Episode 102 “Stronger Together”
Teleplay by Andrew Kreisberg & Ali Adler, story by Greg Berlanti & Andrew Kreisberg
Directed by Glen Winter
[Photos: Michael Yarish/CBS]
If the pilot episode was all about establishing Supergirl as a feminist hero for a feminist audience with a feminist story, then this week’s episode is all about re-connecting with Superman… and then distancing itself from him.
More specifically, the episode centers around how everyone defines their relationships to Superman, and by extension, Metropolis.
First up: Supergirl’s testing phase. Hank Henshaw and the Department of Extranormal Operations are out in the field shooting rockets at Kara, putting her through the same kind of process we got with Barry Allen over on The Flash (same producers, same formula). And I was struck with the similarity between this scene and the sequence in Superman III, when Superman had to face off against Ross the Boss and his missiles in the canyon.
Don’t think that was an accident.
After the tests,
Male Felicity Winn gets on her earbud to tell her about a fire at the docks. The fire threatens a nearby oil tanker. When her super breath only makes things worse, Kara decides to pull the tanker to safety. Except pulling (rather than pushing) rips the front end off the boat, causing an ecological “disaster” in the water, leaving the media to start questioning whether Kara is actually doing more harm than good.
Enter Maxwell Lord, who even brings in the fact that city maintenance in Metropolis has practically blown the city budget since Superman arrived, and I’m not sure if this was a nod to Man of Steel, or if it was just a logical outcome of a superpowered hero attracting a certain type of supervillain. Lord rightly questions whether they want that kind of danger in National City.
Of course, this has Kara doubting herself, as well. In addition to the media labeling her a “menace” and her own self-recriminations, she’s got Henshaw doubting her abilities as well. And the whole time, the shadow of Superman looms large.
Now, this is where we get a little bit of lampshading. In the pilot, there was hardly any mention of Superman’s name, where in this episode we get a mention every five minutes or so, it seems. To the point where Cat Grant says she’s tired of hearing about Superman about the same time Twitter was blowing up with the same sentiment.
Cat, of course, doesn’t want Supergirl defined by her relationship with Superman, but rather her relationship with CatCo. After detailing her history — which thankfully (mostly) lines up with her comics history — she makes the demand that Superman’s “best pal” Jimmy Olsen work his influence to get her a sit-down interview with Supergirl.
This has Jimmy — erm, James — doubting himself a bit, because he came to National City to set himself up as his own person. The fact that he’s watching out for Kara came after he decided to leave Metropolis and establish himself without the Big Blue Boy Scout in the picture. So he finds himself in a pickle, because now his job depends on Cat getting the interview.
Of course, he still has the watch. He’s not stupid… and yes, that’s the watch. And we see it when Jimmy and Winn meet up with Kara in the alley (“You told him?”) before going through a montage of Kara doing smaller heroic deeds. Taking a little advice from Cat, Kara dials back her enthusiasm for the big saves and performs more manageable rescues, building up her street cred and her skill set in a way that doesn’t bring down any buildings.
We even get the “cat in a tree” rescue — with a twist, of course: “Who names a snake Fluffy?”
All the while, Cat keeps reminding James that the interview is a “must have” if he wants to keep his job. Of course, in the real world, James Olsen would have been in the position to tell Cat where to stick it, because if he’s got that much influence with Superman, of all people, why would he feel threatened by Cat Grant? Especially after he tells Kara, “I can handle Cat.”
(Those of you just coming to the story, Jimmy Olsen and Cat Grant had an on-and-off thing for a while in the comics, mostly when Cat was lonely and drunk and had her guard down so she could actually admit she liked him some.)
Kara has to remind Jimmy that she and her cousin are very different when it comes to relationships and accepting help. While Kal-El grew up on Earth, and pretty much is a solo act, Kara Zor-El remembers living on Krypton, where people considered in honorable to accept help from each other in times of need. And besides being the family crest for the House of El, that S on her chest also is a symbol that means “stronger together” — another rejection of the “hope” silliness from Man of Steel.
