Monday, October 24, 2016

"Welcome To Earth," Where Everyone Is An Alien!

The Good: Decent performances, James Olsen's character arc
The Bad: Very basic plot, Thematically heavyhanded, Pushes a lot of reversals.
The Basics: Supergirl leaps forward with "Welcome To Earth," which is hampered by making virtually everyone in the episode someone other than who they appear.

The night is finally here! As a lifelong fan of Wonder Woman (reviewed here!) - both the book and the iconic 1970s television rendition of the character - it was hard not to get excited over the summer when it was announced that Lynda Carter would be appearing on Supergirl as the President Of The United States. Those who follow my many reviews might note that I have not yet reviewed the first season of Supergirl. The reason for that is simple; I saw the pilot and it did not grab me, so it wasn't until the show announced Carter's casting that I actually went through the first season in advance of its second season premiere. "Welcome To Earth" is the episode that introduces the alluded-to President on-screen.

"The Last Children Of Krypton" (reviewed here!) immediately preceded "Welcome To Earth" and the episode picks up in the final moments of the prior episode. As such, it is tough to discuss "Welcome To Earth" without some references as to where the "The Last Children Of Krypton" ended. After all "Welcome To Earth" finds the DEO without any Kryponite and a new Kryptonian on the prowl.

Opening with the Kryptonian Mon-El waking up at the DEO and freaking out, Hank Henshaw is disturbed that the alien escaped. The President is about to visit National City to tour the DEO in advance of her signing the Alien Amnesty Act. Kara geeks outat the idea of meeting the President. At CatCo, James Olsen's first writer's meeting is interrupted by Snapper Carr hijacking the job assignments. When the President arrives in National City, two of her Secret Service Agents are incinerated by an alien's heat vision, implicating Mon-El. Alex Danvers clashes with Detective Maggie Sawyer who investigates the crime scene, while Supergirl and J'onn J'onzz give President Marsdin a tour of the DEO.

While Kara interviews Lena Luthor and discovers that L Corp is preparing to roll out an alien detector, Alex hunts the renegade Kryptonian. Mon-El takes a hostage at an observatory in order to send a signal back to his homeworld, with his stated goal of simply returning home. Kara writes a biased article on Lena Luthor's device, which earns her the ire of Snapper Carr. Sawyer brings Alex Danvers to an underground alien club. Winn Schott figures out where the "Kryptonian" is trying to send a signal to and Kara recognizes that the alien is a Daxamite. Capturing the Daxamite, Supergirl interrogates him and comes to feel a little differently about the alien detector. When the President makes a public event of signing the Alien Amnesty Act, the true villain shows up and both Alex and Supergirl work to recover the captive Sawyer and keep the President safe.

"Welcome To Earth" is good for its positive sense of values, but it is enough to remind viewers who might not have been grabbed by the beginning of Supergirl exactly why the show failed to land. The first few episodes of Supergirl were very heavy on pointing out gender in an inorganic way. "Welcome To Earth" is similarly heavy on the theme. While it works that J'onn J'onzz points out that as an alien and a black man, he understands intolerance, when Maggie Sawyer comes into the narrative loud and proud and makes a point of referencing being lesbian growing up in a small town it seems very heavyhanded. While both make good points, making them explicit the way the writers do just telegraphs the theme in a somewhat ridiculous way.

Moreover, "Welcome To Earth" changes the push of the whole Alien Rights idea by mortgaging the human component of the movement and that is a terrible idea. In the history of every human rights struggle, those fighting for the legal acknowledgement of their rights always have enlightened allies within the majority population that has been oppressing them. "Welcome To Earth" ultimately neglects that idea; Alex Danvers is a prejudiced human, James Olsen is an observer and Winn Schott is the only human-loving alien, but is completely outside the political struggle for alien rights. It is both sloppy and inaccurate for Supergirl to present a fight for equal rights where doppelgangers and infiltrate the government to make the changes they want, as opposed to having any enlightened humans standing with them for moral and legal reasons.

There is a similar writing problem with the episode not knowing whether the President is signing a Bill or making an executive order. Executive orders alter government policy and the way a law is enforced; they are not Acts. So, The President's "Alien Amnesty Act" would be a modification to the way the Department Of Immigration (etc.) enforced existing laws; the President could not create an Act with the signing of an Executive Order.

It's not all poorly-executed, not by any means. The Wonder Woman twirl by Supergirl is a fun allusion. The villain of the episode is a decent one. The alien who does not trust humans is a compellingly-written adversary for Supergirl and the dialogue between the two is a decent exploration of hope vs. pragmatism. Outside her methods, the villain in "Welcome To Earth" is not wrong and her philosophy is one that is very much supported by what has been shown through history and in Supergirl up until now.

Despite a few moments of melodrama, especially in the climax, the conflict between Olsen and Carr is well-executed. Olsen is learning his new position and having to adapt to going from being a photographer to being the editor-in-chief of CatCo's publication is a leap that is not organic. Mehcad Brooks does a decent job of making Olsen's transition from one role to another surprisingly well.

The L Corp device is a ridiculous concept. The device designed by Lena Luthor requires people being tested to put their finger on the device. In order to be useful to a business, it requires everyone entering an establishment to voluntarily take the test, which seems like it would cause a bottleneck at every entrance.

The episode features multiple reversals in the final scenes that leap Supergirl into new territory for the future of the show. In some ways it is problematic in that "Welcome To Earth" places an inordinate number of aliens in National City and within the United States (there was a Senator being impersonated by an alien in Season 1) at key places. In analogous terms, the revelations in "Welcome To Earth" would be like if everyone on The Flash was a metahuman or a Speedster. Such reversals get tiresome quickly and "Welcome To Earth" packs a bunch of them in. Some of those reversals make other throwaway lines - like Lynda Carter's line about a plane other than Air Force One (an obvious allusion to Wonder Woman's invisible jet) - fall particularly flat.

Lynda Carter does amazingly well portraying the President Of The United States; she has the gravitas to make it instantly believable that Olivia Marsdin could have campaigned and won an election. Sadly, in the current political climate, Marsdin's quotable lines about hope and her obvious strength of character by taking a positive, liberal, position on universal rights only highlights the corrupt and spineless political choices the U.S. government offers its voters back here in reality.

Melissa Benoist once again delivers a delightful performance as Kara Danvers as she geeks out over meeting the President. She handles the physical action of Supergirl well and the direction by Rachel Talalay continues to help develop Katie McGrath's Lena Luthor as a potential equal and opposite to Kara. Supergirl's arc where she starts prejudiced against Daxamites and learns a Very Important Lesson is a good one and Benoist plays the arc without any hint of cheesiness.

There is a pretty high "geek out" factor for fans of DC Comics and other DC Comics-based television and film works by Lynda Carter's presence in "Welcome To Earth." But beyond the hype, "Welcome To Earth" is a very basic, very average episode of Supergirl that is executed as well as the packed, muddied script allows.

For other works with David Harewood, please visit my reviews of:
"The End Of Time, Part 2" - Doctor Who
"The End Of Time, Part 1" - Doctor Who
Blood Diamond

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Supergirl - The Complete Second Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the sophomore season of the Kryptonian superheroine here!


For other television season and episode reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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