‘Supergirl’ Pilot Recap: “The World Needs You to Fly”

After plenty of promotion by CBS, ‘Supergirl’ finally took flight this week in a one-hour premiere that I might have enjoyed a whole lot more if the show-runners didn’t feel the need to cram so much into it. It took ‘Smallville’ ten seasons to cover what ‘Supergirl’ gives us in one episode.

The pilot begins with a quick look at how Kara Zor-El made it to Earth in the first place. A cousin of Kal-El (that’s Superman for the uninitiated out there), Kara’s parents sent her to Earth at the age of 12 as a protector for the younger boy. However, when Krypton exploded, it sent Kara’s spaceship into the Phantom Zone (the Kryptonians’ version of a maximum security prison) where she spent 24 years (never aging) before escaping and making it to Earth. So, while Kara is still 12 when she arrives on our planet, Superman is already grown and doesn’t need her protection. He gives young Kara to a pair of scientists, the Danvers, to raise her as their own. (In a nice bit of stunt casting, Kara’s adoptive parents are played by former ‘Lois & Clark’ star Dean Cain and 1984’s Supergirl, Helen Slater). Kara also has a new older sister, Alex, whom we’ll learn more about later.

After this pre-title origin story, the pilot rejoins Kara’s life when she’s 24-years-old. (I guess she’s really 48, but the storyline ignores any mental development that might have occurred in her 24 years trapped in the Phantom Zone.) Since the world already has a hero in Superman, Kara’s plan is to just blend in with the rest of society. The show never addresses why Kara (Melissa Benoist) feels the need to wear glasses, other than the fact that it will prove handy after she decides to become Supergirl. Anyway, Kara works as an assistant for Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart), who runs the media conglomerate CatCo in National City (which is sort of like Metropolis, except it’s not, since Superman lives there and these characters need to stay apart). Grant is pretty much the stereotypical ‘Devil Wears Prada’ bitchy female boss in this first episode. One can only hope the character develops some, or she’s going to get real old real fast.

Kara is pretty much a gofer at the company, bringing Cat her morning coffee, running errands and getting treated poorly by her boss. She’s friends with Winn Schott (Jeremy Jordan), an IT guy who has a crush on her, and is also joined by James (only mom and Superman are allowed to call him “Jimmy”) Olson (Mehcad Brooks from ‘True Blood’), who has joined CatCo as the new photographer/art director.

The pilot’s best sequence is Kara’s first super feat. After getting ditched by a guy on a blind date (seriously dude, are you crazy?), she sees a news report about a plane in trouble. To make matters worse, Kara knows that her sister Alex (Chyler Leigh from Grey’s Anatomy’) is on the flight. So, sans any costume at this point, Kara goes and rescues the plane – setting it down in a river and saving all aboard. Instead of being thrilled that her sister saved them, Alex is ticked because Kara just revealed herself to the world. Good thing she’s been wearing those needless glasses, huh?

For whatever reason, one of the first things Kara feels the need to do is to tell Winn that she’s really the girl who saved the plane. Instead of just showing him by, I don’t know, crushing a rock or bending steel or something, Kara takes him up on the roof of the CatCo building so she can scare the willies out of him by jumping off. Winn then helps her design her Supergirl costume – which is the most logical part of this premiere, as Kara’s outfit looks exactly like something a nerdy hormonal IT guy would create for his hot female co-worker.

Up until this point, the pilot has been quite busy but fairly entertaining. The second half jumps the rails a bit. On her way to take care of a fire, the newly-dubbed Supergirl (named that by Cat Grant, and something the feminist Kara isn’t too happy about at first) gets hit by a couple of darts made of Kryptonite, causing her to fall out of the sky. When she comes to, she’s greeted by Hank Henshaw (David Harewood), who heads up the government’s Department of Extra-Normal Operations, or DEO. It seems that when Kara’s spaceship got free of the Phantom Zone, it also freed a large maximum security spaceship called Fort Rozz, which followed her to Earth and freed all its Kryptonian killers. Kara also discovers that her sister Alex has been working for the DEO as an agent all along.

