Supergirl: A Feminist Superhero TV Show that Soared into My Heart

I was excited for the Supergirl TV show since I saw the trailer for it, but I will confess to still being anxious about the show simply because writers tend to be hit and miss when it comes to female superheroes. So it was with both excitement and anxiety that I turned on the TV to watch Supergirl. While there were a few issues, overall I was really happy about the first episode, and I’m interested to see where the series is going.

Our episode starts off with a bit of an exposition dump. We learn that Kara Zor-El was Clark’s cousin. She was older than him—about thirteen—and was sent to Earth by her parents, both to save her and for Clark to have someone to protect him as a baby. But the blast from Krypton after it exploded caused her pod to get knocked off course and sucked into the phantom zone for years where she didn’t age. Eventually Kara’s pod managed to escape the phantom zone, and when she lands, she is greeted by a now adult Superman who gives her to the Danvers family, a family who had helped him when his powers were developing. The Danvers raise Kara, and because her cousin is already a hero, Kara decides to live a normal life. We then see Kara as a young adult working for high profile CEO and reporter Cat Grant as her assistant. But Kara is frustrated. She wants to do more with her life than fetch coffee; she wants to help people and use her powers instead of hiding them. Kara gets the chance when the plane her adoptive sister Alex is on begins to crash. Kara flies to the rescue and saves everyone, but she ends up exposing herself at the same time.

Kara eventually learns that her sister works with the Department of Extra-Normal Operations, which tracks alien activities. Kara also discovers that the Kryptonian prison that was in the phantom zone was dragged out somehow by her pod and has crashed on Earth. For awhile these criminals remained in hiding but have recently become active, and an alien named Vartox from Valeron was the one who sabotaged the plane Kara’s sister was on. Kara squares off against Vartox and eventually defeats him, with some help from her sister. Our episode ends with Kara firmly deciding to become a hero like her cousin, and it’s revealed that all these alien criminals are rallying around General Astra, the twin sister of Alura Zor-El, Kara’s biological mother.

gif via legendsofdc

gif via legendsofdc

Overall, I absolutely adored this first episode and I can’t wait to watch the rest of the series. I have very few complaints, so let’s start with those and get them out of the way. When Kara is first introduced to the Department of Extra-Normal Operations, Hank Henshaw, the agent who runs the department, derisively refers to aliens like Kara as immigrants. At first I was thrilled about this, because I have always loved the comparison between Superman and Supergirl and immigrants, but he then goes on to talk about the massive alien prison that crashed on Earth, meaning that Earth is ransacked with alien prisoners. It comes off as sounding very much like Donald Trump’s comments that most of the immigrants coming to the United States are criminals, even if some, he assumes, “are good people”. I don’t think this was intentional in any way by the writers. I think they wanted to make the connection to the superfamily and immigrants, but they also wanted Kara to have a slew of villains that were just as powerful as her so having a bunch of alien prisoners on Earth works for that. It’s good from a writing standpoint, but definitely problematic, especially since Henshaw is never really corrected. The most that happens is later in the episode Alex stands up for Supergirl to Henshaw, saying she trusts her. But Henshaw definitely blames Kara for the prisoners being here and she readily accepts that blame. Furthermore, there is no other talk about the issue of immigration (either real immigrants or aliens) in the episode. Hopefully it’s something the show discusses in greater depth later, as well as introducing women of color, since having just white people discuss immigration seems silly. 

The only other thing that I didn’t like was the “I’m not gay” comment that Kara tells Wynn when he assumes that the only reason Kara wouldn’t date him is because she is a lesbian. I knew the comment was coming from the trailer, and I didn’t like it then but I thought I could handle it (and I did). But later, when Kara is fighting with her sister and yells “You just don’t want me to be who I really am”, that hit real close to home. I was struck by what a great queer character Kara would make, but having the possibility dismissed right from the beginning kind of undoes that. The show’s dismissal of a potential queer protagonist in a show with no other queer characters to date was still pretty painful for me, as a queer woman, to watch.

And then, of course, there’s the issue of Superman. The problem here is that Superman can’t really be in the show without making the show about him or having it seem like Kara needs a male figure to guide her, but if he’s not in it at all, it kind of makes Clark seem like a dick. Or at the very least like he isn’t interested in talking to his only (to his knowledge) biological relative. The show tried to solve this problem by having Superman’s influence felt but never actually seeing him. I feel like we are going to have to see Clark at some point, but I’m worried the show will avoid this at all costs. It already seemed a little weird that Clark asked Jimmy Olsen to keep an eye on Kara and was indirectly pushing her toward being a hero. To me, not having Clark directly talk to Kara could make Clark seem like a sexist controlling dick when he actually isn’t, so hopefully this issue will be avoided as much as possible.

Now on to what I loved about this show—it was fun, fast-paced, and interesting. It’s the perfect level of drama and humor and introduced us to several interesting characters. Kara’s adopted father is played by Dean Cain, who played Superman in the Lois & Clark TV show. We only see him briefly this episode, but considering his Superman cred we can assume he will be featured more often as a side character. The only main character who is a white male is Wynn, who is a friend of Kara’s (though he’s enamored with her as well), and potentially a future villain, considering Wynn’s character becomes the Toyman. While Superman’s presence is felt we never actually see him, so he hardly counts. These three guys are the only white men in the show, and two were barely given screen time, which is pretty refreshing considering that white male characters usually dominate the media.

Other than these two characters, the only other male characters, Hank Henshaw and Jimmy Olsen, are both Black. All our other characters are female, though sadly they are all white. It would be great to see more women of color in the show, but as it stands we currently have a show with largely white women. I mean it’s great that the show has a mostly female cast, especially when you compare it to things like the Marvel movies that have so few women, but when compared to other TV shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which at least has some women of color, Supergirl is still falling short. I can only hope more women of color are introduced as main players in the future.

Speaking of female characters, I love that the focus of the show is female relationships. Kara is shown as having a strong connection with both her biological and adoptive mother, and the main focus of the episode was her relationship with her sister. Her aunt is being set up as her main villain and Cat Grant seems to act both as an antagonist and mentor. The show broke the Bechdel Test in literally its first few minutes.

I am excited to see more of this series and what they do in the future. I will certainly be tuning in for the next episode!

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