SUMMARY: Supergirl meets her Aunt General Astra while Alex plays with bugs. Syd and Margaret discuss the forward progress of what seems to be Supergirl’s attempt to define the series after the pilot.
Syd: Welcome to Episode Two of Tales from the Krypton, in which good guys are bad guys and bad guys are good guys. So, we start off with Supergirl training with the DEO.
Margaret: I thought it started before that.
Syd: No, we just have that whole Last Time On Supergirl where Kara dramatically takes off her glasses and it’s just like Superman. Remember Superman? We all love Superman movies, right?
Margaret: I get the feeling you don’t love Superman movies. I hate that they are still continually saying, “This isn’t His story.” They keep harping on that.
Syd: In the first scene I started counting the references until I got depressed. At least when they have the conversation with Jimmy, it actually becomes plot relevant that they talk about Superman, so I can’t begrudge them that when they’re actually doing something good with it. But it’s so irritating when she says, “This looks like a job for Supergirl!” That’s not her catchphrase; it’s someone else’s. You might as well have had her yell, “Spoon!” It makes the same amount of sense. She’s as much the Tick as she is Superman.
Margaret: I feel like there’s a difference between comparing the show to Superman and comparing the character to Superman. Comparing the character to Superman is something you’re never going to get away from, because you already have Superman in this world. But, since they keep making all these ‘ha-ha wink-wink’ references, that’s going a step beyond and it’s to the detriment of the show. It just calls attention to: “We’re not Superman, remember? We can’t even say his name most of the time, like in a PG-13 movie where you can only say fuck once.” I’m so sick of hearing about Superman. It’s not his show. It’s Supergirl’s.
Syd: Yeah, it’s different when Cat Grant talks about Superman. She worked at the Daily Planet where I feel like they were talking about Superman constantly. That’s good for that character and it makes sense.
Margaret: It also makes sense since her story – strangely – has been linked to all of these references just like Kara’s story. Cat Grant is trying to get away from the Superman story that Metropolis has in order to find her own story and Supergirl is trying to get away from Superman the actual character. They’ve linked these two characters to that story in a weird way
Syd: I don’t think that’s intentional.
Margaret: Exactly, that’s what I’m saying. They’ve linked it in this way that wouldn’t have actually happened if they weren’t being so sloppy with their dialogue. It’s interesting to me, because I actually kind of like that development. As I said in the pilot, they linked the pair of them to the Supergirl conversation with that heavy handed conversation about feminism when it could have been about defining themselves. And they’ve done it again, where it’s a good point that they’ve completely and utterly gone against in favor of, “Let’s make cheap references.” They keep passing over weighty topics for the easy gag.
Syd: So, then we get to Winslow Schott – whom you may remember from Super Friends. He’s at a computer giving Supergirl instructions, so he’s the new Oracle, I guess? This is very specifically what Oracle does for Birds of Prey.
Margaret: That’s what Felicity does for Arrow. Everyone already suspected she was Oracle. She’s behind a computer hacking things and telling people where to go.
Syd: So, they’re one generation removed from this making sense. They had a fake Batman show that had a fake Oracle on it. And now they have a fake Superman Show that has another fake Oracle on it. I guess in these shows I haven’t seen, having a Professor Stein in your ear is such an established trope that you can pop one into a story without any setup or explanation?
Margaret: But, it’s more than that. The people from STAR Labs are all scientists. Felicity went to MIT, but now they have Winslow, who works at a newspaper and doesn’t seem to have any background in this stuff.
Syd: But he works in IT! He knows algorithms!
Margaret: They just sort of shoved that character trait onto him so they could have that character archetype.
Syd: The important thing about him comes up when they’re watching a news show with Maxwell Lord on it. Seriously, DC, stop trying to make Maxwell Lord a bad guy. If you keep flattening out your characters like this, you won’t have interesting characters left. Win says he has two Maxwell Lord watches, so we’re in a reality where A) Maxwell Lord has his own line of watches, B) Win Schott is someone who buys branded watches and is enough of a fan of Maxwell Lord to buy two of them, and C) Win Schott – a 20 something young person in the present day – owns two watches.
Margaret: I guess I just don’t get why Maxwell Lord having watches is a weird thing.
Syd: How many brands of watches do you own?
Margaret: I own no watches. But, that made me think that Maxwell Lord is kind of like Steve Jobs. He has Apple Watches.
Syd: Honestly, I was thinking it was like Mickey Mouse watches, not Apple Watches. Then again, being a young person in the present day, I have more friends with Mickey Mouse watches than Apple Watches.
