This is a spoiler-free review: Read on at the bottom for additional spoilery bits.
Supergirl is back for a second season and things have changed quite a bit since her maiden voyage. The show has moved from NBC to The CW. The production has relocated to Vancouver. And the show has added a brand new cast member to its line-up: Superman.
It’s a bold move for the spin-off to showcase its bigger cousin front and centre, especially after Season 1’s uneven moments largely revolved around its uncertainty of how much to acknowledge or avoid mentioning Kal-El. But the decision to wheel him out straight away is an indicator of just how assured Greg Berlanti’s series has become – if Season 1 stopped and started, Season 2 starts with the show in full flight.
Kara (Melissa Benoist) begins this second run having achieved everything she hoped for. She embraced her heroic potential. She got the guy (Mehcad Brooks’ James Olsen). She even got promoted at work with the freedom to do any job she wants. So why doesn’t she feel right? While it’s a shame to start a show so full of upbeat enthusiasm and empowerment with another burst of self-doubt, it’s over fairly quickly, as Season 2 sets out its basic theme: the focus first time around was Kara finding the hero within her everyday 20-something. The focus now is Supergirl trying to get her human life into shape.
The first step to doing so is surprising, as her romance with James is brushed aside in favour of a plutonic friendship – but that retconning is a sign of how much stock Supergirl’s writers place upon their lead in her own right, not needing a boyfriend to complete her character.
Jeremy Jordan’ other lover interest, Winn, meanwhile, is upgraded from token tech guy at CatCo to a consultant with the DEO – a move that also strengthens the logic behind his role within the season. Gone is the nerdy best friend threatening a never-ending love triangle; in is the nerdy best friend who’s helping to kick alien butt.
That gentle tightening of the show’s core ensemble is the kind of thing that promises a bright future for The CW’s show, which already had its own likeable personality, but feels like it’s getting a more professional polish.
Just look at the way they introduce a new character into the mix: Lena Luthor, Lex’s sister. Another relative of another DC staple? It’s the kind of repetitive formula that should cause eyes to roll, but Supergirl is better than that, as Lena emerges as someone trying, not unlike Kara, to find her own place in the world away from the shadow of a notable male family member. Lex, of course, is in prison, leaving her to steer the Luthor company (and name) in a more respectable direction. The casting of Katie McGrath (who was wonderful as Morgana in Merlin all those years ago) as Lena is a superb choice: she plays her with a glowering determination that the show takes much pleasure in subverting.
The immediate threat this episode arrives in the form of a space shuttle launch that is destined to go wrong and an assassin (John Corben) – a figure who lays the groundwork for a promising arc. Ditto the arrival of a man in a pod, seemingly fom Krypton. Together, they replace Season 1’s over-arching plot involving Kara’s uncle and aunt, a reassuring indicator that the series is thinking about the bigger picture, especially as it shares a new home with all of The CW’s other DC programmes, with which it will inevitably crossover at some point.
And what about Superman? Teen Wolf’s Tyler Hoechlin turns out to be a natural fit for the big blue S. He gives us a Man of Steel with a warm sense of humour – the kind of hero who smiles at kids while saving the day and banters with Kara mid-flight like someone who genuinely enjoys his career. Compare that to Henry Cavill’s troubled fallen god and the difference is astounding.
Tyler’s even better as Clark Kent, flirting with Cat without appearing smug or sleazy and even proving genuinely clumsy and bumbling without pretending. Benoist and Hoechlin spark brilliantly together – “I used to change his diapers.” “I don’t think you need to tell them that.” “I really do.” – but even when the duo team up, he doesn’t steal her thunder. That’s an important, and impressive, achievement, especially as we watch everyone who meets him go amusingly weak at the knees. “Your cousin smells terrific,” says Alex Danvers (Chyler Leigh). “You look fantastic,” swoons Winn.
The laughs are present all the way through the episode – a notable contrast to the darker Superman we see on the big screen these days. Even Hank Henshaw, aka. J’onn J’onzz (David Harewood), gamely plays the stern straight man to Supergirl’s wisecracking lead, as she discovers the DEO has a second base that’s much closer to her house and isn’t underground (“I got bitten by a bat in the last one”).
The only person better than Superman in the show? Calista Flockhart’s Cat Grant, who continues her fine work as Kara’s rude, sassy, encouraging, demeaning mentor. She still gets all the best lines, managing to be imposing and fabulous, even as she goes all googly-eyed over Supes. She, naturally, keeps her promise from the Season 1 finale to let Kara choose her own vocation – and, naturally, pressurises her to choose as soon as possible.
“It’s been 12 hours since you asked me to choose a new position, and most of those hours I was asleep,” sighs Kara. “I offer you the keys to the kingdom and you just go to sleep?” retorts Cat. “It was night time,” comes the reply.
Their fantastic interactions are a reminder of the only sad shift from Season 1 of Supergirl: because Flockhart didn’t make the leap to Vancouver with the rest of the production, she’s been demoted to a recurring role, instead of a series regular, which means we’ll be seeing less of Cat in the weeks to come. But with jokes, jolly good fight sequences and a joyous role model all on confident form, Supergirl Season 2 starts off just as charming as ever. Some things never change.
Supergirl Season 1 and 2 are available on Sky Box Sets and NOW TV. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW TV, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription – with a 7-day free trial.
Where can I watch Supergirl Season 2 on pay-per-view VOD?
Flying observations (spoilers)
– Hands up who thought Lena Luthor was going to be the villain here? Better luck next time, as it turns out that Corben was hired by Lex to bump her off, which is why her vacant seat on the space shuttle was the one above the explosive device. It’s great to see McGrath get the chance to be ruthless without being evil – but, of course, that could all be revealed as a double-bluff later on. Either way, we approve of Luthor’s sister.
– The only person who isn’t happy to see Superman? Hank, who has a long-standing dispute with him over the fact that he refused to destroy the kryptonite they once discovered together. For Superman, it’s a direct threat to him. For the DEO, though, it’s an essential defence in case more Kryptonians come and don’t play so nice. As Season 1 proved, history’s on Hank’s side.
– Until, that is, we see what happens to Corben at the end: he’s captured and injected with something sinister. His captor calls him “Metallo”. Google that and you’ll find a villain with a kryptonite power source, which he uses as a weapon against Superman. It’s good news for comic book fans, who have already been well served by Season 1 of Supergirl. Meanwhile, not only does that mean a nice meaty moral dilemma surrounding kryptonite’s availability on Earth, but it also means more Kal-El in the future (he does say he’ll stick around a bit). In short, we’re happy.
– There’s a wonderful irony to Cat lecturing Kara about following Supergirl’s example for being committed and heroic in her vocation – one that the show doesn’t spell out as explicitly as it could (a strong indicator that it might have learned from Season 1’s ultra-cheesy dialogue). How sweet it is, meanwhile, that Kara should ultimately decide to be a journalist, after tagging along with Clark on his investigations into the space shuttle crash.
– We’re not sure we really buy her becoming a reporter, to be honest, given her complete lack of experience, but any disbelief about career progression, the job ladder, and general qualifications are easily forgotten in the face of Cat and Kara’s sincerely heartwarming relationship. “You knew even then?” asks Kara, when she learns that Kat earmarked her for a reporter position when they first met. “How?” “Instinct,” replies Cat. “And I guess I saw a little bit of myself in you. Obviously not your strip mall wardrobe, and I probably curse more in one day than you’ve cursed in your entire lifetime, but you have integrity to right wrongs and see justice done. You inspire me, Kara. I can see the hero within you.” We hope it’s not long until Cat comes back.