One of the best things about Supergirl’s second season is that the writers have finally realized what a gift they have in Chyler Leigh. Though Alex has always been one of the most important women in Kara’s life, she shared that role with Cat Grant back in season one. But Cat’s departure has left more room for Alex storylines this season (at least when Mon-El isn’t stealing the spotlight), and Leigh has elevated just about all of the dramatic material the writers have thrown at her, from her coming-out arc at the beginning of the season to her confrontation with her father in the woods last week. “Exodus” is basically a spy thriller starring Alex Danvers and her sidekick Supergirl, and it serves as the perfect culmination of Leigh’s work this season. And her excellent performance, coupled with some politically relevant subject matter, elevates “Exodus” into one of the best episodes of the season, if not the series as a whole.
It feels cliché to describe a piece of entertainment as “more relevant than ever in the era of Trump.” But “Exodus” deals so directly with the language and policy of the Trump administration that the reference is impossible to avoid in this case. Not only does Snapper Carr warn that fake news could lead to a fascist in the White House, but Cadmus’ evil scheme isn’t too far off from real-life White House policy: Round up immigrants and deport them, regardless of whether the places they come from are ravaged by war, famine, or genocide. In this case, the alien immigrants are literal aliens and the way to deport them is to put them on a spaceship headed across the galaxy, but the parallel is clearly intentional. And though our heroes may disagree on the best way to stop Cadmus, there’s no debate about whether the organization’s fears are actually valid. In the world of Supergirl, rounding up innocent people and deporting them is something only a supervillian would do.
The truly chilling opening scene establishes the stakes of Cadmus’ plan as we watch a sweet, Bruno Mars-loving alien family brutally rounded up for deportation. It’s a chilling sequence that gives the audience a personal connection to the broad ideals our heroes are fighting for. And like last week’s Dean Caine-centric episode, having one central focus gives “Exodus” a nice sense of cohesion even as each character deals with their own tangential problem: Winn wants to get his abducted alien girlfriend back, J’onn wants to stop Cadmus without putting his people at unnecessary risk, Alex wants to rescue her father before he gets caught in the crosshairs of a DEO/Cadmus showdown, and Kara wants to use her journalistic outreach to prevent more aliens from being captured.
Kara gets her most CatCo-focused story in ages as she butts heads with Snapper Carr when he pushes her to get at least two verified sources before publishing a story that warns the alien population they’re at risk. Even a visit from Supergirl herself isn’t enough to get Snapper to loosen his journalistic standards, forcing Kara to betray his trust and go rogue with a blog post that eventually costs her her job. Yet while Kara’s story is a compelling return to her underutilized interest in journalism, the episode first and foremost belongs to Alex.
As with Kara, trust plays a key role in Alex’s story too. She’s singularly motivated by her faith that her father hasn’t actually been swayed by Cadmus’ xenophobia. And Leigh beautifully portrays the sense that Alex is slowly unraveling beneath her put-together exterior. Though Supergirl is a sunny show, it isn’t afraid to go dark at times, as it did with J’onn’s backstory. And when Alex beats a captured Cadmus soldier hoping he’ll give up information about her father’s location, the show doesn’t shy away from the ruthlessness of her moment of police (well, DEO) brutality.
If Alex’s prison beatdown is the episode’s most physically brutal scene, the most emotionally brutal one comes when J’onn puts Alex’s loyalty to the test. He pretends to be Jeremiah and asks Alex to go behind the DEO’s back, which she all-too-quickly agrees to do. J’onn’s transformation (de-transformation?) is a genuinely shocking reveal on a show that tends to telegraph its surprises a mile away. But even once J’onn suspends her from the DEO, Alex doesn’t hesitate to put her biological dad’s safety above her adoptive dad’s trust.
Director Michael A. Allowitz adds a decidedly cinematic flare to his first Supergirl outing, and that’s especially true of the exhilarating climax, which feels like a throwback to the bigger CBS budget of the first season. Alex goes on a one-woman mission to save Jeremiah and stop Cadmus from exiling its alien prisoners. She’s at her most badass as she both makes and then actually goes through with threats to blow up the Cadmus base. And she doesn’t hesitate to put herself in danger to rescue the captured aliens onboard a launching ship.
While Alex gets plenty of GIF-worthy action moments in the final showdown, her most powerful tool turns out to be her trust in her sister, which also feels like a return to the emotional, sister-centric storytelling the show so often relied on in its first season. When Kara’s comms are knocked out by a blast, Alex must use silent, open-hearted faith to motivate her sister to push a moving spaceship back to Earth. It’s a gorgeous, dialogue-free sequence reminiscent of Kara’s breakdown in “Red Faced” or the Danvers sisters hug in “Solitude” (not to mention Wrath Of Kahn), and it’s one of the most emotionally effective scenes Supergirl has ever done. Leigh and Melissa Benoist beautifully sell the Danvers sisters’ bond without even being able to touch or speak to one another.
If I have a complaint about “Exodus,” it’s that Jeremiah gets a little lost toward the end despite being so central to Alex’s motivations at the beginning. But that’s more of a nitpick than anything else. As comic books have done from the beginning, Supergirl is using its genre setting to make (pretty on-the-nose) real-world political statements, which is admirable in its own right. But it’s the nuanced, high-stakes character drama that really allows “Exodus” to soar.
- James is back! He’s mainly just there to play supportive BFF to Winn, but at least Mechad Brooks actually gets some screen time for the first time in forever. And I didn’t even hate his brief Guardian appearance either.
- Lena’s also back! And the episode has another overtly romantic moment between Kara and Lena as Supergirl swoops in to save Ms. Luthor after she’s flung from a balcony by some incompetent henchmen. Also apparently they go on kombucha dates together, which sounds like a lot more fun than teaching Mon-El how to be a decent human being for the umpteenth time.
- Speaking of Mon-El, this episode made perfect use of him: As goofy comic relief/emotional support who doesn’t overwhelm the rest of the episode.
- I love that Maggie is immediately ride-or-die for Alex’s cause. They get some great action moments together.
- Kara gets fired for her blog post, which may or may not be the show’s way of jettisoning CatCo as a location. I’ll be bummed if that’s the case as the focus on Kara’s double life is what set Supergirl apart from the rest of the superhero shows in the Arrowverse.
- The Snapper/Supergirl scene reminded me of how fantastic Melissa Benoist is at playing the Supergirl persona Kara adopts among people who don’t know her secret identity (she’s kind but authoritative). More of that please, show!
Next week: Supergirl is taking a week off next week. But the week after that, the ’90s are back, and they brought Kevin Sorbo and Teri Hatcher with them! (Oh, also Mon-El is officially a Prince Of Daxam, and I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!)