The CW’s Supergirl returned on Monday night with one of the most eagerly awaited episodes of the season, ‘Supergirl Lives.’ Though the mid-season premiere is in itself a reason to celebrate, it wasn’t the content of the episode that had fans excited, but who was in the director’s chair – cult indie fimmaker Kevin Smith. Returning to The CW after two episodes on Supergirl sibling-show The Flash last year, ‘Supergirl Lives’ marks another step towards Smith completing the Arrowverse quadrathlon, and perhaps even directing a crossover one day.
For a network show like Supergirl, much of any episode is paint-by-numbers is its tone and feel, leaving only so much room for any individual creator to leave their mark. On the face of it, ‘Supergirl Lives’ is another regular feel-good heroic adventure of the type that Supergirl has come to reliably deliver. Kara embarks on a missing persons case through the Daily Planet, which leads her to an alien planet where human people are being captured and sold as slaves. Despite her powers being rendered inert on this other world, she out-smarts the alien abductors and manages to free everyone, with a little help from all the usual show regulars. There’s some action, some breezy dialogue and every major ongoing story thread is given a little bit of air to remind everyone where we’re at after the short break.
That said, ‘Supergirl Lives’ is also filled with little character moments that fit right in with Kevin Smith’s personal approach. An early scene shows Alex sharing an intimate moment with her girlfriend as the two celebrate being so together and in love. Later on, the two have an argument before reconciling as the episode ends, all of which is reminiscent of Smith’s film Chasing Amy, a 1997 romance flick based around sexuality and adult intimacy. Elsewhere, Winn gets injured while out helping Supergirl with Guardian, which causes him to develop an anxiety to being in close proximity to danger, leading him to quit as Guardian’s right-hand man. The pair’s arguing and Winn’s subsequent character development are both in-keeping with the kind of male-bonding and egoism at the core of many of Smith’s movies, particularly his debut Clerks.
A lifelong comic book fan, Smith has been asked regularly by fans if he’d ever consider doing a comic book movie, (he actually wrote the script for a movie called Superman Lives in the 1990s, which was supposed to be directed by Tim Burton but was ultimately canceled). Smith’s answer has changed its wording over the years, but the common refrain is that he doesn’t really see himself as the best choice, since he mostly makes films about “people talking to each other.” True enough, comic book movies are by-and-large are more famed for their big action scenes and bombastic special effects rather than their dialogue and exposition. The CW shows, however, tend towards the inverse.
Working on a limited budget across a 22-episode season (or 16 episodes, in the case of Legends of Tomorrow), each show within the Arrowverse has to be careful about its balance between action and character. It’s just not feasible for every 44-minute instalment to be made up of fight scenes and explosions, so character interaction and well-timed subplots need to do much more of the heavy-lifting for each season’s plot. Both of these elements place the shows right into Smith’s wheelhouse.
Looking over his filmography, Smith isn’t kidding when he says he enjoys making films about people talking. A self-made independent filmmaker, most of his work comes down to a series of conversations about life, death, love and sex, with regular jokes and the occasional bit of slapstick so as to not bore the audience. That’s not to say he isn’t capable of grand adventures – his film Dogma involves stopping genocidal angels from taking over earth – but as a writer and director, it’s clear he enjoys trying to capture and explore human emotion more than taking the audience on some wild ride.
As much is evident in his first episode of The Flash, ‘The Runaway Dinosaur,’ in which Barry confronted his feelings of loss over his murdered mother, Nora. Much of Barry’s arc rested on this one scene, as it provided closure on a very particular part of his character, and with Smith’s direction the scene has become one of the most heartfelt moments of the show to date.
It’s in dealing with heavier material that Smith shows his real strength as a filmmaker. Across his career themes like faith, love and growing older pop up again and again, and Smith works through them each with a light-hearted, easy-going vigor. He’s an idealist at heart — someone who has a lot of time and energy for the good in the world. Of course this meant he was always going to fit right in with the happy-go-lucky attitudes of both Supergirl and The Flash, but his idealism is something that other members of the Arrowverse could use more of, particularly Arrow itself.
Over the course of its five seasons Arrow has always been the darkest of the bunch, sometimes to its detriment. Slightly more mature tonally, Arrow becomes very weighed down in Oliver Queen’s struggles to maintain balance in his life at times, dragging the show’s pacing down with it. One of the commanding themes of the series is what makes a hero, a topic that ‘Supergirl Lives’ briefly deals with in its marquee moment where Kara delivers a rousing speech on how heroism means never giving up. Smith directing an episode of Arrow would be an ideal way to lighten the mood while also creating an overlap in how the title characters are depicted reaffirming their roles as fighters of wrongdoing.
And frankly, these days that’s something we can all get behind – heroes being bright and colourful, making it known that they won’t give up no matter what, directed by a guy with an abiding love for humanity who made his career on just following his dreams.