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Following the events of last week’s “Homecoming,” the alien community is under attack. Jeremiah Danvers, Alex and Kara’s long-lost father, stole the alien registry from the DEO on behalf of Project Cadmus, a shadowy organization led by the virulently xenophobic Lillian Luthor. Cadmus’ goal is frightfully simple: round up all the aliens living on Earth and forcibly deport them from the planet. If this premise sounds suspiciously similar to current events, well, you’re not wrong for thinking that. In fact, “Exodus” is quite explicit in drawing the parallels for politically “woke” audiences—what’s more, it allows them the catharsis of hissing at the alien-deporting bad guys and rooting for Team Supergirl to save the alien immigrants from being deported.
Superheroes and politics can be a tricky mix. You risk either trivializing the real-life social issues you wish to explore (if not directly advocate for) or adding a political element to characters who can’t support that weight. But given the fact that Supergirl and much of her supporting cast are aliens in the figurative and literal sense, a storyline in which they’re under threat by anti-alien extremists is a natural fit. “Exodus” episode writers Paula Yoo and Eric Carrasco underline the existential threat with a fantastic opening scene focusing on a seemingly average white suburban family taking a road trip: the mom and dad are singing along (badly) to a Bruno Mars song as the daughter sits in the back seat mortified. They’re pulled over during a seemingly innocuous traffic stop in which the dad comments on the courteousness of the officer (perhaps he would be less so if the dad were a different skin color, but that’s a topic for another day). Cadmus agents suddenly appear on the scene to detain the family, who are revealed to be aliens. And with that, “Exodus” sets a mood of menace that feels as real as the front page of the morning paper.
With that said, however, “Exodus” isn’t just a bleeding heart polemic against extreme vetting. By grounding its message in character and plot development, the episode still manages to entertain those unaware of—or unconcerned with—the political overtones. In particular, “Exodus” serves as an ideal platform for Alex Danvers, Supergirl’s Kick-Ass Sister. Jeremiah’s betrayal at the end of the previous episode has hit Alex the hardest, and in response she hits the bad guys even harder. She beats up a Cadmus flunky in the DEO interrogation room in order to get information about the organization’s whereabouts (I’d point out the inefficacy of torture as a means of getting actionable intelligence, but that’s yet another topic for another day.) Disturbed by Alex’s lack of composure and lack of judgment, J’Onn disguises himself as Jeremiah to test Alex on a particular point: would she betray the DEO for her father? When Alex “flunks” the test, J’Onn reveals himself and takes her off the case. But this doesn’t stop Alex, oh no! Instead, she decides to break into Cadmus and find her father herself.
This season of Supergirl has emphasized the relationship between Alex and Maggie (and rightfully so) and their strength together, but “Exodus” reminds us that both are strong, capable women in their own right. In particular, Alex is very much the engine of action in this episode. First she finds Jeremiah, whom she discovers is deporting aliens on a slave spaceship of sorts so that Lillian won’t slaughter them en masse. Then she lectures her father about his moral expediency (he believes deporting the aliens will prevent Cadmus from targeting his family) and prevails upon him to stop the launch. Lillian reveals that the launch can’t be stopped, but that only prompts a badass Alex moment in which she sets off the explosive charges she’s planted and frees the alien prisoners on the ship. However, Alex is unable to get them off the ship before it launches, which means this is a job for Supergirl. Even this moment counts as a win for Alex, as she provides the sisterly encouragement Supergirl needs to stop the ship in a superhuman display of strength and endurance. On paper, this moment sounds cheesy but the fact that it works on screen is a testament to our investment in the characters and the acting abilities of Melissa Benoist and Chyler Leigh. Whether the scene calls for a swift punch or a good cry, Leigh can do it all.
It shouldn’t be too surprising that Team Supergirl is successful in foiling (as a news broadcast pointedly puts it) “a terrorist plot to send registered aliens back to space.” But that doesn’t mean that all’s well that ends well. One of the long-lasting repercussions that stems from “Exodus” is Kara’s firing from CatCo after she publishes a blog (or “blob,” as Mon-El would call it) about the alien deportations. The grounds on which Snapper, Kara’s Lou Grant-ish boss, fires her are actually pretty solid from a journalistic POV: he didn’t want to run a story that was as inadequately sourced as Kara’s. In his mind, Kara’s piece—even if the facts turned out to be correct—was an example of the sort of “fake news” that “puts a fascist in the White House.” As with the alien deportation plotline, Yoo and Carrasco pull no punches in their political commentary. But in doing so, they spotlight how Kara’s investigative methods leave something to be desired.
On the one hand, I won’t miss CatCo as a regular Supergirl setting; since the departure of Cat Grant early this season, the place had become a far less interesting to visit. Also, with Winn becoming a full-time DEO agent and James becoming a full-time superhero, there was really no one to tether Kara emotionally to CatCo. Unless you count Snapper, which I don’t, although to be fair, his final speech to Kara on the ethics of journalism was affecting. But while CatCo has been duller than deadsville this season, I’m concerned that its loss will mean the series will lose its humanistic focus. Does limiting Kara to her activities as Supergirl make for a better Supergirl? Or maybe it’ll lead to a closer working relationship with Lena Luthor, who encouraged Kara to self-publish the blog in the first place? It appears we’ll soon find out.