Monday, November 2, 2015

REVIEW: 'Supergirl' - Kara Learns How to Be a Better Hero and Meets Her Aunt Astra Again in 'Stronger Together'

CBS' Supergirl - Episode 1.02 "Stronger Together"

When Kara's attempts to help National City don't go according to plan, she must put aside the doubts that she - and the city's media - has about her abilities in order to capture an escapee from the Kryptonian prison, Fort Rozz. Cat pressures James to use his connection to Superman to get her an interview with Supergirl.

"Stronger Together" is a really strong second episode for Supergirl. With all the plot and character introductions out of the way, the hour is able to better explore the emotional dynamics between the characters. It's just as clunky as that first episode was. The villain of the week is less interesting than the one from the premiere. Additionally, the themes of the first hour are largely repeated again here. But "Stronger Together" also features a number of really exciting moments that show just how strong this show can be as an ongoing series.

Kara wants to be a superhero. And yet, she is very inexperienced. She has all of these wonderful powers. She can make a difference and help the people of National City. But just because she has these powers doesn't mean she knows how to effectively use them in the field. She's still very new to heroics. She's so excited about putting on the cape and saving lives. However, that comes with so much responsibility. Something that she isn't really well-equipped to handle right now. She doesn't know how to use all of her skills yet. She has no real training on how to best help the citizens of this city. So even though she can rescue a plane and stop an oil tanker from exploding, there are still consequences to those actions. She didn't think about those in the moment. Just because she did something good doesn't make her the hero she wants to be. She can't just be Superman even though everyone keeps comparing her to him.

Kara is knocked down quite literally in this episode. First, she creates a massive oil spill that turns the media against her. And then, Alex defeats her in a hand-to-hand battle. The victory she achieves flying through Henshaw's obstacle course is short-lived. Nothing but disaster follows that. However, that highlights some fantastic character interactions as Kara realizes what she needs to do in order to be good at this hero thing. Cat comes up with the suggestion that Supergirl needs to start smaller and earn her way into the hearts of the people of National City. She can't just start at the top because every little mistake will be criticized under a microscope. It opens up the dialogue of how good women have to be in comparison to men. It's brief but very important in shaping Kara's arc through the remainder of the episode.

Because of Cat's advice, Kara starts flying around the city stopping a low-level robbery, rescuing an ambulance stuck in traffic and getting a pet snake down from a tree. That's enough to smooth over the media's concerns about her presence in the city. But that's not what this episode is really about. Sure, Kara does gain more confidence by doing all of these small things well and winning over people through a personal touch. But big things are happening too. There is a new alien threat to the city that the DEO is investigating. An insect-based creature called a Hellgrammite is stealing chemicals that can be used to build a bomb. Kara is able to identify him because of her vast knowledge of aliens from her time on Krypton. That's a skill that Superman doesn't have. It also proves her value to the DEO. She may not know a ton about this creature - including the fact that he's stealing these chemicals to eat in order to survive. But it's still a resource that could become invaluable in the future.

Of course, the Hellgrammite really isn't all that important in the grand scheme of things in this episode. He is merely a pawn for Astra to come into contact with Kara. It's fantastic that Kara is made aware of the big threat she faces this season so early on. Not only does she learn that she still has family alive, she learns that her beloved aunt is the one who wishes her so much harm right now. It's a complicated emotional realization that she has. She's going to rescue Alex from the Hellgrammite and realizes that he isn't the one she should be afraid of. Astra was sent to Fort Rozz by Alura for attempting to save Krypton. Now, she is trying to do the same for Earth. It just feels like villainous acts to Kara and the rest of the DEO team. Kara refuses to join Astra on her mission which leads to the first big fight between the family members. It's a pretty great display of technical proficiency, special efforts and stunt work. It's exciting to watch as Kara learns how to implement all her new fighting techniques into battle. It's just much more difficult now that the woman she is battling also shares a face with her mother.

But it's just the first battle in the ongoing war for the season. Henshaw appears and is able to send Astra fleeing once he wounds her with a blade made out of Kryptonite. It's a weakness that Astra didn't know she had until that moment. She thought she was invincible to the human race. And now, that is proven otherwise. However, she now has Kryptonite too and knows that it can harm her race. How long until she decides to use that against Kara? Kara may be learning all that she can about Astra from the Kryptonian artificial intelligence program the DEO has put together. That's a device that could really come in handy when learning about the various alien races in the future. But it also highlights just how strong the bond is between Kara and Alex. They are the family worth fighting for. Astra may be related by blood but Alex is the one who Kara chooses to save. That's a crucial emotional moment that needed to happen before things got even more complex later on this season.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Stronger Together" was directed by Glen Winter with story by Greg Berlanti & Andrew Kreisberg and teleplay by Andrew Kreisberg & Ali Adler.
  • Cat is pressing James very hard to get a one-on-one interview with Supergirl. James left Metropolis in order to better define himself as his own person. So Cat asking this was very disheartening. And yet, Kara still does the interview in order to protect James' job as well as help Cat shape her story to the rest of the world.
  • It's explained that Kara and her cousin don't need masks to conceal secret identities because no human will look at them with the belief that an alien walks among them wanting to have a normal job just like them. It's a weak explanation but it's what the show is doing nevertheless.
  • Clark Kent, Lois Lane and the Daily Planet all get shout outs as Cat realizes that CatCo isn't the home for exclusive content with Supergirl yet.
  • James and Winn learn that each other knows Kara's big secret. They then form a pretty effective team as they help Kara make a difference in National City. Though it's still very much apparent that James and Winn are fighting for Kara's affections. Right now, it seems like James is winning. Though that's just because he and Kara have a couple pep talks.
  • Something is amiss with Henshaw. In the end as he walks away from a conversation with Alex, his eyes turn red for a second. That can only signal problems in the future.