The Season 4 finale of Supergirl packed quite a punch tonight as Melissa Benoist’s Girl of Steel finally squared off against Lex Luthor, the malevolent mastermind of Metropolis as played here by returning guest star Jon Cryer with condescending sneer and big-brain brio. The returning guest star had hinted in recent days that the finale would not only reveal the staggering breadth of Luthor’s evil plans but also illuminate the true depths of his hatred for Superman, Supergirl and all things Kryptonian. The episode, “The Quest for Peace,” (directed by Jesse Warn off a script by Rob Wright & Derek Simon) certainly delivered on that front. “He’s evil, I knew that, you knew that, but I was surprised at how far he takes it with his plans.”
In recent episodes, Luthor’s intricate machinations have included the framing of Supergirl for a White House attack, lab-harvesting energy from alien prisoners, manufacturing a Kaznian invasion of the U.S., manipulating a Supergirl clone called Red Daughter (also Benoist), and seizing a position of power within the federal government. The finale connected the dots to show Luthor’s hidden agenda was the destruction of Argo City, the last surviving piece of Krypton, the native world of both Supergirl and her cousin, Superman. And, bearing out Cryer’s appraisal, Luthor’s plan somehow finds a way to double-down on the obscenity of genocide by making it an afterthought to his primary objective. Luthor’s true targets are the VIP couple visiting the city to prepare for the impending birth of their first child: Superman (who has zero powers while in Argo) and Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane.
In the end, Supergirl surprises Luthor with her tenacity and, in close combat, things turn her way. The deciding moment is one of surprise sacrifice: Red Daughter, the exploited and discarded pawn in Luthor’s gambit, swoops in to absorb a vicious attack that would have finished Supergirl. Red Daughter’s essence and power return to the authentic Girl of Steel and, well, after that, you don’t need to be a genius to know Luthor is toast. His battered battle suit fails as he tries to escape. He plunges but survives to the ground. Time for Lex to flee on foot or hide? No, Lena (Katie McGrath), is there with a gun in her hand and a different idea. Lena shoots her brother (!) and he dies (!) but first he reveals Supergirl’s secret identity, which is certain to add major complications to the life of Kara Danvers down the line.
Despite all that, the finale episode isn’t quite done with the villain. A closing sequence shows the mysterious and powerful entity known as the Monitor visiting Luthor’s cadaver with unclear intentions. The obvious assumption is that Luthor’s bald ambitions will get new life in the upcoming “Crisis on Infinite Earths” mega-crossover in December and January that unites the five Arrowverse franchises (Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, and the fall newcomer Batwoman) in an interconnected story arc that puts all of the heroes squarely in the path of the Monitor. (Already, the season finales of Arrow and The Flash have set the stage for the cosmic donnybrook.) The universe won’t be the same when the dust settles as the Monitor and his uneasy alliance of villainy tries to one-up the grand-scale aspirations of Thanos, the Night King, Kylo Ren, and any other contenders in the running for “villain of the year” honors.
Leading up to the finale, Deadline caught up with guest star Cryer to talk about the finish-line episode of Season 4 and his experience in a role that veers so sharply from the veteran actor’s previous screen work. Cryer is a two-time Emmy winner for his sitcom work as tightly-wound chiropractor Alan Harper on the CBS hit Two and a Half Men but, for fans of 1980s teen movies, he’ll always be Duckie Dale, the vexed Lothario of Meadowbrook High in Pretty in Pink.
Those screen credits don’t scream “megalomaniacal super-genius” but Supergirl Executive Producers Robert Rovner and Jessica Queller latched on to the off-kilter idea with gusto. They pitched Cryer as their blue-sky option and the best candidate for a provocative fresh take on a character that next year marks his 80th anniversary in the pages of DC Comics. “He was instantly our dream actor to play the iconic role of Lex Luthor,” the producing pair later said. The first genuine skeptic of the idea was Cryer himself but in short order the actor became intrigued both by the out-of-the-blue offer and the out-of-the box thinking behind it. More than that, the project also had out-of-the-past magic working in its favor. That’s because Cryer, at age 21, portrayed Lenny Luthor, the dutiful nephew of Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor in Superman IV: The Quest For Peace (1987). Tonight’s Supergirl season finale shared its name with the movie, adding to Cryer’s sense that he was embarking on a sentimental journey back into the DC Universe.
DEADLINE: More than three decades ago you portrayed Lex Luthor’s nephew in Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, which reunited Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, and Gene Hackman. Can you share a few snapshot memories of the experience?
