Episode Title: Strange Visitor From Another Planet
Original Airdate: 25-1-2016
Martians. Although our real-world explorations of our nearest planetary neighbour have not – as yet – uncovered any proof of alien life, the comic book medium allows us to venture to far off galaxies and their associated worlds to explore the gamut of alien life that brings with it. Traditionally, DC has used Mars as the source of one of its most popular secondary characters, J’onn J’onzz (considered one of the Big Seven members of the Justice League), aka the Martian Manhunter, who assumes humanoid form on Earth but is actually a green martian from Mars. In DC lore, the Greens weren’t the only species of Martian on Mars; white, red and blue Martians also abounded, typically analogous to contemporary human frictions with all the anger, hate and sense of justified war that comes with it. With his reveal a few episodes ago, J’onzz, who has appropriated the form of Hank Henshaw (David Harewood) here on Earth, somewhat ironically in charge of the DEO, has become a bona-fide source of story success for Supergirl in her first season on television. Now we get to see DC unveil the Martian mythology to its fullest, in “Strange Visitor From Another Planet”, an episode title that might initially seem focused on the show’s star, but resonates hardest with its – until now – least accessible character.
“Strange Visitor” actually handles a dual-pronged attack of the feels this week, as not only does J’onzz’s past come back to haunt him, but also Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart) – Grant’s son, Adam (Blake Jenner), makes his arrival in National City following the revelation he existed barely two episodes ago. As Cat deals with the fallout of her estranged son’s arrival, J’onzz attempts to make restitution for the wholesale slaughter of the Green Martians at the hands of the Whites, when a White Martian arrives in National City to attack anti-alien propagandist and US Senator Miranda Crane (Tawny Cypress – one of the coolest names ever), who has come to spout her hate on a tour of the country. Caught in the crossfire of both stories: Kara Danvers (Melissa Benoist), who, as Supergirl, gets to tackle the White Martian, and as her secret identity has to bridge the divide between mother and son, the former of whom is actually terrified of revealing pent up emotions at the best of times.
Anyone familiar with the pre-Flashpoint stories DC put out before they embarked on their New 52 rubbish in the last few years would be aware of the legendary Grant Morrison being a scribe on the JLA series around the time he concocted a small tale to launch the new line, called “New World Order”. It was here the DC Universe was introduced to the White Martians, a malevolent class of Martians against which even the JLA had a tough time dealing with the problem. It was easily one of Morrison’s best stories, and launched the JLA title into one of DC’s highest sellers of the time. To date, it remains my favourite story from Morrison’s run. To see the concept landing here in Supergirl, I cannot tell you how exciting this is. The White Martian itself is horrifying to behold, a hulking, extraordinarily powered creature of violence and hate, and although it really only retains its “original” appearance sporadically, the effect is nonetheless compelling. Throughout much of the episode the Martian “hides” in the form of Senator Crane, which only draws out the reluctant J’onn J’onzz to fight against it.
In one of the show’s most powerful, poignant, and emotional moments yet, Henshaw related the history of his people – massacred at the hands of the evil Whites, with the show using imagery akin to that of the Nazi Holocaust to ram home its point – and the alien’s sense of loss at surviving when his wife and daughters did not. He is comforted by Alex Danvers (Chyler Leigh), whose guilt at trying to force J’onzz to reveal his true form becomes a focus for Henshaw to ensure the White Martian does not succeed in its plans; in the end, Henshaw’s willing sacrificial offering to keep the peace, by allowing the White Martian to kill him, gives the show legitimate emotional heft following the revelation of the horrific Martian past, and crystallizes with a sonic boom brawl between J’onzz and Kara, and the White Martian, high above the desert outside of National City.
There are two performances in this episode that are true highlights of the season thus far. First, David Harewood, who’s soul-bearing performance as J’onzz is truly remarkable – I actually started to tear up – and coupled with some admirably competent visual effects in the all-CG Mars landscape, make this arc particularly powerful. Second, Calista Flockhart, who has managed to draw a thread of humanity from the campy, oozing wound that’s been Cat Grant all season. I’ve mentioned this before, but Flockhart’s performance as Grant has been akin to nails on a chalkboard, although at times in the last few episodes her façade has softened to allow a genuineness previously unseen to seep through; in “Strange Visitor”, that seep turns into a flood, as Flockhart’s acting opposite her on-screen son, played by Blake Jenner, is surprisingly disarming and poignant. So long as the writers keep exploring this kind of material for the secondary characters, this series is going to keep going strong.
“Strange Visitor” is yet another leap forward for Supergirl, a show initially flimsy but as it’s gone along has really found a firm footing. When it’s not focusing on pre-teen romantic subterfuge and love-triangle idiocy, Supergirl has a lot to say as far as the glut of comic-book TV shows go. While I still think it doesn’t handle its broad roster of characters quite as well as, say, The Flash over on the CW, Supergirl’s quick rise to must-watch weekly television has been well earned, and this episode proves that paying off key characters within a season, and not purely for the grandstanding of a season finale, is what audiences really want.