Supergirl – Season 3 Episode 3
“Far from the Tree”
Supergirl deals with family drama when J’Onn returns to Mars and Maggie dredges up painful memories of rejection at the hands of her father.
This show has been pretty uneven in dealing with the J’Onn and his Martian past. His relationship with M’Gann last season wasn’t explored as well as it could have been and I’ve always had the feeling that his past is better when glimpsed but still left in mystery.
J’Onn returning to Mars is always going to be an exciting prospect because it takes the show off-world and provides an opportunity for visual variety such as a shape shifting 1950s style convertible. It also allows J’Onn to receive some much needed development as he is often relegated to supporting other characters rather than having any major stories of his own.
He very much takes centre stage here and returning to his home is granted the emotional heft that it deserves. David Harewood plays J’Onn’s reluctance in the early part of the episode wonderfully and the sense of unease he feels when he arrives also comes across well.
The bulk of the Martian part of the story involves J’Onn trying to reconnect with his father, M’yrnn (Carl Lumbly) who has been unexpectedly been discovered alive. J’Onn had made his peace with the fact that he was the last Green Martian so realising that there is another living member of his race is a pretty jarring experience amplified exponentially when he realise that it’s his father. Going through the revelation and resulting disappointment when she turned out to be merely posing as a Green Martian with M’Gann last season was one thing but this is something else entirely.
M’yrnn also believes that he is the last of his kind and is content to continue praying until such times as the White Martians decide to finish him off. He has been a prisoner for so long that he is used to being tricked into revealing information so refuses to believe that J’Onn is who he says he is.
The scenes that J’Onn and M’yrnn share are powerful and emotionally charged. Carl Lumbly brings a lot of gravitas to his role and radiates a sense of pride that also results in a streak of stubbornness blinding him to what is standing right in front of him. His performance shows a man in pain and it’s completely believable that he has been consumed by loss.
Their scenes together are used to bolster the mythology surrounding the Martian people by exploring their religion. The story of what created the White Martians is told and even though it’s rooted in a religions myth there’s the suggestion that there is some truth to it especially when the staff referenced in the story turns out to be real. What actually happened is unknown and really doesn’t matter as the spirit of what sparked the eternal conflict between the two Martian species remains clear.
Once M’yrnn realises that J’Onn is telling the truth their interactions shift gears into something joyful with a tinge of regret. M’yrnn is overjoyed to see his son again and the memory they share is beautifully touching. Seeing J’Onn’s children and the happiness of the now run down household is a really nice moment coupled with the obvious affection shown by J’Onn when his father pays a surprise visit on their birthday. Visual storytelling like this tells much more than words could and we get a true sense of their relationship through this shared memory. It justifies the reveal that J’Onn’s father is still alive rather than cheapening the idea that J’Onn is the last of his kind by introducing more Green Martians.
The actual reason for J’Onn coming to Mars is to convince his father to reveal the location of a magic psychic staff so at its core it’s basically a simple McGuffin hunt. These are common in shows like this because there’s always a powerful weapon that can turn the tide of a conflict in some way. When the character work is this strong the McGuffin that provided an excuse for it to happen is less important anyway and the episode doesn’t treat it as if it’s all that significant.
I really enjoyed the action sequence where Kara, J’Onn, M’yrell and the M’Gann’s resistance movement work together to retrieve the staff. Kara driving in on J’Onn’s convertible spaceship to the tune of Britney Spears’ “Hit Me Baby One More Time” is just the right kind of cheesy and the ensuing fight was entertaining enough. I did have an issue with how casually Kara killed the White Martians with the staff though as it felt odd that she wouldn’t even remark on what she had done.
The Martian story wasn’t entirely flawless. There was an unnecessary subplot involving one of M’Gann’s followers growing impatient and wanting to attempt a brute force method of obtaining information. He follows a predictable arc from impulsive to accepting that lacks impact because the episode doesn’t spend any time on it. There was enough tension in J’Onn trying to reconnect with his father so this could have been done without. M’Gann rightly takes a back seat in the episode because it’s about her relationship with J’Onn but it would have been nice to see her have something meaningful to do.
I really liked the look of Mars. It was obviously a set but there was the claustrophobic caverns worked really well and the production design definitely brought out the idea that this is a once proud civilisation now defined by ruins. It was a nice break from the norm and the production team did a good job making Mars feel distinct. There was even an attempt to justify why the Martians all choose to take Human form outside of a few key scenes. Obviously it’s expensive to show so many CGI characters for long periods of time so the Human touch is just easier and attempting to tie that to Martian culture is a solid enough idea.
