Monday, October 9, 2017

REVIEW: 'Supergirl' - Kara Tries to Focus on Being Supergirl Which Also Pushes Her Friends Away in 'Girl of Steel'

The CW's Supergirl - Episode 3.01 "Girl of Steel"

Kara deals with the loss of Mon-El by focusing all her energy on being Supergirl and the mysterious new threat against National City. Alex confesses a secret to Maggie about their impending nuptials. A citizen of National City has a mysterious connection to Kara, and Lena makes a bold move.

There's a sense of growth and maturity at the heart of "Girl of Steel" that is very much appreciated. That's a little surprising to say because the main plot of the premiere involves Kara disconnecting from her life as a human and pushing away the people who love her the most. Six months have passed since the conclusion of the second season. Time has passed since Kara had to make that heart-wrenching decision to send Mon-El away from Earth knowing that he could never return. Of course, it was only an effective moment if the audience bought into the great romance between Kara and Mon-El. It was a very problematic dynamic last season. At times, Mon-El was too much of a co-lead in this story and took time away from Kara without much purpose. The show seems to have recognized that and course corrected a little bit. The impact of Mon-El is still heavily felt throughout this opening hour. It also seems inevitable that the show will find a way to bring him back into this narrative. That's basically what the narrative teased at the end of last season with his pod being sucked into some portal in space. This hour doesn't set out to provide any explanation for what happened to him. It keeps the story focused on Kara and how she is reacting to this tremendous loss. That's a fascinating and strong story. It's her lashing out in a way that feels genuine. The show has always been at its best when it's explored issues of identity. Those themes are predominantly featured throughout "Girl of Steel." And it doesn't feel like things reach a simple resolution in the end either so that everything can go back to the way it's always been.

Kara is choosing to live her life as Supergirl instead of Kara Danvers. Making the decision that forced Mon-El to leave was the hardest thing she's ever had to do. No one can truly understanding just how difficult that moment was. Not even Clark. He even noted that he probably wouldn't have been strong enough to make that decision. As such, Kara is equating Supergirl as her persona of strength. She looks at her life as Kara Danvers as incredibly trivial. She no longer sees the point in working at CatCo as a journalist. She doesn't see why she should be wasting her time maintaining that secret identity when she's capable of being this incredible superhero who can make an immediate difference in people's lives. Of course, she's not enjoying being Supergirl either. This show has been successful so far because it isn't as moody as some of the other Arrowverse shows on The CW. It's allowed to be fun, bright and upbeat. This isn't a show where Kara is off brooding in a corner and keeping secrets from the people she loves in order to protect them. She enjoys being a superhero. She enjoys being the savior of National City who the people can look up to and depend upon. But now, she's just doing the heroics. She's not being an active part of the community anymore. It's just a job now. She hears people who need saving and she goes to stop crime wherever it appears. She still ultimately values saving lives above catching the bad guys. But she's not trying to be a role model who interacts with the people that she serves. That's a key difference.

And yet, it's impossible for Kara to separate her life as Supergirl with her life as Kara Danvers. She wants to believe they are two people inside of her that have been able to coexist up to this point. She's been able to have a career at CatCo while still being effective as a superhero. But she can't be that way anymore. She's tried to be a human. She's tried to blend into this new planet she has made her home. But she will always be an alien who is different from everyone else. It's easy for her to identify as a Kryptonian first. She believes it's silly she ever tried to live as a human. She shouldn't concern herself in that way anymore. But these aren't two different personalities for her. Both of them are defined by her empathy for other people. She's excelled in both areas of life because she cares about people and wants to improve their lives. Kara and Supergirl go about things in different ways. But the end result is usually beneficial to the people she is trying to help. Right now, Kara is grieving and lashing out at the world. She's dreaming of Mon-El and her mother. She desperately wants to reunite with them. In waking up from that dream, she's hit with the realization that it was all just a fantasy. To her, Kara Danvers is gone. That's such a huge and destructive thing for her to say to Alex. It's how she's feeling. It alienates her from her friends. But it's also impossible for her to truly believe that. She can't push away this core part of herself who needs to be empowering, strong and caring.

