The Supergirl pilot found its way to the internet last week nearly a full 6 months before its intended air date. I’ll admit, I had high hopes. In an age of shaming, sexism, and the very loud complaints of a very vocal minority as pertains to male-driven hero movies, a show about a strong female hero is a logical, important, and maybe even necessary thing to do. Plus, Supergirl is a pretty great character, and other than 1984’s oddly entertaining but still terrible big screen release, she’s never been given the spotlight she deserves. But in spite of the odds being stacked for success, and in spite of a great casting choice in Melissa Benoist as the adorably nerdy Kara, Supergirl is a show so contrived, so hackneyed, so transparent and just so flat-out bad that the only reason it can be compared to its siblings Arrow and the far superior The Flash is because it borrows so heavily from them in an effort to make it work. Which it doesn’t. At all.
WARNING: HERE BE SPOILERS
SUPERGIRL’S ORIGIN MAKES NO SENSE
There are several incarnations of Supergirl (or Super-Girl, if you prefer), but the one most people are familiar with is that she and her father, Zor-El, are among the inhabitants of Argo City, the last remaining colony of Krypton that drifts through space after the planet’s explosion. In the comics, Kara is forced to leave when a meteor shower of green kryptonite destroys Argo City and she’s sent to Earth to be put in Kal-El’s care. (In the movie, she loses the city’s power source, the Omegahedron, in a game of keep-away which she loses in spectacular fashion, and has to run to Earth to retrieve it.) Both of those are personal, stand-alone stories that have nothing to do with Superman before the fact, and can either involve him or not after.
Not so in Supergirl. In this version, Krypton is about to be destroyed, and when Kal-El makes the decision to send his only child to Earth to survive, Zor-El makes the sudden decision to do the same with his 13-year-old daughter, to “take care of him”. But things take a left turn when her ship is pulled into the Phantom Zone, even though she’s 1 minute behind Kal’s ship which somehow manages to survive what is clearly displayed as a super-massive black hole. Apparently, time operates differently in the Phantom Zone, and when she emerges 24 years later and lands on Earth, she’s conveniently still a mere 13-year old who is rescued from her pod by Big Cousin Kal, who then promptly drops her off at a farm to be raised by yet another adopted Earth family and is never seen or heard from again.
The big problem with this origin is the only reason it exists is that the writers had an idea that didn’t fit with the original story, and they changed it for their own convenience. Rather than figure out a way for the story of Supergirl being a 20-something in the big city trying to figure herself out work with the Argo City story, they instead stuck to their tired sitcom plot and retrofitted a new origin to save a story they’d already invested time in. I get you have to play the popularity of one character in order to support a new one, but if you’re going after the “strong female role model” niche, does it really work if you need to rely on the strong male role model to make it work? I’m pretty sure people would make the Superman connection no matter what you did. I mean, he’s kind of well known at this point.
DID I MENTION CONVENIENCES?
One of the laziest things I feel like a writer can do is rely on conveniences in a story to make it work. A great example is Star Trek: Into Darkness. When Kirk is making the deal with Khan, he suddenly notices that McCoy is working on a dead tribble, injecting Khan’s blood to see its effects. It comes out of nowhere and they shine a spotlight on it at the most awkward moment, in order to make you remember it. It’s extremely convenient that McCoy did that experiment, because would;t you know it, it winds up being how he saves Kirk’s life.
Supergirl relies entirely on conveniences. She spends 24 years in the Phantom Zone, which conveniently explains why Superman is so much older than her, and gives him a reason to exist on Earth for so long. When she crashes on Earth, Superman conveniently knows the Danvers, another family just like his who is willing to raise this teenage Kryptonian, because reasons. When she finally reveals herself to the world, James (not Jimmy) Olsen is conveniently there to help her out of each and every jam. When she reveals herself to her coworker Winslow Schott (Jeremy Jordan), her nerdy tech friend who’s desperately in love with her, he’s conveniently a brilliant costume designer who’s MORE than happy to live in the
phantom friend zone and create several versions of the Supergirl outfit until he finally lands on one that’s just right. and the big one, the plane that’s going down, just conveniently happens to be the one that her sister is on that’s circling National City, conveniently just overhead of where she happens to be standing at just that moment. (Though the plot reveals that to be intentional, but more on that later.) Everything in Kara’s life is set up just right so that she never has to seek out help outside of her own little circle, and at the same time, never has to make her own decisions, other than “Save sister” or “Let sister die.”
