Episode Title: Fight Or Flight
Original Broadcast Date: 11-9-15
Foundations. Supportive, solid, grounded; foundations provide strength when times get tough. When the walls fall or the roof blows off, you can always see the foundations to any structure remaining. Supergirl’s opening two episodes have been relatively light on foundational character development, at least in terms of giving the lead cast much more than superfluous angst to handle. “Fight Or Flight,” the third episode in this début season, sees Kara’s foundation-laying antics crank up a notch; fighting a nuclear powered villain is but a sidebar to a fairly hefty character development arcs here, with Kara’s relationships between James Olsen, Winn Schott, Cat Grant, and her sister Alex, finally given some pretzel-twisting shades of grey (no, not like that, you pervert).
Whereas the first two episodes of Supergirl were spent setting up the series and its outlaying premise, the third episode starts to twist the knife of emotional interest. Kara’s fledgeling relationship with James Olsen (Mehcad Brooks) take an interesting turn when he uses his “signal watch” to call in Superman when Kara is struck down by Villain of The Week Reactron (Chris Browning), causing her to question whether she’ll ever escape her cousin’s enormous shadow. The arrival of Olsen’s former love interest, Lucy Lane (helloooo Jenna Dewan-Tatum) also adds grist to the mill, although typically it would appear that the status of said relationship might be misinterpreted by Kara accidentally. Cat Grant’s much-sought-after interview with Supergirl doesn’t go very well – or last very long – which is disappointing considering the hype about it last week, but it does provide more antsy tabloid-ism from Calista Flockhart’s camp, over-the-top portrayal of Grant. Throw in Winn’s infatuation with Kara, which she appears to be utterly ignorant of, and the jigsaw relationship pieces are starting to come together.
The episode also deals greatly with identity. Kara’s fear that her interview would unmask her secret identity goes unfounded, but Olsen’s inopportune revealing of Superman’s identity to a surprised Winn was either a sneaky way of reducing the wrangling needed to avoid it down the track, or something planned to crystallise in a future episode. Either way, Kara’s conflicted feelings about her identity, particularly contrasted against that of Superman’s public persona, provide a fair bit of the episode’s thrust to conclusion. Naturally, most of the episode’s points are either resolved or disposed of by the end credits, but the foundations for further exploration of these ideas, particularly the romantic angles, have now well and truly been laid.
Thrown into the mix is National City’s answer to Lex Luthor, in Maxwell Lord, a philanthropic Steve Jobs-esque billionaire scientist who doesn’t rate Supergirl highly at all. Brought to life by Twilight star Peter Facinelli (he played Edward Cullen’s vampiric father, for those with short memories), Lord’s abrupt disdain for Supergirl appears to be derived from a belief by many characters that Supergirl is “second banana” to Superman, that she’s nothing more than a second-class hero by virtue of being a “girl”; something tackled in the previous two episodes with heavy feminism by both Cat Grant and Kara herself. The shift from strong, independent female heroine to blithering, insecure puppet of the DEO doesn’t seem particularly intuitive, manifesting as contrast purely as a way of generating yet more insecurity in Kara’s personality. Lord, as another authority figure to rival Cat Grant, is seen by Kara as something of a spokesperson for the city (he isn’t, really) making for an interesting dynamic when she must save him from an attack by Reactron for a second time.
Benoist’s performance as Kara once again brings a smile to my face. As the bespectacled Kara, Benoist brings a giddy, infectious joy to the part, very much a hidden identity a la Clark Kent, while in Supergirl mode, her charisma in the suit wavers against better actors (particularly the tragic Reactron), but overall it’s solid stuff. Episode highlights include a brief interlude with Mehcad Brooks’ James Olsen, a stirring multi-vehicle pile-up involving a trapped bus driver, and yet another facet to the Team Supergirl motif introduced – a room within CatCo whereby Winn and
James (screw it, henceforth he’s known as Jimmy) Jimmy can go to help Kara fight crime over the police scanners. It would appear that in Supergirl, Winn is the tech wizard in concert with The Flash’s Cisco.
Weak aspects of the episode are Calista Flockhart’s utterly OTT performance as Cat Grant. Instead of being a powerful publishing mogul, the role is reduced to insipid, ineffective spiels about corporate authorship and Grant’s increasingly irritating pomposity. The role is largely thankless, I’m thinking – Flockhart lacks the gravitas to make the part sing without coming off as utterly unlikeable (isn’t she supposed to be “adorably self-involved,” not just a complete bitch?) and three episodes in and already I’m thinking she’s gone to the top of the list of characters I want Kara to punch in the face. A position formerly held by Chyler Leigh’s Alex Danvers. Speaking of…
Alex Danvers does exceptionally little in this episode to move her relationship with Kara along. Oh sure, there are a few platitudes about being on the same side, and working together and all, but Leigh seems lost in the part at times, as if the writers aren’t certain what makes her different from her alien super-sister. At one point she stands up to DEO Director Henshaw (David Harewood) and has a small win, but for whatever reason she needs conflict with her superior I’m not entirely sure makes any sense. Plus, Leigh isn’t good enough an actress to really own the role requiring a harder edge than she’s capable of giving. Yet, anyway.
On the plus side of the ledger, the effects, direction, use of set and pacing are all excellent – the episode does move at a brisk clip, but never feels rushed, which is something you couldn’t say about the first two instalments. Particularly better are the flying and landing effects, with Kara being suspended in mid-air regularly (on wires obviously, but it still looks cool) and throwaway gags like tearing a car door off its hinges coming off as fluid, in-camera work that lands a solid punch. Reactron, supposedly as a Superman-level villain (much dialogue to the effect that Supes had a challenge with him indicates a city-wide threat level) proves to be remarkably restrained, and I think the show had troubles determining the level of his powers. One minute he’s sending Supergirl flying across the screen with a single blast of energy, the next she’s fending off the same kind of blast with relative ease; mirroring this is the exact level of power Supergirl has – in the first episode, she flipped and landed a jetliner without breaking a sweat, yet here she has trouble landing a punch that doesn’t just feel like it’s as human as you or I might try. Once the show gets past inadvertently limiting Supergirl’s power level due to writing or budget constraints, and stick with “she’s either super, or she’s not“, the show will feel more reliable in this area.
“Fight Or Flight” is a solid episode that broadens the series’ fledgeling romantic angles, and gives a few supporting characters a bit more time to flesh themselves out – particularly Jimmy and Winn, and Maxwell Lord might prove to be compelling so long as he doesn’t just become a Luthor-clone (which looks like is the intent, gah). With better use of effects, a nice soft start to what might be a four way love-triangle (love-square?), between Kara, Jimmy, Winn and Lucy Lane, and continued development of sub-plots like Henshaw’s abilities and Cat Grant’s search for the perfect latte, Supergirl continues to move forward and land itself as one of the most entertaining superhero shows on the box.