Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Aliens, Prejudice, and Queer Coding Oh My!

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Supergirl Season 2 Reviews: Episode 03, “Welcome to Earth”

Elizabeth and Gretchen are back to bring you all the scintillating Supergirl news from last night. And there’s plenty. As soon as the previews went up after last week’s episode, we knew we’d be in for a doozy tonight. Lena Luthor returning, the introduction of Maggie Sawyer, Lynda Carter’s first appearance as the president of the United States? (LYNDA FREAKING CARTER) Be still our queer lady hearts. And there are aliens. So many aliens. We start with alien coma dude and end with an alien bartender and an alien President (spoilers). We could probably just call this episode “Aliens and Queer Subtext” and not be wrong. Some of the queer subtext is actually text, too, so there’s that (yay!). Oh, and a huge discussion of implicit bias and racial/species discrimination.

Quick Recap

Introducing Mon-El.

Coma dude chokes out Supergirl, trashes the DEO, and runs away into the city. J’onn’s not happy because the President is coming to sign an alien amnesty act and tour the DEO; the last thing he needs is a rogue, dangerous alien on the loose. Kara is nervous to meet the president; it’s adorable. James starts his tenure as the New Cat with a meeting about the President’s arrival; Snapper challenges him to make his own mark and not just follow in Cat’s shoes, then takes over rather than let James actually do anything. Kara is assigned to interview Lena (omg omg omg, just breathe). Then, out steps Lynda Carter, President of the United States. Someone tries to set her and her team on fire, but Supergirl saves the day.

Enter Maggie Sawyer, National City Police detective in the alien science division. Alex busts out her psychic paper “US Secret Service” badge. The sexual tension/verbal sparring between Alex and Maggie flies. The President believes the DEO needs to adapt to amnesty instead of hunting aliens. J’onn argues that immigrants aliens will take advantage of the leniency. Kara goes to interview Lena Luthor (ACK!), where Lena introduces a device that will allow humans to detect aliens via a skin test; Kara retorts that this will only reinforce the prejudice the President seeks to fight. Winn tracks down Coma dude. Alex tracks him down only to find Maggie there first and coma dude gone. Maggie knows about the DEO. Coma dude attacks someone and says he only wants to go home. Alien lady argues that amnesty equals registration.

Snapper objects to Kara’s pro-alien take on her interview with Lena and tells her to rewrite it. Kara gives James a pep talk about doing things ‘his way’ as the new boss. Maggie takes Alex to an alien dive bar/safehaven where a blonde alien woman totally checks her out. Maggie comes out as explicitly wlw and talks about how being non-white and not straight helps her sympathize with aliens. Kara struggles to not be passionate in her article. Winn tracks down coma dude from the signal he’s sending to space, not to Krypton, but to Daxam. Kara looks angry, then goes to beat him up because Kryptonites and Daxamites are like the Hatfields and McCoys. The DEO puts him in prison. Kara confronts him, he pushes back. Kara meets with Lena to discuss her edited article and flirt.

Maggie and Alex attend the President’s speech on alien amnesty. Kara saves the President’s life. Maggie confronts the alien and is kidnapped. Alex goes to the bar for info on the alien attacker. Supergirl and Alex confront the threat and rescue Maggie, who is more than capable of helping out. James stands up to Snapper, who threatens to walk but doesn’t. Alex admits Maggie helped her see aliens as more than threats; they agree they make a good team (aldkflkj). Kara apologies to coma dude, who tells her his name is Mon El. She finally tells him it’s destroyed. J’onn seems to be changing his mind about the amnesty act and OH MY GOD THE PRESIDENT IS AN ALIEN. J’onn goes to the dive bar and meets one of the bartenders, who turns out to be:


Best Quote: We can look like them, we can blend in. A lot of aliens can’t, and people in this world don’t have much tolerance for others who look different. I say that as an alien and as someone who has worn the face of a black man for 15 years.—J’onn Jonzz

Thoughts & Feelings

So, before we get to new characters and the not so subtle queer coding, let’s talk aliens. Specifically, how this episode used alien amnesty to touch on the broader cultural conversation of immigrants and refugees to the United States. It’s not accident that this episode gave us a female president with a voice of acceptance and the equivalent of open borders. While some might call it heavy handed, such a criticism fails to recognize what kind of a show Supergirl is. Whether it was Cat Grant’s speech about the term ‘girl’, Kara and James’ LGBT coded conversation about ‘coming out’ as superheroes or James, Cat, and Kara discussing how they as minorities cannot express anger in public, Supergirl has never been one for subtle conversations about serious issues. The writing team has never minced words. Sometimes this falls flat, as Cat Grant’s ‘girl’ discussion from the Pilot did, but most of the time, the bold willingness to take on difficult conversations works.