Margaret: This episode had some pretty bad dialogue again, but the one line I absolutely adored was when Kara is overhearing Cat in the elevator saying to herself, “Drunk at 9AM, that’s the last time I have breakfast with Ruth Bader Ginsberg.” I love Ruth Bader Ginsberg and I will also love a line that depicts her as a hellion. I will underline that with exclamation points and say it’s the best line of dialogue in the episode. Unfortunately, that wasn’t that hard to achieve. I wish it happened in a well written one.
Syd: It’s the best line by default.
Margaret: Right! And it shouldn’t be. It should be just hilarious no matter what. The idea of Ruth Bader Ginsberg being drunk at 9AM just makes me giggle.
Syd: Then, we have a scene with Jimmy and Kara.
Margaret: Which was actually sweet. I like the juxtaposition between the James’ mentoring style and Cat’s one. It’s a weird switch up where Cat is gruff and demanding and James is nice and nurturing – soothing Kara’s bruised ego. And their chemistry is one of the best things on the show. Their back and forth is one of the only ones where I feel invested.
Syd: Actually, I would go so far to say that Jimmy is single handedly holding this show together for me.
Margaret: I still like Melissa Benoist.
Syd: She’s doing an admirable job, but she has nothing to work with.
Margaret: Which is why I think it really comes out when she’s with James Olsen.
Syd: You mean Jimmy?
Margaret: They’re both really strong actors doing the best they can with the dialogue and the other characters can’t really catch up. The only one who comes close is Calista Flockhart. She’s doing a very good J. Jonah Jameson.
Syd: Every time she’s talking I just keep waiting for her to tell someone to bring her the pictures of Spiderman. She’s doing this so well.
Margaret: It’s funny because they’re actually subverting it. Because she’s actually trying to spin things in favor of Supergirl. The first thing she said was, “I was trying to make Supergirl the next big thing and now she’s screwing things up. I want her to do better. I branded her, my name goes up with hers.”
Syd: We’ll see how that works. The next scene takes place at Plastino Chemicals, which is another name drop.
After the Otto Binder Bridge and Plastino Chemicals, I’m expecting that some cameo character will awkwardly introduce himself as David Kirk. Then, we have the introduction of the Monster of the Week.
Margaret: Which you were actually excited about.
Syd: I was halfway excited. It’s not a good character. In the comics he was an evil entomologist and he’s called Hellgrammite. I don’t want to give them credit, because he’s a Superman villain, but he is one of very, very few characters on this show who has appeared in a Supergirl comic. It was in the early 90s when Mae Kent was Supergirl and I’m the only one who remembers it. I was just excited after all these Superman shout-outs, there is finally a character who was in a Supergirl comic. Once.
Margaret: And then we have the flashback, which is funny, because they do that all the time in the Arrow. They have multiple flashbacks that give relevant information about the current episode. It happens more frequently in the Arrow, but this, plus the Oracle thing really just made me wonder if they’ve run out of ideas and are just rehashing things they’ve already done.
Syd: But, do they use contractions in the Arrow flashbacks?
Margaret: They do, because they tried to make it real life and not stilted Asgardian-like dialogue. They should have just started saying Thee and Thou. “I cannost believe that thou Father has thus cooked forn us.”
Syd: Apparently, contractions were never invented on Krypton, which is hella annoying and the problem is compounded by actor playing Allura being just the worst. She tells Kara ‘You have the heart of hero!’ Just, ugh, fuck you. I’m kind of sick of foreshadowing that someone is going to be a superhero in comics adaptations, but this is worse, because she’s already a superhero. The time for foreshadowing is over. Time for actual story!
Margaret: Yes, I agree with that. But, at the same time I feel like that’s kind of doing the price of business with superhero stories.
Syd: Nope! There are well-written superhero stories!
Margaret: Not this one, I guess. And that brings up the fight training. It was terrible fight choreography. They had this weird ramping up music as if to make you excited about them just walking around each other and talking. This is not exciting. And that’s such a bummer, because Arrow and Flash have some really good fight choreography. I went into this thinking it would be great because she has super powers and it is not there. That made me really sad.
Syd: So, they find out that Monster Man is eating DDT and that’s ridiculous. His DNA has a chlorine base and he eats DDT. That’s as much characterization as he gets.
