“Supergirl” Episode 504 Recap: Variable Inception

Previously on Supergirl, J’onn’s brother Ma’alefa’ak escaped from the Phantom Zone to kill him, Brainy broke up with Nia when she asked him to tone it down, and Alex got so nervous that Kelly psychically linking with Ma’alefa’ak put her in extreme danger that she sent her girlfriend out of town.

Which is why, when we open this episode with Kelly walking down the streets of National City, we know something is up. And sure enough, as soon as Ma’alefa’ak appears, J’onn reveals himself and the rest of Team Supergirl drop their disguises; the Martian is surrounded. But they soon realize though that they were not as prepared as they thought, when Ma’alefa’ak incepts them through their fancy tech, and phases through their Phantom Zone gun ray.

Meanwhile, Kelly is on the road with her brother when she gets a flash of pain and a vision of the agent Ma’alefa’ak incepted back in National City.

kelly looks out car window

“Not the kind of daydreaming I was expecting to do about my girlfriend but okay.”

Unsure what to make of it though, she instead talks to James about Calvintown, the place they were raised by their aunt after their dad died that is now largely taken over by the prison. And, despite the headlines written by James’ old mentor Nelson, the prison doesn’t seem to be doing the town any favors.

Back at the DEO, Alex is stomping around, furious their plan didn’t work. She’s convinced that was their one shot to trick him, and that now Ma’alefa’ak probably knows she isn’t in National City and Kelly could be in danger. Alex’s Kelly.

Alex rants at brainy

“I am single-handedly keeping this show from succumbing to a trope! Do you know how hard that is??”

She mentions a gun Hank Henshaw had built that was specifically constructed to kill Green Martians, but Supergirl steps in as the oft-needed moral compass, saying that the gun should be an absolute last resort, especially while they have a Green Martian on their own team.

Instead, Kara recommends calling their star player off the bench and letting Lena help Brainy with the science of it all.

Nia calls Kara then, and has been apparently doing more research than Kara ever has, so she has some news to report. William’s wife is a fake, he has been meeting sketchy people in the park, and he’s off to Mexico next to see someone called Elena Torres. Alex sends Kara off on that mission in case Elena is in danger, and she calls Lena to ask for her help, which she does not hesitate to offer.

lena looks thoughtful

I’m hoping these little friendship moments are chipping away at Lena’s loneliness which is driving her into mad scientist territory but who knows.

In the lab, Hope tells Lena that the next step in their experiment is unclear because there are too many variables, but Lena tells her that they’re in luck, because they can study Ma’alefa’ak’s inception powers to learn how to redirect pathways in the brain. Hope points out that Team Supergirl won’t like the idea of her testing on a prisoner like he’s a lab rat, but Lena is well aware. In fact, that might make the option that much more enticing.

Lena looks down all sultry-like

What even is this face. How dare you look so sexy when you’re talking about science.

When Kara gets to Mexico, she is disappointed to learn she’s too late when she asks after Elena Torres and is directed to the smoking remains of a horrible car accident. But she does see William leaving the crime scene and gets the license plate number of the getaway car, and when she calls Nia to report back, Nia has MORE information, which is that Elena Torres was an accountant for Obsidian North Worldwide. More proof William might be more than just a jerky coworker.

Back at the DEO, Brainy is working to zap J’onn with the Phantom Zone gun but it’s not quite working the way he wants it to yet.

Alex is getting stressed that the smartest person in the multiverse and a twelfth-level intellect haven’t figured this out yet, and really wants to prep the big bad weapon because she’s convinced it’s her fault that Kelly is in danger.

Lena looks at Alex's rage with curiosity

“Maybe I’ve been going after the wrong sister.”

When James and Kelly get to their destination, they are surprised to see movement in the house they thought to be empty. Kelly of course worries that it’s Ma’alefa’ak, but it’s soon revealed that it was just a teenager and his friends who were squatting to do their homework.

When they go to the market to get food, they see the same kid being accused of stealing by the store owner. Kelly steps in to stand up (and lie) for him, and the store owner backs off. James invites the kid, Simon Kirby, over for dinner, and he’s a little overwhelmed; it seems no one has shown him the kind of kindness the Olsens are capable of.

kelly smiles

I, too, am often overwhelmed by Kelly Olsen.

Still in Mexico, Kara goes to investigate Elena’s apartment, where she finds a strange string of numbers, and also a woman with wind powers who didn’t get the memo that Elena is dead and throws Kara out the window with her wind powers. Kara suits up and flies back in as Supergirl, adorably indignant about “that woman” she blew away. They fight and Kara eventually overpowers her enough to take her back to the DEO.

