Where did the summer go? Up, up, and away, because it’s time for Supergirl to premiere her fourth season! Kori is back to break down everything that went down in the first episode, “American Alien”. Let’s get to it.
Kara’s really out there trying to live her best life. Unfortunately, because Kara is Kara, we know this moment of “everything is great” can’t last, but it’s nice to see that Supergirl and the DEO are so competent that they’ve been able to more or less protect the planet while Superman is off-world visiting Argo City. Alex even gets a “surprise” visit from President Marsden as a way of congratulations on the bang-up job they’ve been doing.
In Kara’s “human” life, it looks like we’re settling back in for actual time in Catco this season. She’s even got her first protegee, courtesy of Cat Grant! There’s an adorable introduction between Nia Nal (Nicole Maines) and Kara in the Catco elevator, in which Kara and the rest of us realize that Nia is just as much of a golden retriever pupper as Kara was (secret: she still is).
This is about where the happy, happy, joy, joy times end because we have a season of plot to get to!
Just don’t expect it to be fun plot, because Supergirl has decided to play ball this year with getting back to relatable plots, and what better than focusing on our current sociopolitical climate after the post-2016 election? So to be honest, a lot of the villain set up in this episode isn’t pleasant to watch, especially the propaganda they’re spreading. If you’ve been following current events since #45 was elected, it’s… not been fun, and it’s a testament to the writers so far this season as to how well they’ve been able to tap into that. Yeah, it does seem like they’re taking a page out of Marvel’s playbook with the mutant “discourse”, but it works here.
We’re also treated to several surprisingly frank, and deftly handled conversations this episode, particularly with J’onn and Kara discussing privilege. While yes, J’onn could choose to present as someone other than a black man on this planet, he doesn’t. Kara is, for all intents and purposes, the perfect-passing alien, and with it comes privilege not affording to others. Furthermore, Kara really doesn’t want to admit what’s been brewing under the surface. Much like those who still cling to “Everything will be fine” in a burning room, Kara is borderline neurotic with her forced optimism.
But here’s where the writing comes in. Because we can empathize with the “why” of her dogged determination to keep those rose-colored glasses on. Kara is still a woman carrying incredible trauma on her shoulders and as Elizabeth has detailed before, she has… not entirely great coping mechanisms. Kara needs to believe in things being better, and in hope. When she’s finally confronted with the fact that J’onn was right and there’s a dangerous, tribalistic anti-alien movement that’s been brewing, it’s heartbreaking to watch her face as she finally has to come to grips with the truth. Melissa Benoist knocks this episode out of the park and deserves so much credit for leading Kara through the prickly realization that she’s been part of the problem this episode.
I’m not going to touch very much on what our new villains (led by the stellar Rona Mitra) do to President Marsden, mostly because it’s basically every LGBT person’s nightmare, but yikes. That’s definitely a way to come out swinging.
Outside of the political setup, we have Alex and Brainy trying to learn to work together. Alex is missing Winn and has to learn an entirely new synergy with Brainy. It’s both comedic relief for some of the episode’s heavier moments, but also touching as we see Alex struggling with missing Winn and learning how to work with someone who lacks a neurotypical person’s social cues.
Nia is definitely being prepared for big things, and Cat couldn’t have picked a better mentor for her, especially since we already know she has some superpowers about to manifest down the pipeline. That little throwaway of Kara still talking to Cat regularly was nice as well. I understand that the change of location was a deal breaker for being able to keep Cat on board as a regular character, but she had such an indelible hand in guiding Kara to being the woman and hero she is, that it’s nice to see the show hasn’t completely forgotten that without her physical presence around. James, on the other hand. Elizabeth and I have talked before that we thought he’d be better off doing a stint with the Legends, as we’ve struggled to find out where he fits in Supergirl with the Guardian schtick.
Now facing a mountain of legal troubles, it seems like he’s going to focus on Catco and his relationship with Lena Luthor.
I’m sorry, how is he still employed now that he went public with that? It’s a complete and utter torpedoing of Catco’s integrity to keep him on board, and it doesn’t look good for Lena to do so, no matter how you slice it. Speaking of Lena, however, I hope they’ve gelled on a tone for her this season. When she was introduced in season two, Elizabeth and I were excited to have more of a grey hat player on the show. One who would be willing to get her hands dirty to get the job done, even if it conflicted with Supergirl and the DEO. Now it looks like we finally might get that Lena this season. Her playing of her mother, Lillian (Brenda Strong), was compelling, and Katie McGrath shines when she has the chance to delve into Lena’s complexity and gray layers.
Better, this is a far more organic conflict for a Luthor and a Super than the contrived drama from the end of season three with the bizarre turn of Lena absolutely refusing to forgive Supergirl and then completely proving Supergirl’s concerns right. Let’s not do that again.
In summary, wow that was a great first outing, let’s hope the rest of the season can meet the very high bar “American Alien” has set.