Margaret: After that, they’re into the interview Cat Grant wants, which is something I really wanted to talk about.They start out with her saying how she’s so sick of hearing about Superman. And all I could think is, “Yes, me too.” That’s all you’ve talked about in the show. Then, they harp on what they’ve been doing for too long of emphasizing the girl in Supergirl. It’s a build up from the beginning when Kara has the line, “Are you doing this because I’m…” and Henshaw interrupts saying, “No, it’s not because you’re a woman.” To which Kara replies, “I was going to say alien.” That’s so horrible. You’re just bringing up the fact that she’s different because she’s a woman, when no, screw you, she’s different because she’s an alien. I didn’t need that reaffirmed. We already knew that going in. And moving from there, we have Cat Grant saying the tired line, “You know how women have to do things twice as hard as a man to be thought of as half as good.” It’s so old news; I don’t give a shit about those thoughts. In fact, it feels retro even saying it. I work in a very male dominated industry where people regularly tell me I’m the first woman they know who does what I do. I know exactly how true her struggle is, so I don’t need reminding of it in my Supergirl TV show. I’m here for ladies who kick ass without boundaries, not a lecture of things I already know.
Syd: It’s weird because one of the reasons I liked Supergirl in the 90’s more than Superman at the same time is that Supergirl had to deal with all the things that Superman logically should have to, but doesn’t. But, it’s hard because you could say that’s sexist because she saves a ship and it breaks, whereas that would never happen to Superman. It’s a recurring thing that reality bends over backwards to let Superman and Batman prevail, but not for Supergirl.
Margaret: Right! The ship breaking wasn’t a sexist issue to me. I thought it was supposed to be that she was inexperienced, which is what I like. It’s what Cat touches upon. She starts off on that misguided speech about women and moves into actual mentorship. She’s talking about Supergirl taking on all these things she’s not ready for. She needs to learn. She’s using her area of expertise in the public eye to explain how to garner public support and unknowingly helps Supergirl. That’s great. Even better, she explains how she worked her way up from obscurity, “I took a job I didn’t want, I got a break in a column I didn’t want, but I worked up and that’s how I got a company named after me.” That part of the speech is showing Kara how to be a woman superhero without being preachy. I had the same problem with this scene as I did with the “Girl” conversation: you didn’t need the first half. If they’d just skipped into the second part it would have still been about feminism, but it would have been subtle instead of in your face. Cat and Kara are very different about their feminism and their ideals, but Kara can still learn from Cat. That’s great to me. But, that moves them into the “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” montage, which was ridiculous.
Syd: But, it’s sung by a woman and it’s empowering right?
Margaret: Yeah sure…but no. At least it led into the whole thing where she talks to James.
Margaret: She talks to James about how she wants James to use his connections to get an interview with Supergirl. It was clear to me that they were doing the reverse of what happened in the pilot and now Supergirl needs to save James’ job.
Syd: What bothered me about that scene was one of those logical flaws. As a writer, you have to think about what your characters want and how they are trying to get that. In this case, Jimmy says that he wanted to leave Metropolis to escape from Superman’s shadow, but on Superman’s request, he moved to the place where his cousin lived to work for a former Daily Planet staff member who is directly involved in Superman’s life. He wasn’t trying that hard to get away from Superman.
Margaret: I really, really liked the conversation between James and Kara. It’s what I wanted Supergirl to actually be about. I could almost forgive all of the damn references to Superman in the first two-thirds of the show because in the end, they talk about Superman in a way that actually matters. She says, “You know, you say I can be Superman, but I don’t want to be Superman.” After two episodes of cheap Superman jokes that’s amazing. Then, she says, “You wanted to go out and be your own man and you didn’t want to live in the shadow of Superman, but he’s always going to be a part of you. Being a part of a team actually matters and that’s who I am as Supergirl. I am not my cousin, not because I’m not as good as him, but because I’m making a conscious decision not to be like him. I’m not going to go this alone because my friends matter to me.” It was self-definition in a way that is very interesting and against what many superheroes are now
Syd: That scene was the one thing I genuinely liked. I loved Kara impressing on Jimmy the importance of asking for help and having your friends as an asset. It was wonderful. Where was this sentiment in the first episode?
Margaret: I feel like this episode was kind of a repilot.
Syd: Yes! I think there were a couple of scenes that were white-out over the pilot. And speaking of correcting mistakes, did you catch the bit about the crest that they can’t just let be an S for Supergirl? Now they’re saying that on Krypton it meant, “Stronger Together,” which is thematically nice and it starts with the letter S, unlike “Hope.” I now assume that Superman just got the translation wrong in Man of Steel.
Margaret: Well, he was a baby. I liked that bit in the same scene, when James mentions that Superman never talks about Krypton and Kara says, “Well, he was a baby, of course he doesn’t talk about Krypton. I actually remember it.” I like that because Krypton is really interesting to me, even if they don’t use contractions.
