Melissa Benoist: Why Supergirl is feminist

27 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Supergirl’ recap: It’s good to be a hero.

Joining the increasingly crowded landscape of superhero television shows, the CBS drama found itself in good company as viewers flocked to social media to praise the show and its star Melissa Benoist.

Several things are abundantly clear in the first episode for CBS’s big swing at the comic book genre: Supergirl is not going to hide its optimism, its sense of fun or the gender of its protagonist for anyone expecting a broody, Christopher Nolan-esque, masculine take on superheroism. The action-packed premiere, which saw Superman’s cousin, Kara Zor-El embrace her superpowers after her sister was nearly killed in a plane crash, had several surprising moments. But then, like everyone else, I have really, really awkward, horribly awkward, moments,” the actress said. “We were like, ‘We have to get a diamond ring for that girl,’ but then we still needed to date the nation,” said executive producer Ali Adler. “We had to see maybe a thousand more women, and we never stopped being in love with Melissa.” “The second that I saw in my email inbox the title ‘Supergirl’, I just knew automatically that it was something important and it was something exciting and rare and that I wanted to be a part of it,” she said. “From there it was kind of that’s where the journey started.” In this version of Supergirl, Kara doesn’t arrive on Earth until she is 13, so she remembers planet Krypton.

Working as an assistant at a magazine, Kara’s life is turned upside down when her Supergirl persona – handily hidden from her journalist co-workers by a pair of glasses – is outed to the world. You know the one: After National City is in awe of the female hero who saved a commercial plane, Kara Danvers (Melissa Benoist) is thrilled that everyone finally saw her alter-ego’s superpowers. I mean, the first thing we see our hero do is apologize to a guy she bumps into on the street, and then by the end of the episode she will literally stand in front of a semi-truck as it crashes around her. Superman’s BFF, Jimmy Olsen (Mehcad Brooks), also features in the show as does the intriguingly-named Winn Scott (Jeremy Jordan) who fans will know shares a name with infamous villain The Toyman. I want some popcorn.’ I have to stay on top of my game.” In the DC Comics universe, Supergirl has followed Superman to Earth following the destruction of their home planet Krypton.

In a change from the comic books, Kara’s joined by her adoptive sister Alex, who it turns out, is a highly-trained agent with the Department of Extra-Normal Operations, and has been keeping an eye on Kara all her life. Unfortunately, Krypton’s destruction created a shockwave that knocked Kara’s ship into the Phantom Zone, a place where space is frozen and where she would remain stuck for 23 years before getting to her destination. Melissa says putting on the Supergirl boots and cape for the first time was exciting and recalled how she showed photos of her dressed as Supergirl to family members, including her mother and husband, actor Blake Jenner.

The character has been portrayed by Helen Slater in an 80s movie version and Laura Vandervoort as a supporting role in the Superman prequel series Smallville. After a battle with one such prisoner, the super-powered Vartox, ended with an impressively expensive-looking truck smash and heat vision combo, Kara thinks she’s clean out of the woods but in the episode’s final moments, viewers see Kara’s evil aunt make clear that no-one will stand in her way. Shouldn’t she be called Superwoman? … If we call her Supergirl, something less than what she is, doesn’t that make us guilty of being anti-feminist? Wanting her to have a normal upbringing, Superman places her in the care of the Danvers (Lois & Clark’s Dean Cain and Supergirl’s Helen Slater), scientists who helped him understand his powers and who also have another daughter, Alex. “Even though I had the all same powers ‘he’ did, I decided the best thing I could do was fit in,” Kara explains in a voice-over. Otherwise known as The General, Fort Rozz’s overseeing hears of her niece’s heroics and issues a very simple request to her troops: “Find her and kill her.” In the spoiler trailer released after the episode Astra sends yet more henchmen to kill her niece before trying to do the job herself by punching her through several walls.