Speaking of Krypton, we get a Team Berlanti Formula Flashback to Kara’s childhood, when she used a crystal Jedi Holocron to learn about Hellgrammites, our villain of the week. Because her mother had just put one in Fort Rozz. They have darts they can shoot at their targets, and it’s one of these darts that Kara recognizes after the attack at Plastino Chemicals.
Hellgrammite, who in this story universe is an alien who can unfold the lower portion of his face in a way that’s reminiscent of the comic book character’s costume, breaks into the local chemical plant for seeming nefarious purposes. Only he’s not really a villain as you’d normally define him. He’s attacking chemical companies to get at the DDT, and the gets on the case, figuring out that the DDT is a food source.
Henshaw and Alex figure to use the DDT as bait to capture Hellgrammite, only it backfires and he snags Alex, taking her as a peace offering to Astra. See, Hellgrammite also doesn’t want anything to do with the rest of the escaped prisoners from Fort Rozz, especially General Astra, who’s got something nasty brewing for Earth. So he figures give up a human, whom Astra can use as bait to capture Supergirl.
Which leads to a knock down, drag out fight with some not-so-decent wire work as the two fly and fight in the abandoned warehouse for the show’s climax. We get some teases that Astra was sent to Fort Rozz for dissension, only the way she tells it, it sounds like she might have been speaking out along the lines of what Jor-El was trying to get people to believe. Did Astra know about the disaster about to befall Krypton? If so, why would she be locked up when Jor-El went free?
Kara only wins because of a lesson learned earlier in the Kryptonite Room, where Alex hands her a little tough love in the form of some judo/aikido/hi-yah moves. Alex forces Kara to face the fact that her powers aren’t always going to give her every advantage, so she needs to learn to use her opponent’s skills to her own advantage.
That, and Henshaw sticks Astra with a kryptonite knife. That helps, too.
So, we now have Kara with knowledge that General Astra is her Big Bad, and we’re only two episodes in. James and Winn are Kara’s Diggle and Felicity, respectively. Astra now knows about kryptonite.
In the aftermath of the battle with Astra, Kara and Alex are recovering at DEO headquarters when Alex introduces Kara to her very own Fortress of Solitude — a private room with the Jedi Holocron that wears Allura’s face. Programmed to answer Kara’s questions, it will serve as an in-story way for the writers to deliver some exposition any time they need to switch up from the Krypton Flashbacks. Although it’s a nice callback to the Donner films, where we get not only crystals, but also the parent-as-hologram element.
And then the double-whammy of the night: Hank Henshaw with glowing red eyes.
No, I don’t think he’s the Martian Manhunter, as some are speculating. It’s likely he’s already the Cyborg Superman analogue. He mentions in this episode that he had a family, which is consistent with his story in the comics. Henshaw and his family were in the midst of an experiment that only he survived (sort of), in a DC Comics mirror-universe version of the Fantastic Four.
More than likely, Henshaw isn’t going to be the Cyborg Superman, but it may turn out that he’s got a strong connection with T.O. Morrow, inventor of the android Red Tornado.
- Plastino Chemical — named for Al Plastino, co-creator (with Otto Binder of last week’s bridge rescue) of Supergirl
- 52 — Hellgrammite breaks into “sector 52” at the chemical plant
- “This sounds like a job for Supergirl.” — the line gets said
- Perry White, Lois Lane, and Clark Kent all get name-checked.
- 5th & Siegel — Jerry Siegel is a co-creator of Superman
- Donner Avenue — shout out to director Richard Donner
- “I went from superhero to eco-terrorist in a single bound!” — this line gets said, too.
- UNIT — the DEO call signs “Greyhound” and “Trap One” come from Doctor Who from the 1970s
- hero or menace? — shout out to The Amazing Spider-Man, perhaps?
Those who were making a big deal out of the show finally saying Superman’s naming after the verbal calisthenics of the pilot should remember that Team Berlanti has a history of earning characters and story elements from DC Comics and Warner Brothers as they progress through shows, so it’s likely that they got permission to mention Superman after the suits saw the pilot and figured it wasn’t going to do any damage to the marketing efforts for the next Batman movie…