Supergirl – Season 1 Episode 2
Supergirl makes some massive improvements after a pilot episode that seemed to exist to tick all the boxes that an origin story should. The second episode focuses on Kara attempting to define herself as a hero by finding her own way of doing things.
I would go as far as saying that this is the real first episode of the show. As I said last week the pilot was fine but there was a real sense that there was no appetite to make an origin story episode as it felt like something that had been forced upon the producers. By contrast, this episode confidently forges ahead with what I imagine to be the intended style of the show.
In the opening scene, the DEO (Department of Extranormal Operations) are putting Supergirl through her paces by testing her upper limits of speed and strength by firing missiles at her. It’s a really cool sequence and actually shows why Hank Henshaw has been chosen for this assignment. He is a man who doesn’t accept things at face value and likes to test things to make up his own mind. In this case he knows that Kara is Superman’s cousin but doesn’t accept that she is necessarily as strong or fast as him so he runs his own tests and comes to his own conclusions. It’s also great to see Kara using her abilities and enjoying showing off while she does so. It’s something that Barry is known for on The Flash and I think it’s important for any superhero to realise how fun their abilities are when they allow them to be.
The main theme of the episode presents itself shortly thereafter when Kara flies over to a fire at the docks and finds herself completely overwhelmed by the situation. The chief on the scene is frustrated with her and reminds her that Superman would have blown the fire out before she even tried to. Her super breath doesn’t work so she has the idea of moving the tanker out of the way which accidentally causes a minor ecological disaster when oil leaks into the water. The theme of the episode is about Supergirl finding her own way that is distinct from Superman. It’s clearly shown when her super breath doesn’t work so she tries something else. I liked the subtlety of the symbolism at play here. Kara isn’t her cousin and she will find her own way to solve problems. The fact that it turns out to be a well intentioned failure only highlights that she has a lot of learning still to do.
Unfortunately for Kara, this causes some reputational damage for Supergirl who is now being portrayed in the media as being clumsy and not as good as her cousin. It’s quite a modern idea that is clearly meant to allegorise the notion of celebrity. Supergirl was being celebrated as a hero that National City could lay claim to in the pilot and everyone was behind her but now that she has made one mistake everyone turns on her without caring that she is trying to help. This happens a lot these days with celebrities being built up as someone to respect when they do and say the right things but as soon as a mistake is made the media demonises them and it actually works in changing people’s perception of them. Marketing is a powerful tool and it’s one of the driving forces behind Supergirl so far.
Cat Grant embodies the whole media part of the show by being almost directly responsible for how the world sees Supergirl. I like the fact that she doesn’t necessarily agree with that perception but her job is to make a profit and she has no moral code that allows her to be fair when that simply isn’t how her world works. Her conversation with Kara illustrates that perfectly. Cat points out that in society women need to work twice as hard to receive half the credit. It’s harsh but that’s the way it is according to her and that belief comes from a place of experience for her. She mentions that she was Perry White’s assistant who clawed her way up from the bottom of the pile to eventually write a gossip column and fast forward to the present day she owns her own media empire. It didn’t happen overnight and she had to work very hard to get to that point. The reference to Perry White is one of several casual references to the Superman mythos that includes mention of Clark Kent and Lois Lane. It’s good that the show isn’t shy to mention these things even if they don’t show them.
In Cat’s mind, Supergirl needs to do the same. She can’t start off by saving oil tankers because that takes experience that she simply doesn’t have yet. It will be better for her image if she works her way up to it by making more modest saves that will cement her in the eyes of the people as a hero they can look up to. Once she learns to hone her abilities that way then she can work on dealing with much larger issues. It’s almost as if Cat sees through Kara’s ridiculous disguise and is directly advising her. If Cat knows her identity but won’t say anything then that would be an interesting dynamic for the two characters to have and it would also show that Cat isn’t an idiot.
There is an in-universe explanation for the secret identity hiding that makes a kind of sense. Jimmy Olsen tells Kara that nobody sees through Clark’s disguise because they don’t want to. It’s difficult for people to notice that there’s a hero standing among them so it’s almost a collective ignorance that prevents people from seeing the truth. As always it strains credibility but that’s hardly the fault of this show. It has been a suspension of disbelief that has always been associated with these characters so you either have to just go with it or spend a long time questioning something that doesn’t really matter.
Kara takes Cat’s advice and pulls off several modest saves. She enlists Jimmy and Winn to help her track down incidents in progress. There’s a wide variety of events for her to be involved in including an armed robbery and saving a snake from a tree in a clever subversion of the cat stuck in a tree trope. It’s a really cool scene seeing Supergirl fly around being super and helping people. Kara is clearly enjoying herself as she does each save with a smile on her face that helps promote a positive attitude and an overwhelming sense of optimism for the show. The reputation of Supergirl goes a long way towards being rehabilitated with these initial heroics but it is definitely possible for the public to turn on her just as quickly.
Melissa Benoist remains loveable in this role putting across the right balance of vulnerability and strength that makes her a relatable character. The strongest scene for her was when she was faced with the AI construct of her mother where she started off vulnerable looking for comfort and then getting back to business when she realised that it wasn’t really her mother. Talking to holograms of dead relatives is a mainstay in Superman adaptations so I’m glad to see it used here.
A conversation that Kara has with Jimmy continues the theme of the episode when some depth is added to him around his capabilities. He feels that his career is only in the position it is due to the fact that he knows Superman. Kara reminds him that there’s no shame in accepting help to get ahead in life and it’s a philosophy that has been a part of her since she was a child on Krypton. Kara intends to work with her team to be a better hero rather than try to do things on her own and she encourages Jimmy to do the same.
