Fans of Supergirl, rejoice! The show, newly moved to the CW, premiered its first episode of the season tonight. As of this writing, West-Coast US fans are getting to the climactic sequences — but of course, this recap/review will contain spoilers for those waiting to watch on DVR.
The episode opens with the Berlanti stylistic device of the opening voiceover. Then, we cut to Kara and the rest in her apartment, toasting the idea of family. A pod crashes out of the sky and into National City, though, cutting the celebration short. Kara and Hank go deal with it, to find an alien in stasis inside. This pod identically resembles the one Kara came to earth in, convincing her that she has found another Kryptonian survivor. The man in the pod, however, remains asleep for the whole length of the episode.
We move on to Kara’s professional and love lives: the episode primarily focuses on Kara’s struggle to achieve that ‘work-life’ balance that, to her, her cousin makes look so effortless. Plenty of women — and millennials in general — can relate to that struggle. I particularly found her emotional arc in this episode extremely compelling, as I’ll detail further on. For now, suffice to say that Kara has everything a girl could want and no idea what to do with any of it.
Cat Grant calls her on it in their first scene together in the episode, and insists that she figure out what position she wants at CatCo. The inimitable Cat gives her two days to find her ‘calling,’ and Kara feels the stress mounting, because she just doesn’t know how to answer.
Kara also forces her way through an extremely awkward date with James Olsen. They have deep feelings for each other, but something is wrong in the way Kara is throwing herself into their time together. Melissa Benoist makes a fantastic performance as Kara’s cheerfulness edges toward mania. The date ends when a passenger space ship owned by a private company experiences a catastrophic accident.
Cut, then, not to Kara saving the day: at least, not yet.
We see Clark Kent next, on the phone with Perry White. Tyler Hoechlin‘s performance definitely edges on the Reeve side of the scale, especially in these early scenes. The characterization suits the tone and plot of Supergirl perfectly. In fact, at least for me, Hoechlin makes a more compelling Reeve than Reeve does at times.
The news breaks that the spaceship, called The Venture, has suffered engine failure. Both Superman and Supergirl respond to avert the deaths of 200 people, and succeed. Landing, both Els — Kal and Kara — have a moment of social awkwardness with three kids who witnessed the save. I liked that, liked that both of them deal similarly with people they don’t know. Neither Clark nor Kara are smooth, charismatic people, or particularly refined public speakers. They get by on good old fashioned charm and genuine sincerity, if not always the most tact.
This comes boldly clear when Kara brings her cousin back to the DEO. Everyone reacts as you might expect: Winn particularly steals the scene when he has an embarrassing hero-worship meltdown at the sight of Clark. Frankly, Winn spends most of this episode making his subtextual case for being the LGBT Supergirl character hinted at earlier this year. I love every second of it.
Another unusual reaction is Hank’s: both Clark and Hank are someone cold toward each other. The antipathy goes unexplained until about three quarters of the way through the episode. Alex winds up confronting Hank about what happened. She discovers that when Superman and the DEO first discovered Kryptoninte, Superman had wanted it all destroyed. When Hank refused, Superman stopped working with the organization. In a final conversation between the two, Clark reaffirms that he won’t work for the DEO while the DEO still have substances that can harm him and Kara. I find this to be a fascinating wrinkle in Hoechlin’s Superman; very often, Superman is utterly selfless. After all, if you can’t be hurt, what happens to your self-preservation instinct? Hoechlin’s Superman doesn’t bother with that. He knows what can hurt him and won’t work with people who have the capacity to destroy him.
However, the A-plot of the episode has less to do with that than with that spaceship disaster. Our heroes discover that the only person not on board the flight who should have been was none other than Lena Luthor, the infamous Lex Luthor’s little sister.
Clark and Kara go pay Ms. Luthor (played to the hilt by Katie McGrath) a visit, after a brief stopover at CatCo. Lena gives a very simple explanation for not being on board the doomed Venture: she’s planning a press conference to change the family company’s name from ‘Luthorcorp’ to ‘L-corp,’ a move aimed at distancing her and the brand from her notorious brother. Her banter with Clark is the witty repartee we expect between Clark Kent and a Luthor, but she really shines in her brief interactions with Kara. The chemistry there is unmistakeable. Both women want to step out of the shadows of larger than life men who share their names, too, providing an immediate thematic link.
After Ms. Luthor hands over a drive containing all information about the malfunctioned part that caused the disaster, the story shifts a little. We discover that Lena was the intended victim of the attack, not the one who caused it. A drone-wielding assassin tries to finish the job, only for Superman and Supergirl to stop him. Kara tries to convince Lena not to go through with the press conference. Lena goes anyway. A building nearly collapses atop her as the assassin tries one more time.
Clark and Kara fix the damaged building as Alex tries to fight the assassin off. He gets one over on her and holds a gun to her head. Kara can’t get Alex out of this position without potentially getting her killed. However, behind the assassin, Lena Luthor rises up and shoots the man in the back. An appropriate beginning for a Luthor — even an adopted one, as she’d revealed earlier.
The day well and truly saved, Kara has to return to her other problems: her career and her relationship with James. One last visit with Lena Luthor has as much clear and immediate significance as a scene in the Smallville pilot episode:
Lena asks Kara why she didn’t have a byline on the article about the press conference.
She says, “Oh, I’m not a reporter.”
Lena responds: “You could have fooled me.”
Lena then says she hopes to see Kara again; Kara says she hopes so too.
The scene recalls a similar scene in the Smallville pilot, after Clark saved Lex’s life. Lex, being Lex, told Clark that, for a moment, he believed a man could fly, and that he would let nothing stand in the way of their friendship.
McGrath’s Lena and her predecessor, Michael Rosenbaum‘s Lex, sell an immediate investment in the Kryptonians that saved them, seeing more in them than even they may know they see. Seeing it so clearly and so early in McGrath’s performance strikes me as a good bit of luck. Additionally, that chemistry and tension between the two could very easily turn romantic or sexual, in my eyes: The CW doesn’t fear bisexual female protagonists. DC did just allow Greg Rucka to admit that Wonder Woman’s queer, too.
Speaking of romance, Kara/James fans will find themselves disappointed by this episode. Because Kara needs to develop the confidence to take risks and dare, she chooses to end their budding romance for the time being. She cites that she doesn’t know what she wants anymore. They promise to be friends. While the timing makes sense — James and Kara likely being endgame — if the show pulls something akin to an Olicity, there would be severe racial implications. We have to see where this goes, and if Kara and James’s romance comes back to center stage. Considering it took Clark and Lana more than four seasons to really get together, we have plenty to look forward to.
Finally, with Kara’s career, Kara turns back to Cat, her mentor and friend. She tells Cat that she knows what she wants: a job as a reporter. Cat responds by taking out Kara’s resume, on which someone scribbled ‘reporter’ in all caps in red marker. She tells Kara that, after a fashion, she always knew. Additionally, she says that Kara inspires her with her integrity.
Overall, the episode gleams with an almost delirious fun for fans. Reeve (and Reeves!) references abound, from the title on out. One of Winn’s questions for Superman references the original Superman movie. Clark mentions one of Perry White’s old comics catchphrases. Supergirl saves Lena Luthor from a helicopter crash the way Reeve’s Superman saved Lois. On another level, the writing shines with nuance and pathos. Not a flaw can be found, beyond the potential problematic ramifications of the breakup of Kara/James.
In the end, this episode takes much of what makes Supergirl, Supergirl, and cranks it up to eleven. Kara takes her place in her own mythology, coming up against similar threats as her cousin, but tweaked to suit who she is, with a focus on who she is becoming.
I, for one, cannot wait for next week.