Supergirl is fast becoming one of the best hero shows on TV. Its central character throws off a blast of light that offers shade, color and contrast to the women around her.
This week's Thanksgiving story was brought forward to replace a bomb-plot episode deemed inappropriate and untimely following the Paris attacks.
Supergirl alter-ego Kara faces the menace of a turkey dinner with big sister Alex and with Mom, both of whom have been sparring for years. Turns out, Kara comes from a complicated family.
In an early review of this series, I complained that the writers have presented Supergirl as a childlike adult, so justifying the anachronism of her being a 'girl.' But I'm coming around to the idea that her naivety and childishness is her greatest asset, both for her character and for this over-arching story.
Having been delivered into the Danvers household at age 13, Kara spent the next eight years being coddled by her foster mother, and being protected by her sister. The result is a young woman with a dangerous flaw: she believes the world to be mostly benevolent.
It's worth recalling that, as a girl, she witnessed her parents killed in a planetary apocalypse. Little wonder she suffers from arrested development.
Mom is stingy with her affections for her own daughter, while smothering Kara with care and compliments. Alex overcompensates by literally dedicating her life to protecting Kara. You can see why this might make for a lively Thanksgiving dinner, especially when Alex hits the vino collapso with seasonal gusto.
The resolution gives us yet another outstanding couch-confession scene featuring Alex, this time with Mom. Alex's scenes are way more than mere supporting-character plot-progression. She is someone whose feelings are important to us. Her attempts to impress Mom by out-Momming her are both pathetic and touching.
By placing Supergirl alongside some challenging and even cynical women, producer Greg Berlanti has given us the gift of contrast, as well as a lot of room for both Kara and Supergirl to grow. She is less formed and complete than mainstream male superheroes, most especially her tediously messianic cousin Superman.
For me, this is what makes her way more interesting. Her vaguely annoying adorability is in sharp contrast to the women around her, who are necessarily made of sterner stuff.
That said, Supergirl's foster-mother's character Eliza disappoints slightly. In her first real appearance, her function is to antagonize Alex and to pamper Kara. She's tough but she makes for a cut-out Thanksgiving Mom. Let's hope that in future episodes she is allowed to offer more than back-story and foil.
Supergirl's relentless girlishness is also explored in an action thread which brings together Kara's boss Cat Grant with this week's power-villain, a shock-jock turned electro-turbine called Livewire (pictured above).
Leslie Willis is a caustic, snarky radio host who, according to mentor Cat, "National City loves to hate." We first find her ranting on her her show about Supergirl's nauseating cuteness. "A skirt and tights?" she scoffs. "Please." She goes on to mock Supergirl for having "a Sapphic vibe."
Willis is a nasty piece of work, but more interestingly, she too is trying to impress another woman: her mentor Cat Grant. Ratings-winning viciousness is something media queen Cat has encouraged.
Supergirl's attempts to save Willis from a helicopter crash are hampered by a bolt of lightning that, through the cosmic science of blah-de-blah, gives her the power of electricity.
She sucks in her power through the grid and transmits herself through devices like television sets. Her malevolence is now literally coursing through the airwaves.
Enraged by a snub from her former mentor, Willis (now called Livewire) goes after Cat (above). In the fights and down-moments that follow we see Cat's formidable bravery, but also her own insecurities. She too is striving to meet self-imposed expectations that can never be satisfied.
Cat delivers the show's funniest lines, tossing around heartless barbs. But she understands her own failings as a human being. She confesses to "creating a monster" in Willis, while wishing she could adopt Supergirl. Does this suggest that she strives to self-actualize through quasi-motherhood? I think she's more layered than that, more complex, though the truth about her may be the simplest and saddest of them all. She's lonely.