Supergirl Flies, but Does She Soar? Not Quite Yet

The highly anticipated Supergirl premiered last night on CBS. In the lead-up to last night’s premiere, it seems as though the show, and its star Glee’s Melissa Benoist, have become synonymous with “feminism.”

The question remains, did it live up to the feminist hype? Is Supergirl more than just a girl in a red cape?

Spoilers ahead as we dig into the pilot episode to find out.

For those of you who recall Superman’s origin story (and who doesn’t?)… this is going to sound familiar since Supergirl’s origin is much the same as her famous cousin.

We first meet our heroine, Kara Zor-El, on Krypton as it’s about to blow. She’s 13 years old and being sent by Mama Zor-El (played by Nashville’s Laura Benanti) to Earth to watch after her baby cousin Kal-El. Having been launched right behind Kal, Kara gets caught in the blast from Krypton’s destruction and finds herself taking a nap in The Phantom Zone for 24 years. You know, the place where all of Krypton’s criminals get sent.

Fast forward. 24 years later, Kara finds herself still 13 and finally on Earth. While she was napping, her baby cousin grew up and became Superman. (Although not once in the premiere is the name Superman mentioned.) He finds his cousin and brings her to the Danvers family, which includes their daughter, Alex, wanting her to have a “normal” upbringing.

Incidentally, in some lovely casting decisions, Mama Danvers is none other than Supergirl’s Helen Slater, while Papa Danvers is Lois & Clark’s Dean Cain

Finally, we meet Kara in the present day. Since her cousin has the hero thing all locked up, she’s chosen to try to fit in while ignoring her ability to see through things, hear everything, burn things with her eyes and, you know, fly.

Anyway, fit in she does, as an editorial assistant at CatCo Media in National City where she fetches coffee, gets a ton of attitude form her boss lady, Cat Grant (Ally McBeal’s Calista Flockhart), and is oblivious to the IT guy and friend zone resident Winn Schott’s (the adorable Jeremy Jordan from Smash) huge crush on her.

But wait! Straight from Metropolis and the Daily Planet comes James (not Jimmy…only the “big guy” and his mom call him that!) Olsen. Played by True Blood’s Mehcad Brooks, he is tall, athletic, handsome, and confident. Ladies, this is not your father’s Jimmy Olsen. Warning: There appears to be a love triangle a brewing among Supergirl, James, and Winn, folks! Like it or not, the producers are clearly heading in that direction. [Corrina’s note: In the comics, Schott is destined to be the villain Toyman, who murders a number of children, including Cat Grant’s son, Adam. So he’s an interesting choice for Kara’s friend.]

With all the pieces in place, it is clear—because she tells us—that Kara wants more than this provincial life. But that has to wait–she’s got a date tonight and has no idea what to wear! Big sis Alex (Grey’s Anatomy’s Chyler Leigh) to the rescue! She has a flight to Geneva to catch but makes time to  stop by to lecture Kara and help her pick an outfit.

During pretty much the worst first date ever, as he takes a phone call, leaves, and finally hits on the waitress within Kara’s super earshot, the news breaks that a flight to Geneva is coming down over National City. Kara runs into action and flies off to carry the plane down safely.

Now, Superman has revealed himself in this way in several incarnations, the producers couldn’t come up with something else? Was this a lack of imagination on the producers’ part or a nice nod to the original? I haven’t quite decided, but I would have preferred to let her story stand on its own and not borrow from movies of Superman’s past.

But I digress, she saves the plane, her sister, and everyone else. This being 2015, everyone of course immediately whips out their cell phones and starts snapping pics to post to some social media outlet or another. Conveniently, not one of them got a clear shot. Seriously? Has no one a high enough resolution camera phone to get a good shot? I call b.s.!

Back at her apartment, Kara is having a little celebration while watching the news coverage of her heroics, when big sis Alex shows up and is angry that Kara has now exposed herself to the world and “can’t take it back.” So much for the sisterly support.

The next morning all anyone can talk about is Kara’s heroics. At CatCo, the newsroom is abuzz, but Kara can’t keep her super secret to herself. She has BFF Winn meet her on the roof and spills that she’s the plane-carrying-chick who saved the day. Winn, of course, doesn’t believe her, and in a comic relief cliche, thinks that Kara’s telling him that she’s gay, which must be the reason he’s not into her. With a leap off the building, Kara proves that she’s the hero.

Now she has the beginnings of her very own Scooby Gang! They head to her apartment to have a super suit discovery montage.  During the montage, in what was the most heavy-handed “we are for the feminists” line of the night, a diner employee states, “A female hero. It’s nice for my daughter to have someone like that to look up to.”

While I do agree that it is wonderful to see female superheroes on the small screen again, they are trying way too hard here. You don’t need to beat me over the head with this, let her show us and earn it.

Once Kara and Winn have that whole suit thing settled, Kara takes flight only to be taken down by some Kryptonite laced darts courtesy of the Department of Extranormal Operations (DEO), whose sole purpose is to keep the existence of aliens a secret from humans. She wakes up in the underground lair, I mean base, for the DEO to be confronted by grumpy agency Director Henshaw.

Oh, and by the way, Alex works for the DEO! And it’s Kara’s turn to be angry. It was wonderful to see a woman actually be allowed to express anger on TV, even though it was short lived.

