Margaret: Welcome to the first installment of Tales from the Krypton. We just watched the pilot episode of Supergirl.
Syd: It is clear that they are not just doing a gender-flipped Superman, but I’m not sure what they are doing.
Margaret: Just as I said at the beginning, I was afraid that they were going to emphasize the “girl” part of Supergirl way too much. They are doing that, but at the same time, at the parts where it seems like it matters, they’re not. Like the big fight, where it’s between her and… we just looked up his name and I’ve already forgotten it…
Margaret: The Sean Connery guy, right… it’s not about, “You can’t do this because you’re a girl,” it’s about, “You can’t do this because you’re not Superman.” That’s a very different iteration of things. They’re playing it off as a little sister / big brother sort of thing – the entire pilot seems to be a passing of the mantle, which is why it wraps up neatly at the end with him giving her his baby blanket to use as a cape. That was the clearest implication of, “Now it’s your turn to be on TV!” (because you’ll never have a movie).
Syd: Actually, we should be thankful for that. If you’d seen her movie, you’d be thankful that she’s not getting another one.
Margaret: I have not seen her movie, which we already talked about when I recognized Dean Cain and you recognized the lady…
Syd: Helen Slater, who you didn’t recognize because you’re sexist and don’t care about women.
Margaret: …which is actually kind of hilarious.
Syd: So we start off with the origin story and a little baby with a spitcurl. I want to say that’s the dumbest thing, but there a few dumbest things.
Margaret: There are a lot of dumb things, I will not deny that, but I feel like they do that in the movies, too, where they show the baby and the baby has a goddamn spitcurl, so I think that’s more Sins of the Fathers.
Syd: The same thing with everyone wearing those stupid S’s on their chests.
Margaret: It comes with the territory of doing a Super_____. It’s always going to be cheesy. You can’t get away from that. It’s Truth, Justice, and the American Way!
Syd: Wait! That I have no problem with! There’s nothing silly about someone standing up for Truth and Justice and maybe a third thing.
Margaret: The American Way! You can’t get away from it!
Syd: I know, but it was originally just “Truth and Justice,” then “Truth, Justice, and Tolerance.” “The American Way” was added in the Fifties, and it’s like “Under God” in The Pledge of Allegiance – if you take it out, our children will become communists.
Margaret: To me, the whole thing seems so ham-handed.
Syd: I actually don’t think there’s anything silly about idealism. There’s something silly about a baby intentionally being given an adult’s haircut. That’s my point.
Margaret: Well, maybe that’s the style on Krypton. You don’t know.
Syd: Marlon Brando had that, too, didn’t he?
Margaret: So we already start with silliness.
Syd: Everybody is talking really fast. They try to get so much information out so quickly and a lot of it is unnecessary. I think part of it is that you’re not supposed to notice the details. One big one hit me square in the head. Kara talks about how Superman is already well-known and capable and she says, “The world doesn’t need another hero.” So I think she’s living in a world where there’s no crime or war or medical emergencies or any situation where speed, strength, and invincibility would be helpful?
Margaret: I was confused, because this is DC and she’s living in kind of the same universe as everything else, right?
Syd: Well, I’m willing to believe this is a world without Batman and Green Lantern and all of them, but what if there’s more than one problem in the world at a time?
Margaret: It does sound ridiculous, but I can understand that they’re trying to show that Superman can basically do anything, so where does a person who is younger who feels like she would just be a Superman knock-off fit in?
Syd: Maybe people in the audience would think of her as redundant if they’ve already seen the Superman movies, but in-universe it makes no sense. That would be like a writer saying, “Oscar Wilde has written such great things, there is no need for another writer,” or a doctor saying, “There is nothing left to do with medicine.” If she had said, “That’s not the life I want,” or “That’s not what I want to do with my life,” then I would actually be fine with it, but it is made abundantly clear that she does want to be a superhero and she thinks that position is taken – like there’s a quota on helping people.
Margaret: This is me extrapolating, but as a thirteen year old girl, there is not going to be much she can do, even as a Kryptonian. She needs to grow up a bit before she can be a superhero.
Syd: When Superman was a teenager, he was saving people! But I guess if we went down that route, this show would be Smallville.
