In its first Cat Grant-less episode, “Supergirl” worked like crazy to make sure there was plenty to delight those (including yours truly) who will miss Calista Flockhart’s razor-sharp barbs and charming mispronunciations of Kara’s name. New characters straight from the pages of DC Comics? Check. Fun in-jokes and fan service? Check. President Wonder Woman? Check. Social commentary? Check. A love interest for Alex so awesome it makes that terrible Maxwell Lord date but a distant memory? Check.
We pick up where last week left off, with our mysterious possible Kryptonian waking up and grabbing Kara by the throat. Quicker than you can say “still probably not a bad guy,” he’s out the window and on the loose in National City. As J’onn laments, it’s not a great time for a rogue alien to be roaming the streets, given that the President’s due to touch down at any moment. She’s coming into town to sign her alien amnesty act, and oh yes, has he mentioned that Supergirl will be meeting her at the airport?
Of the many winning qualities of this mostly solid episode, the chance for Melissa Benoist to call on her comedy chops has got to be high on the list. Kara goes full Winn-meets-Superman when she realizes she gets to meet the President, and it’s not a one-off bit. She remains totally, endearingly, understandably stoked to meet the President of the United States. J’onn gets a Dad moment when he tells her that the President should be nervous about meeting Supergirl, not the other way around, but Kara’s only half-listening: “Should I get a blowout?”
It would be understandable with almost any President, but good gracious, this is President Wonder Woman we’re talking about! The much-heralded casting of Lynda Carter as President Olivia Marsdin doesn’t disappoint; while she doesn’t have much to do, her mere presence on the show elevates both of the big goals in the episode. Politically, she’s a female President on a woman-fronted superhero show in a year in which it’s actually, for the first time, very possible that a woman could become President. And fun-wise, she’s Wonder Woman, for crying out loud, and writers Jessica Queller and Derek Simon don’t pass up the chance to make the most of that (check that Supergirl spin).
Plotwise, the President’s arrival in National City isn’t much more than a blip on the radar, a chance for nearly all our major characters, and the sisters Danvers in particular, to explore their particular prejudices. It must be said that “Supergirl,” with its on-the-nose dialogue and several big fat hearts on its royal-blue sleeves, isn’t really equipped to put forth a subtle examination of the way we treat the Other in this country, or the ways in which deeply rooted biases shape our views of the world and its people. What it can do, and do very well, is make it clear that nothing is quite as simple as it seems. To quote last season’s “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” theme song: “Actually, the situation’s a lot more nuanced than that.”
The alien amnesty bill isn’t the only thing forcing characters to confront prejudice, however. For that, we’ve got the introduction of Maggie Sawyer (Floriana Lima, a new series regular), a self-described “non-straight, non-white girl” from Kansas and a police detective who turns up at the scene of the attempted assassination. Maggie’s arrival bring several very welcome things: A new, fun, dynamic character! A great foil for Alex (and maybe a love interest)! An actor capable of nailing quick one-liners! But of all those things, there’s one clear winner. Maggie Sawyer brings us to an alien dive bar that loves Dolly Parton, and for that, we should all be grateful.
This is not a joke. Early in the episode, Alex says, “I can count the good aliens I know on one hand with two fingers to spare,” and “Supergirl” has done nothing so far that would make that statement seem incorrect. Not so anymore. The President’s bill would encourage aliens to, essentially, come out of the closet, but as with any target demographic, reactions vary. We know that because we’ve now met aliens that aren’t bad guys or series leads. It’s a welcome shift in perspective from a show that (surprisingly) often aims for political relevance. And it goes without saying, but an alien dive bar is also so, so cool. If the writers don’t make that bar a regular location, they’ll be making a huge mistake.
Maggie and the President aren’t the only new characters: we finally meet Mon-El, who comes fully into focus once Kara acknowledges her own prejudice, and also get the much-anticipated debut of Miss Martian in the episode’s final moments. If that sounds like a lot for one episode, it is — there’s not really room to talk about new characters and big thematic goals while still covering things like, say, the plot — but somehow it still doesn’t feel overstuffed. Three episodes in, it’s clear that “Supergirl” has really hit its stride in its sophomore season. It may still be a wee bit overly earnest, and the dialogue may still have heavy-handed moments, but this show’s balancing pathos with humor, charm with substance, and smash-em-up fights with quiet moments of character-building. It’s doing so with ease. Of all the new developments on “Supergirl,” that’s by far the most welcome.
Starring Melissa Benoist as the title character, “Supergirl” airs Mondays at 8 pm ET/PT on The CW. The series also stars David Harewood as Martian Manhunter, Mehcad Brooks as Jimmy Olsen, Chyler Leigh as Alex Danvers and Jeremy Jordan as Winn Schott and features appearances by Calista Flockhart’s Cat Grant as well as Tyler Hoechlin’s Superman.
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