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Supergirl Returns with Girl of Steel

Supergirl Season 3 Reviews: Episode 1, “Girl of Steel”

Ahh, October. The leaves are turning, the weather is colder, a bit less of California is on fire than before, and it’s Halloween month. It’s also the month that the wonders of the DCTV universe return to us. It’s the best month of the year!

The Fandomentals’ darling Supergirl started off its third season last night, and the world’s two biggest Supergirl fangirls Elizabeth and Kori are back again to tell you all about it. In case your memory is a bit dim on what happened last time on Supergirl, you can read the full recap here for season two’s finale! If you are, for some reason, beginning Supergirl at season three, then you’ll definitely want to read a recap or watch it first, because this season hits the ground running and expects you to be keeping pace from the start.

There have been some noticeable changes to the storytelling approach in season three’s premiere in comparison to most of season two. Season two’s premiere was a two-part, popcorn action flick affair, which set up half a dozen storylines at once. Season three’s premiere is much, much tighter than almost all of season two, with a dialogue-heavy focus that reminded us a lot of season one’s approach.

Conversations are given plenty of room to unfold and breathe, which is a necessity because boy do we have a lot of important ones in just 42 minutes. This leaves little room to catch up newcomers, but is a welcome change compared to last season’s hand holding through the early exposition.

There is clearly a far more serious tone to this season, which we know has a lot of fans of the show concerned. However, we believe that serious doesn’t have to mean grim, and it certainly doesn’t have to mean grimdark. Supergirls cast gets to flex their acting range a lot in this episode, and it’s a delight to watch. Supergirl has the fortune of having a menagerie of main protagonists who can carry a two-minute, talking head monologue and keep the viewer riveted. They deserve a chance to use those skills, and it looks like this season is going to demand it, if “Girl of Steel” is an indication of things to come.

In our opinion, this season premiere is a return to what made episode “Red Kryptonite” so memorable. It’s a reminder that Kara isn’t just a paragon of virtue. She has negative feelings just like everyone else. While Kara may not be human in body and mind, she certainly is in heart and soul. That means she’s just as capable of selfishness, bitterness, and spite as anyone who can’t bench press a Boeing 747. And after everything our girl has been through last season, she has every right to have turned a little cold.

Just how cold? Probably more than you’d think. Let’s get started!

Recap

We open the episode on another field of Elysium dream sequence, where we get to see Kara and Mon-El kanoodle in white cotton yacht wear. We then see a woman in blue, who is Kara’s mother, now played by Erica Durance (Smallville) instead of Laura Benanti from the first season.

But it’s simply a daydream, as we are suddenly transported to reality where Kara is floating far above the National City skyline in sickly darkness and the orange glow of the city below.

How effective this transition was is probably going to be really subjective. Elizabeth felt they could have gone without the first part since Melissa Benoist can lift more than enough weight with her face acting to get the point across without the jump cut. But it’s one arguably weak link in what is otherwise one of Supergirl’s most serious but also most engaging episodes to date. It’s also possible that the season will be filmed in such a way to reflect Kara’s crawl out of her depression, and if that’s the case, then the cold open on a peaceful scene will work much better when viewing the season as a whole. But, we can only wait and see on that. Back to the plot!

Cut to Alex and Maggie in hot pursuit of a semi with a squad of police cars, they almost get taken out by a Gatling gun, but Kara swoops in to save the day in the nick of time. Kara manages to stop the semi from careening into a car with a mother and child in it, but the perp gets away. When the boy thanks Supergirl for saving him, she doesn’t even look him in the eye before flying off.

Alex and Maggie catch up a few moments after Kara leaves, and Maggie even quips that Kara doesn’t even stick around for autographs anymore. Alex lets out a very affected sigh in response, but she knows she’s right for pointing it out. It’s been months, and Kara still isn’t getting back to her usual self.

We get a brief cut to the Supergirl logo, which is now backlit instead of brightly illuminated from the front. Season one used visual contrast like this a lot, so it’s a welcome return to form.

Back at the DEO Supergirl is all business. Kara has Winn scrape some of the escaped perp’s blood off her fist (a bit dark for you, eh Kara?) to see if he’s already in the DEO database. She’s not so much cold in this scene as incredibly disengaged. She’s exhibiting clear signs of depression: flat affect, lack of eye contact, lack of engagement, and a dismissive attitude. While this is understandable, considering what she went through last season, it’s gone on long enough that everyone is starting to worry about her.

