Supergirl S1E1 - "Pilot" Review

I was one of the lucky people who attended NYCC a few weeks ago. That’s New York Comic Con for the uninitiated. It’s the East Coast equivalent of what San Diego has to offer. Now, the big guns normally reserve all their surprises and treats for San Diego, but occasionally, those of us attending the “other” convention are privy to some goodies as well.

It just so happens that Warner Brothers (their television equivalent known as WBTV, anyway) brought along a lot of their shows for panels; “Supergirl” happened to be one of them. Those of us in attendance were then rewarded by being shown the pilot before it aired for the rest of the country.

This is the first time I’m reviewing a television show. As such, I’m taking something of a different approach. My reviews will be more “review-like” as opposed to mere recaps. I am a writer, after all. After a long wait, we can finally enjoy what is no doubt one of the most anticipated series this fall season.

Much like “Arrow” and “The Flash”, both produced by Greg Berlanti on sister network, The CW, “Supergirl” starts off with an opening monologue from the lead character. A nice flashback helps give the audience an idea of who Kara Zor-El is in relation to her more famous cousin, Kal-El, otherwise known as Clark Kent/Superman.

Kara is an adolescent, much older than her cousin. It is her mission to protect him as they head to Earth. However, the pod she was in becomes stuck in the Phantom Zone, where time doesn’t move. By the time Kara arrives on Earth twenty-four years later, her cousin has already revealed himself to the world. Yet, she is still a child. She is taken to the Danvers family. We get a nice call back to the mythology (and a nice nod to the fans) as both Helen Slater and Dean Cain play Kara’s adoptive parents. You’ll recall that Slater first played Supergirl in the 1984 cult classic of the same name and Cain played Clark Kent in the 1990s series, “The Adventures of Lois and Clark”.

When we first meet a grown-up Kara Danvers (Melissa Benoist), she is not a hero. In fact, she’s made it a point not to use her abilities at all. She is just a personal assistant to one of the most influential women in National City, Cat Grant. Grant, played wonderfully by Calista Flockhart, is in a similar vein to the assertive and confident female boss, as exemplified best by the film, “The Devil Wears Prada”.

In the beginning, there appear to be a lot of similarities, with Kara being a seemingly insignificant subordinate. Not long after, we are introduced to Superman ally, James “Jimmy” Olsen, played by Mehcad Brooks. It is through Olsen that we get a glimpse of Superman (although the pilot goes through great lengths never to mention him by name).

We get to see the relationship between Kara and her sister, Alex Danvers (Chyler Leigh). What’s most refreshing about these two characters is that Alex knows about Kara’s secret. They fight like normal sisters, they laugh, and cry. It is a relatable approach to female relationships that is sorely lacking in the genre.

Alex is bound for Geneva, and it just so happens (as is the magic of storytelling) that the plane she is on is having “engine trouble”. Knowing that she was born with the same hero-making gifts as her cousin, Kara wastes no time coming to the aid of the passengers on the fated flight.

Her sister, however, is none too pleased that Kara revealed herself to the world. Cat Grant, however, sees this as her chance to save one of her failing acquisitions. She begins to use “super girl” as a beacon for National City and a way to make money by having the hero on the cover of her newspapers and magazines (sort of like what the Daily Planet is doing in Metropolis with Superman). Much has been made about the speech Cat Grant gives Kara in regards to calling the female hero “girl”. Personally, I like seeing a different array of opinions from women and I’m glad that the writers included that scene in the show even if it had mixed messages.

Of course, it can’t all be roses. There has to be a bad guy. Halfway through the show we get our first glimpse at the bad of the episode. He has a connection to Kara and Alex. It was his doing that caused the plane’s engine to fail. It is also revealed that he has history with Kara’s mother, who jailed some of the worst criminals in the galaxy.

But what good is a superhero show without a costume montage?! Winn (Jeremy Jordan), also our resident tech guy, is let in on Kara’s secret and agrees to help her with a new outfit. She finally decides on one, after some trial and error. It’s a nice, updated look to Supergirl’s traditional outfit. I found myself grinning as the bullets flew off Kara’s body and she proceeded to take down and beat up random baddies to some classic music.

However, Kara soon finds herself in a bit of trouble and confusion before she can even get started when she is drugged (with Kryptonite, of course) and taken to a secret location. It is there that we first meet Hank Henshaw (David Harewood). We also learn that Alex works in said secret location, soon revealed as the DEO, or Department of Extranormal Operations. Henshaw explains the need for the organization (her pod crashing, her cousin’s arrival, and the Kryptonian prison that so-happened to crash land on Earth along with Kara). Those prisoners spent the last decade in hiding until recently; it’s clear there’s a Big Bad at play. Henshaw is also not a big fan of Kara and her dangerous, alien physique.

Alex’s position with the DEO brings some tension between the sisters. Much like Superman before her, we get the awesome “behind the alley, taking off the shirt to reveal costume” scene right before Kara goes and meets the man behind the plane engine failure, Vartox (Owain Yeoman). Needless to say, it doesn’t end well for her; she’s still learning. The DEO comes to Kara’s aid before it can get too messy.

There’s a nice little scene between Kara and Alex, who reveals her own insecurities. We’re also treated to a message by Kara’s birth mother, who tells her to be her own woman. Kara, with the approval of Alex and Henshaw, goes back to take on Vartox. She bests her man, after a brutal fight by using her laser eyes to heat up his special alien ax, though he takes his own life (and offers a cryptic warning).

Turns out, James knew about Kara the entire time. Her cousin (it’s always “he”…) told James to keep a look out for Kara and help her, but he also wanted her to find her own path.

It wouldn’t be a superhero show without a little epilogue, wouldn’t it? Kara’s aunt, Alura Zor-El appears to be the Big Bad the show was alluding to earlier. We learn that she wants to rule Earth (and was apparently meant to rule Krypton).

It has to be said about the special effect on this show. It’s not like the cheesy effects used on “Once Upon a Time”. Supergirl tries to ground itself in realism as much as possible.

We’re all probably wondering how this show will work on a network like CBS, home of the procedural (and dare I say, conservative viewer). If this pilot is anything to go by, I’d say they have it covered. There’s bound to be a bad of the week, as well as an overarching theme for the season.

“Supergirl” appears to be a breath of fresh air. With the inclusion of “Agent Carter” and the Netflix series, “Jessica Jones”, the rise of female-led superhero titles is prominent. Hopefully, the series can rejuvenate the tired male-dominated genre.

Supergirl airs Mondays at 8pm Eastern Standard Time on CBS.


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