Margaret: In this universe, there was no Smallville. Superman didn’t do his thing until he was an adult working at The Daily Planet. So Kara is following in those footsteps and by that time, her sister has already joined the people who are monitoring aliens because of Superman and has started to tell her, “You can’t do this.” That seems to be the crux of the problem between Alex and Kara. Kara really trusts Alex, who is the one who taught her how to be a human instead of a Kryptonian.
Syd: Then the problem becomes, how does Superman feel about this? Even if Alex didn’t want Kara to become a superhero, she shouldn’t have been able to hold Kara back from what she wants, especially when Kara has Superman to turn to. Did Kara never talk to her cousin about his life? Wouldn’t Superman check in on her and find out what was going on?
Margaret: Apparently not. They bring that up at the end when she’s talking to James Olsen.
Syd: You mean Jimmy?
Margaret: She asks, if He wanted me to follow in His path, why didn’t He tell me? And James Olsen’s response is that He wanted her to find her own way.
Syd: That’s what really bothers me. We’re supposed to see Superman’s decision to keep his distance as noble, but whether or not that’s in character, the fact is that it is really important for people to provide guidance and support for people who are going through the same things they did. People need to know the difference between helping people and telling them what to do. People should know that they don’t have to be alone and they should reach out to friends and family members.
Margaret: But the whole idea of holding yourself back was the central theme of the pilot. They had to go through the origin story of why she wasn’t already Supergirl before the show started.
Syd: They could have made some reference to a red-and-blue blur in Midvale – some indication that she was using her powers secretly would have made me feel a lot more comfortable with this story. I don’t want to harp on the logic of the story and it’s not that I don’t understand what the intent was, but if they wanted to tell a story about a young woman who had to hide her talents and was discouraged from excelling, they would have to give more thought on how to present it. A metaphor has to work on both a literal and a symbolic level. I hate the idea that a story that only works on a symbolic level is smarter or deeper than one that only works on a literal level. I could love a story about someone who has been taught to avoid what makes her special, but this was just painfully contrived.
Margaret: The entire pilot was contrived. They needed things to happen a certain way, so instead of having it make sense for the characters, they decided this is the way it has to be, so we have to all agree to it. In the first fifteen minutes, I thought, “This is just the way they need their world to be. So long as they keep with it, I guess that’s the way this world is, despite the fact that I don’t really understand it.” Then again, there are people who fly and are allergic to green goo.
Syd: Rocks! They’re allergic to glowing rocks! Goo would be ridiculous!
Margaret: I was thinking of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Syd: They aren’t allergic to that. Goo gives you powers and rocks take them away. That’s basic chemistry. Anyway, we need to get back to the story. Kara goes to work and this character Win is talking to her about his theories about aliens and Kara says, “There’s no such thing as aliens.”
Margaret: WTF? Of course they know there are aliens, because there’s Superman!
Syd: Right? Thank you! I wasn’t the only one who noticed.
Margaret: Maybe he thinks there are more aliens?
Syd: I feel like in our world, people don’t believe in aliens because we haven’t found a single one, but in a world where we have already met aliens, if someone says, “Hey! There are other different aliens,” nobody would say, “That’s crazy!”
Margaret: You’d be like, “Oh, I guess there are more than just Kryptonians!”
Syd: So Win was the first character whose name I had to look up, since, having read mostly Supergirl comics, it is unsurprising that I didn’t immediately recognize non-Supergirl character Toyman’s real name was Winslow Schott. Back to the story: Kara has an online date, which is one of those things that sticks out to me when I assume writers are trying to appeal to an audience younger than themselves. Of course, she’s online dating, nobody meets IRL.
Margaret: Duh, algorithms. I will say that I like the chemistry between Kara and James Olsen.
Syd: You mean Jimmy?
Syd: Right, Jimmy. They worked really well together.
Margaret: I think the strength of Melissa Benoist’s acting is in Kara, not Supergirl. After she saved the plane and her sister came over, she was excited and pouring drinks. That’s what I like in a superhero – when someone is excited about the fact that they have powers, not when they’re saying, “This is such a burden! Everyone I know is in danger! I must close myself off to all!” That scene is what I wanted from Supergirl.
Syd: It’s interesting that you say that she lends herself to Kara more than Supergirl, because I don’t think there was a difference. They weren’t really different characters, and I liked that she felt very genuine and real, not like she was doing a character in her secret identity.
Margaret: I really just meant that I didn’t believe her fight choreography.