Alex and Winn make some valiant efforts to get through to her, but she’s just not hearing it. Alex even attempts to bribe Kara with potstickers and Kara turns her down with a dismissive “maybe.” That’s how we know something is really wrong with Kara: she turned down potstickers.

I know, right? We gasped too, Winn.

J’onn wisely and correctly points out that grief does not have a deadline (thank you J’onn). Winn sees an opportunity to get a shot in on Alex and makes a quip about how Kara is now almost as serious as Alex. Alex looks to J’onn for backup but J’onn agrees with Winn. Did we mention how much we missed the Super Friends family? Because we did. So so much.

We cut to a board meeting of some kind, and it is immediately apparent that Lena and James are the only two people in the room who aren’t middle-aged white men. The group is bickering over what to do with the destroyed parts of the city from the Daxamite invasion last season. Contractors are descending like vultures to build expensive housing and luxury centers, while our girl Lena sees this as an opportunity to build better public works.

We’re introduced to a new antagonist, Morgan Edge, played by cast newcomer Adrian Pasdar (Heroes, Agents of SHIELD). Because this show likes to tease us with its Asami Sato parallels, Edge informs Lena that “Guilt is not a good business strategy”, and he also takes swipes at James for rightfully publishing articles about Edge shady business practices.

As we’ll see later in the episode, Lena is far too earnest to listen to such cutthroat advice. At the end of the meeting, James and Lena take a moment to voice their mutual concerns over the direction the city is taking but are ready to work together as a force for good (is there a ship name for them yet? We sensed a rumbling in the force last night.)

But we’ll table that for now because Cat Grant! Cat got a major promotion after last season: President Marsdin has appointed her the new press secretary. It’s a nice little scene that serves as a delightful burn against a current real-world administration. When a reporter asks Cat if the president believes in climate change, she responds with an annoyed “Yes, and she also believes that two plus two equals four and that the earth is round.” This president is not a moron and realizes that global warming is one of the biggest threats of our time. Zing!

It’s also a nice callback to the progress this earth is making, especially after what happened to Krypton, and what happened in season one with Astra, Non, and Myriad. At least this world learns, it seems.

This will lead into an issue later this episode, mainly, what’s going to happen to Catco? At the office, we find out Snapper is also on sabbatical, so things are downright pleasant. We also learn the National City Monarchs have the worst record in all of baseball, and that crime is down 65% thanks to Supergirl.

James asks Kara to stay behind after the meeting. She was supposed to be working on an exclusive interview with Supergirl about the Daxamite Invasion, but hasn’t done so yet. And there’s a statue dedication (sponsored by the only Supergirl fangirl bigger than us, Lena) right around the corner. James asks if she’s okay, and we’re given more clues that Kara is not dealing well with the aftermath. It’s not the first time this episode that one of her close circle tries to reach out to her, and it won’t be the last time they can’t reach her.

You can’t reach someone who doesn’t want to be reached.

We can’t focus on that because that issue we just mentioned about Catco? Ruh-roh. Morgan Edge announces he’s buying Catco, and Kara can obviously not have that. Both because Morgan is a giant jerk, and because we all know she can’t let that happen to Cat’s legacy. So it’s off to Lena we go.

We get some more background on Catco and the moves Morgan has been making, quietly going around and buying shares so he can make that public bid. Lena also tries to reach out to Kara, and we can tell she’s feeling guilty about making the device that took Mon-El from her. Shippers wake up, this is your moment! Lena looks downright lost without her best friend, and she makes sure Kara knows she misses her very much, even if Kara isn’t really in the right headspace to accept that. Kara assures her she did what she had to do and she’s okay with it because there was no other choice, but their conversation is interrupted by a news report of a burglary.

Which Supergirl handles as we cut to the bar where the rest of the gang is meeting for drinks. The others express their frustration with Kara’s distance. James reminds them that they’re not the ones who lost someone and that she deserves her space. Alex slinks off to the jukebox and admits to Maggie that she really misses her sister.

They talk about a cake tasting, and Alex seems to be having cold feet. Maggie is no dummy and picks up on it, telling Alex to let her know when she figures it out. Cue Winn who has a break on the mercenary who got away.

