Supergirl’s first episode is everything I dreamed it would be. It’s a huge info dump of some of the most ridiculous superhero mythology ever conceived, and it’s self-consciously (and at times misguidedly) feminist in a way that I hope doesn’t turn out to be characteristic of the series. But it’s also enormously fun.
Melissa Benoist is mostly responsible for this as she plays Kara Zor-El with a sort boundless enthusiasm and charm that makes her instantly lovable. Benoist’s charisma isn’t the only thing to love about this Supergirl, though. While the episode itself is full of dull/silly-but-necessary backstory that is told in flashbacks and voiceovers, Kara’s character is shown to us and by the end of this pilot, we have a pretty good idea of who she is.
I adore Kara’s straightforward earnestness and her apparent total lack of any ability to keep a secret. I love that Kara isn’t a reluctant superhero, although the pilot is careful to show that her transition from determinedly ordinary woman to costumed hero isn’t going to be entirely seamless. Still, this isn’t some kind of chosen one scenario, Kara’s powers aren’t a surprise or a burden, and it looks like most of Kara’s challenges are going to be external ones.
Even better, this pilot basically starts with the assumption that Kara is smart, strong, and capable of dealing with these challenges. The only time we see Kara out of sorts is when she meets James (not Jimmy) Olsen (Mehcad Brooks) who is so hot that she’d have to be far more than superhuman not to be flustered. In her other interactions, even with her demanding boss, Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart), Kara is confident and earnest without being annoying.
This characterization of Kara is probably the most feminist thing about this show, and it’s definitely the feminist thing about the show that feels least studied and forced. I appreciate that the show is explicitly feminist, and I there are actually a couple of more self-aware moments that are downright hilarious (the waitress who just straight up says “Can you believe it? A female hero! Nice for my daughter to have someone like that to look up to,” for example), but I’m not convinced yet that this is entirely intentional. Cat Grant’s speech about the “Supergirl” name was downright cringeworthy, and the misogynist villain was a bit of a flop.
The show also isn’t as feminist in its execution as it ostensibly is in its writing. While there are multiple female characters, and the episode passes the Bechdel test many times over, Kara doesn’t seem to have any actual female friends. There are also no women of color in this first episode at all, and while it’s nice to see a race bent James Olsen, I did get the uncomfortable feeling that Mehcad Brooks was being used as “exotic” eye candy.
It could be that these are things that will be improved upon in future episodes. This is only the pilot, after all, and often there are major changes made between pilots and subsequent episodes. I sincerely hope that this is the case here, because I think Supergirl has the makings of a truly good show.