Season One, Episode One – “Pilot”
By Molly Jane Kremer. We live in a golden age of superhero fiction. (And no, I don’t mean that Golden Age, you dork.) But despite the pervasiveness of Marvel’s movies and DC’s tv shows—and the scores of characters now beloved by less-nerdy masses—there are still major gaps in this barrage of entertainment. While I enjoy seeing strapping blonde men named Chris throw hammers and shields around as much as the next person, the lack of superpowered women (and the lack of non-white male characters in general) has become glaring to the point of being impossible to ignore.
That void has now been filled in part by CBS’s new Supergirl series, created by Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg (of Arrow and The Flash fame) and Ali Adler. And while it does tend to lean on a few rom-com clichés, it feels bright, welcoming, and exciting—think CW’s The Flash with more femme-positive leanings. It’s not perfect, but it’s a huge step in the right direction. And it’s entertaining to boot.
WHAT WORKED: Before the opening credits even roll, Supergirl (an adorable and perfectly cast Melissa Benoist) has already answered her heroic impulses by rescuing a crashing airplane full of people (including her sister) in a massive and visually stunning action sequence. And the episode barrels onward from there: all the right notes are hit in all the right ways, from Kara’s first exhilarating flight to the rooftop identity-reveal to friend and coworker, Winn Schott; from the earnest heart-to-hearts with foster sister Alex, to getting beat up by the baddie (Owain Yeoman’s Vartox) only to find Kara Zor-El coming around to eventually kick his ass.
The cast has great chemistry together, particularly Kara and Jimmy—I mean James Olsen. An overall optimism imbues this pilot, a mood sorely lacking in most superhero fare these days (save CW’s The Flash, of course). Like our beloved Barry Allen (and like Christopher Reeve’s oft-imitated but never duplicated turn as the Man of Steel before him), Kara Zor-El just wants to help people with the powers she’s been gifted; no messy, violence-fueled motivations here, or the dour seriousness so rife within DC’s recent (and imminent) output. Instead we have primary colors, beaming sunshine, and a joyous enthusiasm to simply do good. (Interwoven throughout are glorious all-girl moments that simply ace the Bechdel Test.)
WHAT DIDN’T: The episode’s pace is at times jarringly fast, with an enormous amount of intent hastily established for the season (and assumedly the series). Showrunners Berlanti and Kreisberg are more than familiar with the superhero origin-story rigmarole (but at this point, aren’t we all?), and they apparently want to get us to the “good stuff” as quickly as humanly possible… but a little breathing room would have been appreciated.
Calista Flockhart’s media mogul Cat Grant has a delightfully snarky edge, but the character needs more dimensionality and motivation beyond “mean boss”. Her “SuperGIRL instead of SuperWOMAN” argument is flawed and silly, but it’s made necessary to the show because… well, it’s in the title.
Midway through the episode we discover, as happened on The Flash, a season’s worth of freak-of-the-week villains that have spawned from the same event as the hero, giving Supergirl enough to do for the next fifteen or so episodes when we’re not furthering the overarching plot.
Clueless “Nice Guy” friend Winn Schott, with his painfully obvious Kara crush, is probably the weakest character on the show (and, is it just me, or is having the girl you’re crushing on perform a fashion show/costume try-on sesh with you not a little creepy…?) The first half of the episode sees Kara going on online dates (with a total chad of course—hopefully she deleted Tinder after that one?) and having cringe-inducing conversations about meeting “The One” (again with Winn, ugh), all of which became irrelevant mid-episode when Kara got in costume and started punching bad guys. The rest of the series needs an overabundance of the latter, and a hasty absence of “I need a man” sadface.
“The biggest risk is never taking any.” —Jimm—gah, I mean, James. James Olsen. Like McEvoy… Or Bond… Or the band. James.
“Having a crappy boss and nothing to wear, that’s what normal looks like.”—Alex Danvers.
“When in doubt, go with blue. It’s your color.” —Alex Danvers. (They were trying on outfits, the clothing allusions made sense, ok?)
“Nothing says ‘covert operations’ like a flying woman in a red skirt.”—DEO Director Hank Henshaw, who was not helping with the outfits, and his clothing allusion was sexist and snotty.
BEST MOMENT: Supergirl’s midair plane rescue. Even without her signature costume, Kara’s first attempt at superheroics—spurred on by discovering her sister’s flight was experiencing trouble over the city—is astonishingly enjoyable, and features top-notch effects. CBS’s deep coffers certainly afforded some breathtaking visuals throughout the entire episode, but one of the most affecting parts of that scene was that it was a woman flying, picking up a plane, and steering it and its passengers to safety. Seeing the physical empowerment of a female character in live-goddamn-action nearly stole my breath away. And it definitely brought tears to my eyes.
EPISODE’S MVP: Supergirl. Melissa Benoist is nigh perfect. Kara has a quirkiness easily compared to that of Emily Bett Rickard’s Felicity Smoak on Arrow, and Flash newcomer Patty Spivot (Shantel VanSanten), and Benoist easily matches their respective bumbly/fumbly whip-smart awkwardnesses. But she pulls an amazing Christopher Reeve-esque switch when that big red “S” is on: she squares her shoulders, steels her gaze, and exudes confidence, while still retaining the vulnerability of a young person learning their way. And though she nears pouty petulance at some points, that blame falls more on the writing than the actor. She’s going to do great things with this role.
– Aww, they gave baby Superman a spit curl! (But, a weirdly huge spit curl, on that tiny baby.)
– The Supergirl pilot remains very referential and reverential to original source material, and upholds the DC tradition of naming locations after people who notably contributed to the mythos. Otto Binder, Sterling Gates, and Jamal Igle all got much-deserved namechecks this episode.
– Yes, that was Helen Slater (of 1984’s Supergirl) and Dean Cain (of Lois and Clark) as Kara’s adoptive parents, and yes, you’re allowed to giggle.
– The first costume Kara tries on is a hilarious composite riff on some of her past costumes. Ah, the shorts. Ah, the crop top. Ah, the headband. (But the final costume? Flawless.)
– “It’s not an ‘S’…” Oh thank Rao, she didn’t say what I thought she was gonna say. Can you please relay that info to Zack Snyder now, Kara?
– One Mr. Hank Henshaw is the director of the Department of Extranormal Operations. Hopefully someone keeps that guy away from excessive amounts of machinery and/or solar flares.
– “What do you think is wrong with ‘girl’?” It’s infantilizing and stupid, Cat. Duh.
– So, the blanket that wrapped Kal-El as a baby—is it made of… taffeta? That’s a fancy blankie.