This scene further highlights the differences between Supergirl and Superman. It is pointed out that Superman has always been a solo act as that is all he has ever known but Kara doesn’t have to follow his example. She has the benefit and burden of a memory of what it was like to live on Krypton which allows her to draw on the meaning of their family crest. Apparently the family motto is “stronger together” and that’s something that she intends to live by. I like the idea of Kara remembering Krypton and that being a big part of her character.
I find it interesting that this philosophy also extends to her aunt Astra (also played by Laura Benanti). Her presence is revealed to Kara in this episode which I found to be a slightly unexpected development so early in this series. Instead of dancing around the whole villain prospect for a whole season this show will be able to use that relationship to tell solid stories involving these characters. Astra fully adopts the philosophy of being stronger together as it relates to how she commands the group of prisoners. She rules over them using her strength and reminds the prisoners that they are better working together to achieve their goals. It’s interesting how the same philosophy can be applied in very different ways. I also like that the existence of Kryptonite terrifies her so much that it slows down her plans. I wonder what her endgame is if not the destruction of Earth and humanity as she seems very concerned with not letting what happened to Krypton happen here. There is some differences in opinion with her twin sister that need to be fleshed out around what Astra was doing in an attempt to save Krypton.
Kara’s fight with Astra was fine but also a little awkwardly staged. Clearly Kryptonians are at a far smaller power level than in Man of Steel for instance which is fine. All of the powers still exist but they are far less off the charts than in other example. This creates the potential for smaller scale issues to have a big impact while still dealing with having all this power to get to grips with. I like that Kara realises that she needs to learn to fight in order to deal with powerful threats.
With Astra’s full introduction in this episode it’s more forgiving that the villain; Helgrammite (Justice Leak) is so weak as a character. He was never designed to be a strong presence as his motivation was outlined as being entirely driven by the need to eat. He is a highly evolved insect who consumes toxic chemicals and isn’t at all concerned with who he hurts to achieve that. His role in the story has no other function other than to bring Astra into the story so in that sense he is well used. I like that Kara could draw on her knowledge of Krypton to provide information on him which doubles as a solid way to have Kara’s life on Krypton become relevant and establish an emotional connection to it for the audience. It was also a nice touch to have Alex be the one to kill him as it helps establish her as a strong presence who won’t simply be a damsel in distress.
Helgrammite was also used to give the DEO something to chase after. This part of the show is definitely the weakest aspect so far with a strong emphasis on the same military nonsense we’ve seen a million times before. It would be forgivable if the characters within that were interesting but the only two people of importance are Hank Henshaw and Alex who are at best ill defined. There is a hint at depth for Hank who mentions that he did have a family in a tragic tone and his glowing eyes indicating that there’s something going on with him could be interesting. An attempt is made to have the sisterly relationship between Kara and Alex the emotional core of the show but there’s a lot of work to do before this becomes as strong as it needs to be.
A consistent problem with this episode is that the dialogue can be really clunky. Characters sit around and discuss their feelings and outline their motivations rather than have conversations that show these in a more sophisticated way. There is a good example where Alex talks about showing Kara the popcorn maker when they were kids that shows their relationship more organically than any other scene between them. This clunky dialogue extends to Kara’s conversation with Astra but there is some really good stuff in there as well. It’s clear that there is a familial bond in there and that it will be further developed.
A vast improvement on the pilot episode and represents what is arguably the real first episode of the Supergirl TV series in terms of setting up what the show is really going to be about.
An early blunder on Kara’s part causes some serious reputational damage for her as she is seen as clumsy and a poor imitation of Superman. At Cat’s advice she rebuilds her reputation by performing modest acts of heroism to get her name out there and show her positive attitude with a genuine desire to help. I like the idea of linking it to the concept of celebrity through her perception in the media.
Melissa Benoist is still great in this role. She showcases the right amount of strength and vulnerability to make her feel well rounded and relatable. The strongest scene is where she was faced with an interactive hologram of her mother and realises that she can’t expect a meaningful relationship from it.
The main theme of this episode is Kara figuring out what sort of hero she is going to be. A lot of time is spent highlighting how different she is from Superman and how she can use that to forge her own identity. Her one attempt to do things Superman’s way fails miserably so this prompts her to figure things out on her own. It’s a nice touch to have Superman be a solo act but Kara’s knowledge of the true meaning of the Kryptonian crest inform her role as a superhero in a way that allows her to ask for help. It becomes apparent that she sees no shame in it after reassuring Jimmy that he might be in a good employment position because of his relationship to Superman but that doesn’t reduce his value in any way.
Since the villain is Kara’s aunt Astra the philosophy also extends to her in very different ways. Her ruling over the prisoners is a strong one but she does so from the position that they are stronger together. I’m curious what her endgame is if not the destruction of Earth and humanity with it. It’ll be interesting to see the rivalry she had with her twin sister fleshed out as Astra insists that she tried to save Krypton.
Astra’s full introduction in the episode meant that Helgrammite was far less important. All he wanted was to make sure that he got fed but he wasn’t especially precious about who he hurt to achieve that goal. His presence is mostly to bring Astra and Kara together as well as give the DEO something to do.
The DEO are the weakest aspect of the show currently with only Hank and Alex being a big part of that. There is a hint of depth for Hank who clearly lost his family under tragic circumstances and the glowing eyes could prove interesting when developed. Alex mainly functions as half of the emotional core that is supposed to exist between her and Kara. The sisterly relationship is clearly at the centre of everything here but needs a lot of work before it works as well as it needs to.
A big problem is clunky dialogue where characters sit and talk about their feelings and motivations rather than having conversations that show them without defining them explicitly.