I’ll say this for the new Supergirl, both the character and the series–neither believes in taking things slow. The second episode finds our hero fending off a rocket attack in a DEO training exercise, containing a tanker blaze (sort of–more on that later), learning some hand-to-hand combat skills from her sister Alex, and taking on not one but TWO super-villains. Perhaps it’s as Kara Danvers’ boss Cat Grant says, and that career women like herself and Supergirl “have to work twice as hard as a man to be thought of as half as good”. But we don’t get very far into “Stronger Together” before Supergirl learns that working smarter is more important than working harder.
We kick off Episode Two with the brutal training regimen insisted upon by DEO head Hank Henshaw, which sees Supergirl targeted by a barrage of surface-to-air missiles. Henshaw has his hands full with marauding aliens already, and he doesn’t want a newbie superhero complicating matters further. Unfortunately, Supergirl is still very much a rookie–her attempt to move an oil-filled tanker away from a dock fire results in an oil spill.
The media backlash is swift, with the most vocal criticism coming from media mogul (and Kara’s boss) Cat Grant. If National City’s new superhero would consent to an exclusive interview, she might sheathe her claws, but Kara isn’t interested. Meanwhile, a new fugitive from Fort Rozz, a humanoid insect known as the Hellgrammite, begins raiding chemical plants for DDT to sustain himself, much to the chagrin of General Astra and her Kryptonian thugs; Astra wants a low profile kept by all the Phantom Zone escapees, and the Hellgrammite’s midnight snacks are drawing unwanted attention. To make up for it, Astra insists that the murderous insect-man must draw Supergirl into a trap. I enjoyed how, even though the pilot episode set the audience up for a “freak of the week” style format in the Smallville mode, Hellgrammite isn’t just a villain who hits the scene and has to be taken down by our hero–he’s almost immediately folded into the overarching narrative of Astra and her evil plan. Like I said earlier, this show moves quickly, and while there will no doubt be some standalone episodes featuring villains who have no ties to the seasonal arc, we aren’t there yet.
Kara realizes that she’ll need help getting up to speed, so she enlists both Winn and James–neither of whom has realized, up until now, that anyone else knows her secret–to help coordinate her crimefighting efforts around National City. This is also refreshing, as most superhero series would dance around the secret identity bit for at least a few more episodes. But Kara needs help now, and creating a sort of “Team Supergirl” support network is the most efficient way to get it (similarly, James and Winn find out later in the episode that Alex knows Kara’s secret, and vice versa. The only member of the supporting cast who doesn’t know her secret identity is now…Cat Grant, I guess?). A fast-paced, action-packed montage ensues, one that shows Supergirl starting to rehabilitate her public image by foiling a bank robbery, getting a traffic-stalled ambulance to the hospital so a heart-attack victim can be saved, and rescuing a snake named Fluffy from a tree (how did it get up there, anyway?). And on the DEO side of things, Alex invites Kara to join her in a Kryptonite-irradiated depowering chamber for a series of hand-to-hand combat lessons, so that Supergirl won’t rely on her brute strength alone.
While Cat threatens James with termination if he can’t coerce Supergirl to commit to an exclusive interview, the DEO tightens the net on the Hellgrammite…not realizing that he’s the one setting a trap. A highway shootout ends with the beast abducting Alex and bringing her to General Astra, in the hopes of Supergirl coming to her rescue. Supergirl takes the bait and tracks Alex to an abandoned warehouse, where she comes face to face with Aunt Astra for the first time since her childhood on Krypton. Astra explains that Kara’s mother Alura, her own sister, imprisoned her within the Phantom Zone for–as she explains it, anyway–speaking the truth and trying to save Krypton. While Supergirl and her Aunt duke it out, Alex faces off against the Hellgrammite, as the rest of the DEO moves in. It’s clear that Astra has more combat experience, but Kara’s training with Alex comes in handy, and she is able to use her opponent’s strength against her. Astra still has the upper hand, but when Henshaw arrives armed with a Kryptonite dagger, she has no choice but to retreat. Back at DEO headquarters, Alex shows Kara the “Fortress Of Solitude” she has prepared for her, complete with a holographic AI based on Kara’s mother, Alura. Kara asks about her Aunt, but we aren’t yet privy to what “Alura” tells her. Instead, we are treated to an epilogue where Supergirl carries Cat Grant’s car to the outskirts of town so they can conduct an uninterrupted interview.
In the post-Lost landscape of hour-long genre television–where tiny bits of information are scattered like breadcrumbs over entire seasons, while the audience is asked to sit through multiple time-wasting standalone episodes–it’s exciting to see a show like Supergirl plowing forward at a breakneck pace. There is a lot of action packed into this episode, and it’s the kind of action that isn’t held back by its TV budget. Also, I honestly thought Supergirl wouldn’t come face-to face with Astra until near the end of the first season (or, at the very earliest, Christmas), and here we are getting it out of the way in the second episode! We still don’t know what Astra’s plan for National City (and, presumably, Earth) is, nor have we learned why her own sister imprisoned her in the Phantom Zone, but you’ve got to save something for future episodes. And along those lines, we also receive some teases of future plotlines–billionaire Max Lord (Peter Facinelli) makes his debut, calling Supergirl out for her early blunders in a TV interview. If he follows the path of his comic-book predecessor, this guy is going to be trouble down the road. And not only do we learn that Hank Henshaw once had a family–his use of past tense implying nothing good, surely–his eyes also flash a sinister shade of red at the episode’s end. Melissa Benoist is even better here than in the pilot, conveying an endearing mix of toughness, sincerity, and self-doubt in her dual role. Mehcad Brooks’ older, more experienced James Olsen is an interesting creation, one I’m not sure we’ve seen in the comics before, and Brooks imbues the character with a quiet wisdom. And the formation of “Team Supergirl” adds a new layer of complexity to an already strong supporting cast. This complexity, combined with the show’s willingness to combine action-filled set pieces with a constantly-moving plot, proves that Supergirl and her friends are, in the words of her translated family crest’s meaning, stronger together.
One more thing–as a huge fan of Parks & Recreation, I was thrilled to see actor Jay Jackson, best known as hapless TV personality Perd Hapley, appear here as–what else?–a TV reporter. Let’s hope that, this time at least, he always remembers his microphone.
In Canada, Supergirl airs Mondays at 8 et/pt on Global. Tune in next week for more high-flying heroics!