Anyone upset that SUPERGIRL Season 4 got “too political” forgets that superheroes are inherently political figures. Especially members of the Superfamily. Much like her cousin Superman, Supergirl fights for “truth, justice, and the American way” dressed in American flag colors. She’s also an alien refugee from another world, sent to Earth in the hopes of discovering a better life. Thus, Kara Zor-El and Kal-El’s origins align with the quintessential immigrant experience.

This refugee/immigrant label makes Supergirl’s relation to Season 4’s moral conflict all the more daunting. For the past three years, she fought evil aliens from other worlds. Escaped convicts and sleeper agents from Krypton and overlords from Daxam kept the show’s ‘good vs. evil’ conflict relatively simple. This time, however, the Girl of Steel discovered a foe that couldn’t be punched or blasted with heat vision: human xenophobia.

SUPERGIRL Season 4
The Quest for Peace, Courtesy of the CW

SUPERGIRL Season 4 made no attempt to disguise its storyline as anything other than a blatant social commentary of modern American politics. The character’s stances are quite clear, vehemently siding against an intolerant agenda that dehumanizes aliens for the crime of wanting to co-exist with humanity. You don’t have to look far to find similar propaganda rhetoric on right-wing news outlets or even the White House. Simply swap out the word alien for immigrant or Muslim and it all sounds the same.

By pitting a quintessential American superhero against cartoonish anti-immigrant agendas, SUPERGIRL’s political allegories work in the show’s favor. Each unnerving plot escalation stems from the rise of a hatred few characters knew existed. It all sounds absurd, at least until you read about similar events in the papers or on social media.

Supergirl vs. Humanity First?

Unlike past SUPERGIRL villains — Astra, Queen Rhea, Reign — Season 4’s antagonist is deeply human. Yes, it has physical faces like Agent Liberty and Lex Luthor, but the true enemy is a growing fear of aliens inhabiting the Earth as refugees.  Never mind that one of these aliens is a protector of Earth with unbelievably altruistic values. Fear clumps these individuals into a seemingly malevolent collective that threatens the prosperity of “normal” humans.

The Children of Liberty, Courtesy of the CW

At first, Supergirl doesn’t take this anti-alien hatred seriously, brushing them off as a fringe minority. It’s only when Kara sees the Children of Liberty’s faces on the dark web — ordinary Americans casually planning hate crimes — that things become uncomfortable. These people casually dub aliens “roaches” and use violence to “protect” their neighborhoods from non-existent threats. Their actions even exposed Lynda Carter’s President Marsdin as an alien, leading to her resignation.

SUPERGIRL Season 4
Supergirl vs. Extremists, Courtesy of the CW

Previous SUPERGIRL antagonists like Lilian Luthor and Cadmus have worked under the rationale for alien xenophobia. But Season 4 uses past three years of alien attacks to provoke a backlash from the public sphere. This fear didn’t manifest overnight. Rather, it fostered for years in the wake of Supergirl’s debut and her constant “monster of the week” battles. Kara, however, never saw it because of all the good she did for humanity.

Similarly, real-world debates over the refugee crisis saw far-right wing backlashes that, at first, felt laughable. Most people deemed their claims of immigrants threatening Wester borders and culture a fringe reaction that could never resonate with the public. Then the 2016 election came about and we realized just how many people were susceptible to such rhetoric. The recent electoral victories in Europe have done little to quell those fears.

Birthing Agent Liberty in SUPERGIRL Season 4

Season 4’s political uncanniness ties into its figurehead antagonist, Agent Liberty. A former history teacher named Ben Lockwood (played by Sam Witwer), the show documents Lockwood’s radicalization as hard times befall his family. Some are direct, like Season 2’s Daxam invasion causing his home’s destruction. Others are subtler, like Lena Luthor passing over his father’s steel business for a more durable alien metal. The more his family suffers, the further Lockwood shifts from opposing anti-alien policies to actively blaming them for everything.

Ironically, Lockwood’s rhetoric fuels his fear that aliens will treat humanity with the same prejudices we inflicted onto each other for centuries. These views cost Lockwood his university job but catch the eye of Mercy and Otis Graves. They convinced him to take up the Agent Liberty mantle and use aliens as a scapegoat for modern humanity’s problems.

Ben Lockwood: Agent of Liberty, Courtesy of the CW

Sam Whittaker’s performance as Lockwood is terrifying, particularly because he feels ordinary. He’s driven by xenophobia but believes himself to be saving the world. This xenophobia propels Lockwood to greater political power, a bigot who shrouds his rhetoric in academia to justify his follower’s belief in their victimization. Yet Supergirl can’t attack him head on, lest he becomes a martyr to the Children of Liberty.

This is precisely what happens when Lockwood is finally arrested. Rather than shatter his rhetorical illusions, this turn of events endears him to supporters who campaign for his release. The current President, more worried about polling numbers than morality, gives him a job as D.C.’s head of alien affairs. Public officials’ unwillingness to confront these problems directly, mixed with the fear of a backlash, emboldens men like Lockwood to continue their crusade unchallenged.

How to Fight Anti-Alien Bigotry

Various character reactions to combatting the anti-alien movement further complicate the moral dilemma of SUPERGIRL Season 4. Kara, ever the optimistic journalist, writes various CatCo op-eds about the aliens Lockwood and his followers demonize. Despite sharing their refugee status, Kara’s humanistic features are a privilege that let her easily blend in with humanity. By revealing these alien’s moral goodness, she hopes to dissuade enough minds from being radicalized.

SUPERGIRL Season 4
Team Super Friends, Courtesy of the CW

James Olsen, by contrast, interviews the Children of Liberty to understand their motives. In doing so, he inadvertently succumbs to the “both sides” rationale that plagues mainstream news outlets. Olsen means well, but acknowledging these extremes without calling them out up front ultimately gives fringe groups a wider platform. Dealing with radicals directly correlates with the normalization of radicalization should the public accept such ideas as politically reasonable.

Other characters adopt more militaristic and morally ambiguous options. Some, like Lena Luthor, suggest augmenting humans with the Kryptonian substance Harun-El to give them superpowers. That way, the government can combat radicalized humans and aliens alike. Antihero Manchester Black, on the other hand, views radicalization as a necessary response to the government and DEO’s fecklessness. If the Children of Liberty won’t listen to reason, why should aliens tolerate their bigotry?

SUPERGIRL Season 4
Supergirl: Alien Activist, Courtesy of the CW

At the heart of this conflict is Supergirl: a comic book symbol of hope and common decency. She faces an extremist movement composed of the very people she’s sworn to protect, and any attempt to thwart them leads to more dehumanization tactics. Even the Presidency comes to view her alien status as worse publicity than the Children of Liberty’s violence.  The question thus becomes whether Supergirl must change her fighting tactics to bring justice to Season 4’s ideological threat.

Introducing Dreamer

If the Children of Liberty’s comparisons to modern extremism (cough “Charlottesville” cough”) scares you, then SUPERGIRL’s introduction of Dreamer does the opposite. Even amongst the Arrowverse’s openly LGBTQ heroes (i.e. Sara Lance, Curtis Holt, Alex Danvers, Anissa Pierce), Nia Nal stands out as the first transgender TV superhero. This alone makes her confrontations with Agent Liberty’s human supremacist acolytes a positive middle finger to fictional and real-world bigotry.

Whereas Kara hid her alien heritage by looking human enough, Nia is both an alien descendent and a trans woman. This dual identity is both generational AND physical, hiding her sexuality in plain sight. Yet the fact that Nia inherited her mother’s dream powers, which only pass down to “one woman per generation,” is symbolically striking. Her alien lineage isn’t blinded by human biases and spiritually accepts that Nia views herself as a woman.

