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In 1950, The Martian Chronicles, a short story collection by the incomparable Ray Bradbury about human colonists on Mars, was published. In 2017 “The Martian Chronicles,” an episode of Supergirl by Gabriel Llanas and Anna Musky-Goldwyn about a White Martian attack, aired on the CW. Titles aside, this week’s episode of Supergirl has little in common with Bradbury’s collection. Still, the reference is appropriate as “The Martian Chronicles” puts a spotlight on the relationship between Green Martian J’Onn J’Onzz (aka Hank Henshaw/the Martian Manhunter) and White Martian M’gann M’orzz (aka Miss Martian).
When we last left J’Onn and M’gann, the two melded minds and had a spiritual experience which led to a reconciliation between traditional enemies. As M’gann warned J’Onn, however, her people would come looking for her to exact their revenge. As it turns out, that revenge is embodied in the form of her former betrothed Armek (Terrell Tilford). (For the record, the Armek that appears in this episode bears no resemblance, especially physically, to the DC Comics character of the same name.) Like M’gann, Armek is a White Martian; unlike M’gann, Armek is very much a White Martian supremacist who believes that his wife-to-be betrayed her people. Before Armek can take M’gann back to Mars, Supergirl swoops in for the save. J’Onn prevails upon M’gann to come with him and Supergirl to the DEO so that they can face the White Martian threat together. Though she thinks about running at first, M’gann reluctantly agrees to accompany the superhero pair. However, it turns out that the M’gann they thought they had was actually a different White Martian when the real M’gann reveals herself in the DEO control center (which remains incredibly easy to enter for a top-secret facility).
From there, “The Martian Chronicles” becomes a bottle episode as the bulk of the action—both in a figurative and literal sense—takes place at the DEO. With two White Martians, Armek and an accomplice, on the loose, J’Onn shuts down the exits in order to contain them. However, because Martians can assume any form, they can be anyone among the crew members. Writers Llanas and Musky-Goldwyn ratchet up the dramatic tension inherent in this set-up, while the principal actors from Melissa Benoist on down do a fine job of relaying those tensions. Even the DEO “redshirts”—or “blackshirts” as the case may be—are given a more prominent role to play than is typical of an episode of Supergirl. As Agents Vasquez (Briana Venskus) and Demos (Curtis Lum) remind us, it’s only human (and perhaps even alien) nature that fear and paranoia of a hidden foe would set in.
Since the Martian race was first introduced in the Supergirl universe, the plots involving J’Onn and M’gann’s plight has been heavy with allegorical references to the slavery of black people in the US and the Holocaust. With that in mind, the storytelling decisions made in “The Martian Chronicles” that seemingly resolve the M’gann subplot (at least for now) are a bit curious. For instance, M’gann’s decision to reject her White Martian upbringing and heritage in order to adopt the visage of a Green Martian could be seen as a problematic instance of cultural appropriation. It implies that M’gann believes she can wipe away the atrocities committed by her and her people by identifying as a Green Martian. Moreover, her character’s decision to become a civil rights leader of sorts on Mars as she seeks to educate White Martians about the inherent goodness of Green Martians could be seen as paternalistic if it wasn’t made clear that M’gann was risking her life in doing so. Clearly the script had similarly good intentions too, but the resolution to M’gann’s story arc (assuming it is the end) rang a bit false.
Having said all that, “The Martian Chronicles” isn’t especially interested in being contemplative. Instead, what we get with this episode is wall-to-wall action in every sense of the phrase; in fact, it’s easily the most fight heavy episode of recent memory. Nothing about the White Martians and their plan of attack—blowing up the nuclear reactor inside the DEO, um, just because—is subtle but sometimes that’s okay when a superhero show is concerned. And to be fair, the show manages to insert enough scenes of heartfelt character drama to remind you that these aren’t Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots but people with relatable human feelings and foibles.
The two subplots in this episode revolve around Kara’s relationships with Alex and Mon-El. With respect to Alex, Kara feels left out in the cold after her sister forgets her birthday in order to spend time with her new girlfriend Maggie. (The fact that both Alex and Maggie are into Barenaked Ladies is slightly endearing, if far-fetched.) As for Mon-El, she’s still processing the revelation from last episode that he has feelings for her. Both plots don’t exactly present Kara in the best of lights, as she comes across as somewhat needy and possessive of Alex as well as flighty and indecisive as it regards Mon-El. By the way, I don’t regard these developments as a negative per se. In fact, I see them as a net positive for the character anytime the writers can break her of being too much of a goody two shoes. My only complaint with the budding Mon-El romance, like the brief dalliance with James that preceded it, is that it makes Kara seem like a sexless prude unsure of what she wants. It’s perfectly fine not to date these boys if she doesn’t want to, but make a decision and stick with it girl!