Episode 101 “Pilot”
Teleplay by Ali Adler, story by Greg Berlanti & Ali Adler & Andrew Kreisberg
Directed by Glen Winter
[Photos: Richard Cartwright/CBS]
The most highly anticipated new show of the fall season finally made its (official) debut, and it’s a hit.
Supergirl has done was we all expected it to do: dominate in the ratings, becoming the top debut of the season. As we discussed back in June on The Rogues Gallery, the show carries its Richard Donner Fan Card on its sleeve, to great effect. Christopher Reeve would have felt right at home in this show, and I’m hoping we get plenty of screen time for Helen Slater and Dean Cain in future episodes.
Given the societal discussion about female superheroes (and the broader discussion of women in Hollywood currently burning up the net), it would be very easy fro the this show to slip into “feminist icon speech” at the risk of minimizing the story. In several places, it seems that the show’s producers are acknowledging what many are saying — that it’s about time we got a female lead superhero show — and it is well past that time. I’m still waiting for Black Widow to get a Netflix series. But at time it felt shoehorned in, like the show knew it had to address the issue straight up, and the producers need to watch how they handle that moving forward. There’s definitely a place for that discussion, but only if it’s organic to the story.
Like we’ve said so many times: story, story, story.
And the story in this episode is pretty solid, mainly because it doesn’t spend too much time treading familiar ground. Yes, we know Superman’s story, and it’s good that we get the shorthand version in the beginning moments of the show, but then we’re past it. Because this isn’t his story. It’s Kara’s story, despite many similarities. The exposition is necessary for those who are tuning in to watch a female superhero, but it’s not too much that it turns off everyone tuning in to watch Supergirl’s show.
Basics: the explosion of Krypton sent Kara’s pod into the Phantom Zone, where it was suspended for twenty-four years. Somehow, it finally made its way out and back on course to Earth, dragging with it an intergalactic prison called Fort Rozz (which is not named for Ra’s Al Ghul, sorry…).
Now a grown-up, Kara has decided that since the world already has one superpowered hero standing watch, she’d be superfluous and unnecessary, so she decides to do her best to keep her head down and blend in as Kara Danvers, mild-mannered assistant to media mogul Cat Grant (who bears little resemblance to her comic book counterpart). Grant will likely be our “feminist foil” through which the producers and writers address the gender politics that so many people have automatically attached to this show.
KARA: Supergirl? We can’t name her that.
CAT: We didn’t.
K: Right. I’m … sorry? It’s just … I don’t want to minimize the importance of this. A female superhero. Shouldn’t she be called Superwoman?
C: I’m sorry, darling. I just can’t hear you over the loud color of your cheap pants.
K: If we call her Supergirl, something less than what she is, doesn’t’ that make us guilty of being anti-feminist? Didn’t you say she was a hero?
C: I’m the hero. I stuck a label on the side of this girl. I branded her. She will forever be linked to CatCo, to the Tribune, to me. And 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, ins’t the real problem you?
And with that one scene, we poke a pin into the argument and deflate it before it becomes a distraction that could run the show off the rails.
Have to admit, when I heard that Calista Flockhart was going to play Cat, I had misgivings. She’s just not the right fit for the Cat I grew up with in the comics. But she fits within the context of the show, and she’s got just the right mix of Devil Wears Prada and J. Jonah Jameson. We’ll have to see if the show plays out the dichotomy between Cat’s feelings for Supergirl against her contempt of Kara Danvers.
And it’s CARE-uh. Not CAR-uh. I don’t know why they’re all saying it wrong…
Kara’s public debut has a history within the Superman story universe. Kal-El saved a plane in Superman (1978), as well as in John Byrne’s post-Crisis reboot Man of Steel six-issue comic series (1986). Plus, Superman saved a plane as his first major act upon returning to Earth in Superman Returns, so there’s history and tradition here. It also goes to show how much of an influence the Reeve movie has had on everything else (except Snyder’s mess…).
I have to admit that 8-year-old me got a thrill seeing Kara fly for the first time, taking those stumbling leaps before blastoff. Because those of us who have been around for a while remember what it was like to watch Superman stories that were fun. And this is fun.
The plane in question carries Kara’s foster sister, Alex, who should be thrilled about being rescued. Instead, she’s stressed out over the genie being out of the bottle. No one can unsee the flying woman who carried a plane on her back over the Otto Binder Bridge (nice wink to Supergirl’s co-creator). Turns out the plane was targeted because Alex and her colleagues were on the plane. Y’see, she works for the Department of ExtraNormal Operations (sort of the DC TV equivalent of Marvel’s S.W.O.R.D.), and the DEO has been tracking all of the aliens who landed when Fort Rozz crashed on Earth.
