Where’s the Rocky theme when you need it, asks Tony Fyler.
Two episodes in, Supergirl is a series looking for ways to distinguish itself not only from the heavy Superman legacy but from the current slew of DC superhero TV shows with their villain-of-the-week style. Whether it’s quite succeeding in either case is more debatable.
On the first point, there’s an in-universe reality to contend with – Superman has been here for years, doing his Super-thing, earning all kinds of cool monikers and generally being pretty marvelous/sickening (depending entirely on whether you’re the kind of person who believes in Santy Claus, the Easter Bunny and virtue being its own reward (which is to say, generally, a DC fan), or a sarcastic, eyebrow-raising science-geek realist (which is to say, generally, a Marvel fan). To suddenly appear so many years later as an S-wearing, cape-fluttering, and let’s not beat around this bush, female flying hero is gonna cast you in a Super-shadow, and the show rightly puts us in that world, because Supergirl and Superman always existed in the same universe, and there’s something relevant to say about the situation – in fact, Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart), Kara’s nominal employer, says it clearly in this episode: women know they have to work twice as hard to be thought half as good in the patriarchal society. It sucks and it’s unfair and it’s hopefully changing, but it’s the world at a particularly sharp end of which she finds herself, with the Man of Steel to live up to. (Incidentally, yes, really, there was an explanation in episode 1 of how he was a baby and she was a rational young child, and they set off together, but he arrived first and grew up before she even got to Earth. It was both blink-and-you’ll-miss-it and think-and-you’ll-realise-it’s-convenient-horseshit, but this is that scenario on which the show is built, so we either accept it and go forward or the whole thing breaks down).
Kara’s on a journey to do her thing her way, and she makes commendable progress in this episode, from being the Scrappy Doo of the Super-family, all ‘Let me at ’em’ and reckless energy, accidentally tearing an oil tanker apart and going, as she wittily puts is ‘from superhero to eco-terrorist in a single bound,’ through a series of super-friend-co-ordinated smaller PR successes, honing her ‘soft and fluffy’ side for public consumption as she’s not yet ready to tackle the big stuff. It’s a lesson that’s slightly drawn-out, but that’s because there are two entirely separate groups of super-friends – her Earth-sister, Alex Danvers and her pals at the ‘Torchwood-in-all-but-name’ DEO (anyone else nearly jump out of their chair with the ‘Greyhound to Trap 1’ UNIT reference?) here representing a force of authority on a powerful, self-realised but undisciplined teenager – Kara strops off when Alex schools her in her lack of effective use of her potential, and finds her real own way, with James (Jimmy) Olsen and Win Schott acting as her undercover PR agents, finding her the smaller crises by which she can win back the public’s trust and admiration. Seriously, all you need in this sequence is the Rocky theme and you’ve got an 80s training montage played Super-straight in 2015.
If we’re going to be extra-picky, it has to be about the ‘in my cousin’s shadow’ elements. They’ve been played in the first two episodes, and there’s a logic to them, but this episode pretty much exhausts that journey. We have Kara actually saying that her cousin has always gone it alone because he’s known nothing else, whereas she has (again, accept it or the show breaks down), and it’s no shame but a privilege to let people help you, so she has to do things her way. That should be it as far as the Super-cousin angst is concerned. From now on we need to see Kara actually do things her own way.
Meanwhile, in villain-of-the-week land, an alien insect of a kind that Kara’s mother happened to sentence once and tell her about is leaping all over the place in an increasingly desperate search for food on Earth – and also, actually, to escape from her aunt, who’s her mother’s twin for a bit of doppelganger, save-on-the-acting-bill emotional prodding. Her aunt’s a convicted criminal who, according to her, tried to save Krypton and was condemned by her own sister. According to Aunt Astra, she’s the one who’s here to ‘save’ the planet. Let’s be clear here – this could be interesting. Humanity is at best a contradictory species, making lemonade while the ice caps melt, eating burgers while the species extinction-counter blurs from rolling so fast. There could very well be said to be a tangible difference between saving the planet and saving Humanity, and these two female Kryptonians could frame that debate well and powerfully. But Supergirl needs to soar above the tropes of villain-of-the week TV soon if it’s not to just feel like The Flash In A Skirt. It’s had two episodes to set up its premise, and the premise could be good – under no circumstances should it go the dark and broody Batman route, because that wouldn’t be true to who Kara is or has ever been, and Melissa Benoist is doing good work capturing that fundamental Supergirl sense of excitement with a tinge of Kryptonian self-seriousness. But just as Kara has to go about the superhero business her own way, rather than being a carbon copy of her cousin with the buns of steel, so the show has to find its own way to exist in the schedules, rather than to follow an already-tested cookie-cutter formula. We now know some of how Supergirl is going to feel, and there’s genuine promise there. To be its own show, and to be the show it could be, it now needs to move beyond its origins and show us something new as the series unfolds.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly
nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who,
Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the
70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By
runs an editing house, largely as an
excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book.
With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk