9/11 created a problem for the writers (writer?) of The West Wing in that their planned Season 3 premiere didn't include the most important event to happen to the United States in this nascent century. To not address it in some way at the time seemed gauche.
But to trash the entire season in order to include a large-scale attack on Washington, D.C., also would've been gauche and super expensive, so they whipped up a bottle episode in three weeks that involved the White House staff answering questions from high schoolers acting as proxy for the American public. It was separate from the continuity so there aren't any spoilers when I tell you they answer questions that ranged from what Islam is to what Islamic fundamentalists are equivalent to in the United States to what the basic moral of this story should be: hate the sin not the sinner.
While I'm sure the goals of the episode were of the purest intentions, imagine watching that episode and getting beat over the head for an hour by Aaron Sorkin's soapbox grandstanding. Essentially, by putting his thoughts in the mouths of people portraying policy experts, he constructed a classroom where he was the teacher and the unwashed masses of the United States were students hanging on his every word. Nothing weird about that, right? Nothing a therapist might want a peek into?
I mention this because I'm a glass half-full kind of person. "Welcome to Earth" is also kind of a preachy episode of a series that's never been afraid to voice its opinion regarding the xenophobia in our Earth's American politics. But at least no one put Supergirl (Melissa Benoist) in a room with a captive audience while she sung the glory of democracy, freedom and the unchallengeable beauty of the American way.
OK, I guess they kind of did, when she was super judge-y about Mon-El (Chris Wood) while he was locked up in a DEO cell. But at least she didn't have impromptu visual aids.
Where last season's "Strange Visitor from Another Planet" left off (the one where a politician wanted to build a wall, er dome, over National City), "Welcome to Earth" took it and ran so far, I was concerned they were going to cause a breach. And they run at you on multiple fronts.
Let's go ahead and talk about the most obvious front. They're all pretty obvious but this is the one least couched in the Supergirl mythology and actually uses the term "refugee." President Marsdin (the female president played by Lynda Carter and often frocked in very familiar pantsuits) wants to create a path to citizenship for all lifeforms, no matter how they end up on our shores. The government agency in charge of rounding up these "refugees" and putting them in inevitably-broken glass cages (namely David Harewood's J'onn J'onzz, whose justified fears come from someone that is both an alien and someone in the guise of an African-American man) is somewhat wary. Lena Luthor (Katie McGrath), hailing from a traditionally anti-alien family, is developing a "simple test" for the aliens to pass if they want to live here unpersecuted. The aliens just have to be humans to pass! Easy peasy! We all trust you now! Come out of those dark, safe corners!
Then you have Alex (Chyler Leigh) getting shown around those dark, safe corners by the new object of her lingering stares, NCPD alien detective Maggie Sawyer (Floriana Lima), to provide some nuance to the life of people that Alex typically hunts with comically large guns. Kara has an argument with Mon-El from Daxam that is a broad overview of the static between Democrats vs Republicans, right down to conservatives getting defensive when liberals get all Aaron-Sorkin-y. It was all thinly-veiled and, while everything was story-motivated, I would imagine no one on the production side of things was trying to be subtle.
I was surprised Melissa Benoist and Lynda Carter didn't have their own pro-vote PSA at the end. "We've had a lot of fun here today with all the punching and eye lasers. But be sure to cast your vote on Nov. 8. Save the aliens. #ImmigrationReform." It could've been a whole Monday night on the CW kind of thing.
At a time where the country has a degree of election fatigue that makes me feel like this is forever, Nov. 8 will never come, and maybe we're all actually dead and being punished to watch different incarnations of this rhetorical spectacle that is more nightmare circus than honestly helpful, watching an episode of Supergirl pitch its two cents can feel like a betrayal. You get it from all sides and the only relief you have is the escapism when you visit National City to watch Supergirl punch some stuff. But then Supergirl is throwing punches at an alt-right conspiracy theorist that literally flames. It couldn't've been more obvious if Flames McGee (aka Scorcher, played by Nadine Crocker) were an actual troll.
It's also important for shows to do this kind of thing. Art has a special place in reflecting the culture and distilling it in a way that isn't as scary or complicated as the real world can be. You have no life-or-death investment in how or when Kara punches ne'er-do-wells. Maybe immigration can be less culturally divisive and abject when it's plugged in to the premise of a show that involves impossibly attractive people and aliens with frost breath. It's disarming. If people get their hackles raised, you can just point out that Supergirl defeats her enemies sometimes by spinning around them really fast (also works with arm tornadoes on The Flash). If there's anything television shows have been very good at doing since the very early days, it's communicating a perspective in a way that can appeal to everyone.
Maybe you watched this episode and took away that we need to really look into amnesty for immigrants. Maybe you took away that we really do need a better vetting process for aliens that might be a threat. Or maybe you said that this bull crap, flipped a table, and told the TV that it's not the boss of you. And that's fair. The TV is not the boss of you. Yet. The singularity is coming.
While watching Supergirl wobble its way to a standing position like a cartoon yearling has been interesting, awkward, and sometimes embarrassing, there might be no greater evidence that this show is finally stable than dedicating a strong episode to a cause. It's now comfortable enough in its own skin to craft this kind of message. And for those of you that yearn for the days when politics didn't get mixed up in escapism, it's always been this way. Television has always had something to say, always been someone's megaphone. If it makes you mad, just remember that time Melissa Benoist was lying on a hospital bed with a puppet sucking the life out of her. That should put things into perspective for you.
Supergirl airs Mondays at 8/7c on The CW.
(Full disclosure: TVGuide.com is owned by CBS, the parent company of The CW.)