So, wait a minute. How does boss Hank Henshaw know that Fort Rozz was Krypton’s maximum security facility? How does he know Kara’s ship pulled it out of the Phantom Zone? How does he know about the Phantom Zone?
It’s exposition the show needs to deliver in order to set up the “villain of the week” elements, but it raises more questions that the show will eventually have to answer. Unless they lampshade it. (please don’t lampshade it, Berlanti…)
And yes, Hank Henshaw is a familiar name for long-time Superman fans. In the wake of The Death of Superman event in 1992, four characters emerged all claiming to be a resurrected Superman. One of them, the Cyborg Superman, turned out to be Hank Henshaw, the post-Crisis DC Comics analogue to Marvel’s Reed Richards. Henshaw had led a team of scientists on a doomed expedition, and was thought dead for a long time. His story revealed that instead of dying, Henshaw had merged into a computer system, and he stayed non-corporeal until he took the role of Cyborg Superman.
Now, the show is probably not going to do the Cyborg Superman arc, but Henshaw is likely to end up having a similar journey. Given the similarities between Supergirl and The Flash, I wouldn’t be surprised if Henshaw ends up the “reluctant mentor” before he “dies” and ends up inside the DEO computer systems. Maybe he becomes or merges with Brainiac? Because it would make sense that Brainiac is the central computer for Fort Rozz.
Henshaw’s main concern — besides Kara — is the recent activity by all of these escaped cons. They’ve been keeping quiet all this time, and are now starting to emerge and cause trouble. Vartox is first up at bat, having been the one who put the bomb on the plane. The unexpected arrival of the Kryptonian puts a kink in the plan, but Vartox gets the nod from his Commander (played by Faran Tahir, alternate timeline’s Jim Kirk’s dad’s commanding officer and also boss for the 10 Rings terrorist who kidnapped Tony Stark and also one of the bosses of Warehouse 13) to take Supergirl out.
Battle scenes are pretty well-done, although it was odd to see blue heat vision in the second confrontation. The first one, of course, is where Kara gets her head handed to her, and she tucks tail after Vartox retreats when the DEO arrives as backup. As expected for a superhero origin story, there’s the “moment of doubt” scene that gives Melissa Benoist and Chyler Leigh a good moment of sisterly bonding before Kara decides to “suit up” and get back in the game. Because of course she will.
The second confrontation goes differently. Because Vartox — and Henshaw — both assume Supergirl can’t hack it. Because she’s a girl. Which the show again highlights just to make sure we all get it.
Using her blue heat vision, Kara manages to destroy Vartox’s space axe, and instead of surrendering, Vartox kills himself. But not before warning Supergirl that something else is coming. Dun-dun-dunnn…. season arc setup, of course, but it’s done well enough I won’t complain about it.
What I will complain about is the “dirt on the lens” element in the flying sequences. Carrie Stula and the VFX team need to tone this down. I get that they’re trying to make it look like it’s “in-camera” work, but it’s too much. Same for the effects on The Flash. There’s too much dirt on the lens.
But that flying… to see the exhilaration on Kara’s face. The joy. 8-year-old me is right there with her, and it’s exactly what flying should be. And don’t get me started on the moment she walked out in the costume (after the requisite “Yes, the costume is sexist and cheesy” bits before the actual costume reveal).
OK. You got me started. When she walked out in the suit, and when she said, “It’s not an S. It’s my family’s coat of arms. The house of El.” — a million voices suddenly cried out in happiness because this show gets it. Not only is it a direct callback to the 1978 movie and its sequels, but it’s also a direct rejection of the narrative in the dismal Man of Steel. In fact, the entire show itself is a rejection of the Nolan-Snyder grimdark, and it’s such a welcome change to see a member of the Superman Family actually in a show that feels like a Superman Family show.
Now we just need the crossover into CW territory…
Kara’s best friend Winn Schott is the Felicity Smoak of the show, with all the nervous energy that implies. The character is going to need more depth very soon, or it’s going to get tired quickly. Not to say Jeremy Jordan isn’t selling it, but he needs more to work with. The fact that Henry Czerny is coming on board as Schott Senior (likely the actual villain Toyman) should give Schott Junior more dimension.
As for Black Jimmy Olsen, no biggie. I’m more bothered by Hunky Athletic Jimmy Olsen. One of the elements of the character’s self-confidence issues has always been because he’s a kid, and he’s smaller in stature and frame. I’m not sure 6-foot-something Jimmy Olsen is the best version, but Mehcad Brooks does well in the part.
And the reveal that our Big Bad is going to be Kara’s Aunt Astra… we’ll have to see how that plays out. Because it’s a trope that could easily go south if it’s not handled right.