Let’s face it, Superman is the 225-pound Kryptonian in the room, week in and week out. Next to Superman, the first modern superhero, Supergirl is a B-lister with a shared origin (actually borrowed minus or plus one or two elements), a similar costume, and identical superpowers to her young cousin – actually older due to an encounter with a wormhole (she left Krypton as a teen, Kal-El as an infant, but a space anomoly left her two decades behind her much more famous cousin) – leaving her permanently in Superman’s shadow, a problem the series’ third episode, “Fight or Flight,” tries to resolve, but with only partial success. Re-addressing it in future episodes or seasons, however, isn’t likely to end differently. At this point, it’s probably best for Supergirl’s showrunners to set aside their Superman fixation and/or just pretend he lives in an alternate universe, not that difficult an idea given that Flash/Arrow already exist in an alternate universe, as does Gotham.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. While the second episode jumped ahead a week from the pilot episode, the third episode picks up seconds into the last scene of the previous episode, with Supergirl (Melissa Benoist) giving an exclusive interview to Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart), partly to help potential romantic interest James Olsen (Mehcad Brooks) from losing his job as an art director with Cat’s media company, but also to help get her story out, not to mention get a handle on her evolving image/brand as National City’s super-powered protector. Little does Supergirl/Kara Danvers realize – though honestly she shouldn’t be this naive – but Cat has an axe or four to grind. It has less with Supergirl than who Supergirl represents in Cat’s cynical eyes: millennials and their propensity for whiny self-entitlement. Coming from the 40-something Cat, it sounds less like an objective criticism than the whines and groans of a narcissistic, vain woman obsessed with retaining her social and cultural position as well as her sexual attractiveness.
While the permanently friendzoned Winn (Jeremy Jordan), Supergirl’s best (male) friend and tech expert, sets up a super-secret mission control room in Cat’s office building for Supergirl, the super-villain of the week, Reactron (Chris Browning), a radiation-scarred of a near nuclear disaster that Superman narrowly averted (Reactron’s wife perished, however). We’re repeatedly told that Superman has failed to defeat Reatron multiple times, a hard sale once we see Reactron in all of his junkyard Iron-Man non-glory. He’s strong, can fly, and shoots nuclear blasts from gauntlets, but at best he looks and sounds like a D-list super-villain, not an arch-foe capable of going toe to toe with Superman, let alone Supergirl. In their first encounter, though, Supergirl gets the better of Reactron. Given the Berlanti formula, however, that means Reactron will get the better of Supergirl the second time around (he does), before their third and (for now) last fight during the launch party for Cat’s super-special, super-sized Supergirl issue. How or why Reactron tracks Supergirl to the party is a question best left unasked (because there’s no answer apparently). It’s short of epic, even for the small screen and Supergirl’s limited TV budget.
The third episode also throws in a semi-interesting conflict between Supergirl and Hank Henshaw (David Harewood), the DEO’s head man, over whether the DEO and Supergirl’s sister, Alex (Chyler Leigh), should step in to help with non-alien, super-powered threats. The DEO’s official, government-sanctioned mandate says no, creating a minor obstacle for Supergirl, but before long Henshaw and Alex are helping track down Reactron, a slightly redundant proposition given that Winn and Olsen have already done as much. Hopefully, we’ll see Supergirl’s A- and B- support teams join forces to save onscreen time and resources. In the meantime, Henshaw and his glowing red eyes are a wild card (“Is he friend or foe?”) while the season’s Big Bad(s), the Kryptonians led by Astra (Laura Benanti), take a one-episode break (or possibly more) from threatening National City and potentially the world. Unlike Reactron, an an entire prison ship’s worth of Krytonian and other super-powered aliens feels like a legitimate threat.
Another wild card, Maxwell Lord (Peter Facinelli), makes an extended appearance in the third episode. A cross between Elon Musk and Tony Stark, he’s another smug, genius-level tech billionaire we’ve seen one too many times before in comic-book adaptations. Hopefully Berlanti and company can turn Lord into more than a potential Lex Luthor clone and romantic foil for Cat (Supergirl featured their non-chemistry in an awkward, cringe-inducing scene). Supergirl’s other, central romance, Supergirl/Kara and Olsen’s, continued along its “Will they or won’t they?” path (a path that can get incredibly boring if handled improbably), but with a minor, not altogether unexpected wrench: The arrival of Olsen’s ex, Lucy “sister of Lois” Lane (Jenna Dewan Tatum), who wants to kiss and make up. Clearly, when it comes to romance and Supergirl (the series), we’re in CW territory where cliches and lazy writing abound. Luckily, we still get a super-villain of the week and Supergirl’s season-long battle (presumably) with her Kryptonian nemeses to offset whatever romance-related stumbles await Supergirl (the character and the series).