Supergirl’s heavy-handed political allegory contains shipper feels and a frustrating twist ending

With early voting started, let’s have an episode that has a political message that then goes sideways.

And let’s expand the world of Supergirl to show an extraterrestrial bar that is less bouncy and more grungy than the Star Wars cantina.

Oh, and let’s start shipping Alex with Maggie Sawyer. We just need a name for it. “MagLex”? Would that work?

“Welcome to Earth.” Supergirl Season 2 episode 3. Directed by Rachel Talalay. Written by Jessica Queller and Derek Simon.

Spoilers below.

Supergirl has not been subtle in its political allegory. Last season, a senator wanted to build a wall around the Earth to keep out extraterrestrials–and it made about as much sense as the fool running for office right now. (Vote early against Trump: vote Clinton.) “Welcome to Earth” seems to persist with that same storyline, as President Olivia Marsdin (Wonder Woman herself, Lynda Carter), is about to sign an extraterrestrial amnesty bill that leads to United States citizenship.

Ignore, for a moment, the fiction of all of this: that a President could get that done, when our real-life Congress couldn’t fund Zika treatment quickly, let alone immigration reform for humans.

And ignore, for a moment, the weirdness that it is the United States making itself an asylum for extraterrestrials: I would think the United Nations would be more involved, a la the Superhero Registration Act in Captain America: Civil War–but, then again, Agents of SHIELD had nations lining up to be asylums for Inhumans, so that detail is not that weird.

The surprise to this episode for me is how it is so obvious that Marsdin is a stand-in for Hillary Clinton–and then how this episode undermines that expectation. Or, if you think Clinton is two-faced, reaffirms your views about her. 

Last season’s political allegories were fodder for liberals and any rational person who knows Donald Trump is an unqualified, hateful bigot who has no business trying to lead immigration reform, not to mention the numerous bigoted policies he has (banning Muslims, curtailing gay and transgender civil rights) and his rampant fascism (his proposed limits to the First Amendment not only on the basis of religion but also on the basis of speech and the press). The mockery of the planetary wall and the digs both by and against libertarian character Maxwell Lord showed a certain audience the episodes of Supergirl reached.

This ending, and this kind of allegory, seems far richer than last season, even if I personally don’t like it. To have Marsdin preach about “hope” like Obama (after Obama has been associated with Superman), have the mannerisms and speech pattern of Clinton, yet be shown as a shapeshifter whose extraterrestrial identity undermines her talk about why humans must offer asylum–all of that prompts a re-watch of this episode upon season’s end to determine what this episode accomplishes. It moves beyond allegory to something else, which can be viewed as either reinforcing the opinions of Clinton voters, or reinforcing the opinions of Clinton skeptics, while still being a story that can and will stand beyond this election when Trump is a footnote in history books (Zod willing). I did not want the President, played with such compassion, calm, and friendliest that Carter brought to Wonder Woman, to be hinted at villainous in her alien design and hidden agenda. I hope this is a deception, similar to how Hank Henshaw was revealed not as his villainous counterpart but as the heroic J’onn J’onzz (David Harewood). But if this show is going to keep undermining expectations, I don’t see them repeating J’onn’s storyline with the President.

Marsdin’s message was about creating paths to citizenship without xenophobic attachment. Paralleling this story are two of Kara’s (Melissa Benoist) struggles in this episode: to write her article about Lena Luthor’s (Katie McGrath) new alien-detection machine, and to confront the enemy of Kryptonians, the man she pulled from the Kryptonian pod in the last season finale, Mon-El (Chris Wood).

I’m surprised the episode did not associate Lena’s alien-detection device moment more thoroughly to the post-9/11 debates about whether national security is more important than the right to privacy. While Lena is repeating steps taken by Maxwell Lord last season, privatizing technology for personal warfare against extraterrestrials, she is marked differently by the lack of obvious libertarian tropes (and the show’s mockery of them), and the more believable story she offers to Kara. Whereas Lord’s libertarian motivations are inspired by his parents’ death, and thus a distrust in any regulations that failed to be thorough enough to save them, Lena’s motivations are about wanting to see past facades to some reality that lies under the skin. That is a better motivation, as it builds upon her relationship to Lex, associating her with a major comic book character that can thrive even if Lex is not a visible character in this show. (Take a note of that, Agents of SHIELD: you can do better writing even if you can’t bring in a cinematic character.)

Given how close Lena was to Kara in these scenes, and the parallels between them–trying to get out of the shadow of the men in their lives (Superman and Lex Luthor), and both having adoptive siblings named “Alex” (Alex Danvers [Chyler Leigh] and Lex Luthor)–I’m curious how the friendly rivalry emerging between the two will unfold. I like that this begrudging respect Kara and Lena are developing moves away from the traditional Superman vs Luthor animosity–while itself actually alluding to an even more traditional relationship between the Supers and the Luthors. In the original comics, Superboy and Lex Luthor were actually Smallville buddies. It was only when Lex was injured in an accident, and Superboy was too late to save him (costing Lex his hair), that Lex became his arch enemy. (Supervillain motivation!)

The other tie-in to the story of a pathway to citizenship concerns Mon-El, that guy we’ve been ignoring since the season finale because his story just seemed dull. He has awoken from his coma, likely broke the back of a DEO agent on his way out, then we ignore him to get on with the President’s story, in a clunky arc-welding technique. That Supergirl suspects Mon-El of trying to immolate the President with laser eyes is too convenient; however, she does so to set up the problem, that, upon learning Mon-El is from Daxam, the Hatfield to Krypton’s McCoy, as Kara puts it, I see why this initial suspicion, as convenient as it is, helps the narrative. Kara is shown to look at what is thrown into her face: the obvious. Granted, she ignores some obvious details, like Winn’s crush on her for most of the first-half of Season 1. Yet here she is all about the superficial: the kind words of the President, the goodness of a path to citizenship, the need to call out Lena’s xenophobic machine. When Snapper tells her that her report on Lena’s machine is biased, when she hears Lena’s motivations, and when she sees Mon-El is not the suspect, she has to revise not her opinions but her motivations. When she initially referred to the Daxamites as monarchal, bellicose, and villainous “hoodlums” compared to the philosophers and scientists of a democratic Krypton, I’m amazed she was not more self-aware how, despite preaching acceptance of aliens, she exposes her prejudices. It is subtle, but the episode is about her recognition of her biases, not just journalistically but in terms of race and place of origin. That recognition sells that moment of her having to talk to Mon-El as a person rather than as an enemy–and reveal to him that he is the last son of Daxam.

There are minor details that did not work for me as well in Kara’s reasoning, such as her agreement later with J’onn that some aliens are too dangerous to give amnesty (logical, but rushed logic), or her explanation why she, an alien, keeps a secret identity (I think she meant that it was to prevent people from coming after her friends and family?).

There are more subtle moments demonstrating such prejudices, as when the older, white man Snapper (Ian Gomez) dominates a work meeting to ignore the instructions of editor-in-chief James (Mehcad Brooks). (There is a lot more to write about whether Snapper in this continuity is, like Gomez, Latino, and what that may indicate regarding racializing of Latino versus black in the United States.)

And the episode also associates these forms of bigotry to that of sexuality. This episode introduces Maggie Sawyer (Floriana Lima), usually one of Superman’s allies on the Metropolis police force, now here a detective for National City police. When Maggie guides Alex to Dollywood, the extraterrestrial bar equivalent of the demonic Caritas in Angel, Maggie connects the issues for immigrants and persons not from the United States, or this planet, to what she has experienced as someone who is non-white and, as she says, non-straight (leaving her sexuality vague along the continuum, as she is shown to be in same-sex relationships). Maggie’s monologue, like other moments, was heavy-handed. As the Internet saying goes, however, some anvils have to be dropped.

As a lengthy to wrap up this review, it’s also apparent this show is already shipping Alex and Maggie–hard. Maggie offers to buy Alex a drink. Then you have Alex’s embarrassed discomfort at episode’s end when Maggie said, “So, you really do care?” and “I don’t usually do well with partners,” while patching her up, then her contemplative “Mmm” when Maggie left for her date. All of these instances are vague enough to take either way, as ship-bait or not. Add to that Maggie’s role as someone Alex wants to save, and praises so quickly after meeting her, and it is on-the-head reinforcement of some emotional attachment, one I am choosing to read as a pathway to romance rather than only platonic. That Maggie still gets to demonstrate her role as a kick-ass detective, both in observations and combat, helps to avoid having her just be a collection of tropes associated with writing non-heteronormative characters. Having her be self-aware of the intersection of her race, gender, and sexuality helps with diversity as well. As the next episode has Alex and Maggie undercover to visit Roulette’s Metahuman Brawl cage matches leads me to anticipate a few “date night” jokes about the duo–so my hope is that the show is committing to representing a same-sex relationship, rather than only ship-baiting or queer-baiting viewers.

Random Observations

  • H/T to Ellak Roach for “Zod willing” and predicting the President would be an alien–while I was clinging to the hope she was not.
  • J’onn with the Airplane reference: “I sure picked the wrong time to get rid of all my Kryptonite.”
  • Lena: “If you have a parking ticket, I could validate for you.” Kara: “No, no–I flew here…on a bus.”
  • Lena and Earth-2 Harrison Wells can compare alien- and metahuman-detection devices.
  • “I’m a detective, Agent Danvers: I detect.”
  • In this continuity, “Snapper” is his nickname because he snaps at reporters–although, I’m guessing we’ll find out another reason, since in the comics usually the name origin is because he snaps his fingers a lot.
  • “There’s no ‘k’ in ‘diabolical.’” But there is in “Apokolips,” Winn (Jeremy Jordan).
  • While the species is not the same, the alien who learned English via a kiss with Maggie has to be an allusion to Starfire in Teen Titans.
  • James wraps up his talking-down to Snapper with a Superman pose.
  • So, is Mon-El still part of the House of El? That wasn’t specified in this episode.
  • “Just give a think on it.” The acting for Mon-El was an odd choice, definitely trying for a dude-bro approach to condescend to Kara. It was traipsing in sexism without actually having him be overtly sexist. Mon-El does demonstrate some confusing about Earth (“What’s a Pres-President?” he stammers), and he was well-acted, so I hope Mon-El strikes this balance, between tool and traumatized character with agency.
  • But how did Mon-El understand English?
  • The President teases her “other jet.” Don’t do this to me, show. Please make her Amazonian rather than extraterrestrial. Please?
  • J’onn, we know the real reason you told the President you don’t stay in your Martian form: it’s because the CW can’t afford it. While J’onn looked excellent in the bar, I can’t say the same for the newly introduced M’gann (Sharon Leal), or for the awkward lip sync on both characters. The fire effects also looked dodgy in some spots.
  • “My shift ended ten minutes ago.” Her shift. Shapeshifter. Subtle, show.
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