When we first meet twelve-year old Kara Zor-El, she’s rocketing off to Earth only moments after her cousin, baby Kal-El, has done the same. The distant planet of Krypton is in the final stages of self-destruction, and Kara’s scientist mother Alura (Laura Benanti) is sending her only daughter off in a one-person spacecraft as well–not only to save her life, but so that she can look after her tiny relative. But something goes wrong–while Kal-El’s ship makes the journey with no trouble, Kara’s craft is sucked into the Phantom Zone, the ghost dimension where time stands still for Krypton’s exiled criminals. Although her escape from the Zone, as seemingly accidental as her sojourn there, seems to happen fairly quickly for her, years go by in the real world…so many so, that, when Kara’s ship finally makes it to Earth, it’s baby Kal-El who is there to greet her–not as the infant cousin she was sent to protect, but as the grown-up Superman, sworn defender of his adopted world. Superman takes his now-younger cousin to be raised by the Danvers, a married pair of scientists (played by former big-screen Supergirl Helen Slater, and former small-screen Superman Dean Cain!).
Flash-forward twelve years, and we meet Kara again as a grown woman (now played by series star Melissa Benoist), struggling with her job as an overworked & underpaid assistant to media mogul Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart) in National City. Kara is shocked to meet the newest hire for CatCo’s newspaper division–James Olsen (Mehcad Brooks), formerly known as Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen. Of course, James isn’t aware of his and Kara’s shared Super-acquaintance…or is he?
Despite an invitation from her obviously-smitten co-worker Winn Schott (Jeremy Jordan), Kara instead spends the evening on a disappointing internet date. However, Kara is given the perfect excuse to leave when the TV news reports that a plane leaving National City is in danger of crashing–a plane that just so happens to be carrying Kara’s adopted sister Alex (Chyler Leigh). Even though she doesn’t have a costume yet, Kara springs into action–ditching her glasses, letting her hair down, and flying into the sky to divert the plane to a safe landing on the water. And all this before the show’s title reveal!
Alex, one of only people on the planet to know her sister’s true origins, is furious with Kara for revealing herself so publicly (as is expected, many of the plane’s passengers snapped blurry pictures of their saviour), but Kara feels like she might finally have found her calling. She believes that she was sent here for a reason, and that reason wasn’t to fetch lattes for her tyrannical boss. Kara is bursting to tell someone about what she’s done, so she summons Winn to the rooftop, where she dramatically demonstrates her flying abilities. Winn agrees to keep her secret and to help with her mission, but first things first–she’ll need a costume. Kara’s look evolves over a montage of her fighting crime and saving lives, finally settling on a familiar blue-and-red motif complete with “S” shield; not actually an “S”, we’re told, but the family crest of the house of El. Still, it looks like an “S”, which causes Cat Grant to name National City’s new hero Supergirl.
Kara would have preferred “Superwoman”, but you don’t argue with the boss. You can try, she finds out, and almost loses her job for it; thankfully, James shows up with a high-quality photo of Supergirl in action, saying that Kara took it. Her job is saved–for now.
Supergirl’s next mission, a top-story building blaze, is rudely interrupted by a series of Kryptonite-filled darts. She awakens in the headquarters of the Department of Extranormal Activities, presided over by Hank Henshaw (David Harewood). The DEO was formed in the wake of Superman’s arrival, and has been working overtime since Kara’s own ship landed on Earth. It turns out that whatever force allowed her craft to escape the Phantom Zone also released Fort Rozz–a prison that held Krypton’s worst criminals. Just like Kara’s ship, Rozz crashed on Earth, setting untold hordes of alien miscreants loose on our world. Henshaw thinks that he has enough to deal with already without a novice alien hero getting in the way, and one of his top agents agrees–Alex Danvers, who is revealed to be a DEO agent (her barely-averted plane crash was no accident–she was being targeted by the alien villains). Kara is devastated, but leaves Alex with the idea that she only got the job because of who her adopted sister was.
Kara is now doubting herself and her mission after her encounter with the DEO, but that doesn’t stop her from answering the summons of alien baddie Vartox (Owain Yeoman). The horn-headed criminal was imprisoned by Kara’s mother Alura, and at the behest of an unseen General, tries to murder Kara with his nuclear-powered axe–and he nearly succeeds, but is interrupted by DEO agents, including Alex (Vartox flees the scene, for now). The DEO has been studying the way Vartox’s axe works–he’s been using it to perform a series of crimes before his encounter with Supergirl–and they’ve learned that a sustained heat source at its blade will cause it to overload and self-destruct. Kara persuades Henshaw and Alex to let her take one more crack at Vartox, and this time, Alex takes her side.
Supergirl confronts Vartox for a highway battle, letting him think he’s won before using her heat vision on his axe. The plan works, and the axe explodes. Vartox opts for suicide rather than be taken into custody, but not before hinting at a greater evil waiting in the wings. Kara agrees to work with the DEO to help capture the other alien fugitives, and Alex is assured by Henshaw that, while she may have gotten the job because of who her sister is, she has kept it because of who she is.
In one of two epilogues, Kara learns that James has known her true identity all along, and that he was sent by Superman to keep an eye on her and help her get the hang of the superhero job. The Man Of Steel had hoped she would dedicate herself to Truth and Justice the way he did, but he wanted her to choose that path on her own, not at his behest.
And in a second epilogue, we meet the Big Bad behind the Phantom Zone escapees–General Astra, twin sister of Kara’s real mother. This is one family reunion that’s guaranteed to end badly.
Comic Book Easter Eggs: Where to begin? Supergirl’s pilot is jam-packed with nods to the world of comics. In the Superman comic series, Vartox was a rival alien hero (and a rival for the affections of Lana Lang) from a doomed world (and, for some reason, his entire look was based on Sean Connery in the 1974 fantasy flop Zardoz!). There’s also the aforementioned casting of Kara’s adopted parents, which pay tribute to earlier screen incarnations of both Supergirl and Superman. Cat Grant may not be well known to TV viewers yet, but she’s been a part of Superman’s comic book supporting cast since his mid-1980s revamp. Winslow Schott was the real name of the villainous Toyman in the comics, which may hint at an evil destiny for Kara’s coworker Winn. Similarly, in the comic books, Hank Henshaw went on to become the villainous Cyborg Superman in the famous “Death Of Superman” storyline. And even the actor playing General Astra’s subordinate, Faran Tahir, has a comic-book movie pedigree, even if it was for the competition–he played the terrorist leader who imprisoned Tony Stark at the beginning of the first Iron Man movie in 2008. What’s he got against Men (and Girls) of Steel, anyway?
In Canada, Supergirl airs Mondays at 8 et/pt on Global. Tune in next week for more adventures with the Maid Of Might!