TV Review: Supergirl – Fight or Flight (1×03)

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How am I supposed to really become a hero if Superman has to keep saving me?

This was a really important episode, because it was clearly directly positioned as a response to all the inevitable doubts and complaints about the premise – doubts that I myself was guilty of, admittedly, but happily have been proved wrong about.

In this episode, Reactron, an obscure yet dangerous Superman villain, shows up in National City. He’s trying to pursue a vendetta against Superman, and as such, targets Supergirl. At first, she seems outmatched, and Jimmy Olsen (who is terrified of Reactron, given past experiences in Metropolis) calls over Superman, who saves Supergirl. When Reactron attacks again, however, Jimmy doesn’t call Superman, and Kara is able to defeat him on her own.

Now, that’s the basic plot (uh, spoilers). Whilst it sounds a little simplistic in many ways, I’d actually argue that this episode was essential to the continued development of Supergirl, as a program – but also, I think, to Supergirl as a character.

If you’ll forgive me for branching out into another company, I’d like to talk about the Avengers, for a moment. I quite like the Marvel movies, but a fairly common series of complaints directed at them is the question of where the other superheroes are all the time. You know, like, why doesn’t Captain America call up Tony Stark to help him with Hydra that one time, or why won’t Thor bring Bruce Banner with him to London, and so on and so forth. Whilst they’re not necessarily the most sensible questions to ask (there’s an obvious real world, after all, and it’s that RDJ is expensive) they do end up being noticeable little niggles in the narrative.

It’s a bigger problem for Supergirl, I would argue, given that her character appears very much defined by her relationship with Superman; it seems like, I suppose, the equivalent of a Nightwing show before a Batman one (or, for a CW comparison, a Roy Harper show before Arrow).

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But with Fight or FlightSupergirl has managed to put forward a simple – yet effective – reason to keep Superman out of the narrative. Kara simply doesn’t want his help; her journey as a hero requires her to be independent.

I really think that’s great, honestly I do. On one level, this is a rejection of ever doubt and complaint ever lobbied at the concept – Supergirl does not need Superman to be an interesting, compelling programme, because Kara Danvers is every bit the hero as Clark Kent. And, for the same reason, Kara Danvers doesn’t need Clark Kent. Yes, she’s still learning, and yes, she looks to her cousin as an inspiration – but that doesn’t mean she isn’t every bit his equal.

Having an episode centred around this was, I think, really important – and really effective, too. Supergirl is making a case for why it should be allowed to stand on its own – and that’s something it’s earned, definitely.

Melissa Benoist gave another great performance in this episode, doing a brilliant job of conveying Kara’s frustration at Jimmy, and her need for independence. I’m really liking Kara as a character, and Melissa Benoist does a fantastic job at playing her.

Again, fond of the other characters too. Cat Grant continues to be a great foil for Kara; the interview and subsequent articles about Supergirl formed the basis of a great subplot to this episode, with some great interactions between Kara and Cat. Jimmy and Winn were also entertaining; I really like Winn, actually, and he’s proving to be a lot of fun. True, he’s not quite Cisco or Felicity, but he’s getting there – his reaction to finding out about Clark Kent was pretty funny. ‘Twas also interesting to be introduced to Maxwell Lord, who I’m thinking will be our Lex Luthor substitute for the duration of this series.

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Reactron himself felt a little perfunctory, I admit; the villain in pursuit of vengeance is not the most interesting or original concept, and there was no new development of the concept on display here. But, to be fair, I don’t think it mattered – he was simply a function of the plot, there to escalate tension and provide a sense of threat, which was something that worked well enough.

What I did like, though, in relation to Reactron, was Kara’s initial decision to simply go and talk to him. I can’t find the exact quote at the minute, so I’m paraphrasing, but she essentially says that no one ever knew who he was before now – no one knew about his trauma and suffering – but now that she did, she’d try and talk to him and understand him.

That was a nice touch, I felt; ultimately, for Kara, the choice to become a superhero was one of compassion, based around helping others. The fact that’s she not discriminating, and she’s just as committed to helping the bad guys as she is the innocent victims, is a really great little character detail that was nice to see on display here.

So, Fight or Flight. This was a really strong episode; possibly the best of the three we’ve seen so far. Very impressed by the whole thing, in fact.

9/10

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TV Review: Supergirl – Stronger Together (1×02)

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Part of being your own man is knowing when to ask for help. 

