Previously on Supergirl, ‘Pilot’
Six years ago I got introduced to The Boys, an ultra-gritty comic series about a group of quasi-governmental agents tasked with keeping superheroes in check. One of the overarching themes in the series is that just because someone can fly around and lift buildings doesn’t mean they automatically would know how to, say, safely maneuver a doomed passenger jet through the suspension cables of a bridge and then successfully ditch it into a river without anybody getting hurt.
In fact, in The Boys, one superhero’s attempt to do something similar only makes the situation worse and precipitates a gut-wrenching event that ends in horror.
So when Kara did it last week, I did a little eye-roll but wasn’t all that surprised, because as far as superhero stories go, that stuff is par for the course. I was glad, then, to see Supergirl fail in this episode. As Cat Grant tells her, “There is a learning curve. How about starting small and working your way up?”
It all happens one week after the events of episode one. After getting cocky by breaking the sound barrier and dodging Hank Henshaw’s test missiles in the desert, Supergirl is all jazzed up to get out there and just be a hero.
Her sister tries to slow her down, but Winn calls and tells her about a massive fire at the oil tanker docks. Kara takes off, eager to save the day, but when she tries to move the tanker she only manages to peel off the front end, letting all of the oil out into the water.
Thus sets the tone of this episode: whoa there, let’s all just take this easy.
When Kara arrives at CatCo the next morning, her boss is echoing the sentiments of someone named Max Lord on the news: is Supergirl a miracle or a menace? After all, Superman costs Metropolis a lot of money, and Supergirl could soon do the same for National City.
Citing The Daily Planet’s monopoly on Superman coverage, Cat wants to own Supergirl and tells James that he needs to use his connections to get her an exclusive interview with her. Later, she even goes as far as threatening his job.
But Kara doesn’t want to do the interview because she is afraid of being recognized, and how awkward would that be? It’s at this point that we get yet another possible explanation for how Clark Kent’s lame disguise might actually work: it’s because nobody can really believe that such a meek, mild-mannered individual could also be the world’s greatest hero. It’s that whole “hiding in plain sight” thing. But Kara isn’t buying it just yet, and neither am I. (I’ve always kind of wanted a physiological explanation… something like, human neural processes aren’t able to actually remember the faces of any Kryptonian.)
That night, another of the Fort Rozz inmates attacks a worker at a warehouse, which draws the attention of the DEO. Alex calls in her sister to consult on the alien, whom she immediately recognizes as a Hellgrimmite from her time on Krypton. Kara relays the information that Hellgrimmites are basically large insects that can camouflage into humanoids. (This is different from the comics lore, by the way, wherein Hellgrimmite is a sole character, albeit with similar characteristics.)
Supergirl offers to take down the Hellgrimmite, but Henshaw and Alex put the breaks on her again. Alex takes her sister into a room laced with Kryptonite and shows her that she isn’t as invulnerable as she thinks. Alex coaches Kara to not rely on her strength so much; to use the strength of other, superior foes to her advantage instead. Humbled, Kara goes into work the next day and sees a draft of Cat’s latest copy for the noon posting: Supergirl–failure to launch?
Frustrated, Kara asks just what Supergirl is supposed to do. When Cat responds with, “Calm the hell down,” Kara honestly looks as though she might be onto something. Cat goes on to talk about how she climbed the ranks in The Daily Planet to get to where she is, and that Supergirl should do the same. Inspired, she enlists James and Winn to help send her on a series of smaller quests. There’s a bank robbery on 5th and Siegle; an ambulance stuck in traffic on Donner Avenue; a kitten snake that needs rescuing from a tree.
The strategy works, and Supergirl’s public image starts to turn around which further inspires Kara. She agrees to do the interview with Cat because not doing so means James will get fired, which would be awfully selfish and she does not want to be that kind of hero–the kind who goes it alone, like her cousin. She wants Supergirl to be known as the kind of hero who brings people together. It’s her family’s sigil, after all; that big S on her chest actually means “stronger together.”
Meanwhile, at the DEO, Alex, Henshaw, and the team have figured out that the Hellgrimmite is actually eating the chemicals it has been acquiring, so they come up with a fool-proof plan: drive around the city with open buckets of DDT. That’s step one. Step two is, apparently, shoot wildly at whatever shows up.
Since stage 3 is “???”, the Hellgrimmite takes advantage and attacks the caravan, then abducts Alex so Astra doesn’t rip him a new one for being completely useless. Astra is pleased with the Hellgrimmite’s bounty, and does that stereotypical villain thing where she explains her grand plan. She doesn’t want to destroy humanity, she says, but save them all. Of course.
Supergirl, having gotten a call from Henshaw, shows up and is visibly shaken when she sees that the “bad guy” they have been chasing is none other than her aunt. Astra tells Kara that she has Krypton’s final moments all wrong; her mother sent Astra to prison for being a hero and trying to save the world.
A physical confrontation ensues, primarily between Astra and Supergirl but also between the Hellgrimmite and Alex, the latter of which is quickly able to respite herself from the situation by kicking the Hellgrimmite in the nards.
As Astra gets the upper hand, Kara remembers Alex’s coaching from the Kryptonite room and uses her aunt’s strength to her advantage. But that only buys her a few moments, and when she comes back, Henshaw is there and saves the day by stabbing Astra with a Kryptonite knife.
Recovering at the DEO, Alex reveals to Kara that there is an interactive construct available for her to talk to. An interactive construct, she explains, is kind of like a “living memory.” Basically, an artificial intelligence based on the user… in this case, Kara’s mother.
Kara asks the construct for a hug, but that isn’t something it can do. So instead, she asks to be told everything there is to know about Astra. With another victory under her belt, she heads off to do the interview with Cat.
Outside of the interactive construct, Alex thanks Henshaw for setting up this “fortress of solitude,” and he says that it is the least he can do “for Supergirl,” finally relenting to the name. But as he walks away, his eyes turn red for a moment.
Was he corrupted by the Hellgrimmite when his caravan was attacked? Hardly. Hank Henshaw has a whole history you should read about if you aren’t familiar. It might help to consider what other pop culture icon looks human but can be revealed by his glowing red eyes.
Here’s a hint: he’ll be back.
In the same vein as the first, the second episode of Supergirl manages to cover what could be an entire season in just under 45 minutes. I’m actually glad for this, because it’s done well–not only does it evoke the feeling of a comic book, it also means the series will be less predictable; I thought the Supergirl versus Astra encounter wouldn’t happen until the season finale. Otherwise, the dialogue was only marginally better from last week and still had cringe-worthy moments. The action was top-notch again, and way more than I expected after what could only be a budget-busting first episode. But at this point, I am most pleased by the show’s acknowledgement that a superhero isn’t born with the know-how required to do their incredible feats. In other words, despite the show’s quick pace, I’m glad they are reminding themselves to “calm the hell down.”