Supergirl: Season 1, Episode 2 – “Stronger Together”

After two episodes of Supergirl it is clear that the best and strongest thing about this series is Supergirl herself; Melissa Benoist steals every scene that she is in.

Supergirl, like her more famous cousin Superman, wears a costume adorned with a big red “S.” The “S,” we are told, is not only the crest of her Kryptonian family, the House of El, but also means “stronger together.” This is in contrast to the meaning of the family crest in Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel (2013), where we learn that the symbol stands for “hope.” The symbol’s meaning has been fluid in the long history of the Super Family of characters. In 1978’s Superman: The Movie, it was the family crest of the House of El. In the 1980’s comic book reboot of the character, The Man of Steel, the symbol was said to be inspired by a Native American symbol, and was meant to represent the healing powers of a snake. In 2004, Mark Waid’s Superman: Birthright series made the symbol a family crest again and introduced the idea that it was a symbol of hope.

Before all of this, of course, the “S” was just an “s”; an “s” that stood for “Super”.

It makes sense that the new CBS series would adopt a new meaning for the symbol, especially one that puts a little distance between this Super character and the one from the Snyder film. “Stronger together” also represents a fine sentiment for this superhero action series that also wants to be a light ensemble drama. We’ll see, in the coming weeks, if the sentiment proves true.

After two episodes of Supergirl it is clear that the best and strongest thing about this series is Supergirl herself. Melissa Benoist steals every scene that she is in, a pretty difficult task when she’s playing off Calista Flockhart as her boss, Cat Grant. Benoist’s Kara/Supergirl manages to make the Woman of Steel seem like an ordinary human being. I said in last week’s review that Benoist’s portrayal of Kara was reminiscent of Christopher Reeve’s Clark Kent, but the truth is that Reeve always played Kent as if the newsman persona was an act, a character performed by a near-perfect superman. Benoist, on the other hand, manages to make Kara and Supergirl seem like a unified personality, someone who can have both grave self doubts and boundless self confidence, sometimes at he same time.

Two episodes in and Benoist has already earned the “S”, especially if it stands for “super”.

I am a little less captivated by the way the series is showcasing the rest of the ensemble. This is not a knock on any of the fine actors in the cast. The newsroom players are particularly interesting, and I find that the scenes I like the best are those in which Kara interacts with her co-workers, especially Flockhart’s Cat Grant, James Olsen (Mehcad Brooks), and Winn Schott (Jeremy Jordan). Indeed, I like these characters, and this cast, so much that I would like to see more of them that have been currently featured.

One of the lessons that the new hero has to learn in this episode is the need to start off slow and learn the ropes before tackling oil tanker fires and major disasters. The result, when she teams up with James and Winn to foil a bank robbery and rescue a pet trapped in a tree, is the highlight of the episode. Supergirl learns how to be a hero, and becomes a hero in the eyes of the citizens of National City, by starting small and taking care of the little things, as well as the importance of being surrounded by friends.

This is a lesson that I hope Supergirl the series learns as well.

I will admit that I am more interested in the escaped convicts from a Kryptonian prison this week than I was after watching the pilot episode set-up. It was nice, too, to see David Harewood as Hank Henshaw be given something to do other than scowl and fume. Ramping up the Kryptonian family drama also seems pretty promising. The villain of the week was more interesting than last week’s, but still seemed like something that had been tacked onto the story to give Supergirl someone to fight. Sadly, throughout most of the scenes with the episode’s villain, Hellgrammite (Justice Leak), I found myself wishing that we could be back at the office hanging out with Kara and the gang.

While I liked this episode a lot, the series’ creators need to learn that we don’t always have to see Supergirl in big battles with extraterrestrials, that it’s nice to see her doing a lot more of the little deeds of heroism featured in this episode. While I recognize that this is an action/superhero show, it would be nice if we could see even more of Kara and the gang doing what they do around the office. We need to learn to like these characters, so that we can be committed to them when they find themselves in (inevitable) trouble, are menaced by extraterrestrials, or are brain-washed by aliens.

“Stronger Together”, as both an episode and a motto, is a great example of what the series does right. It means that there is room for cooperation and friendship in this telling of the story. Room for humanity. As a motto, I like that better than “hope”. “Hope” is just too much: too religious, too transcendent, too “Superman as Jesus who has to give of himself to save all us lesser beings”. It makes for moody stories about lonely heroes. I’m glad Supergirl shows no signs of taking us there. As a series, I think Supergirl will do well if they just slow down and give the characters time to grow.

Of course, for me and for many others, the “S” will always just mean “super”. So far, Benoist as Supergirl has got that more than covered.

RATING 8 / 10