The pilot was kind of messy.
When I first watched this, I really wanted to like it. I did like it, but there was a lot that had me kind of rolling my eyes too. It just felt like it was… trying a little too hard?
I remember after the pilot aired there were a lot of complaints from MRA’s and anti-feminist/SJW types complaining about how the show was “too feminist”. The funny thing is that most of the actual feminists I’ve talked to and read reviews from felt that the feminism in the pilot was actually pretty flawed and clumsy. And I definitely agree with them. (Also, it’s disturbing how a show basically only has to do the bare minimum before people start complaining about “too much feminism” and “political correctness gone mad!!!” but that’s a discussion for another day.)
Every few minutes in this pilot, they will beat you over the head with the fact that SUPERGIRL IS A GIRL AND SHE’S STRONG OKAY GIRLS CAN BE STRONG AND SHE’S A HERO AND SHE’S A GIRL AND THAT’S COOL BECAUSE GIRLS CAN BE HEROES TOO LOOK AT THIS STRONG FEMALE CHARACTER SUCH A GREAT ROLE MODEL FOR GIRLS LOOK and it was… cringey. I would try to think of a better but to be honest, “cringey” says it all.
This pilot somehow manages to be too self-conscious and too self-congratulatory at the same time. It’s like they were afraid that every move they made might provoke backlash from feminists and so they had to try to justify everything and point out their strong female lead constantly. That’s not the way to go about things. If your show is feminist, that will come through naturally. You shouldn’t have to scream in my face about how feminist and empowering it is all the time. If it is, I should be able to see it for myself. I guess ultimately I would rather have a show that tries too hard than one that doesn’t try at all but it’s still awkward.
Thankfully the show does find its footing after a couple of episodes, but yeah these first couple of episodes, and especially this one, are pretty awkward.
But let’s just jump right into the story. I won’t be able to compare any of this to comics because I haven’t read any Supergirl comics and I knew very little about her before I bagan watching this, so I’m going to talk about the show as its own thing only. Just keep that in mind.
The episode starts with a quick explanation of Kara Danvers’ history. She’s from Krypton as well, and was sent to Earth along with Clark Kent when she was thirteen. She was meant to watch over Clark, but her pod got knocked off course and she’s basically been lost in time and space for years. By the time her pod made it to Earth, Clark had grown up and become Superman, so Kara, who was still just a thirteen year old, didn’t really have a job anymore. Superman found a family with a daughter her age to adopt her and Kara hid her powers from the rest of the world and tried to live as normal a life as she possibly could. (By the way, they’re not actually allowed to show Superman at any point and it’s pretty hilarious watching them find ways around this fact, but we’ll get into that more in later episodes.)
Now Kara is an adult, and just like the trailer promised her life is very romcom-y. She works as an assistant to Cat Grant, the very demanding and Devil Wears Prada-esque head of CatCo, a mega-media conglomerate. Kara has a friend named Winslow Schott (he goes by Winn, thankfully) who also works in the office as an IT guy and he has a crush on the oblivious Kara. And of course Kara’s love life is a mess, but oh, James Olsen, the new guy in the office, is just so dreamy.
Yeah aside from all of the superhero stuff this really does feel like the opening of a romcom. Make of that what you will.
But speaking of that superhero stuff, Kara is also unsatisfied with the “normal” life she leads. She feels as though she could be doing a lot more. She has all of the same powers as her cousin, after all, shouldn’t she be doing something worthwhile with them? Her sister, Alex, disagrees and says that the best thing for Kara to do is just keep fitting in.
Kara doesn’t follow that advice, of course. Instead, she saves a plane from crashing (a plane that Alex was on, no less). Kara’s heroics don’t go unnoticed, and suddenly everyone in National City is raving about this new mysterious female superhero who is such a good role model you guys (actually, to be fair, I did think it was cute that one person commented on how happy they were for their daughter to have someone to look up to). Kara is happy, Alex is not.
Desperate to find someone else who’s as excited about this as she is, Kara tells Winn her secret and he takes it pretty well. He even helps her with designing a costume and finding more people to save.
The montage is cute, actually. Kara’s excitement about becoming a superhero is really endearing. We see the evolution of her costume, and I like how she insists on having a cape for no real reason other than that she wants one, like honestly?? Same. We also see her stopping a few small crimes throughout the city, in the process learning exactly what she’s capable of. Like, she didn’t know for sure if she was bulletproof until she had a bunch of armED ROBBERS SHOOT AT HER. Jesus.
Later, there’s this really weird and awkward scene where Kara, after seeing that she’s been named “Supergirl” by Catco, storms into Cat Grant’s office and indignantly says that they can’t use that name.
Kara: It’s just, uh… I don’t want to minimize the importance of this. (STAMMERING) A female superhero. Shouldn’t she be called Superwoman?
Cat: I’m sorry, darling, I just can’t hear you over the loud color of your cheap pants.
