Mar 9, 2021
Supergirl: Superman Returns... Already (S1 E3 RECAP)
Previously on Supergirl: Supergirl had the hots for James “Jimmy” Olsen, who wasn’t too thrilled to find out that Winn knew Kara’s secret identity, too. Wealthy industrialist Maxwell Lord warned of big problems in store for National City with Supergirl around, while Cat Grant threatened to fire James if he didn’t arrange a “sit-down” with Supergirl, though it ended up being more of a “hover-around.”
This episode picks up right where the previous one left off, with Cat Grant’s limo on top of a hill and Supergirl floating above. Cat (who of course doesn’t recognize Supergirl as the personal assistant she spends every waking moment of the workday with) pulls out her smartphone to record the interview. She asks Supergirl where she comes from, but quickly gets bored due to her origin being identical to Superman’s. Cat sighs and says, “I feel like I’ve heard this story before.”
Supergirl, in a callback to her voiceover intro in the pilot, says, “This is my story!” Cat wonders if she has all the same powers as Superman, including “the freezy breath thing,” but Supergirl admits she’s “still working on that last one.” Cat thinks maybe she’s not quite up to Superman’s level yet, so Supergirl shoots a blast of heat vision in her direction to prove otherwise.
After a few more questions, Cat asks, completely out of nowhere, if Supergirl is planning to “start a family,” which gets Supergirl’s feminist hackles up. She whips around and says, “Nobody ever asks my cousin these questions!” And it would appear the fact that they’re cousins is a huge revelation, because Cat looks enthralled and Supergirl quickly declares the interview over and flies away.
The next morning, Kara is having breakfast at a restaurant, and she’s soon joined by both Alex and James. This scene exists primarily so Alex can observe that Kara is totally into James and is laughing way too hard at his jokes. Kara introduces them, and it turns out James already knows Alex fights aliens for the DEO, though it’s never explained how.
Then they notice the TV is reporting that “Superman and Supergirl are cousins!” as if it’s a huge bombshell, and Alex is horrified. So, what, it never occurred to anybody before now that they might be related? I mean, they wear almost identical costumes.
At CatCo, Cat is gloating about how she scooped The Daily Planet with her Supergirl interview, but Kara wonders if she had to leak the part about Superman and Supergirl being cousins. “Do you think she might’ve… kind of wanted that on the down-low?” Oh, Kara, you’re so adorable when you’re trying to speak in ‘90s slow jams.
Cat just cuts her off, saying she needs a cup of coffee every hour today because she plans to write a “kick-ass expose on Supergirl” (based on, what, all of four questions?) that will “make that Caitlyn Jenner Vanity Fair look like a Penny Saver pullout!” She even wants Kara to organize a big launch party at a museum to accompany the publication of this “kick-ass” cover story.
In a junkyard somewhere, a shirtless guy with a scarred face and scarred body watches a dirty TV screen and sees the report about Supergirl and Superman being cousins. He then straps on a suit of rusty armor and transforms into a low-budget Iron Man. He grumbles, “Cousins…” as he shoots his TV with a blast of fiery energy. With the implication being that now that the world knows they’re cousins, people who have a grudge against Superman are now coming after Supergirl, but again, it wasn’t a huge stretch to assume they were related before this “story” broke.
At the DEO, Henshaw is chewing out Supergirl for giving an interview. He asks what she’s got planned next. “A book deal? A reality show? Keeping Up with the Kryptonians?” And that’s Kardashian/Jenner mention #2, for those keeping track of this show’s high-larious pop culture references.
Then a DEO agent tells Henshaw there’s been a big multi-car pileup on the highway. However, there’s “no sign of alien activity” in the area, so it’s not something they need to worry about. Weird. So the DEO just scans every traffic accident for possible alien involvement? Henshaw turns around to yell at Supergirl some more, but she’s already gone and on her way to the scene of the pileup to help rescue the injured.
