Of all of the CW’s supershows this year, Supergirl had the biggest chance of stumbling. While Arrow and Flash have struggled, they’ve been steady. Legends of Tomorrow is just doing its own thing. Supergirl, however, leapt tall-building-style from parent network CBS over to the CW, joining all those others shows formally. A change in networks can be a killing blow for a television show. Despite that, the show thrived and gave us a solid second season. The core parts that made Supergirl fun in its first season were allowed to thrive, while some of its worst parts were put by the wayside. There were a few flaws along the way, but they weren’t enough to drag Kara Zor-El down.
Friendship is Magic
Like, okay, flying and aliens and stuff are cool. But you know what’s even cooler? Friendship.
Hey where are you going?!
Melissa Benoist is walking, talking charisma. Even more than Stephen Amell on Arrow or Grant Gustin on The Flash, Melissa Benoist is the central pillar of Supergirl. When I think about Team Flash and Team Arrow, the actors that make up those teams support their leads the same way the characters support the heroes. The heroes can only succeed when they succeed. That’s been a problem for those shows.
Melissa Benoist can, comparatively, hold Supergirl up on her own. And so the relationships Kara develops and those the other characters develop with each other feel more organic and less like a necessity for the show. Supergirl is supposed to be a beacon of hope and optimism, and that comes through with every interaction Benoist has with just about every character. Sure, she gets hurt, or angry, but it always comes back to positivity and growth.
This seemed apparent to me especially with Kara’s relationship with Lena Luthor. The relationship was at times under-used, but the writers did a lot of important relationship building with the two of them. Lena has all this history in her family of genius supervillains, and at times it seems like she feels the pull of it. But with help from both Kara and Supergirl, she resists that pull. Each time they tempt her, it seems like she’s going to fall, and then she doesn’t. And just as often, she’s helping Supergirl, giving her a reason to fight and be better.
That doesn’t even start counting the time given to Alex’s relationship with Maggie, which added a much-needed third dimension to Alex that took her beyond doting sister/secret agent. Or the time spent fleshing out J’onn J’onzz and M’gan M’orzz complex history.
That positive, mutual lift works its way into all of the show’s best interactions – Supergirl with her sister Alex, Lena, the Martian Manhunter, and the few appearances from Calista Flockhart as Cat Grant are all huge feel-good moments for the show and do a ton to overpower lesser moments.
Kara Davners don’t need no man
Like Mon-El, who ended up being one of the things that really dragged Supergirl down, character and show alike.
When season 2 dropped the silly, stupid love triangle between Kara, James and Winn, I was thrilled. It felt incredibly artificial and was nothing more than a distraction for all those characters. The beginning of the season seemed to be focusing on Kara discovering herself as a journalist, a superhero, and a whole person.
Mon-El derailed all that first as an unnecessary romantic subplot, and then as the central plot of the last few episodes of the season.
My biggest problem is that Mon-El is boring. He’s an affable, charismatic guy with a lot to learn about being good. It lands on Kara, of course, to teach him how to not be a dick to everyone all the time (and even still being likeable when he is). He’s this detour from the actual work Kara has to do, and instead she’s doing all the emotional heavy lifting for Mon-El. Of all her relationships on the show, her time with Mon-El was the least satisfying. I mean, they look good together. Those two humans would make some adorable babies. But that’s about it.
Then, after the show spends all season setting up Cadmus and Lillian Luthor as an enemy, Mon-El’s helicopter mom Rhea of Daxam, played by Teri Hatcher, comes in and makes the show all about him, as helicopter parents are wont to do. While Mon-El stood around and had feelings, Supergirl and Rhea battled it out to decide whose special boy Mon-El was going to be.
What started out as a minor distraction ended up being a major one. Even if Teri Hatcher was great as Rhea, and the conflict led to some great scenes, the whole thread feels like a miss.
The Man of Stealing Every Scene He’s In
Supergirl spent its inaugural season dancing around Kara’s familial relation to one of the most famous superheroes of literally all time. At first, it seemed like they weren’t even going to say his name. Like that annoying character in Grand Theft Auto IV they just kept calling Clark Kent “cousin.” They did finally say his name(s), but it still felt weird. And then when the CW announced that Superman would actually appear on-screen in a two-part premiere, I and many other fans were worried. Worried that Superman would be underwhelming, that he’d be overwhelming, and that he’d be misused.
Instead, the team cast a pitch-perfect actor in the role, used him just enough, and used him just right. Tyler Hoechlin brings a lightness to the role that Henry Cavill and Brandon Routh have never had the chance to. He’s a great companion to Supergirl. His sparing use made each of his scenes effective, and I felt like he carried the weight of Superman well.
In the comics, Supergirl is regarded by many as being more powerful than Superman, and the writers took that to heart as the two faced off (thanks to yet another color of Kryptonite) in the finale. It was a mostly-equal fight, but Supergirl prevailed in the end. Sure, that’s partly because she’s the main character, but it’s also because that’s just how it’s supposed to be.
And while the CW hasn’t said anything about Hoechlin headlining his own supershow, I’d be thrilled to see it happen. I think he could make the show work the same way Benoist does with Supergirl.
While Supergirl built up relationships with many of the characters, some of the core members of the first season felt a bit lost. Winn and James were very much present in the first season for the sake of the aforementioned love triangle. Without Kara to plug into, they both seemed adrift, though James much moreso.
While Kara’s work at CatCo Magazine took a backseat to her work at the DEO, James was left looking for something, anything to do. Winn at least had his super-genius technology powers (derived from the sidekick gene that Cisco and Felicity both have), but James is just a guy.
So instead of downplaying his role or maybe investing in his photojournalist roots, the writers… made him a superhero.
We can make fun of Winn being way-too-smart all we want, but the show has been building that character from day one. When he left CatCo to join the DEO, it felt much like Supergirl going from CBS to the CW. He was going somewhere much-better-suited to his abilities. When James suited up as the Guardian, his learning curve was no more than an episode or two. Before long, he was fighting alongside Supergirl like it wasn’t a thing. The show tries to justify this by saying that he has a black belt in something-or-other-jitsu, but if we’re going to do that, why not just hand out black belts? There’s room for non-combatant characters in Supergirl.
Guest Starring Everyone
Finally, one of the things Supergirl manages to pull off better than any other CW show is its use of guest stars. Alongside Supergirl and Superman, we had former incarnations of Supergirl, Superman, Wonder Woman, Lois Lane, and Hercules, pop up this season. For those of us in-the-know, it feels like a family of sorts coming back together.
Each time, the show manages to, as with Superman/Tyler Hoechlin, make good use of these characters and actors, making them important and meaningful to the story without having them overstay their welcome. Lynda Carter, she of Wonder Woman fame, is a delight as the President of the United States.
Supergirl‘s second season wasn’t without flaws, but these elements are some of the show’s best and worst parts. Those that lifted it up and those that tried to drag it down.
Thanks to relentless optimism, well-written characters, and strong relationships, Supergirl still had a stronger season than we’d hoped for and it’s still one of our favorite shows on the CW.