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Supergirl Talks Survivor’s Guilt and Sanvers

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Supergirl Review Season 2, Episode 4, “Survivors”

Get ready, friends and readers. Gretchen and Elizabeth are back for more Supergirl and tonight is dense with a capital ‘D’. Like Steven Universe and the Russell T. Davies era of the new Doctor Who, Supergirl grapples with painful issues underneath it’s sunny exterior. Tonight’s episode, “Survivors” is no exception. We’re talking “Red Faced” (1.06) levels of thematic significance and social commentary. We both watched it twice in a row for the sake of this recap, and we still think we probably missed some things. We keep thinking that the show has had it’s best, but we keep being pleasantly surprised.

Quick Recap

Introducing Roulette/Veronica Sinclair. We’ve both liked Dichen Lachman since Dollhouse, so we approve of this casting choice.

Flashback to Daxam being destroyed, where Mon El tries to save the Prince’s life using the Kryptonian pod, but the Prince of Daxam decides to go down with his planet and save Mon El’s life. In the present, Kara dismisses the Prince of Daxam as the ‘frat boy of the universe’. Maggie calls Alex in on an Alien dead body, and the ‘finishing each other’s sentences’ dynamic between Maggie and Alex leaves Kara a bit left out (adorably so). Kara pitches the story to Snapper, who tells her to bake it fully before coming back to him. J’onn goes to the bar to talk to M’gann about Mars. M’gann mentions a White Martian who refused a kill order totally not her except it probably is and smuggled her off world 300 years ago. Winn helps Alex track down a suspect in the alien murder, but Alex chooses to bring in Maggie instead of taking a DEO team along.

Maggie and Alex take down the suspect, but dudes in a van attack them and take the alien captive. Alex and Kara confront J’onn about his grumpies and he tells them about M’gann. Kara talks to the Alura AI about being a reporter. Mon El interrupts and depicts exactly why Winn should never teach anyone about women on Earth. Maggie has a location for the potential alien fight and tells Alex to wear something nice; they mutually admire each other’s dresses and they hold hands (our queer hearts explode). Enter Dichen Lachman as Roulette, the head of an underground alien fight ring. The first fight of the night: the alien killer Maggie and Alex are hunting vs. Miss Martian. Supergirl shows up and Roulette calls in Drega to take her down. Alex and Kara tell J’onn that M’gann is part of the fight club. Mon El smooth talks Winn into letting him out of the DEO (and we kind of ship it).

Daxamites are hedonists, so Mon El takes Winn to a bar like a true intergalactic frat boy. J’onn confronts M’gann about the fight club. She gives up Roulette/Veronica Sinclair but only after a heated discussion about the place of the past for survivors from Mars. Kara confronts Roulette, who treats the aliens as if they’re less than animals. J’onn gets snippy with Winn about taking him out on the town, but he’s really talking about M’gann. Kara has a heart to heart with Mon El about getting used to having superpowers and realizing your parents are imperfect. Mon El gives Kara a tip about how to beat the Drega. J’onn apologizes to M’gann, who was bait for Roulette to take him. Kara goes to Lena to help track down the fight club (oh the chemistry).

Roulette stages a death match between the Martians, but J’onn refuses to fight. M’gann refuses to fight as well and Roulette sics Drega on them both. Kara swoops in to save the day and wins against Drega with the information from Mon El; Maggie and Alex take down the fight ring. Kara gives a pep talk about people like Roulette being the real enemy. Roulette gets off due to “orders from on high”. Alex invites Maggie out for drinks, but Maggie has a girlfriend (OH NO!). Alex looks so disappointed. Kara turns in her article to Snapper, who is impressed that she cites Supergirl as a source but still needs her to write her again. However, Kara still makes the board! Hooray! Kara has the DEO release Mon El to her custody, who is a surrogate for her not getting the chance to teach Superman. J’onn talks to M’gann again and after he leaves, she morphs into a White Martian! Dun dun dun!

We’d kind of hoped for this, knowing her DC backstory, but still. Excellent reveal!

Best Quote: “There’s no shame in surviving…You don’t [fight] for money. You do it because you think you deserve it, for surviving, but you don’t have to punish yourself any more M’gann. You’re forgiven. We both are.”—J’onn J’onzz

Thoughts & Feelings

Buckle up kids, because there are a LOT of them.

