Supergirl Premiere Recap: She Can Fly

Photo: Courtesy of CBS.
Here's what I love about Supergirl so far: Sure, there are hints of romance, but this show is mostly about Kara’s platonic relationships with the other women in her life. We see Kara (Melissa Benoist) interact with her mother, her boss, and her adopted sister. Soon — spoiler alert — we’ll see how she handles a female villain. Before we get to the meat of the story, there’s a prologue explaining how Kara got to Earth. She was sent to protect her cousin, Kal-El, a.k.a. Superman, but the destruction of the planet Krypton marooned her in the Phantom Zone, meaning she landed on Earth after Kal-El had already grown up and become Superman. She was supposed to be the older, wiser Kryptonian. Instead, she's still a tween, and he's already a hero. She goes to live with the Danvers family, and in turn gets an adoptive sister, Alex (Chyler Leigh). When we catch up with Kara in the present day, her problems are less Kryptonite and more confidence gap. Assuming that Earth is good with just one super-person, Kara has decided to work for a woman with more earthly powers: media mogul Cat Grant, played by Calista Flockhart doing her best Miranda Priestly. In the CatCo office, Kara puts her skills to mundane use, anticipating Cat's arrival with her enhanced hearing. Why Kara doesn’t warm up Cat’s latte with her heat vision, I don’t know. If I’m ever a fictional assistant, I will remember that coffee beverages intended for demanding female bosses need to be scalding hot. Kara is frustrated with the futility of her job and the unfortunate realities of the media business. Cat is downsizing the Tribune, because National City doesn't have a Superman to help sell papers. "Go find me a hero, Kara," Cat says sarcastically, but prophetically. Speaking of Superman, there's a new art director at CatCo who is a close personal friend of the "big guy:" James — don't call him Jimmy — Olsen (Mehcad Brooks). Kara and James have an instant connection. Kara is impressed that he knows her cousin, and he is clearly onto something about her. My Romantic Interest Bat Signal is on high alert for these two (wrong superhero, I know). Meanwhile, Kara’s work buddy, IT guy Winn (Jeremy Jordan), clearly has a crush on her, but this being television, our heroine is oblivious to the perfectly adorable Winn’s romantic advances. Instead, she tells him she has an online date. You know what makes a bad date even worse? Being able to hear the awful dude who is supposed to be out with you hitting on the waitress. But Kara doesn’t sulk for long. When she learns of a news report that the very plane her sister is on is experiencing engine failure, she springs to action. Kara may have trouble asserting herself at work, but she shows no hesitation here. She’s almost gleeful, given the circumstances. She saves the plane, but seals her fate when she stands on its wing, letting the world get a glimpse of her. Kara doesn’t really mind that her secret is out, though. She's impressed with herself and downright excited to see TV reports about her deeds. But Alex shows up and isn't exactly ebullient or even grateful that Kara saved her life. Instead, she scolds Kara for exposing herself to the world. Cat, on the other hand, is ecstatic about the presence of a superhero in National City because it’s good for business. Feeling the need to share her secret with someone other than her sister, Kara goes to the roof to tell Winn, who promptly becomes her Edna Mode. And voilà! After a few costume misfires — um, no midriff, thank you — Kara is off to fight petty crime. Kara is thwarted, however, by the Department of Extranormal Operations, a government agency that employs — surprise! — Alex. Kara is hurt that her sister hid the true nature of her work from her, and hits Alex where it hurts the most. She implies that Alex only got her job because she had Kara for an adopted sister. Given Kara's own professional anxiety, she must know how this will devastate Alex. The DEO's man-in-charge, Hank Henshaw (David Harewood), isn’t exactly a villain, but he’s certainly not one of Kara’s cheerleaders. There are, however, serious bad guys out there: namely, a bunch of intergalactic criminals, who were locked up in Fort Rozz, Krypton's maximum security prison. Fort Rozz was in the Phantom Zone with Kara, and somehow got free when she did. The Fort Rozz outlaws are behind the nearly-crashed plane, and they are especially pissed at Kara because her mom, Alura, was the judge that put them all away.
One of those inmates, the mohawk-horned Vartox, summons Kara to battle, threatening the lives of National City residents. Kara's first face-off with this misogynistic baddie doesn’t go so well. He injures her and escapes, and Alex and the DEO come to Kara's aid. Dejected, Kara decides she should hang up her cape, but Alex comes to her apartment to make amends and provide some encouragement. Alex admits that she was selfishly happy that Kara was suppressing her abilities. When Kara was toiling away as an assistant, Alex didn’t have to worry about competing with a benevolent flying alien. "You feeling like less, somehow made me feel like more," she says. To spur Kara back into action, Alex shows her a hologram of Alura who tells her to "be wise, be strong, and always be true to yourself." So, with the help of the DEO's research, Kara defeats Vartox, using her heat vision to destroy his axe. Afterward, Alex asks Henshaw whether she got her job solely because of her sister. Henshaw replies, “She’s why you got in. You are why you get to stay.” Back in the office following her victory, Kara learns that James knew her history all along. (Duh.) Kal-El clued James into the fact that Kara was in National City, and gave James something to pass along to Kara: a Kryptonian baby blanket, which can easily be Project Runway-ed into a cape. Kara’s going to use that cape a lot. Because the end of the episode teases a more ominous villain: Kara’s evil aunt, Alura's twin. This has me pumped for two reasons: 1) Laura Benanti is great and deserves a successful TV show, and 2) I love a female villain. Having prominent and complicated female villains is just as important as having prominent and complicated female heroes. Before I leave you, I want to talk about why Cat labels the mystery woman “Supergirl,” or rather “#Supergirl.” When Kara, sticking up for herself — and women everywhere — tries to debate her boss on the “girl” aspect of that label, Cat explains that there’s nothing bad about being a girl, saying that she herself is one. Cat is acting as a mouthpiece for the show’s creative team in this moment — a sort of don’t worry guys, it’s okay that we’re doing this — but I’m not sure we’re supposed to agree with her. Cat wants to market Supergirl, just as CBS does, and she knows that the pithy, diminishing "Supergirl" might be an easier sell than "Superwoman." Kara doesn’t come around to Cat’s point of view, and is in fact on the verge of being fired when James covers for her, telling Cat how Kara helped get a photo of the woman in question. Cat tells Kara she's going to have to be more aggressive with her humblebrags if she wants to rise through the CatCo ranks. I'm interested to keep an eye on how Cat and Kara's dynamic develops. Cat has the potential to be the most frustrating character on the show, since she could so easily fall into the stereotype of the coldhearted female boss. Kara went to work for her in order to learn from a powerful woman and has so far been disappointed. But Kara's still battling her own self-doubt, while Cat has squashed hers. I'm just as excited to see how Kara takes on her own inner demons as I am to see her superhero persona demolish more fantastical forms of evil.

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