Kara also takes a back seat because this is J’Onn’s story not hers. It’s the right decision for sure and she manages to be part of the story without overpowering it. Her contribution is important as it is her carefully chosen words as a Kryptonian -who also knows loss to the same degree M’yrell does- are what convinces him to open his mind and heart to the possibility that his son is still alive. This moment is well played by Melissa Benoist who always nails these inspirational pep talks.
Back on Earth, Maggie is dealing with familial issues of her own when she reaches out to her estranged father to attend her Bridal Shower. Maggie hasn’t spoken to her family since she was 14 after her coming out resulted in her being forcibly removed from the family. Supergirl as a show has done a great job handling the relationship between Maggie and Alex but so far avoided the issue of intolerance. All of the characters on the show accepted this relationship so the only issues they had was admitting their feelings to one another.
Intolerance is a big issue that many face in the world so seeing it explored in a show like this is always going to be a mine field. There’s always the risk of entirely missing the mark when it comes to exploring it and doing more harm than good when it comes to the portrayal. Having never personally experienced the kinds of intolerance this show attempts to deal with I’m not sure if the portrayal is fair in a realistic sense but I can talk about how I respond to what is done here.
When Maggie first mentions her father it’s easy to demonise him based on her description. He’s a man who reacted so strongly to his daughter being a lesbian that he abandoned her and cut her out of the family. This episode takes the next step and introduces her father, Oscar (Carlos Bernard) and doesn’t take the easy way out with him. When he appears he clearly isn’t the one dimensional homophobe that Maggie’s description would suggest. It’s fine for her to see him that way as her coping mechanism involves her convincing herself that she doesn’t need her family in her life. it’s valid for Maggie but it’s good that the show acknowledges that people are more complex than that.
There’s an understandable unease to their early interactions given how long it has been since they last saw each other. Despite being estranged Oscar has followed her career with interest and still carries her photo in his wallet. He hasn’t entirely cut her out of his life and certainly hasn’t tried to forget her. The fact that he still cares about her is what enhances the emotional undercurrent of the situation. It’s suggested by his behaviour that all Maggie needs to do is reject her sexual orientation and she will be welcomed back into the family. Maggie’s sexual identity is definitely not something he can put up with as evidenced by him storming out when he sees his daughter kissing another woman.
Their resulting conversation outlines the reasons Oscar is uncomfortable with his daughter being a lesbian and it has to do with the intolerance that he has experienced in his life. Being a Mexican immigrant to the United States he experienced savage treatment at first but endured it for the sake of his children so that they could have a better life. Maggie is accepted for who she is and tries to tell her father that the world is different but his counter is to reference the wall being built to keep them out as well as Trump’s quote about Mexicans being rapists and murderers. Even though his thinking is tainted and intolerant it’s easy to see why he has arrived at certain conclusions. There’s also a double standard at play from Oscar who tries to protect his daughter from bigotry while enforcing his own on her.
Maggie’s arc isn’t about reconciling with her family though. It’s about her achieving closure on that relationship. It is made clear that her family will never accept the reality of who she is as a person and that’s something she will have to accept. She can either be herself or live a lie to make her family feel better and she chooses to be herself. It’s a bittersweet ending but it’s also a very real ending as in reality not everything works out for the best. It’s a brave choice to go down this route but Maggie’s acceptance of the situation makes it seem like a happier conclusion than it is. Unfortunately Maggie’s desire to never have kids is brought up again which seeds the end of the Maggie/Alex relationship. I suspect this will be mishandled with more angst than is bearable but we will see.
An excellent episode that focuses on family from two different angles. J’Onn reconnecting with his father is a great story that benefits from excellent acting and really touching moments. Using this relationship to flesh out the Martian mythology works really well and it’s refreshing to see another alien setting on the show. Kara takes a back seat though still contributes enough to justify her presence. The other Martian characters aren’t given that much to do and there are some unnecessary subplots that aren’t well developed.
Maggie’s attempt to reconnect with her estranged father is really well handled. Her father isn’t characterised as a 1 dimensional villain type and there’s no magical fix by the end of the episode. The story is more about Maggie getting closure on that relationship and truly moving forward which feels more real and more tragic at the same time. It feels like a happy ending because Maggie commits to being herself but there is loss there too. It’s well handled and deals with intolerance in a really complex way.
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