BUT THAT’S NOT THE WORST ONE.
Turns out, there’s a prison ship in the Phantom Zone that conveniently happened to be passing by Supergirl’s ship when she was trapped there for 24 years. For reasons unexplained, the phantom zone opened up at just the right time for not only her ship, but also theirs, to land on Earth. But wait there’s more. Apparently Kara’s mother, Alura Zor-El (Laura Benanti), was a judge on Krypton (Convenient!) and is responsible for the incarceration of every single one of those baddies on that prison ship. All of this is revealed when it’s revealed that Kara’s adoptive sister, Alex Danvers (Chyler Leigh), has been working for an organization called the Department of Extra-Normal Operations all along, and they don’t trust aliens. Not even a little. They have good reason, too…In fact, aliens tried to blow up Alex’s plane with her on it. How convenient. Also, for the past several years, they’ve been hunting down and trying to stop the very aliens Kara brought to Earth. But thanks to Alex, Kara is able to convince the DEO to help them recover every single one of the bad guys from that ship, setting up a serialization wherein Kara needs to find and detain a baddie every week until they’re all accounted for.
Though initially excited by his newfound powers, Barry is shocked to discover he is not the only “meta-human” who was created in the wake of the accelerator explosion – and not everyone is using their new powers for good. In the months since the accident, the city has seen a sharp increase in missing people, unexplained deaths and other strange phenomena. Barry now has a renewed purpose – using his gift of speed to protect the innocent, while never giving up on his quest to solve his mother’s murder and clear his father’s name. For now, only a few close friends and associates know that Barry is literally the fastest man alive, but it won’t be long before the world learns what Barry Allen has become…The Flash.
The only difference is, Barry is transformed into a Metahuman as a result of the exact same explosion that created all the people he’s trying to stop; he just happens to be a good guy. Barry’s story makes sense; Kara’s doesn’t. It’s forced, and it seems clear that the show was grasping for a reason for Kara to defend National City (and apparently only National City) from big, nasty, scary things. A heavily modified mashup of Superman 2 and The Flash later, we get…whatever this is.
IT’S ALL KIND OF MOOT ANYWAY.
It bears reminding that Kara is not alone on Earth. This is a world in which Superman also exists. And here’s where it gets tricky; in a world where Kal-El is fighting for Truth, Justice and the American Way the world over, do we really need a Supergirl? On one hand, no, obviously not; Supes could likely round up every baddie from the Penal Ship in an afternoon. But on the other, this is designed to be a show about a strong female role model, flying in the face of loud-mouthed assholes on the internet. And here’s where the show implodes on itself. It tries so incredibly hard to portray Kara as the powerful, independent hero that it actually makes her the weakest character. Nowhere is this better exemplified than in her boss Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart), a character sloppily transplanted from her roots in the comics as a gossip columnist at the Daily Planet to the founder and head honcho at CatCo (basically if the Daily Planet was Vanity Fair). A character who was once a love interest of Clark Kent’s (and written as a saucy love triangle interest for Lois Lane), Cat is now a tough-as-nails media mogul who don’t take shit from no one. If you’ve seen the trailer, you know that she has strong opinions on the word “girl”, and as she says to Kara, “If you have a problem with the word ‘Girl’, maybe the problem is you.” The idea that she’s talking to Kara and not the audience here is almost insultingly weak. She then proceeds to IMMEDIATELY FIRE KARA, and woulda got away with it too, if it wasn’t for that meddling Jimmy (FUCK, sorry, JAMES) Olsen, who shows up at the last second to bail her out by presenting a photo of Supergirl and lying to Cat, saying that Kara took it.
Look, we all get by with a little help from our friends. But in Supergirl, we find a main character who, in spite of growing up knowing exactly who she is, is at terms with her powers, has no mysterious path to travel to discover where she came from or what her purpose on Earth is, is as weak, timid, and unsure a person as Kara Zor-El as she is as Kara Danvers. The story ends up being that she had to come to terms with her heroism on her own terms, but the choices she’s given are no choice at all.
Granted, this is just the pilot. And the fact that this “leak” happened so early may indicate a lack of faith in the show, and maybe we’ll see some changes when it finally makes it to air in 6 months. But it just seems like a misfire, and a lazy one.
But there’s one more surprise. It turns out there’s one more person in Kara’s life who’s been trying to keep her on her own path by forcing a path. One more person who’s been playing the “you have to figure it out for yourself” card all along.
Fucking know-it-all cousins. Every family has one.