Supergirl: 4.01 American Alien

Supergirl is back! And it’s a bit of an improvement on the last series… I think.

By the end of the last season I was almost done with Supergirl; the show had become so dour and joyless, it was suffering from bad writing, prolonged plot points, illogical character choices and drama for drama's sake. This first episode back feels instantly like an attempt to counteract the many criticisms of the previous season; we see Supergirl whizzing around saving people, being cute with kids and as Kara, it seems, she’s even started actually going to work. This opening sequence works well to try and put us at ease and reinstate the fun Supergirl.

The episode as a whole doesn’t necessarily achieve this fully but Rome wasn’t built in a day. While things definitely take a lean back towards the season one and two vibe, there are still plenty of hangovers from the last.

Things for Kara have never been better (we know this because she keeps telling us), Alex also seems to be getting along in her new role as head of the DEO and even has a snazzy new haircut. J’onn is off on his walkabout but hasn’t, it seems, really walked that far, as he’s just hanging around at some kind of Aliens Anonymous meeting in the city. James, whose storyline just started to show some potential at the end of the last series, seems oddly blasé about the fact he’s up for a hearing about his vigilantism and Lena is still leaning into the is she secretly turning bad narrative in the most unimaginative way.

The plot is quite straight forward, building on aspects from previous seasons and is another strong attempt to bring us a little back to basics, while still establishing some elements of the bigger season narrative; anti-alien terrorists are planning to try and blow up the president on her visit to the city. An interesting angle to this is the terrorists being Superman legacy characters, Mercy and Otis – here re-imagined as brother and sister. Former employees of Lex Luthor, it is hinted at that there is more to their terrorism than simply wanting rid of aliens and their actions could be feeding in to the bigger picture storyline.

Mercy as a character has turned up a few times now in cartoons and of course in Smalliville where the character was arguably one of he shows more interesting re-imaginings (even if rather soapy in that quintessential Smallville way). Here It feels like a back to basics, slightly bland, Mercy as Lex’s muscle characterisation. I actually don’t know how I feel about a new Otis! Here Otis is just a big stupid, generic henchman type but Otis, as originated by Ned Beatty, felt far more interesting and important than that and I didn’t expect to feel so resistant to a new version of him!

We get some now trademark Super-Privilege from Kara ­this episode, when she refuses to believe J’onn that the attack that are happening are racially motivated towards aliens. There are some very thinly veiled but effective allegories when Kara claims things have never been better for aliens and she doesn’t get any problems when J’onn points out that’s because she can pass. This show isn’t always subtle but it does do a good line in racial and social allegories and it feels as if this is where the series will be going this season and I’ll be quite happy if it does, last season became so bogged down in and focused on exclusively Kara that I’d welcome some wider exploration of themes.

The weaker elements this week are in the form of new characters (yes, I know, I know new characters can take a while to bed in). Brainiac is established her as very much being a replacement for Winn and they even put a lampshade on the fact with his side story revolving around Alex basically not liking him because he’s not Winn. Losing Winn is a blow to the show because he ended up as one of its strongest, redeeming features. The problem with replacing Winn with Braniac is that the character as imagined here, is just irritating. A lot work needs to be done to integrate him into the mix, I just hope the show doesn’t try to force it.

Another new character is Nia, an intern who comes to CatCo to mentor under Kara. This just brings up too many issues for me – Kara has been a proper reporter barely over a year in real time, having had no background or experience before that, last year she was fired for most of the season and has repeatedly been shown as being a rookie still learning the trade. As much as the opening sequence is meant to show us she’s got her life on track I’m not convinced she’s really qualified yet to be acting as a mentor in journalism, especially as she’s a terrible journalist.

I’m also confused about who is actually running CatCo and who is in charge, Cat is name dropped by Nia a lot but Lena owns CatCo and Jaaames is still in charge (despite being investigated y the DA for vigilantism and, you know, being a photographer). My big gripe with Nia is that she’s shown as being just like Kara when she first worked at CatCo; awkward, sweet, enthusiastic, shy etc Kara even says, in some truly cringy dialogue, you’re me. The laziest and easiest way to try and show how a character has developed is to show a new character who acts like they did at the start of the story. It's so blatant here that it just annoyed me. Look, look guys, this clumsy girl is bringing Kara coffee and apologising, just like Kara did for Cat but Kara is all confident and basically like Cat now! Please, do better Supergirl

Of course I suspect Nia will end up having a few ties to some certain comic book characters and there will be more to her than at first appears, this is Supergirl after all. Jimbo is still a bit of a douche and still talks in oddly ultimatumy ways with Lena but at least Sam and Ruby have finally gone! Yay!

This was a solid return for the show, more fun and with potential to build a strong season narrative as well as setting up a sinister, alien murdering villain but the show still needs a bit of a super-kick up the butt to get back to the glory days.

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