Friday, May 24, 2024

Alex Is Changing and Vulnerable

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Supergirl Review Season 3, Episode 6 “Changing”

We’re torn. There are some really, really excellent things this episode. The handling of Alex’s coming out continues to be delicate and masterful. We were gifted some beautiful moments tonight that brought us to tears. We felt heard and represented in a way we haven’t seen from TV in a long time.

Sadly, the episode suffered from a few loose threads. For the first time this season, we’re feeling the pressure of too many characters and not enough attention to plot details. Still, it need not detract from our enjoyment of everything Kara and Alex related. We can always count on the Danvers’ sisters for feels and this episode smacks us in the face with them.

Quick Recap

Officially introducing The Guardian.

In Norway, there’s something hinky about a wolf Dr. Jones and his crew find trapped in the ice that leads to a government quarantine. In National City, Kara and Mon El get drunk in the gay alien bar while M’gann and J’onn act friendly-adjacent. Maggie encourages Alex to come out to her family and validates her as a person (*sniff* shut up we’re not crying). J’onn and Alex check out the Thorul station in Norway, where they find Dr. Jones as the sole survivor. As he’s leaving the DEO, Dr. Jones coughs up a slug that crawls into his ear. Gross.

Kara kicks Mon El’s ass in training. Alex asks Kara to go for a walk while Alex stumbles her way through telling Kara she likes Maggie. Kara uses the words ‘coming out’, Alex tells her it ‘isn’t because she hasn’t found the right guy’. Alex explains that the more she thinks about it, the more she realizes she’s felt this way all her life but didn’t know how to understand it. It freaked her out so much that she buried the memories related to her being gay (GRETCHEN FEELS THIS IN HER SOUL). Alex has to leave because she’s feeling vulnerable.

Dr. Jones mumbles something about being ‘one’ and when his boss comes in and fires him, he freaks out and kills him. Dr. Jones absorbs Supergirl’s powers when she and Alex go to confront him about killing his colleagues. James goes to the DEO to help; Kara goes home to rest. James and Winn argue loudly about James wanting to be a superhero. Alex misunderstands Kara’s guilt as her not being supportive; Kara apologizes for Alex not feeling like she could open up growing up and then asks Alex about Maggie. Alex gets to gush about what she likes about Maggie (OMG).

The “purple people eater” as Winn called him.

Kara gets called in on an alien being beaten up to find Mon El has found a job as a muscle for hire. She’s unhappy with his choices and wants him to use his abilities to help people instead of for money; he questions her motives for being a superhero (*eyeroll*). Kara and J’onn set a trap for Dr. Jones, but instead of stopping him, he drains them and morphs into a cross between Venom and Killer Croc. Winn warns James one last time about becoming a superhero.

Alex finds Mon El in the gay alien bar and puts the fear of Rao into him challenges him to stand up and help. She asks M’gann for a blood transfusion to help J’onn, and she very reluctantly gives it. Mon El hesitantly attacks Parasite, but The Guardian/James Olsen shows up to take over. Kara wakes up just in time to help out Mon El and The Guardian defeat Parasite using plutonium 236 to overload his absorption. Parasite explodes. Winn and James bond over getting to be heroes; Winn questions lying to Kara, but James wants to wait until they get a better handle on their teamwork. Hank wakes up to M’gann, who promises to stay with him. She watches as his hand twitches ominously.

Alex asks Maggie to go out for a drink. Maggie responds with pride for Alex for telling Kara. Alex kisses her (*SCREECHING*). Maggie explains that she wants Alex to experience her new self-understanding apart from a relationship with her. Hurt and disappointed, Alex leaves and holes up in her apartment. Kara goes to see her. Alex tries to say it was all a mistake, but Kara eventually gets her to admit that Maggie rejected her. Kara tells Alex she’s proud of her (and we turn into sobbing puddles of feels). Oh, and Mon El gets captured by Cadmus.

Best Quote:

Kara: “I’m not saying it’s the same thing. But I know how it feels to keep a part of yourself shut off. To keep it inside. And I know how lonely that can make you feel. But Alex, you are not alone.”

Alex: “I can’t do this without you.”

Kara: “You don’t have to.”

