Spoiler alert: we have a new shirt, and it’s for Supergirl! Get yours here.
In 2015 when we heard that there would be a new superhero show and that it would be Supergirl, we were excited. There were plenty of superhero shows out there already – they have been enjoying a renaissance lately – but we knew Supergirl would be something special. This would be one of the only superhero franchises that had a female protagonist, and that held so many possibilities.
Neither of us had read the Supergirl comics, so we came into watching the show without much context for what was true to the comics and what was newly dreamed up by the writers. We tuned into CBS every week to see what Kara Danvers and her friends were up to.
Supergirl was both familiar and fresh: familiar in that the Super-world and the backstory of Krypton’s demise were already well-established, and fresh in that it told a new story that didn’t focus on Clark Kent, Lois Lane and the Daily Planet. There were parallels, to be sure, and James Olson was a character we knew from the Superman movies, but it felt original.
There was a lot to like about the first season. It was clear from the first episode that Kara was chafing at the need to keep her Kryptonian identity a secret. When circumstances forced her to save her sister Alex’s plane from crashing by using her powers, the secret was out that National City was home to a superhero. Supergirl was born, and Kara had to figure out how to become a protector of the people while balancing a secret identity and a career with a demanding boss.
As Kara struggled with integrating her new identity into her life, we noted the metaphor. What’s it like these days for a young woman to stand up for herself and forge an identity in an ever-more complicated and competitive world, when for so long she’s been told to smile, hide who she was, and be nice? This storyline resonated.
Another highlight of the first season was Kara’s relationship with Cat Grant. It provided many uncomfortable situations for Kara to traverse, and also the opportunity to grow and gain confidence. Cat herself, played masterfully by Calista Flockhart, was always a welcome icy-cold confident presence who provided both structure in the narrative and occasional comic relief.
Television is at its best when it can reflect back to us what’s happening in our own society through the medium of entertainment. The storyline about aliens on Earth, the petition for alien amnesty or asylum, and the reactions of the humans holds up a mirror to us about our modern immigration debate. Are we doing better or worse than the people of Earth?
The crown jewel in the first season was the relationship between the Danvers sisters. Their bond was the strongest, most consistently supportive relationship on the show, uncomplicated by the things that made Kara’s relationships with the other characters complex. It even survived Alex’s self-defense killing of Kara’s aunt Astra, a killing made all the more fraught by Kara’s hope that she could redeem Astra.
There were other elements of the first season’s storyline that didn’t resonate as much – primarily the show’s attempt to make Kara’s crush on James Olson and his growing awareness of his feelings for her turn into a slow-burn relationship. It felt forced, but also felt like a diversion of focus from Kara’s own journey of self-discovery. The same applies to the other romantic storylines for Kara that were part of the first season – they felt more like a default attempt to give a female character a romantic love interest because that’s just what you do, not because it made sense for either the character or the storyline.
Similarly, Maxwell Lord as a somewhat ambiguously evil arch villain who maybe had some good intentions didn’t hit all the right notes. He wasn’t menacing enough to be truly despicable, yet he didn’t display enough depth to make us wonder or care if he could be redeemed.
In summary: we liked the first season, and the writing, storylines, and characters were all done well enough to keep our interest.
But so far we have LOVED the second season. Who knows for sure how these things happen – if the creators and writers of the show noticed that some elements of the first season didn’t mesh well or resonate with fans and critics, or if the switch of network from CBS to its younger, hipper cousin the CW played a role. What we know as viewers is that things have changed in the second season and this has become a show that we LOVE and can’t miss.
Let’s start with Kara. She’s growing in confidence and starting to choose her own path, both as a superhero and as a career woman. This same confidence is evident in the super side of her life – Supergirl is now much more of an action hero. She also came to the realization that a relationship with James wasn’t what she wanted, and decided that she needed to be romantically unattached for a while. As viewers who want to see a show about main characters who are self-actualized and can grow and learn, this is gratifying growth for Kara.