This episode is called “Survivors”, and appropriately it spends a lot of time exploring the various ways one survives trauma. Some survivors cling to their memories and traditions (like J’onn), others use unhealthy coping mechanisms to forget (M’gann). Some try to scrape by with the dregs society offers them, like the ones in Roulette’s fighting pits. Others, like Mon El, overindulge by drinking and partying their pain away, or by adopting a flippant and cynical sense of humor as an emotional shield.

Kara throws herself into work and makes sure she’s always insanely busy between her reporter job, being Supergirl, and now mentoring Mon El the way she was originally intended to mentor Kal El. She is always sufficiently distracted from thinking about her feelings. They’re all treated as equally valid, just different, depending on the individual character, their personality, and their social circumstances. Something that is quite nice about Supergirl is how it gives such generous screen time to its ensemble cast, and fully exploring their emotions and feelings, which works so well when you have an issue as multifaceted as surviving trauma.

J’onn, and M’gann’s are center stage in this episode. J’onn craves the intimacy, community, and shared cultural experience he desperately missed as a sole survivor, and he seeks that connection with M’gann, whom he perceives to be a kindred spirit. Only he pushes M’gann too far, too soon: we as the audience know that M’gann is actually masquerading as a Green Martian out of guilt, but J’onn assumes her hesitance springs purely from survivor’s guilt. Regardless, this desire for connection amongst survivors is not foreign to survivors of all kinds of trauma. You meet someone who has suffered similarly, and your instinct is to open up too soon, without understanding where they’re coming from. For J’onn it’s also a way to reconnect with what he’s lost, to be able to be honest with someone about who he is in a way he hasn’t been able to on Earth. M’gann represents a chance for him to be a Green Martian and not just Hank Henshaw or the Martian Manhunter. M’gann is naturally reticent, which again fits a specific survival strategy. She’s closed off because of her guilt and fear of discovery. She’s hyper vigilant around J’onn because he could bring the mask she’s been using to survive down around her ears.

“I am whatever I have to be to get by”— M’gann M’orzz

We can’t wait to see what’s coming with M’gann and J’onn in the future. We’ve talked before about J’onn being coded with Jewish experiences given he is the sole survivor of a genocidal holocaust that put him and his people in the alien equivalent of death camps. With that in mind, M’gann M’orzz is the equivalent of a Nazi camp soldier who has lived live on Earth masquerading as another Jewish survivor. Can you imagine J’onn being confronted with realizing that he is still the last Green Martian and that the person he thought was one of his people is actually one of his persecutors? That’s some high quality narrative potential. Plus, it fits within the seasonal thematic undercurrent of prejudice against aliens both from humans and other aliens. It also fits nicely into the seasonal theme of extending an olive branch across old battle lines and healing old wounds, as we’ve seen with Kara and Mon El. Supergirl has always been great with building up parallel stories and themes, and we are excited to see this parallel develop further as the season progresses.

And then there’s the ongoing alien rights conversation, which the show has been attacking from all angles. Last season featured a rather simplified approach to alien and human relations, and we’re glad that this season is determined to get into the real meat of this issue. Too often, this topic is discussed with only the shallowest elements examined, and Supergirl elevates itself above the crowd by making sure to address as many aspects of the immigration analogy as possible, including the often excluded dark underbelly of being an ‘illegal alien.’ The show once again proves that it has no intention of pulling any narrative punches with Roulette’s Michael Vick reference, and it is a chilling reminder of how dehumanized (for lack of a more apt word) the marginalized members of society can be.

“Technically they’re not people, they have no rights, so how can I be breaking the law?…To these freak shows, I’m a savior. I give them a place to find glory, and earn a little cash, too. What have you ever given them. Black eyes? All you do is lock them up…See, Michael Vick made a mistake. People don’t care about aliens, but they do care about dogs…You’re not going to change their hearts any more than you’re going to change the hearts of the rich who pay good money to see blood spilled. You can shut down the matches, but only for a little while. Because you can’t stop gambling and you can’t stop beings from doing whatever it takes to survive.”—Roulette

We really like this quote for how grossly cold and realistic it is, and it echoes a commonly made joke about media in general: you can kill off all the minorities and no one makes a peep, but God help you if you kill the family dog.