Didn’t you say she’s a hero?” At this point, Cat delivers her best death stare: “I’m the hero!” she says. “I stuck a label on the side of this girl. She reasoned that, “Earth didn’t need another hero.” (Supergirl will spend most of its series premiere fighting back against this idea and making a case that Kara’s story is just as interesting and worthwhile as that of Superman.) The pilot of CBS’ Supergirl is fast-paced, charming, fun, and incredibly self-aware. While the pilot might not be a great episode — it’s a bit clunky thanks to enormous amounts of exposition, a necessary evil — it is effective and makes me want to return next week and, hopefully, for many more weeks to come.

And, as the show itself notes, it’s a story you’ve already heard, not just because a lot of comic book origin stories have similarities, but because Supergirl (or Kara Zor-El) has the exact same backstory as her cousin, Superman. OK, it’s not 100% the same, but it still involves a child being stuck in a tiny spaceship on Krypton (if they had bigger spaceships so many of their problems would have been solved) and catapulted towards Earth as Krypton explodes. So if you perceive Supergirl as anything less than excellent — isn’t the problem you?” So, that speech seems to exist to preemptively stop real-life critics from bashing the “girl” name, right? She was raised by the kind-hearted Danver family but after spending her life trying to hide her super powers, embraces them to help others when she moves to the big city. Over on the opposite side of the personality spectrum we have Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart), Kara’s boss who is the complete opposite of mild-mannered and is an obvious foil to Kara.

After a meeting with Cat, Kara meets CatCo’s new art director, James “Jimmy” Olsen, who recently transferred from The Daily Planet in Metropolis, where he made a name for himself with a Pulitzer for snapping the first photo of Superman. Tiny sparks start to fly between Kara and James (only Superman and his mother call him Jimmy), and we can already see that the writers are planning to create a love triangle between Kara, James, and Winn.

The kick in the pants she needs to figure out what she actually wants is a plane, that just so happens to have her foster sister Alex on board, spiraling down towards National City (like Metropolis but on the West Coast). As Alex rummages through her closet, Kara worries aloud that she’s not living up to her potential because she chose to live a normal life even though she can do everything her Boy Scout cousin can. Clad in a blue sweater (it’s her color), Kara rushes into an alley and, after a few false starts, she is up, up and away, literally carrying a 747 to safety with her bare hands. After performing her first act of heroism, Kara does not retreat to brood in a cave — she eats pizza and watches herself on the news, booing a reporter for being mean and squealing when her silhouette appears onscreen.

In a twist on the fashion montages you’ve seen on Sex and the City and the like, Kara tests out a variety of costumes, ditching a midriff-baring option for a sleek skirt-and-cape ensemble (capes are good for aero-dynamics says Winn, and we just go with it). She officially gets the name “Supergirl” when her boss, Cat of Catco Worldwide Media, christens her the unnamed hero in the media (with a hashtag, of course). Later, she wakes up in the DEO’s underground base and meets Hank Henshaw (Homeland’s David Harewood), the agency’s head, who explains that the DEO protects Earth from extraterrestrial presence and/or invasion.

The not-so-subtly dismissive leader, Hank Henshaw, has no time for Kara, and blames her for the landing of a much more dangerous alien ship: a prison that landed at the same time as she did and unleashed the universe’s worst criminals on Earth. There’s definitely more to it: Based on his concerns about Superman’s presence on Earth, it’s clear that he also doesn’t trust Kara because she’s an alien. The next day, Kara returns to work and learns that Cat has christened her alter ego “Supergirl” in the press. “I don’t want to minimize the importance of this,” Kara says as she objects being called “girl” instead of “woman.” Becoming a voice for the producers, Cat defends the name.

It’s a telling scene that reveals the show is definitely aware of how important it is for the genre as it’s one of the first female-led vehicles in the most recent wave of superhero franchises. She brings Kara a present in the form of a holographic message from her biological mother (the always-lovely Laura Benanti) which has just the right amount of love and inspiration to get our Supergirl back on track.

Cat and Kara’s argument is about to end with Cat firing Kara, but James interrupts with an exclusive, clean photo of Supergirl and gives Kara all the credit for acquiring it.

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