The comic book world has never been shy of acting as ananalogy for real world issues (it’s often suggested that X-Men is a reflection of racial tension, with Charles Xavier modelled on famed leader Martin Luther King and rival Magneto on controversial activist Malcolm X) and this week’s episode of Supergirl continues this trend via the introduction of a topical “alien equals immigrant” metaphor.
As you might expect from this kind of light-hearted show, the execution of the analogy is a bit heavy handed, but it’s good to see a show like this experiment with something new. There’s plenty of time for this intriguing and slightly political plotline to develop.
We start the episode with the formerly comatose alien who attacked Kara (Melissa Benoist) at the end of last episode escaping out into National City, which both Hank (David Harewood) and Alex (Chyler Leigh) agree is a massive problem because the POTUS herself Olivia Marsdin (Lynda Carter, who played Wonder Woman in the 1970s TV series) is coming to town to sign an alien amnesty agreement.
Naturally, Kara is super (ha) excited and the geeky, girl-next-door charm that makes Melissa Benoist so likeable is on full display here. Carter’s role is more of a fun Easter egg to long-time DC fans, there’s an off-hand mention of her “other jet” and a twirl straight out of the 1970’s, than anything particularly significant but it’s enjoyable to have her there all the same.
The agreement itself is presented as being very divisive. From one side, mainly Kara and Marsdin, it’s seen as being nothing but positive and as having the very best intentions, who wouldn’t want everyone to be an equal citizen?
But to others, it’s seen as something more akin to a forced registration act. Why make yourself visible to the prejudice that people have against what they consider to be unknown and different?
Then there’s somebody like Alex, who is only really comfortable with those she’s familiar with like Kara, Clark and Hank. Any other alien is automatically considered untrustworthy and to be something of a threat.
Each side is one that can be seen presented in any kind of media debate or opinion piece around immigration, for example the ongoing European refugee crisis, making it all the more interesting.
Alex at least is shown to have overcome some of this bias by the end of the episode with the help of this week’s second new character, detective Maggie Sawyer (Floriana Lima) who’s best known in the DC comic world as a Gotham City police detective and the girlfriend of Kate Kane’s Batwoman.
An alien attack on the President at the amnesty signing, which is naturally foiled by Supergirl, leads to Alex and Sawyer teaming up to catch whoever’s responsible. They visit an alien bar (yeah, they exist in this universe now) where Sawyer’s got an informant and get talking.
Sawyer’s all for Marsdin’s amnesty, as she reveals in what’s actually quite a meaningful speech, because as a gay Hispanic women growing up in the Midwest she knows exactly what it’s like to feel ostracized and alone.
Putting the obviously unrealistic alien issue beside this kind of very real discrimination was a great directorial choice, helping Alex (and the audience) to see how prejudice can really effect someone.
The fact National City now has such a major alien population (enough to warrant a bar anyway) is a bit of a surprise, seeing as how there were only every a few in season one. It’s slightly jarring, and almost as though we as the audience have missed some key explanation.
As a second alien attack is launched on the president (she really isn’t having a great day) it’s revealed that her name is Scorcher (Nadine Crocker) and that the motivation behind the attacks was her fear that Marsdin’s amnesty would develop into some kind of forced registration act.
That motivation alone could have provided yet another interesting perspective on the “alien equals immigrant” metaphor, but when coupled with a double attack on the President doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense. Why try and hurt the most powerful person on the planet if you’re worried about everyone thinking you’re a bad guy?
It’s Supergirl’s (and to be fair, many of both Marvel’s and DC’s other movies and TV shows) biggest problem, not being able to really develop a proper well-rounded and threatening villain.
As mentioned in a previous review, the alien who crashed landed on earth is Mon-El (Chris Wood), a being with similar powers to Supergirl and Superman but hailing from the planet Draxam instead of Krypton. Once Kara’s caught him and brought him back to a cell in the DEO we learn that back before it exploded Krypton was locked in a fierce, almost constant war with Draxam.
Kara’s consequently already made up her mind about him before they’ve even had a chance to properly speak. It’s a sudden change from the kind, optimistic Supergirl we’re used to and she immediately coldly assumes he’s behind the attacks on the President without even investigating.
It’s a nice little twist that somebody who’s presented as being this symbol of hope with very clear views on equality between the human and alien race is also able to harbour a prejudice of her own, even if it is totally resolved by the end of the episode.
Overall, the exploration of a more serious theme is a welcome change for this kind of show even if it’s not handled maybe as well as it could’ve been. There’s quite a number of different paths this storyline could take and it’ll be exciting to find out which it is.
New episodes of Supergirl will air every Monday at 8pm on Sky 1.