As soon as she arrives, she’s directed to a driver trapped in a bus. There’s a nice moment where she pulls the woman out and brings her to a waiting stretcher. Just as the woman thanks her, Supergirl gets hit with energy beams from the poor man’s Whiplash. He comes hovering down to the scene, so I guess he can fly. And I’ll just assume he caused the accident in the first place, though he never cops to it.
The guy says he’s here to make Superman “suffer” and show him what it’s like to “lose everything.” If that’s the case, he really should be going after Lois Lane or Lana Lang instead of the cousin that Superman barely talks to. He hits her with another energy beam, which appears to be nuclear-powered in nature, and the two get into a super-powered battle. Supergirl eventually rips off a car door and hurls it at him, causing his suit of armor to malfunction. He flies away, and Supergirl just… watches him go.
At the DEO, Henshaw already knows the guy is named “Reactron,” or at least that’s what The Daily Planet called him years ago when he fought Superman. And Reactron is, of course, our obscure DC villain of the week. Strangely, this episode casts him as an old Superman villain, even though in the comics, he actually started out as a Supergirl villain.
Henshaw explains that Reactron is obsessed with killing Superman, but they don’t know why. However, because Reactron is human and not alien, “this case falls outside the DEO’s jurisdiction,” and it’s not their problem. Supergirl says they have to do something, so Henshaw suggests calling her cousin. “Superman fights for truth, justice, and the American way! Last time I checked, National City was in America!” Well, thanks, show, for forcing in yet another super-lame Superman reference.
Back at CatCo, Kara walks into Cat’s office and finds her totally tweaking on all the coffee she’s been drinking. She talks about how she’s really close to throwing a phone at Kara, and then she puts on a pair of glasses, even though she’s already wearing glasses.
Later, Winn invites Kara and James up to the office of a recently deceased employee. Winn has secretly converted his vacant office into a high-tech command center for the Supergirl gang. As he types at a computer, he says he’s put together an “algorithm” that can “sweep the city for any variable changes in radiation” in order to track down Reactron. Sure. A citywide radiation-scanning system is clearly something an IT guy can slap together in his free time.
James suggests that instead of taking on Reactron alone, Kara should call in Superman on this one because Reactron is especially dangerous. “He nearly killed Clark once!” Winn hears the name Clark and immediately figures out that Clark Kent is Superman, and is giddy at learning this secret. And then James just shrugs, like telling some random guy Superman’s secret identity ain’t no thing. Dammit, James, you were supposed to keep that on the down-low (nobody has to know)!
Kara refuses to ask for Superman’s help, and she’s determined to do this by herself, because “of all the things the ‘S’ stands for, ‘safety’ is not one of them!” Which is an awful line, but at least this show is admitting that the “S” stands for a buttload of things. She wants to be defined by her own “victories and losses,” and not Superman’s. Except, the only reason Reactron is coming after her in the first place is because of Superman, so it would make perfect sense to get him involved, no?
Cut to the headquarters of Lord Technologies, where Peter Facinelli is back as Maxwell Lord. He’s working on a high-speed maglev train creatively called the “Super Rail,” when suddenly Reactron comes crashing down through the skylight. He’s looking for someone with a “background in nuclear fission” and Maxwell volunteers himself to protect his employees.
Over at CatCo, Kara learns Maxwell Lord has been abducted and tells Winn she feels responsible and she needs to be the one to find him. And then Alex comes randomly sauntering into the office to say that she can help.
Up in the secret office lair, Alex says she’s isolated the “nuclear signature” of Reactron’s weapons and traced them back to a nuclear power plant that was the target of terrorists a few years back. Superman stopped a potential meltdown, but two nuclear engineers named Ben and Alyssa Krull supposedly died during the incident. No surprise, Reactron is Ben Krull (which is also his real name in the comics), and he survived a massive dose of radiation and now blames Superman for the death of his wife.
