What They Say:
Pilot – After keeping her powers secret for twelve years, Kara Zor-El, Superman’s cousin, decides to embrace her abilities and be a hero.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The arrival of the Supergirl series is something that I’ve been looking forward to since it was announced and more so since the first trailer arrived. While the pilot has floated around online over the summer, I avoided seeing it so I could just get into the final product with the broadcast premiere. Having enjoyed the production team’s other shows with Arrow and Flash and how each is certainly distinctive while still playing it right by digging into the source and embracing it, I’m definitely curious to see how the big picture is for this show.
Especially once I saw them bringing on Melissa Benoist for the lead as I really liked her during the Glee years she was on. My own history with Supergirl is fairly mild, having been introduced to the character more so during her Crisis on Infinite Earths role, but I dug into back issues back in the 80’s after that and quite liked a lot of it. The more current incarnations have been fun to varying degrees though I kind of zoned out on that whole Legion years segment. Regardless, I’ve got some varied experience with the property but also am very open to how this interpretation will go from the team here. And let’s be honest, just like Batman and Superman, there are a number of versions and variations in the comics and animation over the years that this has to stand on its own.
The premise plays straightforward enough as it works out of elements from the Man of Steel film with the end of Krypton but with Kara being sent to Earth to watch over her cousin there since he’s just a baby. The problem hits with the end of Krypton causing a shockwave that sends her craft spiraling into the Phantom Zone where time didn’t pass. Now she ends up on Earth with a twenty-four-year gap and a Superman that has revealed himself to the world. While she was sent there to protect and help raise her cousin, she’s lost her mission. Now twelve years later, at age twenty-five, she’s doing what she can to fit in with a normal life because, as she puts it, the world didn’t need another hero and she didn’t have a mission. She had a mostly normal life with the surrogate Danvers family, giving her a connection to the world, and she’s spent her time now working at Catco for the boss.
What the show wants to draw on is some of the main elements from the Superman universe, because it can, while also working from the Supergirl side as well. One of the biggest steals is that of Jimmy Olsen, who prefers to go by James as he notes that only his mother and Superman call him that. He’s come from the Daily Planet to work for Catco and there’s a kind of fun chemistry between her and Kara right from the start, awkward as hell but cute nonetheless. We also get to see some of her chemistry with her adoptive sister, Alex, who steps in to help her out ahead of a date. It’s used to bring in a bit of how Kara’s kept her abilities hidden and her desire to want to do something positive in the world, thinking that Catco would be the place for it only to find that a normal life isn’t giving her what she needs. Naturally, a quick event comes into play with a real connection to motivate her so that she uses the powers she’s left dormant for years. Which means a cute re-learning how to fly on the fly.
It’s all pretty comic-book-y in style and approach, but it hits the right kind of splashy notes that I like, riffing on the last time Superman saved a plane in the movie while using it as a reveal of her existence in a big way. What’s good about how it’s done is that Kara embraces it quickly and fully, perhaps a little bit as an adrenalin junkie, but more so because this is what she’s always felt she was supposed to do, which her cousin has done. Alex isn’t quite keen on this and really does beat down on her verbally in a big way, but you can understand the emotions on both sides considering all that happened. There’s a protective element from both of them towards each other and you can really see how much Kara views her opinion as important. The way she gets crushed so quickly and so hard definitely is definitely nicely done. But we also get to see her getting built up by those she deals with at work, and the media, in general, and there’s a good balance between the two sides of it. Of course, Cat takes it in the direction you’d expect with a predictable media hunger, but it works well in giving us the basics.
While we get the basics with Kara’s life, and it hits all the bullet points it needs to as a pilot episode and the foundational aspects, we also get our first tastes of what’s going on with the enemy side. That comes in the form of a group that’s been hiding for years and sticking in the shadows but are intent on dealing with the DEO to prepare things for the arrival of a general from Krypton that’s been on a journey. We get this initially with Vartox, who is the cause of the plane’s attempted destruction as there were DEO agents on board. The DEO is actually fairly interesting with what we get of it here, meeting Hank Henshaw at first but also revealing that Alex works there. It makes sense that she’d been invested in all of this and has some deep connections to all of it. The DEO is probably the best approach for the show to provide the shadowy government organization with a mission to deal with extraterrestrial events. And revealing that they’ve been dealing with escaped criminals originating from different planets and were placed Phantom Zone that arrived due to Kara’s being thrust into it before ties everything together in a very good way.
The main fight that we get at first between Kara and Vartox is pretty fun and has its own feel compared to what we get with Arrow and Flash as there’s a bit more power to it while also working with Kara’s learning curve. One that has her taking a pretty serious hit to rattle her. Vartox and the others have a pretty good incentive to take down Kara as well, especially now that she’s out there with the family crest. Revealing that her mother was responsible for the jail that were in, Fort Rozz in the Phantom Zone, it’s their last potential for true revenge. Which goes back to why Alex was trying to keep her from all of this for so long as it’s all about trying to protect her. They do bring a few more elements into it as well with their relationship, but you know that it all comes down to Kara really stepping up and doing the right thing and embracing who she is. It’s all the right foundation pieces, which again are familiar to be sure, but it has some really nice and human elements to it.
Supergirl proved to be a pretty good hit in my household with just about all ages and genders and it delivers well on the basic ideas of Supergirl, the Superman mythos, and how it can be brought to TV. After ten seasons of Smallville, well, this definitely does more in the first five minutes than that show felt like it did in ten years. There are the drama/relationship/family elements that might bug some fans of the comics, but those fans likely haven’t really been reading the comics in a long time. With any new series, the pilot is a big learning curve in a lot of ways, but like Flash and Arrow before it, they hit a lot of the important things for me here. They’re embracing things rather than running from it and drawing in from the past as well with the minor nods with Helen Slater and Dean Cain. I’m definitely excited to see how this season goes as it’s able to play in its own realm with a great positive image and vision in a way that the other shows have to struggle with. It’s definitely a show that I’m excited to see where it goes and how it all grows and reveals new layers of itself.