The merc’s name is Robert DuBois, aka Bloodsport (David St. Louis). It turns out he was responsible for some bombings at City Hall a few years ago and had been AWOL ever since. He’s ex-military, and they realize he was last stationed at Fort Harrison. They call the base to ask about him and realize the base server has been compromised, so off goes Supergirl.

Bloodsport has infiltrated the base and hijacked a stealth fighter jet, that looks like it might be alien in origin. He knocks Supergirl on her ass and then blasts two soldiers when they move to cover her. Supergirl manages to blast the ship with her heat vision to drop the cloaking, and Bloodsport slinks away as Supergirl stays behind to help one of the soldiers. We see a glimpse of Kara shining through as she comforts him, then Supergirl is off again as her super hearing picks something up.

It’s the signal watch, and Kara flies in to see James to find out it’s not an emergency after all. Well, it is, just not a life or death one. She’s missed her deadline. James tries to confront her, and it… does not go well. James tries to remind Kara that being Kara Danvers is important too, but she can’t face that yet. For what must be the third or fourth time, but definitely the angriest, she quits.

So yeah, the ship of mysterious origin we mentioned earlier? That was a Daxamite ship, and J’onn is NOT happy the military did not notify the DEO about its whereabouts. For good reason. J’onn, Winn, and Alex realize that he’s stolen the cloaking technology from the ship, and a military grade high pressure regulator. With that technology, Bloodsport can completely cloak any vehicle or weapon of mass destruction and not even the DEO can track it.

Cut to Lena and Morgan. In a high-intensity meeting, we learn why Morgan wants Catco editorial. He’s got plans for National City. Good plans for him and his business partners, not so good plans for the people who live there. His waterfront development is going to go as planned, and he threatens to use Catco to bury Lena. She calls him despicable and leaves.

Once she’s gone, we find out Morgan is sponsoring Bloodsport’s terrorist activities and confirms that he’s more than just a slimy businessman.

But now we go to the epic confrontation with Alex and Kara. Alex has had it with walking on eggshells, but quitting Catco is the final straw. We got a good helping of what Kara’s cold anger feels like last season when she learned about James being the Guardian, but this season we’ve gotten a taste of it from Alex as she stormed into Kara’s apartment. While the viewer flinches, Kara doesn’t, and this prods Alex into directly confronting Kara’s avoidance of her problems. Alex manages to get Kara to explode and admit that Kara Danvers sucks right now, but Supergirl saved the world.

Now we get to the crux of the matter. Instead of letting herself feel that loss, Supergirl has decided that grieving and being a wreck is for humans. That’s what humans do. That’s what Alex would do if she lost Maggie. But Supergirl isn’t a human, so she doesn’t have to deal with that.

There’s Kara’s coping strategy in a nutshell, and Elizabeth will elaborate on it more down below. But first we need to get through the rest of this episode. Alex tries one last time to get through to Kara, by telling her that Kara Danvers is the best thing to ever happen to her and she’ll take the good with the bad, but it’s still not quite enough to break through that protective wall Kara’s built up.

We cut to the statue dedication, and you just know that Bloodsport and Morgan are going to make some kind of move. While they wait, J’onn tries to reach Kara, and Supergirl still can’t hear it. J’onn reminds her that she has a human heart now, it aches and scars, but keeps on beating. Kara admits that she can’t help people if she’s broken. J’onn comes the closest to cracking that shell, and they talk about his family and what Kara dreams about, Mon-El and her mother. If this were any other time, J’onn probably would’ve been able to make that breakthrough.

Maggie and Alex have a conversation via their headset comms while searching the crowd, and Alex admits to Maggie that she doesn’t want a big wedding. Maggie presses the issue, and Alex explains how it hurts that her dad won’t be able to be there, and she didn’t want to bother Maggie because she has her own family issues. Maggie reminds her that she’s had a lot of practice in choosing her family, and reminds her how many people love her and to think about how they make their day good. They tell each other they love each other, and Winn ribs them for being mushy on the public comms channel. D’aww.

And now we have our first introduction to Samantha aka Reign (Odette Annable) and her daughter. Said daughter, Ruby (Emma Tremblay) barrels into Alex on her way by, only for Sam to call her back over and properly apologize. Oh, Kori is already in her bucket of feels. This is going to hurt so good to watch the Reign evolution.