There’s a brief interlude at the junkyard, where Reactron is holding Maxwell Lord hostage and forcing him to repair his suit. Then it’s back to CatCo, where Kara has just read Cat’s expose about Supergirl. She thinks the tone is “kind of… a little nasty,” but Cat stands by it, saying that one day Supergirl is going to encounter a “real threat” and she’s just going to call on her cousin, “just like every other millennial who calls mommy and daddy the second things don’t go their way!” Yeah, the writers are kind of reaching here to ensure Kara has tons of motivation for not asking for Superman’s help.
James gets Kara out of there, telling her they tracked Reactron down to a junkyard, thanks to the presence of some black mold that’s the same as some other black mold that grew in the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster (please don’t make me explain it any better than that; I already lost several IQ points just typing that out). James thinks she should just rescue Maxwell Lord without trying to take on Reactron. But now that Kara knows Reactron’s tragic backstory, she thinks she can reason with him. And if he refuses to listen, “Then I’ll punch him real hard until he falls down. That always seems to work.”
Supergirl flies to the junkyard and frees Maxwell Lord. Reactron soon shows up, but as you’d expect, her attempt to talk to him lasts about three seconds. The two get into another super-brawl, which ends when he knocks her on the ground and hits her with a massive dose of nuclear energy.
Everything goes hazy for Supergirl, just in time for her cousin to appear. Yes, we get another appearance by Superman on this show, but just as before, we never see his face or any other identifying details. He’s basically an amorphous, massless CGI doll that comes swooping in and says absolutely nothing. A moment later, Reactron flies away, and Supergirl passes out. Look, I get not wanting to be specific about what Superman looks like, but couldn’t they at least get a heroic-sounding voice actor to dub in a line or two?
Supergirl wakes up back in her apartment with James and Alex. She’s informed that Superman had to take off because of a “volcanic eruption in the South Pacific.” However, that’s not the top story on TV right now, and instead we see Maxwell Lord talking to reporters and thanking the “great hero who rescued me… Superman!”
Kara is, of course, bummed out that Superman had to come and save her, and she wonders how he even knew she was fighting Reactron in the first place. So James confesses that he called Superman using his signal watch. Yes, Jimmy Olsen is wearing the signal watch! Is this the first time we’ve ever seen it in a live-action adaptation? I’m almost positive it is. It’s a watch with a face that flips up, revealing a button shaped like the S-logo. James presses the button, and it glows, which would seem to indicate he’s calling Superman again right now, but I guess not.
Supergirl is enraged by this. She says Superman never had a “‘get out of a jam free’ card” and she shouldn’t either. She thinks James doesn’t believe in her and eventually tells him to leave.
She then has to hurry to Cat Grant’s launch party. She puts on a cocktail dress and rushes to a museum lobby, where she sees a mockup of Supergirl on the cover of the latest issue of “CATCO” magazine. And I love how she’s literally standing right next to a giant photo of herself and nobody can spot the resemblance. Also, check out the headlines listed on the cover; can you tell which one doesn’t belong?
Maxwell Lord is also in attendance. He and Cat Grant obviously have some past history (some very sexy past history, by the looks of things), and the two dance to that “Feeling Good” song. They flirt/banter a bit until Cat tells him he’s “big on promises, but not much else!” and leaves her own party.
Over at the DEO, Henshaw has another moment when his eyes briefly turn red, and he senses Alex is in the building. He tracks her down, and Alex confesses that “jurisdiction” be damned, she’s helping Supergirl stop Reactron. Henshaw eventually decides to help out, too. And please, please don’t let the red eyes mean he’s secretly evil. Seeing him slowly reveal that he’s not a total dick is a way more interesting character arc.
Back at the party, Winn is dancing with Kara when James cuts in. He tells her that he only called on Superman because it’s become a crutch for him, and he was just “scared that I was going to lose you.” He calls her “amazing” for the way she faces danger and isn’t “scared of falling.” Kara looks deep into his eyes and says, “What’s so bad about falling?”
