You’re at the end of the road. It’s time to look at your protagonist: where they started, where they’ve come, and where they might go, if anywhere. Sometimes, like Breaking Bad, the final season is the end of the road for the main character, or like House and Scrubs it’s just the end of this chapter of their story. (Okay I know that technically Scrubs didn’t end with season eight but in another way didn’t it?) Arrow and Preacher’s excellent final seasons both went this way: Arrow gave us a Green Arrow knowing he was facing the end, and through location and theme revisited his journey to this point in what I continue to insist was a pitch-perfect farewell tour and victory lap. Preacher had a pre-planned endgame, and finding they needed to get to it a year or two ahead of schedule, slammed on the gas to reach it in a high-octane final journey whose only real flaw was how jarring its change of pace was compared to the earlier, more languid seasons. Supernatural admitted that the Winchester brothers’ story could only end one of two ways: dying in the fight against monsters, or walking away from the fight entirely while they still can, and it gave viewers one of each.
And Gotham knew that its primary protagonist, Jim Gordon, was a boring plank of wood who’d never known character development in five years and wasn’t going to now, so focused on getting Baby Bruce Wayne to the point of deciding it’s time to stop faffing about and go learn how to Batman.
Let’s see what Lucifer and Supergirl did with their title characters.
Lucifer: Destinies and Purpose
Okay gonna be some spoilers here, there’s no way to talk about this without spoiling one thing about season six (and the end of season five) because it’s the main thing about season six and it’s the crux of our two leads’ arcs.
Lucifer, having won a war against his devious twin Michael, is set to become the new God following his father’s retirement. But he’s dragging his feet a little claiming the throne. To his and his crime-solving and now life partner Chloe Decker’s surprise, he receives an angry visitor: an angry young angel he’s never seen before whose blood-red wings have knives for feathers. An angel revealed to be his and Chloe’s daughter from the future, Rory, whose rage over her father having never once been in her life caused her to develop the ability to travel back in time to confront him. (Angels on this show each have a power that they self-actualize, his is drawing out people’s desires, hers is rage-based time travel, just roll with it, we’re not digging into it.)
Lucifer, whose millennia of existence had long been defined by anger at his absent and neglectful parents, is shaken to the core by the idea that he might abandon his own child. Sure he’s intending to take his father’s old job, but now he might be destined to become his father in the one way he never wanted. He and Chloe try to bond with their future daughter (an easier road for Chloe, Rory already loves Chloe) while also trying to figure out what made Lucifer leave and how they might avoid it.
Being a parent, I’m told, is a challenge. If you’re actually good at it and not some “My dad slapped me around and I’m fine” dickhole, you want to shield your child from pain and hardship, you never want to let them down… but like Batman trying to ensure no Gotham child lives through what he did, you’re destined to fail. You will fail your child. They will know pain you can’t guard them from. Whatever he tries, however hard he wants to change things… he might be destined to abandon Rory, Chloe, all of his friends and family who watched his daughter grow up in his absence. Maybe he was forced to, or maybe this seemingly terrible fate also hides his destiny, his purpose, his true path in immortal life.
So our central arc is the Morningstar family of Lucifer, Chloe, and Rory trying to heal what decades of absence broke, looking for a better path while time slowly runs out and the date of Lucifer’s destined departure gets closer and closer. Who will Lucifer and Chloe be, and what will they have to give up to get there? It’s an incredibly effective story, with key emotional beats that utterly haunt me. A father/daughter duet is one of the most perfect moments TV has brought me this year, the word “Dad” was used so powerfully it brings a tear to my eye thinking about it. It’s a perfect final arc for Lucifer and Chloe and is right at the center where it belongs.
