Up, Up and Away

SUPERGIRL PILOT EPISODE REVIEW

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DC have been on a hot streak recently with televisual adaptations of Arrow and The Flash. Can Supergirl join them in the category of must watch programming? With the unofficial (but rumoured deliberate) leak of the pilot episode online lets take a look at what is in prospect for the first female led superhero series this decade.

What’s immediately apparent is the pace, this is a show that does not believe in hanging around but throwing you straight in. After a brief but spectacular prologue showing young Kara Zor-El escaping the destruction of Krypton we quickly learn that though she was to protect her most famous cousin when they reached Earth. A problem with her space capsule means she slept in space for twenty four years though she did not age. Drifting through the Phantom Zone (a bad part of the universe where criminals are sent) she eventually makes it to Earth to find her cousin grown into adulthood and having taken his place as Superman. He places her in the care of a couple of scientists (played by Helen Slater and Dean Cain, a lovely touch) who she will be raised by as an adopted daughter alongside their natural born child Alex.

Kara escapes the destruction of Krypton

Kara escapes the destruction of Krypton

This all happens in the space of a few minutes but the direction is clear and the editing excellent so you don’t feel like you are being rushed through events. Cut to Kara (played by Melissa Benosit) as an adult, working at Catco Media in National City. Her job as a Personal Assistant has her fetching coffee, being put down by her boss and generally feeling flustered by life in general. She keeps her appearance plain, sensible clothing and hairstyle and less than flattering pair of glasses.

We meet media mogul Cat Grant, played by Calista Flockhart who is on fine form as a bitchy take no prisoners power loving boss. Also introduced is IT guy Winn (played by Jeremy Jordan) who is rather smitten with Kara though she gently mocks him for the alien investigation website he writes. The final employee we meet and most significant is James Olsen (Mehcad Brooks), tall and handsome this is a fresh portrayal of the character and his reinvention totally works as he contrasts perfectly with the bumbling and unsure Kara. James has met Superman and with a knowing tone describes his friendship with the Man of Steel to Kara. The interplay between the two actors is pitch perfect here and their scenes are charming to watch.

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Winn, IT expert and alien website writer

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Cat Grant, media mogul

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James Olsen

Back home Kara chats to her adopted sister Alex about her frustration and how she feels she isn’t living up to her potential having not used her powers in years. Their conversation is cut short as Alex catches a flight to Geneva but the plane has a problem and is set to crash. Kara sees her chance and seizes it, charging out into the night she takes flight and in a spectacular scene rescues the place bringing it safely to rest in the river. The special effects here are excellent and the rain pattern on the camera lens is a nice touch.

Kara is thrilled and celebrates in a very human way by watching herself on television while eating pizza! It’s good to see that even aliens love pizza. Her joy is cut short as Alex chastises her for exposing herself. This might seem rather ungrateful as Kara just saved her life but it will make sense as the episode progresses. Arriving at work the next day Kara finds she is the number one story though her identity is safe as the only photos taken are to low resolution to identify her.

Alex, concerned sister

Alex, concerned sister

All good heroes need a good villain to come up against and now we meet our antagonist. Vartox (Owain Yeoman) is an alien disguised as a regular truck driver, he is ordered by his off world superiors to kill this emerging hero and with axe in hand he goes looking for her.

The pilot strikes an excellent balance when it comes to tone and after the menace of the bad guy we go to a cute montage sequence showing the evolution of Kara’s costume and her powers. Winn helps her with both sending her out to various crimes as she eventually settles on an outfit. The final form including the famous S symbol which is her families coat of arms.

Costume evolution

Costume evolution

It's not an S, it's my families coat of arms

It’s not an S, it’s my families coat of arms

All seems right with the world as she embraces her powers but this is cut short as she is captured by a shadowy government group called the Department of Extra Normal Operations. They are tasked with monitoring and combating alien activity and are led by Hank Henshaw (David Harewood). The department was set up after Superman arrived on Earth and they have Kara’s ship. Her craft was responsible for accidentally dragging a Kryptonian prison ship to Earth and her sister is revealed to be working at the Department.

Feeling frustrated and betrayed by those closest to her now is not the time to go out fighting super villains but of course Vartox calls her out and they have a showdown at a power station. The fight scene here is incredible with both unleashing their strength to trade punches and crash through walls. Kara might be incredibly strong but she has no experience and is about to be finished off when Alex shows up to save the day with a bombardment of missiles from a helicopter. The action is again brilliantly staged and the production team have achieved wonders on their budget.

Kara is having a crisis of confidence but reconciling with her sister she is presented with a recording of her mother which was hidden in the ship. This is the catalyst she needs to fully embrace her powers and use them to help others. A final showdown with Vartox beckons and their rematch is even more spectacular as they battle it out on a desert highway. She doesn’t win just because of her physical strength but by combining that with an inner belief which is boosted by the love of her sister. The emotions are pitched perfectly so it never feels like it is tipping over into melodrama.

It’s a breathless forty five minutes of television but the pacing is excellent and the mixture of action and character development feels just right. The final scene reveals more about the oncoming big bad which should provide even more exciting drama for the rest of the series. Melissa Benosit is perfect as Supergirl, she is charming, humble, confident and self doubting in equal measure. It’s refreshing as well that she is not saddled with a romantic interest a cliché the production team have done well to avoid. Yes she is struck by how handsome James is and has Winn mooning over her but the focus is firmly on her and not a man she needs to make her whole. It may not be the most original piece of television hitting as it does many familiar beats but it is all done with such heart that only the most cold hearted cynic could fail to gleam any joy from it.

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Up, up and away

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Hopefully when the series starts properly it will be a huge success and prove that female led superhero television and movies can be popular and empowering to female audiences.

Supergirl is set to be broadcast Winter 2015

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