Supergirl II: Superman

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SUMMARY: Clark Kent arrives in National City to investigate a space shuttle explosion, which appears to be targeting Lena Luthor, who had just become the new CEO of Luthor Corp after her brother Lex was imprisoned. The culprit appears to be John Corben, an assassin apparently hired by Luthor (probably Lex, but maybe not). Superman then has to stop Corben from killing civilians with drones. Then Kara becomes a reporter for some reason and breaks up with Clark’s friend Jimmy.

Margaret: So, here we are. Back again.

Syd: I had real reservations about returning to this series. Lately, there has been a lot of talk about at what point something can be called “fascist,” especially when applied to people who don’t know enough political science to espouse a coherent political philosophy, and then we have this series, which people accept because they expect superheroes to be a bit fascist, but in the comics I read, she was never the enforcer for a secret government agency with the stated goal of rounding up undesirables (particularly ones of an undesirable race or national origin) for execution or indefinite imprisonment. I mean, that’s definitely fascist, right? I wasn’t sure with the current political climate that I could keep watching this show.

Margaret: I know you had reservations, ones that I have also thought about. However, I did want to give this show another chance as it moved to a different network. CBS has generally been a network that I believe caters to a different audience than us: people who may believe that what Supergirl does may not be good, but is necessary. The CW is generally a network that believes in romantic soapy drama and dark but silly shows. Supernatural, Buffy – even The Flash and Arrow to a certain extent – are a part of that. I continue to want Supergirl to be a better show than it is simply because I so desperately want a good female superhero show that is still on the air. I was hoping the move to the CW would move it away from the angles I found so horrible on CBS. However, there is already so much already in the DNA of the show that it may be impossible to fix it without simply forgetting its origins.

Syd: I would be fine with Jessica Jones and Agent Carter still being on the air instead. I also would like if they brought back Wonder Woman, but maybe the cast is too old. This show feels like a lost cause. My theory is that this was never intended to be a superhero show – that they pitched it as essentially 24 with aliens, and they hitched it to a remake of Lois and Clark so that they could get a known brand attached and it never really was entirely true to either idea – though the soapy part worked so much better than the action part, so I was kind of hoping that a reduced budget would force them to focus more on the characters and their relationships. Instead, they brought in Superman and the entire show became about him, which it kind of was already, but never this explicitly.

Margaret: Believe me, I wish Agent Carter was still on air and I’m definitely looking forward to Season 2 of Jessica Jones. I know they pitched Supergirl to the CW before CBS bought it, and I wonder if it was a different show then. I can definitely see CBS reading Supergirl and saying, “Superheroes are big right now, but our thing is procedurals and three-cam laugh track comedies. Let’s squish what we can into this Superhero show and see how far it can run.” So, I somehow envision the CW show still being a Supergirl show that is mostly about Superman, and then the CBS wanting the DEO involved to give it a NCIS sort of feel. All in all, a show that is supposed to be about a hopeful superhero who believes in the best of humanity does not work well alongside the same show that jails people with abilities without trial and kills people indiscriminately.

Syd: Well, let’s dive in. The show starts with a new opening that overexplains the premise. Then we get the last scene from the previous season, but with an unnecessary action sequence added.

Margaret: We find out who is in that pod and it is…someone no one knows about. My bet was on it being Superboy. I read somewhere they were casting for him.

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Syd: According to IMDB, he is Mon-El, whom I know from The Legion of Superheroes, but we know essentially nothing about who he is in this series. People tend to lose sight of the fact that the characters on these shows are completely different from who they are in other series, so we can’t extrapolate based on his name. Maybe he’s a Daxamite, maybe not.

Margaret: They bring this mysterious supposed Kryptonian/Daxamite to the DEO, or should I say the New DEO. I’m assuming they rebuilt the set for the series’ shift to filming in Vancouver and we get the meta-dialogue of it having a new entrance that everyone but Kara knew about – but we see nothing of the old set. Maybe it’s also meta-textual to say the DEO is going to be coming out of the basement and into a public viewable light in the following episodes, but who knows. That could just be me hoping.

Syd: No, because they make it clear that this office was there the entire time. In-universe nothing has changed.

