harry Potter
- they truly are millennial superheroes. Well, figuratively speaking, in Brainy's case.) Kelly teaches them to use "grounding techniques" and similar fear management tactics to help tell the difference between what's real and what's not, but that's easier said than done when virtually every Super Friend has some deep-seated trauma just waiting for the Phantoms to exploit.
When an electrical surge causes a malfunction in the containment unit housing the alpha Phantom (who the heroes are using to track Kara), it leads to everyone but Brainy and J'onn entering a comatose state as they experience their Fear Visions. The explanation for why J'onn wasn't affected is a tad hand-wavy (Brainy lists his Martian nature and connection to M'gann as possible reasons), but it frees up David Harewood to direct the episode and bring out some excellent acting from his costars. It also results in a welcome moment of levity when Brainy admits he, too, is "very much feeling" the effects of the Phantom, causing him to hallucinate the ship's main deck is covered in... balloons. (Are we sure Pennywise isn't onboard?) "I don't have time to unpack all that," J'onn quips.
Prior to that reveal, however, "Fear Knot" continuously jumps back ten minutes to the malfunction, changing to a different character's Fear Vision each time. It not only makes this outing feel more exciting and closer to something like a time loop adventure
, but also allows the show to touch on the issues that will inform the Super Friends' personal journeys over Supergirl
's remaining episodes. Alex, for example, has been struggling with the idea of how to define herself if she's not protecting Kara all season. Her insecurities are once again brought to the surface here, with Alex imagining she's been scratched by the alpha Phantom after it breaks out of its containment unit, forcing her to eject herself from the ship and sacrifice her life to save the mission, believing Kara is more important.
Much like Alex is having a hard time seeing her value as a person beyond being being Kara's protector, a role she's served for much of her life, Nia is still haunted by her continuing difficulties with interpreting her dreams. In her Fear Vision, her inability to understand one of her visions leads to the ship's hull being breached and Brainy sucked outside to his death. Even Kelly falters at employing the grounding techniques she mentioned to pull herself out of her own nightmare. Admittedly, Kelly's conflict -- feeling she doesn't really belong on a team of superheroes -- seems a bit tacked on and mostly acts as setup for her replacing her brother Jimmy as National City's new Guardian
later this season. Still, it gets the job done and leads to a cool moment where Kelly takes down the alpha Phantom using a makeshift Guardian-style shield, freeing a possessed Alex, Lena and Nia from its control.
Of all the Fear Visions, it's Lena's that comes the most out of nowhere. In her case, Lena imagines telling Nia about a book of folktales her biological mother used to read to her as a child, only for a coolant leak aboard the ship to take on the form of the Kelpie that used to terrify her when she was younger. This is also where Lena reveals her birth mother drowned right in front of her (!) and she blames herself for being unable to save her. With everything else going on in "Fear Knot," the episode doesn't have a chance to really dive into Lena's traumatic backstory, lessening its emotional impact. (To be fair, it does result in a sick Alien 3 homage
when the Kelpie takes on the form of a Xenomorph-like creature and corners Lena.) It's understandable Supergirl
's writers wouldn't want to rehash any of the previous friction between Lena and the rest of the Super Friends, but this new reveal doesn't completely work either.
Flaws aside, the episode's structure works more than it doesn't, culminating in a dramatic moment where Kara (stuck in her own Fear Vision) confesses to her father "Hope is naive. I was naive. And arrogant to think that I could ever fix anything. And worse, my friends think that they can, too. And they're just going to die because of it." Zor-El snapping her out of it by saying she's restored his faith and sense of hope is perhaps a bit rushed, but Supergirl has its final run of episodes to fully deconstruct this exchange and wrestle with what's gradually emerged as a fitting overarching theme for its final season: what's the legacy Kara will leave behind, once her supering days are over?
For now, though, that question will have to wait. "Fear Knot" ends with Lena using her handy-dandy yellow sun bomb to give Kara and Zor-El the power boost they need to fly aboard their ship, allowing them to escape as that area of the Phantom Zone goes up in flames. As for those who're wondering what the point was behind bringing Peta Sergeant's Nxylgsptinz into the Phantom Zone storyline if she was just going to die in such a sudden manner -- surprise! She's still alive and clinging onto the heroes' ship as they take off. Between that and Mr. Mxyzptlk
confirmed to be making his return later in Season 6, there's clearly more 5th-Dimensional Imp business to come before Supergirl
draws to a close.
Supergirl stars Melissa Benoist as Kara Danvers, David Harewood as Martian Manhunter, Chyler Leigh as Alex Danvers, Nicole Maines as Dreamer and Jesse Rath as Brainiac-5. The series returns Tuesday, Aug. 24 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on The CW.