Playing multiple roles for any actor on a single show is always a challenge. Then, add on this — different accents, choreographing fight scenes opposite yourself, and trying to alternate between happiness, tragedy, and pain. This is just a small handful of some of the stuff that Melissa Benoist brought to Supergirl season 4, arguably her strongest yet on The CW series and one that pushed the boundaries of some of what Kara Danvers (let alone Red Daughter) could be.
One of the challenges that can come with acting sometimes on a superhero show is that there almost always has to be a sense of optimism. Nobody wants to see the villain win, and with a show that is usually so positive, it can be hard to find and tap into any layer of darkness.
Yet, Supergirl season 4 found that balance in its dark, topical story about aliens, humanity, and Kara’s place in the two worlds. It really put a mirror to society and forced us to ask some tough questions and, over time, it also put our heroine in a soul-crushing position. What happens when you don’t trust your heroes anymore? What if you have to save people who, in turn, don’t want to be saved at all? That’s where Supergirl found herself with humanity, and for Benoist as a performer, this obviously put her in a spot where she had to be conflicted. She had to reexamine who she was and that allowed her to find a new layer of introspection in the character’s performance.
What we saw with Kara through the Agent Liberty arc was someone who was trying to find what the right thing was, but also someone who still tapped into steely-eyed determination when it mattered. There was a divide between Kara and Supergirl (as there always is), but it was made even deeper by the heartbreaking twist with Alex losing recognition of her sister’s alter ego. Benoist and Chyler Leigh developed so much rapport and friendship over the years. When Alex forgot the truth about Kara, she had to break down most of those barriers. It was almost like starting anew and creating a totally new dynamic with her and an established co-star. They made it work and the relationship progressed, but there was still that necessarily underlying sadness, knowing that there was once something else there.
Then, there is Red Daughter
Look back at some of Melissa’s work with Jon Cryer and think about how different it was in style, tone, and emotion to what we’ve seen as Kara. It gives you a greater sense truly of the depth of what she can do, and also how she can play someone with such tragic edges. This Red Daughter role was a rare gift, one where you can show a different side of yourself on a series where often, you’ve got an established groove. Everything led up to the powerful performance she gave on this past episode — and, of course, Melissa and the cast and crew still have one episode left.
While Benoist may be the underdog of all underdogs when it comes to getting an Emmy nomination (remember that CW series are rarely ever recognized in such a capacity), we are still hoping that there is some element of recognition coming her way. She’s brought power, heart, humanity, and pain to her characters this season and, beyond that, she’s made everyone around her even better. That is the best thing that you can hope for with any performer at the top of the call sheet.
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