If any viewers out there were worried that the new Supergirl series would consist of Kara chasing down alien fugitives from the Phantom Zone week after week, relax–the third episode, “Fight Or Flight”, breaks with tradition. The episode also pays homage to the time-honoured explanation for a superhero’s need for a secret identity–if the bad guys know the hero has family, the only way they may be able to truly strike at them is through their loved ones.
Picking up exactly where last week left off, Supergirl gives Cat Grant her interview. It’s a short one, as Cat comes across pretty combative (and Supergirl keeps her distance, so Cat won’t have a chance to recognize her own personal assistant). After Cat asks her if she plans to start a family, Supergirl angrily responds “Would you ask my cousin that question?”, providing a bit more background on herself than she intended (the world didn’t yet know that she and Superman were even related–information that Cat is all too happy to instantly blast out across all media). Supergirl shuts down the interview, realizing she’s said too much, but their exchange is a perfect example of something this show is doing incredibly well–it pushes the plot forward (as we’ll soon see), while making a sly commentary on gender politics. The writing so far has deftly juggled its feminist themes with its superhero-action mission statement, without sacrificing one at the expense of the other. Many shows struggle to just get one of these right, but three episodes in, Supergirl the series is handling both like a seasoned pro.
Unfortunately, Supergirl the hero is still very much a novice. After getting some grief from DEO chief Hank Henshaw about talking to the media, she rushes off to help out during a highway collision. The crash is just the bait, though–nuclear-powered Superman foe Reactron (Chris Browning) has engineered the disaster to draw Kara out, hoping to strike at The Man Of Steel through his family. A fight breaks out, which ends in a draw when Supergirl damages Reactron’s armour and he is forced to flee. While being debriefed, Supergirl is upset to learn that she won’t have DEO backup in bringing Reactron in; he’s a good-old-fashioned human supervillain, and as such, he falls outside DEO alien-policing jurisdiction. And while we’re talking about Reactron, his TV incarnation makes for a nicely menacing antagonist–he’s kind of a cross between Darth Vader and an evil Iron Man, unlike his gaudily-coloured comic book predecessor.
Back at CatCo, Kara finds that Cat is stressing out about the print version of her exclusive interview, which she insists upon writing herself. This causes her to be even nastier to Kara than usual, but there’s good news at work too–Winn has converted an unused upstairs office into a handy command center for Team Supergirl to operate out of. Winn comes up with some high-tech ideas for tracking Reactron, while James suggests that Kara call in her cousin. Not only that, he totally gives away Superman’s secret identity in front of Winn. “Superman’s Pal”, indeed–c’mon, Olsen! Kara shrugs off James’ suggestion, not wanting to go running to The Man Of Steel every time she has a problem.
Meanwhile, the show gains a true wild card in the form of Peter Facinelli’s tech billionaire Max Lord (glimpsed briefly in the previous episode). He comes across like a mix between Tony Stark and ‘80s-era Tom Cruise–flashy smile, brilliant mind, more money than God, but not above casual cruelty (as we see when he glibly dismisses an employee in his introductory scene).
Reactron busts into Lord’s offices looking for a nuclear engineer to help repair his armour, but Lord insists he be taken instead. He may be a lousy boss at times, but he’s clearly not totally evil. Kara vows to find Lord, and is unexpectedly offered unsanctioned assistance from Alex, who has isolated and traced Reactron’s energy signature. He’s hiding out in the wreckage of a nuclear power station that was targeted by terrorists five years earlier. Superman prevented a meltdown there, but a married pair of engineers were presumed dead during the incident. Kara recognizes the “deceased” engineer Ben Kroll as Reactron, surmising that the loss of his wife is what has driven him to his repeated attacks on Superman, after his failure to save her.
While being held captive, Lord shows a surprising amount of sympathy (or is it veiled self-interest?) for the radiation-addled Reactron, offering to have him worked on at his facilities–to no avail. In an equally tense standoff, Kara takes issue with Cat’s Supergirl article, which casts the hero as something of a spoiled brat. One sample–“Supergirl embodies the worst traits of her generation–the earnestness without purpose, the unshakable belief that she has a right to be heard, even when she has nothing to say”. Cat sees National City’s hero as an in-over-her-head millennial who’s likely to call on her big cousin when she gets overwhelmed. Kara counters that Supergirl is just as much of a hero as Superman–she just needs the chance to prove it.
James interrupts the showdown, informing Kara on the sly that Winn has tracked Reactron to his scrapyard hideout. Once again, he suggests that Superman be brought in to beat the villain down, but Kara insists that her goal isn’t to defeat Reactron, it’s to help him. Upon finding and freeing Lord at the scrapyard, Supergirl finds herself fighting a newly-repaired Reactron anyway…and losing. Before the killing stroke can be delivered, though, a familiar red-and-blue blur arrives to save Kara, forcing Reactron to flee.
Supergirl wakes in her apartment, where not only does she see a grateful Max Lord on television crediting Superman for his rescue, she also learns that James used his signal watch to call in Big Blue. Supergirl takes this as proof that James doesn’t believe in her; how is she supposed to establish herself as a hero if her cousin keeps saving her? After all, he didn’t have anyone to do the same for him when he was starting out. But in the meantime, the launch party for CatCo’s new issue featuring Cat’s Supergirl article is underway, providing Kara the chance to dance with Winn, and for Cat to dance with Max Lord. Obviously these characters have never watched a Batman movie–whenever the hero’s alter ego shows up at a fancy dress affair, some supervillain is sure to crash the party. Before that happens, though, we check in on DEO HQ, where a red-eyed Hank Henshaw learns that Alex has been secretly helping her adopted sister fight crime. “Who else knows about this?” he asks her, and I found myself genuinely worried for Alex’s safety in that instant–this is, after all, usually the point in the story where the secret villain usually murders a supporting character. Instead, he offers to pitch in and help Alex help Supergirl. Like Max Lord, the revelation of Henshaw’s true motives will have to wait for another episode.
Back at the party, James arrives in a sharp suit to also dance with Kara, and to apologize. He signalled Superman not because he thought Kara couldn’t handle herself, but because he was worried for her safety. His access to Superman became a crutch to his own progress in Metropolis, which is part of why he came to National City, so he and Kara have that much in common at least–neither of them wants to rely on Superman every time trouble rears its head. Trouble does rear its head, though (interrupting a tender moment between Kara and James), when Reactron crashes the party looking to draw Supergirl out. Kara does a quick change and fisticuffs ensue, with James drawing Reactron’s fire as an alternative target. Alex and Hank get in touch with Supergirl, letting them know Reactron’s weak spot–his chest reactor, which, if encased in lead, will be rendered inert. One heat-vision-melted statue turned lead glove later, Supergirl brings the villain down.
The day is saved, but Kara’s burgeoning relationship with James is jeopardized when his old flame Lucy Lane (sister of Lois, played by Jenna Dewan Tatum) arrives in National City the next day. Kara is crushed, but a congratulatory IM conversation with cousin Clark makes her feel better–he asked James to lay off and let Supergirl do her own thing from now on. Also, he uses emoticons! Who knew? Still, one wonders what emoticons he’d be using if he found out that James gave away his secret identity to Winn.
In Canada, Supergirl airs Monday at 8 et/pt on Global. Tune in next week for more action!