Photo: Robert Falconer (The CW)

Four seasons in, it can sometimes be hard for a network procedural to find new stories to tell. Yet the number one thing I kept writing in my notes tonight was “Oh my god, why hasn’t Supergirl thought to do this before?!?” I don’t know what happened to the Supergirl writers room between seasons, but it feels like the show has gotten a whole new dose of creativity and a whole new drive to tell politically relevant stories. “Fallout” is a really smart episode, both in terms of what it wants to say and how it wants to say it. Plus it’s an episode that utilizes the show’s world and premise better than Supergirl has done since season one.

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Rather than introduce a new villain-of-the week, “Fallout” serves as a direct continuation of the storylines from “American Alien.” The big inciting incident of the episode is that President Marsdin has decided to resign following her public outing as an alien. The public is divided over the fact that Marsdin lied about her identity (and violated the Constitution by not being a natural-born citizen of the U.S.). Some—like Kara—are sympathetic to the fact that Marsdin felt the need to hide and grateful for the good work she did as President. Others feel she represents their worst fears about alien threats. (For her part, Lena just inherently distrusts all politicians, which is a great little character detail.) But Marsdin’s resignation has also emboldened a wave of anti-alien rhetoric and violence. Conversations that were once being had only in specific corners of the dark web are starting to become a lot more public and prolific.

One of my big complaints about the past two seasons of Supergirl is the fact that the show’s increased focus on the DEO as its main—and sometimes only—location could give the show a monotonous feel. But “Fallout” offers a whole bunch of different locations in which political turmoil plays out in a whole bunch of different ways. One of them is the White House, where Supergirl seems to be a regular visitors these days, which is a concept I absolutely love. As the show has touched on before but never fully explored, Supergirl is more than just a helpful hero. She’s a major public figure, not just in National City but all around the world. It makes total sense that she would be a huge political asset in times of uncertainty. She makes a public statement to help reassure people as Mardsin steps down and Vice President Baker takes over. And she tries to win over hearts and minds by publicly defending aliens and reminding the American public that she herself was born on another planet.

Given that the episode’s opening scene ends with Kara holding a giant American flag in front of the White House while telling two rival groups of protestors that they need to talk to each other rather than fight, it’s safe to say there’s nothing subtle about Supergirl’s storytelling. But we aren’t exactly living in subtle political times. It’s great to see Supergirl take advantage of one of the best things about genre storytelling—the ability to comment on real-world issues through the prism of metaphor. The inherently earnest, empathetic, justice-minded tone of Supergirl make it a strong fit for this kind of allegorical storytelling.

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Seeing Kara take on a public political role as Supergirl is just one of the many things about this episode that felt like a smart use of Supergirl’s established worldbuilding. The other is maybe my favorite Supergirl action setpiece to date—the one in which Kara can’t find a moment to transform into her Supergirl outfit when Mercy Graves attacks LCorp while Kara is there visiting Lena. Supergirl has offered little riffs on this idea before but watching it play out in such an extended fashion was absolutely hilarious, especially as Lena kept inadvertently thwarting Kara’s plans with her rational thinking. Melissa Benoist is absolutely hilarious throughout—taking fake phone calls to cover up her earpiece conversations with Alex and pretending that all of Mercy’s men are just terrible marksman who keep missing her. The scene immediately feels unique among all the action sequences Supergirl has done, and it proves that the idea of Kara living a double life isn’t a storytelling hindrance the show needs to write around—it’s a storytelling boon, at least when Supergirl thinks to take advantage of it.

Though I was initially a bit confused by last season’s decision to have J’onn leave the DEO and become a free agent, this episode starts to hint at the benefits of that shakeup. It’s once again another opportunity for the show to free itself from its DEO-centric perspective and to get rid of the redundancy of having J’onn and Alex serve relatively similar functions on the series. In investigating the mystery of Fiona’s disappearance and discovering the Earth-first movement of the metallic “Agent Liberty,” J’onn’s story is running parallel to Alex and Kara’s, but it’s also unfolding at its own pace and with a different energy than if he were conducting this investigation via the DEO. It’s a smart way to balance Supergirl’s big ensemble.

The other big place in which it feels like Supergirl is finally taking advantage of a storytelling opportunity it has been writing off for way too long is in the CatCo stuff. For a show with a news organization as one of its major locations, Supergirl has spent curiously little time exploring the actual concept of journalism and the role it plays in our world. “Fallout” makes up for that in a big way. Though I assumed she’d be more of a small supporting player at first, Nicole Maines’ Nia Nal carries a big storyline this episode. After bravely standing up for Brainy when his image inducer fails in public and he’s attacked by bigots, Nia pushes James to take an editorial stance on the rising anti-alien sentiment rather than just trying to objectively report the facts and perspectives of both sides. James offers a thoughtful counterargument: You don’t want to risk alienating people from reliable new sources by appearing to have a political bias. But in the end he realizes that standing up for human rights (well, alien rights) isn’t the same thing as “being biased.” Again, this feels like another example of Supergirl embracing the unique storytelling potential of CatCo rather than treating the location as an albatross around its neck. It’s about time!

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Stray observations

  • I was going to say that I found it hard to believe that a bunch of alien-hating humans would listen to a man wearing a weird metal mask, but, honestly, I think weirder things have happened in our current political landscape.
  • Not only was Mercy a confidant of Lex’s, she was also a big sister figure to Lena. Lena and Mercy duke it out in this episode, but I’m sure we’ll get plenty more confrontations between them in the future.
  • We get a little flirty energy between Nia and Brainy (well, as much as Brainy is capable of flirting) as well as a hint that he recognizes her from… somewhere.
  • It was really moving to watch Brainy process the experience of being the victim of a hate crime, especially his heartbreaking line, “People fear what they do not know, but Massimo knew me.” Also, yes, all aliens deserve an Alex Danvers.
  • Watching a scene where Nia describes how her experiences as a trans woman have shaped her views towards activism and allyship was especially poignant on a day when news broke that the Trump administration is trying to strip transgender people of official recognition. Out put together a list of action steps people can take to support the trans community.

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