Tonight’s conversation fell squarely on the side of ‘works’ for us. Were this the only time Supergirl had tackled the issue of alien refugees and immigration, it might have felt like a Very Special Episode. However, tonight’s episode is more a continuation of a discussion the show begun last season regarding the prejudice and fear aliens face that prevent them from ‘coming out’ and living as their true selves. Similarly, Kara confronting her own prejudices is a nice companion to her arc last season about giving everyone a chance and dovetails with the discussion of alien amnesty. Kara is all for alien amnesty when she thinks about herself and J’onn, but when confronted with aliens she herself dislikes, she advocates for stricter controls. Then she realizes that her prejudice made her shortsighted and ignore the real threat in favor of one she assumed. They gave Kara a relatable, relevant flaw without overdoing it.

“Welcome to Earth” indeed.

It also fits well within the arc begun in the first two episodes this season. Facing down Mon El, meeting the President, and interviewing Lena Luthor nicely frame her coming into her own as a reporter, which includes broadening her views and being willing to consider all sides of an issue. Dualities (monarchy vs. democracy, amnesty vs. suspicion) are convenient, but limited. Tonight’s episode plunged Kara, and the viewer, headfirst into the muddy waters of nuancing seemingly straightforward conversations, and we’re delighted with the outcome.

The only part that didn’t quite work for Gretchen was J’onn as the voice of closed borders stricter alien rules. It fits with his desire to keep Kryptonite around and the early Season 1 suspicion of aliens he evinced, but it doesn’t fit the growth we saw from him last season: his willingness to open up about his fear and lay bare what drove him to hide as Hank Henshaw for so long. Treating other aliens with the same suspicion, fear, and prejudice that led him to almost being killed by Real!Hank just doesn’t fit. It was nice that the President calls him out on it, but it seems odd he would be voicing these concerns in the first place, at least in such a negative way.

For Elizabeth, it seemed to stem from a resistance to social change due to him having been around the block for longer. Being accepting of aliens who have proven themselves cooperative and being fearful of the ones that assuredly are not is not a contradictory nor a controversial stance for J’onn to take. She views it as necessary precautions as opposed to a true-to-form bias, because some of J’onn’s fears are grounded in cold, hard fact. It’s a stance not too far off from requiring criminal background checks for new citizens: just as we should not assume that everyone is out to get us, we should also not assume that everyone has good intentions, especially if we’ve devoted the last 15 years to catching members of the latter group.

In both of our opinions, Alex’s conversations with Maggie illustrate the point far better, i.e., that the DEO only deals with the criminal element of alien immigration, so it’s natural that they’d see villains lurking in every alien shadow. While Kara did encounter a peaceful alien last season, neither J’onn nor Alex were really around to witness that interaction firsthand, and as Alex says, “I can count the number of friendly aliens I know on one hand, and have two fingers left.”

President: “One has to have hope J’onn.”

J’onn: “Even if it’s false hope?”

President: “It’s hope, J’onn, how can it be false?”

We’d like to take a moment to point out how well they’ve transitioned Kara and James back into a healthy relationship both at work and as friends. It doesn’t erase just how abrupt their breakup was, but at least they’ve moved on and allowed them to settle back into supporting each other. We appreciated Kara getting to be the one to push James toward standing up for himself at work for a change (and she gives an impressively season 1 James-esque pep talk with her own spin on it), and the moment where he stood up to Snapper Carr was emotionally satisfying. Good work.

The villain lacked the same depth and nuance as some of the villains in season one. She didn’t even get a name, just a species (Infernian), and even that was mentioned off hand by Maggie, not by the alien herself. That her perspective on alien registration echoed one of the arguments against alien/superhero registration found in Marvel’s Civil War (“Amnesty is just another mask to disguise registration.”) was a tantalizing bit of world and character building nuance we wish they’d followed up on more. Hopefully she’ll come back and we can get to know her a little better and have more discussion of registration, especially since we now know what the President is also an alien.

