“Stronger Together” – 4 Takes on CBS’ Supergirl
Even though only two episodes of CBS’ Supergirl have aired so far, it’s quickly become a favorite new show for many of us. Too many for just one person to write and reflect on. But as we just learned this past week–the motto of the House of El, as represented by the iconic “S,” is “El Mayara” or “stronger together,” so it seems only fitting that we collaborate for a roundtable and reflect as a group on what we like (and don’t like) about Supergirl two episodes in.
What’s your favorite part of the show so far?
Kate: There’s no way I can pick just one! The joy and optimism. I just feel good after watching it. It’s why the Supers are my favorite of all the DC families. I also love the emphasis on the relationship she has with her adopted sister, Alex. It’s not a perfect sister relationship, and that’s so important to see represented in media. Also, Supergirl’s biceps! I’m amazed at how developed they are and I love it.
Paige Sammartino: I agree with Kate, I dig how Kara and Alex’s relationship plays such an important role in the story, and how it addresses the ups and downs of sisterhood. I love that Kara is girly, because there are plenty of “strong female characters” who don’t embrace feminine qualities at all (no dresses, no makeup, no female friends, etc.), and “strong” doesn’t mean “not feminine.” It also doesn’t mean “must be dark and edgy”; Kara’s self-discovery and growth as a superhero is uplifting, which makes her even more fun to watch.
Jamie: I agree, the optimism and sheer “how much fun and how exciting is it to be me and do this” energy of the show is so much fun. Kara’s sweet and earnest, eager and like a golden retriever puppy.
Desiree: The optimism and Melissa Benoist’s performance are what make the show currently. Benoist embodies everything about Kara and is able to make hope and optimism combined with awkwardness charming and believable. I dislike the comparisons between Kara and Felicity Smoak (from Arrow) that I’ve seen because Kara is an actual character. She’s not just awkward, the writing allows Kara to feel things: sadness, anger, disappointment, displacement. She wasn’t relegated to “crying pretty” as one might say. The rest of the characters are still finding their feet, as is the story, but right now Kara and Jimmy Olsen are the highlights. Though I have to give major credit to the various female/female relationships Kara gets to experience. It’s one of the few shows where such a thing happens. Even if a show is female centric, too often you still only see said leading lady interact with men (Agent Carter comes to mind, and Agents of SHIELD with Daisy Johnson). So I’m really glad we get to see Kara have relationships with Alex, Cat Grant, her mother, and her aunt being the big bad. My big compliant, however, would be that they’re all white women.
Kate: The escaped alien prisoners/Evil!Aunt Astra plot, which seems to be the season long story arc. It just seems overly complicated and creates unintentional “us and them” binaries.
Paige: I’d be lying if I said I didn’t do a little fist pump right along with a bunch of the cheesy, “girl power” one-liners in the pilot, but as the series goes on, I hope the writers tone down their winks to the audience and focus on writing a superhero story, not a superhero story “for girls.”
Jamie: I’m with Kate that Fort Rozz and “evil Aunt Astra” appears to be her “baddie of the week,” but I hate even more that her support group seems to be her sister and a bunch of guys. I hate most of all that there seems to be a constant of belittling and damaging Kara’s self esteem in any way possible, before she rallies. That needs to stop quickly. I want to see her team up with lots of other girl heroes from the DCU. Even if we just get flickers of their names without seeing them in costume.
Desiree: The lack of women of color. The show is claiming to be feminist, and I do see feminist themes in it. I can appreciate the various feminist themes but I had the same problem with Agent Carter, the lack of diversity. Now, at least this show has two people of color in their main cast, Cranchaw and Jimmy Olsen, but I need at least one woman of color to be a recurring or main character. Otherwise the show’s feminist message begins to feel very “white feminist” to me. But we’re only on episode two so I’m willing to be patient.
Cat Grant got a fair amount of backlash for her “what’s wrong with being a girl?” speech in the pilot, and Melissa Benoist has gone on record calling Supergirl feminist. With the second episode now firmly planting its feminist flag, how do you feel about Supergirl’s feminism?
Kate: It feels to me like 90s “Girl Power” redux–which is why I think people are critical of it, because it is, in many ways, simplistic and doesn’t address intersectionality. But at the same time, as a woman who was a teenager in the 90s during the first wave of Girl Power, I know that hearing that message affected me growing up, and made me feel empowered. My favorite part of Supergirl’s feminism is that it allows for failure. Kara makes mistakes a lot, questions herself a lot, and still does heroic things. That’s a change from the Girl Power feminism of the 90s, and it’s so important.
