Essays · TV

On Supergirl, the Artifice is Showing

By  · Published on October 12th, 2016

The CBS transplant boasts a rocky, yet enjoyable season premiere.

With a mediocre DCEU alienating children and their parents alike, audiences have turned to The CW for their share of super-powered role models. Boys have leading men like the Flash (Grant Gustin) and the Green Arrow (Stephen Amell) to admire. Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards) is an intelligent, self-assured bad ass, but her female counterparts have mostly served roles as damsels in distress and as the objects of protagonists affections. Though Iris West (Candace Patton) has shown us a glimmer of hope in her most recent appearances, there is still room for a superheroine to inspire young women everywhere.

Kara Zor-El (Melissa Benoist) is here to answer the call. Well, that’s at least what I had hoped. After an inconsistent start on CBS, the series was renewed for a second season on The CW and fans’ excitement grew. With a proper role in the Arrowverse, the show has a chance to capture the imaginations of the other series’ fans and to appeal to a new audience of younger viewers. Ratings wise, the outlook is good. TVLine reported earlier today that last night’s premiere drew 3 million viewers, the network’s greatest performance in the 8pm Monday timeslot since that of a Gossip Girl episode nearly eight years ago. In doing so, the episode matched the viewership of its well-established competitor, Fox’s Gotham, as well.

Though these numbers are promising, the series has to work out some of the chinks in its armor if it wishes to have staying power throughout the course of the season. That’s not to say the premiere was bad. I enjoyed it. My girlfriend, an avid fan of the Flash who was giving the show a chance, was unimpressed. Tyler Hoechlin is a great Superman and an even better Clark Kent. His charm (and lack of grace) is on full display in this clip from the episode.

It’s unfortunate that he is only guaranteed to appear in the first two episodes of the season because his time on the screen provided the premiere’s standout moments. The other star of the premiere was Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart), whose infatuation with the mild-mannered reporter balances out her typically cold, shrewd personality. My disappointment only grew when I found out her character would only appear as a recurring guest star this season. These two characters breathe so much life into the series, so I am concerned that the show will lack needed charisma as the season progresses. However, my largest concerns stem from the narrative shortcuts the episode took to set up these departures and other future plotlines.

In comic book series, especially ones with a lighter tone, suspension of disbelief is a necessity. If you picked apart every logical thread as you may with a more traditional thriller, then you will begin to see them fray. As a fan of the Arrowverse, I am more than accustomed to giving these series some leeway, but this premiere tested my limits. The conflict between J’onn (David Harewood) and Superman over the storage of Kryptonite will be convenient when the show needs a reason to send the Man of Steel away for a few episodes. Though it’s better than the “my cousin is busy” excuse and shadowy off-screen appearances of the first season, it felt far more forced than it could have. As the show seems to set up that Clark will be sticking around with his cousin for awhile, it has already laid out the clear reason for his impending departure.

The other major problems involve Kara herself and her relationships with James “Jimmy” Olsen (Mehcad Brooks) and Cat Grant. After a season of occupational and romantic determination, this episode presents an uncertain Kara at its beginning. It would be reasonable for her to have doubts about a new relationship and for her to question her long-term career goals. The problem lies in the quick resolutions to her crises. In the case of James, Kara spent an entire season pining after him. Her abrupt shift into wanting a friends-only relationship reads like one of the many contrivances that have prolonged the Barry-Iris relationship in Supergirl’s CW counterpart. Instead of opening up the terrain of exploring a complicated, loving relationship, the show’s writers decided to focus on the tired will they/won’t they conflict. This would be less of a problem if it felt earned, but the show only displays Kara’s hesitation through her words. Instead of showing her development over the course of a few episodes, this shortcut made her “change” feel inert. While I applaud the series for portraying a woman with romantic agency, it does the character a disservice by failing to establish her motivations.

Kara’s career conflict and her mentee-mentor relationship with Cat have been a focal point of the series thus far, but we know their time together this season is limited. Cat gives Kara 48-hour deadline to decide upon her position of choice, which leads to many advice sessions throughout the hour. I get that Kara’s time with Clark is supposed to be the influence that makes her decide upon a future as a reporter, but this arbitrary deadline is just another instance of rushed storytelling. Because Calista Flockhart won’t be around for many more episodes, Kara needs to come to this realization quickly, rather than organically. Now she can be put under the responsibility of one of Cat’s subordinates, which creates a convenient reason for her not to appear in future episodes.

It may sound like I hated the episode. I definitely didn’t. The action was thrilling and I enjoyed the many slight nods towards the DC canon. Brenda Strong’s brief appearance for the Metallo origin moment was gratifying and sinister. I’m intrigued by the idea of a Luthor than no one can properly read, even if she may end up a villain anyway. Despite these positives, my girlfriend had a more disconcerting take on the episode. She found Kara to be vapid and devoid of any defined character traits. While I may disagree with that assessment of the show at-large, I agree that the premiere didn’t try to re-establish Kara’s hallmark traits. In its attempt to focus on the supporting cast, the show achieved some great heights. It also let its protagonist down. Let’s hope that its shortcuts end as the main part of the season begins and that Kara gets to embark on some more complex journeys of self-discovery. Either way, I’m intrigued to see how the show progresses.

Supergirl airs Mondays at 8pm on The CW.

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