Supergirl is poised to become more political that ever in Season 4, further emphasizing the threats faced by aliens who live in and around National City. As they try to blend into their newfound home, these aliens face a world that can turn on them in a moment. While Supergirl herself gives the show a core of optimism and hope, “Fallout,” the fourth season's second episode, sets up Brainiac 5 and his struggles to adjust to modern society as the beating heart of the series.
During a recent Q&A in Los Angeles, Supergirl co-showrunner Robert Rovner and Brainiac 5 actor Jesse Rath expanded on how seeing humanity’s prejudices first-hand will change Brainy’s outlook on the world, reflecting the season as a whole.
The current era of humanity is initially something of a vacation for Brainiac 5. He loves the little things that make it different from his home era, like how his favorite pizza restaurant caters to his strange ideas, and how some of the employees are even on a first-name basis with him. But when his human disguise fails, the workers in the pizzeria turn on him for being an alien. They attack him with a baseball bat, and it’s only the timely intervention of Nia Nal that deescalates the situation.
“What I think is unique in this situation is because he has a relationship with the storekeeper before the storekeeper realizes that [Brainy] is an alien," said Rovner. "It’s very harsh kind of reality because he thought he had an easy relationship with somebody until they find out you’re not exactly what they think you are. So it becomes even more painful to Brainy, because he’s not expecting it.”
Brainiac 5 spends the rest of the episode clearly dealing with the after-effects. He makes a mistake for the first time in recent memory, and he’s rattled by the experience. The episode explores the impact it has on him, and how this kind of attack can be so surprising and demoralizing.
Rath was asked during the Q&A about the surprise Brainiac 5 felt at the pizzeria when the owner turned on him. He revealed that part of his internal backstory for the character hints at his troubled and lonely upbringing on Colu. Rath was then asked if this was Brainiac 5's first time experiencing prejudice.
“I like to think no," said Rath. "Because… he wears the Brainiac mantle. I think that he knows a little bit what it’s like to be picked on for something that’s out of his control. In my mind, he grew up on Colu and was maybe resented by a lot of his peers for being so smart and taking the name Brainiac when they all know, it’s kind of like picking the name 'Hitler 5,' like why would you do that?”
That’s what makes his experience on Earth so shocking for him. With the people of Colu, Brainiac 5 could at least logically understand their prejudice against him. But on Earth, none of that hate comes from history or context. The second they see that he’s not human, they turn on him. It comes out of fear, anger and confusion. The sudden severity of it cuts Brainiac 5 to his core, teaching him (and the audience) about looking at prejudice from a detached perspective.
Rath elaborated on the effect this experience has on Brainy, and how it will affect him going forward in the season.
“I think this episode was him learning that there’s a difference between just knowing how things are going to end up versus experiencing them first-hand," said Rath. "There’s a lot the Legionaries didn’t know about the past, they had lost a lot of that information. So, he just kind of knows the broad strokes of things. It can be very annoying to have someone just walking around being like: 'Don’t worry, this is all going to work out.'"
Supergirl is trying to show the humanity of the marginalized this season, and the humanity present in all of us regardless of where we come from or who we are. While the entire cast is facing the challenges of trying to convince the rest of National City to come together, Brainiac 5 is getting the chance to learn about hatred first-hand and how to rise above it, which could become the most powerful arc of the season.
Airing Sundays at 8 pm ET/PT on The CW, Supergirl stars Melissa Benoist as Kara Danvers, David Harewood as Martian Manhunter, Mehcad Brooks as Jimmy Olsen, Chyler Leigh as Alex Danvers, Nicole Maines as Nia Nal, Jesse Rath as Brainiac 5 and Katie McGrath as Lena Luthor.