‘Supergirl’ 4×01 Review: “The American Alien”

Supergirl’s season 4 premiere was good. But it wasn’t great. It wasn’t The Flash, which jumped out with a thrilling premiere that seemed to get back to the heart of the show: family. Supergirl’s season premiere wasn’t disappointing. It just wasn’t as impactful.

There was a time when Mondays couldn’t come fast enough for episode after episode of what, at the time, I thought was the best DCTV show out there. Somewhere along the way, I’ve lost the excitement that I once had. And that, in and of itself, is rather disappointing.

While “The American Alien” had some intriguing elements — the introduction of an alien hate movement that has great potential for political commentary, the Luthor family game of chess, and the ball of sunshine that is Nia Nal — I don’t feel as excited about Supergirl as I once did.

And I understand that for some this might be the opposite. They might’ve found something in this premiere that they really gravitated toward. But for me — and yes I get to comment on it because this is my review — Supergirl has lost something that made it really hit home emotionally.

Much like Alex, I’m not a big fan of change. At least, significant change in the form of sending two important characters off to the future while bringing in a Walmart version of Winn because why exactly? Look, I want to like Brainy, but I just don’t see the reason why he is on this show. There’s no point. At least not right now. Again, like Alex I found him rather annoying and a reminder that this show sent Winn off to space because they ran out of story for his character.

But much like I won’t judge a football season based on one game (speaking as a Bears fan here, whose review is late because she was at the game that gave her emotional whiplash), I won’t judge a television season based on one episode. Because look where that got me last season. The first half of last season had the emotion I’d wanted to see, and then the season sputtered off in the second half.

So, wishful thinking, maybe Supergirl gets off to a slow start but then finds its footing in the second half. Maybe Supergirl puts together its best season complete with an actual journey for Kara the individual, intriguing dynamics, and manage to pull off this alien-hate storyline in a way that is impactful. Maybe Supergirl is that last place team that comes from behind to win its division the next year. Maybe it makes the playoffs. Maybe it wins the conference. Maybe it wins it all.

But another thing I won’t do? Declare a Super Bowl champion early in a season. The ball is in your court, Supergirl. I’ll be watching.
So let’s break down everything that happened in the season premiere:

Let’s Talk About Progress

Supergirl — “American Alien” — Image Number: SPG401b_0024b.jpg — Pictured (L-R): Rhona Mitra as Mercy Graves and Robert Baker as Otis Graves — Photo: Bettina Strauss/The CW — © 2018 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Or lack thereof. The focus of Supergirl’s fourth season centers around the acclimation of aliens to Earth as hate groups seek to rid their perfect world of them. To purify the Earth. Sound familiar?

Something that Supergirl has done well at times is taking real-world political issues and giving it an alien spin. And the reality that our world is facing at present isn’t pretty. It’s full of racism, hate, vitriol, a complete lack of understanding, and sometimes hopelessness.

When we find Kara at the start of the premiere, she’s remarkably happy for someone that’s been pulling double duty in Superman’s absence (even Supes gets to go on vacation, okay?). And that’s because she’s looking at the world as this place that’s taken a step forward. As a place where humans have accepted aliens among them. But the world that Kara believes she’s seeing — and one that she wants to see — is completely different from reality. And it takes J’Onn’s newfound peaceful journey to show her that.

There has always been hate. There is hate. There will always be hate. But when you have people in a position of power who are focusing on a specific group of people that share similar beliefs, you have a real threat. Enter Agent Liberty, our season’s big bad, who represents everything that is wrong with Supergirl’s world, as well as our current reality. This alien hate group looks down upon aliens and believes this world would be better without them. Someone else once felt that way. Hitler. Oh, and there’s a man in power that feels similarly. Eerie how much Supergirl is reflecting our own reality back in our faces.

While this was just the introduction to Agent Liberty and everything that is to come, it did a good job of laying the foundation for what could be a potential impactful storyline. It established Agent Liberty and his followers as a legitimate threat that are well-equipped to wage their war. It established this sense of fear that you suspect will soon spread once this begins to seep out. There’s a ton of potential here. Let’s just hope Supergirl doesn’t waste it.

What Is Kara’s Journey?

