If Supergirl’s pilot episode suffered from the usual problems associated with first episodes (e.g., world building, character introduction, season-long arc set-up), the second episode, “Stronger Together,” a phrase we hear from Supergirl (Melissa Benoist) and her newfound enemy, Astra (Laura Benanti), a Kryptonian like Supergirl and her late mother’s twin sister (two episodes in and we’re already in pulpy “evil twin” territory), unfolds much more smoothly and organically than the pilot episode, trading off family-oriented character beats (Supergirl, her adopted sister, her evil aunt) with Supergirl in city-saving and villain-thumping action, a balanced mix for anyone concerned that Supergirl (the series, not the character) would veer too much toward family- and character-drama (or god forbid, romance).
“Stronger Together” opens exactly a week after the events depicted in the pilot episode. Supergirl is still new to the city-saving and villain-thumping thing, though that doesn’t stop General Hank Henshaw (David Harewood), the head of the Department of Extra-Normal Operations (DEO), from pointing out the Super family’s penchant for “wanton destruction,” a not-so-oblique reference to a frequent criticism aimed at Man of Steel by its most vocal online and offline detractors. In fact, “Stronger Together” and maybe the entire season feels like executive producer/co-creator Greg Berlanti’s take on Man of Steel’s central plot line (Superman vs. Kryptonian super-villains, a superhero learning/growing into his superpowers). As an episode, “Stronger Together,” repeatedly foregrounds Supergirl’s relative inexperience as a superhero. Despite Supergirl’s superpowers, she’s still a newbie and as such, in need of slack cutting from viewers and in-show characters.
That doesn’t stop Supergirl/Kara’s boss, Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart), from running a tabloid-inspired headline (“Supergirl: Miracle or Menace?”) when one of Supergirl’s attempts to save an oil tanker ends up semi-disastrously. That leads to Cat-to-Kara advice (for Supergirl) about the need to start small before moving up to bigger threats, advice Supergirl initially rejects, along with training, from her adopted sister, Alex (Chyler Leigh), a senior DEO agent. It’s also advice eventually puts into action with the help of Winn (Jeremy Jordan), her work friend/Supergirl costume designer, and James “Don’t Call Me Jimmy” Olsen (Mehcad Brooks), the Tribune’s new art director. They act as her eyes and ears (slightly redundant given Supergirl’s powers) as she goes about low-level city saving (e.g., an ambulance stuck in traffic, a convenience store hold-up, a snake caught in a tree [a clever twist on one of Superman’s more iconic moments]).
Supergirl faces another problem: Cat wants an exclusive interview with Supergirl and isn’t above pressuring Olsen into using his in with the House of El to make it happen, setting up an internal conflict for Olsen and a heart-to-heart that finally reveals a second, primary reason for trading Metropolis for National City – his desire to escape Superman’s considerable shadow and not be known as the “Superman’s Pal” (a reference to Olsen’s unofficial/official nickname and the title of a long-running comic) – and his desire to forge his own path and be his own man. How doing Superman’s bidding (ostensibly to watch over/mentor/report back on Supergirl’s progress) and becoming ensnared with another member of the House of El (setting aside potential romantic complications) gets Olsen closer to his “be my own goal” isn’t particularly clear, but at least it’s superficially, temporarily satisfying. It also gives Supergirl/Kara and Olsen a moment, the kind of character- and backstory-revealing moment that relationships, romantic and otherwise, are made of.
Meanwhile – and you knew there was a meanwhile – Astra puts a murky plan in motion. She claims, like Zod before her, that she wants to save the Earth (for whom and for what we’ll presumably learn in future episodes), setting up a semi-satisfying Supergirl vs. Astra battle in an abandoned warehouse. It’s semi-satisfying due to obvious budget constraints, a problem Supergirl (the series) is likely to encounter throughout the season. As a teaser of future Kryptonian vs. Kryptonian battles, it’s not completely a wash, though Berlanti and company will have to seriously up their game in the future effects and choreography bad. As one of, if not the, season’s Big Bad – an offscreen male voice in the penultimate scene suggests otherwise – Astra has the makings of a serviceable counterweight to Supergirl, provided Berlanti and company don’t disappoint (a big “if,” admittedly) when her Grand Plan receives its official unveiling.