Super Cousins Unite: “Supergirl” Season 2 premiere brings big adorkable fun

Supergirl Season 2, Episode 1: “The Adventures of Supergirl.” Directed by Glen Winter, teleplay by Jessica Queeler. SPOILERS BELOW

“I’ve dreamt of this moment!”

We all have, Kara: Clark! Metallo! Another Luthor! Yes, these are all mythology moments for the sake of fanservice–but they are part of a fun, entertaining episode that largely eschews pointless drama (barring James and Kara) and keeps the best parts of Supergirl despite a new network and filming location.

The fear I had going into Season 2 of Supergirl was how much would change, in the look and the kinds of stories told, in moving production from Los Angeles to Vancouver, and the channel (but thankfully not the time slot) from CBS to the CW. The revised opening for this episode summarizes almost all of Season 1, minus a Max Lord, a Lucy Lane, and a Non, while letting new CW viewers know who are Supergirl Kara Danvers’s (Melissa Benoist) adoptive sister Alex (Chyler Leigh), Martian mentor J’onn (David Harewood), and the Big Guy himself, Superman Clark Kent (Tyler Hoechlin). And aside from a random shot of the Vancouver Tower in the background during John Corbin’s (Frederick Schmidt) drone attack on Lena Luthor’s (Katie McGrath–no relation) helicopter, the transition is largely seamless–a few less palm trees than before, but not bad. Plus, the shift to the CW is beneficial to bring Supergirl with her other Berlanti Arrow-verse shows, as well as increased exposure, thanks to the new CW app for watching all of its DC shows for free.

What also makes the transition seamless is the major distraction: we got Clark! And they didn’t screw him up! This version is a stunning, if unintentional correction to the pointless grimness applied by Snyder’s interpretation for Man of Steel: this is the midwestern Boy Scout who can still face down J’onn over a stockpile of Kryptonite, joke around with his cousin, and actually walk down a line shaking hands with DEO agents like he’s Obama at a state visit.

While this interpretation of Clark in Supergirl borrows heavily from the Christopher Reeve model, complete with bumbling alter-ego and hints of the John Williams theme song, this character does stand out in other ways, notably physically. His build and height are a lot smaller than I’m used to in some imaginings of the character, making him and Kara’s strength look more impressive, more Kryptonian bang per inch. Plus it helps set a reality in which no one would recognize a lanky Clark as the buff Superman: here, ??? gets to be Clark in more settings so that that person is not simply a mask, as it was in the Reeves films, but Perry White’s employee, Lois Lane’s boyfriend, Cat Grant’s (Calista Flockhart) crush, James Olsen’s buddy, and Kara Danvers’s cousin.

This is Clark Kent as Superman, and the show thankfully remembers that the adorkable qualities are inherent to him–thanks to Kara matching his adorkableness moment by moment, not letting him overshadow her as she does as much work to stop a building from falling, saving Lena Luthor, and saving Alex, all while bragging to children that she changed Superman’s diapers as an infant. The writers chose well in introducing him as not the only superhero: while Metropolis hopes the will save the experimental rocket, National City is just as adamant about Supergirl as well. The two characters are not competing, they aren’t being jerks to each other for the sake of drama (although spoilers suggest Clark will butt heads enough with J’onn and Alex over their concerns for Kara’s well-being), and they are given details to make them stand out: even their versions of the Super-S logo differ, Clark’s having the yellow backdrop, Kara’s the blue.

I don’t know how often his character will appear on the show, seeing as his presence obviously can overshadow her in her own world and in pop culture, but with Lena Luthor moving her adoptive brother’s business from Metropolis to National City, I anticipate Clark will be around a few times to help his cousin. And if J’onn gets rid of the Kryptonite hoard at the DEO, even more frequently.

This episode seems like it was produced with the intention of being a two-parter, given some unfinished details: learning who is the boy in the Kryptonian pod (spoiler: it’s Mon-El), Clark asking Kara for more information about his parents, J’onn in conflict with Clark over the DEO holding onto Kryptonite, and John Corbin’s transformation into a rather disappointing Metallo. What, he just has hardened metallic skin and maybe a Kryptonite chest cavity? That’s it? I know many of us mocked how poorly Red Tornado looked in Season 1, but Supergirl cannot just skate along with only multi-colored makeup humans. After the relatively well done look for Brainiac Indigo last season, this show must remain ambitious, especially when fellow DC multiverse show The Flash went from a realistic Gorilla Grodd to an even more out-there Killer Shark.