And it looks again like they’re about to kiss, and of course, this is when Reactron decides to come crashing down through yet another skylight. He demands to know where Supergirl is, though why he thinks Supergirl is at this party is a mystery. I mean, he’s right, but he would have no way of knowing that. Kara runs out to change into Supergirl, while Maxwell Lord heroically provides a distraction. He’s just about to get vaporized when Supergirl comes flying in and takes Reactron down.
They get into another super-battle while James and Winn just stand around watching, and Reactron hits a big stone pillar that comes crashing down and almost falls on Winn, though I’m not sure anyone would notice if he got crushed to death. So now it’s James’s turn to cause a heroic distraction, reminding Reactron that he’s Superman’s friend and it would probably make a lot more sense to kill him, and he eventually lures Reactron outside.
Alex and Henshaw contact Supergirl, via an earpiece, apparently (is she just always wearing an earpiece now?) to tell her they know how to defeat Reactron. His suit is powered by a core containing a “subcritical mass of plutonium,” and if she pulls it out, it should deactivate the suit. So, pulling out the big glowing thing in his chest might cause the suit to stop functioning, you say? However, the core will “melt down” as soon as she takes it out of its “containment matrix,” so to stop that, she has to “encase the core in lead”.
So Supergirl scans around with her x-ray vision and sees a bust made of lead, then uses her heat vision to melt it down. She dips her hand into the molten metal, coating it in lead.
Outside, Reactron is blasting away at James, but then Supergirl swoops in and another super-battle commences. She rips out his suit’s core, and he collapses. Apparently keeping her lead-coated hand around a “subcritical mass of plutonium” is enough to make it totally safe to have around, even when James comes running up to say he knew she’d save the day. When Henshaw mentioned a potential meltdown, I originally thought they were setting up a scene where Supergirl had to throw the thing into space or something. So that was kind of anticlimactic.
The next day at CatCo, Kara goes to see James and finds him talking to a woman (played by Jenna Dewan Tatum) who introduces herself as Lucy Lane. Yes, it’s Lois’s younger sister. They have an awkward moment until James tells Kara he’ll talk to her later. She then uses her super-hearing to eavesdrop and learns that Lucy is in fact James’s former flame (similar to their relationship in the comics), who came here from Metropolis just to see him. Kara is heartbroken, and it looks like I called it: this show is indeed setting up a love triangle with Kara and James and Lucy Lane, just like I predicted in my recap of the pilot. Though, I’d say in general, it’s not too hard to predict what’s going to happen on this show.
But then Kara’s spirits are lifted when she gets contacted by her cousin Clark. And he’s talking to her via… an instant messenger application on her computer. Yes, that’s what this show’s aversion to actually casting an actor to play Superman has come to: Tender, inspirational music playing behind an IM conversation. Via text, Clark assures Kara she’s “doing great,” and congratulates her on stopping Reactron, which is something he could never do. Though, given how easily Supergirl defeated him, I’m getting the feeling that Clark never really tried that hard.
There’s one final scene where Alex and Kara share Chinese food and talk about nothing of consequence. They hear sirens off in the distance, so it’s time again for Supergirl to spring into action. Kara says, “Do not watch Homeland until I get back!” She changes into Supergirl and flies off, the end.
So that’s episode three, and it’s fine. You know, the show’s fine. But Kara’s earlier line about punching the villain “real hard until he falls down. That always seems to work” sums up where things are on the verge of going wrong. They need to give us something other than a super-powered sparring match with an obscure, Z-list villain, which is what we’ve gotten for three episodes in a row with Vartox, then the Hellgrammite, and now Reactron. Surely there must be other threats and challenges for Supergirl to face then another super-strong villain she can punch into submission?
Also, the CGI Superman was just silly. They need to cast somebody to play Superman already, even if we only ever hear his voice. If they can’t do that, they really should just not have Superman on this show at all. I’m sure it’s not easy to make a show about the Superman family without including Superman, but half-assing it is only making things worse.