Thursday, February 4, 2016

Supergirl: Stronger Together Review


Returning to the world of National City, we see that Stronger Together, Episode 2 of the debut season of Supergirl, has moved in a, yes, stronger direction.  Having gotten the introductions out of the way, we can start developing the characters (and even throwing in a few surprises our way).  Stronger Together does at times play like a repeat of the Pilot in terms of story, but that I figure is merely growing pains.

Supergirl aka Kara Danvers (Melissa Benoist) is still struggling to find her place in a world dominated by the legend of her younger cousin.  She has the heart to be a superhero, but while she's got the skills she still can't quite get the handle on the experience.  An effort to stop a fire from reaching an oil tanker proves successful, but in her efforts to pull the ship away from the fire (her efforts at blowing it out having failed), her strength pulls the ship apart...causing a major oil spill. This unfortunate incident draws the ire of National City magnet Maxwell Lord (guest star Peter Facinelli).  This dual disaster also irritates CatCo head Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart), who is both irritated and fascinated by Supergirl.  Cat, who started out as Perry White's assistant and clawed her way to her own empire, finds in Supergirl both a mirror image and a dumb girl mucking it for women everywhere (especially in the shadow of her more famous rival, Superman). 

Cat isn't above using James Olsen (Mehcad Brooks) to use his connections to land an interview with Supergirl, which he is reluctant to do.  Kara doesn't want to do it either.  Instead, she, James, and her friend-zone coworker Winn (Jeremy Jordan) decide she will go small-scale, to build up her rep and confidence.  This seems to have the desired effect: more positive press and rebuilding her reputation after the oil spill debacle.  However, Kara's sister Alex (Chyler Leigh) and Department of Extra-Normal Operations Hank Henshaw (David Harewood) aren't keen on this either.  Alex, in a Kryptonite-filled room, shows Kara that sheer strength isn't enough.  Whether Kara listens is another matter.

Despite her best intentions, there is still evil at work.  Kara's Aunt Astra (Laura Benati) is plotting against her niece for world domination.  To help in this, we get a Hellgramite, one of the aliens who escaped from the Phantom Zone prison where Astra was locked up too, by her own sister Alura (Benati in a dual role).  To try and draw the Hellgramite out, a trap is laid but in that Alex is captured.  Kara is stunned to find her Aunt alive and determined to kill her, but using Alex's words of wisdom, she realizes that one is 'stronger together' (which we learn is the El-Mara Family motto).

Astra is temporarily disabled, and Alex brings Kara to her own mini-Fortress of Solitude, where she has an emotional encounter with the hologram of her mother.  She also agrees to grant Grant that interview she wants (especially when she learns that James' job is threatened). 

We also learn that Dr. Henshaw has some secrets of his own (the red glowing eyes being a clue).

Friend?  Foe?  We shall see (even though I already know, it will be fun to see how they get there).

Stronger Together works primarily because the cast does so well, particularly Benoist as Kara/Supergirl.  We see in her performance the eagerness to do good with her lack of experience clearly coming through.  I think the audience can identify with Supergirl in that youthful mix of enthusiasm with clumsiness.  Benoist does not make Supergirl either a peppy girl jumping into things without thinking or someone just trying to prove herself.  Instead, she makes Supergirl into someone who wants to contribute to the world with the gifts she has, but who does come to understand that she still has a lot to learn.

After just two episodes, I think Benoist is simply the best choice for Supergirl, and if I had a daughter, I'd be thrilled to have her look to Supergirl as a role model.  Supergirl makes mistakes, sometimes doesn't take advise, but she also learns from her mistakes and is aware that she is stronger with a team around her.

Leigh holds her own as the older and wiser sister, who has a mix of wisdom and envy regarding Kara.  She has worked hard to get where she's at and truly loves her little sister, but a little part of her does have issues with the fact that Kara will best her in other ways.  The mix of sibling love/rivalry elevates Stronger Together.

Even Flockhart's "Devil Wears Prada"-type Cat now if nothing else has a bit of a motivation beyond being a stone-faced tyrant.  Learning that she started out as the assistant to Metropolis Daily Planet's editor Perry White gives a different dimension to her hostility.  Cat Grant is a woman who sees herself having fought hard to get where she's at, and Supergirl is, for her, a female Superman, who like Grant has to prove herself and not make all womankind look foolish or weak.  I find this a most fascinating track to take with Grant: instead of being monstrous just for being monstrous, Cat is in her own way a very fearful person, afraid of being dismissed due to her gender. As such, Supergirl to her holds both the promise and potential failure of feminism and true gender equality.

Flockhart also gets points for the following line: "Drunk at 9 a.m.  That's the last time I have breakfast with Ruth Bader Ginsberg".  That would explain some of Justice Ginsberg's rulings.

One thing I do wonder about is the odd relationships between Kara and Winn/James.  Despite everyone's best efforts, Winn isn't coming across as just Kara's perpetually frustrated friend with no benefits, he's coming across as her perpetually platonic gay friend.  Winn at one point brags to James, "I've got mad sewing skills," which makes James look twice at his potential rival.  Apart from Rosie Grier, I can't think of ANY man who openly brags about his 'sewing skills'.  The fact that Kara appears completely oblivious to Winn's clearly besotted nature and James' reaction to Winn's 'sewing skills' comments doesn't help matters.   I hope the love triangle business is hopefully dispensed soon, because it's not flying. 

Right now I'm on the fence regarding the more manly James.  I like my Jimmy Olsen to be a bit more insecure versus the strapping version we get here. 

I like that there is a mystery being built up regarding Harewood, and that while in a small role, Facinelli I figure is going to be more prominent.  One excellent quality in Stronger Together is how the fights are both really well-done and not afraid to show Supergirl get beat up.  Nothing too grisly, but seeing her take one on the chin is a sign the show is not afraid to tackle the violence a female superhero would face.

If it weren't for the somewhat repetitive nature of the episode (Supergirl has to fight another alien working with her evil aunt), the episode might have ranked higher.  However, thanks to great work by Benoist in particular and some wonderful moments of humor in the middle of the action, Stronger Together is another winner for this debut season.    



Next Episode: Fight or Flight


  1. I am not a big fan of this version of James Olsen either. I personally think the character needs to be recast.

    I think you will enjoy the various clues that are sprinkled regarding Hank Henshaw's identity takes before the big reveal. I definitely did.

    Cat Grant has a regular habit of calling out celebrities she has had encounters/transactions with. And Calista does a great job in the role.


    1. Thanks B2B!

      As I delve deeper into Supergirl, I hope to see it build upon its strengths. I'm especially looking forward to how Cat Grant is used (apart from being the 'mean girl' on the show).

      I'm not holding much blame re: Olsen. I can see why they went for a hunkier version of our formerly junior cup reporter (Winn filling in the dopey role). Whether Olsen's attributes go beyond being 'the hunk' remains to be seen...


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