Syd: Oh, okay. Anyway, it was at this point that she goes on her online date and I notice that she’s still wearing glasses and that wasn’t explained. I know that Clark Kent has glasses, but he only wears them to hide his identity. Kara wasn’t intending to have a secret identity. Does she actually have bad vision? I mean, it’s not that crazy – there have been incarnations of Supergirl who needed glasses.
Margaret: I don’t think so. I think it was just a nod to Superman. Either that or she’s just that kind of hipster.
Syd: So she sees on the news that her sister’s plane is crashing and this bugged me, because she thinks, “That’s my sister’s plane, I must save it!” and I think, “You wouldn’t have saved the plane if your sister wasn’t on it?” Look I know how drama works and that people want the stakes to be personal, but that seems unnecessary. For me it’s more heroic if you’re going out of your way to save strangers. If you can save a plane, you always do. It does come back later when it’s revealed that the villain was trying to kill Alex, but that was pretty contrived.
Margaret: At that point, in for a penny, in for a pound with contrivances, I think.
Syd: So the plane is crashing into Otto Binder Bridge – and that’s a reference for me and nerds like me! A bridge named for the best writer Superman ever had and Kara’s co-creator. So she saves the plane, and Alex reprimands Kara for using her powers in public.
Margaret: It was kind of a bummer for me because I was super excited about having sisterly bonding and healthy relationships between ladies. When that fight happened, I was wondering, is that going to be the entire series? They had a good relationship at the beginning and now the entire series is going to be broken because of what’s going on here? Luckily, it was completely resolved at the end of it.
Syd: The next scene is where they ruin one of the greatest lines in the history of literature: “I’m not pregnant! I’m not gay! I’m Supergirl!”
To make a long story short, in the comics, the Danvers aren’t scientists and Supergirl isn’t delivered to them by Superman. She has to tell her parents herself that she’s a superhero. It was a really emotional scene that honestly meant a lot to me. It was completely relatable to anyone who had something she had to tell someone but was afraid of how they’d react – like if she were pregnant or gay – and it was hilarious the way she was trying to be delicate about revealing her identity and her parents misunderstood what she was trying to say twice before she just blurted it out. This show took this really funny and poignant scene and made it creepy and awkward. It was awkward partially because the name “Supergirl” hadn’t been introduced yet. It’s obvious what “I’m Supergirl” means, but when she says, “I’m Her,” I wanted Winslow to say, “No, that was Scarlett Johansson.” The line would have worked perfectly well if she had said, “I’m not a lesbian; I’m an alien.” Also, the emotional impact was dissipated because instead of coming out to her parents, she came out to a guy who had a crush on her, and he revealed that he’s the sort of guy who wants to believe that women who won’t date him are lesbians. And that made my skin crawl.
Margaret: I think the problem with a lot of Supergirl as they did it was they didn’t understand the implications of what they were doing. It’s the same thing with them saying, “What would feminists say about Supergirl?” and I’m like, “Are you fucking kidding me?”
Syd: You mean with the woman in the diner who thinks her daughter will look up to Supergirl?
Margaret: Not even just the woman in the diner. The woman in the diner hits you over the head. The entire thing was unnecessary. It’s what I’ve said before, the “Girl” talk she has with Cat, where she’s saying, “Well, what is our feminist message if she’s Super ‘Girl’?”
Syd: And then Cat totally Mansplained to her…
Margaret: Cat had to explain to Supergirl, “I’m a girl, so it’s fine. If you have a problem with being a girl, that’s your problem!” I’m like, “”No, screw you!” You can have a problem with things and that doesn’t make it just your problem.
Syd: There isn’t a good resolution to that. This happens a lot, that someone will say, “I have a problem with this,” and someone else will say, “Well, this person who is a feminist doesn’t have a problem with it, so it must be okay.”
Margaret: As if there is only one way to be a feminist. There is the Right Way which is the Supergirl Way. Everything else is not Feminist enough. Or it’s Too Feminist. I would just prefer them not to have done the conversation at all. I would have liked them to just skip ahead to Kara saying, “You can’t name her Supergirl!” because she wants to be Superwoman, but she can’t say that, and Cat saying, “I can name her whatever I want. I have the news cycle. Now Supergirl is linked to me because I’m the one who named her.” That’s what I liked, because she was using Supergirl in a very personal way – as a way to get ahead. It would have been an interesting dichotomy when they’re talking about entirely different things. Kara can’t say why she’s upset and Cat Grant thinks she can do whatever she wants. They’re both using the name Supergirl for their own ends: Cat to save her failing business, Kara to define herself.
