Supergirl, Season 1, has been bubbling along nicely for a few episodes now. The first word that springs to mind when describing it is “fun” – it’s not dark or edgy, it’s fun. It’s refreshing to see a superhero being heroic because they want to, not because they are driven by some dark secret or traumatic experience. Supergirl, Kara, just wants to help. She messes up sometimes, she’s not as slick as her cousin, she’s just the right side of adorkable.
There have been a few problem to my mind; the villains aren’t great, the DEO stuff feels a bit Agents of SHIELD-y, but generally it’s been a great little series carried by the verve of Melissa Benoist as Supergirl/Kara, with sterling support from Calista Flockhart as her cantankerous boss and Queen of all Media, Cat Grant.
Episode 6 marks something of a turning point. It’s the point where a good series becomes excellent. Ostensibly a “monster of the week” episode with a rogue army-designed android running amock in National City, it deals neatly with several themes that have been bubbling under.
Firstly, it develops a new antagonist in the ambiguous Maxwell Lord, tech-genius and anti-alien demagogue. It is great to see a character with a little moral ambiguity in the show. So far the bad guys have been moustache-twirling villains, even Kara’s aunt Astra, the renegade Kryptonian general on earth for some as yet undisclosed reason. To date, the people/aliens/things Kara has had to fight have been pretty one-dimensional and bland. Powerful bad guy wants something, Supergirl stops them. End of plot. But with Lord things are different. He doesn’t want to defeat Supergirl. He wants to understand her, test her, find out who she really is. He can be helpful – in this episode his technical skills allow him to discover some important information about what the military are really up to with their Red Tornado android – but he can also be enigmatic and down right mean as he will put lives in danger to get what he wants. Lord is a great development in the show and adds the missing ingredient that bodes well for future plot lines.
Also, by developing James Olsen and Lucy Lane’s relationship it removes an annoying romantic subplot. One of the great things about Supergirl has been how it shows friendship and then hints at a love triangle threatening to unbalance that. That whole subplot seemed to be an afterthought, like the writers/producers felt it needed it. Hopefully, now the show can move on and embrace the ideas of people just being friends and caring for each other.
It is with the position of powerful women in society that this episode really comes to life. By comparing Supergirl/Kara to two important influences in her life (Superman and Cat) it explores how women with a public profile are viewed by society. At the very beginning of the episode Kara saves a group of children from two road-rage racers. When one of the drivers attacks her she loses her temper and retaliates, which the tabloid press and TV report as her losing control. She does so again later when testing the Red Tornado android causing it to lose control.
She compares herself to her cousin, Superman, and how he is trusted because he’s a man. When Kara loses her temper in the office she is taken aside by Cat and, in an amusing bar scene, told that as a woman she can never be seen to be out of control. She relates an anecdote of how Perry White once threw a chair through a window but nobody complains. If she had done something similar it would have been the end of her career. She advises Kara to find other outlets for anger and to discover what the real cause is.
It is great to see such a sunny, mainstream genre show dealing with the issue of female anger and double standards so delicately and with such depth. It also brings in Intersectionality with the black James Olsen able to empathize as a minority group that causes fear when angry in public. It is such a layered episode as it also clarifies earth’s feelings about “aliens” and the military’s steps to control them.
Supergirl just got serious.