One of the main reasons I’m enjoying Supergirl more and more is its unabashed and liberal use of DC Comics characters. It’s easy to remember how radical a notion that is — before Arrow and The Flash, a comic-book-inspired TV show had to be sparing with its comics references. For years, Smallville survived off generic “meteor freaks” and refused to deploy huge DC characters until its run was nearly finished.
All of that has changed. Now we have shows like Supergirl, and we have episodes like “Strange Visitor From Another World,” which features an extended flashback set on the DC Comics version of Mars. What a time to be alive.
Of course, Supergirl is also improving the same way that other non-superhero shows do: by digging deep into its characters. This episode doubles down on heavy character development, shifting the gaze from Winn Schott to Hank Henshaw and Cat Grant.
Let’s start with Cat. The episode opens with someone receiving a heartfelt letter signed “Mom,” which is pretty perplexing because it’s written (and narrated) in what sounds like Kara’s voice. We don’t find out until later, but the recipient of the letter is at Noonan’s Bar/Grill/Coffee Shop/Salon/Juice Bar, where Kara is headed to pick up Cat’s coffee. When this Mysterious Hunk overhears that Kara works for Cat, he asks if she’s as bad as her reputation suggests. Kara mostly defends her boss. The exchange is kinda flirty, and Alex’s face during the whole thing is MONEY. (“Tell me you know he was flirting with you.”)
Back at CatCo, Kara has a brief, sad exchange with Winn: She tries to be cheery, and he asks her to just not. It sucks, but it’s probably for the best.
Then it’s on to the episode’s main focus: Senator Miranda Crane, who is holding an anti-alien rally in National City. Crane built her platform on this issue — she wants ‘em all gone. (Kind of like Trump, only with actual aliens.) Jimmy volunteers to cover the rally, and then Cat and Kara find the Mysterious Hunk waiting in Cat’s office. It’s Cat’s estranged son, Adam Forster; he got a letter from Cat and came to see her. Cat is visibly surprised by Adam’s appearance — she’s momentarily at a loss for words — but then asks him to dinner. Once he leaves, she immediately fires Kara.
As we learn, Cat has been writing these letters and not sending them. Kara found one, and decided to finish it and sent it to Adam without saying anything. Rightfully, Cat is pissed. That is a huge violation of her privacy, and despite Kara’s explanation — she lost her mother, and she doesn’t want to see Cat lose the son she could conceivably get back — it’s the sort of contrivance that decent people only do on TV. Decent people in the real world would never do what Cara did. Regardless, Kara talks Cat down from firing her.
Onto the meat of the episode: “Stranger From Another World” is the first episode to actually delve into the backstory of Hank Henshaw, a.k.a. J’onn J’onzz, a.k.a. Our Favorite Martian. Because this is a superhero show, his backstory comes in the form of a monstrous alien that attacks during Senator Crane’s rally. Hank suffers something similar to a PTSD-induced panic attack, and disappears when Kara arrives to face the monster. (Side note: Jimmy Olsen calls her to the scene using his signal watch. Yes, he uses it to call Supergirl now. I love the signal watch.)
Hank freaked out because he knows exactly what the alien is: a White Martian, a nasty, warlike race that rose from beneath the surface of Mars to decimate the peaceful Green Martians. Hank also feels guilty for the White Martian’s attack — since they’re both Martians, they can sense each other. When he used his powers to infiltrate Lord Technologies, he inadvertently drew the White Martian out. Now it’s on the hunt.
Meanwhile, Cat’s dinner with her son goes terribly because she can’t seem to stop talking about herself. (At one point, she implies that Microsoft missed winning out on the smartphone market because Bill Gates didn’t listen to her prescient instincts.) All Adam seems to want, though, is for her to apologize for leaving him. This sequence plays out over a slow pop cover of “Maneater,” quite possibly the show’s least-appropriate musical choice.
At the DEO, Alex and Hank have taken Senator Chase in for protection. Except Hank realizes it’s not Chase — as does Kara, all the way at CatCo, thanks to photographic evidence from Jimmy Olsen — it’s the White Martian disguised as her. Not Chase goes full superpower, ripping through countless DEO agents as it tries find a way out, until Kara arrives to stop it.
It’s a bit of an anticlimax, though, because Not Chase flies up through the roof, quickly eluding Kara. Then, she abandons the search because … Cat Grant wants to talk to her about her lousy date with her son.
Supergirl, you’re pretty great, but I wonder about your priorities sometimes.
While Kara’s doing chitchat, we get to watch the best damn scene in the episode — Hank’s flashback to Mars. He reveals how the White Martians enslaved and slaughtered the Green Martians, including his wife and child. J’onn J’onzz basically escaped from Mars Nazis.
This is terribly sad stuff, and it also parallels Kara’s story. We’re seeing yet another way survivor’s guilt can affect a person — this time, it’s a father who couldn’t save his family, rather than a daughter who was saved by hers.
Over at CatCo, Kara is dealing with Cat Grant’s family implosion. She tracks down Adam and tries to convince him that his mother is not awful. He figures out that she wrote the letter that convinced him to visit, and says he’ll give his mother another shot — but only if she comes. So Kara accompanies Cat and Adam on another coffee date whilst continuing to ignore the murderous alien that prowls National City.
The ensuing apology is legitimately moving stuff, and well delivered by Calista Flockhart. It’s just too bad that it feels undercut by the episode’s weird plotting. Once mother and son finally reconnect, Kara gets back to the superhero stuff.
Hank, however, isn’t feeling very heroic. He’s let his guilt fester into a murderous rage; he wants to hunt the White Martian and kill it. Hank goes off on his own, while Alex leads a team to find the real Senator Chase, whom she believes is still out there. Both find the opposite of what they were looking for: Hank locates Chase, and Alex finds the White Martian, who slaughters her team and takes her hostage as bait.
Hank and Kara then rendezvous to telepathically reach out to the Martian, which challenges Hank to a standoff in the desert. He acquiesces and shows up alone, while the Martian brings Alex, as promised. Hank appears to surrender, submitting to an apparent execution — until Kara flies in to commence a DOPE TAG-TEAM SUPERFIGHT IN THE SKY.
The brawl ends with the White Martian thoroughly beaten, but instead of detaining it, Hank is tempted to kill it. Kara, who is incapacitated by kryptonite cuffs, implores him not to, lest he become the monster the White Martian wants him to be. Hank relents, locking the Martian up in a special DEO cell.
With the bulk of the action done, everyone makes nice: The real Senator Crane has a change of heart, publicly stating that Supergirl’s heroic actions have shown her the error of her ways; Adam and Cat are now on friendly terms; and Adam even asks Kara out on a date. Sup, new love interest!
Even though Kara has immeasurable awesome power packed into the frame of a chipper woman working in media, she still can’t help but freak out about the date. When she tells Alex about this, she starts to make fun of her — until they’re interrupted by the sight of Supergirl on the news.
Except it’s not Kara. How … bizarre.