The first half of last night’s Supergirl episode seemed like it was settling in to a cute, comfy groove: Supergirl learns a lesson about becoming a hero, while everybody is kind of mean to her but then also tells her how great she can be. But then this show hit us with the reunion that we’ve been waiting for.
I sort of expected that Supergirl would make us wait several episodes until Supergirl met her evil aunt, General Astra, face to face. Possibly sweeps, possibly the midseason finale. The show seemed to setting us up for a cozy status quo where Supergirl keeps trying to be a hero, and all the people around her keep questioning whether she’s got what it takes (but then telling her that they believe in her after all.) And meanwhile, every week there might be an “escaped alien prisoner of the week” from Fort Rozz, the alien super-prison that crashed to Earth at the same time as Supergirl did.
That could have been a reasonably fun set of episodes to watch—I might have gotten kind of tired of seeing Supergirl keep doubting herself, and being doubted, in a way that few male heroes are ever subjected to, but her steep learning curve definitely does make you want to root for her and identify with her. And Supergirl’s slow progress to heroism, complicated by these alien douchebags of the week, could be kind of cool.
But luckily, the people behind Supergirl are also the makers of Arrow and Flash, and they’re not in the habit of holding back on plot developments. Luckily, halfway through this episode, instead of the alien-of-the-week (a Helgrammite who just wants to eat DDT), the episode’s villain turns out to be Supergirl’s evil aunt, who uses the Helgrammite as bait. And then Aunt Astra captures Supergirl’s mean sister Alex.
Basically the first half of the episode is all about how Supergirl needs to respect her learning curve and not try to run before she can crawl and stuff. At the start of the episode, the DEO is forcing Supergirl to do tons of tests with missiles and stuff, and then a tired-out Supergirl rushes off to deal with a fire at National City’s port where a tanker full of crude oil is in danger of blowing up—but instead, she causes an oil spill.
“I went from superhero to eco-terrorist in a single bound!” Supergirl says.
Cue lots of people saying that Supergirl is a lousy hero, and that she’s a poor substitute for her cousin Superman. And media mogul Cat Grant decides that it’s up to her, as the person who branded Supergirl, to take control over Supergirl’s narrative.
And then both Alex and Cat Grant give Kara some useful advice. Alex uses Kryptonite-emitters to level the playing field so she can kick Kara’s ass, and then teaches Kara that she has to fight smart and use her enemies’ strength against them. And then Cat Grant tells Kara (not realizing she’s talking to Supergirl) that Supergirl should try starting smaller and work her way up to fighting supercriminals and stopping meteorites heading for the White House, and so on.
Cue a hilarious montage to “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” where Winn Schott and James Olson help Supergirl to stop minor crimes and deal with tiny problems. And Winn and James (who each learn that the other knows Supergirl’s secret) seem to be turning into her Dig and Felicity, which is nifty.
Meanwhile, Cat Grant wants to do the official first interview with Supergirl, girl to girl, by the end of the week. And because James is “Superman’s best friend,” Cat figures James can help her get the sit-down with Kara. James insists that he won’t exploit his friendship with Superman for business purposes, but then Cat Grant gives James an ultimatum: help her get the interview, or he can go back to the Daily Planet.
Which leads to the best scene of the episode, where Supergirl decides she’s going to do the interview with Cat Grant after all, and James is too proud to accept her help, especially since he’s only famous thanks to Superman. Which leads to Supergirl talking about the difference between Superman and her: She actually remembers Krypton, and is more in touch with Kryptonian values of cooperation and community than Kal-El. Superman is so used to doing it on his own, he can’t do it differently—but Supergirl is ready to accept someone else’s help, and James should, too. Being your own person means being able to accept help from others.
And Supergirl explains that the “S” on her chest, the family crest, stands for a Kryptonian phrase that means “Stronger Together.” (And in a tidy thematic dovetail, Supergirl’s aunt gives much the same lecture to the Helgrammite around the same time.)
And in the end of the episode, Supergirl shows up at the last possible moment to do that interview with Cat Grant—lifting Cat Grant’s car into the air and carrying it to a location of her own choosing.
So yeah, instead of making us wait until episode 10 or 11, Supergirl gives us the confrontation between Kara and Astra in episode two—which has the effect of massively increasing the stakes for Supergirl to learn to use her powers in a hurry.
Supergirl nearly gets her ass kicked by her evil aunt, but the lessons that her boss and sister taught her wind up saving her life. She doesn’t get overconfident, and instead uses strategy to fight Astra to a standstill, finally using her five-minute Judo lesson to flip her.
Still, Supergirl is nearly toast in the end, until Hank Henshaw shows up and stabs her with a Kryptonite knife. Which is great—except the element of surprise with that particular weapon is gone forever. And now Astra knows about Kryptonite, and can use it against Supergirl. So that could turn out to be a critical blunder.
Meanwhile, add one more thing to the nearly endless list of secrets that Alex has kept from Supergirl all these years—turns out that there was a holographic duplicate of Supergirl’s mother, Alura, that Supergirl could have been asking for advice all along, but Alex kept it sealed up inside the DEO base. But now she’s created a private “Fortress of Solitude” inside the DEO where Kara can consult with her dead mom. Which could come in handy if, for example, Kara’s mother’s twin sister turns up and tries to kill her.
We met Max Lord! The organizer of the Justice League International from those 80s comics (who later turned evil and mind-controlled Superman into a berserk rampage) is here, and he’s warning that Supergirl is going to cause havoc in National City. Apparently Metropolis’ infrastructure costs are insanely high because of all the super-maniacs who go after Superman, and Max Lord warns that the same thing could happen to National City. The only other thing we learn about Max Lord is that Winn is a big fan of his, and has his biography and his autobiography.
Perd Hapley is National City’s main newscaster! This makes me so happy. Perd Hapley from Parks and Recreation is the newscaster on this show, and he’s basically the exact same character without quite as much redundant literalism. “The story of this superhero is that she is a hero who is super.”
The DEO is using UNIT call signs! I noticed it last week, but it was super obvious this week—they’re calling their vehicles “Greyhound” and “Trap One,” just like the alien-fighting organization UNIT from back in 1970s Doctor Who.
And speaking of not holding back on plot developments... We knew that Hank Henshaw would turn into the evil Cyborg Superman at some point, because that’s what happens in the comics. But already in this episode, we catch a glimpse of his eyes turning red, right after he seemed like he was finally being less of a jerkface to Supergirl. Things are about to get a lot more complicated for the Maid of Might.