Margaret: True. This is just me hoping. We know the President is going to be showing up at some point, as they’ve cast Lynda Carter. It could be a network shift trying to keep old canon while making it better. Again, this is the optimist in me. At least on The Flash and Arrow, most villains actually were sent to trial. If Oliver didn’t kill them in the first season, that is. Or, if they weren’t put in the Super Collider prison.

Syd: So, Kara is excited for her first date with Jimmy, but Alex suspects that she’s just trying to convince herself she’s excited. This comes completely out of nowhere. After a season of building up to their first kiss, they don’t even complete one date this episode before deciding to just be friends. What the hell? If they wanted the relationship not to work out, they could have at least shown them not clicking on a date, but that would conflict with the always enforced “Tell, Don’t Show” policy of this show, so instead we are told that she doesn’t really want to date him and how she feels (and especially how he feels) is hardly explored at all.

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Margaret: I think this falls into two dictated policies: the “Tell, Don’t Show” as well as the new CW overlord that says you may have no longstanding relationships. Every single show I have seen on the CW doesn’t allow for happy sustained relationships between main characters. Sometimes even the background characters get wrapped up in this, too. So, as soon as they moved to the CW, I’m sure the execs were like, “You’ve got to break this shit up immediately; we’ve got rules here about happy relationships.” Honestly, it makes no other sense as to why they don’t even have a single date before Kara tells him she just wants to be friends. James and Kara have such great chemistry that this just doesn’t ring true. James is such a sweetheart of a character, he deserves better than to be sidelined for CW mandates.

Syd: Back at Catco, Cat Grant has a new assistant – Miss Teschmacher. That name was created for Lex Luthor’s girlfriend in Superman: The Movie, but this character in the Supergirl television show has no relation at all to that character – she just coincidentally happens to have the same name. We all like references to things we’ve heard of, right? That makes a fulfilling branded entertainment experience.

Margaret: However, she does show up in the first episode as a Luthor shows up, too. Coincidence?! This scene also brings back Cat Grant, who we will be getting precious little of after the filming moved from LA to Vancouver. I continue to find Cat a highlight of the series and I’m going to be very sad when it’s revealed she’s stepping down as CEO of Catco to pursue whatever it is she feels is her life’s passion. I love most of her conversations with Kara and the fact that much of Kara’s personal life touchstones came from a female mentor.

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Syd: Hey, speaking of the Luthor family, where the hell is Lex “Maxwell Lord” Luthor from the last season? Is he Lena’s brother who is now in jail, or is that meant to be a different character? The last time we saw Lexwell, he was holding hands with Alex Danvers, but now Alex is sniffing Superman and saying he smells terrific. Of all the clumsy exposition they threw into this episode, you’d think they’d say something about this.

Margaret: Right! Last we saw of Maxwell Lord, he was being handed the Omegahedron from General Lane. That was a big set up and they’ve totally dropped it. Is he just going to be never spoken of again?

Syd: My guess is that this is probably related to Geoff Johns’ promotion. I suspect that now that he has more creative pull in the film side, that’s why certain characters are being made available for use on television, including Superman and Lex Luthor. Now that they can have the real Lex Luthor as part of their world, they don’t have to use Lord as a Lex substitute and instead use the genderflipped Lex that is Lena.

Margaret: Right. I’m just sad that it seems they’re losing Lexwell. He was a really interesting villain who turned out to be an actual hero of the show. They kept thinking of him as a bad guy, but he continually – mostly without argument – stepped up to save the day. He was interesting and Peter Facinelli made him both charming as well as a bit off putting. It was a good mix.

Syd: Getting back to Cat, I’ll miss Calista Flockhart, but she was too good for this show. Hopefully, with the exposure she got from this, she can get a job doing something that I can enjoy even in the moments when she isn’t on the screen.

Margaret: I hope so, too. Her flirting with Clark was just the most adorable thing, but that’s getting ahead of ourselves a bit.

Syd: No, let’s get into it, because even though this still sucks as an adaptation of Supergirl, this episode was a passable Superman show – at least on par with Smallville and a good deal better than any of the movies. Clark’s introductory scene was clunky, with the forced dialogue of making him seem old fashioned by saying “lickety-split” and then shoehorning in catchphrases from the comics in the most unnatural ways possible, but once I saw Jimmy and Clark’s secret handshake, I was down with Tyler Hoechlin’s take on the character, and that kept up for the rest of the episode no matter how bad the dialogue got.