Thoughts & Feelings

Alex. Oh Alex. Our precious newborn wlw Alex. We want to hug you. There are so many important things about Alex Danvers, y’all, and we’re going to talk about them. First things first: everything about how Alex is handled screams queer women on the writing team. From Alex’s raw honesty to Kara’s stumbling support to Maggie’s unbridled enthusiasm and solidarity, this reads like real life experience. We can’t tell you how happy it makes us to feel like we’re not just being given crumbs but being allowed to tell our own stories at our own pace and in a way that is true to our own experience. It’s a precious gift to the wlw community.

Chyler Leigh is a treasure (source).

We were looking forward to Alex coming out to Kara last week, and we were not disappointed. Kara tries so hard to listen, and she’ stumbling her way through supporting Alex as much as Alex is stumbling her way through coming out. It’s painful to watch because it’s so real. Kara asking halting questions, Alex misinterpreting them but not letting it stop her from being honest. Alex needing some space because she’s feeling vulnerable. Kara apologizing. The writing team killed the dialogue while Chyler Leigh and Melissa Benoist sold the emotional depth and realness. They killed the verbal and mental processing involved in coming out, both from the perspective of the queer woman and the family member.

Alex goes from stoic to weeping in 0.5 seconds. We’ve never seen her this vulnerable or raw, and, as we keep saying, it’s so real. We feel every single conversation this episode deep in our souls. We’ve either had this conversation with someone or had it in our head when we imagine talking to someone. Kara’s character and emotional growth come out in her knowing exactly what to say to make Alex feel safe. From telling her she understands (while simultaneously not overstating the similarity of her experience) to telling Alex she’s proud of her at the end, Kara is the most supportive sister that Alex could ask for. Every conversation does justice to both sisters, and to the wonderful relationship between them that this show has been setting up across its entire run.

We deeply appreciate Kara having a moment to recognize and apologize for how their home life made it difficult for Alex to feel equally safe to explore herself. Admitting that is no small thing for Kara, who has been used to being the center of the family. It takes immense self awareness and maturity to do what Kara did. We’re so proud of her character growth.

Another impressive part of this week’s writing is how well the show calls out every single bullshit phrase that every wlw has ever heard/experienced. We love that it’s spread out across the episode, in appropriate contexts, and it’s never presented as combative or from anything other than a place of misguided love or misunderstanding. Greatest hits include “It’s just a phase,” “It’s not real,” and “You just haven’t met the right guy yet.” True to form, Supergirl dismissed these statements as absurd, and even takes the opportunity to avoid having them come out of the mouths of bigots or antagonists, which eases a bit of the sting in hearing them. Some of them are even simply preempted, most notably with Alex asserting to Kara “this isn’t because I haven’t found the right guy.” It’s definitive, it’s firm, and you get the feeling that the show is talking at the audience more than Alex is talking at Kara.

In this universe, casual homophobia is as ridiculous as sexism and deserves only to be dismissed. And for the most part, it is the queer female characters dismissing these ideas. It is incredibly affirming and powerful to have these statements dealt with between Maggie and Alex, or Alex and Kara. Too often, these issues are dealt with from the mouths of antagonists, and as we’ve come to expect, Supergirl doesn’t even consider giving those kinds of people the time of day. We as a community do not need a reminder of how shitty it feels to hear these things from outsiders, especially after the year we’ve had. Supergirl is taking great care in how it handles its audience, and it’s hard to properly articulate how grateful we are for the consideration we’re being given.

While the external struggles have been softened in consideration to the audience, Alex’s more internal struggles with disappointment and questioning herself after Maggie’s rejection are treated with appropriate rawness and gravitas. Almost every wlw has struggled with those feelings, especially just after realizing their identity. Elizabeth has been out for well over a decade, and Alex’s struggles still felt as visceral and raw as she remembered it, to the point that it was difficult to watch. It makes you feel exposed, but in a good way; it’s a feeling of being understood, and represented. It’s an unusual feeling for us in the wlw community, but one we hope to feel much more often in the future. Alex gave voice to the struggle that so many of us feel: did I imagine this? Was I wrong? Repressed memories start to feel like maybe they were made up, unreal. Maybe we just misunderstood our feelings. Maybe we over-reacted by coming out and should have stayed quiet. Maybe if we hadn’t been vulnerable then we wouldn’t hurt so much. Better we deny the feelings altogether than accept that we’ve been rejected by the person who allowed us to understand ourselves.


As much as we are captaining the good ship S. S. Sanvers, it’s nice to see a woman’s coming out stand on its own. As we’ve said before, we strongly believe we’re going to get a slow burn out of Maggie and Alex, and we’re excited for that. From a storytelling perspective, there’s more payoff in a season long drawn out arc than in immediate ship gratification.

Moreover, think about what this means for the season. A slow burn Sanvers means that we, the wlw community, get to be the main ship around which an entire season is built. We get to be the slow burn, will they won’t they relationship. We got to hear Alex gush about Maggie. We get to see Maggie fall for Alex. We will get to see them stubbornly dance around the issue and deny what’s building between them until it’s too big to ignore. We’ll get the awkward conversations and almost kisses and drinks that are definitely “not a date”. One of them will probably dramatically save the other from an earth-shattering danger. The phrase “I can’t lose you” will probably be spoken (*swoon*). For once, we get to be the central, season long romance on the show rather than sit on the sidelines. We will be there every step of the way with our faces pressed against the tv screen lovingly.

On a deeper level, making Alex’s coming out not contingent upon a relationship with Maggie reinforces the validity of the wlw experience in real life. It acknowledges that wlw exist apart from their relationships, something that is soul crushingly absent from most of our representation on television. It validates and prioritizes the existence of wlw as people—and Alex’ existence a wlw character—first and foremost, not just as one half of a fictional ship.

Too often, even the best of wlw representation revolves around physical demonstrations of affection and intimacy, with perhaps a short conversation or two bookending a dramatic kiss or a sex scene. Maggie is also her own person, and is not the prize Alex receives for her personal revelation. Both of these women have agency, and exist for purposes other than being the token gay couple. As we keep saying, the bar is set incredibly low here, but many shows limbo right under it. Supergirl is making efforts to elevate the quality of writing for a wlw relationship, and we are captivated by their attention to detail.

Speaking of which, the emotional bricklaying that goes into a wlw relationship is often completely absent from the canon narrative, or is implied to have happened offscreen in order to get a couple to the tangible, physical displays of affection. Alex and Maggie’s slow stumble into this relationship really shines a spotlight on how much the foundation is missing from a lot of wlw ships. While censorship and common culture were viable excuses in years long past, and sometimes accidentally resulted in some nice narrative arcs for a wlw couple (Willow and Tara come immediately to mind), the relationship buildup has been woefully missing from many wlw ships that exist outside media made specifically for us.

Having Alex and Maggie’s journey as the main ship of the season, and having it slow burn without putting it on the back burner, is quite unprecedented. It takes you aback in the best kind of way, a way that makes you feel like you’re staring into a mirror, or as if you’re watching something that you yourself would have written. A lot of shows think it’s enough to acknowledge our existence, but Supergirl is acknowledging our stories and our personhood. And that is a very important distinction.

Bonus points for managing to work in a really sexy kiss. *fans selves*
Bonus points for managing to work in a really sexy kiss. *fans selves*

Another particularly groundbreaking aspect of this relationship (as depressing as that is to think about) is that it doesn’t just all magically fall into place because two wlw characters exist within the same voting district. This goes back to the fact that Alex and Maggie are, first and foremost, written as their own characters, not as checkmarks for the diversity quota. Alex is just coming out, and Maggie has just been rocketed out of a serious relationship. This is not a good place to start a new relationship, and the writers are, for once, aware of this. As hard as it was for Alex to hear, Maggie has a point: neither of them are ready for a relationship with each other.

“We’re in really different places, and everything is changing for you. Everything’s going to feel really heightened and shiny and you should experience that for yourself, not just to be with me. And I shouldn’t get involved with someone who’s fresh off the boat because those relationships never work out. I’m here for you, but as a friend.”—Maggie Sawyer

And yet, Maggie always manages to be supportive and gentle with Alex, even in rejecting her. She prioritizes Alex’s feelings and experiences. She gently encourages Alex to come out to her family so that she doesn’t have to go through this alone. She is thrilled for and proud of Alex when she comes out. And she acts this way with zero ulterior motives; she’s not trying to get with Alex at all, or use her vulnerability as leverage. She’s kind, supportive, and encouraging because she cares about Alex as a person and as a newly out wlw. She’s the kind of friend every older out wlw would want. She genuinely wants what is best for Alex as well as for herself. This is, again, wonderfully true to life and a dynamic that is often missed in television, because it requires a level of awareness that can only be written by members of the community, or with a lot of consultation with the community (Supergirl seems to have a mix of both).

