– NOTE: This article includes spoilers for Supergirl: Season 2 –
That Supergirl’s second season was going to need to do something big and different to stand out from the rest of the so-called “Arrowverse” CW superhero series was never in question: With Arrow covering gritty melodrama, The Flash handling earnest optimism and Legends of Tomorrow leading the charge on sprawling big-scale superheroics, the former CBS fan-favorite was going to need an angle to call its own… but few could’ve predicted that a series previously criticized for being too lighthearted and bubbly would opt to stake it’s sophmore season fortunes on an extended metaphor for the white-hot political firestorm surrounding U.S. immigration policy.
Now, in the season’s fourth episode, “Survivors,” we get to see what that angle is going to look like in the details.
On paper, Supergirl’s new status quo is pretty simple – It’s X-Men by way of Alien Nation (or, if you prefer, District 9), While at one point singular phenomenons in their own right, Kara Zor-El and her more famous cousin have found that not only has Earth been home to other alien refugees for some time now, that number is increasing exponentially and “normal” humanity is sharply divided about how to handle this new truth. Some, like the as-yet unseen Lex Luthor, want aliens gone from the planet entirely; but others like Floriana Lima’s Detective Maggie Sawyer see them as simply the next logical step in the tradition of immigration. That’s the viewpoint backed by the new U.S. President (Lynda Carter) but then again she’s concealing an alien(?) identity of her own.
As of the previous episode, “Welcome to Earth” it’s a solid setup; one that takes the core of the Superman Family mythos (their origins as quintessential American immigrant figures) and applies it in a way we don’t often see that also just so happens to dovetail with the wrap-up of a real-life presidential election where issues of immigration, nationalism and the treatment of refugees have frequently taken center stage. But it’s also a strictly surface-level examination of the ideas the show has now committed itself to exploring. We’ve heard Supergirl herself and President Marsdin argue “for,” the various villains of Cadmus argue “against,” Alex Danvers and J’onn J’onzz even got to weigh in from the middle… but even with several of those characters being aliens themselves it hasn’t really been a deep dive.
Refreshingly, “Survivors” sees Supergirl jumping in feet first in terms of where the real narrative meat of this immigrant-story angle is going to be found: How it affects the characters personally. Kara, our quintessential “assimilated” immigrant youth, one again gets to bristle as terminally-grouchy boss Snapper Carr demands serious effort beyond emotion and good intentions from her reporting on stories of personal interest to her own community (“Alien on Alien violence” this time) ,while also grappling with different paths to said assimilation with new arrival Mon-El (Chris Wood).
It’s that second part where the complexities get to play out, as the two beings navigate the difficulties of setting aside “Old World” prejudices (in the literal sense – their home planets’ were bitter enemies) to make a fresh start in a new adopted home, but also the more subtle differences between having immigrated consciously (Kara) versus basically washing up on the shore.
By that same token, the series’ Martian characters are here assigned the task of working out a similar dichotomy from the inter-generational perspective. “Martian Manhunter” J’onn J’onzz, having discovered the existence of female Green Martian M’gann M’orzz after centuries of believing himself the last survivor of his species, starts crossing boundaries almost immediately. He wants to know her history, practically insists that they “take the bond” (a kind of mutual mind-meld that was the default way of living on Mars) despite her being pretty clear that she’s not interested in reliving the past and doesn’t care to share her mind, and accuses her of essentially dishonoring their heritage by competing as the undefeated champ of Roulette’s alien brawls as “Miss Martian.” DC Comics fans, of course, already know the actual reason for her stand-offish stance before the show gives up the reveal – she’s actually a White Martian, the subrace that committed genocide against the Green Martians – but it makes for a poignant parallel for discordant experiences i.e. the older immigrant aching for a connection to home vs. a younger individual more interesting in building a new life.
Amid all this, it’s Mon-El’s journey that seems to get the most weight, as his status feels the most immediately “loaded:” Fleeing mass-destruction only to wind up as “guest” of a government-run processing apparatus partly informed by misinformation (Kara’s initial anti-Daxamite prejudice) that requires him to pass a slew of tests to determine the status of his future presence, he’s a refugee in the most explicit sense of the word. He’s also a change of pace for a Superman-esque character, period: We’ve seen Kryptonians grow up aware of the powers life on Earth gives them in Kara and Clark, we’ve seen villains take to it with fearsome enthusiasm, but we don’t often get to see a similar character whose actually surprised and excited about what he’s in store for – from the actual powers to the prospect of Wynn helping him with a costume and nickname.
Building so much of its new season storyline and CW-era standing around this sort of extended metaphor is a risk for Supergirl: If something in the calculation goes wrong, fumbling a political hot-potato is harder to “walk back” than potentially mismanaged comic book paraphernalia. But it’s also turned the series, improbably, into one of the superhero-stacked network’s weightiest offerings – and it should continue to interest fans to see how far its willing to go, and to what end.
Supergirl: Season 2 continues November 7th with “Crossfire.”