The Face of Fear: Supergirl Confronts a Divided World
Last Sunday’s Supergirl ended in pretty dramatic fashion with a flying Kara getting hit by a Kryptonite bomb and plummeting to Earth. Over its four seasons, Supergirl has been pretty good about using Kryptonite sparingly—the threat of people having it in their possession has been more a factor than the substance itself. That may be why the ending was so powerful. We’re simply not used to seeing Kara brought down so quickly and easily, and we’re definitely not accustomed to seeing her vulnerable.
“It’ll take the whole team to save her,” shared Supergirl Executive Producer Robert Rovner, “and … to figure out how to stop what’s now gaining much greater momentum—this fear of aliens. It kind of sets the stage for everything that comes this season.”
Remember that word, Supergirl fans: Fear. It’s something that has taken root in National City and the entire population is in danger of being overcome by it. After three seasons of finding themselves attacked by aliens, and discovering that many other-worlders are living hidden among them, people are afraid, and this season’s villain is more than willing to use that fear against National City’s greatest hero.
“This season we’re up against the Agent of Liberty, who is charismatic and likeable,” revealed new cast member Nicole Maines (Nia) in a recent interview. “He represents fear and ignorance in the face of aliens in National City. So, how do you combat fear and ignorance? It’s harder than you think because it’s a very primal emotion and force that everybody has in them.”
At this point, not much is known about Agent Liberty. So far, he’s only been seen wearing a mask. But when it comes to this particular baddie, it’s not his face that’s important, it’s his words. He understands the fear that people are feeling with regard to aliens. He speaks right to it, and he has an army of believers called the “Children of Liberty” who hang on every word he says. But are they evil, or just misguided? And what can Kara do? How does a super-powered Girl of Steel fight pure emotion and anger in the very people she’s devoted herself to protecting?
“Supergirl’s dealing with a divided nation, and how she can try and heal it,” explained Rovner. “How people can speak out and speak up. It’s woven into the entire season because we’re dealing with the fallout of the president having been outed as an alien. We’re speaking directly to it in this episode, but the dialog permeates the entire season.”
It’s a challenge drawn entirely from the world we’re in today, and it’s not hard to see the clear parallel between the fear of extraterrestrials found in many of National City’s residents and the fear of immigrants found in much of our society. Supergirl has never been a series to shy away from addressing social issues, but as Rovner explains it, there’s a reason they wanted to address what they’re seeing today.
“Our country feels divided, and I think that Supergirl is a character that always has tried to use hope as a weapon to combat hate,” he said. “So, we wanted to use that platform to create a dialog about what’s happening in our nation and how a character like Supergirl can speak to that, and also see how she would deal with it when she represents one of the things the nation is afraid of.”
“That’s what this season is all about,” shared Maines. “It’s a look into what we are facing in our country right now, which is fear and ignorance personified in people with power—people who are charismatic and who know how to sweet-talk people into fearing.”
As James’ editorial made clear in the last episode, Supergirl isn’t afraid to take a side in the issue, but it does so fully understanding where the other side is coming from. This weekend’s episode, “Man of Steel” (which doesn’t refer to Kara’s famous cousin, but to Agent Liberty’s steel mask), reveals the origin of this season’s villain, who’s brought to life by Smallville alum Sam Witwer. In it, we learn how he gained his beliefs, transitioning from an accepting college professor to the fearmongering leader he is today.
“When you get to see the origin story of Agent Liberty, it adds a level of depth, so we understand why our villain is our villain and the things in his life that brought him to this place of being so against aliens,” explained Rovner. “I think it helps keep everything more balanced than it might otherwise be.”
While it’s hard not to view the issue through a political lens, Rovner and the Supergirl team don’t actually see the issue as political, and what’s more, he feels like he wouldn’t be true to the show’s hero if they didn’t address it.
“We think it’s important to examine what’s going in [the world],” he said. “Supergirl and Superman have always spoken out about issues, so it’s something we’re cognizant of. We’re also trying to keep it balanced, so we’re exploring all sides of the issue. This might seem political, but what Supergirl’s really speaking about is everybody treating each other with kindness and everybody accepting people. Even though some of the sides make things divisive, Supergirl’s searching for a way to unite people, not to divide us. That’s what we’re focusing on.”
In other words, prevailing this season won’t be dependent on Kara’s physical skills, but on her faith in humankind and her ability to inspire. It also means that Kara can’t do this alone. Overcoming Agent Liberty and his supporters means overcoming the hatred, fear and ignorance that may reside in the people of National City—or to put it more bluntly, us. And with success being in the hands of such an imperfect race, perhaps Kara should get used to feeling vulnerable, even without the Kryptonite.
Yet, as fans across the world know well, one thing Supergirl’s unlikely to lose is her belief in our capability to be better.
“She wants the country to be its best,” Rovner offered. “She doesn’t take a side except for being good and being your best self and a voice for hope and peace.”
Let’s hope, for National City’s sake, that hope and peace speak louder than fear.
“Man of Steel” airs Sunday, October 28 at 8 p.m. (7 p.m. CST) on The CW.