So, here we are, on the second episode of CBS’ new Supergirl TV show, the brainchild of Ali Adler, Andrew Kreisberg and Greg Berlanti, who of course also work on the CW’s popular superhero shows, Arrow and The Flash.

I think because of this connection a lot of people were expecting something very similar to those previous shows – and admittedly, so far, there have been some noticeable similarities in terms of the basic format and set up and so on and so forth. But in this second episode, there was a noticeable departure from the precedent set by Arrow and The Flash, which I thought was pretty interesting.

In this episode, we’re introduced to Alura Zor-El, Kara’s aunt, and this season’s Big Bad – akin to Harrison Wells from The Flash, or Malcolm Merlyn’s Dark Archer in Arrow. Now, the character had been teased at the end of the pilot episode, but the assumption was that she’d remain in the shadows for a fair while longer before we actually saw her confronting Kara – an assumption that was shattered in this second episode.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this isn’t exactly revolutionary. I think for the most part we’re still going to be having a show which is akin to its predecessors in many ways. But this stood out to me, and it seemed worthy of comment, because it shows that Supergirl is willing to stand on its own, independent of the two shows it’s closest to. That’s a nice thing to know, and I’m glad of it; hopefully this show will be able to develop an independent identity of its own.

Similarly, actually, it occurs to me that this offers the show something of a departure from the standard Superman mythos; normally, a lot of the Krypton stuff is to do with Clark’s regret on missing out on an upbringing on his home planet, and wondering what it was like there. Kara, conversely, remembers Krypton – she lived there for almost half her life, essentially. It’s an interesting little detail that never really clicked for me before, and hopefully one that could be explored and developed to afford the program more depth – once again giving it a distinct identity of its own.

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I was also quite fond of the approach that Supergirl is taking towards showing Kara’s development as a hero, and the learning curve she’s finding herself on. She’s clearly out there trying to do good things, with a lot of consideration for people, but she doesn’t quite know the full extent of her powers or exactly how to use them, so things don’t always go according to plan. Melissa Benoist does a pretty good job of showing Kara’s earnestness, but also her frustration at not quite being able to succeed.

Now, a benchmark that I’ve been comparing Supergirl to is Man of Steel, given that it’s the most recent iteration of the Superman mythos; it’s the current big screen adaptation, and the movie seems to have defined the approach towards DC movies for the foreseeable future. Also somewhat relevant: I hated Man of Steel. All the usual arguments against it, really, but one big thing that stood out to me (and is actually relevant right now) was quite how violent it was; the movie revelled in the destruction of Metropolis, reducing the whole city to a crater, without even the slightest indication that Superman gave a damn about collateral damage.

That’s an “artistic choice” often defended by the in-story reason that Superman was on a learning curve, and he didn’t know what he was doing, etc etc. “You try saving a city without damaging it a little”, that sort of thing. Supergirl has managed to resist that entirely – Kara is learning, yes, but the worst thing she ever does is cause an oil spill, rather than level an entire city like a bomb went off. Ahem.

Obviously, yes, I’m biased because I have the correct opinion about Man of Steel, and there are people who are wrong that might disagree with me. But – aside from Man of Steel – I’m really glad that, with Supergirl, we’re seeing a bright and positive show that is capable of depicting some of the difficulties you’d associate with superheroism without resorting to destruction porn.

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The character interactions in this episode remained entertaining too, of course. Setting up Jimmy and Winn as Kara’s equivalent of Diggle and Felicity, or Caitlin and Cisco, is a nice touch, and the three characters work really well together – the montage of Kara finding different superhero work, as it were, and starting to turn the tide of the opinions against her, was a real standout moment in the episode. (Plus, they had a great inversion of the kitten stuck in a tree cliche, which they managed to turn into a great joke. I admit, I’d been hoping for a kitten in a tree at one point, but what we got was better.)

The DEO continued to be interesting, particularly with the revelation about Hank Henshaw: he’s an alien. Personally, I’m inclined to believe that – rather than being a villain – he’s the Martian Manhunter. It seems to make sense; he “used to” have a family, he’s knowledgeable about aliens, particularly Krypton, and he’s very conscious of the dangers posed by aliens. The glowing red eyes and apparent telepathy add to it, really. I’m definitely interested to see where that goes, because Martian Manhunter is a particular favourite of mine.

