TV Review: Supergirl - Season 1 Episode 1 "Pilot"
EPISODE 1: "Pilot"
SYNOPSIS: When a potential accident threatens the life of her sister, Kara Danvers (aka Kara Zor-El) decides to use her powers to be the hero she was sent to Earth to be. But it is going to take some time for her to learn the ins and outs of the superhuman abilities that her cousin has mastered. When a powerful enemy named Vartox threatens National City, it's up to Kara to stop him.
After months of patiently waiting, Kara Zor-El (aka Kara Danvers aka Supergirl), has finally zoomed onto our TV screens, expanding the DC Universe to CBS. Months ago, SUPERGIRL's pilot episode leaked online, giving fans a sneak peek at what we should expect from Superman’s younger…errr…older cousin. And maybe that was for the best; the awesome quality of the first episode helped create buzz and excitement for the season.
Created by Greg Berlanti (the man behind ARROW, THE FLASH, and the upcoming LEGENDS OF TOMORROW) and Ali Adler (CHUCK), the tone of SUPERGIRL is similar to THE FLASH. Much like Barry Allen, Kara is trying to find her place in the world and uses her powers to aid in everyday tasks as much as she does saving the world. Wanna know if your demanding boss is coming up in her private elevator? Leave it to Kara’s super hearing to give adequate warning. Wanna know who is knocking at your door? No problem, just use your X-Ray vision. And also like Grant Gustin, Melissa Benoist is able to utilize her inherent charisma to bring a sense of adorkableness and humor to the screen.
From what we have seen so far, it doesn’t look like SUPERGIRL will be taking place within the DC Extended Universe. The timeline doesn’t match up to MAN OF STEEL, nor does the origin story. For example, the escape from Krypton is slightly different than the film and there is no mention of the Codex, which would make the issue of Kara and Kal-El being cousins a little difficult. Nevertheless, as Adler has stated, Superman will be a looming figure in the series but will not be shown, much like the President in VEEP. Of course this is probably for budget/continuity purposes, but it also works well with the underlying concept of the show. This isn’t a gimmick like HOME IMPROVEMENT hiding Mr. Wilson’s face behind a fence. SUPERGIRL is about Kara, and while her cousin’s impact is important to the storyline, this is her show and the focus will be on what she brings to the world.
Which brings us to the point of why she is considered “Supergirl” instead of “Superwoman”. I love that this issue was addressed right off the bat, potentially silencing critics before they had the chance to complain. As Calista Flockhart’s character clearly states, “girl” should not be treated as a pejorative term. “What do you think is so bad about ‘girl’? 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?" This girl power theme is woven throughout the entire show, especially in a scene that shows a mother being thankful her daughter now has a female superhero to look up to. My generation had such female-led action classics as BUFFY, ALIAS, and XENA; now this generation has SUPERGIRL. We should all be so lucky.
Another interesting aspect of the pilot episode is just how many people are let in on Kara’s super secret right off the bat. Pretty much every main character knows that Kara is Supergirl, including James Olsen (Mehcad Brooks), who was sent by Superman to look after her. Yes, he is going by "James" in SUPERGIRL because only his mom and Superman are allowed to call him Jimmy. The only main character still in the dark is Kara’s boss Cat. And THANK GOD the powers that be aren’t drawing out Kara acquiring her super powers. I’m looking at you, SMALLVILLE! If I had to wait ten seasons for her to master the power of flight, I don’t think I could take it.
If the season is anywhere as good as its pilot episode, it looks like SUPERGIRL is going to be another feather in Berlanti’s superhero cap. And I couldn’t be more excited to have another female-led action series. We’ve seen superhero shows kick ass on The CW, so it will be interesting to see how SUPERGIRL fairs on network television. With AGENTS OF SHIELD and GOTHAM already inhabiting the network TV space (and pulling in decent numbers), it’s clear CBS wanted in on the game. And since SUPERGIRL already received a full-season order, at least we have quite a bit more Kara to look up, up, and away.
