Come Out, Come Forward: Supergirl, “Changing”

Climate isn’t the only thing changing on this week’s Supergirl, amirite? Seriously, though—while a scientist empowered by an alien parasite gets defeated before he can continue his quest against climate change deniers, other characters make concrete changes in their identity, from coming out of the closet to adopting a new persona. But while one of these changes looks like it’s gonna stick, I’m not so sure about the other.

Spoilers for Supergirl 2×06 “Changing.”

Supergirl 2x06 "Changing" television review

Photo: Liane Hentscher/The CW

In an interesting update to last season’s villains-of-the-week, as well as a thematic tie to this season’s message of humans and aliens need to learn to coexist, this week’s threat is just a normal guy who touched the wrong frozen wolf at the wrong time. With a Yeerk-like slug roosting in his brain, Dr. Rudy Jones (William Mapother, a.k.a. Ethan from Lost) isn’t two distinct organisms, but someone entirely new—imbued with the power to find a solution for global warming, for which he makes a compelling case:

Dr. Jones: Global warming isn’t taking a break. Our planet is being destroyed, and not by any invader or army, but by us, taking it for granted.

Problem is, that parasite seems to have scrambled his brain a bit, because all he does is fight anyone—human, superhero—who gets in his way. While Dr. Jones and the parasite have a great symbiotic relationship going, it’s still hungry—and it turns out it can drain quite a bit of juice from both Supergirl and J’onn J’onnz.

Supergirl 2x06 "Changing" television review

With both of them temporarily out of the running, the second string is up: Mon-El, who’s not sure he actually shares Kara’s desire to help the helpless; and James, who cannot wait to put on his super suit and hit the streets as a vigilante. But even though James’ desire is a noble one, the one who really shines is his “man in the van” Winn: First he tries to put things in perspective for James, only to get snapped at like he’s his lackey. This was perhaps Winn’s best episode, for how he stands up for himself and shouts at James that he’s gonna get himself killed if he gives in to his impatience and haste and jumps into fights before he’s ready.

Supergirl 2x06 "Changing" television review

Even after James apologizes and Winn produces the suit, he gives him one last chance to back out—a reminder that he is about to stop being just James Olsen anymore, that there is no going back once he changes his identity. Because of his dad, you guys. If it hadn’t been for Alex’s subplot, this would’ve been the arc that got me the most choked up.

Supergirl 2x06 "Changing" television review

I’m really not sold on James as Guardian, though. He looks like a modern knight, down to the shield; his rasp is almost Bateman levels of laughable; and everything about his decision not to tell Kara—and him teasing Supergirl with his lead suit she can’t see through—is needlessly dramatic. Which is not to say he shouldn’t adopt a new attitude along with the suit, but these beats just feel way too worn. I can see all the wheels turning in breaking up Kara and James’ fledgling relationship, leaving a hole to fill with his sudden retconned crimefighter ambitions. I keep flashing back to last week’s conversation—again, Winn with the wisdom—about how James is someone who fights with knowledge. In a show whose fight scenes make me tune out, I would have loved to see how James combats National City’s growing unrest between human and alien populations with journalism and social media. It would also give us an excuse to spend time at CatCo, which was nonexistent here; now that Winn and Cat don’t work there, and James is clearly phoning it in, who’s going to defend Kara when she takes an unexpected sick day after getting all of her energy sapped?

Supergirl 2x06 "Changing" television review

But the Guardian fends off the parasite, until Supergirl can reappear with enough plutonium-239 to blow him up (and whisper “I’m sorry” right before doing so). James and Winn decide that they like being a crimefighting duo, so we’ll see where this arc goes.

Supergirl 2x06 "Changing" television review

Photo: Bettina Strauss/The CW

Speaking of secret identities, M’gann M’orzz is put in a bind when Alex begs her to donate blood to a failing J’onn after the fight with the parasite. She makes weak excuses, but what can she say—sorry, I’m a White Martian, our people are sworn enemies? Alex, thinking it’s a cultural thing, implores her to save J’onn. M’gann whispering “Forgive me” to him seems to be about more than just the revulsion he would feel if he knew that one of his tormentors had saved his life; after he wakes up, his hand begins shaking, indicating that White Martian and Green Martian blood may not actually mix.

Moreso than M’gann Morzz, moreso than James as Guardian, moreso than Dr. Jones with the parasite, the character who most struggled with their identity this week was Alex Danvers. In showing us a big sister and “perfect” daughter finally putting her own needs first and recognizing the truth of who she is, the Supergirl writers are saying what we really need to hear right now:

Alex: Maybe it’s just a phase. You know, maybe it isn’t real.

Maggie: It’s real. You’re real. And you deserve to have a real, full, happy life. Tell your family. This is the biggest thing that’s ever happened to you, and you shouldn’t have to do it alone.

Supergirl 2x06 "Changing" television review

Photo: Liane Hentscher/The CW

While Alex’s coming-out conversation with Kara felt a tad after-school special, it was nonetheless emotional:

Kara: So, she’s gay?

