Supergirl: Season 4 Premiere “American Alien” — a review


I tend to set rules for myself and then feel uncomfortable when I don’t follow them. Sometimes, I’m not even aware that I’ve set rules in place at all.

For instance, it seems that, as a general rule, I don’t read much about the television shows that I watch. At least not during the season. I do this for the same reason I don’t watch “in the next episode” teasers. I don’t like having things spoiled for me.

If I read the review of a program or movie before watching it, I expect there to be some spoilers. That’s why—again, as a general rule—I don’t do it.

But, I broke that rule when I read an on-line article about this season’s cast of Supergirl, and I managed to spoil a few things for myself, as well as learning a few things that may or may not be spoilers. Be warned here, because I’m going to repeat these things now and I don’t want your experience to be spoiled unexpectedly.

The entire point of the premiere episode of Supergirl‘s Season 4 is that our season-long arc will be about a growing anti-alien sentiment in National City and, by association, the world. Even the episode’s title, “American Alien,” suggests this.

As the episode opens, Supergirl seems to be single-handedly policing the entire world since her cousin Kal-El, who often goes by the name Superman, is off-planet somewhere, doing something (why is not important). She seems happy and well-adjusted, just the way we like her, and everything seems well in the world.

The fact that everything is not well comes as no real surprise. Conflict is the soul of story, and our temporary summer peace after the last world-threatening crisis must come to an end. The events of this episode set up the rest of the season.

A little housekeeping first. Some things have changed in the world of Kara Danvers.

Alex Danvers (Chyler Leigh), Kara’s sister, is now the head of the DEO since John Jones stepped down. Maybe this means she’ll now have time to adopt, unless that impulse also vanished during the hiatus. Speaking of “vanished,” Sam and Ruby Arias were dismissed from the Supergirl world with a throwaway line of Lena Luthor dialogue.

J’onn J’onzz (David Harewood) may have stepped down from the DEO, but he’s still a part of the show. After J’onn’s father passed away and he inherited his memories, the Martian Manhunter changed in some deeply fundamental way. He’s become a pacifist and seems to be emerging as something of a spiritual leader among the alien population of Earth.

James Olsen (Mehcad Brooks) no longer has a secret identity as the Guardian, since he was outed last season. He seems to be headed for jail time as the season opens, but, unbeknownst to James (so far), Lena intervenes on his behalf and secures his freedom.

Winn Shott (Jeremy Jordan) is no longer a series regular, having left for the future with Mon-El (Chris Wood). We’re told that Winn will make guest appearances, but it seems that Mon-El is gone for good (or at least for now). Brainiac-5 (Jesse Rath) was left in Winn’s place, but “Brainy,” as he is affectionately known, is no Winn. I think Alex will have an easier time getting used to him than I will, because that’s how the show writers will write it.

Lena Luthor (Katie McGrath) is still around, of course, but she still seems to be taking incremental steps towards super-villaindom. We saw her relationship with Supergirl sour last season, and we know she can fabricate Kryptonite. That’s not a difficult equation to solve. As of the premiere episode, she and James Olsen are still an item, but Lena has begun to reconnect with her imprisoned mother, Lillian. One of the things that comes out in her conversations, and chess games, with Lillian is the fact that Lex Luthor was business partners with a man named Bruno Mannheim.

The name Bruno Mannheim was familiar to me, but I was hard-pressed to remember why. He’s from the comics, of course. He was the gangster leader of Intergang, which the on-line article I read said was a criminal group that acquired weapons from the planet Apokolips and used them to expand their territory. Apokolips, the home planet of Darkseid. This is a potential spoiler since fanboy theories have Darkseid and the New Gods becoming a part of this season of Supergirl. I don’t know if that’s happening, but I do know that the villains in this episode seem to have gotten their hands on strange weapons of unfamiliar technology, so anything’s possible.

A real spoiler is that actor Sam Witwer is joining the cast as Agent Liberty, the leader of an anti-alien hate group known as the Children of Liberty. Witwer played Doomsday in the series Smallville, so this was a nice bit of casting. Xander Berkeley, from The Walking Dead, is appearing as his father.

The anti-alien sentiment is brought to light in this episode, when the President of the United States (Lynda Carter) is exposed as an alien by some extremists. J’onn J’onzz tries to convince Kara that alien hate is growing. She doesn’t see or experience it because she easily passes as humans when many of them cannot. By the end of the episode, Kara knows J’onn is right.

Mercy Graves (Rhona Mitra) will also emerge as a season villain. Mercy will be a major player in National City’s growing “Human First” movement. She and her brother, Otis (a familiar Luthor henchman name), are the ones using the high-tech anti-Supergirl weapons in this episode.

The biggest spoiler of all in my reading was that new character Nia Nal (Nicole Maines) will become TV’s first transgender superhero, Dreamer. Nia was introduced in this episode as a new cub reporter who acts just like Kara did in Season 1, and now Kara is her mentor, very much in the Cat Grant mold. I thought this was a sweet look at how Kara has grown over the seasons and knew nothing about the new character or the actress. Nicole Maines is actually a transgender female, it turns out. I would rather not have read this and been surprised later.

The star of Supergirl is still Melissa Benoist, of course. And, I love her as both Supergirl and Kara Danvers. As teased at the end of last season, she will be playing her Russian counterpart this season as well, in a story arc based on the Red Son Superman comics. I’m hoping that’s not a season-long arc. Doppelganger stories have been pretty much done to death.

I would be amiss if I didn’t point out how the alien-hate movement parallels certain real-world events now. Fantasy and science-fiction authors have a lengthy history of using fictional milieus to tell socially-conscious stories, and I think that trend continues in Supergirl.

In spite of the spoilers, this looks to be another interesting season.

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