Margaret: A moment I really liked, which certainly doesn’t dissuade the idea of this being mostly a Superman show called Supergirl, is that when Clark first shows up they have the symphony play tones of the Superman theme song from the movies. I remember listening to an interview with the composer about when he was coming up with Supergirl’s music and talks about the influence the Superman movies had on his composing of the theme. So, it was interesting to hear the Supergirl theme meld with the Superman one.

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Syd: Yes, that was emblematic of the philosophy behind this show, and if they renamed it Superman: The TV Series when they moved to the CW, I wouldn’t have a problem with it.

Margaret: Though, that goes against why I’m rooting for this show, still, which is that it is a show with a female lead and a diverse cast. However, I have seen so many people who are starved for female leads and diversity, that the problematic things of this world get swept under the rug. J’onn J’onnz taking over a government agency under an assumed name and running it to jail other aliens without recourse is overlooked – he is pardoned without trial and still considered a hero. Kara kills multiple people without deliberation but still is thought of as an embodiment of hope. She – in fact – sends the supposed last Kryptonians into space to die without even trying to save them because Myriad threatened Earth. There’s a lot of troubling things about the morality of this show that get overlooked and yet I still want it to do well.

Syd: I should say one thing about the casting – they have throwaway lines about how Mon got caught in a [doublespeak space thingy] which stopped time for him and that Kryptonians age more slowly on Earth to justify casting young beautiful CW-demographic-targeting actors for the Kryptonian roles instead of just casting slightly older actors. This is going to be a sore point for me unless Tom Welling confirms that he was not available to appear on this series.

Margaret: Yes, I was definitely rooting for Tom Welling to be Superman in this show. Smallville was a CW show! It would have made total sense.

Syd: In this episode, we learn that Superman doesn’t work with J’onn J’onzz because of “Project Emerald” – long story short, the DEO is hoarding Kryptonite and Superman isn’t comfortable with this, because – even though he totally thinks J’onn is a good dude – what if someone less trustworthy than the guy who took over a government agency under an assumed identity gets access to Kryptonite? It bothers me so much that they have to manufacture a reason for Superman not to trust the DEO beyond the fact that they were created to incarcerate aliens and that’s what they continued to do, even under the direction of an alien.

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Margaret: They also sweep to the side the most pressing matter of the last season, which is that Jeremiah is still alive. Wasn’t Alex supposed to go save him? Why is it that Clark is the first person to bring him up? And doesn’t he already know about Cadmus? Couldn’t he help them out more with that?

Syd: I think we’re supposed to assume Lucy is taking care of Jeremiah, since she is conspicuously absent. Poor Team Lucy is no longer being served by this show.

Margaret: At least they mention Jeremiah. Poor Lucy gets no mention whatsoever. The main problem of the episode is the explosion of the Venture spacecraft, which Superman and Supergirl are able to prevent. At first it seems as if the architect of the explosion is Lena Luthor – obviously a Luthor is evil – but as the episode moves along it seems she is actually the target of Lex’s as opposed to a villain. I can’t tell if they’re attempting to set her up as a friend of Kara’s who gets what she’s going through – being in the shadow of more famous older family member – or if she’s just faking it all to clear her name and give L Corp a needed boost of PR. My feeling is that it’s the latter.

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Syd: I don’t trust Lena because she shot John Corben when he was inches away from someone who was superfast and invulnerable. There was absolutely no reason she should try to kill Corben. In a normal superhero story, this would be a dead giveaway that she’s a villain, but after it happens, Clark treats this as a heroic action. The morality on this show is so fucked, I don’t know if they are building to a reveal that she is secretly evil or if she’s like J’onn and Alex in that the audience is just supposed to ignore the fact that she’s evil.

Margaret: I don’t know if the situation was exactly in hand. Corben had a gun on Alex and Supergirl was talking to him when Lena shot him. She could have been trying to silence an accomplice, but there’s still a reasonable explanation for her shooting him.

