Superman was all over this week’s Supergirl. It’s kind of laughable to think that everyone was criticizing the pilot for having Kara obliquely refer to him as “my cousin”—one, because the series has had no problem throwing around the name “Superman” plenty since then, and two, because him being her cousin is the crux of the latest episode. It was bad enough when people were treating Supergirl as a junior version of Superman, but when word leaks that they’re related, the comparisons get even worse.
Spoilers for Supergirl 1×03 “Fight or Flight.”
Making things worse is the fact that Kara is the one who leaks the scoop… to Cat Grant. This episode picks up where last week left off, with Supergirl flying Cat to a remote area where they can talk in private. But where that episode ended with Kara looming over her unsuspecting boss, immediately the tables are turned: While Cat doesn’t recognize her assistant in red-and-blue, she relaxes enough to be bored with Supergirl having basically the same backstory as Superman. (Because exploding alien planets are so passé?) She wants something fresh, something sexier, something… sexist? You have to wonder if that was what she was going for with her line of questioning:
Cat: “Ever want to start a family?”
Kara: “No one asks my cousin these questions!”
No, they don’t, because Superman seems to be doing his job just fine. By contrast, Supergirl still stumbles, and the subtext is that maybe she should be focusing on something other than her career. I took some exception to the fact that Kara let this detail slip, since she works for Cat Grant: She later claims it was “a private conversation that was published,” but she knows how bloodthirsty Cat is, and she knew she was being recorded. She should know better.
At any rate, Cat takes that juicy bit of gossip and runs with it… all the way to a takedown feature calling Supergirl a “Millennium Falcon.” (So great.) It’s certainly jarring that the woman who branded Supergirl decides to peck at her younger counterpart rather than help raise her up… but it’s also a more accurate depiction of the fraught realities of female competition. A recent op-ed in the New York Times described how many women fight against ingrained urges not to trust one another, to be rivals instead of comrades. The writer proposed a third theory:
We aren’t competing with other women, ultimately, but with ourselves—with how we think of ourselves. For many of us, we look at other women and see, instead, a version of ourselves that is better, prettier, smarter, something more. We don’t see the other woman at all.
I’m not saying that Cat necessarily feels threatened by Supergirl, seeing as they’re from different species. Though Cat does snark about how, if she’s wrong in pegging Supergirl as a Millennial, she must have an amazing dermatologist. (That raises a whole other notion: Can aliens from other planets be called Millennials if they grow up with the Millennial generation?) Rather, I think that Cat criticizes to make Supergirl better. It’s already been established that Cat has a tense relationship with her own mother; and she would likely answer her own question that CatCo Media is her child. By extension, Supergirl is in part her creation, so there could be a quasi-maternal dimension to her nitpicking.
She’s also incredibly pragmatic. By branding Supergirl, she’s put in at least some of her lot with this young role model for women, who so far is falling short of her cousin. It doesn’t help matters that Supergirl gets targeted by Reactron, a human almost killed by a nuclear explosion several years prior, who shields himself in a crude Iron Man-esque suit run by a nuclear generator. Superman rescued him from the explosion but failed to save his wife and child, so Reactron carries a grudge—and when he finds out that Supergirl is related to Superman, he wants to try to dent the Man of Steel’s emotions by picking her off.
Supergirl welcomes the challenge, because here’s her chance to do the opposite of Superman: Instead of fighting, she’ll talk to him. This bit of folly leads to Cara getting almost fried to a crisp—when in flies Superman to save the day.
Relax, all we see is his silhouette, and Kara passes out shortly after. When she wakes up, she receives even more galling news: James Olsen called Superman. Turns out that he has a snazzy—and by snazzy, I mean it looks like something in a kid’s Happy Meal yet I still want it—Superman watch with a help beacon.
Kara is understandably humiliated that the men in her life are making plans above her head. (The fact that Winn made a special Supergirl office in the CatCo building for him, Kara, and James is a cold comfort.) What’s odd is that this episode does a 180 from last week’s notions of “the S on my chest means ‘stronger together'” and how “being your own man” means asking for help. Kara rejects both because her pride is hurt, and because she still has to prove herself, even after she’s carrying drivers out of overturned buses and saving billionaire inventor/businessman Maxwell Lord from Reactron. Even when James opens up about how the watch became a crutch for him, something to press when he got scared, she fails to recognize that he was scared about losing her. Just like he almost got Clark killed.
Side note: Winn’s reaction when James lets Clark’s name slip is one of the best moments in this episode. It’s so casual, and then you see Winn’s eyes go wide and OMG CLARK KENT IS SUPERMAN [SILENTLY SCREAMING]. As I said last week, I really appreciate how this show handles secret identities.
To that end, what’s going on with the shady adults in this show? Henshaw’s eyes glowed all red again while he was stalking through the Department of Extranormal Operations alone; and when he came upon Alex secretly helping Kara deal with Reactron, he decided to pitch in as well. He has a good reason to be reluctant: The DEO is supposed to restrict its jurisdiction to aliens, not hopped-up humans. But it’s unlikely that Reactron is the only one of his kind. If anything, he and Kara have that in common: Each came from one background but was forced to adopt the powers or customs of another.
Ultimately, Alex and Henshaw give Kara the intel that she needs to pull out Reactron’s
heart nuclear reactor, but not before encasing her hand in lead. This all takes place at CatCo’s pop-up party to celebrate their rush issue with its “Millennial Falcon” feature, which poor Kara has to organize while fielding all of her complicated feelings about Superman and Reactron. Now that’s the real Millennial struggle.
Speaking of adults having odd conversations, Maxwell Lord and Cat Grant share a dance at the party—pre-Reactron’s entrance, though it’s interesting that Cat manages to slip out right before it happens. I’m not sure which I’d rather see, Cat Grant proven to be a dumb human, or herself some sort of criminal mastermind.
Once she’s able to prove herself, Kara feels a lot more secure about being compared to her cousin, and about her very clear feelings for James. But before she can be sure he reciprocates them, in pops his ex, Lucy Lane. Aw shit—you can see poor Kara’s face just crumple. Hopefully this Lucy Lane subplot is just a diversion, though it’s promising that the show is introducing another sister relationship that’s equal parts close and contentious.
But one thing cheers Kara up, leading to the sweetest moment in the series so far: Clark IMs her!
Of course Clark Kent uses winky-face emoticons.
It’s a cheesy way to bring him in, but I like that he at least has a small part in this world, as opposed to being ignored entirely. Now, it’s a fine line to toe: If the writers lean too heavily on sequences like the Reactron fight, it’ll just get old. But Kara already introduced the concept of “stronger together,” and there’s nothing wrong with IM pep talks. Lord knows we’ve all had those on a particularly bad day at work. Let’s see more moments like those in Supergirl.