Supergirl, Season 1, Episode 1, “Pilot”
Written by Greg Berlanti & Ali Adler & Andrew Kreisberg
Directed by Glen Winter
Airs Mondays at 9pm (ET) on CBS
Holy exposition, Batman! Or, as is more appropriate here, that exclamation should end with Supergirl. After all, that is the hero whose past most of the episode spends time unfurling. There are a lot of details to get through in a short period of time, and that isn’t a surprise in a normal pilot, nonetheless one on a network, but it feels like even more than usual, as the audience gets pelted with Krypton’s destruction, Kara’s arrival on Earth, why Superman is older than her, how she’s been living a “normal” live in National City, her friends (old and new) at work, and Alex’s whole deal with the DEO. Part of the reason it’s worse than a standard premiere episode in this regard is because so much of Supergirl’s history up to this point is directly tied to Superman’s accomplishments and the audience presumably already knows his general arc if they’re at all interested in this show.
There’s no real way around it, when the show needs to establish who she is and why she’s only getting around to using her powers now in as short a time as possible, but when every turn of Kara’s compacted backstory bumps up against Kal-El’s established goings on over in Metropolis, it feels repetitive; the viewer is, more likely than not, already acquainted with Superman’s adventures. The positive is that this saves the show from being some kind of origin story, which has been done to death on CBS’ sister station The CW. Greg Berlanti changes tack from his success on that network and decides to jump head first into the meat of the story, rather than taking a whole season to set Kara up as the future savior of National City.
Because of this decision, Supergirl has a lot of promise in the early going. Pardon the pun, but the storytelling can only go up from here. There’s a lot packed in in a short amount of time and there’s barely any room for the aforementioned detail-dump to breathe. The big character developments, like Kara showing Winn her abilities and Jimmy admitting he already knows who she is, are shoehorned into the larger problem of Vartox and Fort Rozz, but are still solid emotional beats. It seems weird to the audience that she is flying in front of Winn already because they’ve only just been introduced to him, but it’s an easy shorthand that shows how close they are without wasting half the season waiting for her to spill her secret. It’s a refreshing development, as most comic book adaptations spend far too long spinning their wheels keeping secrets for the protection of supporting characters (here’s looking at you, Arrow). Most of the office-centric action looks to be laying the foundation for a more solid workplace aspect later on (besides just the assistant-by-day/superhero-by-night dance), and Calista Flockhart’s Cat is as armed to the hilt with rude quips as anyone could hope. Right now there is too much J. Jonah Jameson in her DNA so if the show is smart, when it fleshes out Winn as more of a confidante it will also flesh out Cat as having more than one trait.
Even better than Winn and Jimmy knowing and supporting Kara’s life choices is her adopted sister also being fully in on the situation, more fully than Kara herself. The DEO being looped in this early is a little bit rushed, but necessary if the pilot is going to have any sort of real action sequences, besides the plane rescue (which is awesome). Having Alex’s lies get unearthed later in the season might make for better drama, but Supergirl having a bonafide family member by her side as she matures into her role as a protector of the city is important if this show wants to lean into the earnestness and warmhearted feeling it is establishing. And earnest it is, mostly because of Melissa Benoist’s central performance. In the opening scenes, her enthusiasm is overpowering almost to the point of saccharine overload, but by the second half of the episode she finds a good balance between Kara’s excitement to be a hero and realization at how badly she could fail by making this choice. If there were no optimism in Benoist’s line readings or the script, Supergirl would be the portrait of a downtrodden girl in the rat race of National City with a lot of problems on her plate. With the breezy delivery of some lines and a little exasperation at her predicament, the feminist aspects of the show are much more uplifting than if everything was a dour meditation on responsibility and being a female hero.
Which brings us to the final twist: The fabulous Laura Benanti is not just portraying Kara’s mother Alura Zor-El, but also her apparently evil twin Astra Zor-El, who is trying to rule all of Earth as she once hoped to rule Krypton. It’s not often the main villain in a superhero show is a woman and having more than half the series’ main characters be women will hopefully make a huge difference when the big showdown inevitably happens. Plus, this woman scorned isn’t upset about love or a man but about what was taken away from her on her home planet and has a need for revenge. She doesn’t have a gender-specific reason to hate Kara and that in itself is a huge leap forward when it comes to this genre. Supergirl is an equal opportunity show for both heroes and arch nemeses and is putting its best foot forward when it comes to showcasing great female talent. There are still so many questions to be answered—How did Astra survive the implosion of Krypton? Will Alex turn heel at some point? How, even with a low res image, can people not figure out Kara’s identity with modern search capabilities?—but as it stands, Supergirl is off to an optimistic, fun, and action-packed start.
- There’s a lot of dancing around the word “Superman” in this episode. Unofficially, they only said it twice and used alternative methods to reference the OG flying Kryptonian upwards of 20 times. This includes nine variations of “my cousin”, “my friend in blue”, and “the big guy”. Yeesh.
- Nice explanation of why Kara is younger than Kal-El when she arrives on Earth, even though she’s a preteen when they leave. A convenient break in the space-time continuum is always nice to have on hand.
- Similar to many incarnations of Superman, Kara’s use of her powers to help her at work and on dates is a fun wrinkle.
- “When in doubt go with blue. It’s your color.” Subtle dialogue, that.
- “Can you believe it? A female hero. Nice to have somebody for my daughter to look up to.” The meta, it’s overtaking everyone! Save us, Supergirl!
- “You try saving a plane for the first time and see if you don’t make a mess!”
- The action scenes are passable, but not great. The best is the airplane landing sequence and the worst are any and all flying shots.
- If there’s something every superhero show needs, it’s a classic costume-change supercut.