Supergirl: “Strange Visitor from Another Planet” is a smartly written hour of character development

“Strange Visitor from Another Planet” is one of Supergirl’s most thematically consistent and successfully resonant episodes to date, although it’s a somewhat sharp change of pace from last week’s fairly silly episode. It’s nice, though, to see the show’s disparate parts work more or less in harmony for once. Often, the themes explored in the DEO scenes are just at odds with the tone of Kara’s scenes at CatCo, but this week that two-faced quality works to the show’s advantage as the episode focuses less on Kara and more on developing Hank Henshaw and Cat Grant. While the two major storylines are wildly different from each other, they manage to complement each other nicely instead of fighting with each other for audience investment and attention.

The episode opens with the arrival of Cat Grant’s estranged son, Adam. We learn that Cat often drafts letters to him that she never sends, and Kara—incorrigibly Pollyannaish meddler that she is—finished and mailed one. This story is actually surprisingly well done, and Kara’s lack of boundaries doesn’t go uncommented upon, even if she is forgiven in the end. She’s even rewarded with a date with Adam, which is actually the thing that I found least believable about the whole situation. Kara is consistently oblivious to male attention, is still (in this episode, even) hung up on James Olsen, and is still dealing with the fallout of the stuff that happened with Winn last week. The last thing Kara needs is another guy vying for her attention and affection, especially when it’s obviously a terrible idea—even by Supergirl standards—to go out with your domineering boss’s estranged son. Honestly, I’d much prefer to see Kara have a better sense of herself before being pushed into any romantic entanglements, much less this one.

On the bright side, we get quite a lot of Cat Grant time this week, both with Kara and with Adam, and even a scene with all three together that is surprisingly well-done. While I was appalled to start with that Kara would even write to Adam in the first place, it ultimately leads to a new closeness between Kara and Cat, and it provides new opportunities for Kara to show off some of her less super-powered skills. You’d think that the adorkable shtick might wear thin, but Melissa Benoist plays Kara as so sweet and good and kind that I never get tired of watching her.

The other major plot of the episode deals with the kidnap of a cartoonishly (think Trump-like) anti-alien Senator, Miranda Crane, by one of the White Martians who, we learn, are responsible for the extermination of Hank’s entire race on Mars. It’s good to see Hank getting some greater depth and more interesting material. The conflict with the White Martian is very personal, and there are some nicely integrated flashbacks in this episode that show us more of Hank’s history back on Mars so that we really understand how big of a deal this is. I’m not sure about the heavy-handed Holocaust allusions in the Mars stuff, which I thought were strange, but having never read the comics I don’t know if that’s a source material issue or not. I guess I just think that they could have conveyed Hank’s trauma without so clearly linking it to real tragedies like that, especially when the event is treated as shallowly as it is this episode.

Fortunately, Hank’s feelings are not treated shallowly, and he’s given a lot of screen time this week. It’s interesting to see how quickly this show burns through story, though. I’m enjoying to new timbre of Hank’s relationship with the Danvers sisters—particularly with Alex who gets some good material this week—but the dynamic has evolved almost ridiculously quickly. It works well in this episode, though, and the final bonding moment between these three was well-earned.

Both of this weeks’ stories deal with family issues and how to move on after mistakes and loss, but the real strength of the episode is that it continues to highlight Kara’s deep and radical commitment to love, forgiveness, mercy, and hope for the future. I love a kickass heroine, and Supergirl can certainly fight when she needs to, but I have even more love for a heroine who wants to heal the world around her rather than just beating it into submission. Supergirl may seem overly optimistic at times, and our post-post-modern world tends to mock that sort of thing, but in spite of its many flaws this show continues to be refreshingly fun, hopeful, and above all a necessary light in a largely cynical entertainment landscape.

Miscellaneous thoughts:

  • I’m so confused, still, about who this show’s intended audience is. When I watched it this morning on CBS’s website, I was subjected to multiple Viagra commercials.
  • “It’s worth it. Family always is.” Awww. Kara thinks of Cat as family.
  • I hate the frequency with which fictional bigots are cast as black people. Like, right, I get that it’s a metaphor for real-world oppression or whatever, but it seems like that shit is always put into the mouths of black people these days. Just an observation.
  • Senator Crane wants to build a dome around the Earth to keep the aliens out.
  • We never do find out much about Adam. Why did he drop out of college? Also, on a related note, what happened to Cat’s other kid?
  • Melissa Benoist and real-life husband Blake Jenner have a nice chemistry on screen. I don’t love the idea of Kara being pushed into a relationship, but this pair is awfully cute.

One thought on “Supergirl: “Strange Visitor from Another Planet” is a smartly written hour of character development”

  1. Re: the bit about the Holocaust stuff, it’s actually a kind of reversal of the comics.

    In that, the white Martians are second-class in a sort of Martian Apartheid, with the Greens on top.

    In response, the white Martians do violently revolt and murder the greens, but it’s a lot less one-sided than this show makes it out to be.

    Liked by 1 person

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