Growing Pains and Group Dynamics: SUPERGIRL’s Learning Curve

There’s an old adage that says you’ve got to walk before you can run. If anything sums up Supergirl’s second episode (Stronger Together), it’s that sentiment. Kara Zor-El is desperate to live up to the S, to fill her cousin’s boots (I wasn’t aware they were vacant…?), and to be the hero everyone—including herself—hopes she’ll be. Overzealous and undertrained, Supergirl accidentally causes an oil spill in an effort to keep a tanker from exploding. And, like the Roman mob, the people of National City are fickle. Even Cat Grant is thoroughly disenchanted with Supergirl’s glaring, flaming failures. Disheartened, Kara sums up her blunders nicely: “I went from superhero to eco-terrorist in a single bound.”

It is somewhat painful watching Kara fumble, stumble, doubt, and worry. It doesn’t help that Hank Henshaw, her boss at the DEO, is about as friendly as a cactus covered in bees. When another prisoner from Fort Rozz surfaces at a chemical plant (an insect-like creature called a Hellgrammite), Kara asks what she can do to help, and Henshaw’s disdain is palpable: “Don’t cause any oil spills.” Which…ouch. It’s her first week on the job, so to speak, and it’s rough. It doesn’t help that her sister, Alex, pulls her aside, weakens her in a room of 18% Kryptonite, and proceeds to pummel her from tail to teakettle. It’s one humiliation after another. Understandably, Alex is trying to prepare Kara to fight and not rely on her brute strength (only Fezzik gets to be on the Brute Squad, Kara). But that doesn’t make it easy to stomach. It does come into play a little more quickly than I’d like (toward the end of the episode), but that’s a minor infraction.

The next day at the office, Kara has another outburst of wounded pride, asking Cat why no one will cut Supergirl some slack. It borders a bit on whining. However, Cat’s rejoinder more than makes up for the foible, which dovetails nicely into what Cat would advise Supergirl to do, if she had the chance: “Calm the hell down. She’s trying take on way too much, way too fast.” I liked this scene, with its shameless dramatic irony. The advice is simple, but invaluable. And who hasn’t lumbered into a situation with good intentions, only to muck about like Godzilla? It’s a nice, relatable moment.

Like all good heroes (Buffy, Arrow, and—hell, even Constantine) before her, Kara realizes that she’s better off with people, not charging into situations alone. She enlists the help of Jimmy (who is being pressured by Cat to get an interview with Supergirl or lose his job) and Winn. Those two size each other up, hinting at a possible upcoming love triangle (not seeing much chemistry there at all, honestly). With the help of a police scanner and a well-timed Pat Benatar song, they send Kara out on missions that she can complete, saving people (and a tree-bound snake named Fluffy) and doing good. In the blink of an eye, Kara flipped the script on her own narrative. She took control and started to tell her own story. It is a powerful move. Sure, she had help, but it was her clever thinking—coupled with Cat’s wisdom—that saved the day. And the snake. (“Snakes, why did it have to be snakes?” I hear you, Indy…)

Alex comes by that evening and sees that Kara has kept her secret identity less secret than even Oliver Queen’s. She’s miffed, and it seems for half a second like it’s going to be a fight, but all that fizzles out. The scene between the siblings is supposed to be touching, but I wasn’t completely sold on its sincerity. Alex wears the role of Older Sibling as a mantle, but if she’s not careful, it will become an albatross. Kara is clearly struggling with her belief in herself, and she needs an extra boost of reassurance: “I know I have a lot to learn. And James and Winn believe in me. But…I need your faith, Alex. More than that S, more than that cape, more than anyone’s.”

The next evening starts with an epic disaster that Kara didn’t cause: the DEO tries to lure out Insect Face, only to set the worst trap in history, resulting in Alex being kidnapped. Once she wakes up, Alex meets Kara’s aunt, General Astra. As far as evil villain names go, it’s rather disappointing. I do have to give it to Laura Benanti here, who is quietly menacing and so self-assured. There isn’t a false note to be found (pun intended—shoutout to all my fellow Broadway nerds). In fact, General Astra is the scariest kind of Big Bad: passionate and unwavering in the idea that she is righteous.

Concurrently, Kara steps up to the plate in an honest, friendship-based way, telling Jimmy that she’ll do the interview for his sake. She also delivers an astute observation about why having people matters and how she wants to be her own person, not simply imitate the Man of Steel: “I don’t want to be a hero like him. My cousin, he’s so used to going it alone. He doesn’t know any other way.” Slowly, but surely, she’s finding her footing and her voice.

That’s quite timely, because Kara is all disapproval and measured fury when Hank informs her that—oops!—Alex has been kidnapped, because their plan failed worse that all of Pinky and the Brain’s ridiculous plots to take over the world. (Narf!) Rushing into an obvious setup (I half-expected Admiral Ackbar to pop out and yelp, “It’s a trap!”), Kara comes face to face with Auntie Evil, who seethes rage like most people sweat: “Your alliance with the humans is misplaced. Do not stand against me. I let one planet die. I will not do so again.” Without a hint of fear, Kara replies, “Funny, I was going to say the same thing.” And it’s that moment we get a real glimpse of the hero that Supergirl can be, the one she’s growing into.


A somewhat ridiculous fight follows, and Kara only gets in a decent blow once she remembers Alex’s earlier 3-second fight training. Both Kara and Alex (who kicked the crap out of Bug Face pretty fiercely) are then saved by Hank, who stabbed Astra with some kind of Kryptonite blade. (Do we know where this stockpile of Kryptonite came from?)

Back at DEO headquarters, there’s a sweet scene between the sisters: Kara asks Alex to teach her how to fight, and Alex finally gives Kara what she’s been so desperate for: her support. It would’ve felt more like a plot device, if it weren’t for the kernel of truth nestled in the exchange. Even the strongest person in the world is not an island. Echoing a memory Kara had of her mother, Alex talks about her sister’s childhood loss: “You never let that loss diminish your light. You’ve always had the heart of a hero, way before you put on that S.”

Four quick bits: Kara now has an interactive, memory-based hologram of her mother. This is an odd touch and somewhat cruel. Imagine losing your planet and your parents. Now, imagine talking to a computer that looks like your mom, but can’t hug you. Eesh.

Rounding a corner, Hank has momentarily glowing red eyes. Either he’s in desperate need of some Visine, or all is not what it seems. Curious.

Favorite line of the episode: “Drunk at 9 a.m., that’s the last time I have breakfast with Ruth Bader Ginsburg.”

Lastly, Kara makes good on her promise to meet with Cat as Supergirl, even going so far as to lift her car onto the roof of a building, which seems a bit needlessly showy. But in the closing shot, there’s a confidence in Kara’s countenance that we have not seen before. She’s more commanding, and there’s nothing of the bubbly insecurity of her daily persona. It’s clear that she’s not trying to live up to a symbol, anymore. She’s coming into her own.

But only time will tell if she truly has the heart of a hero.


Ali Trotta is a writer and editor who lives on a steady diet of coffee and sarcasm.


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