Much like a college professor, Director Henshaw tells Kara that she wasn’t the only one who escaped The Phantom Zone all those years ago. Krypton’s super max prison Fort Rozz followed her ship out and its inhabitants are now roaming Earth.

I’m sure it will be addressed at some point (I hope), but where have these bad guys been? Why are we all just hearing about this now if they have been here for twenty-four years? Just wondering.

Kara returns to work the next morning to find that boss lady Cat has named her “Supergirl” and Kara is not pleased. And in the second most heavy-handed bit of dialogue of the night, Cat responds, “‘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, isn’t the problem you?”

Again folks, stop trying so hard. Peggy Carter doesn’t need to tell us she’s excellent, she shows the audience and the men around her time and time again. Take note.

As Cat is about to fire Kara, James comes in to break the tension and reveal that they now have a clear picture of Supergirl. Plus he gives all the credit to Kara for the photo, rescuing her and saving her job. Cat tells Kara that she needs to learn to speak up and take the credit.

Vartox
Comic book Vartox. You can see why the show didn’t use this costume. copyright DC Comics

As they leave the meeting, Kara super hears this week’s villain challenge her to a fight. What’s a heroine to do? Fly off and fight him of course! Bad idea, chica.

Supergirl pretty much gets her ass kicked by Vartox, an escapee of The Phantom Zone, who tried to take down the plane. While he’s tossing her around like a rag doll, he explains that since her mother, Alura Zor-El, sent him, and everyone else, to The Phantom Zone, he is happy to kill her. He almost succeeds, but Alex comes to the rescue. The defeat has shaken Kara’s resolve, so she quits and heads home.

Alex comes over, and from the hallway explains that she was jealous of Kara and her powers while they were growing up. Seriously, doesn’t she have neighbors? Shouldn’t Alex want to protect her sister’s secret identity? Does nobody in Berlanti’s DC universe understand the importance of a secret identity?? I mean Barry Allen discusses being the Flash in the middle of a crowded coffee shop and that Oliver Queen is the Arrow is the worst kept secret since, well, ever.

When Kara finally lets Alex in, she has a gift for her in the form of a holographic message from her mom! After mom’s wise words, “You were sent to protect Kal-El, but your path isn’t tied to his. Find your way to the brave girl you always were.” The sisters head back to the DEO and demand that Supergirl be allowed to take down Vartox. In the worst pep talk ever, Director Curmudgeon agrees, telling her to win. [Corrina’s note: In the comics, Hank Henshaw became the city-destroying Cyborg Superman. It may explain his grumpiness here.]

Confidence restored, Kara flies in and stops a Mac truck without breaking a sweat. Now, she knows how to fight. That happened kinda quickly but, seeing as they only had an hour, I’ll let it go. Kara uses the fact that Vartox underestimates her to her advantage and kicks his ass this time.

Zardoz
The movie inspiration for Vartox, Zed from Zardoz. You can see why Supergirl could win against this guy. image via 20th Century Fox.

The next day at CatCo, Kara and Winn chat about her night and he exclaims, “The Super Friends are back!” She puts the kibosh on the name, but I giggle at the reference to one of my favorite childhood cartoons.

She then bumps into James, who admits he knows she’s Supergirl and she needs to meet him on the roof! He reveals that her cousin sent him to look out for her and he comes bearing a gift, the blanket Kal-El was wrapped in as a baby.  “This cape won’t shred,” James tells her with his sexy smile.

In the stinger that revealed the Big Bad, Vatrox’s boss meets with The General. I assumed that the causal mention of The General earlier in the episode was to Zod, but no! This General is Alura’s twin sister, who wants to take over Earth and is happy to kill her niece to do it.

Once again hitting us over the head, Kara proclaims, “Earth doesn’t have just one hero anymore. Now it has me. Now it has Supergirl.”

With the title of “most-watched fall drama debut,” we know that there is an audience. We know that women and girls alike will watch and that we have waited for our heroines to take center stage for far too long.

The question remains, is this version of Supergirl the feminist hero we’ve been waiting for?

Frankly, she isn’t. Not yet anyway.

She has big shoes to fill and I’m not talking about her super cousin’s. I’m talking about the TV heroines of years past, Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman, and Yvonne Craig’s Batgirl. More recently with the resurgence of superhero movies and TV shows there has been a glut of women superheroes.

While the focus has been on the men in the titles, Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, Ming-Na Wen’s Agent Melinda May, Chloe Bennet’s Quake, and of course, Hayley Atwell’s Peggy Carter have a lot to teach Melissa Benoist’s Supergirl about what it means to be a feminist superhero.

I do think she’s flying in the right direction and I, for one, can’t wait to see how high she goes.

By day, Lisa is a writer and TV producer. Passionate about children’s media, she has had the privilege to work on shows such as The Electric Company, Sesame Street, Johnny and the Sprites, Between the Lions, and Monica’s Mixing Bowl. She believes everything, both on TV and in life, is better with puppets! By night, she spends time with her husband wading through the ever growing list of shows in their TiVo; feeding their mutual addiction as scripted TV junkies. In her spare time, she teaches her daughter all about Doctor Who, Superheroes, Star Wars, Disney movies and to never ask an owl how many licks it takes to get to Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop.