Supergirl – Mid-Season-2 Thoughts

In my post last year, I wrote about how I’d been champing at the bit for some female superheroes and how happy I was that we got Supergirl, my favorite of the DC heroes going back to my childhood back in the Silver Age. That still holds.

Supergirl has, rather unsurprisingly, become the show I most look forward to seeing. I figured I’d share my thoughts on the season so far (Spoilers, obviously — you’ve been warned):

New Home

With a sigh of relief, a lot of fans welcomed not only the show’s renewal, but its move from CBS to The CW. While not as high profile, it had long been argued that it was a better match. Time has shown that assessment to be true.

Supergirl has blossomed on the CW. This is partly due to a natural maturity as the writers have learned what worked and what didn’t in the first season. More than that, there seems to be a creative freedom, a willingness to go full-on comic book, that was lacking at staid, conservative CBS. The CW move has also, clearly, opened up the DC comics vault to allow Supergirl more freedom with the established menagerie of villains, allies, and heroes.

Sadly, amid all of this bounty of riches, one of the jewels in the crown was dimmed…Cat Grant.

Cat Grant

It was well documented that Calista Flockhart was not going to make a long-term move with the show, when it transferred production from Los Angeles to Vancouver, due to not wanting to disrupt her family. As a result, Cat Grant appeared in the first two episodes of the season, bid adieu as she ventured from CatCo to Eat, Pray, Snipe, and hasn’t been seen again.

I, like many fans, am a little surprised that Cat hasn’t had more of a presence. While, yes, she’s wandering the world, the fact is that Superman made more of a connection in Season 1 than Cat has since her departure. Since we live in the age of airplanes, I though Calista might fly up to Vancouver once every month or two, film a barrel of scenes for several episodes in 3-5 days, and then head back down the coast. But nothing like that happening has been reported.

When you rewatch the start of the season, you are immediately struck with how important Cat Grant is for lifting the show to an even higher level, and it makes her absence all the more keen. After Alex, Cat is Kara’s most important person.

Alex

Photo: Bettina Strauss/The CW — © 2016 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved

Without a doubt, Alex has been given the most profound arc of the first half of the season what with her coming out and all. That a character was going to be revealed as gay was foretold by the producers before the season aired, so the fact of it wasn’t much of a surprise. What was a surprise was how well it was handled.

Starting with episode 5, when we got Alex’s first overt self-realizations, the standard of care of her progress has been nothing sort of amazing (albeit much much compressed from real life).

Don’t take my word for it. There are reaction videos on YouTube from so many vloggers who, in episode 6 especially, went from “here we go” to being rendered to tears at the stunning familiarity and honesty of Alex coming out to Kara. I watched dozens of these videos from around the world, and their reactions were amazingly similar — even bringing many of them to suspend the playback (which almost never happens) so they could take time to comment. For a sampling, you can try (warning, a fair amount of NSFW exclamations): Rin watches Supergirl (Reaction) 2×06 “Changing” (rophydoes), Supergirl Season 2 Episode 6 “Changing” REACTION (Free Bicycle Tours), Supergirl, Reaction 2×06 “Changing” (Leksa’s Keryon), Supergirl reaction [2×06] “Changing” (biclexual), and many many more — just follow the links on YouTube.

I was deep into the Xena – Warrior Princess fandom back in the day. Let me tell you, the six seasons of “subtext” (and not-so-subtext) never came close to garnering the sort of reaction Supergirl managed in just four episodes. Oh, the excitement was there (I was on many maillists, forums, and attended many watch parties), but the depth wasn’t as profound.

This actually has more resonance with the Willow and Tara relationship on Buffy. Society (and the WB) were more accepting of an overt, post-Xena, lesbian storyline that wasn’t played with a wink and a nod.

Times change.

It’s said that the producers are committed to this relationship long-term, warts and smiles and all. If true, they deserve a heartfelt, totally non-sarcastic slow clap.

Mon-El

The mystery of who/what was in the pod that crashed to Earth in the season 1 finale were answered: Mon-El of Daxam. Ostensibly a guard for the royal prince, he’s clearly not told his whole backstory — which he might have, had Jeremiah not rescued him and Kara from the cages of Cadmus, and which was implied by the mid-season finale scene of aliens desperately searching for him at any cost. To me this implies he’s the prince, but I’ll just have to wait and see like the rest of the audience. He could just as easily be Daxam’s “Jack the Ripper”.

For now, it looks like Mon-El is supposed to be fledgling love interest for Kara. I mean, they did kiss, after all, and he’s likeable enough. I’m hoping it’s a bit of a misdirect. I’m far from the only fan who thinks that Supergirl/Kara works best as a single. Trying to be human as well as still growing into being Supergirl is a lot to have on someone’s plate. Also, a romantic relationship dilutes her other relationships with Alex, Kal, Cat, J’onn, Eliza, and so on.

I could see Mon-El evolving to be like Kara’s well-meaning but troublesome younger brother. It’s gives Kara someone whom she relates to more than most, but still preserves the close ties with her family.

Fandom is decidedly mixed about this character’s relationship to Kara. There is a very vocal contingent that is not in favor of Mon-El + Kara at all. Another, somewhat less strident camp, wants to see them hook up. I’m sort of in the middle. As I said, Mon-El is likeable enough, but I do side with keeping it chaste between them.

All of this assumes, of course, that Mon-El is more than a one season character on this show. The folks in the creative suite might have other plans.

Lena

Supers need their Luthors, and Supergirl now has hers. Actually, two (more on that, later).

Lena Luthor, Lex’s adoptive sister, is trying to make a name for herself with the rebranded company, L-Corp, so as to stand out from the shadow of her more famous family members — something with which Kara can relate. In fact, Lena and Kara bonded remarkably quickly. So much so that many fans are shipping “SuperCorp” (Supergirl + L-Corp).

While I don’t think anyone seriously thinks that Kara is particularly sapphic, Katie McGrath has definitely imbued Lena with a vibe that obviously draws her to our superhero. While Lena seems to have found a surrogate sister with Kara, she is definitely into Supergirl herself — whether as just a fangirl or something more is TBD.

In lieu of Kara being in a romantic relationship with anyone, her having a friendship with Lena is an intriguing possibility. Kara doesn’t seem to have many friends, certainly none who don’t already know her secret. She seems genuinely surprised that Lena has extended her hand in what seems to be genuine friendship. As Ms Luthor accidentally pointed out, they are similar peas from very different pods. Lena wants to have a connection that she never had with her mother and lost when betrayed by Lex’s obsession with Superman. With Cat away, Kara is missing that connection to the normal human world (well, one that’s populated by CEOs who like her, but…baby steps) that addresses an external need not even her family can fill.

Lena has been a welcome surprise this season. She’s like Kara’s second Cat but one less interested in mentoring her than being her friend. I like it.

The Martians

The show dropped another turning-a-new-leaf character on the fans with M’gann M’orzz — aka Miss Martian, aka Megan Morse. She makes for an interesting character — basically an SS-type that wanted out. The long-term dilemma: do you judge her on her deeds before or after she had a turn of heart?

Clearly, J’onn is of the “before” point of view. Even so, now that he’s all healed from the transfusion that saved his life but was turning him into a White Martian, I suspect that his sense of morality will lead him to release her back into the wild with the equivalent of a restraining order. Alex and/or Kara will likely be less judgemental as they don’t carry the baggage that J’onn does. It’s probably through some adventure stemming from that that J’onn will finally, begrudgingly, come around.

I like having Martians around to balance out the Earthers and Kryptonians. When J’onn finally buries the hatchet with M’gann, the story possibilities become interesting — especially when other White Martians drop on by.

The Boys

Oh Winn. Oh James. What are we going to do with you?

Winn finding a new home at the DEO makes for a good match. He’s where the character makes the most sense. James, on the other hand, still seems to be trying to find his place in the world. Being a photographer and friend to a superhero wasn’t enough. Changing cities and getting a promotion wasn’t enough. Being the CEO pro tempore isn’t enough. “Isn’t enough” seems to be a problem not only for James but for the audience in regards to him.

Here’s the thing: everyone is pulling for Mehcad. He’s a great part of the show. Trouble is, no one knows what to do with him. While I applaud the attempt from the start to remake “Jimmy” as “James”, I don’t think anyone has really bought into it. Winn is “Jimmy”. He’s everything we’d expect from a “Jimmy”. The fact that we get that contrast constantly underscores that however much we like Mehcad, “James” is not and likely never will be “Jimmy” on this show. As a result, James has as little reason to be there now as Lucy Lane did last season.

I know some rabid fans are very happy to see James as the Guardian. Me? Eh. In a land with aliens with superpowers, a breakable guy in a metal suit is kind of underwhelming. The multi-show crossover sort of made that clear. The supers and the metas were in a different class than the vigilantes. (Oliver’s request that Kara “not hold back” was laughable — if she didn’t, they’d be dead with the first punch or targeted heat-vision blast.) That might fly on Earth-1, but on Earth-38 (Supergirl’s Earth), it just doesn’t quite work. Besides, as Syndrome pointed out in The Incredibles, “When everyone’s super… no one will be.” There simply is no need for the character at this time.

This sort of leaves us at a crossroads. We have one character whose stock has risen by a change in circumstance, and another who is struggling to find relevance. If the CW ever decides to do a Superman show, having James there would be a really good choice, I think. He and Tyler Hoechlin had great chemistry. And speaking of Tyler….

Superman

Look at the length of that cape!

After a season of increasingly awkward teases, we finally got to see this universe’s incarnation of the Man of Steel. Except for a cape that is 7-8 cm (3 inches) too long* he’s pretty much the Superman many/most of us have been desperate for.
*(I mean, seriously, how is he not catching a heel in it all the time? Edna Mode would have definite opinions about that.)

A lot of people like Snyder and Cavill’s take on the last son of Krypton. For myself, having been raised on the “silver age” version, I’m obviously more attuned to the quippy too-good-to-be-true Superman. The Donner/Reeve sensibility found a welcome place with the Earth-38 Man of Steel. In fact, I think he might even be the best overall combo of Clark and Kal, as he’s comfortably believable as both.

The show runners did an amazing job with toeing the line. Too much Superman and people would be crawling through the screen to replace Kara with Kal. Too little Superman and it is patronizing fanservice. Somehow, a balance was found to establish that each has their corner of the planet and the occasional visit wouldn’t be out of place.

Cadmus

Remember that second Luthor I mentioned? Lillian Luthor, mother of Lex and adoptive mother of Lena just happens to run the alien-hater research-and-destroy group known as Project Cadmus (or just Cadmus to its friends). Lillian raises Lex’s anti-Superman hate to the next level — one that seriously endangers every alien refugee and visitor on Earth. She carries with her the purity of conviction not often seen outside White Martian death camps.

Cadmus makes for a brilliant foe for the supers. In order to spare Kara from falling into Henshaw’s clutches, Jeremiah offered up not only himself but his considerable knowledge of Superman. In the ensuing dozen years or so, Cadmus has developed tech (often of the cyborg variety) designed to bring down Kryptonians based on the info Jeremiah provided. As we’ve seen with Metallo and Cyborg Superman (aka the “real” Hank Henshaw), they haven’t wasted their resources. These cyborgs are every bit the match to our primary-color-clad heroes, if not more so.

Lillian having to battle not only her Kryptonian nemeses but her unloved daughter as well makes for the sort of conflicted yet driven villain Maxwell Lord tried to be but couldn’t.

The FX

An obvious point of improvement has been with the CG and practical effects. The flight and especially the fight choreography has been much improved. Not to say everything is perfect. Parasite’s growth spurt with his feet sliding on the ground, J’onn’s green White Martian’s slow and awkward gait, and the CG Supergirl’s rigging, especially with the neck armature and hair effects, could use a little tweaking. Still, it’s all better than even the FX on the Flash which is its nearest rival.

The Crossover Event

Photo: Bettina Strauss/The CW — © 2016 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

While the three night crossover of four shows was overall very strong, Supergirl was obviously shorted. A lot of Supergirl fans were very vocal in their complaints that not only was the show’s part of the crossover pretty much limited to the tag, but that the scene being repeated in The Flash‘s segment only underscored how tacked-on it was.

While her presence in The Flash was lauded (though some gnashing of teeth was had with the lack of Sara + Kara), that did not extend to the other nights. Supergirl and Flash only made a token appearance in Arrow, with Supergirl delivering what should have been a fatal punch. And in Legends… Oliver sidelining Kara because it was outside of his grasp of normal — whatever that was supposed to mean — made no sense at all to anyone. Put on your big-boy panties, Ollie, Kara alone could probably have accomplished the mission. Yeesh!

Obviously the economies of the various shows factored into how much of Supergirl could be featured. Hers are the costliest and most time-consuming of the effects-heroes because of the combined flying and CG. Also, from a creative standpoint, Supergirl is so over-powered compared to everyone else on Earth-1 that it’s almost laughable. Compared to other aliens she regularly defeats, the Dominators were a walk in the park.