The first such extraterrestrial escapee that Supergirl will have to deal with is Vartox (Owain Yeoman). He wants revenge on Kara once he learns that she’s the daughter of Alura Zor-El (Laura Benanti), the woman who sent him to prison in the first place. Vartox wields a large axe, and after a first battle where he gets the best of her, Kara meets up with him again at episode’s end to destroy his weapon using her heat vision. It’s never really explained why Vartox gives up after his axe is destroyed, but he decides to kill himself – telling Kara that she has no idea what’s coming for her before stabbing himself in the chest.

The pilot wraps up with James telling Kara that he knows she’s Supergirl and has, in fact, been sent to National City by Superman to keep an eye on her. Superman has also sent her a gift – the blanket he was wrapped in as a baby, which is made of indestructible cloth, and which Kara uses as her new cape. Viewers also learn who’s in charge of all the Kryptonian criminals – a General named Astra, who is the twin sister of Alura, and therefore Kara’s aunt.

I really enjoyed the first half of this premiere episode, and I think Melissa Benoist is going to make a great Supergirl. She brings both a joy and a sense of wonderment to the role that honestly has been missing from recent adaptations featuring Kara’s older (or younger, depending on how you look at things) cousin. My biggest problem is the need to introduce the Kryptonian prisoners and an evil aunt this early in the series’ run. This seems like something you’d develop in the second or third season of a series, after taking some time to develop the main characters. As it stands, ‘Supergirl’ is only one week old and already looks like it may turn into just another villain-of-the-week series, as Kara faces off against one Kryptonian after another in each entry.

Still, there’s more about this first episode to like than dislike, and – for now at least – I’ll keep tuning in to see where things lead.

Rating: B

So, what did everyone else thing of the pilot? Share your comments below!

7 comments

  1. I liked it. I agree with the “B” rating and the complaint that the pilot is overstuffed. However, Benoist is really appealing in the role and I like that the show has a lighter vibe in line with The Flash. (Greg Berlanti is a producer and has said that this show takes place in the same universe as Arrow and The Flash. So crossovers are not out of the question.)

    I also appreciate that the show isn’t afraid to be “girly,” even if it does sometimes uncomfortably resemble that Black Widow sketch Scarlett Johansson did on SNL a few months back.

    I’m not bothered by the introduction of the Kryptonian prisoners, except that it opens the question of what they’ve been doing for the last 20 years and why Superman hasn’t already taken care of them? For that matter, where’s Clark now? Why is he leaving his newbie unprepared cousin to clean up this very dangerous threat?

    Side question: If Supergirl is invulnerable to injury, why does she have a scar between her eyebrows? 🙂

  2. Bryan

    I really enjoyed this pilot (I will admit to having watched it a couple of months ago when it leaked online – but I also watched again when it aired). Melissa Benoist is really well cast as Kara/Supergirl. The only thing I really disliked was their constant references to “him” or “your friend in blue” – it’s like they were allowed to use the word “Superman” once (which they did near the beginning) and then weren’t able to call him that again. Hopefully those references will go out the window once the show is established. I also agree that Calista Flockhart’s character will quickly become annoying if they don’t change her up. Again, I don’t know if they were kind of overplaying it a bit in the pilot, just to drive the point home that she’s the worst boss ever, but hopefully they give her some additional character traits.

    All in all, though – I’ll definitely stick with it – I do kind of love the fact that it’s the same universe as Arrow and The Flash, and would love to see some kind of crossover in the future. (I love the potential of seeing characters from one show popping up on others at any time – I feel just like a kid reading a “team-up” comic when that would happen!)

    • I’m curious if the broadcast version of the pilot was changed at all after the leaked version? That sudden change of heart Kara’s sister had about supporting her as a superhero felt rushed, like it might have been the result of reshoots.

      • Shannon Nutt

        I didn’t see the leaked pilot, but I’ve heard from others that Winn’s character was original gay (or implied to be gay) in the earlier version.

  3. Bryan

    From what I recall from watching the leaked version, I seem to remember her going through 2 or 3 other versions of the costume before settling on what she ends up with. I’m not sure if Winn (I’m guessing that’s her IT friend – who’s name I didn’t even pick up after watching twice!) was really implied to be gay, or just that he had such a crush on Kara that he didn’t really go after any other women, so everybody thought he was gay. Maybe I’ll watch it again this weekend and see if there were any other differences.

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