Supergirl — “American Alien” — Image Number: SPG401a_0450b.jpg — Pictured (L-R): Nicole Maines as Nia Nal and Melissa Benoist as Kara/Supergirl — Photo: Bettina Strauss/The CW — © 2018 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

A season premiere is supposed to lay the foundation for the season, and yet here I am wondering what the hell is Kara’s journey? And I’m not talking about Supergirl’s journey. I’m talking about Kara Danvers’ journey.
This premiere did a job of laying the groundwork for every damn character — from Lena to James to Alex to Nia to J’Onn to, hell, even Brainy. So may I ask what the hell is Kara’s journey?
I feel like early last season did a good job of exploring Kara’s fear of losing those she loves. Those first few episodes were brilliantly done and is exactly what I’m talking about when I mean Kara’s journey. Supergirl and Kara are two different people. Supergirl’s always going to take precedence because her name is the show, but don’t forget nor neglect Kara Danvers in all of this. Well, too late.
And the thing is, this isn’t the first superhero show to fall victim to this. Arrow did it with Oliver. The Flash did it with Barry. Sometimes these writers lose the individual in the midst of the costumed hero. But much like Arrow and The Flash are making it a focus to return to the heroes underneath the suit, Supergirl should follow suit.

Nia Nal Is Already My New Favorite

Supergirl — “American Alien” — Image Number: SPG401a_0470b.jpg — Pictured: Nicole Maines as Nia Nal — Photo: Bettina Strauss/The CW — © 2018 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

From the moment this bumbling, bubbly, brunette walked onto my screen, she had my heart. All of it. Nia Nal has appeared in less than five minutes of actual show time, and she’s already my new favorite character. Not just new character, but favorite character. There’s just something about her that’s so likable, so relatable, so Kara circa season 2.

When introducing new characters, you have to be careful to do it the right way. If you do it the right way, you have magic. If you don’t, things can go horribly wrong (usually.) And I can confidently say that Supergirl’s introduction of Nia Nal was done so well and has me craving more development.

Nia Nal hails from Washington D.C. and has previously worked for Cat Grant. Cat sent Nia to CatCo and after just a few minutes you can see why Cat loved Nia so much. She’s a mini-Kara. She’s passionate, she’s determined, she’s a tad unsure, but you can see there’s an inner confidence just begging to be unlocked.

We don’t know a lot about Nia, but we do know that she’s television’s first transgender superhero…being played by transgender actress Nicole Maines. Look at Supergirl doing this the right way! This character and what she represents is so important, and there’s so much to explore with this character. I can’t wait!

A Game Of Chess

Supergirl — “American Alien” — Image Number: SPG401a_0063b.jpg — Pictured: Katie McGrath as Lena Luther — Photo: Bettina Strauss/The CW — © 2018 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Of all the characters heading into this season, Lena intrigues me the most. Because given everything this show has shown us and what these actors and producers have told us, Lena isn’t just good or just bad. She’s a human living in this world of heroes going about her life and trying to help it in the best way she knows how. Now, we might not agree with her choices, but they’re never based on ill intent.

Lena is someone that cares deeply for people. When she cares about them, there’s nothing she won’t do. Case in point: James. James faced indictment after outting himself as Guardian, and Lena fought to save him from a future behind bars. Lena even went as far to go to her mother for help.

Lena put on a good show pretending she wanted to mend fences after everything with James when actually she was seeking information so she can blackmail the District Attorney to drop the charges against James.

Now, was it selfish? Hell yes. But was it of ill intent? No. Obviously we all believe that James shouldn’t be imprisoned because he’s trying to save the people of this city. But Lena went to extremes to keep herself from losing another loved one to prison.

Speaking of which, I have to say, strangely, that Lena and James are growing on me. Initially this thing felt forced last season. But watching how these characters interact — how James always sees the best in Lena, how Lena is willing to do anything to save James, their conversations — they’re starting to grow on me. Little by little.

As far as Lena’s journey goes this season, I think the question is how far is too far? And will Lena be able to recognize this moral dilemma?

Let’s Talk About Brainy…

Supergirl — “American Alien” — Image Number: SPG401b_0101b.jpg — Pictured: Melissa Benoist as Kara/Supergirl — Photo: Bettina Strauss/The CW — © 2018 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

When Supergirl announced that Jesse Rath would be a series regular replacing Jeremy Jordan, I was surprised, confused, and a tad annoyed. Because basically they were replacing Winn with a Walmart version of Winn because they don’t know what to do with Winn’s character anymore.

While I didn’t see what purpose Brainy served, perhaps his presence is tied to Agent Liberty and this hate movement towards aliens. Because J’Onn was right: Kara isn’t representative of the aliens living on Earth. Kara is revered because she’s a superhero and the notoriety she gets. These other aliens can’t say the same.

So this show needed another alien to represent these others that’s consistently in the forefront. J’Onn wouldn’t work because he’s already gone through this. Being an alien in this new world and getting used to the hate and having to live a secret life. Brainy is new, and he’s still acclimating to what it means to be on Earth in 2018. And this is all without interacting with the outside world. Perhaps this show will let Brainy explore the outside world and we’ll get to see how that transition coupled with Agent Liberty’s war affects him.

Supergirl airs Sundays at 8/7c on The CW.

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