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In many modern works of science fiction, an alien life force comes to Earth in order to conquer what it considers inferior beings. This week’s episode of Supergirl reverses the paradigm by having its alien antagonist—its Parasite, if you will—motivated to save the planet by any means necessary. It’s hard to miss the strong political undertones in “Changing,” as a climate change scientist named Dr. Rudy Jones is invaded by a 5,000 year old alien slug that feeds on the life force of others. Jones goes on a killing spree in which he targets climate change deniers that he’s tangled with in the past. The show isn’t exactly subtle in depicting the deniers as curt, crass jerks who probably had what was coming to them. Still, Supergirl is obligated to save these civilians, which she attempts to do before she (along with the Martian Manhunter) are drained of their powers and rendered comatose. Therefore, new heroes in the form of Mon-El and the Guardian (aka James Olsen) have to step into the breach and fight the monstrous Parasite.
As opposed to the hapless and lackluster crooks Supergirl fought last episode, the Parasite represents a step up in class as far as super villains are concerned. As the best known version of the Parasite, Rudy Jones was, in DC Comics continuity, a lowly and dim-witted janitor who gets his powers from a lab accident. By contrast, the Rudy Jones in Supergirl, as mentioned earlier, is a climate change scientist who discovered the alien while on a research mission in an artic environment; if your first thought is that sounds a lot like the plot to John Carpenter’s The Thing, you wouldn’t be the only one. That isn’t necessarily meant as the criticism, as the lab accident origin from the comics was hardly original either. While the origin may be derivative, episode writer/showrunner Greg Berlanti gives us an interesting interpretation of the character with a motivation that’s grounded in concerns (i.e., global warming) that many people have. Visually, the supercharged version of the Parasite resembles the one from the comics, along with a homage to Marvel Comics’ Venom. Instead of a long, Gene Simmons-like tongue, however, its…well, you should watch the episode so you can see for yourself.
Fighting a parasitic life form may have been the A Plot to this week’s Supergirl, but the interpersonal drama was just as compelling. For my money, the most compelling of these plotlines has been Alex’s coming out. The show has handled it with remarkable insight and sensitivity this season and “Changing” is no exception. Maggie encourages Alex to come out to her family, which Alex does in a tender—bittersweet even—exchange with Kara. Alex relates to her sister that she always knew she had feelings for other women but tried to suppress them; she talks about having a best girlfriend who she liked but subsequently pushed away rather than admit to herself that she might be gay. Naturally, Kara is sympathetic to her sister’s story but, to the show’s credit, isn’t the perfect queer ally, expressing enough doubt and confusion to make Alex suspend the conversation. A second heart-to-heart talk allows the two to reconcile and to have Kara conclude the conversation by saying, “I’ll get the alien, you get the girl.”
But in something of a twist, Alex doesn’t get the girl. Alex does finally tell Maggie how she feels for her and—in a moment of catharsis for people like me who’ve been waiting for this moment for episodes—they kiss. A lesser show may have just made that the couple’s “happily ever after” moment, but Supergirl doesn’t resort to that sort of cheap sentimentality. Instead, it has Maggie break it gently to Alex that now might not be the best time for them to date, given the recency of Alex’s discovery about her own sexuality. This seeming rejection devastates Alex, who later sobs to Kara that she was a fool for coming out in the first place and rejecting her own feelings in the process. It’s a heartbreaking scene that I’m tearing up about even as I recount it now. Credit again goes to Berlanti (who himself is gay) for writing a wholly believable queer character amidst a world of unbelievable super powered aliens and the like.
In addition to Alex, James Olsen has a “coming out” of sorts as the show reveals his superpowered identity as The Guardian. I’m on the record as having reservations about this plotline, but to be fair this episode manages to make some hay from its premise. In particular, the change to the James-Winn dynamic, in which they become crimefighting bros, has definite potential. My only two critiques: 1) I wish the costume was less monochromatic, especially given how colorful it is in the comics and 2) I wish his Guardian secret ID didn’t fall into the “gruff voiced” cliché that so many non-powered superheroes do; it is literally and figuratively grating to hear that voice. Also, the show continues to make fun use of Mon-El as a lovable bad boy who’s not evil but doesn’t have the strict moral code Supergirl does. There’s a fun scene where she confronts Mon-El after he tries to shake down an alien in service of a bookie; as he reasonably points out, he needs money and this seemed like a good way to get it without harming anyone. “Changing” gives him a nice character arc as he evolves from dilettante to reluctant hero. We’ll see how that storyline evolves after his abduction by Cadmus…
Overall, a strong episode of the show that’s chockfull of interesting characters and developments—we didn’t even have time to delve into the J’Onn/M’gann relationship. The only thing that prevented this episode from getting a higher grade than it did: so Supergirl just killed the Parasite and just shrugged it off?! After all the sturm und drang from last season about her never taking a life under any circumstances? And she…just casually blows up the Parasite? That was…weird. That aside, though, still a good episode.