I’ve always been a sucker for sci-fi as metaphor. It’s what first drew me to stuff like Star Trek and X-Men when I was a kid, and I still get a kick out of watching genre shows tackle real world issues through a heightened lens. Though Supergirl has explored themes of feminism and prejudice before, “Welcome To Earth” ramps things up into full-on allegory mode. When an Alien Amnesty Act extends protection to all alien visitors, our heroes must confront their own prejudices and biases around extraterrestrial immigrants. And while it’s about as subtle as an anvil when it comes to making its points, Supergirl maintains its newfound second season confidence as it moves into pointedly political territory.
The basic arc of “Welcome To Earth” is a familiar one: Kara starts the episode as a bleeding-heart pro-alien supporter while Alex considers Kara, Clark, and J’onn to be the only trustworthy aliens on the planet. But by the end of the episode, the Danvers sisters come to realize the situation isn’t as black and white as they want it to be; they both have internal prejudices they need to confront. It’s a fine, if familiar story for the show to explore, but it’s the smaller details that elevate the episode and prove that—as is often the case—Supergirl is actually much smarter than its on-the-nose dialogue would suggest.
For one thing, “Welcome to Earth” is interested in intersectionality, although it doesn’t name it as such. But the idea that people can suffer from multiple forms of oppression is brought up by both J’onn and newcomer Detective Maggie Sawyer (Floriana Lima). J’onn hasn’t just faced the discrimination of being an alien, he’s experienced the human race largely through the perspective of a black man. That’s made him even more aware of the depths of prejudice and hatred the human race is capable of. (It’s an idea the show toyed with back in “Childish Things” too.) So even though he’s an alien, he’s not completely in favor of the Amnesty Act. He’s worried about potentially dangerous aliens being emboldened to come forward, but he’s also worried about the way humanity will react when less human-like aliens step out of the shadows.
Maggie, meanwhile, is a human who staunchly supports the rights of aliens because she feels connected to the alien community. As a gay woman of color growing up in Nebraska, she knows what it feels like to feel ostracized and alone, and that makes her sympathetic to the struggles of aliens. Though the bluntness of the episode’s dialogue is generally a weak spot, allowing both J’onn and Maggie to explicitly discuss their experiences as members of minority groups is hugely effective; it ensures Supergirl isn’t just discussing prejudice through metaphor while pretending real-world issues like racism and homophobia have been resolved, as many genre series do.
It also helps that Maggie Sawyer is the most exciting non-Superman addition to the Supergirl cast in a long time. Plucky but in a no-nonsense way, Lima brings a new energy to the series and she’s a great match for Alex. There’s a ton of flirty energy as the two women butt heads but eventually come to respect each other’s skills. Alex has the resources and broader perspective of the DEO while Maggie offers the street smarts of a local detective. Lima is a series regular this year, so we have plenty more Alex/Maggie team-ups (and maybe more?) to look forward to.
But of course the more hyped appearance in “Welcome To Earth” is the casting of former Wonder Woman Lynda Carter as President Olivia Marsdin. She’s a little underused in the episode itself (most of her interactions with Supergirl happen off screen), but just the imagery of the former Wonder Woman playing the female President on the biggest female-led superhero show on TV is incredibly powerful. Melissa Benoist puts her comedy skills to good use as Kara nerds out about meeting one of her idols. And along with the requisite Wonder Woman nods (Marsdin references her “other jet,” Kara performs a Wonder Woman-esque twirl to put out the flames on her suit), President Marsdin also provides a strong through-line for the episode.
In its first season, Supergirl often struggled to balance the very different stakes and storylines of its CatCo and DEO plots. But positioning Kara as a reporter rather than an assistant this year allows Supergirl to immediately strike up a better balance. Rather than cutting back and forth between two unrelated storylines, Supergirl can now have Kara explore the same issue from both her superhero and civilian perspectives. As Supergirl, she’s the face of alien/human relations and a staunch supporter of the Amnesty Act. But as a reporter she’s tasked with objectively reporting on a different point of view, which forces her to do some serious self-reflection.
Assigned to interview Lena Luthor about the Amnesty Act, Kara writes what amounts to an op-ed against LCorp’s new alien detection device. It turns out that the empathy and strength that serve her so well as a superhero actually wind up impeding her skills as a journalist. She wants to fight the good fight when her job is simply to report the facts. It’s a good flaw for the series to give Kara in her fledging days as a reporter. She’s not dumb or unqualified, but she hasn’t fully shaped her journalistic voice yet. And in his own curmudgeonly way, Snapper is helping her find it.
Unfortuantely, Kara’s natural empathy is the reason the other major thread of “Welcome To Earth” falls flat. Though initially sympathetic to the plight of the PodMan after he attacks her, Kara turns cold when she learns he’s from a planet called Daxam. It turns out Daxamites are the Hatfields to the Kryptonian’s McCoys (or vice versa), and Kara immediately assumes that the escaped Daxamite has to be behind the attacks on the President. Her prejudice stops her from investigating things further, which prevents her from realizing the true assassin is actually Scorcher, a pissed off alien who thinks the Amnesty Act is akin to Alien Registration.
The thing is, Kara has always been so insanely compassionate towards her enemies that I have a really hard time believing her hatred of Mon-El. The idea that even empathetic people have prejudices is a potentially powerful one for the series to explore, but that would require a lot more nuance than Supergirl is able to muster here. The existence of Daxam comes completely out of nowhere (even Alex has never heard of it), which means Kara’s prejudice is both introduced and resolved in a single episode. Far from a shocking reveal, it feels like a contrived narrative hurdle to be easily overcome.
But despite its flaws, “Welcome To Earth” is probably the most thematically rich episode of Supergirl to date. Its discussions of immigration, xenophobia, and prejudice are incredibly relevant (as is its depiction of a female president), and it introduces a meaty topic on which to center the season. While Evil Twin Astra and her Fort Rozz escapees were clearly designed to provide an easy source for villains-of-the-week, the Alien Amnesty Act is far less cut and dry. Kara, J’onn, and Alex have very different opinions of the Act and the show is both sympathetic and critical of all of them. As Kara realizes when she’s asked to try out Lena’s alien detection device, there are certain privileges she doesn’t want to give up in this new era of human/alien cohabitation. And more so than her one-note hatred of Daxamites, that’s a much more interesting shortcoming of Kara’s to explore.
- While J’onn may be the Last Son of Mars, it turns out the red planet has a Last Daughter too. M’gann M’orzz (a.k.a Miss Martian) works at a dive bar that caters to aliens and she seems less than ecstatic about running into another Martian survivor.
- Once he actually gets a proper scene, I quite like Chris Wood as Mon-El. His more abrasive attitude is a nice contrast to Kara’s optimism.
- Have the Superman/Supergirl comics ever explored aliens in this metaphorical way before? It strikes me as a very X-Men storyline with shades of Civil War thrown in for good measure.
- So has President Marsdin always been an alien or is an alien impersonating the President?
- Writer Derek Simon confirmed on Twitter that this episode is indeed named after Will Smith’s famous Independence Day quote.
- “How did anyone even vote for that other guy?”