This one may have flown under the radar for some of you, but I really want to talk about Supergirl. The first season just ended and I’m already hanging out for season two.
Before I do, though, you should know that around the time I started watching this show I was also listening to Halestorm a LOT. As such, the show will always be linked to this song in my mind. To really get into the zone, press play then keep reading. Also, while I have tried not to give away too much in the way of plot points and twists, if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t like any spoilers at all then you probably shouldn’t read this. Hell, you probably shouldn’t be on the internet.
For those of you not overly familiar with the character or her backstory, I’ll give you a basic run-down.
Supergirl is otherwise known as Kara Zor-El from the planet Krypton. As Superman’s older cousin, she was sent to earth to protect baby Superman while their parents tried (unsuccessfully) to prevent their planet from imploding. Supergirl’s stasis space pod was knocked off-course and she spent about twenty years or so asleep in the Phantom Zone of weird timey-wimey thingies. By the time the pod get her to earth, she’s still a thirteen-year-old girl but her baby cousin has become the strapping, twenty-something Superman we all know and love. He brings her to a family he trusts to raise her like one of their own, and thus Kara Zor-El becomes Kara Danvers.
With me so far?
She then spends most of her life hiding her powers and pursuing a career in journalism, becoming the personal assistant to media mogul Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart). She has two close friends at work – Winn Schott and James Olsen (yes, that Jimmy Olsen. He’s way less annoying in this version than the skinny redhead was).
In the first episode, a plane is about to crash into Central City and Kara manages to guide it into a more gentle landing in the bay. Supergirl is born.
I’ll admit from the outset that I’ve not read any Supergirl comics – I have my hands full with the Bat Family as it is – and with the exception of the occasional Justice League appearance I’ve not really had much to do with her until now, so I have no idea if this backstory resembles the source material in any way. However, just reading DC superhero comics in general can still provide a broad idea of what the characters stand for, and the Supe’s are primarily about hope.
To many people, Superman is the ultimate boy-scout, always out to Do The Right Thing, even when what’s right is a bit ambiguous. Supergirl follows in this story-telling tradition of ‘hope springs eternal’, and is a departure from its older sibling Arrow. Indeed, the creators intentionally set out to make an antidote to the current grim dark superhero shoes currently on offer – this aint Jessica Jones (having said that… I loved Jessica Jones, too).
Admittedly, the first season has some teething problems. It suffers from a typical first-season TV budget, so the special effects can sometimes come off as a tad cheesy, but hey, I like cheese.
The show seems to pull its punches – on a few occasions they have concocted a situation rich in themes to explore, but they don’t always manage to stick the landing. When they do try and tackle something huge, as in the season finale, they seemed to lose their nerve when it came to actually tackling the big issues they were alluding to (such as climate change). They also tried to cram all of the big, high-stakes moments in to the very end, tying up all of the storylines at once when spacing them out over the two episodes would have probably been more impactful. And finally, they should have either gone for the series-long arc with more gusto or committed to a new story every week rather than try and do both. The loose ends are tied up rather messily, and some characters with serious potential as great villains were given the short end of the stick.
Having said all this, there is a lot it does well. There isn’t a single “main gang” character that I dislike, and they are all cast particularly well. Melissa Benoist as Kara Danvers is particularly talented. She does goofy and embarrassed just as well as angry and frightened, and seems to have a deep understanding of the complexities of her character.
Supergirl is starting out hero-ing, and suffers from many of the same teething problems that her cousin did (collateral damage, how to get out of work to rescue people and not get fired, finding the right super suit), but also faces another barrier – sexism. Pure and simple, she faces far more scrutiny than her cousin did purely because she’s female.They tackle this issue really well in the episode “Red Faced”.
Kara faces a series of incidents (as both herself and Supergirl) that would make anyone a tad testy, and when it finally all comes to a head she lets her anger boil over. This might cause some shock if she were a regular person, but when she’s wearing a cape it’s downright terrifying.
She also makes the mistake of snapping at her boss. But rather than the expected reprimand, Cat Grant does something much better – she takes Kara out for a martini.
Cat: When I was working at the Daily Planet, Perry White picked up a chair and he threw it out of the window because somebody missed a deadline and, no, he did not open the window first. If I had thrown a chair, or my god if I had thrown a napkin, it would have been all over the papers. It would have been professional and cultural suicide.
Kara: Then what do you do?”
Cat: Well, you need to find a release. You need to take up some boxing or start screaming at your housekeeper but the real key Keira is that you need to figure out what’s really bothering you. For example, I am so furious with my mother so I took it out on you and you’re so mad at me but, and this is the important bit, you’re not really mad at me.”
Kara: Actually, I kinda was.
Cat: No. Uh uh. You were really mad at something else. And you need to find the anger behind the anger. And you need to figure out what is really making you mad.