Alex has just enough time to tell her colleagues that Supergirl is coming in hot with a plus one before realizing that one of her agents has been incepted and Ma’alefa’ak very soon takes Alex over as well.

alex's eyes glow green

The eye-color-changing budget on this season is out of this world.

When Supergirl does fly in with her prisoner, she can tell something is a little off with Alex, but enough alarm bells don’t go off for her to do anything about it just yet. Alarm bells ARE going off for Kelly, though, who gets another painful vision, this time of her girlfriend.

On the other side of the DEO, Lena tells J’onn to take a break from being a test dummy and tries to talk to Brainy about what’s so obviously bothering him and why it seems like his little boxes got knocked over.

lena smirks at brainy

“Because I mean it’s not like your method of ignoring all your feelings is right, right?? RIGHT??”

She wants to help him get out of his head and back in the science, so she impolores him to change a variable. Any variable. Even if that variable is accepting help. So though it physically pains him to do it, Brainy eventually asks Lena for her help, and she gleefully agrees.

lena smiles at brainy

I don’t know who wears suits to do this much hands-on science but I’m not mad about it.

Though as soon as Brainy is looking the other way, Lena starts fiddling around in a shady, albeit still attractive, way.

lena does crime

Crime, but make it fashion.

Back at the Olsen House, James is talking to Simon about his mother, who was given a 10-year sentence for stealing a loaf of bread a $30 space heater. James doesn’t think that sounds right, but Simon feels defeated. What can they do? The judges and lawyers are all in the prison’s pocket. It’s very disheartening but not at all unrealistic to see a teenager wonder what the point of fighting is if you’ll never beat the system.

But James has never met a problem he didn’t want to punch, so he heads to the local paper and pitches a story on the corruption of the prison system. But he’s frustrated to learn that the paper is in the prison’s pocket, too.

Back in National City, Kara goes to talk to Nia, and has actually uncovered some information on her own (Elena Torres’ death was faked!), but Nia still has EVEN MORE information since they last spoke.

kara and nia look at a laptop

“Kara, do you think we could win a Pulitzer for this?” “What, like it’s hard?”

Turns out the numbers were for an active off-shore bank account, and that there’s an encrypted address attached to it.

At the DEO, Alex finds J’onn and starts letting him have it about the true story of what happened to Ma’alefa’ak, about how pissed she is that he let her think it was her fault Kelly was in danger, and that Ma’alefa’ak isn’t the monster, J’onn is. It was everything he was fearing she’d say, this woman he respects so much, it’s why he didn’t want Nia to tell her, or anyone. Because he was afraid that Alex would look at him exactly how she’s looking at him.

alex looks angry and hurt

In his defense, I also would lose all sense of logic if Alex was saying I hurt her.

When Kara gets to the DEO, she finds J’onns sulking after his encounter with her sister. When he tells her the truth, Kara is patient and understanding; she reminds him of the good things he has done, that he doesn’t have to let this one bad thing define him, especially now that he could have a second chance to make things right with his brother, or at least make different choices, show more compassion.

Kara is supportive

“Plus if you figure this shit out with your brother we can move on to another storyline.”

J’onn says that in the end it’s best that Nia told Alex, but Kara points out that Nia couldn’t have, since she was doing research for Kara’s paranoia project all day. So they instantly know Alex was incepted.

J’onn tries to use his meditation powers to get in her head, and it works for a moment.

Alex's eyes turn red

Do you think they had to buy in bulk when they bought the silver-eye package?

But in the end Ma’alefa’ak is more powerful and takes control of Alex back.

This time, when Ma’alefa’ak incepts Alex again, Kelly can’t ignore her vision or the feeling that her girlfriend is in trouble, so she has James use Lex’s watch to teleport them back to National City ASAP.

kelly bosses james

Kelly used her Bossy Sister Voice for this and I liked it.

Ma’alefa’ak demands J’onn meet him at the Planetarium, where he has incepted the screen to tell a strange history of the Martians, and where he’s still using Alex to do his dirty work.

alex holds a gun and is hot

Move over, DiCaprio. Inception never looked this good.

But after J’onn makes a heartfelt speech to his brother, explaining why he did what he did, acknowledging that he fucked up and is sorry, all hell breaks loose. Alex gets unincepted, but she’s strapped to a bomb. She, cool as a cucumber, hands out orders, including telling Kelly to keep an eye out for Ma’alefa’ak, since she’s the only one who can still tell who he is when he’s shapeshifting. The team works together, Kelly pointing out the baddie, Supergirl doing her superthing, J’onn phasing Alex out of the bomb strapped to her chest, and then Ma’alefa’ak being shot back into the Phantom Zone. The battle’s done and we kinda won.

