After watching the decent and surprisingly feminist Supergirl pilot, our office had one pressing question: How can Kara Danvers expect people to not realize she’s Supergirl? Her first few heists are vigorously documented in the press and on social media, and one of the major plots of the second episode was Kara’s boss Cat Grant demanding a one-on-one interview with Supergirl. A secret identity can only last you so long, right?
Spoilers for Supergirl 1×02 “Stronger Together.”
I was pleased to discover that the Supergirl writers came up with exactly the same answer that I gave Chris Lough when we were debating this issue in the Tor.com offices. In the episode, it’s James Olsen—who Cat is putting the pressure on to set up this “girl talk” interview—who gently breaks it to Kara that Cat will never suspect her:
James: “She will look Supergirl right in the face, and she will not even see her assistant.”
Kara: “How can you be so sure?”
James: “Because she doesn’t see you now. I watched it happen for years with my cousin. Why do you think people didn’t recognize him as Clark Kent?”
Kara: “Reading glasses and a good slouch?”
James: “No, he’s able to hide because the world can’t believe that there’s really a hero in their midst.”
One of the pilot’s strongest themes was how society undermines women, even if you’re a superpowered Kryptonian. But while this scene unapologetically called out Kara for being rather meek at the CatCo offices, it also drew on a popular theory about Clark Kent as Kal-El’s disguise: He reflects what humans see as an utterly ordinary person, the type who seems to have no potential. It’s unclear if, over the course of hiding her powers through adolescence and young adulthood, Kara got used to acting average and that gets written off by some as mediocre. Regardless, it is to her benefit. In some ways, it’s like Batman Begins‘ take on Bruce Wayne, when he willingly plays the part of the irresponsible millionaire bachelor to throw villains off his trail.
This part of the conversation was also funny because it’s #tooreal:
Kara: “Yeah, and I’m sure there’s a good reason why my cousin keeps his job at The Daily Planet instead of flying around as Superman all the time, which would be so much easier.”
James: “Well, one, he’s able to pay his rent.”
No surprise, the rest of the episode’s plots are about secret identities as well. I’ve got to give the show props for having Supergirl face off against her evil aunt Astra, who’s being set up as her season-long nemesis, as early as 1×02. Now we don’t have to sit through scenes of “whoever could my enemy be?”—Kara immediately knows who she’s up against. Of course, Astra flees their fight before dropping enigmatic hints about how her sister Alura didn’t agree with Astra “speaking the truth.”
Then, in an emotional reversal, the Department of Extranormal Operations rewards Kara (for saving her sister Alex and another agent from Astra) with her own mini-Fortress of Solitude: Inside it is a Kryptonian AI, programmed to act like her mother Alura. It’s a bittersweet moment when Kara asks for a hug and the AI responds, “I am not programmed to do that.” So, Kara gets the next best thing: all of the information Alura had about Astra and her freedom fighting. Cue more Krypton flashbacks!
And let’s not forget that DEO director Hank Henshaw walks away with his eyes glowing mysteriously red… especially considering Henshaw’s more villainous past in the comics.
Kara winds up agreeing to the interview, partly to make sure James doesn’t lose his job for failing to deliver. That’s a whole other can of worms: While the pilot established James as much more confident than the comics’ Jimmy Olsen, he’s got his own set of securities—namely, that he only ever got his fame from his association with the Man of Steel. He had hoped that moving to National City might allow him to direct the spotlight, but then—not that he says it, but—Kara decided to don the “S” (which, we learn, is Kryptonian for “stronger together”). I liked that she didn’t apologize for putting him in another awkward position, and that he didn’t expect her to do so for embracing her true self. James and Kara actually have a fair amount in common—they both want to prove themselves, dammit!
I was grateful to see that the Cat Grant interview bit was only in the last few minutes of the episode, that it didn’t dominate the narrative in a painfully cheesy way. Another show, striving for levity, might have created a Mrs. Doubtfire-esque sequence that had Kara going all “glasses off, hair down”/”hair up, glasses on” (some Arrested Development humor for you guys there) and trying to switch between both roles.
Instead, she takes control of the interview in a very un-Kara, very girl-power way Cat no doubt is impressed by: Picking up the other woman’s car and carrying her to a remote rooftop for a truly intimate “girl talk.” (A scene that was itself a nod to Superman: The Animated Series.) Her normally steely boss looks so out of her element in that last shot that I’m willing to bet it didn’t even cross her mind that Supergirl is someone who she earlier scolded, “Get your head out of the clouds and back behind your desk.”