Syd: While this scene was going on, I was just waiting for Kara to be fired. It took way too long for Cat to get to that point. I mean, as much as you understand where Kara’s coming from, you can’t barge into your boss’s office and say, “You’re running your business wrong.” Then Jimmy comes in and saves the day, and it was really sweet and Binder characters have to stick together (which is why I ship Adam Link with Tawky Tawny), but then Kara says, “I don’t need you or anyone else fighting my battles for me,” and I’m like, “Of course you do! He just saved your job!” I feel like there could have been a moment where someone was trying to be chivalrous and stepped in to protect her and that line would have been appropriate, but this was not the time for that.
Margaret: Right. They already did this in Agent Carter in the perfect way – when Sousa tries to defend Peggy and she tells him, thanks, but don’t fight my battles because I can do it myself.
Syd: That’s how you do it, because you have to first show the person as being capable and not the sort of person who is screwing over her own career and needs to be saved.
Margaret: She was in the wrong at that point. They’ve made it clear that she is an assistant. An assistant can’t go into her boss’s office and yell at them for doing something what a media conglomerate does. You can get fired for that.
Syd: Then they get back to the actual plot. They have a montage of her fighting crime by trial and error and trying on different costumes. The first one she comes out in has a headband and a bare midriff, and that was the one joke that I really appreciated, because honestly, Supergirl has had some hideous costumes. There were a lot of little references throughout the pilot for Superman fans, but I liked that there was one that was specifically about Supergirl. Then she got kidnapped by an organization that tracks aliens.
Margaret: I didn’t catch the name. Did you?
Syd: No, I didn’t. It’ll come up again, right?
Margaret: Right. The Henshaw Organization for Catching Aliens.
Syd: The Evil Cyborg Alien Catching Organization. I mean, they might be evil? But they’re not, right? Because Alex is working for them? They seem evil.
Margaret: They seem like evil S.H.I.E.L.D. They have kryptonite handcuffs.
Syd: Well, yeah, but that’s not in itself evil. Batman has those.
Margaret: I mean, Batman’s not exactly a good guy. At best, he’s morally grey.
Syd: At the very least, they’re trying to stop bad guys, because they’re trying to round up the Phantom Zone prisoners.
Margaret: They work in a dark cave with no lighting. That’s evil territory.
Syd: More than that, they are so hopelessly stupid, because Kara offers to help and Henshaw says, “We don’t need your help.” What the hell? You have a super strong, nearly indestructible person who wants to help you. Why would anyone ever turn that down?
Margaret: He doesn’t trust aliens, Syd.
Syd: Even if he doesn’t like aliens, he can use them, right? She is willing to be used by them. Why wouldn’t anyone want that? Anyway, we haven’t even brought up Vartox, have we? Supergirl fights one of the Phantom Zone prisoners named Vartox who was someone else who has never appeared in a Supergirl comic and I had to look up who he was. He was in a Power Girl comic in which he tried to impregnate Power Girl and I think it was supposed to be funny, but I know that my life is noticeably worse for having read a plot summary.
Margaret: Yeah, I feel like I need brain bleach from knowing about that.
Syd: The point is that he says, “On my planet, women kneel before men.” And she says, “We’re not on your planet.” That’s a badass line. Does he say his straight line to every woman he meets on any planet?
Margaret: You can’t have the kick ass line without the obvious set up.
Syd: And you can’t set up that he’s sexist without that. Your villain has to be everything that you hate all at once.
Margaret: Right, and then you have Kara defeat him and defeat sexism. She needs to kill him and take his power of being sexist so she can subvert it. That’s how this works.
Syd: Then comes another dumb line that bothered me, is that Alex knocks on the door and says ‘I know you can see me.’ She can hear you, too. How do you know she’s using X-Ray vision when she can hear you?
Margaret: There was just so much groan worthy dialogue. I think the problem is that by the time that I watch a series, there’s usually at least half or an entire season already out. So, I just binge watch it, meaning the Flash to me isn’t episodical. It’s a six hour block. So the part that is groan worthy to you is just a blip at the beginning of a long series to me. I hope that this is just what this is, a blip before they get into the stuff that actually matters.
