SUPERGIRL Review 2.21 “Resist”

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In what is now essentially Supergirl tradition, “Resist” kicks off the first of a massive two-part finale, beginning the culmination of this season’s themes and character arcs while also acting as its own contained story. Leaving off from last week’s stinger, the Daxamite invasion threatens to upend both National City’s way of life and the season’s own immigrant/refugee metaphor, but despite skewing close to muddying its own parable beyond repair, the episode manages to build on enough of its prior groundwork to make it function. It’s a damn good episode, filled to the brim with kick-ass women at every turn, but perhaps the best thing about it is the return of the show’s former heart & soul, Calista Flockhart.

Welcome back, Cat, even if it’s just for now.

We open with the full-scale invasion of Earth, as Maggie and Alex fend off Daxamite soldiers who look a bit too much like Guardian. Side note, for a comicbook show this bright and cheery, Supergirl sure does have a penchant for boring black outfits, and it gets even more confusing when Guardian actually fights them! Still, the infiltration extends to the D.E.O. as Alex helps the episode ramp up early, shooting alien invaders as she jumps backward out of a window with Supergirl showing up just in time to catch her. Team Supergirl and the remainders of the new resistance hole up at the alien bar in Superman’s absence (J’onn is still on the road to recovery, so it’s up to Alex and Kara to step up and lead things), as a handful of new dilemmas arise. One, how do they stop the alien invaders? And two, how do they get Mon-El and Lena Luthor off Queen Rhea’s ship?

The answer comes in the form of an unlikely ally: Lillian Luthor, Lena’s ruthless mother and the leader of alien-persecuting villain group CADMUS. She’s partially there to say “I told you so” – she’s technically correct about fearing an alien invasion, an odd initial reversal to the show’s narrative, but we’ll get to that – although she’s mainly looking to make up with Team Supergirl in order to save her daughter, at least on the surface. Before accepting her help though, Supergirl’s new challenge comes in the form of rescuing two of her heroes aboard Air Force One, Lynda Carter’s President Olivia Marsden (now complete with Hillary affectation) and her seeming media mogul chum Cat Grant, as they fly towards the Daxamite danger, beaming Rhea messages about terms of surrender. Rhea doesn’t comply of course, despite Cat’s speech about how women ought to be the negotiators in a world of dick-measuring men (I’m paraphrasing, but that’s pretty much the gist of it), because Rhea ultimately belongs to the ruling class.

The Daxamite mothership brings down the President’s plane, and while Supergirl is able to save Cat, the President is busy saving herself. We finally get the origin story we’ve been waiting for, as President Marsden reveals herself to Supergirl and the D.E.O. as an alien refugee, one from a world where oppressive rule was established overnight. “New Daxam” is essentially her new nightmare, a retread of the colonial horrors she escaped as a child, and this leader of the free world is willing to do whatever it takes to protect her new people. Yes, even if it means blowing up the Daxam ship with Mon-El and Lena still aboard; collateral damage for a greater cause.

Alex, ever the soldier, wrestles with the idea of using the D.E.O.’s anti-aircraft laser on the mothership, but ultimately comes down on the side of her orders. It’s a tough decision, one where she puts herself in Supergirl’s shoes and is forced to imagine Maggie on board instead of Mon-El and Lena, but there’s too much at stake for either answer to be the clear one.

Supergirl is just as torn. Why wouldn’t she be? She’s caught in an unprecedented dilemma, having to choose between two people she loves the most and the fate of the entire planet, but here’s where Supergirl gets back to its roots. After an entire season’s worth of Cat Grant pop culture references condensed into twenty minutes (she claims to have fostered peace between Kanye and Taylor Swift, and honestly, I believer her), we get more of her warm, guiding hand that both Kara and the show have been missing, though it’s her absence that makes the exchange all the more potent.

When Cat left National City, she sought happiness. It’s as simple as that. She spent time in Bhutan (the first nation to constitutionalize Gross National Happiness as an indicator of progress), and she lived among its rural populace, partaking in the simplest of celebratory rituals, wherein human connection trumped any form of currency or material wealth. That’s where she learned something the Cat Grant of season 1 sorely needed to, a woman whose career was so primary that she couldn’t connect with her children, and it’s something she now passes down to her protégé. Yearning for connection makes us human, and the love Supergirl feels may not be in direct opposition to her heroic duty. If anything, it’s what underlies it.

Supergirl puts aside her past with Lillian (and with Henshaw/Cyborg Superman, now raspier and creepier than ever despite his Tin-Man helmet), enlisting CADMUS’ help to fight their common enemy. The President’s instructions still stand – Alex is to fire upon the mothership as soon as the weapon is ready – but Supergirl was not a hero made for binary options. She exists to go beyond the realm of the possible and give us the best of both worlds. Now we just have to hope she can manage it in the knick of time.

Aboard the ship, Rhea is trying to get Mon-El married to Lena (whom she sees as a daughter, one far less disappointing than her traitorous son), but a quick distraction – via Cat Grant broadcast, inspiring humans and aliens alike to fight back – puts a stop to the ceremony just in time for Supergirl, Lillian and Henshaw to board the vessel using Superman’s Phantom Zone projector. There’s a fun little moment here where Kara refers to Henshaw as “R2” right before he interfaces with the ship’s computer exactly like R2-D2 would, spinning a switch with his mechanical protrusion. And while it’s not really much more than a throwaway, it’s worth mentioning as indicative of the show’s approach to, well, pretty much everything. Its metaphors and its jokes are constantly explained, and while that would ordinarily seem like a headache, it grounds these explanations firmly in character interaction, making it both delightful for adults who don’t mind a little cheese, and accessible to the younger audiences who might need a show like this in the current climate.

This is also where the show’s refugee metaphor is stopped from going over the edge. The entire front half of the season was about how wrong CADMUS was when it came to seeing aliens as threats, and while ending the season on an alien invasion initially undercuts that idea, it’s brought full circle when Lillian rescues Lena and beams herself back to Earth, leaving Kara and Mon-El to die in the path of the laser. The point is not that aliens are capable of destruction, but rather that when faced with overwhelming evidence of good aliens who are nothing but heroic, a bigot’s mind may still not change. To Lillian, there’s no difference between the Daxamite invaders and the likes of Supergirl. She’s a nationalist parallel who would rather see them all cast out (or dead) before ever changing her view and accepting them. That right there is just as villainous as Queen Rhea’s own nationalist outlook, an enforcement of her cultural norms to “Make Earth Great Again.”

Where Supergirl herself may have come close to skewing on the “wrong” side of heroic, choosing her loved ones over the fate of the entire planet, she not only saves Mon-El and Lena in time for the mothership to be destroyed in a “necessary” strike, but in a moment of heroism completely true to Supergirl (and the Superman mythos from which it draws), she goes beyond. Instead of punching her way out of the situation or leaving Rhea and the Daxamites to meet their arguably justifiable fate, she sends Mon-El home and stays behind to convince Rhea to surrender. This is what Supergirl is all about. Wherever the modern superhero might fall in terms of darkness of political metaphor, Supergirl has slowly emerged as the inherently good alternative. A bastion of morality who, despite the show’s occasional slip ups, ultimately wants no one to get hurt if she can help it. Saving her loved ones and the people of Earth isn’t enough for her. She wants to save the villains too…

…which might be a little harder than she anticipated, given the end-of-episode stinger likely set into motion by Rhea. Last year, she was forced to fight a brainwashed Alex in a Kryptonite battle suit. This year, it’s a seemingly evil Superman she must face, the bastardization of everything she stands for. There’s so much to be parsed from this loaded metaphor (Supergirl has always lived in Superman’s shadow, even in a metatextual sense) but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.

Next week’s season finale is titled “Nevertheless, She Persisted” and it’s set itself a lofty goal with that phrase alone. Then again, “Resist” lived up to its timely title while telling one heck of a meaningful story, so I’ve got a pretty good feeling.