Paige: I adored Cat’s speech. Yes, it’s beyond cheesy. It is mac and cheese, ham and cheese, and four-cheese pizza all at once. Yet it reminded me of the Always #LikeAGirl campaign. The term “girl” gets a lot of bad publicity (“throw like a girl,” “don’t be such a girl,” etc.), more so than “woman,” I think. To take a term that many people use in a belittling way, sometimes without even thinking about it, and reclaim it is a wonderful thing. If there are movements out there to find empowerment in terms like “bitch” and “bossy,” why not “girl”?
Jamie: I am ambivalent about it. Cat doesn’t consider herself a “girl” except when it suits her or when it gives her the advantage. She called Kara “Supergirl” because it was a brand, and it was cute and more “bankable” a name than Superwoman. And metawise, because that’s not the name DC gave her. *shrug*
Desiree: I think the feminist-lite is purposefully done. From what I know CBS is a pretty conservative network at is, as are most networks. This isn’t cable, and for mainstream audiences–as we’ve already seen–anything with a woman front and center shouting she can be a hero is going to get backlash. Some of it is cheesy, but I’m hoping after they weed out the ones who will reject the message of feminism they can begin to be more subtle.
There’s a lot about “him,” but as Supergirl herself puts it, this isn’t “his” story, it’s hers. How do you like or not like the handling of Superman so far in the show? Does his shadow loom too large? Do they reference him too much, even after Kara refutes his place in her story?
Kate: No. I am greedy for all of the Superman references, because I honestly think that these references to Superman are awesomely in character in a way that wasn’t shown in Man of Steel.
Paige: So far, I think they’re handling it well. You can’t really talk about Supergirl without addressing Superman, and he’s still Kara’s family, even though they’re not together all the time. I like that as much as Kara and her cast reference him, it’s clear that he’s thinking about her as well.
Jamie: I like them saying “Superman” or “Man of Steel” better than just “him” and “he” like they danced around his name in episode one. They’re relatives. It’s silly to avoid the name.
Desiree: I’m assuming they can’t outright say “his” name. In other superhero shows they do similar things, like in a recent episode of The Flash Jay Garrick made a reference to Arthur Curry but didn’t specifically say his name and just referred to him as “one of my best friends” who happens to live in Atlantis. So I’m wondering if they just can’t say “Man of Steel” or “Superman,” or if they’re saving it for later. I don’t mind the references. Ignoring Superman would feel silly since he’s such a huge part of her origin. They just need to figure out a better way to incorporate him.
Which character would you want to spend an afternoon with, and what would you do?
Kate: It may be expected, but I have to pick Kara. Mondays are now my favorite days because I get to spend an hour with her. I can only imagine how awesome it would be to spend an afternoon with her. Ideally, she’d take me flying, and then we’d spend the rest of the afternoon at the Danvers because, hello, Dean Cain is her father and Helen Slater is her mother! It would be a Superfam overdose and I would die happy.
Paige: Kara and I would totally geek out and have a girls’ day in our sensible, seasonally-appropriate attire. We’d probably camp out in a coffeehouse, swap stories about our entry-level publishing jobs and wacky-wonderful families, and agree that “you look pretty without your glasses” isn’t a compliment (and that we look pretty with our glasses, too). I also wouldn’t be opposed if we happened to bump into Jimmy Olsen, even though Kara and I would both be giggly, awkward messes. He’s too cool!
Jamie: It’d have to be James Olsen. I’d want to throw Cat Grant’s hot coffee in her face. I could not be still and quiet around Kara although maybe she’d be into that and we’d have fun freaking out about how completely awesome she is. Winn would get on my nerves. I’d want to punch Danvers and Henshaw in the face. Aunt Astra would kill me because she’d get on my nerves and I’d eventually tell her how I feel about her. James and I would talk multimedia and how cool things are with both cousins.
Desiree: Can I double with Kara and Jimmy? They’re both super dreamy and adorable with smiles that light up the sky. We can go on a picnic and gossip about Gotham, how lame Green Arrow is and how much he doesn’t deserve to be Mayor of Star City, and gush about Iris West’s new article.