Television

Supergirl: Season 1, Episode 11 - "Strange Visitor From Another Planet"

Gregory L. Reece

Supergirl hits its stride in an episode about immigrants and aliens.


Supergirl

Airtime: Mondays, 8 pm
Cast: Melissa Benoist, Tawny Cypress, David Harewood, Jeremy Jordan, Mehcad Brooks, Calista Flockhart
Subtitle: Season 1, Episode 11 - "Strange Visitor From Another Planet"
Network: CBS
Airdate: 2016-01-25
Amazon

In "Strange Visitor From Another Planet", Sen. Miranda Crane (Tawny Cypress) is doing her very best Donald Trump impression. She holds a rally in National City to speak out against the dangers posed by the alien threat. The aliens she’s worried about, of course, are of the extraterrestrial variety. They might as well be the rapists and drug dealers that The Donald warns us about, however, or the refugees that we are told are intent on destroying our way of life. In a world where the aliens are from places like Mars and Krypton, instead of Mexico and Syria, no wall would ever be able to keep them out, however. Maybe a dome is what's called for, the Senator suggests. (To be paid for by the Martians, I suppose.)

The Senator's fear, and fear-mongering, feed the beast and make for a good target of just the sort of alien that she’s worried about. An assault by a White Martian, a member of a Martian group bent on the destruction of all Green Martians, seems to confirm the very worst stereotypes that Senator Crane’s promoting; aliens are an unknown threat, a different and dangerous other.

Fortunately, in the world of Supergirl, as in real life, aliens and immigrants bring more good than bad to their new homes. In this case, National City is the home to two extraterrestrials: Supergirl (Melissa Benoist) and J'onn J'onnz, the Martian Manhunter (David Harewood). As it turns out, J'onn, like Supergirl and her more famous cousin, is the last survivor of his culture; he’s the last of the Green Martians. A refugee from a bloody genocide (illustrated here with animated flashbacks to the horrors of the devastating war against the White Martians), J'onn struggles with survivor's guilt and an overwhelming desire for vengeance. With the help of Supergirl, when he has to, he makes the right decision. And Senator Crane, saved by Supergirl, learns a lesson along the way and reverses her position on the extraterrestrial threat.

It all works reasonably well as a metaphor, I suppose, if one doesn’t push it too far. For one thing, politicians in the real world almost never learn lessons. And, more seriously, the implication that the White Martian race is evil while the Green Martian race is good is an over-simplification that has some pretty unfortunate implications when applied too readily to our own debates about immigration. I don't think we’re meant to go there with our analysis, however. The metaphor here is a shallow one. The exploration of these themes does, however, indicate that the Supergirl team understands that the alien threat-of-the-week scenario that the series often depends on has implications beyond their storytelling needs, and is in need of some careful unpacking.

On a lighter note, I always love an appearance by the Manhunter in his green form, and in this episode we get to see glimpses of Mars as well. Even if the animation wasn't quite up to current standards, it was welcome. If money was a question, however, I would have voted to spend a little less on the Mars scenes and a little more on the Supergirl/Martian Manhunter/White Martian battle scene that, I assume, was staged under the cover of night to cover up for lackluster effects.

Supergirl’s usually about more than superheroes versus aliens, however, and this episode’s no exception. Kara's romantic entanglements with Winn (Jeremy Jordan) and James (Mehcad Brooks) take a back seat to a story about Cat Grant's (Calista Flockhart) reunion with her alienated son, Adam (Blake Jenner). The story, I suppose, carries on a bit of the metaphor about aliens and others with the lesson that honest communication can go a long way toward overcoming painful memories and past sins. More importantly, I think, this story illustrates that Supergirl's powers are more profound than we had even imagined. Kara’s learning an awful lot from her own personal tragedy and loss and, in this episode, has found a way to share that knowledge with Cat, who finds herself in the unusual role of student rather than mentor. Flockart and Benoist shine in these scenes, illustrating once again that the relationship between these two strong women is the best thing about Supergirl.

I think that Supergirl may be hitting its stride. This episode offers a nice balance of adventure and drama, and manages to walk the line between serious drama and ridiculous fun. And while I started out hating the character of Hank Henshaw, now that his big secret has been revealed and the Martian Manhunter is on the scene, I've had a complete change of heart. It looks like the Manhunter won't be featured in DC's movie version of the Justice League (he was an original member of the team, after all, when they premiered back in 1960). If that is the case, then I'm really glad that he has a home here.

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