CRYER: Superman IV began with a lot of hope. Everybody was pretty excited about it because the Golan-Globus team, the team that had gotten incredibly wealthy making low-budget movies like Delta Force, was trying to make a bid for respectability. For a full year-and-a-half they took out ads in Variety talking about the Dustin Hoffman movie they were about to make that, of course, never got made. They were hustlers, and Hollywood always has a baseline respect for hustlers, so they managed to get the rights to the Superman movies because Superman III had been considered a flop. So they managed to get it and there was excitement because Chris Reeve wrote the story, which was actually a terrific, intriguing story. They were able to reassemble the whole original cast. They got Margot Kidder back, and they got Jackie Cooper back, and they got Gene Hackman back, and it was really exciting that they were reassembling this group. Then they said they were replacing the Otis character with Lenny Luthor, the new doltish sidekick to Lex. And that that opportunity was going to come to me? The same guy who at 14-years-old absolutely believed a man could fly when I saw the [original 1978] movie? It was amazing.
DEADLINE: You were coming off of Pretty in Pink…
CRYER: I could not believe my luck. But it was interesting because the first script was terrific. Then I recall getting on a plane to London and getting the first script with any pink pages and, as you know, pink pages arrive when you’re getting that first swing at a rewrite. That’s the point when I started to get a whiff that there was something amiss. The pink pages just weren’t as good. A lot of the plot points I had liked and things that made sense to me were suddenly missing or altered subtly. I started to think, “Oh, okay. Well, you know what? You’ve got to go with the flow.” When rewrites happen you just got to make them work, because you’ve got to trust that they’re doing them for a reason. Then we got on the set and it was great fun, and my first day I was in an open-top car that was literally being lifted by a crane as if it was getting “flown away” by Superman. An there’s Christopher Reeve wired underneath it, fans blowing his cape. That’s how they used to do it. We didn’t have a blue-screen back then – or we did, but they didn’t choose to use it for that stuff at that point. It was just an amazing experience, but as we went on it started to become clear that there was some chaos behind the scenes. They dropped a whole week of shooting. They just erased it from the schedule. They cut a whole huge sequence out of the middle of the script and the end. But I still had hope. I didn’t really realize that the movie was fully a mess until months afterward. I ran into Chris Reeve in the street, and I said “Hey, let’s have lunch,” and we did, and he said, “Oh, the movie’s a mess.” And that was heartbreaking for me, because I really wanted to be part of something that I had really loved as a kid.
DEADLINE: No offense intended, but on screen you seem like a natural as an evil genius. Is that something you knew about yourself already or does it seem like new territory to you as well?
CRYER: I’m as surprised as you. I got a call from Jessica Queller and she said, “This is going to be a big leap of faith for you but we think that you’re the right guy for what we want to do with Lex Luthor.” And so the first thing I thought: “Well, he’s not going to be like Alan. Or at least I hope not?” I didn’t fully really understand what they wanted to do with him until I read the script and now I get it, but it was a bit of a leap of faith for me, and I don’t usually take things without having read them. That’s been a policy of mine for a long time, and it’s caused much consternation in the past, but this was a case where I had been a comic book devote since I was seven, so I was very familiar with the lore.
DEADLINE: Lex Luthor is arguably the only Superman villain who could be described as iconic but the character is not as sharply defined as the Joker, Catwoman, Magneto, or some other screen super-villains. In some portrayals he’s like a con-man composite of J.R. Ewing and Daddy Warbucks, or a modern-day Dr. Shrinker, or, oddly, a twitchy mash-up of Dr. Frankenstein and Mark Zuckerberg.
CRYER: Yeah. I mean obviously Gene Hackman was a big departure from the comics. [Smallville actor] Michael Rosenbaum, who’s one of my favorite Luthors – if not my all-time favorite. I mean, that’s tough because [to me] Gene Hackman’s Luthor had been so formative simply for being “him” when I was 13, and on top of that I got to actually work with him eventually, and in the role and all that stuff. But Michael Rosenbaum’s Lex was so good. Neither he nor Hackman was anything like the guy from the comics. Well, Rosenbaum was perhaps like the Superboy comics. That was the closest analog of him from the comics, but they were really going for the complexity of seeing somebody turn evil over the course of many years. The Lex that we’re working with is a full-formed sociopath, and that’s a different guy, and for me, in many ways, that’s more faithful to the comics than he’s been on film yet, so that was what excited me about it. That and just the cast is great, and they’re just great folks to work with.
DEADLINE: Your interpretation of Lex seems a bit more like Hannibal Lecter, with the exception of his unorthodox diet choices…
CRYER: Yes, and the idea is that Lex is – like Hannibal Lecter – this unbeatable chess master. He’s many, many steps ahead of the game. And he’s got this air of certainty of somebody who’s manipulative enough to see that far ahead. All of that is something that I’ve not done as an actor before, and it’s taken a lot to get it down. I’ve had to sort of unlearn a lot of my normal instincts, but it’s good. And it’s all been sort of mitigated by the fact that I get to hang on wires and get in a fist fight with Supergirl. And that is fun. The 14-year-old version of me was like, “Are you f—–g kidding me? Of course you’re doing this!”