On Monday, October 26, CBS released the pilot episode of its new superhero series Supergirl, which follows the adventures of Kara Zor-El, cousin of Kal-El (that is, Superman), as she struggles to embrace her powers.
Kara Zor-El’s original mission called for her to follow her baby cousin to Earth and protect him, but her space pod went off course, leading her to arrive on Earth twenty-four years late and still only thirteen years of age. With no need to protect a now-grown Superman, Kara, adopted by the Danvers family, has attempted to embrace a normal life. At the age of twenty-four she now works for media company CatCo, but feels disappointed that she only fetches lattes. When her adopted sister’s plane runs into trouble, however, it’s up to Kara to save the day. But is she ready for the world to know who she is?
I’ve been waiting with great excitement for this new series, both because it features a female superhero and because the show seems keenly aware of its need to address feminist issues, such as the consequences of naming a woman Supergirl. It could have been easy to hand viewers a female superhero and act as if that were enough to appease the fans still clamoring for a Black Widow or a Captain Marvel film, but, of course, the problems with the representation of women in media today goes far beyond the small percentage of female-led films and television shows. That Supergirl is choosing to face these problems head-on gives me a lot of hope for the future of the show.
The first episode balances these serious feminist issues expertly with its lighter tone, giving a tongue-in-cheek nod to the objectifying outfits given to many female superheroes before clothing Kara in the outfit she–and not her male coworker–prefers to wear, and allowing media conglomerate founder Cat Grant to give a defense for the title of Supergirl in a tense scene that is immediately followed with an amusing interruption. The character of Kara herself helps to maintain this lighter tone, not only because she possesses an awkward charm in her daily life, but also because she possesses such a sunny and upbeat personality. Her love of life and her desire to live it to the fullest is inspiring.
I have seen criticisms both of Cat Grant’s defense of “Supergirl” and of Kara’s character, but I don’t think anyone needs to agree with Cat’s attempt to reclaim the word “girl” in order to acknowledge the effort made by the makers of the show, and I don’t think it’s valid to claim that a girl who is bubbly and likes fashion somehow isn’t a serious superhero or a strong woman or a good representation of women. Women, surprisingly enough are people–and that means they come with all kinds of interests and personalities and definitions of what being a girl means to them. That viewers think Kara needs to represent her entire gender is exactly why we need more women onscreen.
The episode succeeds as entertainment as well as feminist commentary, expertly introducing Kara and her world, setting up the plot for the series, and providing a mini arc that showcases Kara’s desire to help others and to accept her powers. Kara’s willingness to embrace her abilities so quickly is refreshing and one of the reasons I found myself drawn to her–the idea of a character knowing what is right and choosing to do it despite difficulties seems so unusual in a media landscape attracted to moral grey areas. This willingness also allows the show to move forward with the action, rather than get bogged down in a somewhat ridiculous “dilemma” (There’s not really a choice here, right? Kara has superpowers and can save lives. Why would she think it was better to let innocent people die?).
With its fast-paced action, its nods to feminism, its bright lead superhero, and its amazing supporting cast full of women, Supergirl seems poised to become one of my new favorite shows, right up there with Agent Carter (though I’ll admit Agent Carter gets bonus points for big band music and fashion). I’m excited to see where this show goes.