Episodes 16 Review

"Kidnapped and far from home, Superman bonds with his cousin Kara; he discovers the truth about Krypton from the last Kryptonians in existence." The sixth episode of season two "The Machine Who Would Be Empire" sheds much awaited light on what Brainiac and Kara have been doing in Krypton's name, who the true culprit is, who the unwitting pawn is, what is fact, what was lies, and the existential danger Earth is now in. The only question, what will Kara do next? Comply or turn on everything she's ever known in her life?

"The Machine Who Would Be Empire" doesn't leave any ambiguity about who the big bad of season two is: Brainiac. I know, shocker. And Kara wasn't really a villain, just a brainwashed child and a cog in his convoluted the quest to create a perfect version of the Kryptonian Empire. Kara has seen the truth about the planets conquered by them. They are not prosperous and thriving, but dead and lifeless. She is still susceptible to Brainiac's brainwashing should she side with Jimmy and Lois. But the broader danger is Brainiac is set on doing what he did to Kara to Superman and use him to conquer Earth and everywhere else.

It was a much needed bottle episode of sorts to focus on just Superman, Kara, and Brainiac in space and for the first time, leave Metropolis out of the episode completely along with holding Jimmy and Lois off-screen for 99.9% of the run time. In particular, to peel away the Kara we saw last episode and reveal the complicated heartbreaking truth about Kara: the conditioning, manipulation, and mental abuse she's been put through, how aloof and alone she's really been, and the lies she's long believed to be truth. To see the real Kara more and more, a young girl playing a prank on her cousin with some Kryptonian physiology 101, going through her mementos, bonding through clearing the asteroid field like a game, having her tell Clark what Krypton was like, that unlike Clark she was not raised with love nor had a family. That she was a blank slate of an orphaned infant crafted into a warrior conqueror by an unfeeling, abusive psychopathic artificial intelligence. The trip to Thanagar and her subsequent visits to H'lven and Euphorix present a harsh truth about what she was used for and what atrocities she committed, perhaps ultimately paving the way for Kara to become a hero like her cousin but for different reasons: to make amends and balance the scales.

On the flip side, Kara in a way challenged Superman about his identity. Upon observing his childhood, she immediately keys on Clark being conditioned into hiding his powers and by extension, his true self. Then at the asteroid field, she implores him to stop hiding his powers and throw as hard as he can because she can take it. It's an interesting dynamic. From the pilot episode, Clark has told himself he's just a normal man. That he's one person trying to have his cake and eat it, to be two different people. The normal young man with a normal life, a job, a best friend, a girlfriend, loving parents, and a job and an alien with super powers who plays hero and stops the bad guys. Kara refutes that and tells him to do the opposite.

The mystery of Superman's bio-electric aura seems to be close to be answered and it is tied to the ugly truth about Krypton. Kara admits she doesn't have that ability. It sounds a lot like whatever this ability was, it was cultivated by Clark's upbringing on Earth – experiencing love, friendship, social interaction. While Kara, raised by a mad robot on a space station experienced otherwise. We know Brainiac did a 360 when he saw it in action and wanted Superman all of sudden. This episode, in the training room, we hear Brainiac say Superman was what he was waiting for, he only needs what Superman's body can do, and will take what his rightfully his. Kara praises the shiny exterior of Krypton this episode – the most advanced society, the apex of technology and science. That Krypton gave other planets the chance to join them and exponentially change their worlds for the better. But we've also seen warships armed with killer robot armies, armored conquerors, and a forlorn mindscan hologram of Jor-El who was pleased his son used his abilities to shield others and do good. Then Brainiac points out the dark truth of it all, the price of progress: war, bloodshed, and imperialism was what fueled Krypton's many advancements. And in a stunning parallel for long time DC animation fans, it seems Krypton was doomed the moment they placed their dependence on an artificial intelligence named Brainiac, an entity that began to value itself more that whom it served and even believed itself to be the true Krypton. Not to mention the show seems to be verging on another parallel with Superman: The Animated Series, a superhero, beloved by the people and suspected by facets of the government, brainwashed into a lieutenant by a big bad deadset on ravaging and conquering Earth.