Syd: Yeah, but then they have that recorded message from her mother, which is another in an endless parade of references to Superman. Remember when Marlon Brando was in Superman and really didn’t want to be and so he was phoning in his performance? Wasn’t that magical? Let’s do it again.
Margaret: The only thing I liked about that is that in the profile, you can see the two sisters hold hands. So, it was interesting. Her call to action was saving the sister and then, again at the end it came full circle and the sister then calling Kara to action. It was an interesting, if ham-handed way of bringing Supergirl to Supergirl. It seemed like, to me, it wasn’t just her mother saying, “You can do it, Kara,” it was more her sister believing in her that I felt like moved that forward. But, that could just be me projecting.
Syd: It wasn’t anything that stuck out to me except that I’ve had enough of Superman references in a show that is ostensibly not about Superman. Back to the story, though, and the rematch with Vartox. Vartox had a truck because of plot, but then Supergirl blew it up because explosions. And she just stands with her back to the explosion, which for most action heroes is ridiculous, but since explosions don’t hurt her, it actually works! And then, fire eyes! She shoots fire out of her eyes and I love when she does that.
Margaret: I kept calling them laser eyes.
Syd: It means the same thing. It’s like flammable and inflammable.
Margaret: That also led to a really weird dialogue moment, which is Kara using her laser eyes and thinking she’s not strong enough, but her sister tries to be encouraging and says, “This is why you’re here, Kara!” and all I could think was, “She’s here because of her laser vision? That’s the only reason?” It just showed the show’s seams to me and punctuated how the pilot was awkwardly put together. It had to hit certain beats, which forced the, “You can do it!” moment over a scene where it didn’t seem to belong.
Syd: So, then Vartox kills himself so that we can have plot resolution. Then, Jimmy takes Supergirl up onto the roof and gives her Superman’s baby blanket to use as a cape because it’s indestructible. So, why isn’t Superman using it?
Margaret: Because he has to pass the mantle so obviously to Supergirl so hopefully we’ll never have to not actually use his name in the show again. Otherwise just calling him Him. This is His blanket.
Syd: She never calls him Cousin Superman. That would have been so cute. If she had said, “Cousin Superman wants to give me his blanket?” I would have loved that. But, no, it’s Him. Why do they think that pronouns are more powerful than names? They really aren’t. “I’m Her,” is the worst in an abundance of clunky lines. Just say who you are. You’re Supergirl. And he’s Superman. We tuned into a Supergirl television show; you don’t have to be ashamed of it.
Margaret: They’re going back to the God Complex. It’s back to that Messiah thing you have a problem with in Man of Steel. Because all they’re doing is calling Superman He with the Capital H.
Syd: I hate any Christ figure, because you know what? We already have a perfectly good Christ. We don’t really need another one. Any time you want to make a character into Jesus, you are showing that you are considering neither who Jesus was and what makes him special, nor your character and what makes her special. You’re taking all your heroes and making them into this bland, grey, homogenous hero paste.
Margaret: You’re making a cheap reference as to why they’re the good guy. You can’t have nuance, you have to have pure good and pure evil.
Syd: It’s dumber than platonic ideals. We don’t trust the audience to understand what good means, so we have to explain it to them by comparing their hero to the ideal of good they were taught as children. That is how dumb it is.
Margaret: I can see that. Yeah, so that blanket part was where I was like, “Okay? Sure? Is that necessary?” And then they do the thing that all the Superhero shows on the CW do, which is re-explaining the pilot that we already watched and spelling out the premise of the show via voice over, in case we missed it. Which was, I am Supergirl, I’m going to help people despite the fact that I’m not my cousin, even though we already established that she didn’t need to be in the first place. And that was it.
GRADING THE EPISODE
Margaret: I’m at C.
Syd: Yeah, actually, that’s where I was, at – C, maybe C-. It’s passing.
Margaret: Yeah, it was fine. I didn’t hate it.
Syd: I wasn’t angry at it, just disappointed. There are things about it that I’m upset about, but I wasn’t ever really angry. I want it to actually be good. I want to put a little note on it that says, “See me after class, you could be doing better.”
Margaret: “Please expand on this, cut this out entirely, correct these mistakes” and you would have an A+ show.
Syd: I don’t think there’s enough material here for an A+ show.
Margaret: I’m more optimistic. Because I feel like they could.
Syd: I think they could do good things with this. I don’t know if they want to.
Margaret: I hope that they do. But, I don’t know.