A World Without Ego: Supergirl, “Survivors”

As Supergirl is still getting its footing on The CW, the series seems to be revealing one season 2 arc at a time per episode. While the premiere and 2×02 were all about the looming menace of Project Cadmus, they’ve since retreated into the background, with alien rights coming to the forefront. Though other outlets though that this week’s episode—about an underground alien fight club—stumbled in momentum, I actually much preferred the debate it opened to any Cadmus threat, which still feels too much like season 1’s villain-of-the-week construct.

Spoilers for Supergirl 2×04 “Survivors.”

Supergirl 2x04 "Survivors" television review

Photo: Diyah Pera/The CW

Supergirl 2x04 "Survivors" television review

Photo: Diyah Pera/The CW

This week we learn that just because President Marsdin signed the Alien Amnesty Act into effect doesn’t mean that National City’s alien population is suddenly going to out themselves, especially since they don’t possess any of the rights that citizens do. Yes, Supergirl is leaning heavily on the immigrant metaphor, but so far it’s working for me. Only last week did we realize just how many extraterrestrials live under the radar in National City, thanks to Maggie Sawyer revealing the alien dive bar to Alex (and, by extension, to J’onn); now, she takes Alex on a business date that requires them to dress to the nines so they can infiltrate the fight club that has apparently existed this whole time. The A.V. Club called this plot development “jarring” and “quick-fire worldbuilding,” but I like to think of it as utilizing that trope of this thing has always been here, you just didn’t notice. Although its ringleader, socialite Veronica Sinclair a.k.a. Roulette (Dichen Lachman, sipping champagne and chewing scenery), is hard to miss with her crimson gown and Lisbeth Salander tattoos.

Supergirl 2x04 "Survivors" television review

Photo: Diyah Pera/The CW

For reasons that aren’t yet clear, Roulette has enough sway to organize pop-up fight clubs and charge a pretty penny for National City’s elite to don themed eyewear and cheer on aliens beating the crap out of each other. Is it her natural charisma, or her mysterious wealthy benefactor, who keeps the upper and lower classes engaged in their roles? She certainly makes her case to Supergirl: Is her fight club, where aliens can work out aggression and even earn some pocket change, any worse than the DEO locking them up for experimentation or imprisonment? At least Roulette’s arrangement makes the aliens feel special instead of dangerous. Though her biting indictment of humans showed that she doesn’t have much hope for the situation to change: “Michael Vick made a mistake. People don’t care what happens to aliens. They only care what happens to dogs.” There is, of course, the fact that Roulette routinely kidnaps many of these aliens, but she’s not concerned with such details.

One breakout star of alien fight club is M’gann M’orzz, the Last Daughter of Mars. This is distressing news for J’onn, who was already upset when she wouldn’t honor him with a mind meld—the Martian tradition of connecting on a psychic level, in “a world without ego,” and sharing all of their Martian memories to keep the culture alive. However, that brush-off pales in comparison to the prospect of her dying and him going back to being the last surviving Martian. Both of M’gann’s decisions stem from the same impulse: She wants to forget her time in an internment camp on Mars, her heartache at being all alone. J’onn thinks there’s also some survivor’s guilt coloring things, as M’gann mentions that she only escaped the internment camp with the help of a White Martian who developed empathy for the Green Martians and smuggled her out 300 years ago.

Supergirl 2x04 "Survivors" television review

Photo: Diyah Pera/The CW

Roulette tries to take advantage of this ambivalence by pitting the two Martians against each other in a fight to the death, but J’onn convinces M’gann to side with him rather than play to Roulette and the rich people’s entertainment. Having accounted for this, Roulette sics another alien, Draaga, on them. What was supposed to be the episode’s big battle turns out to be pretty anticlimactic, as Supergirl makes short work of Draaga thanks to two tips the fledgling journalist picked up. Supergirl defeating Draaga and giving an impassioned speech to all of the aliens—who automatically move to protect Roulette, interestingly—felt heavy-handed and too neat. She’s not going to convert anyone in 2×04, so let’s return to those tips, which were the much more interesting part of the evening.

Supergirl 2x04 "Survivors" television review

Photo: Diyah Pera/The CW

Kara visited Lena Luthor, guessing (correctly) that she would know exactly where to find Roulette’s next pop-up fight club, having changed location after Supergirl’s first (failed) matchup with Draaga. Of course Lena went to boarding school with Veronica; and interesting that she felt no guilt over selling out another member of the privileged elite. Of course, what she gained is arguably more valuable: a favor from Kara, who Lena clearly knows is more than she appears to be—or at least, has connections to CatCo and Supergirl. I wouldn’t be surprised if she were the benefactor who got Roulette off the hook, so Dichen Lachman can come back for future episodes (and hopefully get some more nuance).

