There are spoilers in this review up through episode 8 of Supergirl. If you have not seen up through episode 8, and you don’t want to be spoiled. Don’t read this until you do. I won’t be offended, I promise.
The mid-season finale of Supergirl aired on Monday, and this seemed like a good opportunity to take another look at this show. You will remember that I had almost nothing but positive things to say about the pilot. Now, seven episodes later, does Supergirl deliver on what that pilot promised? Kind of. Supergirl remains the most unapologetically comic book show on television, and it’s still light and funny and endearing, but some of the minor problems that occurred in the pilot have become bigger problems as the series has gone on. Let’s break it down.
First off, the casting is, in general, amazing. Melissa Benoist is incredibly charming as Kara, and there are really great moments of the show demonstrating how it’s progressive without having to say it (but it still says it. More on that in the next section). We see a little boy looking up to Supergirl (okay, sure. He has a crush on her, but he still looks up to her as a hero), we see Supergirl training not with some macho male trainer, but, instead, with her Sister who is ALSO badass, we see Supergirl hurt and betrayed, but instead of breaking down or shutting down, she uses that anger to accomplish what she needs to, and there are so many other great moments in the show that really demonstrate how wonderfully Kara’s character is presented to the audience. Calista Flockhart continues to be really powerful in her own way as Cat Grant and still have some genuine heartfelt moments when you least expect it, and Mehcad Brooks as James Olsen is a refreshing and different spin on that character. And he adds a great dynamic as the normal guy who happens to be friends with superheroes, and also has some experience under his belt working with Superman. He is, in essence, a tool through which the show explains to the audience (and Kara) what Superman has been doing before the show started and how this world has interacted with superhumans in the past, but he manages to do all of that without sounding like exposition, and he’s just fun to watch.
The show is just phenomenal at female representation in general. Kara, Cat, and Alex are all incredibly strong and complicated in their own ways. Kara fights like a warrior, and people treat her like she is the hero that she is, she isn’t used for sex appeal by the showrunners, and the times when she is at her weakest, it’s never BECAUSE she is a girl. We also get to see the ways that Kara is different than Superman (although, I would still argue that this is, effectively, a female Superman show, but I’m fine with that). And the showrunners never shy away from highlighting where societal gender roles DO get in the way, and why it’s dumb.
Finally, the show is just fun. I can’t think of a single episode I did not enjoy watching. There are some a liked more than others, and it still lacks a sort of cohesive overarching plot (which wasn’t helped by a episode swap half-way through. More on that later), but it’s fun to watch week to week, and that’s not something I can always say about other shows on television.
The worst thing I can say about this show is that its attitude towards the protagonist seems… inconsistent. There are times when in one episode, Supergirl is heralded as the savior National City desperately needs, and in the next she is being berated for breaking a man’s hand who was trying to hit her after ALMOST RUNNING OVER SCHOOL CHILDREN. This isn’t helped by CBS’s decision to swap episodes 4 and 5, because Episode 4 involved dealing with what were, essentially, terrorist attacks the Monday after the Paris attacks. I totally understand and support this decision, but I do hope that when this is released in a full-season form, they swap those episodes back, because it DOES make a difference. So, if I got sick of anything during this first half of the season it was this shifting of attitude, not just in Supergirl’s public image, but also in her ability to handle herself. Not that I expect her to be a pro superhero out of the gate, but I just got a little tired of “Kara is making a rookie superhero mistake” being the major plot point in the episode. That said, I do appreciate that they give her the opportunity to learn, and we do get to see her journey to becoming a more fully-formed superhero. She is certainly stronger and more capable in episode 8 than in episode 2, I just wish that progression took more a back seat than it seems to.