We are willing to give the benefit of the doubt that this is not the last time this argument is going to be brought up; it’s not unlikely that J’onn himself would be sympathetic to this ideal, considering his conservative stance on exposing himself and other aliens to the general population. This season has already been sowing the seeds of discontent regarding the divide between aliens and humans, with major factions being formed as early as the pilot. We don’t know if they’re going to go full Civil War on this, but it’s an intriguing potential storyline, especially considering the massive crossover event slated for later this year. I guess we’ll see.

We want to know everything about her. Please don't let her be a villain. We like her.
Please don’t let her be a villain. We like her.

Going back to what we do know, President Lynda Carter Marsdin is an excellent addition to the cast. Supergirl geeking out over meeting Wonder Woman the President warmed out hearts. It’s nice to see that even though she’s learning how to be a tough reporter, she’s still a puppydog fangirl at heart. It’s adorably in character that Kara Danvers would fangirl over the (assumed) first female president. We’re also thrilled to see another strong older female character voicing hope and optimism. We still miss Cat Grant’s inspiring monologuing, but we’ll take Lynda Carter in a pinch 😉

Mon El is fine, but nothing stands out as compelling about him other than that he forces Kara to confront her own prejudice. He’s a pretty Generic Handsome Brown Haired White Guy, and we probably couldn’t pick him out of a lineup with Stephen Amell and the rest of the GHBHWGs of the DC universe. We’re not fans of Mon El being a potential love interest, though. There’s nothing wrong with giving Kara a new love interest in place of James, per se. We’re even alright with the idea of giving Kara a love interest who is an equal when it comes to superpowers. The issue is that Mon El is interchangeable white boy number ten thousand and James is a man of color. If you’re going to torpedo a viable interracial ship (of which there are precious few on television), at least make the new love interest someone less blatantly generic. Maybe they’ll surprise us and make him Miss Martian’s love interest? That could be cool. We didn’t get to see much of her, but we’re excited for M’gann M’orzz. We have a feeling J’onn’s life is about to get even more complicated.

And now, the discussion you’ve all been waiting for: Maggie Sawyer. In one fell swoop, Supergirl gave us so much queer text and subtext, our heads are still swimming. An alien female checked out Alex in a bar. “You moved on quickly.” Says Maggie’s bartender alien ex-girlfriend, of Alex. Our hearts exploded. Then Maggie has to clarify to Alex that she doesn’t just date aliens. You know “for the record”. They agree that they make a great team. Alex checks out Maggie. They flirt and snark at each other the whole episode, and if this were a male/female interaction, the whole world would be screaming “just make out already!” Maggie even does the “you do care” line and Alex pretends she’s cool and doesn’t actually care in the most obviously I-totally-care-but-don’t-want-you-to-think-so way ever.

Sure, Alex.
Sure, Alex.

They tie it to the main discussion of immigration and refugees as well. Maggie points out that her experience living as a queer woman of color, and growing up as one in rural Nebraska, helps her sympathize with the feeling of being from another planet, at least metaphorically speaking. Like the aliens at the bar, she understands what it’s like to have to hide who she really is to survive. Maggie highlights just how much the discussion of LGBT experience mirrors that of the aliens and refugees, an analogy the show has already done with J’onn and Supergirl. In the wake of the Orlando shooting, her words strike home, reminding the audience that LGBT persons still experience threats to their safety even in this day and age.

The real brilliance of this scene is that it brings together the subtext and actual text in one fell swoop, not wasting time in metaphors and extensive layers of defensive symbolism. It lays out flat exactly what the show has been obliquely hinting at over the course of the first season, and it does it through the voice of a queer woman of color. It’s so impressive in its bluntness that it might take you aback at first (it did for Elizabeth, and didn’t quite sink in until a second viewing). It was a short conversation, but there was something oddly novel about it in its directness. It was a bit reminiscent of Glee’s best moments, when the show paused its antics just long enough to tell you in plain words what it needed and meant to say.

It is also very nice to see the subtext coding existing right alongside this conversation. Everything about Maggie Sawyer is coded as ‘lesbian.’ How she dresses, how she speaks, how she chokes up on Alex when she speaks to her, the Lesbian Slouch, all of it. It is interesting to note that Alex actually mimics Maggie’s body language and walking gait when she’s around her; it’s hilariously obvious that it was intentional, but this is a great thing. Every member of the wlw community will immediately pick up on the more subtle coding (wardrobe and posture) and the not so subtle (the motorcycle talk). It feels like a confirmation rather than a revelation for Alex. We’ve been saying this for an entire season, that Alex reads as being either a lesbian or bisexual, because no straight woman owns that much flannel and leather.