The conversation doesn’t end there, either; the show also explores how those in a position of privilege are often mystified by why people stay in dangerous or abusive situations. Kara echoes a sentiment that anyone who’s ever been in an abusive relationship has heard over and over again: why don’t people just leave? Alex offers a short, yet apt answer. She reminds Kara that she has to offer them something more powerful than fear.

The situation is often a tad more complex than that, but it does address a large part of the problem; when you are in a terrible situation, the fear of what will happen to you if you leave is often just as real and palpable as the misery you feel being trapped in the awful situation. Especially in situations where you are dependent on your abuser for your livelihood. Why do the aliens try to defend Roulette at first? A lot of them are probably incapable of hiding their true forms from humans. Where else can they go? Where can they find work? Fighting for money is an awful existence, but it’s not the least bit surprising that these aliens felt they had no other option. And considering the existence of Cadmus and the growing anti-alien sentiments within National City, they have every reason to be afraid of the alternative.

Just like the alien from last week who called out the Alien Amnesty Act as being a false flag operation to make aliens easier to hunt down and oppress (or murder, if taken to the extreme), not all aliens have a reason to trust humans, and the show seems determined to explore this concept further. We applaud this direction for the season, and hope it continues to be expanded upon in such a thorough and deliberate way.

Alright, let’s get to the reason ya’ll are here: the glorious, sailing, ships. We’ll pretend you didn’t immediately skip down to this section upon opening the article. 😉

We’ll start with the potential for a Mon El/Kara Danvers relationship. We’re torn. It is possible that they might not go the relationship path, as Kara has placed herself in the position of being Mon El’s mentor as of this episode. However, it’s hard to ignore how thoroughly Kara and Mon El fit the bill for the Different Worlds trope, which is very hardwired into our cultural subconscious as a romantic trope. We go back and forth on whether we think the relationship is being genuinely seeded, or if it’s the presence of the trope that gives the illusion of the seed being planted.

We’re culturally trained to just assume that when an attractive, young, (white) man and woman breathe the same air, they are somehow destined to fall in love. But because of this expectation, and Supergirl’s deep rooted love of the slow-burn, it’s actually difficult to make a call on this as of now. That actually plays to the romance’s advantage; if the show is going to convince us that this is a good direction for Kara’s love life, they need to really build a strong foundation to build the relationship off of. We’re not thrilled that this is a potential replacement for an interracial relationship, but on the other hand, the show is not simply dropping it into the plot like an anvil in a Wile E. Coyote short. We’ll reserve judgement… for now.

On the LGBT+ side of things, the good ship SS Sanvers has officially left the dock and is unfurling the sails. Given what one of the writers has hinted at just yesterday and the events of tonight’s episode, we’re very close to declaring this ship completely seaworthy, but it won’t come easy. Alex has consistently been portrayed as someone who has a great deal of trouble opening up emotionally and trusting others to hold her up when she needs support, even with Kara and her mother. It’s going to take a crowbar and a lot of determination on Maggie’s part to pry open the Fallout vault door on Alex’s deeper emotions and feelings, if and when the relationship begins to progress.

As Alex seems to be pulling away a bit from Kara, since Kara doesn’t need her so much anymore, we dare to dream that this means Alex’s arc is going to be about her learning to open up and trust that someone else can be strong for her when she needs it, and not everyone is going to need her to be strong for them. It’s pretty clear that Alex has spent most of her life with the attitude that relying on others the way she allows others to rely on her is a tremendous weakness. Judging by her reaction to Maggie’s rejection, she is also of the opinion that opening up to others is nothing but an invitation to be hurt; she was primarily disappointed and sad, but she also seemed a bit… resigned? As if this confirmed her suspicions that this would end badly, and that she was a fool for even putting herself out there. It’s an emotion that’s difficult to describe, but you certainly felt what Alex was feeling in that moment.

This feeling.

This feeling.

In spite of Alex’s impressive emotional barricades, her crush on Maggie is vividly transparent, to our great delight. Alex is trying to Play it Cool™ and succeeding about as well as you can expect from her (that is, not at all). Maggie seems about as charmed and delighted as we are at how much she flusters Alex, though she’s infuriatingly considerably more ambiguous about whether or not the crush is mutual as of now.