Syd: No, Krypton is not interesting at all to me. Krypton was just a place that had to die to give us Supergirl. Nobody has ever done anything with Kryptonian culture that has made Krypton any more compelling than any “Planet of Hats” from Star Trek.
Margaret: Well, I was a huge Doctor Who fan, so seeing another world is always thrilling to me, especially when it’s a new show. We don’t actually know that much about it until they define the world. Then I will probably be enraged about it. But right now, there’s so much possibility.
Syd: You’re right. Krypton could be anything right now. Maybe this will be the first Krypton I am interested in.
Margaret: That was the one scene that I liked without an asterisk. It was an actual good scene. But it was the only one.
Syd: Then we have the fight scene between Kara and General Astra. They have to say General Astra and not just Astra so that you subconsciously associate her with General Zod. Astra says that the planet is in danger and that Kara’s alliance with the humans is misguided. She says, “I let one planet die, I won’t let another,” and then she just punches Kara. What in the world is this show doing? Why can’t they talk about it? If you actually have a point, you should be able to discuss it. Let Kara know what danger the planet is in. Let Kara decide where her loyalties lie. Don’t just start punching each other. Maybe Astra does have a point. Maybe there is some danger that Kara doesn’t know about. If they’re saving Astra’s mission for some big dumb twist surprise, I will just have to say, “Fuck you, you could have told us this in the second episode.”
Margaret: The sad part is that I really liked the reunion up until that point. It looked like they were actually going to have an interesting discussion and they would talk about it and we would find out why she’s evil. I have too much faith in people, I guess. They start with the characters saying, “It’s been so long since I’ve seen you,” and, “Your mother locked me up because of what I was trying to do to save Krypton.” That made me think, “Well, your planet did blow up, so maybe you had a point.”
Syd: Also, since her planet blew up, Kryptonian law doesn’t apply any more. Nobody can prosecute crimes against Krypton. Astra essentially has a clean slate. She can do anything. What is it she chooses to do? Maybe she should explain this.
Margaret: Instead they do the whole trying to seduce Kara to the Dark Side thing, which I find really boring.
Syd: “Join me, and together, we can rule the galaxy as aunt and niece!” “We’re not so different, you and I.”
Margaret: Which was great when I first saw it, but now that everyone has done it, not so much. The Kryptonians are basically Sith and Jedi at this point. When Astra starts saying things like, “Let me help you. It’s been so long since we were together on Krypton,” you think that she’s going to explain things. Her saying, “I’m not going to let another planet die,” and Kara saying, “I was going to say the same to you,” seems like the opening of their conversation, not the end of it.
Syd: You think that she’s saying, “Let me explain,” because there’s a lot that needs to be explained. Even after Astra punches Kara just to show the audience that she’s a villain, Kara – as the hero – should have still been trying to reason with her.
Margaret: And then there’s another completely unconvincing fight scene.
Syd: After the fight, Kara says to Alex, “We have to stop her!” You don’t even know what she’s trying to do! She might be trying to save puppies. She might be aware of a secret puppy-killing conspiracy, so she has started a puppy shelter. For all we know, she only wants to open a puppy shelter, but the only personnel she has to work with are murderous space criminals, so if she had non-space criminals to help her, nobody would be killed.
Margaret: They are trying to set stakes for things that they haven’t properly established. They’re building on a foundation of sand. They have all these paper-thin ideas, like the importance of family. I do like, though, that they’re building the sister relationship. I like the idea that the adopted family bonds are stronger than the biological ones, which doesn’t happen very often in movies or TV shows. Usually, they drive home that it doesn’t matter how much you hate your mother/father/grandparents/whatever, they’re your blood, so they’ll be with you forever. Here she’s choosing her adopted family over her birth one and I like that, but the problem is they didn’t show why she didn’t give her aunt a chance. She could love her sister and still care about what her aunt is trying to do.
Syd: If you like explorations of the real meaning of family, especially as it pertains to biology vs. adoption and whether your real family is those whose blood you share, I could recommend a great comic book series called “Every team book ever written.”
Margaret: That’s definitely in comics, but, I can count on one hand the number of TV episodes where the ‘parent that did me wrong’ comes back for a special episode and that series tells the character in question, “It doesn’t matter if they’re your family, just ignore them.” It’s always, “They’re your mother/father/brother/sister/grandparent, it doesn’t matter what they did, they’re your family, so you have to love them anyway.”