Syd: Supergirl is faster than bullets! That’s her thing! There were multiple ways she could have disarmed him before he had a chance to pull the trigger. This is a superhero show, not a gritty crime drama.  From Lena’s perspective, maybe she was doing all she could, but the same doesn’t hold water from Clark and Kara’s perspective.  We are told repeatedly that Superman and Supergirl don’t condone the use of lethal force (even though we see Kara use lethal force all the time – remember, Tell, Don’t Show).  Here we have an opportunity for real conflict, or maybe just a chance to show this isn’t Superman’s SOP.  Maybe Superman is appalled by Lena’s actions, but Supergirl comes to her defense.  Conversely, maybe Clark writes the piece praising Lena’s actions, but privately is disappointed in Kara for failing to save Alex or Corben.  Instead, we have another situation where everyone is just fine with everything.  I know that this show is trying to be optimistic, but it has long since crossed the line into creepy and inhuman.  Superman is fine with a man being shot – possibly killed, possibly permanently disabled – the same way everyone at eh DEO is fine with the shapeshifting alien who took over the organization under fraudulent means still being in charge.  At least when Lexwell was around, there was a voice of dissent, even if they treated him as laughable or villainous when he proposed the outrageous idea of putting a body camera on a law enforcement official.

Margaret: I honestly don’t know what this show is trying to be anymore, so it’s hard to tell what is clumsy storytelling and what is them trying to cover up supervillain intentions.

Syd: There is a throwaway scene where Winn is inducted into the DEO. I guess this is fine, but it does seem like part of a general move to deemphasize Catco, which is the wrong direction for this show.

Margaret: Without Cat Grant, there really isn’t much of a Catco. That’s the problem. I wish it was the opposite. Or, they would just have Cat operate in the background and have Kara and the others working with whoever the new editor will be.

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Syd: At the end of the episode, they wrap up the plot of Cat offering Kara any position she wants in her company (which, as you may recall, is a totally real thing that employers do), when Kara announces that she wants to be a reporter and Cat reveals that she had written “reporter” on Kara’s resume when she first applied for a job at Catco. On the surface, this is unsettling because it reveals that Cat’s offer was a farce and she had no intentions of giving Kara any job but the job she had already decided on, but I’m more bothered by the fact that narratively, this is perhaps the biggest “Tell, Don’t Show” moment of the entire series. When do we see that she would make a good reporter? Certainly not in this episode. I guess, she’s reasonably capable following Clark around, but in the entire first season, we never see her do anything resembling journalism. If they knew they were going to make her a reporter in the second season, they could have started planting the seeds for it in the first. If they were really good storytellers, they could have fleshed out the character in the first season, and then stopped and considered what this fully formed person would have wanted to do with her life. Instead they made her a reporter only because that’s what we know Superman does for a living and then tried to convince us that a passion and aptitude for journalism was part of the character from the beginning. It is complete and utter bullshit.

Margaret: It also just seems as if they keep trying to give Kara traits where she is competing with Clark as opposed to having her own things that she is good at. In a world where there is a Superman already established – as well as a Clark Kent – Supergirl is always going to be behind in experience. They had an opportunity to give Kara a profession that was congruent with a reporter and a photojournalist but was not one of those professions. She could have been an artist or an editor – both of which could flourish at Catco. It would give her a place where she doesn’t have to worry about not being the best. It could also lead to a great scene of Kara editing a piece that Clark wrote.

Syd: Yes, that is what a good show would do.

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Margaret: Honestly, I’m at a C on this. It’s middle of the road, better than a lot of the other Supergirl episodes, but still has a lot of work to do.

Syd: I’ll join you in C-town. The Superman stuff was where this series excelled, and for the first time, instead of wanting them to work on getting Supergirl right, I was ready for them to abandon Supergirl altogether and just do a halfway decent Superman show instead of an awful Supergirl show.

Margaret: I don’t want them to abandon Supergirl altogether. Honestly, it makes me wish that Supergirl had been on the CW the entire time as I feel like we wouldn’t be in this dystopian otherworld if it had been. They have a really good opportunity to fix what’s terrible in Supergirl by the Flash’s changing of time, but I don’t know if they’ll use it.

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