Season One, Episode Three – “Fight or Flight”
By Molly Jane Kremer. Every television show is going to suffer growing pains, and a debut series that holds out until the third episode to let a few squeak out is… actually not so terrible. CBS’ Supergirl still leads the pack in superhero quality (well, to be honest, it’s neck and neck with The Flash) despite this week’s few falterings. While the action sequences were thrilling, most character interactions continued to glide effortlessly between sharp and stirring. And while this week’s villain (Reactron!) was the best-utilized yet, “Fight or Flight” lacked the strength (and more crucially, the spark) of what has come before.
WHAT WORKED: With CBS’s big bucks again being put to good use, the action sequences continue to astound. Supergirl’s ostentatious budget means that, possibly the first time ever, I’m gratified at the continued success of The Big Bang Theory. (You just keep on lining them-there CBS coffers, Sheldon…) Only ten minutes in, Melissa Benoist’s Kara and Chris Browning’s Reactron have a showdown on the freeway, and the nuclear lightning and fireballs Krull throws her way look so believable you don’t even give them a second thought when they connect. (Aside from “ouch”.) The fisticuffs themselves have improved too: Kara’s solid kicks and punches are thrown far more confidently than in earlier episodes. It’s interesting that the fight choreography seems to have taken into account her inexperience, displaying her gradual advancement in skill.
Supergirl also continues to fly the feminist flag, albeit subtly. Obviously no one’s actually going to say the dreaded “f” word out loud—CBS is a family network, you know (insert eyeroll here)—but as Kara points out to Cat mid-interview, nobody’s asking Superman frivolous questions about starting a family. And this isn’t the only episode to call out such ingrained disparities: Supergirl is making a concerted effort to make Kara a strong, multi-dimensional character of agency and integrity while sacrificing absolutely none of her femininity. She can fly, punch through walls—and giggle about a boy with her sister when she gets home. Who’d have thought a TV series about an alien superhero would feature one of mainstream media’s most honest depictions of a modern woman? They might be tiny, easy jabs at society’s inherent sexism, but they are blows nonetheless, vastly more effort towards gender equality than we’ve seen in the last handful of Marvel movies anyway. (Although that other Ms. Danvers might have something to say about it, when we finally get to see her…)
WHAT DIDN’T: “Fight or Flight” is the first episode that wasn’t written by at least two of Supergirl’s showrunners, and a lack of focus was apparent. Scenes felt tangibly clunky, with smatterings of irregular characterization. Series’ stock dudes Hank Henshaw and Maxwell Lord both uttered lines that made me wince. (Yes, we understood the Dr. Pepper was for you, Max. You really did not need to further explain the fact.) Kara’s dialogue, and especially that of Calista Flockhart’s Cat Grant, remained wonderfully consistent with the last two episodes (and with Cat’s, I mean consistently stiletto-sharp, a series highlight)—so what happened with everyone else’s unwieldy utterings?
But the dialogue wasn’t the only place to spot writing inconsistencies: Jimmy Olsen, for one, is such a dope in this episode. All that good will he fostered last week by expressing his need for independence away from Metropolis, and then we have this: here’s James calling up Superman to save Kara even when she expressly told him not to. (Then he namedrops the Man of Steel’s true identity when Winn’s in the room.) It’s so hard to believe that James, established as so steady and serious, casually pulls that kind of bonehead shit. (But he does wear a rather snazzy suit at the end, so I guess I won’t hold a grudge.)
Then there’s Cat—after the pilot’s eloquent conversation with Kara about how much harder a woman has to work than a man to only get noticed, and after convincing us to be proud of being called a girl to boot—asks Supergirl, in her first ever interview, if she’s planning on raising a family? Ugh. I can see why they wanted that to be a question (and I’m glad it was – and doubly glad for Kara’s reply) but having Cat be the one to ask it seemed odd and out of character for her.
“Any plans to start a family?” – Cat. “No one ever asks my cousin these questions.” – Kara. Attagirl. (And I’m not even mad that she outed her familial status in saying that.)
“How can you eat sticky buns for breakfast every day and still stay so thin?” – Server. “I’m an alien.” – Kara. Again: attagirl. Embrace that super-metabolism.
“I’m a writer. It’s like riding a bike or severe childhood trauma. You never really lose it.” -Cat. She really gets the best lines.
“My cousin didn’t have a ‘get out of a jam free’ card when he first started and neither should I.” – Kara. Bad-ass.
“I’m not ‘Superman’s cousin’, I’m Supergirl. And if I’m going to be defined, it’s going to be by my victories and my losses, no one else’s.” – Kara. (See above, add fistpump.)
“I’m gonna go talk to him the way I would want someone to talk to me.” “And if he doesn’t want to talk?” “Then I’ll punch him real hard until he falls down. That always seems to work.” – James & Kara. (See above, add all the happy.)
BEST MOMENT: Kara and Reactron fight multiple times throughout the episode, but their final battle is thrilling as hell, and definitely the most impactful. Reactron himself is the most successfully employed villain on the series so far: he has an understandable motivation, and arrives fully formed as a legitimate threat. Also, he’s just some human with weird powers and a yearning for “Vengeannnnce!”, that has nothing to do with Fort Rozz or silly Aunt Astra. That particular lack of narrative baggage felt incredibly freeing.
Oh, and the adorable little online chat with Clark at the end? Definite runner-up. You know Superman would totally use smiley-faces, too. (He totally would. — Ed.)
EPISODE’S MVP: Kara. If there remains any doubt that Melissa Benoist is up to the task of bolstering a one-hour superhero show, cast them from your mind. Benoist’s plucky determination, along with her ability to remain grounded as a tangible human being, makes her a female role model fit for the whole darn world. I wouldn’t see the ‘S’ anywhere else but set atop Melissa Benoist’s lovely heart.
– Reactron first appeared in The Daring New Adventures of Supergirl #8 in 1983, and so, is an actual, established Supergirl villain, instead of just another repurposed Superman baddie.
– Hilariously enough, in that ill-fated Justice League movie George Miller was helming like ten years ago, Maxwell Lord was going to be played by none other than Jay Baruchel. I do think I prefer Twilight-alum Facinelli: he has an acceptable amount of sliminess.
– Hank Henshaw’s eyes have gone red again; I really enjoy that this plot point is being allowed to simmer and gain suspense. (Although it is only the third episode.)
– Cat Grant: GINGERIST.
– Where did Winn get all that crazy electronics equipment he loaded up inside their new HQ? Or should we call all that tech… his toys? (Y’know, ‘cuz Toyman? Sorry, I’ll show myself out.)
– The glimpse of Superman that we get is blurry, but it’s mostly his butt anyway. Now we know his costume isn’t the old red-undies version. *sighs*
– Cat calls Supergirl a “millennial falcon” in her article. Poor Calista. I hope when she told Harrison about that line over dinner, there was maximum eyerolling in effect. (Let’s pause and think about how awesome that is, that they were probably chatting about Supergirl and Star Wars over their mac ‘n’ cheese.)
– (No, I don’t really think Harrison Ford and Calista Flockhart eat mac ‘n’ cheese for dinner at night.)
– Oh ye gods, the terrible dancing at that party. Someone get these extras some actual music to move around to, stat!
– The chemistry between Kara and James is still totally on point. Here’s hoping they don’t get together too soon though.