Star-Crossed has been a show about race and racism from its very first episode. But with last night's outing, the show acknowledged that fact more openly and groped its way towards telling real stories about race, with no easy answers.
In general, the further Star-Crossed gets away from being a show about romance, the better it gets — largely thanks to the general lack of romantic or sexual chemistry among pretty much all the show's leads. This is similar to what happened with Tomorrow People, which really tried to lean on the Stephen-Cara-John love triangle for its first batch of episodes before mercifully letting it drop.
And just like Tomorrow People, Star-Crossed seems to be at its best when it's dealing with questions about authority and power and conformity — and whether minorities, like aliens or mutants, are able to live peacefully with society. The two shows are sort of opposites, in a way — in Tomorrow People, the mutants are secret and "the authorities" are trying to remove them from society. In Star-Crossed, the aliens are public knowledge and "the authorities" are trying to integrate them into society. But both shows are grappling with a lot of the same issues, filtered through the murky lens of teen alienation.
After episodes about terrorists and bombs and viruses, last night's Star-Crossed saw a welcome lowering of stakes — the whole issue is purely whether Roman's sister Sophia (whom I keep wanting to call "Lal") could join the swim team.
Is Lal's alien biology, with her ability to breathe underwater and her secondary respiratory system, an unfair advantage? Is she too different to be able to compete on a level playing field? (Early in the episode, one of the other aliens suggests that they're not "different," they're "superior," and this is the question that sort of hangs over the episode.)
But then somebody brings up the question of class privilege — the opposing swim team comes from a school with tons of money and resources, which can afford to recruit the best athletes from all over the Gulf Coast. So is Lal's alien biology an unfair edge, or just leveling the playing field?
In general, this episode — written by Deep Space Nine/Andromeda emeritus Robert Hewitt Wolfe — goes a long way towards fleshing out a bit about the aliens and their different biology. The Atrians may look human, but inside their bodies are arranged completely differently, beyond the two hearts. (But nookie is still on the table.) And the Atrians have weird weaknesses, too — like they can't handle caffeine, which is how Lal is poisoned, and nearly removed from the swim team permanently.
The parallels tointegration and the story of Jackie Robinson are laid out explicitly, in case anybody missed the idea that this is a proxy for race in America. But the questions raised by Lal's desire to swim with the humans aren't that simple — is someone who can breathe underwater purely like a talented human who happens to be a different race, or is the difference more fundamental?
In the end, the kids from our high school unite to beat up the kids from the other high school — in a major victory for tolerance.
But meanwhile, the extent to which the Atrians are second-class citizens is underscored when we learn they're not even allowed to have phones. Roman's dad hid a phone in their apartment, and this is a huge code-red emergency and a potential reason for Roman to be locked up in Alien Gitmo forever. Roman enlists the aid of Lukas to find out what's on the phone. And we learn that Roman's dad was communicating with Secret Alien Teacher, and they had a son together. (Was it Roman? I couldn't tell. Roman wasn't born on Earth, so it seems unlikely.)
In any case, the goal of integration for Atrians seems a long way off when they're not even allowed to use basic communication devices, or join in when the other kids are talking about their new apps. How do the Atrian Seven update their Facebook statuses? All worthy questions.
All in all, I kind of want to see this show delve deeper into the questions it's brushing over right now — like, maybe we could meet a human who mistrusts or dislikes the aliens, who's articulate and sensitive and not an idiot? Maybe we could see more of the reasons behind the weird levels oppression the aliens face, but also more of the ideology behind the Trags? This show is going to sink or swim based on how multi-layered its political analogy is, and right now, it's just about treading water.