Monday, October 26, 2015

REVIEW: 'Supergirl' - Kara Travels to Earth and Decides to Become Its Newest Hero in 'Pilot'

CBS' Supergirl - Episode 1.01 "Pilot"

After 12 years of keeping her powers a secret on Earth, Kara Zor-El, Superman's cousin, decides to finally embrace her superhuman abilities and be the hero she was always meant to be.

There was much trust heading into the series premiere of Supergirl because series co-creators Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg know how to craft a satisfying and entertaining superhero story for TV. They have proven themselves over the years on The CW's Arrow and The Flash. Now they are expanding their control of the genre with Supergirl. The new show will likely exist in its own universe for now. But it's as immediately captivating in its opening episode as those two dramas were at the start of their own runs. The story of Kara Zor-El is different than what they've done previously. But it's just as engaging to watch.

Kara was sent to Earth with a mission to protect her cousin, Superman, as he would become the hero he was destined to be. Her fate is tied to him in a huge way in this opening episode. His presence as a hero on Earth has affected her decisions and her own need to embrace her powers. And yet, it's noticeable that they never refer to Superman by his name. It's either "he" or "your cousin." At times, that is distracting. He is a crucial piece of Kara's story in this first episode. But no one can mention him by name? That's a weird stylistic choice. But it's what happens nevertheless. This show is never really going to be about him. He exists in this universe. The world knows who he is. The world doesn't know Kara and Supergirl though. The journey of the show will be her journey. It's one with ups and downs that are amusing and emotional to watch in this opening hour.

Kara chose to live a normal life. She wants to live in the shadows because her cousin didn't need her to protect him anymore. She no longer had a mission. Her parents put their trust in her and it wasn't even necessary. Superman was able to become a hero all on his own. He was the one who protected her when she came crashing onto Earth 24 years after he did. Without a mission, she feels like being normal is the only thing she needs to do. So she has traveled across the universe just to be an assistant to media mogul Cat Grant. That largely means fetching whatever she requires no matter how trivial. She isn't living up to her potential at the start of this episode. But by the end, she is the hero she has always been destined to be.

Kara's life changes because of her love for her sister, Alex. When Alex's plane starts to plummet from the sky, Kara is willing to risk everything just to save her life. The rush and excitement of that moment re-energizes Kara in a way that she hasn't felt in years. National City now knows that she exists and she couldn't be happier. It's a life so much more exciting than her normal day at CatCo. But with such excitement comes a whole lot of risk. There's so much about this world that Kara doesn't know about. She is not the only alien on the planet. Plus, she learns that Alex is actually an agent for the Department of Extra-Normal Operations (DEO) hunting down the alien threats that come from the spaceship that landed on Earth because of Kara.

In the beginning, Kara just wants to do her best to save the world from "simple" crimes like saving a plane, stopping a car chase and taking down bank robbers. Those are all tasks she can reasonably do without too much of a problem. But that's not the only threat she will be dealing with this season. This episode sets out to show that there are far worse problems in the universe that she has to face in order to protect the people of Earth. Exposing herself to the world puts a target on her back. That target is filled with such strong animosity because Kara's mother was the person responsible for imprisoning all the aliens that have escaped from the prison that Kara brought to Earth. Something is definitely amiss if those criminals are only starting to service now. It's tied to the big bad story of the season. The villain that Kara will have to face is The General, who just so happens to be her mother's twin sister. She is determined to rule the world. That means Kara will have to do battle with her own bloodline in order to fulfill her duty of being the hero Earth needs - on this corner of the planet. It's an exciting prospect for the series that is teased wonderfully throughout this hour. Sure, Kara needs more training when it comes to field combat. But she is slowly becoming the hero she has always wanted to be. That's very exciting. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "Pilot" was written by Ali Adler, Greg Berlanti & Andrew Kreisberg and directed by Glen Winter.
  • It appears every series regular knows Kara's big secret except for Cat Grant. Secret identities are a trademark of the genre. But they also get very tiresome very quickly on the TV show adaptations. There better be a way to make Cat just as important a character as everyone else.
  • Melissa Benoist is so great in this first episode. She really is the perfect Supergirl. And yet, she does a much better job at the hero moments than her awkwardness at work.
  • I cringed when Winn mentioned that Kara looked so beautiful without her glasses. It's still annoying whenever shows think that glasses can hide a person's secret identity or how beautiful they really are.
  • This show has some great and empowering feminist themes. It may have be a bit blunt at times though. Like the diner waitress loving there being a female superhero for her daughter to look up to or Alex explaining that the villain needs to take Supergirl less seriously because she's a girl. But then, there was also the wonderful scene where Cat explained why she loves Supergirl so much as a name.
  • Dean Cain and Helen Slater put in cameo appearances as the parents who take Kara in after she comes to Earth. That could just be a fun nod to their past connections to this genre. Or they could become more important characters later on.
  • I'm really excited to see more of Laura Benanti in this villainous role. She was fantastic when she was trying to inspire Kara as her mother. But she was just as captivating when embracing the General's evil plans for the future - even at the expense of her niece.