Supergirl has always been an entertaining show, one with its own identity and point of view. The move to the CW has given it a boost of energy and it finally seems to be settling into a real groove. But I’d argue that the currently-airing second season of the show has elevated it to also being an important show – tackling issues of intolerance and hatred – and it’s exactly what the world needs right now.
These threads have been woven into the show’s fabric all season, but the episode that really solidified what it was trying to do was “Welcome To Earth.” Set against the backdrop of an assassination attempt on the president over the Alien Amnesty Act, a move that many of our heroes don’t agree on, Kara is struggling with the arrival of Mon-El.
Because this is Supergirl, both of the opposing forces in Kara’s world are female. The American president is literally Wonder Woman (actress Lynda Carter, more accurately) and the leader of Cadmus, this world’s shady anti-alien terrorist organization, is also a woman.
The allegory is not remotely subtle – here the word “immigrant” is substituted for “alien” and the word “country” is replaced with “planet.” The argument against the amnesty act is that there are dangerous aliens out there who mean harm to the country and the world at large. Over the course of the episode, Kara is challenged on her views by people who have arguments she can’t dismiss outright, and that helps the show itself to present a pretty complex picture.
Alex and Hank – an alien and someone who’s lived in the world as a black man for 15-years – both believe it would be too dangerous to offer other aliens equal rights because of the potential for them to be hostile, and Lena Luthor is using the act as a way to make money with an alien-detecting device sold to xenophobic humans.
But the bravest thing the writers did was have Kara admit to her own prejudice and hypocrisy. While raging against those who might strip aliens on Earth of their rights, she locks newcomer Mon-El in a cell entirely because he’s from a neighboring planet that didn’t get along with Krypton. Both automatically see each other as enemies, and it’s only when they put mutual intolerance aside that they can form an alliance.
Kara is the idealist, someone who believes in “truth, justice and the American way” above all else. She literally saved the world with hope in the previous finale, and now she’s being challenged by people she knows and loves. She exists in the world as presented in the first season, and the show is slowly stripped her of her naivete.
As we’ve moved forwards, the show has depicted some of the consequences brought upon a country fearful of outsiders – there’s an underground alien fight club frequented by the rich and bored, and in this week’s episode Cadmus used the presence of aliens as a scapegoat for criminals with ray-guns they’d supplied themselves. As a product of our time, Supergirl season two couldn’t be more relevant.
The show has never shied away from its family-friendly identity but, even if its metaphors are pretty transparent, that hasn’t stopped it from tackling heavy subject-matter. The first season was a sunny, almost utopian celebration of female empowerment and the power of embracing all parts of yourself, and now season two has doubled down on that mission statement.
Its brazenness is something not often seen on network superhero fare, and especially not in a place as optimistic as National City. Man Of Steel and Batman V Superman both attempted to fold issues with immigration and the rising hatred for “outsiders,” but were widely criticized for, among other things, forgetting to also be a superhero story or provide any sort of meaningful commentary on what it presented.
That’s not the case here, proven by the warm reaction to Tyler Hoechlin’s Superman in the first two episodes of the season. Somehow, Supergirl managed to introduce the world’s most famous cape-wearing hero and still not pull focus from its heroine. It’s also become one of the most politically-charged mainstream shows on screen, presenting hard truth to an audience tuning in for a fun sci-fi story.
I’m often reminded of something Joss Whedon said about the inception of Buffy The Vampire Slayer – “If I made a series of lectures on PBS on why there should be feminism, no one would be coming to the party, and it would be boring. The idea of changing culture is important to me, and it can only be done in a popular medium.”
That’s where Supergirl‘s true influence lies – it’s as populist as it gets. Part of a massive universe of television superheroes and one of the most talked about shows online, it has the potential to reach so many more people than a single tweet or complex textbook.
No one could argue that it doesn’t have a political bias, but its most prominent agenda appears to simply be acceptance, and the importance of challenging your ideals. This can also be seen in Alex’s coming out story, which has been handled beautifully so far, or with Hank’s ongoing survivor’s guilt and outsider status.
Most series would aim to tackle these issues in passing – perhaps in a ‘very special episode’ – but Supergirl is bravely grabbing hold of what made its first season so charming, and building its adventures around problems facing the entire world right now. It’s an unexpectedly confident move, and one that’s really working.