We’ve seen returning characters grow and explore different storylines. James and Winn teamed up to create Guardian, and J’onn J’onzz is confronting his loneliness and also his feelings about the genocide that White Martians committed against Green Martians. Fantastic additions to the story have been introduction of Project Cadmus as the main antagonist this season, and the introduction of Lena Luthor as someone who is determined to transcend her family’s history of evil.
In some ways, we see Lena Luthor and her mother Lillian as a reshuffling of needed character traits into characters who simply fit better. What didn’t capture our interest in Season One about Maxwell Lord now feels more compelling since pieces of his attempted storyline have been split and better fleshed out. Lillian is a better, more ruthless and more bone-chilling villain, and Lena has a more poignant redemption journey to overcome her family name and their past deeds.
Together, Lena and Snapper also appear to be filling the hole left by the departure of Cat Grant from the cast of characters. Snapper doesn’t have the emotional connection with Kara that Cat did, though he provides a gruff and often rude superior authority figure for Kara to measure herself against. Lena and Kara are on slightly more equal footing than Cat and Kara were, but Lena is also more emotionally accessible as a friend than Cat ever could have been.
Now that Winn’s crush on Kara is over, and James’ brief romance with Kara is also over, these two characters needed something else to do. Winn’s job at the DEO gives us more scenes at the DEO that truly benefit from his non-military style of communication, and his hacker skills are better used there than at Catco. While James’ career change to become a leader at Catco and try to fill Cat’s shoes could be interesting, Supergirl is Kara’s story, not James’. His desire to help the citizens of National City by becoming a superhero lets us see him in more interesting situations than managing an office. It also creates more space for him to interact with Kara in her superhero persona, rather than as Kara Danvers, and gives Kara several decisions to make about him and his actions. That his desire to have superpowers might be driven by his failed romance with Kara could be an interesting plot point for the future.
A bright, shining star in an already-excellent second season is the coming out arc for Alex Danvers, as told against the backdrop of her growing attraction to Maggie Sanders. While we don’t know if the writers had intended this from the start, many first season viewers, including us and several of our friends, had discussed that we thought Alex would make an excellent LGBTQ character. There was just something about her, though there was no concrete evidence for it that we can point to – except for the incredibly awkward kiss she and Maxwell Lord shared, and that could have been written off due to his quasi-evil status.
Alex’s coming out was both well-written and authentic, and incredibly well-acted. It reflected many personal stories we’ve heard, where people who felt like something was never quite right, or missing in their attempts to date members of the opposite sex. Alex wondered if there was something wrong with her, and adjusted by burying herself in her work. It was only when Alex met Maggie, someone she clicked with on many levels, and Maggie spoke openly about noticing Alex’s attraction to her, that the pieces started to fall into place for Alex.
Alex’s first attempt to connect romantically with Maggie didn’t go as planned, since Maggie thought it wouldn’t be a good idea to start dating someone who had just come out of the closet. While that was painful to watch, it was understandable. More importantly, it let us as viewers see how honest and brave Alex could be in identifying her pain and vulnerability and communicating it not only to her sister, but also directly to Maggie. This lines up with what we’ve come to know about Alex’s character over the first season and a half – she’s brave in her line of work in confronting physical danger, and is no coward in the emotional department either.
While we don’t harbor illusions that the path forward will be without challenges for Alex and Maggie, we are hopeful that we will continue to see this same authenticity and honesty in the representation that these two characters are bringing to this story and into our lives.
Finally, but not least, the sisters. Kara and Alex continue to be the bedrock of each others’ lives and each others’ safe space. Family is at the heart of this story, and these two strong, awesome female characters who are kicking ass and protecting the world from evil are what we’re here for.
PS – we published this blog post on the same day as the Women’s Marches that were held all over the world to vow to resist the harmful policies of America’s new President, and to state that women’s rights are human rights. Melissa Benoist attended and this is one of her tweets/instagram posts from the day. She is truly our Supergirl! Thank you, Melissa!