[WARNING: This is a review of Supergirl Season 1, Episode 2. There will be SPOILERS]
With the series premiere of Supergirl now out of the way, the writers keen to show that this isn't a re-tread, re-imagining, or recreation of the Superman legend have their work cut out for them. Or at least, one would think so. Fortunately, the second helping of Kara Zor-El doesn't just change the pace, but proves that the characters - like the showrunners - aren't wasting any time.
In "Stronger Together", written by Greg Berlanti, Ali Adler, and Andrew Kreisberg, Kara Zor-El (Melissa Benoist) learns that being a superhero isn't as easy as her cousin makes it look. To turn around her public image, and help the people of National City who need it, she recruits James Olsen (Mehcad Brooks) and Winn (Jeremy Jordan) - but James realizes that his links to the hero are once again overshadowing his own talents. Meanwhile, Kara's Aunt Astra (Laura Benanti) emerges to put her plan into action, kidnapping Kara's sister Alex (Chyler Leigh) and going eye-to-eye with her niece.
If there was one complaint that we leveled against the Supergirl premiere, it was that in proving the concept of the series, the writers had rushed their starlet to the finish line a bit too quickly. Thankfully, they only needed one more episode to show that looks can be deceiving (a trick previously pulled with the production team's other superhero show, The Flash). In the follow-up chapter, Kara goes from a new hero on the scene to a laughing stock in the tabloid press.
Seeing a hero struggle to solve a crisis, or make it worse isn't completely new or unheard of, sure. But the red and blue tights and signature 'S' on Kara's chest make the situation something worth noting. After all, Superman's invincibility and habit for always "doing the right thing" is what makes him such a difficult character to write. Given that, Kara's clear discomfort, lack of experience, and good intentions are a breath of fresh air in the Superman mythology - but do much, much more.
It would have been easy to dwell on Kara's insecurity or wounded confidence, or even focus on her Kryptonite-weakened training session until fans grew impatient for certified superheroics. Instead, her impromptu oil spill is used to push both her character and the overall structure of the show forward: Kara realizes that it took her cousin years to master the job, and to do it herself, she'll need some help.
Enter the love triangle that has been hinted at and alluded to since the characters were first cast: the self-assured James Olsen, the friend (*sigh*) Winn, and the superpowered young woman who has captured both of their attention. Luckily, their mutual interest in helping Supergirl achieve the same levels of public adoration as Superman takes top priority. And even if the montage of superheroics-coordination-via-headset has been played out on both Arrow and The Flash beforehand, it's punctuated with enough humor and heart to keep fans from taking issue.
While Winn remains confined to the background for now, left to pine for Kara in silence (and going by cable dramedies, that's a spot he could call home for seasons to come), James Olsen is given an unexpected bit of development. The pilot episode hinted at the photojournalist's accomplishments being undermined by his friendship with Superman - winning a Pulitzer because Supes "posed" for a photo - but that seems to be a very real subplot going forward.
That's good news for viewers, since Brooks is more than up to the task of giving voice to a rarely addressed, but unavoidable side of his classic comic character. Does the fame of simply being 'Superman's Pal' come at a price? That's a question that will likely never be posed in a Superman film - making it just one of several reasons that "Stronger Together" proves Supergirl should be of particular interest to fans of DC's big blue Boy Scout. Especially those who like their Kryptonians fantastic, not "dark."
Much Ado About Krypton
We could list off each moment or twist sure to satisfy fans of the Superman comics, films, or even Smallville - a Kryptonite blade, heat vision staring contests, etc. - but the bigger picture is more impressive. Because with just two episodes under its belt, Supergirl hasn't just proven that she's not a Superman rip-off, but explained why her character's story is genuinely different and, in many ways, more compelling than Kal-El's.
Some viewers were likely taken aback to hear that Superman knows next to nothing about Krypton, since the two are synonymous to mainstream viewers. It's Kara who is truly a product of that world, aware of alien species, Kryptonian culture, and apparently even the true meaning of Superman's 'S'.
And if her claim that teamwork is a Kryptonian trait - one which her cousin ignores since he, unlike her, only knows how to go it alone - the writers have pulled off an impressive feat: not only have they created a heroine who can call the most famous superhero into question, but are relying on established (and well-known) mythology to do it.
In the series premiere, the showrunners told audiences that Supergirl would be a surprise to those who thought Superman was the whole story. This week, they showed it.
Supergirl returns Monday @8pm with "Fight or Flight". Watch a preview of the episode below: