Monday, October 9, 2017

"Girl Of Steel" Is A Sloppy Return For Supergirl

The Good: Performances are mostly all right, Moments of emotional resonance
The Bad: Derivative plot, Familiar character arcs, Special effects, Katie McGrath's natural accent appears and is inconsistently rendered, Intrusive soundtrack
The Basics: "Girl Of Steel" returns Supergirl to the air with a lot of themes that are disappointing for enforcing heteronormative and traditional feminine paradigms.

Supergirl returns today! The third season premiere of Supergirl, "Girl Of Steel," comes with a tremendous potential narrative burden upon it. "Girl Of Steel" picks up after the events of the season finale "Nevertheless, She Persisted" (reviewed here!) and it is impossible to discuss the season opener without some references to where the prior episode left off. After all, "Nevertheless, She Persisted" found Cat Grant returning to National City during the attack by the Daxamites and Mon-El had to flee Earth because of an environmental poison used to thwart the alien invaders.

"Girl Of Steel" by necessity opens with Kara Zor-El on her own dealing with losing her love interest from the prior season. That seems like it would be a decent source of real character conflict for Kara and give her a lot of intriguing directions for Supergirl to go in. "Girl Of Steel" follows in the trend of The Flash by having its protagonist doing quite a bit on her own after suffering a personal tragedy. The world of Supergirl is fleshed out with a massive business subplot in "Girl Of Steel," with James Olsen having taken over CatCo while Cat Grant has taken a position as Press Secretary for the President.

Opening with Kara dreaming of being on an alien world with Mon-El, Kara wakes up in midair and comes to the rescue of Alex and Maggie. The police officers are pursuing a criminal who has serious weaponry and when Supergirl saves private citizens from danger, Alex and Maggie are surprised by how asocial she has become. While Morgan Edge makes a major business move in National City, he finds Olsen and Lena Luthor hostile to his interests in the city. Schott figures out that the mercenary who escaped Supergirl is an ex-military man who goes by the nickname Bloodsport. Supergirl tracks Bloodsport to National City's military base, where she is effectively attacked by advanced weaponry.

When James Olsen calls Supergirl in to try to get Kara to finish an article for CatCo, Kara quits her job as a reporter. Schott figures out that Bloodsport has stolen a Daxamite cloaking device, which even Supergirl will be unable to see. The DEO converges on a Supergirl celebration in order to find and thwart Bloodsport and his cloaked nuclear weapon.

"Girl Of Steel" feels derivative in its protagonist's arc, despite it being a very sensible direction for Supergirl. Kara's friends miss her during their social times and Alex's depression, especially, has a negative effect on her relationship with Maggie. Olsen has to attempt to assert himself in Kara's professional life and their conflict in "Girl Of Steel" is actually one of the more interesting aspects of the episode. Instead of simply pushing Olsen to be a super hero, James Olsen develops as a business leader. Keeping Olsen interesting outside the Guardian subplot was a problem for the character in the second season and "Girl Of Steel" effectively redirects away from that problem.

Katie McGrath's accent is problematic in "Girl Of Steel." McGrath played Lena Luthor in the second season with a decent American accent. In "Girl Of Steel," her British accent comes out and it is alarming for the character. Throughout "Girl Of Steel," McGrath's accent is inconsistent and it is unfortunate, given how well-developed her character was in the second season.

"Girl Of Steel" introduces Morgan Edge as a new antagonist in National City and it is unsurprising that he has a relationship with Bloodsport. Edge is a pretty generic "evil, corporate threat," but Adrian Pasdar plays him fine. Morgan Edge has a vendetta against Lena Luthor and he makes moves to acquire CatCo in order to wage a public relations campaign against Lena Luthor.

Kara and Supergirl, both the character and the show, are severely undermined in "Girl Of Steel." Kara is sulking through the loss of Mon-El for six months. The takeaway thematically is that without a man, even a hero will fall apart. For a supposedly feminist show, this is a disappointing turn of theme - after all, Kara is not human and her character does not have to be bound by human emotional limitations. Even if she was, the average length of time for a loss of such magnitude is half the duration of the relationship and given that Kara and Mon-El were barely together before he left, Kara should have been far more healed in "Girl Of Steel" than she was. Barring that, if Kara was truly as heartbroken as she appears in "Girl Of Steel," she could always follow Mon-El off Earth . . .

Unfortunately, despite the bevy of new villains and a potential new heroine, "Girl Of Steel" feels derivative, sloppy, and forced. The special effects in the episode make no real rational sense - underwater, Kara flies, not making any swimming motion. The soundtrack in "Girl Of Steel" is very intrusive and Alex's wedding planning feels like yet another way that the heteronormative lifestyle overwrites the character's unique aspects. Alex turning to J'onn as a father figure feels forced and it pushes Alex - who has not been an overly traditional person - into a remarkably conventional dynamic as she moves to marry Maggie. Moreover, Alex highlighting that her wedding is going to be a gay wedding to J'onn - as if he didn't know Alex marrying Maggie would be a lesbian wedding (and what the hell does "gayest wedding" even mean?!) - seems like a pathetic telegraphing of plots to come.

That said, "Girl Of Steel" feels familiar to anyone who has watched other DC Television Universe productions and while there are some less-cheery elements in the episode that work, the bulk of the episode feels sloppy. Seasoned genre viewers are likely to be unsurprised if tragedy befalls Maggie before the wedding given that Floriana Lima was credited as a "special guest star" as opposed to added to the main cast. Between that and Kara asking Alex what she would do if she lost Maggie, the loss of Maggie seems more telegraphed than cleverly foreshadowed.

Ultimately, "Girl Of Steel" is a lackluster return to Supergirl.

For other DC Television Universe series or season premieres, please visit my reviews of:
"The Adventures Of Supergirl" - Supergirl
"City Of Heroes" - The Flash
"Pilot" - Supergirl


For other television season and episode reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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