CBS

Supergirl doesn’t need training. She’s got super strength, laser eyes, powerful lungs, and the ability to fly—what more could she need? A lot more, it turns out, when she tries to save an oil tanker from exploding but ends up creating a minor ecological disaster in the National City harbor. As her sister puts it, Kara has the strength but not the technique. So she decides to go back to basics and generate good will with small-scale heroism (robbery thwarting, ambulance transportation, snake rescues, etc.). By episode’s end Supergirl realizes that if she wants to be a proper hero, it’s going to take some time. The same can be said of Supergirl as well.

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Right now the show is clunky in the way procedurals are often clunky in their early days. This episode has to reestablish everything from the pilot in case anyone is tuning in for the first time. That means characters keep awkwardly repeating their relationships to one another at every opportunity (“My sister just broke the sound barrier!”) Some of that is just the natural growing pains of a show finding its feet, and there’s enough good stuff in this episode to make me optimistic about Supergirl’s future. But before we get into what works, let’s look at what doesn’t:

Supergirl has a dialogue problem and it’s a pretty glaring one. In almost every scene the characters come right out and say exactly what they’re thinking with all the bluntness of a dull butter knife. The lack of nuance is most obvious in the Kara/Alex scenes, which include a couple of heart-to-hearts and a tense training session in a DEO room fitted with Kryptonite-emitters. I have a sister myself and, surprisingly, we don’t sit around telling each other how great we are all the time like Kara and Alex do. I appreciate that Supergirl is placing the sister relationship at the heart of the series, but the show needs to let them demonstrate their bond without explicitly stating it over and over. For instance, the story about Alex showing Kara the popcorn maker is far more memorable than any of the more nebulous conversations they have about their faith in one another.

Also in need of some subtlety are the scenes between Kara and Cat Grant, which remain the show’s clunkiest. It looks like Supergirl plans to use Cat as its feminist mouthpiece and right now her scenes are written to push ideas rather than to develop character. And as with last week’s “girl power” monologue, the ideas themselves are somewhat confusing. When Kara asks why CatCo is giving Supergirl such bad press, Cat explains that unfortunately women have to work twice as hard as men to get half the credit—without acknowledging that her newspaper is the one contributing to that double standard. Later Cat twists James’ arm to arrange a one-on-one interview with Supergirl. Hopefully that meeting—which kicks off just before the credits roll tonight—will make Cat feel a little less one note next week.

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But despite some execution problems, what’s reassuring is that Supergirl is making really strong choices when it comes to expanding its world. Last week I was excited about the fact that Kara has a whole Kryptonian childhood for the show to explore, and it’s front and center tonight as Kara pulls from her alien past to identify a hellgrammite—an insect-like race that can camouflage itself as other species. It’s nice to see that flashbacks to Kara’s time on Krypton are going to be a regular part of this series as her alien childhood really distinguishes her story from Superman’s.

The show also makes a refreshingly bold choice with its central villain. Much as he course corrected some of Arrow’s early weaknesses in The Flash, Greg Berlanti is clearly applying lessons from The Flash to Supergirl as well. That show teased out its Big Bad in endless stings that put the audience in the frustrating position of knowing the answer to a mystery Flash and Co. were trying to solve. Instead of doing something similar with General “Evil Twin” Astra, this episode throws her directly into the fold. She battles it out with Kara and reveals that her aim (at least in her own mind) is to protect humanity, not destroy it. Though she’s temporarily taken out by Hank Henshaw’s nifty Kryptonite knife, the fact that Kara knows her aunt is out there adds a lot of propulsion to Supergirl’s storytelling. Rather than just battling random villains while slowly learning there’s someone else controlling them, Kara now knows as much about Evil Twin Astra as we do. Like Kara, I’m incredibly curious to learn why her aunt ended up in Fort Roz and what her plans are with Earth.

Evil Twin Astra also serves as Kara’s foil for this episode’s big theme: Teamwork. She’s apparently ruling the Fort Roz population with an iron fist (but not the Iron Fist) because she’s convinced that the prisoners are stronger together than they are apart. Though it’s not a leadership style Kara would agree with, it’s actually a philosophy the two Kryptonians share.

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Unlike Clark Kent, who was raised with American values of independence and exceptionalism, Astra and Kara spent their formative years on the far more collectivist Krypton. Kara explains to James that the “S” on her uniform doesn’t only represent the House of El, it also references the family’s motto, “Stronger Together.” She doesn’t want to be an individualist like her cousin, she explains, because she believes that working with a team will make her a better hero. Though the show presents independence vs. teamwork as a matter of Earth vs. Kryptonian values, it’s also possible to read it as a subtle commentary on gender and the ways in which men and women are more likely to approach problem-solving.

The heart-to-heart between Kara and James on the CatCo balcony is this episode’s best scene because it allows Kara to take ownership of her crime fighting style and it also goes a long way towards fleshing out James. I was nervous about the show’s choice to present him as both a love interest and a mentor for Kara, but the balcony scene proves James isn’t quite as put-together as his confident demeanor suggests. In fact, he’s suffering from a healthy dose of impostor syndrome; he’s worried that his successful career is due to who he knows (namely, the Man of Steel) and not what he can do.

Much as James helped her find confidence in her powers, Kara helps him find confidence in his career. “Part of being your own man is knowing when to accept help,” she explains matter-of-factly. While Evil Twin Astra wants to dominate her team, Kara is establishing a far more reciprocal relationship with hers. It’s a smart, well-acted scene with the kind of ideas that aren’t always championed in superhero stories. Though Supergirl may be a little shaky on the execution this week, much like its central hero, its heart is in the right place.

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Stray observations

  • Since it’s working on a TV budget, I’m willing to cut the show some slack on its special effects. But while the ship rescue scene was pretty good, that Astra/Kara fight just looked like two people flopping around on wires (which it was).
  • We get out first glimpse of Peter Facinelli (a.k.a. Twilight’s handsome vampire dad) as tech mogul Maxwell Lord.
  • The hellgrammatite didn’t make a huge impact on me; he mostly just wants to eat and be left alone (I hear that buddy). The jaw unhinging special effect was surprisingly great though.
  • So Hank Henshaw once had a family whom he presumably lost in a terrible accident. Also I’ve watched enough genre TV to know it’s probably not a good thing that his eyes flash red at the end of the episode.
  • Cat is a media mogul/branding expert and the best pun she could come up with is #Terriblegirl? At least go for #Subpargirl.
  • “I don’t like the fishes, but it does reassure me to know that they’re still under there swimming about.” That line is basically nonsense, but it also went a long way towards humanizing Cat.
  • Kara gets her own Fortress Of Solitude—or rather a Geometric Room Of Solitude—at the DEO where she can interact with an AI version of Good Twin Alura. I was going to make fun of it but then the show emotionally destroyed me with this exchange: “Whatever it is you wish you could ask Alura, you may ask me.” “I’d ask for a hug.” “I’m not programmed to do that.”
  • Nice to see Pawnee’s Perd Hapley (a.k.a. real-life LA newscaster Jay Jackson) has found a new job at National City. “The thing about Supergirl is that she’s a girl who’s super.”
  • Man Krypton sure is a formal place, huh?

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