Alex: Yeah.

Kara: And are you saying you’re gay, too?

Alex: I don’t know. I’m just trying to make sense of it all. It’s so complicated.

Kara: Alex, it kind of sounds like you’re coming out to me. Have you felt like this before?

Alex: Not like this.

Kara: Have you ever been with a girl?

Alex: No. Never.

Kara: OK, what’s different? I know you haven’t been dating much lately—

Alex: This isn’t because I haven’t found the right guy—

Kara: I never said it was. I’m just trying to understand, OK?

Alex: You know, I’m up all night just thinking about it, and… if I’m being honest, I realize that maybe I’ve had thoughts like this before. You remember my best friend in high school, Vicky Donohue?

Kara: Yeah, I remember Vicky. You guys had a really bad falling out, right?

Alex: I used to love sleeping over at her house, in her room, in her bed. I think I felt something then, and it scared me. Because the next thing I know, I’m fighting with her over something so stupid and we just—we just drifted apart. I shoved that memory down so deep inside that it’s like it never happened. I’m remembering stuff like that, now.

Kara’s initial stiffness was off-putting, because she seemed truly thrown by Alex’s revelation, and not in a seemingly supportive way. At first I thought that she was having the reaction I’ve heard about from the loved ones of my queer friends—an automatic fear and sadness that things will be harder for them now. But Kara’s reaction comes more out of guilt, as she realizes—especially with Alex’s mention of her high school best friend—that their childhood was spent focusing on Kara’s alien identity without ever considering that Alex would be struggling with a secret of her own.

I don’t love that the drama of Alex’s realization feels more in line with the same kind of subject matter we would have seen in an early-2000s Degrassi episode, but I do appreciate the specificity of her experience. I’ve known more than one woman to come out who had that kind of super-close, almost obsessive, female friendship in adolescence, where the two besties might as well have been dating, they were so intertwined in each other’s lives. My best friend growing up was technically my first kiss (though we were so young that we didn’t really think of it as that), and we were inseparable. She later came out as gay, and some years after that I discovered I was bi. Not sure if the writers’ room pulled from personal experience, but there’s certainly emotional grounding for what Alex says. Also this:

Kara: I’ll go get the alien. You get the girl.

Supergirl 2x06 "Changing" television review Alex/Maggie kiss

But. But! After Alex screws up the courage to kiss Maggie, she gets another first experience: being let down gently.

Maggie: Well, we’re at really different places, and everything is changing for you, and everything’s gonna feel really heightened and shiny, and you should experience that for yourself, not just to be with me. I shouldn’t get involved with someone who’s fresh off the boat; those kinds of relationships never work out. I’m here for you, but as a friend.

It is so sensitive and measured, but of course Alex flees and goes home crying. She had told Kara earlier that despite being almost 30, she feels like a teenager again; so of course those feelings of rejection and self-doubt are heightened, not just the fun, shiny parts. Maggie makes excellent points about not wanting to be Alex’s first; and if she’s really listening, she might have caught the subtext that they could maybe be together after Alex has had some experience with dating other women. But I don’t blame her for sobbing into Kara’s arms about how humiliated she is; I almost started crying for her. And now she’s all “I made a mistake” and “I was wrong,” which has me worried she’ll go back into the closet. Fingers crossed that Alex will stay out, even if it’s a slow process, and take her time learning about herself as this new person.

Supergirl 2x06 "Changing" television review

Because we couldn’t end a Supergirl episode on an emotional cliffhanger, here’s a plot one: Mon-El gets nabbed by Cadmus! (With The Doctor Mrs. Luthor at the wheel, looking fierce as ever.) Yawn. This is the logical next step for his arc, after being told he’s a coward and then stepping in to help with the fight. Expect a lot of well Kara you never thought I was worth anything anyway as he turns (or is forcibly turned) to the dark side of this show.

I’m much more interested in figuring out why J’onn J’onnz is growling that Kara needs to die in next week’s preview. Does Cadmus do a number on him, too, or is it a side effect of his White Martian blood transfusion?

Supergirl 2x06 "Changing" television review

Photo: Bettina Strauss/The CW

Other Thoughts

  • Isn’t it really not smart for Kara to be seen at an alien bar, drinking rum that would kill humans, in her Kara Danvers getup? I have to imagine someone would notice the cute girl in glasses and connect her to Supergirl.
  • “How do you feel?” “Floaty… but I’m not floaty.” Drunk Kara is adorable.
  • “Cho-co-late. Choco-late.”
  • “I’m driving you home.” “I’m not flying, that’s for sure!” Seriously, Kara, stahp.
  • “You can’t stop us. You can’t stop the thing that we’re changing into,” the parasite says, but safe to say you can apply this to all of the characters.

Natalie Zutter applauds the Supergirl cast and crew. Also, she has Aqua’s “Doctor Jones” stuck in her head now. You can read more of her work on Twitter and elsewhere.

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