A war is coming to Supergirl in season 4!
On one side, we have Supergirl (Melissa Benoist), a beacon of hope and tolerance for all; and on the other side, we have individuals like Mercy Graves (Rhona Mitra) and Sam Witwer’s Agent Liberty, who represent fear and seek to divide the country and turn it against aliens. As you can see in the exclusive new season 4 promo, Kara will have work her cut out for her because growing anti-alien sentiment has led to hate crimes and the aforementioned fear-mongers are prepared to go to war.
“We see the big thematic question of the season: What is stronger, hope or fear?” co-showrunner Robert Rovner tells EW.
If it wasn’t clear from the promo — which you can watch above — the season’s main conflict between hope and fear of aliens is supposed to be an allegory for the real-world immigration debate and racial divisiveness in the states. Not only that, but the showrunners also wanted to use this season’s arc to also make a case for how you don’t need a cape to be a superhero, too.
“Robert and I really wanted to tell stories this year that were more grounded and reflecting the real world issues,” says co-showrunner Jessica Queller. “Part of what interested us was really reflecting reporters and journalists as heroes.”
Below, EW chats with Rovner and Queller about the difficulties in tackling these topical issues, how Kara handles a problem she simply can’t punch away, and what makes Agent Liberty such a frightening villain.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: It’s clear from this promo that this season is using anti-alien sentiment to explore our real-world issues. Why did you want to go in this direction this season?
JESSICA QUELLER: One of the things that we love about Supergirl is the ability to reflect real-life issues that are going on in the world and explore them, and our show is all about inclusion and representation. There is so much division in our world. I think that most of us who read the newspapers are grappling with these issues every day. Robert and I, at the beginning of the season, thought that it would be very empowering for us to kind of look at the issues we’re all dealing with through the lens of Supergirl, who’s such a hopeful character and represents compassion and help and hope for all.
ROBERT ROVNER: And how she can try and use her powers and voice for good to try and unite a divided country. We’re excited to be able to explore all those issues and how Supergirl and the rest of our characters speak to that.
QUELLER: And maybe if, in some small way, we can move the needle of people being kind towards one another and tolerant of one another, then we are doing our part.
Superhero comics have a long history of tackling real-world issues, and that’s been more successful in some cases and less in others. What challenges have you encountered so far?
ROVNER: I think we want to keep the show topical yet entertaining and kind of still have the hallmarks of “heart, humor, and spectacle.” So we don’t want to —
QUELLER: — get didactic.
ROVNER: So it’s coming up with situations [in which] we can discuss these issues, but kind of veiled within the context of our stories. Also, we really want to keep the show balanced. So, we really want to make sure we’re representing all sides of the issues that we’re discussing so that it doesn’t become one-sided, because at the end of the day, Supergirl helps and rescues people regardless of the political side that they’re on.
QUELLER: These are tough issues. I was going to answer your question: The hardest thing is solving world peace [laughs]. How do you get people to be kind to one another and listen to one another? One of the challenges for Supergirl this year is that there’s anti-alien sentiment. How does Supergirl combat fear when she is the thing they are afraid of? I think these are difficult issues in real-life just as they are in dramatic portrayals, and we’re just all just kind of soul-searching in the writers room—
ROVNER: —and discussing how to tackle these issues —
QUELLER: —and how to bridge the divide —
ROVNER: — and how the characters would do it.
What do you mean by showing both sides?
QUELLER: For instance, we are working hard to explain in later episodes why our villain Agent Liberty became a villain and what his history, roots and backstory is, which does not excuse his actions, but if you kind of go deeper and look at the full portrait of a human being and understand why they behave the way they do, then maybe that’s a way to bridge the divide. You can’t reach someone if you don’t understand why they are the way are.
ROVNER: To that end, for the characters, it’s both about us hearing each other and us listening to what both sides have to say.
QUELLER: Everyone has pain, and when they act badly, it’s usually from a place of pain.
Speaking of Agent Liberty, what makes him such a new and formidable opponent for Kara?
ROVNER: I think because he preys on people’s fear — fear of what they don’t understand — and I think the movement that he’s creating is not something she can win in a battle. It’s not about punching him, because he’s just a human man. It’s about finding a way to combat what he’s doing — creating this division in our country and this fear among a good part of the population of what the aliens are doing to this country.