Cut to Lena doing the dedication like any best friend naturally would, and oh look, there’s Bloodsport. *sad trombone music*

Supergirl and friends realize the cloaking device was never meant for the atmospheric pressure of an aircraft, but for the water pressure of a submarine. The attack came from the harbor, not the sky! Bloodsport got himself a good old-fashioned submarine. We’re treated to one of the best uses of sonic hearing ever, with Supergirl clearing her mind of everything, to track down Bloodsport’s heartbeat. Jackpot.

She goes to take the fight to the submarine, but there’s only one problem. She can’t breathe underwater. She manages to find the ship and deactivate the cloaking device, but she can’t stop the next missile from detonating and its explosion clips her before hitting the shore.

We cut back to the surface to see Sam desperately searching for her daughter. The last explosion has knocked her flat and dropped a trellis on top of her. Sam’s love for her daughter and desperation to save activates her Kryptonian powers, and she lifts the structure off her daughter. What might have passed for mama bear desperation is driven home by the fact that she crushes one of the bars with her bare hand in the process. Again, Kori is now drowning in her bucket of feels.

Meanwhile, Kara is unconscious in the water, and her family desperately calls for her. We see a sudden shot of Mon-El commanding her to wake up, and Kara is back, cue the epic music and dammit, Kori will not stop crying. Anyways. Kara saves the day, and we end with a shot of her lifting the submarine out of the water and watching the crowd below.

So last season we took a betting pool on what insane vehicle Kara would bench press in this season’s premiere. Season one was an airplane, season two was a space shuttle. I have to say, I don’t think anybody predicted ‘submarine.’ Snaps to you, Supergirl writing team for genuinely surprising us.

We cut back to Lena’s office, and Kara comes in on her own. She tells Kara that she bought Catco to keep it out of Morgan’s hands. Lena tells her to un-quit, saying she studied under Cat and should help her run the media empire. Morgan comes in, and Kara slips out. He threatens Lena and tells her she’ll regret the day she screwed him. Lena says she’s not afraid and Supergirl comes to have a little chat.

She flies him out of the city and tells him she knows he’s responsible for the attack on the waterfront. She might not be able to prove anything yet, but she warns Morgan that National City is her town. And just as he warned Lena that she now had all of his attention, Supergirl tells him he now has all of hers. She flies off, and we realize she’s left him on top of a giant freight car pile on a giant ship in the middle of the ocean. *snerk*

As she flies back, we cut to below the surface where the missiles struck. Then we see the glowing Kryptonian pod that Reign landed in. Dun Dun Dun.

Back at the DEO, Alex makes everyone cry and asks J’onn to walk her down the aisle at her and Maggie’s wedding. They’re going to have the biggest, gayest wedding National City has ever seen, and Alex chooses J’onn to be her family. Alex then tells J’onn not to cry, because if he cries, she’ll cry and then everyone at the DEO will know that they actually can cry. That’s okay, Alex, Elizabeth and Kori are crying enough for you. Also, Grumpy Space Dad is officially canon.

Back at her apartment, Kara is sorting through a keep and toss pile and finds a photo strip of her and Mon-El. She repeats to herself to “wake up,” and then picks up her phone and tells Lena she’ll be in the office to work tomorrow morning. Kara then goes to join her family at the bar, and they all raise a shot.

In the end, we’re back in Kara’s dreamscape and see the back of Alura. Only when she turns around, it’s a monster. Samantha jumps up in bed in fright, and the episode ends.

Analysis

Back by popular demand, it’s the analysis section! This recap is already running long, so we’re going to ease back into the analysis this week and get deeper as the season progresses.

There’s a couple of reasons we want to take this approach. First, we want to try to avoid speculating too wildly based on episodes viewed in isolation. It’s likely that season three is going to be much more about story continuity and personal relationships rather than action set pieces, and we want to give these things time to develop before we go through them with a fine tooth comb.

The second is that we feel that the Supergirl team has been forward enough with the audience about this season’s arc that they deserve some benefit of the doubt. They have also been very honest about Floriana Lima’s departure from the show, which means Sanvers will be wrapping up before the mid-season hiatus.

*record scratch*

Okay, yes. We’re disappointed. But not as much as you might expect, especially after having watched this episode. It’s very apparent Maggie and Alex have a lot of things they never talked about. It’s sort of funny in a way, as views on family, kids, and marriage are practically first date topics for queer women. This certainly isn’t an ideal situation, and in fact, it’s the kind of situation that pretty much never works out in real life.