Later, when things quiet down, Alex expresses disappointment when J’onn believed Alex would say those hurtful things to him, but when someone tells you things you’ve been telling yourself, you believe them. But she assures him, she still loves her Space Dad.

alex looks lovingly at jonn

“But also if you put my girlfriend in danger again I WILL kill you myself.”

Kara goes to talk to Lena, much more relaxed than their last meeting, giggling like Kara despite wearing her supersuit. She thanks Lena for helping, and says she’s officially a Superfriend now.

lena and kara laugh

These dorks.

She invites Lena out to drinks, and even though six months ago, nothing would have made Lena happier than to be one of the Superfriends, she has her own thing going on now, so after Kara calls her a “world-saving super-genius,” she retreats to her lab…but not before swiping something.

At the bar, Kelly tells Alex that as exciting as today might have been, she’s perfectly fine with not being on the front lines with her, and would rather just cuddle instead.

kelly and alex kiss

Listen you can get into some SAFE shenanigans if you want. But no more of this leaving town business.

Brainy and Nia start to make up, and Team Supergirl toast to their togetherness. However, that togetherness won’t last too long, because James has decided to go back to Calvin Town for good. To buy the newspaper and help out the people in the town in ways that Supergirl can’t. And to start going by Jimmy. He came here to keep an eye on Kara for Clark, but she doesn’t need him. She never did. She not only can take care of herself, but she’s always had Alex.

alex puts her hand over her head and i dunno it's cute

This shot isn’t really apropos of the conversation, I just liked the way it looked. I AM BUT A WEAK GAY.

So he’s going somewhere that could really use a Guardian right now.

Kara has to leave this touching goodbye because Nia got the encrypted address and it’s here in National City. When Kara gets there, she finds a murderboard, and while she’s inspecting it, William walks in. He immediately acts like an 8-year-old caught stealing candy and starts spilling his guts, rambling on about being undercover and investigating Andrea Rojas, and that he hates having to pretend to be rude to her and actually loves her writing.

The whole thing seemed a little too neatly wrapped up for me to buy it, and he seemed to be laying it on pretty thick, but something about this actor’s face makes me inherently want to trust him when he’s looking at Kara hopefully. That said, I hope William is just going to be part of Kara and Nia’s Nancy Drew team. I find his accent charming and his face isn’t hard to look at, so I could totally get behind that.

Alex looks dubious

Stay sexy and don’t get gaslit.

That said, anyone who is that good at being a jerk to Kara “The Puppy” Danvers should be kept at arm’s length until we know what’s up.

Cut to Lena’s secret lab of secrets, where she’s secretly cooked up another secret. Instead of helping Brainy fix the Phantom Zone gun, she apparently rewired it to dump Ma’alefa’ak into her holding cell. And she tells him they can help each other.

lena looks darkly into the cell

Oh great now TWO powerful beings with severe daddy issues, family trauma, and fratricidal tendencies are together.

And that’s all she wrote for this week. I am worried Lena’s going to get in over her head now that she has an inception-wielding Martian on her hands. I’m glad James got a proper little send-off that left me with warm feelings in my heart (even though I still feel strongly that we traded up re: Olsens). I’m glad Nia and Brainy are seeming to work things out. But Rao knows all of those feelings could be upended by this time next week. See ya then!

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Valerie Anne

Just a TV-loving, Twitter-addicted nerd who loves reading, watching, and writing about stories. One part Kara Danvers, two parts Waverly Earp, a dash of Cosima and an extra helping of my own brand of weirdo.

Valerie has written 574 articles for us.


  1. – When I saw Kara do the secret handshake thing with Lena I knew everything would be okay. She’ll slowly win Lena over into abandoning her quest of despair. It’s Hope who will continue their little project.
    – Hope has access to Eve’s memories, so why haven’t her and Lena talked about Leviathan yet?
    – James has Pulitzer, Kara has a Pulitzer, William has two Pulitzers. How easy is it to get a Pulitzer on Earth-38?
    – God, it looks like William is going to be Kara’s new love interest. He follows the pattern. Treat Kara like crap, magically be a better person, and presto! Kara is in love with him.

    • Good point about Leviathan!

      Regarding Pulitzer Prizes: Hey, with all that nano-powdered lead in the atmosphere, anyone who can still write a coherent paragraph looks pretty good.