Syd: Speaking of biological families, Alex reveals to Kara that they have an AI hologram of Allura. Hey, remember in Man of Steel when Russell Crowe played an AI Hologram of Jor-El? They’re doing that bullshit again!
Margaret: Can they pull things from Man of Steel? They’re not really clear on where this series is set. It weirds me out. Is Man of Steel part of this world?
Syd: There was a throw-away line at the beginning when Hank Henshaw chides Supergirl for destroying the missiles that he himself launched at her by saying, “You have your cousin’s appetite for wanton destruction,” which tells me they are definitely drawing from Man of Steel’s interpretation of Superman.
Margaret: But then what about Batman?
Syd: Batman has his own problems.
Margaret: My point of view is that they have to work with what was established in Man of Steel, so if they have this technology, it has to be brought up in Supergirl, too, because they have to give Supergirl everything that Superman has.
Syd: Nuts to that. They don’t have to and they shouldn’t. Supergirl is something different. Give Supergirl her own stuff.
Margaret: The worst part of the AI hologram is that it gives more screen time to the horrible actress who plays Allura and Astra, but now playing someone who has no emotion. Kara has a really sweet line when the AI says, “You can ask me anything,” and Kara asks for a hug, and then the AI says, “I am not programmed for hugs.” Oh, Jesus Christ, this is ridiculous.
Syd: Yes, she definitely has a Russell Crowe quality to her acting. Then Alex says, “You will always have the heart of a hero,” in case now is the right time for foreshadowing. She’s calling back to a line that she didn’t hear and it’s dumb and everything is dumb and it saps my energy.
Margaret: The problem with terrible dialogue like that is that they’ve shown with the Kara and James scene that they can actually have something really heartfelt and nice and interesting – this is something they can do, but they’re just throwing it away for Superman references. It just makes me sad. I don’t need Superman references. I don’t need feminism dialogue. Just having a Supergirl show is feminist enough for me, so long as she’s not spending all her time cooking for her man.
Syd: And as long as they don’t have constant upskirt shots.
Margaret: Amazingly, they have yet to Male Gaze her.
Syd: That’s very impressive.
Margaret: It’s incredibly impressive. They haven’t even gone so far as someone saying, “You look great in that costume,” or something gross like that, which by now would have been expected. That’s such a sad state of affairs, that I’m praising a show for not sexualizing their main character.
Syd: They did do one gross thing – “That’s why you won’t go out with me! You’re a lesbian!”
Margaret: That’s gross in a different way. In a lot of important ways, they are treating her very respectfully, but the dialogue isn’t. And it drives me crazy.
Syd: The dialogue feels like a special needs child to me. I can’t be angry at it for sounding the way it does when it’s so earnest. The fact that they had the Jimmy scene and then the rest of the episode doesn’t say to me that they put all of their work into one scene, but that they really don’t know what is going to sound right.
Margaret: It was one more scene I actually liked than was in the pilot.
Syd: So if we keep going, by the end of the series, there will be one full episode we like.
Margaret: Exactly. What infuriated me is that the episode cut out before the Cat Grant interview, which was the one thing I was actually interested in.
Syd: Before we get into that, I should apologize that in the last entry, I spoiled this episode’s twist. At the time I made that joke, I didn’t think that Hank Henshaw actually was an evil cyborg.
Margaret: He still might not be. We just know that his eyes glowed. That could mean anything. But he’s an evil cyborg. Spoiler Alert.
Syd: Honestly, in these comics adaptations, usually you get to see human characters become their superpowered counterparts. They rarely show up fully formed. I thought there would be an episode where Henshaw becomes a cyborg – like he loses a limb or he gets downloaded into the Internet or something. But no, he’s just a cyborg.
Margaret: Which is weird, because with Supergirl’s supersenses, shouldn’t she know?
Syd: You would think. But her not knowing Henshaw is a cyborg is not as dumb as her not talking to Astra.
GRADING THE EPISODE
Margaret: I’m still at C or C-.
Syd: I was going to say C+ because there was one scene I liked.
Margaret: One scene I liked does not make it rise a grade, because it just shows me that they could do better and they are refusing to.
Syd: Like they’re just doing it to annoy us?
Margaret: It makes me sad. I hope next episode gets better.
Syd: At this point we know the base level is mediocrity. It isn’t funny-awful and it isn’t inspirational. It’s kind of blah and that might be what to expect for the rest of the season, unless there is one great writer whose episode we have yet to see. I’m holding out hope that there is a Darin Morgan somewhere in their writing staff.
Margaret: Let’s hope, because this show is still not good. But, I still want to see how the Cat/Supergirl interview went.