Warning: This contains spoilers. Not seen Supergirl yet? You can catch up with Episodes 1 to 8 of Season 1 on Sky Box Sets and NOW TV. Read our spoiler-free review of Episode 1 here.
After what feels like a year, Supergirl flies back onto our TV screens tonight – and the show picks up from one heck of a cliff-hanger. For those who can’t recall what happened before Christmas, let’s take a look back at Episode 8 of CBS’ feel-good family show.
“Feel-good family show” may not be the most exciting phrase in the comic book dictionary, but it’s one that continues to set Supergirl apart from every other series and blockbuster out there – Arrow is busy teasing people with potential deaths, while Marvel’s Netflix shows are either exploring abusive relationships (the fantastic Jessica Jones) or uber-violent ninjas (the brutal, if wobbly, second season of Daredevil). Next to that, the empowering story of a young woman finding her own feet is an irresistably upbeat offering.
Over the first seven episodes of the programme, that coming-of-age arc has been neatly (if frustratingly) echoed by the series itself, which has been uneven in securing its own stance on everything from Kara’s relationship to Superman to how to portray James Olsen. High-fiving feminist messages (albeit welcome ones) have only been rivalled in their unsubtlety by the on-the-nose cheesy dialogue that has often threatened to derail the serious moments.
But Episode 8 manages to step back from some of that inconsistency and step up the stakes instead. Hostile Takeover hurls us right back into Supergirl’s family back-story, as Evil Aunt Astra returns again to cause havoc. Hovering above the city, she lures Kara into a punch-up that rivals Man of Steel for collateral damage – except here, the idea that Kara isn’t yet experienced enough to avoid breaking some glass windows fully makes sense.
Inevitably, though, Kara can’t bring herself to kill her blood relative, one of the few connections she has with her home planet. Before we can doubt that familiar moral dilemma, though, the show flashes back to Kara’s childhood to reveal another chapter in her Kryptonian past – a past that shows a friendly side to Kara and Astra’s relationship, one that’s only reinforced when we discover that, actually, Alura was the one who was deceiving young Supergirl: her mother used Kara as bait to capture Astra, as she went rogue ahead of the planet’s imminent destruction.
It’s a fantastic little twist, not least because it gives Melissa Benoist the biggest bit of drama to sink her teeth into so far – and sink her teeth into it she does, railing against the hologram of her mum, a conversation that remains painfully one-sided. “I’m not programmed to give you that information,” says Holo-Mum, as Benoist’s abandoned daughter gets angrier and angrier. It’s a reminder of just how good Benoist is in the role, and how well Supergirl’s writing team can nudge around its supporting characters when necessary to both develop Kara’s character and bring some depth to the generally lightweight programme.
Which brings us to Cat, who, in a topical subplot, has just been hacked, with private emails being dished out left, right and centre by an unknown enemy. There’s a satisfying pleasure in seeing Calista Flockhart’s snappy, sarcastic media mogul getting angry at the intrusion, but also taking it completely in her stride. She once asked out Idris Elba, but was rejected, the world discovers. “His loss,” she shrugs, as she sets Winn, James and Kara on the case of uncovering the person responsible.
That turns out to be board member Dirk Armstrong – “the walking personification of white, male privilege” – who is hoping to bring down Cat and take over CatCo himself, something we discover through a combination of Kara eavesdroping and James Olsen doing some undercover spying. It’s the tiny interactions between Winn and James that add a little substance to the silliness, as Supergirl continues to flesh out its potential love triangle, or quadilateral – frankly, any chance for Winn to develop beyong being “the attractive Hobbit one” is sorely welcome.
Back at DEO HQ, we discover that Astra intended to be caught by Kara all along, so that she could round up a bunch of Kryptonian soldiers (hello, anti-Kryptonite body armour) and prisoners from the Jail of Convenient Bad Guys to invade Lord Technologies. Cue a punch-up between Kara, Hank – using his real identity of J’onn J’onzz to kick some ass – and the other good guys in the sleek corridors of Maxwell Lord’s place.
If that getting-caught-on-purpose twist smacks of dreadful, obvious writing, though, Episode 8 makes up for that weakness by revealing a far smarter piece of subterfuge – sneaking a moving revelation about Cat Grant into her seemingly innocuous tale of hacking. Amid all the vacuous gossip, we discover that she has a son, called Adam, whom she gave up in a custody battle when she was younger because she felt she wouldn’t be a good parent for him.
It’s a surprise, but also a surprisingly moving admission: Cat’s continuing to give him money to support him shows her good intentions, but her decision to tell the truth about it to Kara is a sign of just how close the two women have grown. Equally revealing is her decision to take a quiet, but profitable, exit from the company to stop his name being dragged through the mud – a selfless act that cements Cat as the caring mother figure Kara needs.
To the show’s credit, given its history with spelling things out, that maternal bond is never explicitly addressed, but it’s nicely handled, especially when Cat puts the pieces together and works out Kara’s true identity – an exchange of truths that puts the pair on level pegging, both emotionally and narratively.
Amid all the feels, the fact that the episode’s villains are both blokes – Dirk and Astra’s husband, Non (Chris Vance) – isn’t even mentioned, something that cements Supergirl’s evolution as a show into one that, despite the occasional misstep, knows how to continue raising its central themes without shouting them from the rooftops.
Perhaps more importantly, the series has also proven that its characters are growing too – they’ve moved on from questions about who they are to questions about who the other people around them are. Kara and Cat are honest with each other, James and Winn are on the same page, and Hank is comfortable to break out his Martian Manhunter side when necessary. The exciting question now, then, is how that will affect their behaviour. Will Cat change the way she treats Kara? Will she get to join in the heroics too? (We would pay good money to see that.)
The result is still far from perfect, but Hostile Takeover offers something of a mission statement for Greg Berlanti’s show, setting up not only an action-heavy cliff-hanger for the mid-season break, but also putting its initial preoccupations with identity and gender to one side to deliver a simply fun bit of superheroics. If this is what to expect from the second half of this feel-good family show, we want more please.
Supergirl is on Sky 1 every Friday on Sky 1 at 8pm. Don’t have Sky? You can watch Supergirl online (live and on-demand) through NOW TV, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription. The VOD service also includes The Walking Dead, The Flash and Arrow.