We’d also like to note that Maggie never says she’s not interested in Alex. Her desire to not get involved with Alex because ‘fresh off the boat’ relationships never work out actually implies that she’d want a relationship with Alex to work out. The timing is just wrong as balls. Then we see Maggie’s ‘oh shit’ face when Alex leaves, and we know she’s worried she did the wrong thing. Of course that’s not what Alex heard, nor does she see Maggie’s reaction. Alex is so new to this, so raw. She did something brave by kissing Maggie and she hears a “not ever” instead of a “not yet”. She’s so vulnerable and hurting (see, our desire to hug her), but it hurts so good. It’s perfectly written, wonderfully acted, and so very, very real. We are desperate for more from these two. Bring on the mutual pining and angst, please and thank you.

In the nitpicks box, the pacing was a bit off. For the first time this season, we’re feeling the pressures of a larger main cast. The priority this episode was clearly dealing with Alex’s coming out storyline and The Guardian, but normally we can rely on Supergirl to make the rest of the plot fit reasonably well, even if they have an arc other than the alien of the week. Aside from the wonderful storyline with Alex, the rest of the episode was slightly rushed. They have too many balls in the air and tonight, they fumbled a few. Some of them rolled right across the room.

James’ Guardian suit, for example, went from ‘not ready’ to ‘totes ready if you’re sure you want to make this choice’ in what, a day? M’gann is suddenly willing to go with Alex at the drop of a hat for no other reason than “J’onn needs you”? Mon El calls out Kara for enjoying helping people as if that makes her selfish? It feels like we’re missing scenes, jumping too quickly from one plot point to the next without stopping to breathe. Actions that could be in character—e.g., Winn and James yelling about James’ life choices supersuit (very loudly in a secret agency filled with security surveillance, too)—aren’t given enough narrative development for them to feel earned. They’re not glaringly off, but they’re not quite as smooth as we’ve come to expect from Supergirl, which has always prioritized character development.

Which is when we get lovely moments like this.
Which is when we get lovely moments like this.

Speaking of Mon El, we’re not entirely certain what he adds to this story right now. Other than allowing Kara to confront her continued prejudice against Daxamites, his story seems to have come to a grinding halt, contributing nothing to the forward momentum of the overarcing plot. As with James and Winn basically having the same conversation three different times this episode (almost the same conversation they had last episode, to boot), Mon El’s job search stole screen time from characters we care more about. We would have appreciated more time with M’gann struggling to help J’onn, or more of her in general.

Maybe whatever happens with Cadmus will justify Mon El’s inclusion in the story? Perhaps he’s going to be the Cyborg Superman we’ve seen teased (or perhaps Real!Hank?). We’d rather him than Jeremiah. It doesn’t help that Alex’s story was so overwhelmingly powerful, there’s precious little that could stand next to that and hope to shine even half as bright. We wouldn’t quite go so far to say that the writing was weak, or even that these side plots are completely unnecessary, but perhaps they needed a once-over and some shuffling about for the sake of pacing.

There is one specific problem that we need to address: James hiding being the Guardian from Supergirl. Like, James. Honey. You were the first person to know Kara was Supergirl. She didn’t even know that you knew but Clark Kent apparently thought you should know about his cousin without telling Kara that you knew (we’re not bitter). And yet, he hides this from her? She’s been nothing but supportive of him in his new role at CatCo. She’s given him some great pep talks and always believed in his desire to do the right thing in his own way. Heck, she’s actively trying to convince Mon El to stop being a selfish dill weed and be a hero. How can James think that Kara wouldn’t eventually (maybe after a fight and some space) support him?

He’s making Winn complicit in it as well, which hurts even more because Winn has grown so much this season. The inherent hypocrisy regarding how James’ handles Kara’s secret identity as Supergirl has always been a smudge with his character, but now it’s growing into full-blown problematic territory. He clearly doesn’t see the irony in asking Winn to conceal his identity so he can run around the city living out his quarter life crisis, when all of last season he was constantly hounding Kara to come out to various people who could endanger her life. We hate to say it, but this is really easing the sting we felt at the beginning of the season when Kara and James broke up so quickly. Our girl may have dodged a bullet, if he continues to behave like this. We reserve full judgement until his superhero persona has more time to develop, but until then, James is on temporary probation.

