Greg Berlanti’s Supergirl premiered tonight to the huddled masses of fandom, waiting with hushed breath and fragile dreams, and it might not be the Supergirl you want, but it just might be the Supergirl we need. With two successful superhero TV franchises under his belt, Berlanti is riding high and straddling two networks, which makes it easy to give him a pass on his cinematic output – *COUGH* Pan. *COUGH* But seriously, Pan.
IMDb sets the stage as such:
Twenty-four-year-old Kara Zor-El,cousin of Superman, who was taken in by the Danvers family when she was 12 after being sent away from Krypton, must learn to embrace her powers after previously hiding them. The Danvers teach her to be careful with her powers, until she has to reveal them during an unexpected disaster, setting her on her journey of heroism.
Kara Zor-El/Danvers/Supergirl is played by Melissa Benoist, who looks the part and has a charming screen presence that bodes well for audiences as the lead of DC’s premier female superhero franchise. The ad campaign has played to the bright anti-Man of Steel vibe of the trailer, which shows at least some people in charge of DC understand that gritty and bleak might not be a shortcut to quality. The show is light and breezy reminiscent of a big budget NBC family show. I was impressed with the quality of the effects used to depict Supergirl flying. Unfortunately, it can be pretty obvious where they cut the corners for the big set pieces, for example, the Krypton sequence looked like a Wing Commander cut scene, or something off Sega CD.
The show is rife with some excellent casting and solid fan casting, which luckily has coalesced into a very solid ensemble with a lot of heart. Dean Cain, nineties kid’s Superman is here as Kara’s adopted Dad, and I for one am so happy to see him escape SyFy/VOD actor jail. Jimmy Olsen is now James Olsen, award winning photographer and Metropolis transplant, Mehcad Brooks is a solid bit of casting, nailing the part as a mentor figure with charm. Calista Flockhart is also a campy revelation as Kara’s boss at the Tribune, National City’s answer to the Daily Planet, a calculating hard-nosed bit of counterpoint to all the soft feels on this show.
The pilot opens with Kara narrating her origin story, which starts with her family sending a 10 year old Kara into space to protect Kal-El. But the shockwave created by the destruction of Krypton knocks her off course into the Phantom Zone, which she eventually escapes, but now she’s arrived 24 years after her baby cousin already arrived. Kal-El has grown to be a Superman and he escorts her to an adoptive family, the Danvers and they raise Kara alongside their daughter.
Cut to grown up Kara as a Clark Kent style nerd in glasses having her ‘Devil Wears Prada’ moment, bringing coffee to her boss played by Calista Flockhart. We are introduced to her coworker that I’m gonna call Friend Zohn*, for obvious reasons, and Jimmy Olsen in an obvious and well suited mentor role. Later that night, while bemoaning her wasted potential, a plane carrying her sister starts to experience trouble, and Supergirl is born. The special effects were crisp and impressive, and the sequence was even more exhilarating than the stand out sequence from Singer’s Superman Returns.
Kara’s sister is happy that she is still alive, but she warns her sister to not pursue a public identity, fearing for her safety. The bulletproof woman does not question her sister’s concern, but is instead saddened that her joy and feeling of actualization is not validated. This feeling leads her to confide her secret identity to Friend Zohn at work, and we are treated to a nice montage that mirrors the ‘We Can Never Go Home Again’ costume modeling bit and includes some super heroics set to Carl Carlton’s ‘She’s a Bad Mama Jama’**.
Supergirl is a branded savior of the Tribune, which is hoping she can help them sell more copies. Kara is offended by the use of the diminutive ‘girl’ in the name, and almost loses her job, but Jimmy arrives with the first picture of Supergirl in costume, which he credits as Kara’s scoop. I’m less concerned with issues around the name of the character, and more concerned with the fact that she shared her secret identity with a co-worker she barely knows, and who hit on her in their first exchange. But then again Friend Zohn, is named accordingly.
Turns out an alien named Vartox was behind the crash. But before he can threaten our hero, she is knocked unconscious by Kryptonite darts and passes out, only to awake in chains. Agent Henshaw of the DEO, who turns out to be Kara’s sister’s boss, gives our young hero the story engine of the show: when her pod escaped the Phantom Zone it brought an alien prison with it. The aliens are loose on Earth, and they hate Kara because her Mother was the person that put them in jail. A nice tease is featured in this scene, where classic comic villain Despero can clearly be seen, and I for one am excited.
I know Agent Henshaw is the gruff father figure here, but it is awkward watching a man be overtly sexist to a bulletproof woman that could break him with a sneeze. It is silly, outmoded, and totally rings true. If Superman is a God then Supergirl is a Goddess. And man confronted by this power would still be human, i.e. stupid and stuck in old habits that are restrictive and counterintuitive. It is a subtle girl power message and I’m picking up what they are putting down. Supergirl is the new She-Ra.
Kara has an encounter with Vartox at a factory, and his strange space axe actually cuts her, luckily, DEO arrives and scares of the alien. Supergirl has never felt pain before, which is a fascinating idea that gets glossed over while her sister heals up her arm at DEO base. Kara has her perfunctory refusal of the call, but luckily for us the show doesn’t dwell on this hero’s journey beat for too long. Kara’s sister arrives with a message device recovered from Kara’s ship, which contains a message from Kara’s Mother. “There is no correct path…always be true to yourself,” She says. Kara cries when she attempts to touch the hologram as it fades away, in a surprisingly effective tear jerker moment.
The two sisters suit up and head to the DEO united in their intent to kick some alien ass. Supergirl demands respect and the opportunity to finish what she has started with Vartox, and Agent Henshaw relents. We are treated to a really quality brawl in the desert that starts with Supergirl giving a Mack truck the lean in (I’m a horrible pun monster, I know). Agent Henshaw looks doubtful to which Kara’s sister responds, “Not strong enough? Why? Because she is a girl. Exactly what we are counting on.” Kara gets close enough to overload the space axe with her heat vision in a powerful moment that had me on the edge of my very comfortable seat. The axe explodes. Vartox curses in his alien tongue and kills himself. We are then treated to an awesome hero shot as Supergirl stands amongst the wreckage.
Back at The Tribune, Jimmy reveals to Kara that he’s known her secret this whole time, and that Superman sent him to National City to act as a mentor to his cousin. Jimmy gives her the blanket that Superman was wrapped in on his journey to Earth, and now our hero has a cape that will not shred. Up up and away she goes and I’m left with a feeling of promise and hope I haven’t had from a Superman property in decades.
In the stinger, at the end of the episode, the General is revealed to be Kara’s Aunt Astra!!! Oh man, this is gonna be good. It might not be every DC fan’s cup of tea, and it’s not 100% mine either. But if this show inspires lil girls to be true to themselves, and brings more women into DC fandom, I’ll be happy. Our stories and our heroes are big enough to share, a big pillow fort that brings us together with shared dreams, who could not like that?
*I do not believe in the concept of the Friend Zone, but I’m sure this character, meant to be the male audience cypher, will elicit a very strong reaction from MRAs and men looking for a reason to hate the show. Women are not machines that you put kindness tokens into, until sex drops out. What I find amusing, besides the tears of neck-bearded MRAs, is that the male friend character is essentially the gender-swapped version of every token female character, that pines for the male lead. But women don’t get upset about these characters and shoot up schools.
**“Please play this song as you read the article,” The Management.