SUPERGIRL wastes no time in letting us get to know our lead heroine and her super powers. No, this will not have an ARROW-style origin story flashback (WHICH HAS NOW RUN 4 SEASONS!!) because it isn’t really necessary. All we really need to know about Kara is she was actually Kal-El/Superman’s older cousin, who was sent to look after him on Earth. It probably didn’t hurt that this was also a way for Kara’s parents to save their daughter from dying on Krypton. But because she left a little bit after her cousin, the shockwave from Krypton’s explosion knocked her spaceship off-course and sent her to the “Phantom Zone”. You know, that Phantom Zone where Zod was imprisoned in the first SUPERMAN film and MAN OF STEEL. For 24 years, Kara was trapped there and because time doesn’t pass, she didn’t age. But somehow, all of those years later, she was blasted out of the Phantom Zone and made her way to Earth. The now adult Superman finds his (now technically younger) cousin and locates her with a nice family, the Danvers (played by LOIS AND CLARK’s Superman – Dean Cain and the original SUPERGIRL- Helen Slater), who promise to give her a nice, normal childhood.
Cut to present-day, now twenty-something Kara is living just like the rest of us. Yes, she has powers, but she doesn’t use them to save the world. Even though she was supposed to help protect her cousin, by the time she got to Earth he had already found his legs and didn’t need her anymore. So, instead of the hero stuff, Kara is mostly focused on rising through the ranks at a media conglomerate run by the menacing, DEVIL WEARS PRADA-esque Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart). But even though she has a highly-motivated personality and :ahem: super powers, Kara is relegated to the menial tasks (e.g. coffee runs, acquiring WICKED tickets) instead of doing anything substantive.
However, because Kara was sent to Earth with a purpose, she feels like she isn’t living up to her potential. After all, she didn’t fly “2,000 light years to be someone’s assistant.” So when she finds out her adopted sister Alex (Chyler Leigh) is on an imperiled plane, this is the perfect excuse Kara needs to find some meaning in her life and put her powers into action. Kara leaps (literally) into action, and is able to use her strength, speed, and flight to bring the plane in for a smooth water landing a la Sully Sullenberger’s “Miracle on the Hudson.” Should we start looking for a superhero in NYC?
Being in the age of social media, the passengers on the plane take (blurry) pictures of their savior, later named #Supergirl, and voila National City has its own superhero. Now, not only does Kara have a purpose, but the local newspaper, The Tribune, has a hero for its cover, which will boost sales and prevent it from going under. And, in a really cute scene, we see Kara excited that she is a headline story. But not everyone is happy with her heroic act. Alex, for one, is upset that her sister came out of the shadows and potentially blew her cover.
Along with being a concerned sister, Alex also works for a secret government organization called “DEO”, or the Department of Extranormal Operations. DEO is charged with keeping the Earth safe from aliens. As it turns out, when Kara’s spaceship came to earth from the Phantom Zone, she unintentionally brought a prison (Fort Rozz) full of alien baddies with her. These Kryptonian menaces are now loose on Earth, and are a convenient supply of enemies that Kara and the DEO will have to attend to, especially now that the villains seem to be getting more active.
The first bad guy Kara encounters is Vartox, who is doing the bidding of “The General”. As it turns out, he and a group of terrorists actually planned to bring down the plane in order to kill DEO agents (including Alex). Not only do the bad guys want to eliminate threats from Earth in preparation for the General’s arrival, they also have it out for Kara. After all, her mother Alura (Laura Benanti) was a judge on Krypton and sentenced the prisoners to be banished into the Phantom Zone. Now they want revenge.
Of course, at the beginning, Kara is no match for Vartox and it seriously hurts her confidence. But with some kind words in a holographic message from her mom, and the support of Alex and her friend-zoned coworker, Winn Schott (Jeremy Jordan), Kara is able to better harness her powers and design an aerodynamic costume. In their second meeting, Kara focuses her heat vision on Vartox’s axe, causing it to explode and weaken him; out of embarrassment of losing to a "girl" (and fear of what will happen to him from the General), Vartox kills himself, but not before warning Kara that she has no idea what is in store for her.
Based on the words and actions of Cat, Vartox, and the head of the DEO, it’s clear that Kara’s main conflict this season will not only be bringing Kryptonian convicts to justice, but will also be defying expectations. She is underestimated due to her gender, youth, and the shadow of her more experienced cousin. Like everyone else, Kara is trying to find her place in the world. And just because she has an S on her chest (okay, okay, it isn’t really an S), doesn’t mean she will have an easier time.
STINGER: When Vartox was talking to The Commander in a secret hideout on Earth, he kept talking about “the General”. But as it turns out, he isn’t talking about General Zod. In the teaser, we discover that “The General” is actually a woman and Alura Zor-El’s twin sister (Laura Benanti). It seems she will stop at nothing to make a home on Earth, even if it means getting rid of her niece.