[WARNING: This is a review of Supergirl Season 1, Episode 3. There will be SPOILERS]
The second episode of Supergirl gave a glimpse of the territory CBS and the showrunners were looking to explore. Territory that, put simply, Superman hasn't been able to tackle. But content not to be pigeon-holed, the third episode welcomes the Man of Steel himself back into the fray. Luckily, his presence isn't contrived as a solution to the show's problems, but an inspired addition to the show that we can't wait to see more of.
In "Fight or Flight", written by Michael Grassi and Rachel Shukert, Kara Zor-El (Melissa Benoist) lets a little too much of her origin story slip in an interview with Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart), confirming to the world her relationship to Superman. That slip brings a new villain from Metropolis to National City who may be too much for Kara to take down alone... time to call in some backup?
There's a good chance that comic book fans raised an eyebrow when it became clear that not only would Supergirl be tracking down extraterrestrial threats of her own, but dealing with villains who had previously tangled with her cousin, Superman. There may still be reason to worry that not every monster of the week will have a satisfying motive, but to start, the introduction of Reactron (Chris Browning) serves this plotline just fine.
Granted, a villain seeking out Superman's younger, female cousin to exact revenge isn't exactly encouraging in a larger sense, but the way Kara reacts certainly is. Where Superman failed to be strong enough to take down Reactron (for reasons that are, admittedly, unclear), Kara took a different approach. Detective work isn't a trademark of Big Blue, but for the likes of Alex Danvers (Chyler Leigh) and the DEO, that's kind of their strong suit.
Unfortunately, that time spent justifying or understanding Reactron's actions doesn't amount to much, eventually being taken down with brute force and chemistry. But what the story did achieve was an hour's worth of action and superhero problem solving: something that is already becoming a signature of the genre (with Arrow, The Flash and others to thank). That, and the need to establish a computer-monitor-filled base of tech operations. We had all better get used to it.
Sadly, not every demand of the genre is so easy to swallow - or, for the writers, so easy to fit organically into the larger plot. It's no surprise that James (Mehcad Brooks) has caught Kara's attention, or that he has the strange ability to seem both smitten with her and oblivious to the impact of his words or actions. If the show were juggling a different bundle of story threads, James' fear for Kara's safety, and his choice to guarantee it (while sabotaging her mission) by calling in his "friend in blue" might have been pulled off beautifully.
But early on, the writers would be wise to use a softer touch with the budding(?) romance, since the plan to position it opposite Winn's (Jeremy Jordan) unrequited feelings for Kara is already more than clear. Considering Winn's smarts and love of crimefighting - effectively making him the stand-in for the droves of comic fans flocking to conventions - saddling him as the mopey, forlorn "friend zoned" seems more and more like a questionable move.
It doesn't grind the show to a halt, nor is it out of place in the world of network action/comedy/drama. But while it might not be fair to say the romantic subplots ring false or hollow, it's hard to see James carefully letting his feelings for Kara slip as anything but a box being checked (the same goes for the sudden arrival of his ex-girlfriend).
"Clark Kent is Superman..."
Unsurprisingly, the star of this episode was, both directly and indirectly, Superman. There will be those who see Superman rescuing Kara then disappearing completely as cheating. Basically, a way for the writers to use Superman without actually showing the characters. That's a fair stance, but it seems to miss the benefits. After all, everyone knows that Superman exists in the show's world, so why waste time showing him more than necessary?
In all honesty, it's hard to discuss the use of Superman in a story in specific terms, since the character's global fame and position in modern culture can't be pinned down, either.We only know this: there's no substitute for a Superman fan seeing Winn discover that "Clark Kent is Superman" for the very first time, or reading his words of encouragement to his young cousin. We've explained why Supergirl is proving worthwhile for Superman fans of any age, and it's hard to deny those moments transcend the scene, cast, or even network.
In shining the spotlight on Kara Zor-El for a change, the writers have found a way to show sides to Superman that his own stories rarely allow. Apparently, that really was a job for Supergirl.
Supergirl returns Monday @8pm with "How Does She Do It?". Watch a preview of the episode below: