Episode 1.02 “Stronger Together”
Last week, I said that Supergirl avoided the pitfalls of most genre pilots by not slowly dragging out the world and getting to the good stuff right away but also that it felt too stuffed for one episode. We see a sort of walking back on that in this week’s episode, “Stronger Together,” as Kara learns that she needs to slow down and build her reputation while the main villain comes into view a bit quicker than it normally turns out with these kinds of shows.
By “these kinds of shows,” I mean procedurals, of course. That’s not only the bulk of network television, it’s specifically a part of CBS. Given that, the show pulls the old-fashioned trick of having the characters repeatedly exposit all the stuff we learned last week in case anyone missed the premiere. That’s generally how procedurals go: rote case-of-the-week stories with maybe a Big Bad or overarching plot lurking in the background and showing up every so often (see Castle).
Like its DC TV siblings and because it is a superhero show, Supergirl is a natural fit for Villain-of-the-Week stuff. But what’s interesting is that the episode climaxes with Kara being made aware of the survival of her aunt Astra (Laura Benanti), a convicted criminal who it turns out was actually in the crashed Phantom Zone prison Fort Rozz instead of dead as Kara previously thought. That’s the sort of reveal usually saved for either sweeps or a season finale but making Kara aware of it early on is the smart choice.
Doing this not only leads to additional development for Kara (and, again, some fine acting from Melissa Benoist) but also expedites the story. Given that Supergirl only has thirteen episodes this season to make an impression and the fact that the average viewer knows how this kind of story is supposed to go, it’s a smart rationale for Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kriesberg and Ali Adler (the latter two co-write this episode) and company to keep viewers hooked.
But before Kara learns the truth, she learns another lesson the hard way. Namely—after some well-intentioned rescue efforts that results in a massive oil spill—and a speech from Cat Grant that she needs to not leap in with huge acts of heroism but rather small ones that build up/rehab her reputation. And thus we get a really fun montage set to Pat Benatar of Supergirl taking out criminals and rescuing a little girl’s snake (“Who names a snake Fluffy?!?”) among other things that sees National City start to embrace her.
Meanwhile, Alex, Hank Henshaw and their DEO comrades investigate a murder at a chemical plant (named Plastino Chemicals in a great nod to Supergirl’s co-creator along with streets named Siegel and Donner Avenue). Supergirl, recognizing a quill-like aperture found in the victim’s body, realizes it’s a Hellgrammite, an insect-like alien that she remembered her mom sentencing to Fort Rozz back in her childhood.
Couple this intrigue with an insistence by Cat Grant that she get to interview Supergirl or James Olsen gets fired and Supergirl enlisting James and Winn to be her Felicities and you have just as packed an episode as the pilot. Heck, Maxwell Lord (Peter Facinelli) even shows up! But the key difference here is a slower pacing. Not that much slower but slow enough.
It’s an intentional choice that not only makes “Stronger” go down a lot easier but also mirrors Cat’s big speech of the week to Kara. Despite some clunky phrasing, Calista Flockhart does right by saying that, if Supergirl were hypothetically in front of her, she would tell her to calm down and get “her head out of the clouds.” It’s a nice thesis statement that, again, serves as a metaphor for the episode itself. Effectively, while the pilot was the big showcase, this second outing proves the show has the chops worth tuning in weekly for.
Two other things helped sell this episode for me. First, the pilot’s weird insistence on not saying the word Superman is gone and thank Rao for that. Second, James Olsen—I’m calling him that because Mechad Brooks is just too damn handsome and charming to be called Jimmy—gets some depth where he explains to Kara that, like her, he came to National City to stand on his own without the Big Blue Boy Scout’s considerable shadow. It’s a lovely monologue that does a lot to strengthen the Kara/Jimmy ship but is also just a perfect emotional exchange. Ditto a devastating conversation between Kara and an AI based on Alura (Bernanti)’s brainwaves that occurs at the end of the episode.
The bad? Well, despite some damn cool mouth effects, the Hellgrammite just isn’t interesting though the surprise of who takes him down is fun. And, as a lot of others have pointed out, Winn Schott (Jeremy Jordon) is boring, boring, boring. He’s a (literal) white bread carbon copy of Cisco from The Flash and that’s really lame. Still, these are minor in the face of a strong second act that proves Supergirl is the real deal and worth your time.