Kara understands that as well. And yet, she's still barely able to crack a smile when she sees the monument the city has made to honor her. The villain-of-the-week story isn't all that interesting. It doesn't inform something new and thematically resonant within Kara. She just needs to stop Bloodsport before he is able to drop a bomb on the city without anyone knowing it. It's a pretty formulaic story building to an inevitable conclusion where the villain attacks during the grand unveiling ceremony. The events spirals into chaos and Supergirl needs to swoop in to save the day. Of course, it's still very fun and exciting to watch. It's different because it includes Supergirl using her powers underwater. The show doesn't do a great job in explaining if her powers work exactly the same underwater as they do in the air. It's just important for the audience to accept that. She needs to use her hearing to find the submarine. Then, she needs to use her strength to keep it from destroying the oceanfront to the city. At one point, she seems defeated. It's in that moment where she needs Mon-El to wake her up and remind her of her inner strength. It's a powerful moment. It leads Kara to act like Supergirl once more. She saves the day but she also sets out to protect her friends as well. She's willing to be a part of this family once more. In the end, it's just a simple hangout at the bar. But it's the first step towards being herself again.

The rest of the premiere feels mostly like setup for the season to come. That's perfectly fine as well. It's how most premieres operate. Of course, things are very emotional when it comes to Alex and Maggie's wedding. They are moving forward on the nuptials. There's some tension regarding whether or not they want a big wedding. It leads to a nice moment of the two of them talking things out before everything goes awry at the unveiling ceremony. Meanwhile, it's very effective and moving to watch as Alex asks J'onn to walk her down the aisle. It's a funny moment because they don't want their tears to lead to their colleagues believing they are soft and vulnerable leaders. But it's a very strong moment that is rewarding for that relationship and the audience. The other big developments include Lena buying CatCo. Cat is busying being the press secretary for the President. That provides the show with a number of opportunities to do smart and insightful commentary about real-life politics. Here, Cat even says that a person has to be dumber than a toddler not to believe in climate change. And Lena taking over should be a fun change of pace that allows her to interact with more characters - such as James - as well. And finally, there's the introduction of new series regular Odette Annable as Samantha. She appears here as nothing more than a mother to a preteen who attends the unveiling ceremony. When things turn disastrous, she is able to tap into some super-strength powers she didn't know she had to save her daughter's life. That's an intriguing moment that I'm curious to see how it will play out in the future of this narrative.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Girl of Steel" was directed by Jesse Warn with story by Andrew Kreisberg and teleplay by Robert Rovner & Caitlin Parrish.
  • In case you didn't know heading into this premiere, the show has recast Kara's mom. Erica Durance has replaced Laura Benanti in the role. It seems like a fair trade. The resemblance is there to make it less noticeable. But if you didn't know about the recast, I wonder how that open scene played for you? It's not until much later when Kara is talking with J'onn that she notes that she sees her mother in her dreams.
  • The villain's motivations for his actions are all wrapped up in the introduction of Adrian Pasdar as Morgan Edge. That's not a subtle new character at all. In fact, it's a very broad character with very blunt writing. He's a real estate tycoon who is also a huge misogynist. Again, it's a timely characterization that should be fascinating to see play out in this world. But it's pretty obvious what the show is doing as well.
  • The second season ended with the tease that there was yet another pod that was able to escape Krypton during its destruction. That could possibly be the pod that is discovered near the end of the premiere after the rocks on the oceanfront have been destroyed a little bit by the various missiles. That's an intriguing tease as well.
  • Kara's identity crisis shouldn't be an easy fix. It's apparent that her friends have been trying to get her to act like herself again for awhile. They've made these speeches to her for the last few months. They've tried being patient with her and are now being a bit more forceful. That feels genuine. But she shouldn't suddenly be herself again in the next episode.
  • It's still incredibly silly that Lena doesn't know that Kara is Supergirl. She knows that Mon-El was from Daxam and needed to leave the planet. She knows that Kara is grieving his loss. But she still doesn't know the truth about Supergirl and why Kara has been so distant lately. That friendship means so much. The two working together should make it even stronger moving forward.