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I was really interested in seeing what Supergirl would bring to the table this week. If I’m being honest, the only thing that resonated with me from the premiere was Melissa Benoist’s Kara Zor-El, and I wanted the series to demonstrate the reasons why I should continue watching (without the excuse of being a pilot episode). Unfortunately, “Stronger Together” fell into the same trap as The Flash’s “The Flash of Two Worlds”; terrible in the beginning and better toward the end. But while Flash was able to course correct in the second half of its episode, Supergirl continued to stumble.
To expand on The Flash–Supergirl comparison, Kara spends much of the first half of the episode thinking she’s ready to take on any threat. She continually questions the necessity of the tests the DEO is forcing her to take and flies off to deal with a fire at the pier the first chance she gets. Kara is a bit too eager to bite off more than she can chew here, but this isn’t the problem. The issue, and the source of my comparison with The Flash, comes after she messes up her ship rescue. Instead of consistently feeling like she needs to learn how to be a better hero as a result of this blunder, she tells Alex that she’s “ready” for any threat that might come her way because she “can bend steel…and….kicked Vartox’s butt.” First of all, this is not exactly true, as during their first encounter she got hung up on the fact that she got a cut on her arm. Second, if Alex hadn’t figured out a way to beat him, Kara would have just died. Even when Alex demonstrates that the advantage of her superpowers can be taken away completely, she says that she only found out about Kryptonite the week before and the DEO are the only ones that know about it. This makes Kara out to be incredibly naïve, as how could she not think that anything that weakens her (especially in the hands of a government agency tasked with taking out aliens) might be a problem for her later down the line. To make things worse, after Alex lets her know who’s boss, Kara says that she now knows why her cousin works alone. In response to an overt display of the difference in skill between the sisters, and the implications that has on Kara’s status on the alien food-chain, she decides to be frustratingly petty. Not only that, but it’s supposedly an honor to accept help from people on Krypton? Basically, the episode undercuts her character so that she can have an arc, something even Melissa Benoist has trouble turning into something enjoyable to watch.
Some good was able to come out of that whole debacle, though. While “Stronger Together” does its best to suck Alex into the black hole of Kara’s nonsensical character arc, with her telling Hank that she “[hates]” that he made her test Kara’s hand-to-hand combat skills (for shame!), her characterization showed some signs of improvement. Chyler Leigh still plays her as a little too stiff in the day-to-day, but the armor cracked slightly when she told Kara that she was glad she was there at the DEO testing site. She also took out that Hellgrammite with his own stinger after kicking him in the balls, which was pretty awesome.
Kara’s downward spiral also provided an opportunity to showcase the potential for Cat Grant. Her portrayal has been consistent since the premiere, and her dialogue is the more organic way by which the series engages with its feminist message, but the character’s one-dimensionality lingered into the first half of the episode. Turning this around somewhat, her conversation with Kara at the halfway mark simultaneously allowed her to give Supergirl an indirect pep talk and explain how she got to be where she is and who she is. I’m disappointed that we didn’t get to see the content of Supergirl’s interview, as seeing Benoist’s Supergirl go toe to toe with Flockhart’s Cat Grant would’ve been a real test of the show’s writing and their acting abilities, but hopefully we’ll see more interaction between the two as the season progresses.
Since “Stronger Together” didn’t have to shoehorn story elements in like the pilot, I was disappointed by what it portends for the rest of the season. General Astra made her presence known to Supergirl far earlier than I expected, which might be for the better as I want to get the Kryptonians out of the way, but might also increase the chances of them mishandling that storyline further. I’m also convinced that the show needs to get out of Superman’s shadow soon, as the showrunners don’t seem to know how to write that in an interesting way. James saying Superman “made plenty of mistakes when he first started” came across as a weak facsimile of last week’s “that’s the first thing he did. Save a plane,” and whenever they mention what Superman would do or how superior he is, it always seems a bit forced. Superman’s also clearly not as great as they make him out to be, as there’s no way Kara encountered Kryptonite before him, and he just did not FYI her on that business.
In addition, when Maxwell Lord appeared on the TV, I groaned at the thought of yet another superhero show using the idea of the superhero being the sickness, not the cure. I just wrote an article about how I saw the superhero genre continuing to develop on TV and had only mentioned positive things about how Supergirl was moving away from overdone superhero storylines. In its defense, the series does look to be subverting some superhero tropes, but probably not in the way the writers intended. Unlike Spider-Man, who gets unjustly persecuted by The Daily Bugle, criticism of our fledgling Supergirl is completely valid, with the show touching on the reality of how a superhero might start out, but not even attempting to make a comment about the good outweighing the bad.
As was the case in the last episode, the villains (and their fight scenes) continue to be pretty weak. The aliens that approach the Hellgrammite are revealed to all be Kryptonians a little too obviously, and the battle between Kara and General Astra suffered from them visibly not hitting each other, being awkwardly floaty, and the goofiness of characters circling one another while shooting lasers from their eyes. The episode does end with Kara asking Alex to train her how to fight, so it’ll be interesting if the people doing the show’s special effects and stuntwork realize they need to step their game up. To tackle the villains separate from their physical encounters, though, General Astra isn’t very well defined, which might have been rectified if the writers had actually explained what her plan for the Earth was before everyone started fighting. Instead, the writers chose to rely on the audience understanding that she was a bad person rather than doing that work themselves.
I had hoped that Supergirl would show marked improvement over its rough pilot episode, but I found “Stronger Together” to be equal parts poor and average. Though it does pick up in its second half when Kara asks James and Winn for help, seeing how quickly the writers were able to change Benoist’s Supergirl from being fun to frustrating takes away a lot of my interest in the series. The show may yet benefit from a more formulaic villain of week structure (instead of continuing to engage with into its more long-term villains), but we’ll have to wait until next week’s “Fight or Flight” to see if that’s the case.