Speaking of Maggie, she is Gay with a capital G, and the show is not even the slightest bit shy about telling us about it or showing us the goods. In just two episodes, we’ve briefly met one of Maggie’s exes, had her monologue about being ‘not straight’ (her words, not ours. We’d like to hear the word ‘lesbian’ though, CW. Pretty please?), been told of a current flame, seen her charm the pants off Alex at a masquerade, and been shown her kissing her current girlfriend point blank (she’s not Batwoman… at least we don’t think she is. We dare to dream!).

That little smile...Alex is smitten.

That little smile…Alex is smitten.

And you know what’s refreshing about all this? You almost *never* see this sort of blunt, flirtatious, casual dating behavior in a wlw character except in television shows specifically made for that audience. Maggie Sawyer is a bit of a player, and a devastating flirt. She never led Alex on, but she’s clearly more used to dating women than Alex and knows how to draw her in. It creates a nice contrast, especially since Alex is normally so confident in social situations. Maggie’s debonnaire, dashing confidence isn’t just making the audience swoon, and it’s definitely throwing Alex off kilter. Alex’s confusion over whether going to the fighting pit was a date was adorable, and she’s terrible at hiding her interest. You could see the effort that went into asking Maggie to join her for a casual drink, and she was visibly crushed disappointed when she encountered Maggie’s girlfriend.

And you know what? We like this slow burn approach, and we’d even say we’re grateful for it. Maggie having a girlfriend might be a roadblock, but it’s a story. It’s tension. It means that a real conversation must happen at some point for the relationship to continue. We might even get *gasp* character development! In a wlw relationship! Between two adults! THE SCANDAL.

*ahem*

Alex will have to work for a relationship with Maggie if that’s what she wants, rather than having it dropped down into her lap from on high like Kara in her pod. It gives this relationship a distinctive story arc and a goal, while neatly short circuiting any complaints that an Alex x Maggie relationship is “too rushed” or “didn’t make sense,” as we in the wlw fandoms are all to used to hearing from non queer fans regardless of foreshadowing. It’s also consistent with the tone of the show; romance is not a priority on Supergirl, it is a subplot, and it is a deliberately paced one at that. Sanvers still isn’t canon yet, but it’s undeniably seeded, and the deliberateness of it is clearly a conscious decision on behalf of the writing team.

Elizabeth is still quite jaded cautious about trusting in a new wlw ship, but as you can probably glean from the tone of this article, she is very quickly being won over by this one, and the wait for next week’s episode will be one of the longest of her life. We’re like Alex when Maggie asked if she was going soft on her.

Read: HELL YES.

Read: HELL YES.

From the not-so-canon corner, Lena continues to flirt with Kara every chance she can get, even giving her an all access pass to her office. Elizabeth was skeptical of this one at first, but their last encounter before tonight’s started to sway her, and this week she’s genuinely wondering if perhaps this ship has some wind in its sails. It is difficult to overstate how much Lena rolls out the red carpet for Kara, especially when she really shouldn’t be. We know she said that she wanted media transparency in the company in order to regain the public’s trust, but Kara popped in after dark asking for the world on a silver platter, and Lena gave it to her along with a Fast Pass to get into her office building whenever she damn well pleases. Like, ummmmm?

We did get a very ominous statement out of Lena about Kara owing her a proper favor ‘when the time comes,’ which is the first time we’ve seen a compelling reason for Lena to give her so much leeway, but that statement doesn’t really make sense unless Lena knows that Kara is Supergirl. Kara Danvers is just a junior level reporter; what could she possibly have to offer Lena that would be worth the information about Roulette that Lena offered her? It’s quite the enigma.

Currently, we have no idea how Lena fits into the larger story, or if she’ll have a villain arc (Gretchen hopes no, Elizabeth says YESSS), but we appreciate the flirting and blushing and purring tones she uses to talk to Kara. It’s Xena levels of subtext and we’re not complaining. Even with canon ships existing on television now, there is a long tradition of femslash spawned from subtext, intentional or otherwise. To have somewhat ambiguous subtextual relationships also gives the audience more opportunities to engage themselves in the plot. Where other shows like Once Upon a Time seem almost aggressively determined to cut off every possible opportunity for The Gays to interpret themselves into the plot, Supergirl has always provided a nice amount of ambiguity for fandom to do its thing

It feels as though the writing team knew they could only give us one canon wlw ship (Maggie x Alex) and so decided to give us the Lena x Kara subtext as a bonus gift. It reminds Elizabeth a bit of the Faberry/Brittana dichotomy, which is a compliment despite appearances. Once again, Supergirl’s large number of female characters serves the wlw audience well, and we hope it continues to serve us well as the season progresses.