Hopefully the next major crossover event will have more Earth-38 influence.

Miscellany

I still hope that someone figures out a way for Supergirl to fly out of her apartment in some manner other than in full view of several surrounding skyscrapers. This should also be an issue for the DEO. Given that they are supposed to be a secret organization, having the red and blue streak constantly flying to the balcony of a specific floor is bound to capture somebody’s attention.

We finally saw Alex’s apartment! Woohoo! Considering that Kara’s apartment was originally Alex’s, you can see that one person influenced both decors.

I’m so thankful that the appearances of Snapper Carr have been minimal. Other than his showdown with James, and prompting Kara’s ineffectual (though entertaining) attempts at anger, Snapper lacks every necessary quality that made our abrasive Cat human. If he’d been made less obstreperous then maybe some of the rough edges could have been formed to being a character more like Lou Grant. Too late now, I think.

As always, any episode with Helen Slater in it is a good episode. I wouldn’t mind a little more Eliza Danvers helping out at the DEO. As for that other Danvers parent, what Jeremiah’s place is with Cadmus is anyone’s guess. Hope he’s still on the right side of good.

The show could use some stronger male supporting characters (not that I’m against having a female-majority show — the other CW DCTV shows certainly run amok with the testosterone at times). Right now we have J’onn and Winn as solid supports. As mentioned, I’m not seeing James pulling his weight. Mon-El is getting there, but isn’t there yet.

I like the recurring background aliens. In only a couple of appearances, Brian is becoming one I’m looking forward to seeing (sort of like Clem, in Buffy the Vampire Slayer).

Maggie Sawyer is a great addition to the cast of characters. I don’t imagine they’ll be able to keep Kara’s secret from her for long, which is sort of a pity. She being a police detective expands the world to a degree unimagined in season 1.

Lynda Carter as the (alien) President of the United States. Nice. I also love that Melissa said she got pointers from the one-time Wonder Woman on how to do the twirl seen in the episode.

The alien bar was inspired. It provides access to a lot of transient characters that wasn’t possible before. Also, it’s nice to see our regular cadre of aliens have a place where they can let down their hair. My only complaint is that there are way too many humans there.

I do wish they’d tone down the Super-hair flip after landing thing. It doesn’t so much look dramatic as it does blinding and delaying. Head up, eyes on target, hair not in eyes, easy peasy.

[Added note] I was reflecting on when Mon-El was in quarantine and Kara asked if he “liked” her. Comedy ensued because of the language barrier. Why wouldn’t they communicate in Kryptonese or Daxamian (or whatever — how come Earth is the only world with multiple languages)? Is English Kara and Mon-El’s only lingua franca? (Also, side question: are they using a constructed Kryptonese or are they just assembling random word sounds and pretending it’s a language?)

In Conclusion

As I wrote this time last year: I love that this show is on the air. If I were once again a young screenwriter, I’d be submitting spec scripts in the hopes of landing a gig in the writers room.

El mayarah: “stronger together”

I fervently hope that the creative team and the suits in the CW executive suites understand how important this property is at this time. The U.S. 2016 elections started a wave that is going to impact a lot of people who don’t have the option of running for shore. In times like these, there need to be oases such as Supergirl — places where a weekly message of hope isn’t a just a slogan, and the idea of “stronger together” is plainly writ large on the chest of our hero.

There will be a temptation to make this show grittier/more “realistic”. That would be a mistake. We’ve seen how damaging it has been for the goodwill previously built up for The Flash. The audience hasn’t fled yet, but there are rumblings if the show doesn’t lighten up a bit.

Supergirl, the show executive producer Andrew Kreisberg described as the “flagship”, needs and deserves to have “most favored nation” status with the network if only for the message it gives to the masses feeling abandoned or disenfranchised by those who eschew anyone or anything outside their narrow definition of “normal”. This means that the network heads need to champion the show and its message regardless of any reasonable variance in its numbers. If they want to get more eyes on screens, the best way is to reach out to the very people that the character Supergirl tries to protect every episode. Let them know that hope matters to the CW, too.

So far, the second season of Supergirl has been head and shoulders above a not-too-shabby first season. If everyone around it is willing to let it grow and fully flower for this and the coming seasons, there isn’t any reason why it can’t become as legendary or long-lived as some of the shows upon whose shoulders it stands.

Khao-shuh

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