Supergirl – Season 1 Episode 11
“Strange Visitor From Another Planet”
Supergirl explores the origins of the Martian Manhunter when a White Martian attacks threatens National City.
J’onn J’onzz aka the Martian Manhunter has had a rich comic book history that comes with a large amount of tragedy. In a lot of ways his origins are very similar to Superman with them both being the last survivor of events that caused their entire race to be destroyed. The pain associated with such a profound loss is something they share and deal with in different ways.
The same applies to Supergirl who also suffers the loss of her entire planet. The notable difference between her and Superman is that she remembers her family since she was older when she was sent to Earth. This ultimately becomes the emotional basis for the episode as Kara can fully understand what J’onn is going through in a way that others can’t.
This episode gave David Harewood more opportunity to show his acting ability and develop his character than any other so far. Bringing in a White Martian to serve as a harsh reminder of all the pain he has tried to bury since leaving Mars added lots of layers to the character.
Even since the reveal that Hank Henshaw is actually the disguised Martian Manhunter the character has remained very stoic and almost passionless. He has cracked a joke occasionally and has allowed his relationship with Alex to deepen since he trusted her enough to share his secret but for the most part he has remained as guarded as he was in the first episode and hides behind a “tough guy” attitude.
This is fine as a baseline for the character but doesn’t have a lot of mileage so I’m glad that he was able to express vulnerability in this episode. We see this when he first encounters the White Martian and is paralysed into inaction by his own fear as well as the trauma of the memories brought back.
It also forces him to admit that he has been living in a sort of denial all this time. He hides behind the persona of Hank Henshaw so that he doesn’t have to face what happened directly. If he can convince the world that he’s someone else then maybe that will eventually translate into convincing himself. The reality is that he is somewhat delusional as that will never work on a long term basis but it’s the only way he can see himself coping. When the White Martian threatens the lives of others then the only way out he sees is letting it have what it wants and offering himself up as a sacrifice. As the last of the Green Martians it wants to finish the job of eradicating them and J’onn mentions that he’s tired of hiding and tired of being the last survivor. It’s a real sense of isolation he feels and it’s destroying him to have to deal with it every day. David Harewood does an amazing job of playing the deep conflict within J’onn that fuels these complex emotions.
One thing that J’onn comes around to in this episode is accepting the help of others. He isn’t alone as Kara and Alex are fully willing to support him. His conflict with the White Martian doesn’t have to be entirely his responsibility and J’onn goes through a defined emotional journey to get to that point. He tells the tale of the destruction of his people including his wife and daughters on Mars to Alex with some really gorgeous looking flashbacks showing both Mars when it had a population and fills the words with so much pain and anger that it’s impossible not to be captivated. The concept and the imagery is a little too close to the Holocaust to not comment on the similarities but in terms of provoking an emotional response Harewood’s performance really nails it. This is a character that am now invested in largely because of the performance of David Harewood in this one episode.
The other side of J’onn’s support network is Kara who -as I said- is familiar with aspects of how he feels since she has lost her people as well. She has also had to deal with things from her past coming back to haunt her. Kara’s position is to never let these problems beat you. She encourages J’onn to use what he has lost as a reason to go on. He needs to continue the legacy of his people and honour their memory because dying is taking an easy way out. The fact that she makes a point of helping him goes a long way towards showing him that he isn’t alone and can find the strength to carry on. It does end on a cheesy note where J’onn formalises a paternal relationship with Kara and Alex but the sentiment feels genuine enough to make the whole thing work.
As a villain the White Martian was a little underdeveloped despite an attempt to bring across its point of view by showing that it considers the Green Martians an infestation that needed to be wiped out. I can see that the intention was to make the issue a more complex one but the episode definitely comes down on the side of the Green Martians. This is fine as J’onn is a main character so we should be seeing his point of view but I wonder why the attempted complexity if it wasn’t going to be developed in some way. The visual effects when the White Martian was in its native form were really nicely done and I can understand the need for it to appear as Senator Marana Crane (Tawny Cypress) as there would be budget concerns. Luckily hiding is built into the character so it makes sense on a narrative level.
Speaking of the character of Marana Crane, I found her to be a bit too on the nose as an analogue for Donald Trump. Her anti-alien crusade just came across as insanely stupid which I suppose was the point but her strong views made the flip in her ideology feel completely unearned.
Family was a connecting theme in this episode from J’onn’s feelings on the loss of his family as well as his familial connection to Alex and Kara to Cat’s distant relationship with her son Adam (Blake Jenner). On a dramatic level this story was actually really good as it added more layers to the already well developed Cat Grant but it felt like a completely different episode to the White Martian story. The only real crossover was the fact that Kara was heavily involved in both but I couldn’t help questioning her priorities since she seemed to devote equal time to both. Kara likes to help people that has been well established but the White Martian is a somewhat more urgent problem than Cat establishing a relationship with her son. Supergirl hasn’t quite got the narrative juggling right at this point and it becomes more noticeable the more experience she gains as a hero.
I did really like this story as it shows Kara exerting more confidence around her boss in different ways. First she pushed Cat to reach out to Adam by finishing a letter she was already struggling to write and somehow managing to get to the root of Cat’s emotions regarding this lost relationship. This works well as it reminds viewers that Kara’s empathy is as important to her character as any of her super powers.
Adam is initially resistant to forming a relationship with his mother as his only perception of her is a distant figure who gives him money and nothing else. Cat has done nothing to discourage this perception as it was established earlier in the season that she made the determination that he is better off without her and she stands by that. She is hiding her true feelings on the subject but doesn’t want to complicate his life by forcing her way into it. It’s a flawed way of thinking for sure but that is what makes her such a compelling presence in the show.