On the other hand…
Okay, so, it’s not Supergirl’s fault that the title character has drastically reduced screen time in six of the first seven episodes of their 20 episode final season. Star Melissa Benoist had a baby between seasons, and COVID if anything extended her maternity leave. So Kara Danvers/Supergirl gets sent to the Phantom Zone by Lex Luthor, in what would have been the season finale cliffhanger but, thanks again COVID you are truly the terrible gift that keeps on giving, got pushed to the premiere. Kara’s friends/found family, now canonically called the SuperFriends, struggle to get her back while Kara has minimal scenes about being trapped with nightmare aliens called Phantoms why not, finding her somehow still-alive father Zor-El, and encountering a duplicitous 5th dimensional imp (like Mr. Mxyzptlk only boring) named Nyxlygsptlnz, Nyxly for short. It’s a horrifying, traumatic experience that does involve a heartfelt reunion with a parent she’d thought lost, so when Melissa’s back on set and Kara’s back on Earth, how does any of this inform Kara’s arc from here? How does it cue up Kara’s final character journey?
It… doesn’t. Zor-El leaves one or two episodes after they reach Earth and is never seen or spoken of again. Kara has Phantom-related trauma about twice before the finale, and Nyxly… oh we will come back to Nyxly on the next page, I have some thoughts on Nyxly.
Entire episodes go by where Kara’s just a spectator in someone else’s story. She wants to stop Nyxly but has little other drive. Late in the season she feels overwhelmed and decides to quit her reporter job because for the first time in six years she’s struggling to do both, thanks to a lot of trite “The big meeting is the same night as your child’s big game/dance recital” plot contrivances, the sort of stuff that got old in Arrow’s second season when Oliver Queen couldn’t have one important personal or business conversation without Felicity or Diggle interrupting with Arrow business, Jesus, not happy to be back there. Then finally, in the last twenty minutes of the last episode, suddenly Season One MVP Cat Grant returns and gives Kara the solution to her problem… if trying to keep her two lives separate is proving difficult (Cat’s secretly known her identity since actress Calista Flockhart left the show in season two, either from budget cuts or not wanting to move to Vancouver), then maybe it’s time to stop living two lives. Stop lying about why you’re absent from CatCo by publicly revealing your identity.
See now that, that would have been an interesting story to explore. Kara asking what her secret identity gains her versus what it’s cost, something that ties powerfully into the highs and lows of her close friendship with Lena Luthor, a friendship her secret destroyed for a whole-ass year. What would Kara revealing her identity mean to her friends? Her family? Her cousin, who’s still doing the secret identity thing in Smallville somehow?
Star comic writer Brian Michael Bendis, in his time writing both Superman and Action Comics, did this exact story. Clark Kent began wondering what having a secret identity was really accomplishing anymore. All of Clark Kent’s friends were also known to be Superman’s friends. One of his own co-workers was trying to publish a story that Lois Lane was having an affair with Superman, something that a whole bunch of cell phone photos of Lois and Superman kissing were about to verify. His son went to space and came back six years older than he should have been, then moved to the future. Trying to live a double life was becoming more problem than solution.
And this conversation about double lives is even more apt in the Arrowverse, where nearly every hero has a secret identity, but their worst enemies always know what it is. In seven seasons Flash has had exactly two nemeses who didn’t know he was really Barry Allen from day one, and they both found out eventually. Kara’s always been more careful than Barry, she didn’t whip off the (in her case metaphorical) mask for anyone slow to trust her like Barry does, but come on, Lex Luthor knew her identity. Lex (pause for comedic effect) Luthor. If Lex knows your real name and your entire friend group, from whom could it possibly still be worth hiding it?
That would have been a good, solid, final arc for Kara, one that could have reflected brilliantly on the journey thus far. How having a secret ID helped protect her when anti-alien sentiment took over the DEO (and government) in season four, how keeping it drove a wedge between Kara and Lena, how coworker William Day taught her all of her jobs and non-SuperFriend relationships are built on deceit despite her standing for truth. That’s a meaty arc… that they didn’t start until the last half of the last episode. And had to share that time with at least two other subplots.
Fans were up in arms over how little attention Supergirl’s final season paid to Supergirl herself, and honestly they were right to be. Arrow had a squad too, but they still knew that for most of the last season Oliver needed to be in the spotlight.
As to one of the main things they spent time on that wasn’t Kara…
Next Page: Bads comma Big