But the most compelling unfinished detail in this episode goes to Cat Grant. As with Season 1, Grant remains a compelling character who serves not only as a mentor to Kara but also a reflection on numerous challenges for women in their professional and personal lives. Quick-witted, smart, witty, no-nonsense, yet with realistic limitations and challenges that affect her day-to-day life, Grant is the kind of grounded reality I want in a superhero story, far more than de-powering superheroes or writing away the fantastic settings and macguffins. That Grant has a crush on Clark didn’t even bother me that much: hardly turning her into a character whose integrity evaporates a la Kristen Wiig’s character around Chris Hemsworth’s in Ghostbusters, this is a detail that fills out the past of Grant and Clark back in Metropolis and gives minor exposition while getting to see both characters as likable, adorkable persons. (Yes, “adorkable” is over-used in this post.)

Grant’s insistence that Kara plan a future, as well as her increased frustration with Kara’s replacement Eve Teschmacher (Andrea Brooks) and her increased alcohol consumption, seems less to do with her concern for Kara’s future than her own. She is projecting. What is happening for her? Her talk about taking a “plunge” is about something momentous for her. A relationship? Unlikely, as she is portrayed as focused on her young son and her company. A fear of dying? A little more likely, given enough near-death experiences last season despite her apparent calm. Something that even a superhero cannot stop, such as cancer? Given the propensity for people around Kryptonite’s radiation to get cancer, that would be a dark fate for Grant. Seeing as the show’s production shifted from Los Angeles to Vancouver, and the likely budget cuts from moving from CBS to the CW, having less of Calista Flockhart seems likely, so I do anticipate Grant is going to be in fewer episodes this season.

Yet I hope whatever Episode 2 this season does with Grant, it is honorable to the character and viewers’ expectations–especially compared to what happens with Winn (Jeremy Jordan) and James (Mehcad Brooks). Winn moving from CatCo to the DEO (hey, that rhymes!) is fine for the character’s personality, yet even the show seems aware this change is arbitrary, Winn having to ask whether his IRA at his previous job will switch over. I’m not even bothered that Winn somehow learned Kryptonian over the last year: it’s not unrealistic to learn a complicated language.

But the immediate dissolution of the James and Kara romance is like being thrown into a wall: it comes abruptly, reeking of soap opera melodrama to extend the will they/won’t they another season. The reasons for both characters to put the relationship on hold are realistic: Kara, after last season asking Grant how she can do it all, decides to put her career options first before pursuing a long-term relationship, and James wants commitment. The problem is that, even with these two being friends for a year, to end a relationship after what looks to be only two or three days in real time seems ridiculous. It’s a disservice to writing relationships as either the grand gesture (“Let’s be a couple now!”) or doomed to fail from the beginning. It’s great to have fanfictions that give immediate gratification to your shipper needs with first dates, cutesy nicknames, and elaborate weddings–but that’s not representative of all relationships, especially successful ones. Relationships are not about origins or destinations: they are about the hard work in between, less about “I love you” and more about small details, even ones that this episode does really well at representing, such as Kara picking out an outfit (reminiscent of Barry’s struggles in Season 1 of The Flash) or James not knowing whether to pick wontons or pizza, so bringing both.

Conflict moves a plot forward; conflict that goes nowhere does not. I am not optimistic right now about a James and Kara conflict, even as this episode ends with them acknowledging their persistent friendship. Conflict in other areas, however, can prove vital. Clark is still in contention with J’onn, and while Clark is civil, that conflict can help develop J’onn in ways not yet embraced in the comics, where he still suffers a bit as the Martian equivalent of Superman rather than his own character. And Cadmus is making itself more obvious this season, experimenting on the supposed hospitalized and arrested Corbin to turn him into Metallo. Therefore, there are those aspects of Supergirl I dread, that being the kind of relationship drama not limited to just CW shows but unfortunately put into relief by this shift of networks, and there are aspects I look forward to, like next week’s battle between Supergirl and Metallo.