QUELLER: Another thing that makes him dangerous is that he’s a very powerful orator and he really is persuasive. Just as Supergirl can reach hearts and minds, he has the ability to reach a massive audience, and he’s smart enough to make a compelling argument, which is dangerous.
ROVNER: I think what the audience will find very compelling and frightening about him is that we spend most of an episode doing his origin story. So we understand him on a deeper level than we’ve understood our villains before and we feel the circumstances that turned him into such a powerful villain.
J’onn (David Harewood), who chose to live as a black man, has been on Earth for years and has seen and experienced it all. How does J’onn react to this swell of anti-alien sentiment?
ROVNER: For J’onn, he’s one of the first to recognize that it’s happening. Because he’s left the DEO and he’s kind of living among the people, and he’s living on the street proximate to other aliens, he’s on the front lines of understanding what’s happening before Supergirl is. He is trying to make an impact on the people that he’s dealing with and trying to protect their rights, but also trying to figure out his path forward now that he’s given up violence and wants to be much more like his father he was. For him, [it’s a question of] how does he fit in and combat this fear in his own unique way that’s different from what Supergirl is doing?
Can you tease how Kara tries to fight this fear as Supergirl and as a reporter?
QUELLER: There’s one scene that’s really important to us this year, and it’s showing that being a journalist and freedom of the press are just as heroic as being a superhero. Kara becomes a hero as Kara Danvers the journalist in a very, very powerful way using her voice and speaking the truth —
ROVNER: — and shining a light on the issues and what’s behind some of the hate movements that’s taking over the city.
Last season, Kara struggled to balance her human and Kryptonian sides. Where is Kara’s head at when the season begins?
ROVNER: At the very beginning of the season, she’s feeling great. She feels like she has conquered her demons from seasons past and kind of knows who she is as a hero and a reporter, and she’s kind of all full steam ahead. I think she’s very positive about things, and I think she doesn’t want things to change because she feels she’s on a very positive path. She becomes disillusioned when she realizes that things are not as positive as she had hoped that they were in the world.
She’s trying to be this beacon of hope, but she represents what people hate. How is that weighing on her?
ROVNER: Over the course of the season, sentiment is evolving as it relates to aliens, and I think it’s something she struggles with to still give hope and guidance and save people when they’re less positive about the people she represents.
QUELLER: It’s definitely something she hasn’t faced before on this level. That’s her challenge for the year: How to persevere and be a hero when it’s really challenging.
ROVNER: We see the big thematic question of the season: What is stronger, hope or fear?
How is Alex (Chyler Leigh) faring as the DEO’s new director?
ROVNER: She’s badass and awesome. She’s taken on a lot, and we get to see her newly formed relationship with Brainy [Jesse Rath] in the first episodes, because we haven’t seen them together in the DEO really. And, you know, I think she’s struggling with being a leader, especially in a very evolving situation. The circumstances of the season opener really set the stage for the whole season. She’s reacting to a lot of fallout and trying to be a leader under challenging circumstances —
QUELLER: —and a divided country and a lot of confusion surrounding that and different alliances, and how to manage and be a leader in those times.
How is Brainiac fitting into the DEO?
ROVNER: It’s a learning curve.
QUELLER: He has some growing pains at the beginning, and they’re very charming and funny. It takes [Brainy and Alex] a while to get into their groove, and they’re not used to each other.
What’s in store for James (Mehcad Brooks) this season?
ROVNER: His role as CatCo editor-in-chief becomes very important as the press becomes very important to our storytelling, and also what he represents as Guardian becomes important, too, and how Agent Liberty wants to hold James up in a very high standing.
Do they view Guardian as someone who represents their cause because he’s a human?
ROVNER: Human exceptionalism. They appropriate him as a role model to his chagrin.
Does admitting he’s Guardian put his job in jeopardy at all?
ROVNER: That’s something that’s dealt with in the first episode. I don’t want to tease that too much.
QUELLER: But it’s definitely addressed and resolved in one way or another.
Supergirl premieres Oct. 14 at 8 p.m. on The CW.