Perhaps decades of warfare left Jor-El disillusioned with the Kryptonian Empire and instead of upgrading Primus Brainiac to Brainiac 2.0 – hid the "upgrade" inside his infant son, and sent him to Earth to live a better life. The visual Jor-El presented to Superman in season premiere alluding to Krypton finding an enemy they could not defeat seemed to look like Darkseid's Omega Effect taking out several warriors but what if it was Brainiac all along. Turning on Krypton after feeling betrayed by Jor-El and assimilating his enemies (deemed non-compliant) and using the mindscan technology to basically steal the minds and souls out of people and turn them into "model citizens" until the only place left in the universe is the space station Kandor. Realistically, Krypton would not be able to sustain its empire in the long run if it conquered everything. What was Brainiac's solution? Rather than miniaturized bottle cities like in the comics or digitized worlds as yellow glowing balls in Superman: The Animated Series, everything will be bottled up in his Kandor. That this Brainiac believes a perfect eternal empire is a space station acting as a giant hard drive of billions of consciousness forcibly preserved in holographic form.

Season two continues with the deep cuts of the DC Universe. While Thanagar is well known thanks to Hawkman and Hawkgirl appearing many times in animation and just starting to show up in live action on both television and movies, the other two locales: H'lven and Euphorix are surprising picks. H'lven is the home planet of the Green Lantern Ch'p. And Euphorix. In the comics, it's one of 23 free planets in the Vega star system, the same part of the galaxy where Starfire of the Teen Titans is from. And our three cameos. A Thanagarian. Not much else to say there. A Parademon?! Perhaps another red herring meant to trick fans into thinking Darkseid is the end game of this show. Then the third cameo, a Green Lantern. A GREEN LANTERN. Considering the rock-like composition of this Lantern and the appearance of Euphorix, it stands to reason this Lantern could have been an unnamed cameo of Green Man or even Broot of the Omega Men. A small callback to season one was Brainiac employing a red sun omega field to defeat Superman. One was used to cloak Project Cadmus. And who shows up with Jimmy and Lois at the end of the episode? The Brain and Monsieur Mallah. What a coincidence.

Looking ahead to the rest of season two and beyond, should Brainiac succeed and take control of Superman and head to Earth... The nightmare that Task Force X spent decades preparing for. The unfounded fears over Superman. It will be proven right when the Superman they knew was a threat all along shows up on Earth to wreak havoc. They won't care he's being mind controlled. Would they even believe an out of control alien robot is the real enemy? Their bold claim will have proof: aliens are dangerous and not be to be trusted. The irony is Task Force X may have the only thing that can take out Brainiac and Kandor: the Kryptonite shards Slade Wilson managed to shave off with his sword in the season two premiere. Who's taking bets they've been working on a Kryptonite nuke behind the scenes and get to put to use in the season two finale? And what will the public think after the smoke clears? What this means for the storyline of the recently greenlit season three is troubling. Will Superman have to struggle to earn back the public trust along with introducing his cousin amid heightened xenophobia? Sounds a lot like the season of Superman: The Animated Series that never got made, doesn't it?

"The Machine Who Would Be Empire" shapes the stakes for the rest of the season and provides shocking exposition and answers about Krypton that has a ripple effect - rocking what Superman knew so far about his home world, adding dimensions to a not-so-evil cousin, and revealing who the real threat was all along. The sudden arrival of a girlfriend, a millionaire, and two mad scientists might signal hope for our two sullen Kryptonians but they might have to instead settle for a battle for the soul of the universe against an existential threat instead of a simple rescue operation. But before that, next week, "So how they did they portal to Thanagar in a ship?" With a heist movie.

DCAU Resource's rating: 9.8/10