The second season of Supergirl — the former CBS show that made the unsurprising leap to The CW — began airing Monday night, and creator Greg Berlanti upped the ante with an appearance by its most alluded-to character: Superman, as played in Tyler Hoechlin. