It’s weird that this is a show, right?
Like, a year ago, if someone made me bet on whether or not there would ever be a Supergirl TV show–on CBS, no less–I would have put all my money on “don’t be stupid, you moron.”
That’s not to say that there shouldn’t be, or that I’d automatically view it with a negatively prejudiced eye. (On the contrary, I’m a huge Supergirl fan. I have Peter David’s entire run, which is what first drew me into the character; I loved his “fallen angel” approach.) I just mean that, out of DC’s entire lineup, Supergirl (1) isn’t exactly a Flash, a Wonder Woman, or a Green Arrow, (2) doesn’t have as interesting or unique a backstory as someone like Batgirl to differentiate her enough from her inspiration, and (3) by definition will always play second fiddle (once removed?) to The Man in Blue.
So for a Supergirl TV series to work, The Big Guy would have to be out of the picture somehow, and I couldn’t imagine a network executive signing off on that idea. As much as I would love to see it, a televised adaptation of “The Death of Superman,” with Supergirl the lone Super-survivor at the end, is never going to be in the cards.
Instead, this series takes the approach of having him “present” but never really seen (à la HBO’s Veep). In lieu of Superman’s death, I think this strategy mostly works, particularly because it lets them avoid acknowledging how disjointed and full of missed opportunities DC’s on-screen continuity really is.
For instance, did you know that Supergirl actually had a canonical role in The Man of Steel? Wouldn’t it have been cool for this show to be a semi-sequel to that movie?
Instead, they seem to exist in alternate universes. Which is fine, but makes me wonder how much I should care about what happens in this one if others keep coming down the pike. What’s the point? Who is this show for?
The answer, incidentally, occurred to me about half-way through this episode: not me. This show isn’t made for die-hard DC fans.
I was surprised by that realization. In my head, I had declared some kind of imminent domain over the right to enjoy a show centered on a superhero. If I didn’t like Smallville, that was up to me. If I don’t like Flash or Arrow, I could say so and expect to be taken seriously.
But If I don’t like Supergirl? I don’t think anybody should really care. The show isn’t made for me.
I could speculate on the target audience–and why I think this show could end up being incredibly important–but that is a topic best left for others.
Nevertheless, I’m a Supergirl fan through-and-through. I’m in it–whatever incarnation “it” takes–for the long haul. So let’s get down to business.
In the comics, Kara Zor-El/Supergirl has had a few origin stories. She was Superman’s cousin, yes, but she was also a synthetic protoplasmic “matrix” created by Lex Luthor, and later, a regular person imbued with the powers of Supergirl when that matrix melded with a young girl in order to save her life, thus attaining the one thing “matrix” could never have.
This show takes the long-lost cousin route. As it turns out, Kal-El was not the only person to leave Krypton; Kara Zor-El was sent closely behind. Kal’s older cousin was meant to watch over him, but her pod gets knocked off course and, yada yada yada, by the time she makes it to Earth, “Baby Kal” is twenty-four years older than Kara, and takes her to live with aging Hollywood “Super” stars Helen Slater and Dean Cain the Danverses, hoping they’ll be able to raise her just like the Kents.
Ten or so years later, Kara (Melissa Benoist) has taken a job working as Cat Grant’s (Calista Flockhart) assistant. She has a few pals around the office, like Winn (Jeremy Jordan) and “the new guy” Jimmy Olsen (Mehcad Brooks), who she kind of develops a “ka-pow” like attraction to. Jimmy–or James, as he prefers to be called–is a successful photographer and gives Kara a print of his most iconic photograph, one in which Superman is taking to the sky in a blue streak.
It’s a really gorgeous picture, and one that has helped save Metropolis’ The Daily Planet from financial ruin. In fact, Kara’s boss has told her that unless National City can find a hero like Superman, CatCo’s Tribute would have to be significantly downsized.
A Break Out Star
It is news of the impending downsize–and The Daily Planet–that gets Kara thinking more about her relation to Superman and her place in the world. Later that night, Kara confides these feelings in her sister, Alex Danvers (Chyler Leigh), who urges her to keep living her normal life. Alex helps Kara pick out a dress for Kara to wear for a date later that night before she leaves for Geneva.
