“Earth doesn’t have just one hero anymore. Now it has Supergirl.”
The highly anticipated Supergirl made its rocky, but ultimately solid, debut on October 26th with an information-packed episode of television helmed by Melissa Benoist – best known for her time on Glee.
Benoist elevates this show with a performance that’s bubbly and bright with a core inner strength that makes her the perfect Supergirl. The cutthroat, angsty DNA of most superheroes is refreshingly absent from Kara Zor-El (aka. Kara Danvers). Instead, she’s earnest, inexperienced, and eager. And most importantly – she loves being a superhero.
Benoist’s presence is especially important, as it adds life to an otherwise information-dense pilot. The opening of the episode, which features a clunky voiceover (a staple in most superhero series), explains that although we may know the story of her famous cousin Kal-El (aka. Clark Kent, aka. Superman), we don’t know her story. We are then launched into the character’s past, where, in light of the imminent destruction of Krypton, Kara’s parents (Alura Zor-El and Zor-El) send their 13-year-old daughter to Earth to act as a guardian for her infant cousin. However, her escape pod is stuck in suspended animation in the Phantom Zone and she arrives on Earth 24 years too late. Since Kal is now grown-up and no longer in need of protecting, Kara is sent to scientists Eliza and Jeremiah Danvers and their daughter Alex to have a “human-type childhood”.
With this backstory out of the way, the show jumps into Kara’s “normal life”. She works at CatCo Worldwide Media as an assistant to media mogul Cat Grant with her best friend (and, I assume, future potential love interest) Winn Schott. Kara is instantly besotted with the newly hired Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer named James – not Jimmy – Olsen who recently transferred from Metropolis (the city her cousin is busy saving).
Though Kara originally claims it’s her choice to hide her powers from the world, it soon becomes clear that Alex, Kara’s adoptive sister, has been pushing that choice on her. It’s not until her sister’s life is threatened that Kara finally decides to embrace her abilities, and succeeds in saving a falling aircraft from plummeting to the ground. This sequence occurs early in the hour, and the bulk of the premiere is devoted to Kara fine-tuning her new heroic identity, as well as discovering that she and her cousin aren’t the only aliens on Earth, and the others aren’t nearly as nice.
Kara, and the audience, are introduced to the Department Of Extra-Normal Operations, a covert agency where Alex has been secretly working. The DEO’s main job is to monitor the prison (Fort Rozz) that Kara accidentally brought with her to Earth on her journey from the Phantom Zone. Alex’s boss, Hank Henshaw, is skeptical about Kara, but Alex convinces him that she is both capable and useful.
One element of the pilot that I especially appreciated was the way they proudly declared their feminism. At times, it was a little heavy handed (for example, the truck stop waitress who says, “Can you believe it? A female hero. Nice for my daughter to have someone to look up to”), but moments such as Cat Grant’s monologue about why the word “girl” shouldn’t be considered a pejorative, were quite smart.
“What do you think is so bad about ‘girl’? I’m a girl, and your boss, and powerful, and rich, and hot, and smart. So if you perceive ‘Supergirl’ as anything less than excellent, isn’t the real problem you?”
The emphasis on female relationships was also a fantastic touch. The scenes between Alex and Kara were the most emotionally effective of the episode, and the dynamic between Cat and Kara holds a great deal of potential for a mentor-mentee relationship. Kara’s bond with her mother, despite their brief time together, helps make the episode’s final reveal even more impactful. The ‘big bad’ is her mother’s twin sister, Astra, who is hell-bent on ruling Earth – and making Kara pay for the sins of her mother.
- For me, the most unrealistic part of this pilot is that Kara, for some reason, insists on saving the world with her hair down. There is no way that it would not be whipping around and in her face while she flies.
- The show’s refusal to refer to Superman by name is already proving frustrating. Referring to him as “he” or “your cousin” is definitely more distracting than if the characters were allowed to say the name occasionally.
- It’s a refreshing change to have both of Kara’s potential love interests know about her secret identity before the end of the pilot. One of the most frustrating aspects of The Flash was how long they kept Iris in the dark about Barry’s alter ego.
- As a huge musical theatre fan, the presence of Laura Benanti and the Wicked shout-out both made me extremely happy.
Overall, while the pilot had its flaws, Greg Berlanti – the series’ co-creator – has a great deal of experience with genre shows. He is also the creator of The Flash and Arrow, both of which had rocky premieres, but have become strong, beloved shows. Supergirl is safe in his, and Melissa Benoit’s, capable hands.
Supergirl airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on CBS.