"Fight or Flight" -- Supergirl's powers are tested when Reactron, one of Superman's formidable enemies, arrives in National City and targets the young hero, on SUPERGIRL, Monday, Nov. 9 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Pictured: Melissa Benoist Photo: Cliff Lipson/CBS ©2015 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved
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Recap: SUPERGIRL Fights for Her Right to Fight

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Episode 103 “Fight or Flight”
Written by Michael Grassi & Rachel Shukert
Directed by Dermott Downs

[Photos: Cliff Lipson/CBS]

Supergirl has played the “why we don’t call Superman?” card, and it’s done in a way that could teach Marvel a thing or two.

As I’ve mentioned on the Rogues Gallery podcast, I have a theory that producers Greg Berlanti and Ali Adler are working Supergirl the same way Berlanti and Company are working The Flash and Arrow when it comes to getting new toys from DC and Warner Bros. They’re moving very methodically through the setup for Supergirl to be her own hero, and there are certain in-story things that have to happen to make this her show without much in the way of Superman’s shadow. They’re being very smart about this, even if it’s a little meta at times.

1. Pilot episode – hardly any mention of Superman, likely because of rights and permissions
2. “Stronger Together” – Cat lampshades the frequent mentions of Superman with the “he, he, he, him, him, him” line about the same time Twitter was saying the same thing
3. “Fight or Flight” – Supergirl stands up for herself and says, “I’m not Superman Lite.”

With these three episodes, the show has done a pretty good job addressing the main logic bomb that threatens the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe: Why can’t (name your hero) call (name another hero) for help with (name your villain)?

This is something the Marvel Cinematic Universe has pretty much ignored, and at some point they’re going to have to address it. Even Berlanti’s team will have to circle back to it if the cross-network crossover happens, because either Supergirl and Superman are in their own universe, or they just haven’t heard of Green Arrow and the Flash yet…

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Meanwhile, this hour gives us Supergirl’s next challenge: Reactron, a human augmented by a power suit, leaving him outside the jurisdiction of the DEO. Reactron, formerly Ben Krull, whose wife was killed in a nuclear plant accident that injured Krull, an incident he lays at Superman’s feet. Given his code name by Jimmy Olsen, Reactron uses a powered suit to harness nuclear energy into kinetic blasts.

Now, on the surface of things, this character isn’t so powerful that he could beat Superman, even though the episode establishes just that. Item 2: Reactron isn’t in this episode to be the villain, but to serve as a means to an end in concluding the “Where’s Superman?” arc. He also is a means to an end as it concerns Maxwell Lord. Kidnapping Lord to force him to repair his containment suit — for the price of a Dr Pepper; my kind of guy — Krull only gives us enough of a villain to move the different story threads forward.

Lord seems almost a little too cooperative when it comes to repairing Reactron’s suit, even though he seems genuinely relieved to be rescued at the junkyard. Perhaps he sees Reactron’s suit as a tech he can adapt for his supertrain?

Speaking of fights in the junkyard, I got a Superman III vibe in a couple of moments during this scene. Probably just me, but this episode has its share of call-backs to other incarnations of the Superman mythology, and the battle in the junkyard is the only good piece of Superman III, in my opinion. The fact that Kara wants to talk it out instead of having fisticuffs as Plan A speaks to her compassion as a person, but also sets her apart from other stock superhero characters who go crashing into things to beat the bad guys.

Last episode, we established that Jimmy James wants to establish himself as his own person, without the shadow of Superman hanging over him. Kara gives it right back at him this hour, as she lets him have it for using the Signal Watch™ to call the Big Guy when she goes down in the junkyard. He admits that he got scared, and reverted to type as the “pal” who depended on the watch too much when he got into scrapes back in Metropolis.

Not only does this firmly establish the Signal Watch™ as a thing, but it also gives us a parallel between Kara and James, which then transfers to the audience: Kara wants to be her own person — “I’m not Superman’s cousin. I’m Supergirl. And if I’m going to be defined, it’s going to be by my victories and my losses.” — and she makes the point to James, who wants her to call Superman, “If I call my cousin on this, I’m done. We’re done.” That’s as much the producers talking to the audience as it is Kara talking to Jimmy.

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And that’s the crux of this episode. Every element serves that point, and while we get some character growth with James, and while we get some nice sister-sister moments between Alex and Kara, the entire point of this third act of the “Where’s Superman?” arc is to establish that Kara doesn’t want Superman coming in to save her. Her logic — and by extension, that of the show — is that if we go around expecting Superman to show up and save the day, then what’s the point of having Supergirl in the first place?

Clark’s acknowledgement of her need to go it alone comes in the form of some instant messages at the end of the episode, where he checks up on her and apologizes for stepping in and making her look weak. His “talked with Jimmy” line shows that the two of them understand her need to establish herself, and the “Won’t happen again” is just as much a line to the audience: Superman is done. This is now fully Supergirl‘s story.

There are a couple of points in the script drawing some fan ire: both times Reactron loses, he flies away. And neither Supergirl nor Superman fly after him. In-show logic could be that Supergirl is at the site of a major accident, and there are people injured. Reactron is less of a threat because his suit’s damaged, and the new hero is choosing priorities, maybe. For Superman, he’s having to choose between chasing Reactron and helping his cousin. I have a feeling I’d make the same choice. It doesn’t seem weak so much as it just needs a beat to make it clear that’s what’s going on.

We also get Team Supergirl a little more firmly established, with Winn setting up shop in the office of a dead employee. Not sure that’s a very smart move, given that someone in HR should have already cleared it out by now. And what happens when they hire someone and give that office away?

I’m curious just how much of Cat’s “exposé” is really a puffed up opinion piece, as she got all of — what, three questions? — during her “interview” with Supergirl. But she did get a nice bit of scenery chewing with Peter Facinelli, as Cat and Maxwell Lord trade barbs while dancing at Cat’s big party.

On the DEO side of things, despite Henshaw’s line in the sand about helping (or not, in this case) because of jurisdiction issues, Alex decides to plow ahead anyway, using DEO resources to help Team Supergirl track down Reactron based on the radiation coming from his suit. Note that when we see Henshaw’s red eyes this time, it’s timed to leave quite a bit of ambiguity — is he a cyborg reacting to the computer activity, or is he a telepath reacting to Alex’s presence where she’s not supposed to be? It still leaves open the question as to whether Henshaw will end up being “Cyborg Superman” Henshaw or some new version of J’Onn J’Onzz, the Martian Manhunter. Personally, I’m hoping it’s not the latter.

Next week, the love triangle between Jimmy Olsen, Kara Danvers, and Lucy Lane begins in earnest. And someone over at CBS marketing needs to be reminded what happened the last time they went rom-com with the promotional material. Definitely a wrong move.

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Jason P. Hunt

Jason P. Hunt (founder/EIC) is the author of the sci-fi novella "The Hero At the End Of His Rope". His short film "Species Felis Dominarus" was a finalist in the Sci Fi Channel's 2007 Exposure competition.

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