The thing that annoyed me in the first episode about the showrunners constantly patting themselves on the back for creating a progressive female character on television hasn’t… gone away, really. They continue to insert moments like having Cat’s mother say “Should she be named Superwoman?” throughout the series. This works well when it is making a new point about gender equality. For example, Cat Grant explaining to Kara why it’s not okay for women to get mad publicly the same way it is okay for men. And it works less well at other times when it just feels like they are being kind of self-congratulatory. I had originally figured that this would kind of go away after the first couple episodes, but it hasn’t, so I am expecting, at this point, that this will just be part of the show, and I’m mostly okay with that as long as I know it going in. As we discussed in the comments of that initial post, I would rather be beat over the head with social progress than see none. So if those are my options, I’ll take this.
That said, the concerns people had about Kara being a little too focused on the men in her life? That may have more credibility now than it had in the pilot. I still think it is handled well. She explains how she has never had any luck romantically, and now that she’s Supergirl, she doesn’t feel like she ever will. That seems like a fine reason for her to be pining after the romantic relationship she thinks she COULD have, but the show seems more focused on the romantic drama than I would like. Although, I would argue less so than either The Flash or Arrow, which are both male-led shows. So it’s still ahead of the curve there, and I’m mostly okay with it.
Maxwell Lord. Man, this guy just makes no sense to me. I hope he WILL make sense later, but right now, he is the weakest recurring part of the show for me. I don’t mean scene to scene. Peter Facinelli does a fine job in the role, and I actually quite like some of his interactions with other characters. What I mean is, I don’t understand his larger character motivation or even what he is doing here. He’s been effectively built as this show’s Lex Luthor: A brilliant billionaire scientist who for some reason has decided to be antagonistic towards Supergirl, and I get that. He arranges elaborate tests to see the extent of her power, he tries to figure out who she is, he creates an anti-alien gun, he constantly tears her down to the press, and he refuses to publicly acknowledge when she saves him. But why? What does he have to gain from this? What is his motivation for being an antagonist? I am hoping they explain this soon, but right now, I just don’t get this character beyond “we need a Lex Luthor character. Let’s make it this guy.”
This show has GUTS. It is 100% committed to being a comic book show, which isn’t something I can say about ANY other show on television, not even The Flash (which comes very close). In its first season, Supergirl showed both Red Tornado AND Martian Manhunter on screen in live action. I mean, props to The Flash for having the guts to do a giant telepathic gorilla, but Red Tornado? With the “T” on his chest and everything! And they even CALLED him that! It was glorious! One of the reasons why I love this show week to week is that it feels like watching a comic book. Sure, there’s a bit more of the secret identity life shenanigans than you would normally see, but they never shy away from what a lot of shows would consider too “unrealistic” or “silly” to be on a television show. And they don’t feel the need for everything to be able to be explained with real life science. There’s a suspension of disbelief in comics that carries over to the Supergirl show. Maxwell Lord developed an anti-alien gun. How? I don’t know. He’s smart. It’s a comic book. Leave it alone. I love that attitude, and it makes me love this show. I wish that the people making DC movies were as courageous as the show runners of this show.
And the gutsiest thing of all might be that mid-season finale with Cat Grant deducing (not discovering, mind you, deducing) Supergirl’s identity. This gets me so excited for the back half of this season. I love that she figured it out. She didn’t just stumble in on Kara with her glasses off, no one slipped up and called Supergirl “Kara” (though, I loved when that happened with Superman earlier in the season. It’s not a bad tactic, it’s just important that it didn’t happen here). Cat Grant figured it out, because she’s smart. And she didn’t do something dumb. She didn’t go and say “I’m going to publish this immediately.” Instead, she thanked Kara for all her help. If this goes where I think it is going to go (and oh I HOPE it does), we are going to have a Superhero show where the hero’s secret identity is STILL a secret, but is known by her secret ID boss, and that is just so cool and original that I can’t wait. Of course, maybe they will find a way to mess it up. Maybe Cat will have her mind wiped, or she will threaten to expose Kara, and the D.E.O. will have to step in and arrest her or something dumb, but I really hope not. I really hope this just alters their relationship and we see what comes of it. That would be super.