SUPERGIRL Season 4
Introducing a New Hero: Dreamer, Courtesy of the CW

It helps that SUPERGIRL’s characters don’t define Nia by her trans identity. They just see her as a woman and friend, with Brainiac 5 even developing feelings for Nia throughout Season 4. Likewise, when Nia finally adopts her Dreamer moniker, she’s just that: a superhero who happens to be transgender. On its own, that decision is incredibly progressive.

So yes: an openly trans, second-generation immigrant superhero beating up masked human/white nationalists makes for quite the empowering spectacle. If that angers you more than the Children of Liberty’s bigoted platform, then we need to talk about political fragility.

Greatest Criminal Mastermind

It’s really no surprise that Lex Luthor masterminded the entire season’s plot. Lex is notoriously anti-alien, with Superman particularly suffering the ire of his jealousy and insecurities. But it’s a testament to the writing and Jon Cryer’s incredible performance (no joke, I think he surpassed Gene Hackman) that Lex’s scheme works so well.

Lex plays a truly long game to bring his master plan to fruition. Getting Mercy and Otis to push Lockwood into becoming Agent Liberty. Manipulating Supergirl’s doppelgänger Red Daughter (a byproduct of Kara handling the Harun-El last season) into hating the United States. Using Red Daughter to impersonate and discredit Supergirl. Even getting now President Baker onto Marsdin’s VP ticket. All to orchestrate a doomed foreign invasion against the United States is that he can single-handedly stop and be labeled a hero.

SUPERGIRL
Lex Luthor meets Red Daughter, Courtesy of the CW

But Lex didn’t invent the growing anti-alien sentiment encompassing SUPERGIRL Season 4. He, like certain political figures that shall not be named, simply took advantage of it to further a power-driven agenda. Many citizens and politicians, Lockwood included, fell for this xenophobic outlook without realizing it. It’s all in the name of maintaining some human-led power hierarchy rather than embracing compassion and social change.

And yet, despite getting everything he wanted, Lex jeopardized his plan in yet another attempt to kill Superman. All his alien experiments and political strings pulled? It was mainly to charge for a larger CLAYMORE anti-alien ship defense satellite in the hopes of destroying Argos City, with Superman still on it. Of course, he’d sacrifice half the machine’s power just to defeat his sworn enemy, the consequences are damned. Lex’s hubris and xenophobia ultimately proved his undoing, along with a well-written article by one CatCo journalist Kara Danvers.

SUPERGIRL Season 4: Alien Rights Movement

Whatever you think of SUPERGIRL Season 4’s socio-political commentary, you cannot call it is out of character. Supergirl and Superman have always embodied the best of humanity’s moral values, despite their alien heritage. So, of course, Kara Zor-El wouldn’t submit to or run from a campaign fueled by prejudice disguised as patriotism.

Alien Lives Matter, Courtesy of the CW

Season 4’s true horror, however, is seeing millions or ordinary people embrace this ideology willingly or as an excuse to justify economic anxiety. Despite her many powers, Supergirl is a surrogate for the audience’s helplessness, shocked by the rise of extremism and racist views at the highest levels of government. We know what we’re seeing is morally and ethically wrong, yet struggle to comprehend how so many can embrace it anyhow.

It’s important, then, that SUPERGIRL Season 5 carries over the fallout from the Children of Liberty arc. Despite Luthor and Lockwood’s defeat, the prejudices they enflamed still theoretically exist amongst humanity. Much like our current political climate, removing those responsible for promoting xenophobia and bigotry will not make the problem magically go away. And, as the late Stan Lee once wrote in his most infamous Soapbox, the only way to destroy such ideals is “to reveal them for the insidious evils they really are.” And THAT is fighting for truth and justice.

One Comment

  1. Chris Carney

    Chris Carney

    June 6, 2019 at 10:25 am

    Ahhhh sounds stupid

    Reply

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