There’s one in every family. The golden child. The measuring stick against which your entire familial generation will be judged. Don’t wear the same outfit as them; you’ll invite comparison. Don’t work in the same field as them; you’ll never match up. Don’t let them help you out of a jam; you’ll never hear the end of it. If none of this sounds familiar, well I don’t know you and your family personally dear reader, but the golden child might just be you. So imagine for just a minute that your family’s golden child is Superman. Because my slow simmering feud with cousin Jenny over who makes grandma’s coffee cake the best is nothing compared to knowing your cousin can save the world better than you can.
Of course, that’s the conflict we’ve been building to all along on Supergirl, and while I’m not shocked we got here quite so soon, how it comes together is a lot more novel than I would have expected. Sure, it’s Kara who invites the comparison by letting it slip to Cat Grant that she is Superman’s cousin. Like being the younger sibling in a small town high school, she’s instantly flooded with comparison to her more established relative. But the thing that really brings the comparisons out is one of Clark Kent’s (and I’m so glad we’ve started using his name) own failings.
Reactron isn’t just a random villain who keeps slipping away. Despite the lackluster name, Reactron is actually a personal failing of Superman’s. The villain’s entire creation emerged from and is guided by the man of steel’s inability to rescue literally everyone in a crisis. Reactron only comes after Kara because of Superman. So maybe the golden child isn’t quite so golden after all.
Not that anyone is going to say that to Kara. Even when she risks it all to try talking Reactron out of his violent ways, which includes a nice head nod to how improbable that solution will be, it’s Clark who needs to save the day—add insult to injury when Maxwell Lord gives Superman credit over Supergirl for his rescue.
We’ve talked before about how I identify as a Marvel girl, and even though the Danvers name sometimes throws me, I’m making a real effort to not compare apples and oranges here. I mean, the moment you start reading comics you need to accept the fundamental truth of all superhero books: Marvel steals from DC, DC steals from Marvel. Let it go, or risk perishing into the black hole that is almost a century of timeline disputes and copyright infringements. But Maxwell Lord is the poor man’s Tony Stark right? At least, as he’s portrayed here? Just enough of a jerk to be suspicious, but not quite malicious enough to be a villain? Spoiled tech billionaire whose relationship towards women is prickly at best? I’m just saying, that all feels a bit familiar. So Maxwell Lord is Tony Stark. I’m gonna go with that.
Back on the Kara front, she does manage to defeat Reactron in the end. It’s something Superman hasn’t been capable of, but what leads to it, is a pretty heartfelt confession from Jimmy Olson. It seems Superman knew Kara needed help because Jimmy summoned him using a magic Superman summoning watch. But Kara’s not the only one comparing herself to an unattainable standard. James also admits to relying too much on Superman to save him, essentially revealing that he compares himself to Kara in terms of bravery. It’s a nice moment for the two, and certainly a rarity to have a male lead confess that he doesn’t quite measure up. In the end, it all ties together with an IM chat between Kara and Clark. It’s a little off-putting, but it leads to a really nice moment that blends the comic book with reality. When Clark messages “Looks like it was a job for Supergirl,” we can’t help but see the twist being placed on a traditional hyperbolic comic book line. It’s one of the most satisfying things about the current cycle of reimaginings. We get the chance to look at familiar elements in a new form. We get to see things from our childhood in a more sophisticated and emotionally complex light.
Other highlights of tonight’s episode include Win, who is really growing as a person. He’s much more settled in his crushing on Kara. We’ll see if the writers can keep him moving in the right direction without losing the message they built into his relationship to Kara in the pilot. Sister bonding between Kara and Alex read, unsurprisingly, amazingly realistic and fun. As a big sister myself I can promise you, we always know when you have a crush. Always.
Finally, there seems to be an evening of tone in tonight’s episode. Yes, the show still has a quite a few social justice moments, Kara sticking up for millennials stands out tonight in particular, but Supergirl seems to be finding its stride. There’s a lot less talking about issues, and a lot more showing. Don’t get me wrong—the monologues are important. What we have in Supergirl is an action comic book show that wants to be more. The production team is clearly committed to giving us not just entertainment, but a message on what it means to be a woman in today’s society. That’s applause-worthy. To see the show smooth out some of its rough edges is certainly promising for the future, and by leaning more on showing us Kara’s concerns (rather than telling us about them), we get some really unique story lines and character development. It’s a great balance, which is pretty important if you want your superhero to ring true in an imaginary world.
Katherine Siegel is a Chicago-based writer and director, and a regular contributor to Paste. You can find out more by checking out her website at www.KatherineSiegel.com or follow her on “Twitter”:https://twitter.com/Katealily