Their first attempt at spending time together is a bit of a disaster as Cat falls on old habits of bragging about her accomplishments and essentially boring Adam to death because he’s not interested in that. As far as he’s concerned she’s just trying to impress him and that’s something he has no time for. To him it seems like she is throwing all of the accomplishments she was able to make without him to hold her back in his face. The perception was incorrect but it’s easy to see why he might think that way.
Kara acting as a mediator during the next attempt was a really good scene as it showed her ability to get to the emotional root of the situation. Cat really manages to be honest and -with Kara’s assistance- overcome her instincts to control the situation with her abrasive tone. Adam proves himself to be almost as stubborn as she is but her years of neglect is the cause of his attitude.
When the two of them cast aside the carefully crafted personas they start to connect on an emotional level. Cat is able to be honest about the fact that she was scared and it seemed easier to let his father take him away and raise him outside of the damage she feels she might have caused. She threw herself into her career because losing him wounded her so terribly that there was no choice but to obsess about achieving success. It’s a really well put together relationship that is now showing signs of starting to form and I’m glad that Adam will be hanging around for a while to see how that plays out. Kara’s help bringing them together helps solidify her role as heart of the show. It’s a large part of her role as lead but it fits her really well and it’s unusual for shows like this have the central character also function as the emotional core.
Another reason for Adam deciding to hang around is that he has the hots for Kara and wants to get to know her better. So far they have decent chemistry which makes sense since Blake Jenner and Melissa Benoist are husband and wife in real life. I hope it isn’t a relationship that follows the same beats that we’re used to where it’s torn apart by secrets being kept as that has been done to death and I don’t really want to see it again.
I like the mutual respect that is continuing to develop between Cat and Kara as shown by Kara’s complimentary language about her boss as well as the genuine attempts to help her. Cat has given her useful advice that she can use as both Kara and Supergirl and it has been previously established that she is thankful for that so I like that this is continuing to develop. Cat hows her respect for Kara by eventually letting her force a relationship between her and Adam as well as taking her advice about how important family is. Kara’s point of view is meaningful for her as she never had a second chance with her own mother and doesn’t want to see Cat lose that chance with her son. She also approves of Kara dating her son which must translate as high praise indeed.
This episode also shows more of the kinds of scenes I appreciate between Kara and Alex. In this case they have sisterly banter where they sit around and talk about boys. It’s not the most interesting of topics but Chyler Leigh is able to give Alex some personality and a sense of playfulness that the character often lacks.
Not much was seen of James and Winn which is fine as this episode was tightly focused on other elements. I did like that Winn hasn’t turned nasty after being rejected but still feels awkward around her. Kara wants everything to go back to the way it was but also needs to accept that it’ll take time. I’m hoping that this doesn’t change when he finds out about Adam. As I have made clear in the past I am not a fan of contrived relationship drama.
It looks like we’ll be finding out what Maxwell Lord was up to with the mysterious girl he was experimenting on next week. I look forward to that.
An excellent episode that offers some real insight into the origins of the Martian Manhunter and gives David Harewood real opportunity to add depth to his character.
The arrival of a White Martian to finish the job of wiping out the Green Martians by killing J’onn J’onzz lifts J’onn out of the stoic and passionless persona that has been developed. It’s fine as a baseline for the character but gets stale when no depth is added so it’s great that the character is being further developed.
David Harewood does a great job of showing the pain and anger that J’onn feels after being forced to relive the trauma of losing everyone he cared about. The character is fueled by some really complex emotions and these come across really well. The flashbacks showing what happened on Mars are beautiful to look at and help illustrate the horrors that J’onn has witnessed.
J’onn comes around to the idea of accepting help from others. By letting Kara and Alex help him he realises that he doesn’t have to handle this alone and that he has a support network. Kara understands what it’s like to be a survivor of a doomed race and is able to relate to what he is feeling. She is also able to encourage him to remain strong and deal with those feelings which turns out to be instrumental in saving his life.
The White Martian looked great but was a little underdeveloped. I understand the desire to make the conflict between the White and Green Martians more complex but since it wasn’t developed properly it would have been best left as something to be defeated.
I found the character of Senator Marana Crane to be a bit too on the nose as an analogue for Donald Trump. Her anti alien crusade came across as insanely stupid and her change in ideology at the end of the episode felt completely unearned.
Family was a connecting theme in this episode that also extends to Cat’s relationship with her son Adam. As good as this story was it felt as if it came from a different episode to the White Martian story.
The scenes they shared together were really well done and added further complexity to Cat as she was forced to be honest and confront her true feelings about her son. Having Kara act as a mediator shows her ability to empathise and get to the emotional root of the situation as well as builds on the mutual respect between her and Cat that has been developing.
Adam is shown to be just as stubborn as Cat which makes their relationship great to watch. It is only just starting to form but is already compelling to watch.
The flirting between Adam and Kara is a lot of fun too. They have great chemistry together which makes sense as they are husband and wife in real life. I hope it doesn’t descend into having secrets tear it apart as it has been done to death. Similarly I hope that Winn doesn’t come across as angry and jealous when he finds out. Having him be awkward yet mature about his friendship with Kara is good so I don’t want that to be ruined.
Another aspect of the family theme extends to Kara and Alex sitting around talking about boys. It’s a boring subject but Alex has some personality and a playfulness that she doesn’t have otherwise so it’s good to see.
It looks like we’ll see what Maxwell Lord has been up to when experimenting on that unknown girl next week. I look forward to seeing how that plays out.