This Supergirl review contains spoilers.
Supergirl Season 4 Episode 1
Supergirl season 4 opens with a great episode that encapsulates so much of what the show does best that’s both solid in its own right and sows the seeds of a season’s worth of conflict. Lynda Carter’s return pays off a bread crumb dropped back in season 2 episode 3, “Welcome to Earth”, and the episode introduces villain Liberty, the country of Kasnia, and cub reporter/soon-to-be-hero Nia.
The season opener has a focus on how we presentation and perception – how we present ourselves, how others perceive us, and what we overlook when perception fails us or we get too caught up in presentation. Kara gets a lesson in passing privilege and letting privilege obscure what’s right in front of you, while J’onn makes his new mark on his community working with an alien community struggling with heightened anti-alien hate and the allure of assimilation. Meanwhile Lena manipulates her mother to protect James from the legal ramifications for his once-secret identity, and President Marsdin finds herself in the ultimate failure of her own presentation.
If this episode is any indication, Supergirl will be taking a somewhat lighter touch with political messaging in season 4. There are still clear messages: anti-alien hatred on creepy message boards and the concept of a path to citizenship for aliens relate directly to current American politics. But the lack of winking catchphrases for either side, whether “lock her up” or “nevertheless she persisted” is an improvement over what quickly became tired last season.
The episode used a more story-based, allegorical approach to showcase the alien community beyond Kara in a successful plot that is hopefully a sign of more to come. It’s not hard to equate human-passing privilege with passing privilege experienced by some people of color, queer people, or people with disabilities. It picks up where last season’s discussion of J’onn J’onzz and race left off, but is nevertheless a more nuanced topic than Supergirl covered in the past. Having Kara be on the wrong end of the argument is an adroit move, though not one that many network shows are interested in. I’m hoping we’ll see more of this kind of storyline, which combines political commentary with deeper worldbuilding of the show in such a way that enriches both the message and the story itself.
Lena lying to James introduces much-needed tension into their relationship, as well as a potential way out of her formerly intractable standoff with Supergirl. Lena’s stance has always been that Supergirl’s dishonesty and paternalism made her untrustworthy and condescending, but once James finds out about Lena’s actions in spite of his wishes, as well as the lies she told afterwards, he could make the exact same complaint about Lena as Lena made about Supergirl. A benefit to this resolution is that it could resolve the conflict without letting Supergirl off the hook for her actions, which were crappy, while also holding Lena accountable for her own deceptions.
A thread I can’t wait to follow up on: Lena is the one who created and sells the image inducer that some aliens are using to appear human. She’s making good money off of it and claims it’s not political, but we can’t trust what she said to her mother, who she was manipulating at the time. And while Lillian Luthor is no one’s favorite, I’m interested to see how the damage to trading a relationship with her mother in order to save James will affect Lena throughout the season. On the flip side, James is now faced with arrest if he resumes the role of Guardian – I hope the show examines the gulf between the perception of James/Guardian and Supergirl.
One weak point in the episode was the resolution for Brainy’s inability to learn the ropes at the DEO. Brainy’s conclusion that Alex’s behavior was due to missing Winn is not supported by what we saw throughout the episode. Showing how everyone handles missing Winn is important, and Alex was a good first candidate to keep Supergirl’s plate from being overloaded in the season premier, but it just didn’t track with Alex’s behavior – or Brainy’s, which was a problem, and did need a course correction, especially if he is to suddenly be Alex’s right hand.
This packed premier leaves us with some major questions. Who is Liberty and what do they want with Fiona, the empath alien bartender? Who is the Supergirl doppelganger in Kaznia, and what is the deal with those guards running her?!
A few questions and observations:
I have so many questions about how Supergirl thinks journalism works. Kara is now in the presidential pool? James attends a presser with her because as CEO of CatCo (who is also potentially under indictment), he just has time to kill?
Being DEO Director suits Alex Danvers well, as does the new haircut.
‘A reporter’s job is to demand transparency” – it’ll be interesting to see how James and Kara feel about this axiom in light of President Marsdin’s revealed identity as an alien.
Nice Cat Grant shout-out!
Sam and Ruby are doing great, yay!
Do all aliens have a Supergirl alert?
Glad to see Nia pushing back on Kara’s harmful notion that fashion is facile. Miranda Priestley would approve.
Is anyone else worried about the gentrification that the fashion hub will bring?
Alex is dating – good for her!
J’onn now casually dresses like a Martian in his own home – that seems like both a nice way to connect with his father/heritage, and an indication of an upcoming arc of embracing visible alien-ness.
Kara claimed the public embraces her as a hero because she’s good at her job. Will she be held accountable for the obvious implication about other aliens?
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