So, Kara takes her advice. She invites James to let off some steam – him with an old-fashioned punching bag, Kara by beating up an old car.
James: I never really noticed Clark having to get his rage on.
Kara: Because he’s a man. Girls are taught to smile and keep it on the inside.
James: Well it’s not like black men are encouraged to be angry in public.
Kara: Well then, this will work for both of us.
And as the two of them work out their aggression, Kara finally realises what is the anger behind the anger – that she’ll never get to have a normal life.
While this episode didn’t get particularly favourable reviews, I was really able to relate to it on a personal level. It’s also a great example of why, I think, female and minority superheroes have the potential to be particularly interesting characters – they have a lot of pent-up rage that they wouldn’t necessarily get to release anywhere else, and they have so much to be personally mad about. Kara finally channels this rage into her heat-vision to take out that week’s villain, in a scene that actually gave me chills.
Aside from the obvious feminist bent, I adored Supergirl for its ensemble cast. One of the major themes is that no man -or woman- is an island; “I get by with a little help from my friends.” Yes, I know that this theme has been done to death, but we have never before seen a superhero show that also delves into the relationships women have with each other.
Kara’s relationship with her boss, Cat Grant, is probably my favourite thing about this series. She refuses to learn most of her employees names – she calls Kara “Keira” and forgets Winn almost entirely. Cat is arrogant, self-serving, snarky, utterly ruthless and uncompromising. She does what she has to in order to achieve her goals. All the traits required, in other words, to be a successful capitalist ruler of a media empire. She’s not exactly beloved by her workers or the public at large, but she genuinely doesn’t care, because if she did she could never do her job.
Honestly, if she were my boss I’d probably hate her guts, but I’ve never exactly been a model working cog in the machine. But Cat has a soft spot, particularly for women with ambition and heart. That’s why she mentors Kara, and is one of Supergirl’s most staunch champions…and critics.
While she mentors Kara and Supergirl, she’s not soft with her. She delivers tough but fair criticism, which is really the only way Kara can learn and improve. Calista Flockhart plays Cat so well that we can tell she has hidden depths that may be revealed over time.
She tries not to let this soft spot show for obvious reasons, but Supergirl‘s writers manage to make Cat endearing to us without falling into the old trope of “she’s mean because she needs a man/she suffered past trauma.” She even gives an amazing speech about how yes, women can have it all, but not all at once – juggle two balls before you add a third. She’s a media mogul, mentor and a single mum, all things that she learned to do over time, not all at the same time.
Another important relationship in this show is between Kara and Alex, her adopted sister. Alex Danvers works for the Department of Extra-Normal Operations (the DEO), a government black-ops task force established to deal with aliens and people with super abilities. Alex takes her role as protective big sister very seriously, and although she resists Kara becoming Supergirl at first she soon decides to help. Alex helps her to train in hand-to-hand combat, because although Kara is fine when fighting your average bank robber, she has plenty of super-powered villains to take on as well, and powers won’t be enough.
Alex is constantly struggling to reconcile her instinct to protect her little sister with the fact that Kara is embracing her role as Supergirl. Alex is more grounded, better trained and less naive than her sister. They work well as a team, but Kara still has some maturing to do. Alex, meanwhile has found a father-figure in her boss at the DEO, Hank Henshaw (he has some rather awesome stuff going on too, but I’m not going to spoil it for you).
Supergirl has a huge emphasis on family and loves to explore the ties that bind. As well as Alex, we get to see Kara’s adoptive mother Eliza from time to time. We also get to meet her birth mother, Alura, via flashbacks. Most important is Kara’s aunt Astra.
Astra and her husband Non are the two big baddies for this season, I won’t go into huge details why, but this leads to an interesting dynamic as Kara tries to figure out how to navigate the situation. On the one hand she’s trying to protect her new home and her adopted family, on the other she’s trying to maintain a link to some of the last blood family she has left.
Finally, added to all of this is a cast of fun, occasionally campy villains that are amusing to watch in their own right. There’s Maxwell Lord, the duplicitous industrialist who’s solutions to problems usually involve having bigger and better toys than everyone else.
My personal favourite is Livewire, a former shock-jock turned super villain who has a serious beef with Cat Grant. It leads to a rather predictable line from Livewire about there being more than one way to skin a cat. Grant’s response is so wonderful I may need to save this gif for future use.
As usual, there’s plenty more I could say about this show. Ultimately it’s up to the individual to decide if it’s their cup of tea. I’m able to get past some of the clunky dialogue because of everything else Supergirl has going for it, whereas I’ve been unable to say the same for, say, Arrow. I love that there is a wide range of women in this show who display strength in entirely different ways, and who I find very relatable. Yeah, I’m biased, but fuck it. In a world of Superhero shows and movies that insist that everything has to be dark, it’s wonderful to have a bunch of women shining a light.