      William is definitely being set up as Kara’s love interest. Which doesn’t mean he couldn’t still have more secrets.

      • Given how easy the writing jobs are, just any time and whenever, I’m not surprised the Pulitzers are that easy to obtain. I’m annoyed Iris West’s earth is a bit more realistic as she is actually working at her job.

        Honestly when you look at how blatant all the story telling beats are it is comical how hard they are trying to set up Kara/William when they know there’s an effortless ship at L Corp.

  2. I’m disappointed by the way the show is handling Alex/Kelly. I think Azie and Chyler do have chemistry, so it’s more an issue of the writing & directing…there’s just no passion there. It’s all closed-mouthed pecks and talk of Netflix and cuddles.

  3. Please, never stop with your captions.

    I am glad Kelly out of the city didn’t mean no Kelly for us.

    Also Kara is so terrible with her secret. I’d say there’s no way William doesn’t know, but well, if Lena didn’t I guess there’s no hope for anyone.

    Yeah, I am not convinced by William either. It’s too pretty. SO I don’t know if it’s the writing choices or if there’s still something else beyond that. If it’s a set up for another love interest it sucks, ugh. She deserve better than that.

    “Oh great now TWO powerful beings with severe daddy issues, family trauma, and fratricidal tendencies are together.” That’s… just really, really sad. Damn.

    Also Ma’alefa’ak sounds just like the french word for Maleficient and so that’s who I see every time they say his name. But then again, they are both green shape-shifting beings so I guess that checks out.

  4. I know Lena’s hurting but jeez Kara and the super friends were never devious or backstabbing about the lie they told and the damage of that lie though very real doesn’t have near the reach of the lies (very plural) and the damage that Lena is inflicting. I need her to get into some therapy with Kelly ASAP or is that a conflict of interest?

    Also, yay Brainy and Nia!

  5. I’m worried about Lena.

    Earlier this week it occurred to me that there is nothing stopping Hope from coming to the conclusion that she needs to take over Lena instead, and jumping bodies. And now Lena has Ma’alefa’ak in her orbit.

    On the plus side, it means that Lena won’t “go evil” so much as “be corrupted by her ‘magic’.”

    Hey there, black eyed girl…


    So, between Brainy declaring, “and I shall tell Dreamer that I am in love with her!” last season, and Lena giving Brainy relationship advice in this episode, surely she must have put two and two together and figured out that Dreamer and Nia are the same person?


    The William reveal… I’m okay with it. It adds some depth to his character, and hints that Obsidian is up to no good. It’s interesting that Kara chose to confront him as Kara, not as Supergirl.

    That said, if this season is truly about Kara and Lena’s friendship, and a battle for Lena’s soul, then let that be the main focus. Four love stories in the same season, on top of Leviathan and the Crisis, would be a bit much.


    Kara being able to be herself around Lena, in or out of the suit, is precious. If her arc over the past four seasons has been discovering both halves of herself and finding out that they are actually the same person, then she’s made it.

    It’s ironic, then, that Lena, who has spent the last three seasons discovering both halves of herself, has decided to separate the two, switching between Lena and the Luthor like two masks to hide from her feelings.


    Peeking again, the synopsis of an upcoming episode includes this gem: “Andrea and Lena think back on their tumultuous past.”

    Does that mean Andrea is Lena’s fourth evil ex that Kara has to defeat?

  6. Kara: “You dated twins?”
    Lena: “Yeah.”
    Kara: “At the same time?”
    Lena: “I don’t have to answer that!”

  7. I’ve been a bit slow, but I guess the theme of the season is the great pretender.

    Lena… pretending she’s fine, while burning from the inside out because she’s been hurt / lied to. (Loved the suits, too!)

    J’onn… hiding his secret from everyone, but feeling guilty for aeons.

    Brainy… not knowing what to do with all his feelings, and obsessing over work / Nia.

    Kara… so eager to make amends with Lena that she can’t see beyond that friendly facade of hers. (I mean, Lena is masterful in disguising her true feelings. And Kara always believes the best in people.)

    Alex… Nope, that was all real, except when she was incepted.

    Nia… Same, doing her actual job as a reporter!

    James… Likewise, doing what he does best, speaking truth. Especially when he mentioned that Kara never really needed him (as a guardian), and he’s now looking to save the day elsewhere.

    Dodgy guy aka William… Acting shady for the greater good? Let’s see. Not sure why he had to be paid in cash then, when he had this fancy offshore account.

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