NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “Supergirl” are present in this review

 

 

Supergirl once again decided to spotlight social issues in this week’s episode, and like many attempts by the series to spotlight social issues, this is something that the show achieves with mixed success. “Reality Bytes” doesn’t even fully commit to its core, Dreamer-focused storyline in fact, instead more often shifting attention to a more engaging Alex/J’onn subplot, which continues the investigation into the soon-launching Obsidian Platinum VR program. This also means that major players like Kara, Lena and Lex went into the background once again this week (the Luthor siblings are actually entirely absent in this episode), with Supergirl’s supporting heroes instead taking center stage.

This episode’s well-meaning message against transphobia is a noble effort, spurred forward by a human man using the Upswipz dating app (which apparently survived onto Earth-Prime, and has now become accessible to National City), to lure out and attack Nia’s roommate, Yvette. The bigot in question took advantage of Yvette mentioning that she’s best friends with Dreamer, which is supposed to create some level of irony, since Yvette is unaware of her roommate actually being Dreamer. Regardless, the guy shallowly cuts Yvette’s face once, and… That’s it. Yeah, that’s immediately a disappointing inciting incident for this human villain-of-the-week. What happened to Yvette is undeniably traumatic, but it’s not really violent, destructive or scary enough to truly sell the ongoing plight of what can happen during attacks on the trans community.

This creates another frustrating instance of Supergirl grandstanding like crazy about whatever social issue is on its mind this week, but still ultimately taking a half-measure when it comes to truly representing the depth of the problem. Compounding this frustration is that Nia flies into a frenzy, being ready to literally murder this guy, after Kara and the police don’t find him fast enough. Kara eventually manages to talk Dreamer down, but the subsequent fit of rage and emotional collapse by Nia just doesn’t feel truly earned. After all, this criminal is a pushover that does no lasting damage, and that ultimately seems like a dis-service to the trans community of the real world. Sure, Dreamer gets the guy thrown in jail, and Brainy even hands off an entire list of trans bigots to the NCPD, but all Supergirl manages to say about this issue in the end is that transphobia is bad, which isn’t really original or revolutionary. It’s just common sense to people who aren’t already determined to hate trans people.

Fortunately, like I said, the subplot with Alex and J’onn generally fared better, while continuing to develop the interesting and controversial technology that Obsidian North is trying to push. This Obsidian Platinum technology really doesn’t feel realistic in the slightest, but I suppose it was made by aliens, so I can somewhat give that some leeway. In any case, after Kelly notices and reports a glitch preventing some Obsidian Platinum users from leaving their simulations (which should logically result in an immediate suspension of services to avoid a string of lawsuits, but whatever), J’onn and Alex both learn that Al’s brother, Trevor has gone missing.

Three guesses where Trevor went. Yeah, he’s in an Obsidian Platinum world, specifically a virtual representation of Las Vegas, which just recently got an escape room expansion. This turn also happens to be paired with Alex struggling to wield her new Martian weapon, which doesn’t appear to listen to her commands, just in time for Alex to undertake the VR rescue effort. It’s good that Alex isn’t just immediately mastering this cutting-edge alien technology, even by the end of this episode, though this is another thing that the episode could have developed more. Instead, the so-called ‘Hand of the Soldier’ just does whatever the plot demands, working or failing to work, depending on whatever the story feels will appropriately advance Alex’s character.

Fortunately, the actual investigation and liberation of Trevor is pretty interesting, with Alex having to take a dive into the world of Obsidian Platinum to rescue Trevor, while J’onn has to investigate the disappearance in the real world. The reason for Trevor being trapped is pretty great too, namely that he was having an affair with the wife of one of the engineers behind Obsidian Platinum, who added the escape room section as a means of trapping and torturing Trevor and his friends. This is clever because it does have some basis in reality, with AR games sometimes relying on high-level players to dictate points of interest (Pokemon Go’s max-level players can suggest designated Pokestops in the real world, where players can collect items, for example), and the idea that the engineer would want revenge on Trevor over a virtual affair feels valid and makes sense. J’onn accidentally rendering the guy brain-dead after attempting to apprehend him is also intriguing and chilling in equal measure. Leviathan is even stockpiling many of these braindead Obsidian Platinum users too, to some unknown end, as revealed during the final seconds of this episode.

Kara, meanwhile, was simply left to provide emotional support for the other characters in this case, being Nia’s shoulder to cry on during her own storyline, and having to hear from Alex that Jeremiah has suddenly died towards the end of the episode. This feels abrupt to say the least, and perhaps indicates that Dean Cain simply didn’t care about returning to Supergirl. Oh, and Kara also had her date with William, but this is shown in a completely pointless scene that goes nowhere. Instead, Nia, Alex and J’onn dominated the bulk of this episode. Despite that interesting mix of character plots however, “Reality Bytes” ultimately can’t make the most of its storytelling, even if it does find a bit more success with Alex’s dive into Obsidian Platinum’s VR world. This also appears to set up an interesting central plot for next week, with Alex turning to Obsidian North’s VR technology to try and cope with the sudden loss of her father. Even with a well-meaning anti-transphobia message driving the crux of this episode’s core storytelling though, Supergirl drops the ball with Nia’s storyline, despite a commendable effort to present human threats for its major plots this week. With Alex primed to lose herself in VR for a good while next week however, who knows what Team Supergirl could find themselves up against in their latest effort to help one of their own.

Supergirl 5.15: "Reality Bytes" Review
Supergirl fumbles a well-meaning message against transphobia with this week's Dreamer-focused storyline, but an engaging subplot with Alex and J'onn helps to compensate.
THE GOOD STUFF
  • Noble effort to spotlight transphobia with Dreamer
  • Obsidian Platinum's creepy, surreal VR world
  • J'onn's compelling investigation, and its unforeseen consequences
THE NOT-SO-GOOD STUFF
  • Dreamer storyline pulls punches and feels undercooked
  • Alex's contrived weapons woes
  • Kara's romance with William continues to be pointless
73%Overall Score
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