The Birth of Supergirl
The series opens with some narration from Superman’s cousin, Kara Zor-El (Melissa Benoist), about her own beginnings on Krypton. She explains that when she was 13, as Krypton was nearing it’s destruction, her parents also sent her to Earth in an escape pod and instruct to help protect and guide her infant cousin Kal-El through his life on Earth. Things don’t go exactly according to plan however, as her pod gets thrown off course and into Krypton’s prison the Phantom Zone, where time doesn’t pass. The pod does somehow find it’s way out of the Phantom Zone and eventually to Earth but by that time, her cousin has already grown up to become Superman (though for most of the episode the characters go out of their way not to say his name) and is no longer in need of her protection. Now that her guidance is no longer required, Superman instead arranges for her to be adopted and have a more normal childhood with scientists Eliza and Jeremiah Danvers (Helen Slater and Dean Cain) and their daughter Alex (Chyler Leigh).
Cut to present day, where Kara Danvers is now grown up and living in the rather generically named National City. For the most part, Kara has reluctantly opted to keep a low profile, using her powers as little as possible and works as a personal assistant to Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart), the founder and owner of media conglomerate CatCo Worldwide Media.
Her day doesn’t get off to a great start when her friend/co-worker in IT Winn Schott (Jeremy Johnson) awkwardly tries asking her out which she just as awkwardly turns down because she already has an online date. The day is slightly improved however, when she meets the company’s new art director James “don’t call him Jimmy” Olsen (Mehcad Brooks), who is quite the departure from past Jimmy Olsens but I’ll get to that in the analysis.
Later that night, Kara’s blind date quickly proves to be a bust as the guy ditches her in order to hit on a waitress (hard to believe this guy needs to use online dating). Unfortunately, Kara isn’t given much time to absorb her date’s douchiness, when she sees a breaking news bulletin saying that a plane is experiencing engine failure and is about to crash and to make matters worse, she realizes that Alex happens to be on the flight. Knowing what needs to be done, Kara throws caution to the wind and springs into action and successfully saves the plane passengers, Alex included, from what would’ve been a presumably fiery crash.
Naturally, Kara’s heroics attracts plenty of both positive and negative attention. For starters, Alex has apparently take a page out of the Jonathan Kent in Man of Steel playbook and chastises Kara for exposing herself to the world and warns her it isn’t safe for her to use her powers like that ever again.
Back at work the next day, the mystery flying woman has become the talk of National City and Cat sees it as a way to boost her newspaper’s struggling circulation and has her staff try to find out as much as possible about her. Meanwhile, presumably in need of someone to confide in, Kara decides to let Winn in on her secret and asks him to meet her on the roof. At first Winn thinks Kara’s coming out to him as a lesbian but she thankfully clarifies things by showing him she knows how to fly, which has him more than a little surprised.
Meanwhile, at a truck stop, a mysterious man (The Mentalist’s Owain Yeoman) becomes noticeably interested in a news report about Kara. He turns out to be an escaped Phantom Zone prisoner named Vartox and is also responsible for sabotaging the plane from earlier in an effort to assassinate some DEO (Department of Extra-Normal Operations) agents on the orders of a guy known only in this episode as “the Commander” (I’m sure we’ll get a name for this guy in future episodes). The Commander is furious with Vartox for his failure is crashing the plane but Vartox informs him of Kara’s interference with their plans. They both deduce that she must be the daughter of Alura Zor-El, the woman responsible for putting them both in the Phantom Zone in the first place. The Commander orders Vartox to stick with the original plan to eliminate the DEO and to add Kara to the list as well, which suits the vengeful Vartox just fine.
Up, Up and Away
Back at Kara’s apartment, she and Winn work on making a disguise for her to fight crime with and after a brief “trying on outfits” montage before settling into a costume she likes, Kara quickly gets to work with the help of a police scanner that Winn has hacked into. She opens by ending a car chase and foiling a bank robbery. Unfortunately, when she goes to save some people from a fire, she instead finds herself shot with some glowing green tranquilizer darts and loses consciousness.
When she wakes up, she finds herself inside a government facility strapped onto a table and unable to move courtesy of some low-grade Kryptonite. The guy in charge introduces himself as Hank Henshaw, director of the DEO and also reveals one of his agents to be none other than Alex, who quickly releases Kara. As it turns out, the DEO was started thanks to Superman and Kara’s arrivals on Earth, in order to protect the planet in case of an alien invasion (and possibly from Kara or Superman). Henshaw also tells Kara that when her pod escaped the Phantom Zone she unintentionally brought a prison ship called Fort Rozz along with her and the convicts inside all escaped shortly afterwards. For the last decade, the convicts, like Kara kept a low profile but over the last year more and more have been emerging making the DEO believe they’re planning something big. Kara offers to help but Henshaw sees her as a liability and tells her to leave catching bad guys to the professionals. Afterwards, Alex tries to apologize to Kara for keeping her job a secret from her but she’s understandably in no mood to hear it. She also figures out that she was probably the sole reason Alex was recruited into the DEO in the first place and while Alex denies this she admits it was probably a contributing factor.
To make things worse, when Kara goes to work she finds out Cat has dubbed her alter-ego Supergirl, which has her rightfully annoyed considering Kara’s well into her 20s. When Kara questions why she isn’t called Superwoman instead, Cat justifies this with a speech so eye-rollingly stupid, I’m just going to save myself the pain of repeating it in this recap. This scene was clearly written as a way for the producers and writers to justify using the Supergirl name in the comics without the viewers questioning it too much (if it means never hearing Cat’s speech again I’m all for it). Cat actually feels so strongly about the Supergirl name, she’s ready to fire Kara on the spot for questioning her until James comes to the rescue by crediting her with providing Cat with a decent picture of Supergirl to publish, which is good enough to Kara to keep her job for at least one more day.
