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Supergirl Takes on Fake News -- and the Refugee Crisis

Aliens in America

Nick Campbell

Given the political news coming down the morning that "Exodus" aired, you'd think that the White House and Supergirl were in some synergistic cahoots. That is, if I didn't think the producers wouldn't be absolutely revolted by the suggestion of such a bedfellow.

Yes, this is the semi-monthly Supergirl deep dive into how the show uses Earth-38 and their alien proxies as stand-ins for political discussion on our Earth. And, indeed, how far we've come: from a senator's suggestion that we build a dome around National City (standing in for a slightly less perplexing wall) through a president declaring amnesty to resident aliens and then to the vigilantes taking it upon themselves to root out the scapegoat of alien invasion in order to at least imprison the aliens and at worst engage in a non-human humanoid cleansing. Do you think Lillian Luthor (Brenda Strong) may also be a frustrated vegetarian painter?

The real United States is not quite at the put-them-all-on-a-pod-and-crash-them-into-space part of the narrative, but Supergirl isn't afraid to take us to their own conclusions. And while I think proponents of the politics that the show seems to oppose might feel like this episode was a bit adversarial, I encourage people from all over the political spectrum to look at this episode not as an attack on anyone; but an expression of fear. They're baring their souls to you. The premise of this episode is a simulation of the environment this show feels we're in, although with far more flying warriors possessing extraordinary un-leveraged mid-air strength. And a lot of people have been screening a similar simulation in their mind palaces for the last four months.

Supergirl, "Exodus": Rounded-up aliens stuck in a prison cell.

The Pros and Cons of Knowing All Your Aliens

In the beginning, Kara (Melissa Benoist) was pro-alien-registry. Allowing the aliens to find amnesty by letting the government know who they are and putting themselves on the grid was how they could build a relationship with a skeptical country. But keeping a long list of such people turned into a bad idea when considering the presence of a very powerful terrorist group primed to stoke a populist uprising, via capital and fear-mongering. Kara believed in the the idea of a registry itself because, in the hands of people you can trust, it has this wonderful idealism about allowing people hidden in the shadows to come out into the light. Also, save for a few instances of dark times, I imagine Kara's worldview looks something like the front of a Lisa Frank Trapper Keeper.

Because imagine if real Hank Henshaw (David Harewood) was still head of the DEO, before he became the rage-filled cyber-man that he is today. He is someone that believes, without question of individuality or method, that every alien is an enemy combatant. A registry would provide Henshaw a to-do list -- and eventually did by proxy. Sure, Lillian had to send Daddy Jeremiah (Dean Cain) to fetch it for her but Hank, had he not been tossed from a cliff into the waiting arms of Cadmus, might have been gifted this list without incident, ready for a cleansing on his mark. And we're not talking the Scrubbing Bubbles.

Supergirl draws it out to their next conclusion: using the list, aliens are summarily rounded up and forcibly removed. Jeremiah feels like he's given them a "humane" solution to the Cadmus's original plan of all death. He says that shipping them to a distant world so they can be disseminated among the stars is better than slaughter. Which may be true? But might also mean leading them into limbo, bad situations, or maybe just another planetary genocide. Americans already have a hard time knowing the political and social events of other, even contiguous countries, let along what the human rights scores of other planets are.

And that leads us to the alien refugee questions.

Supergirl, "Exodus": Alex tries to support Kara through the glass.

Aliens Dreaming of a Better Life

So the non-Dominator aliens who find their way to earth seem to generally attempt to assimilate with society -- getting jobs, going to bars, placing bets on the Knights (oh, Brian). You know, contributors to the economy. The journeys they've made cannot be brushed off as short painless ones (unless you're a Kryptonian I guess) since they've had to cross galaxies to find our pale blue dot. Like Alex (Chyler Leigh) so subtly points out, these are refugees of war, famine, dead planets, maybe even genocide. How unlucky for them to walk into another one.

Cadmus, though, sees these aliens as villains because of the general squishiness of humans. The aliens are more powerful than us. They are more willing to take advantage of our hospitality and our good nature. They are hostile to our way of life and are ready to rub it out with their yellow-sun-powered thumbs. And attacks from aliens do happen. The percentages seem small and to only happen in two places (just don't move to Metropolis or National City, I guess?) but that's enough to create the extant fear that it can happen at any time, to any one. So it's best to just get rid of everyone that might possibly possess the ability to crush a human.

