Supergirl returns to the CW with a new time slot and a solid new story. “The American Alien” sets up a clear new path for the rest of the year. This episode is a great example of how a show should set the table for the season. While there’s an episode-centric storyline, fans know what to expect from the rest of the season. And if season four is as smart and polished as its first episode, fans are in for a treat.
This season of Supergirl starts in a comforting, optimistic place. Like its fellow CW series The Flash, Supergirl is strongest when it keeps a light tone. That said, it’s not as if “The American Alien” is nothing but hugs. The premiere pits Kara’s optimism against a host of new problems, embodied by the alien-hating terrorist twins. She also has a conflict with a now pacifistic J’onn, as they debate the state of human-alien relations. “The American Alien” touches on all these big, hefty ideas, but leaves room for plenty of development. While there’s a clear standalone plot with protecting the now-exposed President, Supergirl effortlessly teases what’s to come.
The political parallels work really well for this episode as well. Last season stumbled a bit with Morgan Edge, its bland Trump-esque villain. However, the mysterious anti-alien vigilante is a much more interesting antagonist. The anti-alien sentiments running through this episode are reminiscent of classic X-Men issues. The conflict around humanity’s acceptance of aliens is a great well to pull from. It’s a clear parallel to the disturbingly large alt-right movement in America, but it’s also clearly defined by the show’s lore. Supergirl has refined the way it tackles political issues, in a far stronger way.
Melissa Benoist as Kara/Supergirl, CW’S SUPERGIRL (copyright Bettina Strauss/The CWThe plot lines of the side characters work great as well. The way Kara and J’onn butt heads works really well, based on their history and new status. While Alex’s leadership of the D.E.O. isn’t showcased much, her conflict with Braniac helps to ground both characters for the season. The many levels of Luthor deception at play keeps the episode intriguing, as we’re always struggling to tell where Lena stands. All of the main characters in Supergirl get a strong storyline that doesn’t distract from the hero’s main exploits.
What’s not quite as polished is Kara’s new protege, Nia. While newcomer Nicole Maines does a stellar job as the up-and-coming reporter, the importance of her character isn’t evident. The idea that Kara has now become Cat Grant because she has a mentee isn’t as fleshed out as the show seems to think. That’s not to say that Kara won’t become more like Cat, or that Nia has no potential. But in an episode with many fleshed-out storylines, Nia’s is the only one that clearly needs further development.
Overall, “The American Alien” embodies the best elements of Supergirl. It expertly weaves its political interests into a compelling, natural conflict. All of the characters have interesting storylines we can follow into the rest of the year. Not only is this an fun standalone story, but it’s also a great precursor for what’s to come. It’s unclear how every character will fit into the upcoming conflict – particularly Nia – but it’s an exciting journey to be on.
SPOILERS: It will be especially fun to see how Russian Supergirl factors into everything. When she’s done tunneling under trains, of course.