Look, Sanvers is great. But the show has come out and flat out said they won’t kill Maggie off, and you know the only reason they even bothered to pass on that information was because of Code 3.07. It’s likely that Floriana Lima got picked up for another major project, but we don’t know, and there’s no point in speculating. The hard facts are that since Lima is leaving the show; Sanvers needed to end. We’re just glad that Maggie’s not gonna die, so we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt on how they’re going to handle this mess.

We feel like nobody tells you when you’re younger that you’re probably going to have a lot of ‘almosts’ in your love life. People you almost date, people you almost fall in love with, people you almost marry, and so on. With queer representation, often we get this really amped up soulmates narrative because there’s only going to be one queer romance on this show with any semblance of three dimensionality to it! We need to make it feel like the most important thing in the world!

And that’s what relationships feel like, at first, but reality is much more complex and messy than that. Once the high of romance wears off, you can get down to the real meat of a relationship, and if that meat isn’t there then the entire thing will fall to pieces the second you discover how different you two actually are.

So the lesson to take from this, perhaps, is don’t be so hard on yourself and your partners if things don’t work as well as you wish they would. Sometimes people just aren’t really meant for each other, even people who love each other very much and want to make it work. And that’s okay, you’ll move on and find something that’s a better fit. The soulmates idea is a nice thought, but Maggie and Alex don’t seem to be as in sync as they, or we, want them to be. And we want what’s best for both of them. If that’s not being together, then… yea. We’re big girls. We can take it.

Another thing we wanted to discuss is the presentation of Kara’s depression and the fan reception of it. Look, we know that one of the main draws of Kara as a superhero is her paragon status and her sunshine personality, but Kara is allowed to mourn and grieve. She’s allowed to be depressed over losing her boyfriend. If you don’t buy that, how about this; she’s distraught at being forced, for the first time really, into a situation where she actually doesn’t have a choice to make. She’s wracked with guilt because she realizes she’s resentful of this, despite it being the objectively correct option. Sure it’s a honeypot, but it works.

What we’re seeing is Kara being torn apart by the cognitive dissonance between her wants and needs as Supergirl, and her wants and needs as Kara Danvers. She’s so distressed by losing Mon-El that she’s compartmentalized all of her negative emotions into the section of herself she considers ‘Kara Danvers.’ She’s then thrown herself into the role of Supergirl without Kara’s compassion, making her a cold and unlikable figure, like Cavill’s Superman. The episode title “Girl of Steel” is a bit of an on-the-nose pun then, as Kara is trying to steel herself from feeling anything at all.

I know that was a terrible pun, look at Melissa Benoist emoting the hell out of this scene instead of throwing things at me. -Elizabeth

It’s clear that Kara was never really given effective coping mechanisms for loss. She always overreacts to it in an extreme way, which is understandable considering what she’s been through, but it’s also not a healthy way to live. We’ve said before that Kara needs to start dealing with these issues before they become weaknesses that can be exploited, and we think this season might be about just that. That’s all we have to say about it now, but we’ll be sure to bring our A game to the rest of this season’s analysis section as we have more to work with.

Closing Thoughts

“Girl of Steel” is easily in the top ten of most talk-y episodes, but that seems to be where this show excels the most. More talk-y episodes, please.

We love that Lena Luthor is still constantly being maneuvered into positions of objective good. We love seeing her and James using their desire to do good together, and we look forward to seeing how Lena integrates into the Super Friends & Family.

Kori: I will bet dollars to donuts that vision of Mon-El commanding her to wake up wasn’t memory. That was too different a shift from the daydream, and I will, until proven wrong, think it had something to do with the Legion of Superheroes.

Elizabeth: So is the fields of Elysium thing like… a metaphor? The giant Saturn in the background of the dreams isn’t exactly subtle. I’m confused but also intrigued. Also, I wonder what Alex’s next girlfriend will be like. Hey, you gotta make the best out of the situation, and at least we get to keep our Commander Shepard.

See you next Tuesday!


Images courtesy of the CW

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    Part time gamer, full time complainer. Gotta go fast cuz I’ve got ADHD! Nonbinary, they/them. El serves as a Managing Editor for The Fandomentals. You can find them on Twitter.

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