Then there’s Mon-El’s handy bit of intel, about an old injury Draaga suffered. It’s one of his and Kara’s only interactions in the episode, as she’s busy with Roulette and he’s confined to the DEO. Only after appealing to Winn’s vanity to make him a superhero suit (and get to name him, aww) and then outright pleading does Mon-El get to explore the outside world with a chaperone. Too bad that both his strength and his alcohol tolerance outweigh Winn’s, and the latter is drooling against the window while the former is embodying the frat-boy persona of Daxamites and accidentally snapping bones in arm-wrestling.

Supergirl 2x04 "Survivors" television review

Photo: Diyah Pera/The CW

The Winn/Mon-El bonding subplot was around the time that I had the same realization as The A.V. Club:

I do think the show is legitimately building to an Alex/Maggie romance (just look at Alex’s disappointment when she finds out Maggie has a girlfriend!), but I’ve now begun to read attraction into just about every same-sex pairing on this show. Lena and Kara? Yep. Mon-El and Winn? Totally. Mon-El and that blonde prince on Daxam? 100%.

Maybe it’s because we’re waiting on Supergirl‘s queer character to be revealed, but all of these interactions seemed to be loaded with subtext.

Supergirl 2x04 "Survivors" television review

Photo: Diyah Pera/The CW

You have to feel kinda bad for Mon-El that he truly doesn’t realize his own strength, yet he’s a little naïve about trying blithely to fit in. Sure, he looks more human than the aliens in the fight club, but that doesn’t mean that he has any rights that humans do. By the end of the episode, Kara has decided to release Mon-El from the DEO into her supervision, as a way to make up for not being there to usher Clark to adulthood years ago. I also appreciated how her initial reluctance to have Mon-El follow “the most powerful woman on Earth” around was built out of true insecurity—she’s not that at all, and she doesn’t want him to see the way that Kara Danvers gets treated in contrast to how Supergirl is revered.

I was torn on sympathizing with Kara in the journalist subplot, probably the episode’s weakest. She’s enthusiastic but untaught, throwing great ideas at Snapper Carr without any structure, sources, or research to back them up. On the one hand, I feel for her, as someone who never studied formal journalism—aside from what I did on the NYU student newspaper—yet makes a living writing pop culture criticism and occasionally breaking news on the internet. Snapper’s comment (“It’s not real until you can verify your sources. We’re the fourth estate, not Reddit.”) hit home. But that’s not what Kara is doing, and she’s simply not giving traditional journalism the attention to detail and adherence to process that it requires. Her “fix” of having Supergirl be a source felt like such a cop-out. I know that Peter Parker claims Spider-Man poses for his photos, but there’s a level of remove there; Kara claiming that she and Supergirl sat down for a totally on-the-record chat seemed far too easy.

Who else thought J’onn and M’gann were totally gonna mind-meld in that last scene? It seemed to be shot and scored for some kind of quasi-romantic-or-at-least-intimate moment, but then J’onn took his leave. Not a moment too soon, we found out, as M’gann revealed the secret behind her reluctance to merge and her guilt-induced fighting: She’s actually a White Martian! Presumably the “good traitor” she was telling J’onn about, but I’m willing to guess he’ll be less likely to forgive her when he finds out.

Supergirl 2x04 "Survivors" television review

Photo: Diyah Pera/The CW

Other Thoughts

  • Kara’s face when J’onn mentions “merging in the way of our people” and her baffled response of “But you only just met,” followed by his exasperated “It’s psychically, Kara.”
  • Interesting that attendees of the first fight club wore Fifty Shades of Grey-esque masks, and bug-eyed sunglasses at the second one; the latter brought to mind the cliché depiction of extraterrestrials.
Supergirl 2x04 "Survivors" television review

Photo: Dean Buscher/The CW

  • “You’re not talking about Mon-El, are you? … I’m not talking about M’gann, am I.” Loved Kara’s self-awareness and turning her own words against herself here.
  • Daxam’s favorite sport is “like soccer, with dragons.” Sounds rad.
  • Clearly the writers are setting something up with Alex and Maggie, judging by Alex’s look of disappointment when Maggie’s girlfriend interrupted their post-fight drink plans. But it was weird that Maggie didn’t even introduce the girlfriend; we didn’t even get a good look at her face.

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