Supergirl Deftly Explores Adoptee Abandonment

Supergirl’s most recent episode explored an adoptee issue that needs to be discussed more often – the intense fear of abandonment.

Kara Zor-El, the Kryptonian girl who was the last survivor of Krypton, was sent to Earth at age thirteen to watch over her cousin, baby Kal-El. Her pod was stuck in the Phantom Zone for twenty-four years, however, and by the time she arrived on planet Earth, little Kal-El had grown up and become Superman. Kara, still stuck at age thirteen, was adopted by the Danvers family.

The series begins a decade later, when Kara (played to perfection by Melissa Benoist) is in her mid-twenties and first transforms into Supergirl. Although the episodes largely take place in the current day, there are occasional flashbacks to Kara’s early years on Earth. Scared, alone and confused, Kara learned all she knew about functioning on Earth from her older sister, Alex (beautifully portrayed by actress Chyler Leigh).

Now, the single most important relationship in Kara’s adult life is the one she shares with Alex. The two sisters work for the same agency, and they share the same circle of friends.

The Supergirl writers have continuously handled Kara’s identity as an adoptee with emotional intelligence and adeptness. They manage to convey both her sense of isolation and longing for her first family, while also showing her deep and loving connection with the Danvers family. Even her name reflects her complex identity. She is referred to as Kara Zor-El in some scenes and as Kara Danvers in others, highlighting her dual identity (not to mention her identity as Supergirl!)

In “The Martian Chronicles” (Episode 11 of Season 2), which aired on Monday, Feb 6th, Kara summoned immense courage and voiced her fear of abandonment by Alex. The catalyst for this conversation was Kara’s growing jealousy over Alex’s newfound closeness with girlfriend Maggie.

A pivotal story line this season has been Alex’s own identity development, as she comes to terms with her feelings for Maggie. With sensitivity, Alex shows us the desperate vulnerability and raw hope of coming out as a lesbian in a heterosexual world.

As Alex finds her footing, she has become more comfortable spending time with Maggie, and we see the toll it takes on Kara. During Episode 11, Alex tells Kara that Maggie surprised her with tickets to a concert on the same night as Kara’s “Earth Birthday” (the day she arrived on Planet Earth and was adopted by the Danvers family).

Kara pretends everything is fine, agreeing to celebrate Earth Birthday another day, but Alex – attuned to her sister, regardless of biology – can tell that Kara is upset.

This being Supergirl, of course, a group of evil White Martians then invade the DEO, the agency where the sisters work, and they are sidetracked by a ton of kickass fighting scenes that feature a whole slew of cool aliens. The best part about these scary aliens is that they can shape-shift into people, and nobody knows who is secretly a bad alien.  As Alex and Kara work together to stop the White Martians, there is a touching scene where Kara confides to Alex her real feelings about Alex postponing Earth Birthday.

Kara opens up to Alex, explaining that ever since she came to Earth, Alex has been her one constant. “The truth is, I’m scared of losing you,” she tells her sister. Alex responds with empathy and sincerity, promising to Kara that she will NEVER abandon her.

But in the next moment, we learn that the real Alex was trapped all along and that a White Martian had been impersonating Alex. A fantastic twist, well acted by Chyler Leigh, that led to a glorious battle between Supergirl and the bad guy.

In the end, Alex misses the concert with Maggie, and she shows up at Kara’s apartment with a cupcake for Kara's Earth Birthday. With gentle prodding by Alex, Kara once again tells the real Alex about her fears of abandonment, and Alex reassures her that their sister relationship isn’t going anywhere, no matter what.

I love the way the Supergirl writers came back to this vulnerable conversation and created a second dialogue where Kara had to talk about her fears. Adoptees need to talk again and again and again and again about their issues, not just once, and this show is modeling the best way for adoptees to work through their feelings – over and over.

I think back to the days when I was a teenager, and the media portrayed adoption terribly through comedies such as Diff’rent Strokes or Webster. Thank goodness my daughters - sisters through adoption, just like Kara and Alex --are growing up in a time when adoption isn’t just fodder for comedy, but rather a complex and nuanced part of a family's identity.

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Carrie Goldman is an award-winning author, speaker, and bullying prevention educator. Follow Carrie's blog Portrait of an Adoption on Facebook and Twitter

Are you looking for some awesome children's Star Wars chapter books? The BRAND NEW second book in the Jazzy's Quest chapter book series for adoptees is HERE!!! Be sure to get your copy of Jazzy's Quest: What Matters Most, the sequel to Jazzy's Quest: Adopted and Amazing!

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