Mythology Gags and References

  • The Kryptonian pod contains Mon-El, who is affiliated with the Legion of Superheroes. The creators have hinted in some behind-the-scenes videos that the Legion is coming, and fellow DC Berlanti show The Flash had a Legion ring appear in the various timelines.
  • Mon-El is referred to here as “the man who fell to Earth,” alluding to the David Bowie 1976 film.
  • Superman and Supergirl help land the suborbital aircraft. This tends to be the way Superman is introduced to Metropolis in many versions of the comics and adaptations: he’s always helping land a damaged airplane. Even Supergirl’s origin is the same in this series, as last season she helped land a crashing airplane in National City.
  • Cat’s new assistant, Eve Teschmacher, shares the name of Luthor’s assistant in the Superman Donner films. Cat even gets to scream her name aloud as Gene Hackman’s Luthor did.
  • Clark teases his boss, Daily Planet editor Perry White, for shouting “Great Caesar’s ghost!” a phrase associated with him since probably the Superman radio show.
  • J’onn was straight-up chilly to Clark–perhaps alluding to his fear of fire in the comics. (Yeah, it’s a stretch, but come on–I couldn’t pass up that joke.)
  • Clark and Cat actually were a couple in the comics, henc her flirting here–although I don’t think the age difference is as pronounced as it is in Supergirl.
  • Luthor right now is serving 32 life sentences and, according to Winn, caused an earthquake in Los Angeles. I don’t know whether these are references in the comics, nor am I familiar with Lena Luthor as his adopted sister, although various interpretations have featured genderbent Luthors, such as Smallville and the animated Legion of Superheroes.
  • In the original comics, Luthor was a childhood friend of Superboy back in Smallville, until Superboy was too late to pull Luthor from a lab explosion and the boy lost all of his hair. Seeing as Lena in this episode is also caught in an explosion, I was anticipating a similar trope, as this does occur to Luthor’s female descendant in the animated Legion of Superheroes, but so far, no hair loss.
  • This iteration of John Corbin, in his job, seems more associated with the Superman: The Animated Series interpretation, both iterations having been mercenaries for the fictional nation of Kasnia.  
  • Lena’s decision to rename her brother’s company is in keeping with other interpretations: in Smallville, Lex starts up LexCorp against LuthorCorp. The name change here may be a clever allusion to the Super Family’s Kryptonian name: L-Corp, just like Kal-El. In fact, originally it was “Kal-L” in the comics, and it still is for some alternate-dimension Supermen.
  • Clark jokes with Kara about developing additional superpowers. This is a bit of a joke as Superman gains superpowers as the plot demands them, his original power of “leaping tall buildings in a single bound” changing to flying, in part because it takes fewer frames to draw a man flying than jumping and landing. Clark also has undergone evolutions or mutations in his powers, whether from Kryptonite or from biological changes, such as that period in the 1990s when he was an electrical being. (Let’s not talk about Electric Blue and Red Superman, okay?)
  • The family that Superman shields against drones evidently just moved in from Gotham, Batman’s home.
  • Winn reminds everyone that his dad is the Toyman, as he admires one of Corbin’s advanced drones–albeit finding this one less “murdery.”
  • While not yet introduced, Clark refers to the President as “she.” No, that is not (rightly) predicting Clinton trouncing that buffoon but to this show’s president, who will be played by Wonder Woman herself, Lynda Carter. Hey, if the films won’t give Carter a cameo in the Wonder Woman film, then damn it, this show can make her President!
  • Cadmus, as introduced last season, is a genetics lab that experiments on superpowered beings for nefarious purposes, whether to serve as a governmental check on superhumans as in the DC Bruce Timm animated series, or as an extension of the Light’s research in Young Justice animated.

Random Observations

  • Kara’s opening recap reminds viewers that she does know Barry Allen, the Flash, from his dimensional-hop last year–reinforcing the CW crossover coming up, and potentially hinting that this “ally,” as she called him, could have a more permanent place in her role, perhaps should a certain crisis occur.
  • Kara’s struggle to determine her perfect job still seems tacky, and while her work as a journalist will make her more vital to the plot, and using her investigations to solve crimes as both Kara and Supergirl, it did not compel me. I don’t even care that it is a copy of Superman’s role: this show is going to borrow from the Superman storylines, it is going to be as much an adaptation in spirit of Superman as it is an adaptation of Supergirl as a character, and I’m happy for it.
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