When Kara’s date turns out to be a jerk, her earlier feelings start to come back. That’s when she hears news of a plane having trouble over National City… a plane that was originally headed for Geneva. Bolting outside, she takes a few practice leaps (“I can barely remember how to fly”) before bounding up to the aircraft, guiding it down to safety.
U mad, sis?
Kara, rightfully pleased with her act of heroism, goes home to relish in the news coverage. Alex the Killjoy shows up and instead of being thankful for still breathing, refuses to celebrate with Kara… she tells Kara that she shouldn’t have exposed herself like that, and that soon everybody will know who she is.
The next morning, Kara decides to tell Winn her secret on the rooftop of the CatCo Building. After a moment of confusion (he thought she was trying to come out as a lesbian), she leaps off the edge of building and flies back up for proof.
Winn decides she needs a kickass costume (another missed opportunity, in my opinion… why couldn’t we have seen Supergirl’s costumes through the ages?) and in the meantime sends Kara out on a few crime fighting missions to test her skills.
It’s on one of those missions that she is shot with Kryptonite-laced tranquilizer and kidnapped by… her sister, Alex, who works for the Department of Extra-Normal Operations under Hank Henshaw. As it turns out, the DNO isn’t very happy with Kara and blames her for leading the exile’s of Fort Rozz to Earth after her pod crashed over a decade ago.
Kara’s heritage is why Alex was recruited by the DNO (although Henshaw points out later, it isn’t the reason they’ve decided to keep her around… that’s all her), and also why she was so mad at Kara for exposing herself earlier on. There’s some Krypt-iminals coming for her.
The next morning, Kara arrives at work to find her image from the airplane rescue and the bank robbery all over the monitors. Cat Grant has dubbed the mysterious woman “Supergirl.” After a tense conversation about the meaning of the word “girl,” Cat is ready to fire Kara but is swayed when James walks in and tells Cat that Kara is the only reason she has the photos in the first place.
Kara (apparently afflicted by the same magic that lets Clark Kent wear a pair of glasses as a disguise) walks away, but begins to hear a transmission from one of the Super-Criminals, Vartox (Owain Yeoman). Vartox, speaking in a high-frequency only Super-beings would be able to hear, calls Supergirl out.
A fight ensues, during which she is sliced by Vartox’s axe. He gets the upper hand, but Alex saves her with a super-powered helicopter and chases him away. It’s the first time Kara has felt real pain, but it wasn’t for nothing: a sliver of Vartox’s axe broke off in her arm, and they can use it to track and discover how to beat him.
Convincing Henshaw to give her another chance, she meets up with Vartox and starts one final encounter. But when Vartox gets the upper hand again, Alex reminds Kara that the world needs her, and she is more sure of that than ever before. Buoyed by her sister’s words, Kara turns on her heat vision, and blasts Vartox’s axe until it crumbles.
Vartox kills himself, but not before warning Kara that there are bigger dangers yet to come. Indeed, in the final scene yet to come, we learn Kara’s aunt is the one orchestrating the Fort Rozz criminals to retaliate against Kara’s mother by killing her, the daughter of the one responsible for locking everybody up (family dynamics can be confusing).
“…and I’m here to save the world.”
Humbled, Kara goes into work the next morning and promises to tell Winn all about the encounter. James invites Kara up to the roof where he shares with her another secret: he knew who she was all along, because C.K. Superman sent him to keep an eye on her.
Having learned her lesson, he entrusts her with Kal’s old baby blanket… which happens to make a pretty great cape.
A jam-packed episode with enough beats to last an entire season, the pacing stayed consistent even at the expense of deeper character development. In spite of that and some pretty cheesy dialogue, you can’t ask for much better action sequences from a network TV show, and the actors all performed superbly with what they were given. Otherwise, I like the upbeat, bright atmosphere present here, which was missing from The Man of Steel.
Kara was cast especially well, and is the definition of the word “adorkable.” I think she has the mild-mannered, Clark Kent-esque quirks down, but I wonder if she’ll be able to believably switch into being ultra-confident when the time comes to ditch the disguise.