Random Thoughts

  • Drunk. Kara. Have we mentioned how adorable Drunk Kara is? It’s freaking adorable.
  • We now know that Kara can, in fact, get drunk.
  • Space Dad J’onn J’onzz taking care of Drunk Kara is precious.
  • This is the first we’ve seen of Thorul, which is likely a Cadmus or L Corp subsidiary (since Thorul = a Luthor anagram).
  • If the Thorul station was quarantined, why weren’t Alex and J’onn wearing hazmat suits?
  • The CGI for Dr. Jones morphing/growing into Parasite got messy/fake looking toward the end of the transformation. The glowing purple didn’t help.
  • Felt a bit too much like a Special Episode about global warming.
  • OMG Winn in a van directing The Guardian XD
  • Winn is great this season; he’s grown so much since the Pilot. As much as the argument itself felt out of character. We loved seeing Winn stand up to James. Huge step for him. Best part of the episode for him though was for sure the line: “There she is! That’s my girl.” Us too Winn, us too.
  • Interesting that White and Green Martians are blood compatible. Are they the same race?
  • Supergirl got to be the one with the ‘swoop in and save the day plan’! Yay!
  • Mon El’s kidnapping was both oddly specific and weirdly appropriate for his recent change of heart. Are they tracking him? How else would they know he’d be willing to stop for a homeless guy now when he wouldn’t have been at the opening of the episode?
  • No Lena. *sad face* (It would have made an already imbalanced episode way overloaded but still. We like seeing her and Kara flirt.)
  • We got to see Alex’s apartment (finally) and it looks precisely like what we’d expect from a workaholic: tastefully neutral and impersonal. No wonder she’s over at Kara’s homey little seaside cottage of an apartment all the time.

In Conclusion

We’re hoping the pacing issues were just a stumble, a regrettable misstep. We’re not even that annoyed given that they prioritized Alex. Of all the things to focus on, we’d rather it be Alex’s coming out. In other words, we’ll put up with minor pacing issues to get a great arc with Alex, Kara, and Maggie. Upon repeated viewings, the episode holds up just fine. The bits outside of Alex’s story were some of the weaker parts of the show’s run, but even at it’s worst, Supergirl is still a pretty solid 8/10.

Really, it’s a problem of comparison; Winn and James’ conversations were not the writer’s best effort this season, but they would have held up much better when not bookended by Alex’s incredible scenes with Kara and Maggie. Mon El is starting to feel like more of a plot device than a character, though this is not an insurmountable misstep; his course can be easily corrected in a variety of directions. He just failed to really contribute anything new to the story arc in this episode, other than doubling down on the reasons why a large subset of the fandom dislikes him. We would even say he made some big steps backwards in comparison to where he seemed to be last week. Again, it’s not bad per se, but it’s not this show’s best. And it’s definitely nowhere near bad enough to get us worried that the show is on a downhill slope.

It probably doesn’t help that we are so heavily invested in Alex’s story, either. Nothing about Mon El, Winn, or James is breaking any new ground for television or for superhero narratives, so these stories just feel like filler compared to the meaty goodness of Alex’s coming out arc and the impending arc between J’onn and M’gann. We are starting to get impatient with that one; hopefully they’ll pull the trigger on that one in the next few weeks. As with much of this show for us, the real juicy bits revolve around our favorite space family: Kara, Alex, and J’onn. The side characters are interesting, but not at the expense of the characters and arcs that have meant the most to us from the very beginning.

And we’re not saying James and Mon El can’t earn their way back into our gushing good graces; Kara would want us to give them a chance, after all. We just want Mon El to make some lasting progress and for James to stop being a hypocrite. He and Kara would work so much better as a superhero team than with him hiding himself from her. And given Supergirl’s top shelf writing team, it’s definitely within their wheelhouse. After all, they turned Winn into one of our favorite secondary characters and redeemed Lord last season. And they gave us this:

All the Danvers sisters feels.
All the Danvers sisters feels.

Images courtesy of the CW

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