(Though having just googled it, actually, Hank Henshaw is a comics character who is a Superman/Green Lantern villain. So maybe that’s all just completely wrong on my part!)

I was quite pleased with this episode, actually. Supergirl started strong and has continued to be an impressive program, which I’m definitely enjoying. (I do think actually, in terms of my own subjective tastes, I might come to enjoy this more than The Flash or Arrow; at the minute, both of those come out on top because of my familiarity with the characters, but I think if Supergirl continues well, it may usurp some of the other DC shows!)

8/10

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TV Review: Supergirl – Pilot (1×01)

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My name is Kara Zor-El. 24 years ago, my planet, Krypton, was in serious peril. My cousin, Kal-El, was sent to a planet called Earth for his own safety and protection. You may know his story. Now it’s time for you to know mine.

So, Supergirl premiered about three weeks ago now, but I’ve only just had a chance to get to properly review it. I was quite interested to see how this would go, actually, because I had some initial doubts about the premise. I’ve outlined them here, but essentially, I was worried that the concept couldn’t stand on it’s own two feet; I thought that Supergirl, as a character, was too closely connected to Superman to work in an independent property. (My alternative, for the record, was Supergirl program about Clara Kent, and so on and so forth.)

But, then, the promo reel (which you can see here) was released, and I was actually quite impressed. It looked suitably entertaining to me, and it had a lot of the things I look for in these superhero adaptations – it looked bright and fun and cheerful and above all optimistic, which is of particular importance to me. And, hey, it was the first full 24 episode series featuring a female lead – there’s no way I wasn’t going to tune in for that.

How did it turn out, in the end?

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Obviously, the best thing about the show is Melissa Benoist, who plays our eponymous superhero. Her performance is fantastic; she really captures the bright and cheerful optimism that, to my mind, is so important for these characters to embody. There’s a real charm and charisma to her character; every second she’s on screen is genuinely endearing and just lovely to watch.

A standout scene for the character, actually, was when Kara was sat watching the news after having saved the plane. The sheer glee of the moment really shone through; the excitement was very obvious, and it was pretty infectious too. Melissa Benoist did a great job of conveying to the audience just how liberating a moment that was for Kara, and it’s a really effective moment, within the context of the program. I was very impressed by it, as well as a couple of later moments; Kara demonstrating her powers to Winn by jumping off the roof, and the training montage. Both were very triumphant moments, and I really think they were pretty effective too.

The episode did a good job of being a pilot, typically – the first episode of a program always has a different job to do than the standard weekly installment. Generally, each individual aspect of the premise that was set up and introduced worked quite well – Cat Grant seems to be a good foil for Kara, Jimmy and Winn both appear to be interesting supporting characters, the DEO has a lot of potential, and I felt they did a good job of introducing us to the relationship between Kara and her sister Alex. A pretty good job all round then really.

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The plot was fairly basic, admittedly, but that’s to be expected – with so many plates spinning in this instance, you can forgive them for that. The basic structure of this episode is simple enough, with the alien attacking and then retreating and then attacking again, although I do think perhaps the fact I knew most of the plot from the promo reel counted against the episode slightly.

There was one slightly clunky moment, though, that I wanted to comment on; towards the end, in the final confrontation, the DEO director says he thinks Kara won’t be able to beat the alien, and Alex replies “Why, because she’s a girl? It’s exactly what we were counting on.” It’s… an odd moment, actually. The episode has done a really good job with the feminist angle so far, I thought (I dislike that term, but I can’t think of a better way to articulate what I mean) but this stood out as particularly unsubtle. It actually made me think that perhaps the sequence had been cut down in the editing room somewhat, or maybe the script only partially redrafted at some stage – Kara appears to fake a surrender, which made me wonder if they had a plan depending on the alien underestimating her – particularly given he’d previously said he thought women were inferior to men. It wasn’t a huge barrier to my enjoyment of the episode, but it’s something I’ve seen criticised online, so I figured it’d be worth a comment on.

On the whole, I actually really enjoyed Supergirl. It was bright and fun and entertaining; it felt like a reaction against the grimdark nature of Man of Steel, and it did a wonderful job of conveying the sort of optimism which I consider so important in superhero franchises. Melissa Benoist was genuinely fantastic, giving a really compelling and endearing performance, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the rest of the series goes.

8/10

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