Kara isn’t given much time to think about her averted trip to the unemployment line before she receives a message from Vartox challenging her to a fight, otherwise he’ll take his aggression out on innocent people. Kara goes to fight Vartox and due to her lack of fighting experience, the fight goes pretty poorly and he’s even able to slash her arm with a weird looking ax presumably from Krypton. During the fight Vartox also tells her about her mother Alura imprisoning him and the rest of the aliens in Fort Rozz. Vartox is on the verge of killing her when the DEO shows up and somehow chases him off. How they found Kara and Vartox so quickly is anybody’s guess.
They bring Kara back to DEO HQ to examine the wound on her arm and removes a piece of Vartox’s ax that was stuck in it (if that all it takes for a piece of an ax to come off, I’m guessing Krypton wasn’t known for expert craftsmanship). Kara also finds out that Alex knew about Alura’s connection to Fort Rozz the whole time and that she figured they would all go after Kara for revenge if they found out about her (and she didn’t mention this because …..?).
Back at her apartment, the demoralized Kara is busy sulking until Alex comes by to get her back on the heroic horse. She admits that part of the reason she didn’t want Kara to use her powers wasn’t just for her safety but out of jealousy and not wanting to be inevitably stuck in her adoptive sister’s shadow but that doesn’t matter because now the world needs her to be a hero. To help things along, she shows Kara a holographic message from her mother encouraging her to “always be true to yourself”, whatever the heck that means. While this speech is clearly an imitation of Jor-El’s holographic messages in almost every Superman interpretation known to man, this inspires Kara to go back out and save the day.
Kara and Alex go back to the DEO to ask for another chance to fight Vartox and while Henshaw is less than enthusiastic with this idea to say the least, he eventually agrees but tells her to make sure she wins this time. Kara puts up a much better fight this time around but her lack of experience still poses a problem for her. However, during the fight Alex reveals that she found a big weakness in Vartox’s ax and that Kara can overheat it with her heat vision to make it explode. Kara does just that and the defeated Vartox rather than let himself be captured kills himself with a piece of what’s left of his ax but not before telling Kara “You have no idea what’s coming.” Afterwards. Henshaw admits to Alex that Kara was the reason they hired her but says she has been able to keep her job on her own merits.
The next day, Kara tries going back to work business as usual, when James asks to meet her on the roof. He confesses to knowing about Kara’s powers all along and that Superman actually asked him to move to National City to look out for Kara. He also tells her that Superman hoped she would use her powers for good but that he also wanted her to decide that for herself. To show her that she truly has her cousin’s blessing, James gives Kara a cape made from the blanket in Superman’s escape pod. Armed with a brand new cape, Kara immediately takes flight.
The commander is seen talking to his boss about Vartox’s death. He tells her that the girl that killed him was none other than Alura’s daughter, to which she says “My dear little niece”, revealing her to be Alura’s twin sister Astra. The commander sees her as a less serious threat to their plans than Superman but Astra warns that if she’s anything like her mother she will be just as dangerous and that they need to find her and kill her if they plan to take over the world.
Despite the amount of snark I put into this recap, I still found it very enjoyable and the tone is a big reason why. Ever since The Dark Knight, there’s been a rather annoying trend by DC to make their heroes “gritty” and “realistic” and to make their setting rather bleak even when it doesn’t make any sense to do so with the most obvious example being Man of Steel. Thankfully, Supergirl instead gives us a more fun and upbeat show not unlike what we get with The Flash.
One person crucial in making this possible is Kara. Melissa Benoist’s performance is a big part of what made this episode so much fun to watch and so far I find her relationship with Alex to be pretty interesting so far. I’m looking forward to see how the two play off each other in the future since they both have a great desire to be their own person rather than be stuck in the shadow of a more talented relative.
Also refreshing is that Kara’s secret identity looks to be non-factor for this show since most of the relevant characters aside from Cat already know Kara’s secret before the hour is over which was without a doubt one of The Flash’s biggest weak points last season.
One thing I’m not quite sure how to feel about just yet is James Olsen. He’s a pretty big change from the Jimmy Olsen we normally get and not just because this Jimmy is played by a black actor. Here instead of the young, awkward, bow-tie wearing dweeb trying to prove himself that we normally associate with Jimmy Olsen, we have a tall, handsome, confident James who is already an accomplished photographer. There’s nothing wrong with this but I probably would’ve preferred to see him as the awkward version of him first and see him develop into a more confident character over time. That being said Mehcad Brooks is excellent in this role and will probably grow on me in the coming weeks.
Now as much as I enjoyed this pilot, that doesn’t mean there weren’t some problems. For me, the two big ones are Henshaw and Cat. A couple of early reviews I read described Cat as a cheap knock off as Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada and personally I have to agree. Besides her rather dumb reasoning in giving Kara the nickname Supergirl, her sole character trait seemed to be to act like a harpy to anyone she happened to share the screen with. As for Henshaw, his sole purpose seemed to be tell Kara she sucks at being a superhero or to outright call her a threat. I know he’s probably supposed to be a villain down the line but do they to make him such a cardboard cutout?
As for the episode’s actual villains they come off kind of bland so far and I thought it was a mistake to reveal Alura’s sister as the season’s big bad in the pilot episode and probably should’ve been saved for at least four or five episodes in. When The Flash first started, Dr. Wells spent a big part of the season shrouded in mystery and the show was all the better for it.
For the time being, I’m willing to chalk this up to the show going through some growing pains and as a result they tried to accomplish a little too much with their first episode. Tune in for next week for episode 2, ‘Stronger Together.’