It's like if Daniel from The Karate Kid (or Dre depending on the version with which you're most familiar), instead of just defending himself against his ruthless martial arts bullies, just went around craning anyone that wore a belt. It is Supergirl's position that not everything has to be the "nuke them from space" option. We can be safe and still give these sentient, humanoid people their common dignity.

Not to mention that sending peaceful aliens back to "where they came from" might not exactly be an easy solution. According to Jeremiah, it's just about sending them to space and letting someone figure it out up there. But what about the aliens that have no homes back where they come from? What about the aliens that have no planets? If they sent Kara back, would she be doomed to set up her white picket fence on a piece of space garbage where Krypton used to be? And then for the aliens whose home are wrought with peril? Do we walk them back into the lion's den just because the only way to be sure is to have no aliens at all?

Because Alex is around aliens a lot (for better or worse), she's attuned to the commonality between humans and these otherworldly people. And so she's ready to run through explosions and Lillian's aimless army to free the imprisoned aliens. I'd really like to see an episode that ends with the Danvers sisters on the couch with a pizza rather than Character Damage Control with Mon-El (Chris Wood), but there's a wonderful mini-sisters moment where the show posits that one person's extraordinary threat is another person's extraordinary benefit. Yeah, Kara can torch a city with a withering laser glare but she's also is the leading cause of wasted bullets by trembling and inevitably incarcerated bank robbers. And she can slow down bad guy spaceships.

Supergirl, "Exodus": Snapper chastises Kara for her blog-writing.

Snapper Carr Was Born for This Speech on Journalistic Integrity

Nothing in this episode was particularly subtle, but if there's anything that's especially on-the-nose, it's Snapper Carr Ian Gomez and the question of journalistic integrity. His industry on our earth has taken a pretty big beating lately. The news media has been called to task on a number of things from bias to representation to shoddy truth-telling to coverage being dictated by ratings. It's come from all sides. It's hard out here for a beat reporter.

Snapper, however, is an old school newsman, though, whose dedication to the truth far more overwhelming than getting the scoop. This isn't J. Jonah Jameson demanding pictures of that menace Spider-Man so he can spin the story into his villainy. He knows that the situation is fraught these days. Publishing isn't relegated to organizations with the complexity and resources needed for attaining the truth of the world anymore. Which is why Kara's blobs (sorry, I mean blogs) are that much more insulting to Snapper. It's this kind of vigilante journalism, unchecked and unmitigated, that is bleeding the institution he worships.

And it's these blobs (gah, blogs) that get Snapper all riled up about how fake news is killing him. To him, the underpinnings of truth-telling are under attack by people who only want to read their own side of the story and have no need for objectivity. Journalism isn't something anyone can just jump into because they know enough to be dangerous. There's a lot of responsibility and no one feels obligated to be responsible with reporting. One misattributed quote, to paraphrase him in his emphatic remarks, can put a fascist in the White House. Like I said, a bit on-the-nose from Supergirl here.

There are few characters on television that are uniquely suited to discuss the quality of news and how news media handles itself. He never says that blobs (oh forget it) are inherently bad, just that they aren't reporting. Because it's up to the media to help contextualize the news with its objectivity. Once all that is called into question, what do we have? Increasingly, it's the comments section of every news story you've ever read: people incensed enough to take the time to comment, trolls, spam bots, troll bots, and, I assume, a few good people. But they're overwhelmed by the squeaky wheels and the shouting masses. And, to Snapper, that's not news. That's just people hollerin'.

Wherever you lie on the political spectrum will probably dictate how this episode makes you feel: vindicated, attacked, victimized, sad about our current affairs. But note that there's value in that this is a manifestation of the fear the country is embroiled in, or at least a large segment of the country. Next week looks to be decidedly less political, with Mon-El's pursuers finally finding their way across the universe to find their boy (with casting that will not leave you DISAPPOOOOOOOINTEEEEEEEED). But if there's anything this episode of Supergirl proves it's that they are not afraid to make points and take stands. And that's a bold thing to do.

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