Okay, okay. It’s more than just the wardrobe, but that’s kind of the thing. It’s a collection of behaviors and character traits that are difficult to detect in isolation and are not necessarily damning on their own, but seeing them presented side-by-side in two different characters makes it painfully obvious that we were all right about Alex. It is also nice that there isn’t an effort to severely offset Maggie and Alex from one another. They dress similarly, they have a similarly prickly attitude when their authority is threatened, they’re both bossy, they have a similar hair color, the list goes on. They have more in common than they differ, though we do get the femslash shipping trademark Huge Height Difference. (Note: Elizabeth loves this one.)

However, there was no official confirmation of a relationship dynamic between Maggie and Alex. It is clearly being hinted at and seeded, but Elizabeth is jaded healthily cautious about jumping to conclusions about the strength of the sails on a new ship. Don’t call it canon ‘til it leaves the harbor.

This is how ‘friends’ do the lean thing, right?

That being said; let’s do the exact opposite of that and speculate wildly about the other pairing that’s setting AO3 ablaze! There’s the continued eye smoldering between Lena and Kara. Part of it is in no small part due to Katie McGrath being able to have chemistry with a brick wall, but it isn’t just that. Her body language is more than friendly or business casual. Kara’s blushes around Lena are reminiscent of her pining over James in Season 1.

Now, it’s possible we’re reading far too much into the body language between Kara and Lena. We’d be the first to admit that our wlw shipping goggles can get the best of us. But it’s hard to ignore what they’re doing with the female interactions this season. We’re pretty sure even non queer people could see the sexual tension between Maggie and Alex as well as Kara and Lena. We would even argue that the sexual tension is oddly more overt between Lena and Kara than it is between Maggie and Alex. The former is quite in-your-face (e.g., the scene with Kara and Lena on the couch), the latter is more gentle and subdued. The show may not follow through on it, but the subtext is there. And with Maggie, it’s more than subtext. We know she’s queer; we just don’t know yet if she’s going to be dating Alex. We just really, really hope so.

Overall, it was a strong episode. It hit the right tone of relevant political and ideological discussion while still tying it to Kara’s arc this season as a reporter. Finding out the alien world is bigger than Kara and J’onn is a nice piece of worldbuilding that we’re thrilled to see them following up on with an underground alien fight club next week (complete with Dichen Lachman as the villain). Queer text and subtext abounded. It’s getting harder and harder to keep our delight over the wlw direction in check. Please don’t let us down Ali Adler. You’ve promised us that hope is not false.

Random Thoughts

  • We appreciate that they update the intro to include footage from the previous week, it feels more cohesive.
  • Kara: “Should I get a blow-out?” J’onn: “Oh, dear god.” Alien dad is not here for his space daughter’s hair issues.
  • We like Alex’s business suit for DEO work, nice step up from the black polo. The mix of nice heels with more gender neutral or butch clothing is a nice aesthetic for Alex.
  • We think that Lena may have set up the skin test thing for Kara to see if she’s Supergirl, we still have a sneaking suspicion she knows. Also, Lena probably has a security camera in her office. If she didn’t know Kara was Supergirl, she sure does know after Kara used her heat vision.
  • Kara telling Alex to “make better choices” nearly killed us. And then Alex retorting “Yes ma’am”. God bless the Danvers sisters.
  • Nice Wonder Woman homage spin from Kara plus Lynda Carter made a joke about Wonder Woman’s invisible jet!
  • James standing up to Snapper was grade A Bad. Ass.
  • Alex rides a Ducati. We cannot stress this enough.
  • “We made a pretty good team.” “I guess we did.” Is like the beginning to every good partnership turned romance. Seriously.
  • The password to the alien bar was Dollywood (the Dolly Parton theme park). Must be an inside joke.
  • So we still don’t know why Mon El used a Kryptonian escape pod. Do Daxamites use the same pods as Kryptonians? Why would they if they’re enemies? Are we not supposed to still be asking this question?
  • Is “El” also a Daxamite surname? In the comics, Superman gives Mon El his name because he (Superman) at first assumes he is Kryptonian rather than Daxamite. The Kryptonian surname is odd in this context, as with the pod.
  • We just realized that Alex does not consider the dinner she had with Maxwell Lord last season to be a date because she said last episode that she hadn’t been on a date in two years. I can’t believe we missed that!

In Conclusion

They make the world turn.
They make the world turn.

Images courtesy of The CW

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