Is Supergirl Becoming A Supporting Character On Her Own Show?
Kara's friends have problems of their own; are they going to suck the life out of her?
I love a good ensemble, especially when it comes to superhero stories. One of my favorite things about The Avengers was the way it found storytelling balance between half a dozen comic-book icons and Hawkeye. Captain America: Civil War pulled off a similar feat, but even better and twice as much. The DC Universe seems determined to do the same. I can't say whether the upcoming Justice League movie or the CW's upcoming four-way crossover will be successful (though I know which one I have higher hopes for and it's not the one with Zack Snyder at the helm). But I can say that there is one superhero ensemble story that isn't really working for me right now, and that is Supergirl.
Some of this was unavoidable. The first season was all about Kara finding her way, figuring out how to be a superhero. Superman was kept deliberately out of the picture for that very reason. And it worked, really well. There were only two problems with that arc. The first was that it had to end, and the second was that something had to come after it. I came back this season excited about Kara's sophomore year as a superhero, and where her new confidence and self-assurance would take her. Now we're seeing where: the background.
Make no mistake: I am by no means complaining about Supergirl's strong supporting cast. We had a great Scooby Gang 2.0 going for a while there, and I won't bore you with the one-to-one Buffy analogues because you can probably figure them out for yourself anyway. But now it's less clear who is supporting whom.
Because now that Kara has figured out who Supergirl is, we're spending an awful lot of time figuring out who everyone else is. I have absolutely no quarrel with Alex's coming-out subplot, because Chyler Leigh is blowing everyone else off the screen with her chops right now. Much less interesting, however, are Mon-El's weak efforts not to answer his calling, but even to hear it. And the whole thing with James Olson becoming "Guardian" with Winn as his tech-squire just gets more embarrassing the longer it goes on, not least because where do they find the time with their new jobs? And I'm also embarrassed with how J'onn keeps hinting to secret White Martian M'Gann how much he misses the Martian Merge; for someone who hails from a desert planet, he's awfully thirsty.
All this would be bad enough if Kara herself weren't letting people down. For starters, Cat Grant's departure not only leaves an outsized crater, it strands Kara in a job she's even worse at than her previous one. I mean, forget J-school, she acts like she learned about being a reporter by watching Karen Page on Season 2 of Daredevil. Her initial reaction to Alex's coming out was slow-witted at best and frigid at worst. And she's not even around for James, who had Winn line his suit with lead, adding God-knows-how-much weight for the sole purpose of hiding Guardian's identity from their best friend. She's taken it upon herself to become some kind of instructor-slash-parole-officer-slash-guru to Mon-El, but she's terrible at imparting him with any useful knowledge, and I haven't seen anyone do a worse job of shaping a new hero since the young Obi-Wan Kenobi. Plus she's racist toward him. What's so super about any of this?
I probably shouldn't compare Supergirl to Greg Berlanti's other CW superhero shows, but I'm going to anyway. The Flash succeeds because it's got a strong lead backed up by a cohesive team; I'm sure the same is true of Arrow (which I have committed to not watching for what have become perversely contrarian reasons that even I don't fully understand). On the other hand, Legends Of Tomorrow started its second season flailing and rudderless as Captain Rip Hunter was phased out. Supergirl should follow the former example, rather than continuing to be all over the place like the latter.
It's natural that Supergirl should take some time to find its new footing with all the changes. It's now a CW show instead of a CBS one; Cat Grant, the DEO bunker, Noonan's, and an inspiring hero's journey have been replaced by Snapper Carr, the DEO tower, an alien bar that looks like the set from a poor man's Men In Black, and an increasingly ungainly ensemble lumbering in too many directions at once.
But at the end of tonight's episode, a battle that was going south was brought to a satisfying conclusion when Supergirl, heretofore out of action, zoomed in and saved the day at the last minute. She can do the same thing for the show. But let's not leave it too late.