Ah, “Supergirl.” When it’s bad, it’s good; when it’s wonderful, it’s still a mess. “Exodus” meets all these descriptors and more, an action-packed and unambiguously political hour that manages to dodge a major misstep with one character while running, arms wide open, into the same misstep with another. It’s a frustrating watch and one likely to divide viewers, but there’s one thing it isn’t: boring.
This is a series that’s used the term “nasty woman” twice in the last month, so it’s no great surprise that “Supergirl” two big of-the-moment issues in “Exodus.” The larger of the two, and the one that drives the plot, is forced deportation, here taking place thanks to the theft of the Alien Registration List by Cadmus (and Jeremiah Danvers). The other is the issue of “fake news,” here taking the form of real news that’s also bad journalism. The former packs more of a punch, but the latter resolves in a way that’s honest and surprising — something that can’t be said about the deportation plot. “Supergirl” doesn’t lack contradictions, but rarely has it managed to thoroughly miss its own point. Our actions have consequences, “Exodus” tells us — except for when they don’t.
The episode opens with a truly upsetting sequence in which a family is essentially hunted by Cadmus members, one of whom disguises himself as a friendly policeman. Watching a little girl race through the woods while her parents scream behind her is, to put it mildly, distressing. It’s one of several moments in “Exodus” where “Supergirl” doesn’t pull its punches, though from here on out there’s precious little time spent following or focusing on the people suffering due to Cadmus’s actions. This is a choice that rings all the more hollow when, in a later scene, Kara tells Alex that the latter is focusing all of her energy on her father rather than the people they need to save. This frightening abduction and the later assault in the bar serve as high watermarks for the episode, and the mere fact of their inclusion helps to keep the Danvers family drama somewhat grounded in reality.
The DEO seems largely at a loss as to how to stop Cadmus, and they (and the episode) attempt to tackle the problem from two different fronts. The first: finding and rescuing the abducted aliens, using their typical Winn-does-computer-magic approach. The second: warning the community to take precautions by way of a Kara Danvers-penned exclusive on Cadmus’s nefarious activities. Neither goes to plan. We spend most of the episode away from the DEO, following instead an increasingly distraught Alex Danvers who believes her father’s motives must somehow still be pure.
After kicking the holy crap out of a Cadmus thug they manage to capture in the bar assault, Alex gets tricked into admitting she’s willing to turn her back on the DEO to help her father by J’onn (dolled up in Dean Cain drag). He suspends her from duty, telling her it’s clear her judgment has been compromised. While Alex’s distress is understandable (and Chyler Leigh makes the material sing, as per usual), it’s hard to argue with J’onn’s decision. After Kara says she agrees with J’onn (after all, Alex basically volunteered to steal a piece of DEO technology for a guy who just stole a massive amount of intelligence from them), Alex decides to try to find Cadmus and her father on her own, with a little assistance from Maggie.
Meanwhile, Kara’s trying to get Snapper to run a front-page story about the abductions, and he could not be possibly less on board. Carr rightfully insists that Kara show her work, asking for two sources for every piece of information they run. When Kara cites Supergirl yet again, he still doesn’t bite, and so she “sets up” an interview between Carr and her good pal in the cape. This too goes poorly, as Kara basically wants to dictate news coverage while Carr insists on acting like a real journalist (example: she confirms that she’s getting her information from an unnamed government organization, and he follows up by asking how long she’s been involved with a black site.)
While both Danvers sisters get some assistance in their respective quests — Maggie helps Alex set a trap for the Cadmus stooges, allowing her to swipe the location of the Cadmus base from a GPS device, while Kara gets Lena Luthor to do some digging at LCorp — they end up flying solo for the most part. After a little encouragement from Mon-El, Kara eventually decides to publish her story on her own blog, and gets fired for her trouble. It’s Ian Gomez’s finest moment as Snapper Carr to date, as he’s given a solid speech on why ethical journalism matters. There’s no last minute switcherooo, and the episode’s writers deserve credit for letting this decision stand.
Alex similarly breaks the rules, showing up at Cadmus’s headquarters with a bag full of explosives and a decided lack of you-know-whats to give. After finally getting her father to fight with the good guys (the good guys in this case being suspended government agents who almost beat a man to death recently and are now fully prepared to blow stuff up), Alex winds up rushing aboard the ship scheduled to forcibly deport all the captured aliens right off of the planet. This leads to a gripping sequence in which Winn’s girlfriend Lyra (still delightful, still underused) attempts to keep the prisoners safe while Kara tries to keep the ship from leaving the earth’s atmosphere. For several long minutes, it seems as though Kara will fail and Alex and all the prisoners will wind up in a galaxy far, far away, but Supergirl ultimately saves the day.
Then Alex gets her job back, and J’onn apologizes for suspending her. Sorry, what?
Clearly the DEO operates mostly without oversight, but this seems like an enormous stretch. There’s loads of potential in seeing what happens to Kara now that she’s forced to examine her moral and ethical choices in a new light, and it’s hard not to wonder what might come out of a similar storyline for Alex (and Chyler Leigh, the series’ best performer). Instead, Agent Danvers is rewarded for going rogue, and somehow J’onn is the bad guy for doing his job. Yes, the methods he used were reprehensible, but imagine if this were another cop or spy show. Just because Jeremiah Danvers did the right thing in the end doesn’t make his actions in the last episode any less reprehensible, and Alex aligned herself with someone who put thousands and thousands of lives at risk.
It’s a confusing ending to a confusing but thoroughly engrossing hour. Next week: Mon-El gets outed as the Prince of Daxam he is by his royal parents, Kevin Sorbo and Teri Hatcher.
Airing Mondays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on The CW, “Supergirl” stars Melissa Benoist, Mehcad Brooks, Chyler Leigh, Jeremy Jordan, David Harewood and Chris Wood.