Just to be clear, before we get into a pretty spoilery rundown of what happened on Supergirl this week, Agent Liberty — who we know to be played by the very chiselled Sam Witwer — did not whip off his goofy bronze mask to show the even more bronzed visage of the 45th President of the United States. Please do not assume that happened.
But Supergirl season four is unabashedly political, in a way that would do its sister show Black Lightning proud. Supergirl had feelings and needed us to know them.
Look, I would love to go into the nuance the series has given to its current arc, exploring the difficulties of being an alien in the Supergirl world and the parallels drawn between that and the current conversation in the US about immigration and trans rights in America, but the episode had the subtlety of a super punch to the face.
The only way it could have been more obvious that Supergirl was out to have important conversations would be if a slideshow (or three) had been involved, carefully drawing a line between the multitude of parallels presented.
Thankfully that didn’t happen. Although Nia Nal did have to stop some bigots for hurting Brainy and then out herself to James to teach him a lesson about tolerance. And also Brainy, Supergirl, Alex, and the President of the United States all had conversations about unity and tolerance. But there were no PowerPoint presentations involved!
And honestly, it was worth it when we got that great Superman 4-esque image of Supergirl slamming into the middle of a political brawl brandishing the goddamned American flag.
You may agree with the general consensus that Superman 4 is bad and anyone who likes it should feel bad, but I’ve always had a soft spot for that nuclear non-proliferation yarn. Bring on mummy Supes, moralising and trying to present the best of us with a puffed-out chest and lowered voice.
Although as a fan of good TV, a little nuance and subtlety would have been appreciated, sometimes there’s simply no room for it. Fans of Legend of Korra will feel a sense of déjà vu in this season’s plot — which closely resembles Korra’s first season — right down to a masked man spewing populist rhetoric to enflame a bigoted base and a shady brunette industrialist who may or may not agree with some of what the masked man is saying.
The parallels between the two shows — as well as between the show and the current US political landscape — are drawn most starkly at the end of the episode.
Sam Witwer is acting his little heart out despite his entire face being hidden behind a bronze mask, and he’s spouting the same kind of rhetoric that has gotten many a politician elected, including the current US president. You know, blaming the woes of the world on a single group.
It’s absolutely bizarre and wonderful because it’s played with completely earnest sincerity. This man and his goofy mask are a threat, his words and appearance are inspiring. Which... now that I’ve said it I probably shouldn’t crow too much about how unrealistic the character is.
Particularly as the preachiness of the episode felt actually warranted given the day it aired. Hours before Nia Nal came out as trans to James, The New York Times reported that the current US administration is seeking to define trans people out of existence. Nia’s speech and her call to action to James became much more powerful as a consequence.
A lot of this episode was about two ideologies that aren’t often explored in a show that’s as morally black and white as Supergirl.
On the one hand, you had Lena Luthor and James Olsen — characters with immense resources whose words carry a great deal of weight within the sociopolitical framework of the show’s world. She’s a billionaire and he’s the editor in chief of a respected publication.
Their silence and inaction in the face of the political climate of the show’s world is very natural (see: How many of us behave in our current world’s political climate). Lena’s concern is for the bottom line of her company while James’s concern is for his publication’s reputation.
And on the other hand you have Supergirl and Nia Nal — an alien and a trans woman. They do not have the privilege to stand by and say nothing because it is their lives — their very existence that is repeatedly under assault. To be silent is a luxury. And as it is made clear by the end of the episode: To speak up is brave.
- Political statements aside, this episode was tremendous fun.
- The entire sequence where Supergirl had to hold off an army of bad guys while keeping her powers hidden was superb.
- As was the way she just towers over Lena Luthor when they’re confronting Mercy Graves while also making faces of concern about her not-bulletproof friend trying to protect her.
- Speaking of Lena and Mercy, they’ve known each other forever, and given the recent casting news it looks as though we may be getting the “Lena Luthor goes bad” storyline this year.
- Also, Mercy has now poisoned Supergirl and any other Kryptonian in National City — so I guess we won’t get a Superman cameo for a while.