Kara: (EXHALES) If we call her “Supergirl”, something less than what she is, doesn’t that make us guilty of being anti-feminist?
Cat: Didn’t you say she was a hero? – I’m the hero. I stuck a label on the side of this girl, I branded her. She will forever be linked to Catco, to the Tribune, to me. And what do you think is so bad about “Girl”? Huh? 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 real problem you?
Oh, man. Okay.
First of all, Cat, you didn’t actually address the problem Kara had with the name. Kara’s problem was that it sounded infantalizing, the same way that calling Superman “Superboy” would sound infantalizing. Cat completely ignores Kara’s point, and she subjects Kara to such intense gaslighting to make her own point it’s really uncomfortable to watch.
And you know what? I think it would have been better if they hadn’t addressed the name at all. Really, they didn’t need to. This scene is exactly what I mean by the show trying to justify its existence, to bring up everything that could possibly be criticized about it and clumsily argue that it’s all okay so that The Feminists won’t be angry with them. But was anyone really angry about the name “Supergirl”? Both the name and character were established long before this show came out, I don’t think anyone was going to target the show for it. The show itself drew attention to it, and then clumsily tried and failed to justify it, and we’re left with a painfully awkward scene. I suppose Kara resisting the name “Supergirl” could have been interesting, but they really should have just left the matter alone.
During a nighttime flight, Kara is shot down with a tranquilizer containing Kryptonite, and she wakes up in the Department of Extra-Normal Operations, a secret government agency that keeps tabs on aliens. It turns out that Alex works for the DEO, and has been keeping this part of her life a secret from Kara. When Kara started using her powers again, Alex alerted the head of the DEO, Hank Henshaw. Hank informs Kara that when she landed on Earth, Fort Rozz, a prison housing some of Krypton’s worst criminals (most of whom were sentenced by her mother, Alura) crashed onto Earth as well. One of those criminals, Vartox, has it out for Supergirl and intends to challenge her. Kara insists that she can take him on, but Hank and Alex tell her it’s best for her to just go back into hiding, as exposing herself to the world will only put herself in danger.
So Kara takes their advice, stops being Supergirl, and the series end.
Nah, Vartox lures Kara into a fight and she gets her ass handed to her. The thing is, Vartox has powers too, and he’s a lot more experienced than Kara. Luckily, Alex comes to Kara’s rescue, but Kara has realized that she isn’t ready to take on these Fort Rozz criminals and is unsure about whether she should continue with the superhero business. Alex has had a change of heart since their last conversation and convinces Kara that she should keep being Supergirl.
Alex shows Kara a message that was left for her from Alura. How long has Alex had access to this exactly? Whatever, she shows Kara the message and it basically tells Kara that she’s destined for great things and it’s all very emotional and sweet and I may have teared up the first time I watched it. And the second time. And again when I rewatched the episode for this review. I’m sensitive, leave me alone.
So, Kara takes on Vartox again, this time with Alex and the DEO supporting her. It’s a mostly decent fight, though I could have done without this:
Henshaw: She’s not strong enough.
Alex: Why? Because she’s just a girl? It’s exactly what we were counting on.
Can we. Can we please stop this.
So, Vartox is defeated (well, sort of… he kind of kills himself), Henshaw is convinced that Supergirl could be an asset to the DEO and allows her to work for them. Oh, and James Olsen, the new art director at Catco that Kara has the hots for? He knows who she is. He’s friends with Superman, so he knew all along.
We end with a scene where two Kryptonians, one of whom happens to be Kara’s aunt Astra, discuss Vartox’s death as well as their plans to take over the Earth.
Clunky attempts at being feminist aside, I do think this is a decent pilot, mainly because the cast is honestly pretty amazing. Melissa Benoist especially is so endearing as Kara Danvers, I fell in love with her right away. She’s able to bring out the complexity of the character as well as the lighter sides of her, and god am I happy to see a character who is cheerful and optimistic and hopeful and complex all at once. See, not everything has to be dark and edgy. Calista Flockhart is also wonderful as the lovably “bitchy” Cat Grant, she pretty much steals every scene that she’s in. Everyone else in the cast is great too, but those two in particular stand out.
To be clear, it’s not a bad thing at all for the show to try and tackle issues of misogyny. It would be a good thing, actually, and a character like Supergirl opens a lot of possibilities for exploring race and gender and sexuality and all kinds stuff, but this episode is completely lacking in nuance or subtlety, so it all just sounds forced and awkward. Not that I was expecting much from this show in regards to feminism or progressiveness or whatever, I’ve come to expect very little from superhero adaptations, but this episode is trying so desperately and missing the mark, and it’s only hurting itself in the process.
Kara is a great character, and so are Alex and Cat Grant, and their relationships with each other are really fantastic. That can speak for itself. If the pilot didn’t spend so much time congratulating itself on doing the bare minimum, and simultaneously being so self-conscious and defensive of itself, it would have been better.