It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a superhero show on CBS! Kara Zor-El zips her way onto the scene in a fast-moving premiere, putting the pieces into place for what is looking like a smart, enjoyable and self-assured show. After watching this episode, I believe a girl can fly…and that a superhero show can survive on CBS.
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A Super Fun Pilot
It’s not exactly surprising that the Supergirl pilot is so good, since the showrunners of this show are alums from Arrow and The Flash. They’ve been making superhero shows for years now and seemingly learning from each new iteration.
To wit: by the end of the pilot, Kara’s secret is known to about 99% of the regular cast. This is a real improvement over the usual superhero status quo, where friends and family are kept in the dark for at least the first part of the season, if not several seasons. The Supergirl team has wisely decided to abandon this tired concept, skipping right to the part we all know is inevitable anyway and having most of the cast in on the secret from the first episode.
The casting is spot-on for everyone, but especially apparent for star Melissa Benoist. In any superhero show, the series is really going to end up living or dying by how well the lead hero is cast. Benoist brings a great energy and enthusiasm to the part, and it’s practically infectious.
Which isn’t to say that the pilot is perfect; there certainly are a few chunky bits here and there. Firstly, I’m not sure if it’s a restriction from DC Comics (who used to be really tight-fisted back in the days of Smallville, the last tale about a member of the House of El) or if it is a creative decision, but it’s certainly weird that no one speaks the name “Superman” at any point in the episode.
They have to jump through so many hurdles to avoid saying the name that it sounds like they are talking about Voldemort. Calling him “He Who Must Not Be Named” might have actually been less awkward.
Secondly, while it’s great to see a female-led superhero show on TV, the pilot also spends a lot of time drawing attention to the fact that Kara is a girl. There’s the whole “girl” speech Cat gives, which is patently ridiculous but tries really hard to make a point, any point, about feminism. And there are a million other examples, from the waitress saying Supergirl will be a good role model for her daughter to Alex’s “Is it because she’s a girl?” response to Hank. It all comes off as a little much.
We all get it. Supergirl might be able to jump buildings in a single bound, but there are some gender barriers that are even higher. But, honestly, the show is so on-the-nose about its feminism that it comes off a little cloying.
I’m hoping it’s mostly a factor of this being the pilot and therefore our first introduction to Kara, and hopefully subsequent episodes can tackle issues of gender with a little more subtly than the anvil being dropped continuously in the pilot.
Backstory and Trying to Be Normal
The episode begins with Kara’s narration of her backstory, which is basically the same as He Who Must Not Be Named But Also Wears a Cape’s backstory. Basically, Krypton was exploding and Kara’s mother, Alura, sent a teenaged Kara along to look out for the baby Kal-El. Unfortunately, Kara wasn’t old enough to take her spaceship driving test and the explosion knocked her ship into the Phantom Zone.
Even more unfortunate, when she comes out, it’s been 24 years and Kal-El is already Henry Cavill and is too hot to need her help anymore. “We must never again speak face to face, Kara, for I am a movie actor and you are a television actor. Here, I give you to Dean Cain. He’ll guide you or something.”
Kara is left with the Danvers, played by Dean Cain and former Supergirl Helen Slater, and she has a new older sister named Alex. Fast forward a decade or so and Kara has decided to just live a normal life in National City. “Sure, I have superpowers, but what I really want to do is go into the publishing industry!” said no person ever.
Kara’s normal life doesn’t seem so bad, despite the fact that her boss, Cat Grant, is a delightful monster. Kara has a great sister who will stop by and help her pick out first date outfits, a friend at Cat Co. who is in super-obvious love with her and the new guy at work is famed photographer Jimmy Olson, who just so happens to be a stone-cold fox. Things could be worse. Still, Kara feels unfulfilled.
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It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane … Falling from the Sky!
All that changes in the blink of an eye when Alex’s plane starts to come down over National City. Kara takes flight again after a bumpy beginning, saving the plane and becoming a media sensation in the process. Alex is furious at her sister for showing herself, which doesn’t seem like an adequate thank you for saving her life.
The next day at work, Cat is on the warpath because they didn’t get the exclusive, and Kara decides to reveal her secret to her friend Winn. With Winn’s help, Kara chooses a costume in a pretty fun fashion show that nods towards some of Supergirl’s more insane costume choices over the years.
Kara begins actively fighting crime, discovering in the process that capes help with aerodynamics and that she is indeed bullet-proof. Unfortunately, she’s not kryptonite-proof, and on the way to rescue someone from a fire, she’s snatched up by a shadowy government agency. So, like, screw those people in that fire, I guess.
Kara is shocked to see her sister and to find out that the Department of Extra-Normal Operations has known about her for years. This causes a big fight between Alex and Kara, one that department Director Hank Henshaw could not care less about. Hank wants Kara to chill it with the superheroics, especially since her ship knocked loose a prison from the Phantom Zone and sent it to Earth. Whoops!
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The Big Battle
What’s a superhero without a super villain, right? In this case, the super villain is Vartox, an evil escapee of Fort Roz that was trying to kill Alex and the rest of the department. During a fight with Kara, she finds out that her mother, Alura, was actually the judge who banished him to the prison and to the Phantom Zone.
Alex explains that this is the reason she didn’t want her sister to reveal herself to the world. Those Fort Roz prisoners are pissed, and Supergirl is the closest they have to getting even.
Alex and Kara also have a sweet moment where Alex admits that she’s envious of her super sister. She shows Kara a recording her mother made, telling her she could be whatever she wanted. “You don’t just have to protect He Who Must Not Be Named, Kara. You could also get your own CBS show. TV is going through a golden age! It’s just as good as the movies now!”
Having patched up their sisterly bond, Alex and Kara go back to see Hank Henshaw, who looks like he would rather decapitate himself with a rusty spoon than talk to Kara for more than one minute at a time. Dude is grumpy.
They all hatch a plan to defeat Vartox that involves Kara stopping a truck, which is awesome, and using her heat vision, which is also awesome. Vartox stabs himself but warns her that worse is on its way.
And he’s not kidding because apparently her mother had an evil twin who is the General of an army of evil Kryptonians. You’ve got to respect a show that comes strong out of the gate with an evil twin. Most shows have to work up to that.
Finally, Kara finds out her crush Jimmy “Call Me James Because I’m Sexy and Grown” Olson knows her secret identity. It turns out James “Grown and Sexy” Olson wanted to spread his wings and find a new city where people didn’t call him “Jimmy,” and Superman suggested National City so he could keep an eye out on Kara. Jimmy was like, “Sweet, bro, more superhero exclusives for ‘ol James Olson!”
James “I”m Seven Feet Tall So It’s Insane to Call Me Jimmy” Olson hands Kara a package from He Who Must Not Be Named But Also Wears Red and Blue. In the package is Kal-El’s baby blanket and Kara gets emotional. “That will apparently make a much better cape than that garbage you’re wearing now,” James says sweetly. “No disrespect.”
Next time, Cat gives a rousing speech on why the word ‘girl’ is empowering because that’s the name they were stuck with from DC Comics and they have to tie it into feminism somehow. Hank Henshaw frowns. Kara saves a whole bunch of people but can’t figure out how to unzip her dress. And Superman stands in the background of every scene but is completely ignored and unremarked upon by everyone, like a ghost who wears his underwear on the outside.
What did you think of the Supergirl premiere? What do you think of Kara? And most important: will you be tuning in again? Sound off in the comments!
Supergirl airs Mondays at 8pm on CBS.
(Image courtesy of CBS)