Random Thoughts

  • It was nice to see actual proof that the Daxamites are more than what Kryptonite prejudice has led Kara to believe. Mon El was willing to sacrifice himself for the prince and the prince for him.
  • Now we know how the Kryptonian pod got to Daxam. There were Kryptonian emissaries there because of the war Kara spoke about in the previous episode.
  • Garata is soccer but with dragons? Sign us up.
  • J’onn: “It’s personal.” Alex: “I didn’t know he did anything personal.” Us too, Alex. Us too.
  • Snapper Carr continues to delight us. He has the right combination of pushing Kara to be better and general grumpiness. He continues to push Kara to grow as a person and as a writer, though with a much different approach than Cat took. He is not replacing Cat in Kara’s life, but he is a welcome addition to Kara’s ever-growing list of excellent life mentors. It’s no wonder she’s taken it upon herself to mentor Mon El; between Cat, J’onn, and Snapper, she has had some excellent teachers herself.roulette
  • We appreciate that Kara and Alex didn’t hesitate to tell J’onn about M’gann in the pit, and that he so readily opened up to them about her in the first place.
  • We wouldn’t have picked Dichen Lachman to be a villain, but she was fantastic. The red dress, heels, and snake tattoo? Lady Killer.
  • Lena just seems to randomly exist to flirt with Kara and provide necessary information. Not that we mind, but we’re starting to wonder what her role is, especially after the look she had on her face when Kara left. Is she the orders from “on high?” Was it just wondering what Kara was involved in and who this ‘friend’ was? Inquiring minds what to know!!!
  • We also want to know what the ominous ‘favors’ are that Lena will ask for.
  • Winn teaching Mon El about women???? Lord save us all.
  • Speaking of Lord, it seems like he won’t be showing up this season, since we haven’t seen anything about him.
  • Can we talk about the Winn x Mon El subtext? It’s like the Supergirl writing team pulled a Rebecca Sugar this season. We’re not complaining.
  • So do Daxamites not have the Kryptonian immunity to alcohol? Obviously Mon El wasn’t falling down drunk like Winn, but he was doing shots; the after effects of alcohol are really the only reason to do that, it’s not really a ‘drink for pleasure’ activity.

In Conclusion

Supergirl keeps getting better and better, which means our expectations are getting raised higher and higher as each episode airs. Thus far, each episode has stepped up to the challenge, and in many cases much more than we ever could have anticipated. While we didn’t discuss it in detail during this week’s recap, Kara’s personal development continues to impress and inspire. She’s made the board! Hooray!

The large ensemble cast means that no given character gets too much screen time per an episode, but the show has managed to strike a really nice balance for everyone, and it never feels like someone is being deliberately left out of the plot. Moving everyone to the DEO was a very smart writing move, and it ensures that every character gets at least a scene or two, because all their lives are wonderfully intertwined. You really feel like Kara, Alex, J’onn, and Winn are good friends, working together as a team for the same lofty goals. Newcomers Maggie and Mon El are not yet integrated, but feel appropriately included. We are still annoyed that James is getting sidelined at the start of the season, but hopefully his debut as the Guardian will remedy that soon. But that is one medium-sized complaint next to a very long list of things the show gets right. It’s pulling a solid A- average for us, and that’s pretty damn good considering how demanding we are of our television shows.

In a show that could have easily disappeared under the weight and speed of its own narrative, Supergirl is holding up valiantly. The seasonal arc revolving around the Alien Amnesty Act and all of its elements and consequences is a compelling backdrop to the character development, the fight scene choreography continues to impress, the music is still wonderfully memorable, the guest stars are giving it all they’ve got, and a gay ship might have finally sailed. All in all, Supergirl’s sophomore season is off to a phenomenal start, and we can’t wait to see where the show takes us next week and beyond. Feel free to wildly speculate in the comments section in the meantime. See ya’ll next Tuesday and until then, enjoy the Sanvers gifs!

HAND HOLDING.

HAND HOLDING.


Images courtesy of the CW

Author

  • Gretchen

    Bi, she/her. Gretchen is a Managing Editor for the Fandomentals. An unabashed nerdy fangirl and aspiring sci/fi and fantasy author, she has opinions about things like media, representation, and ethics in storytelling.

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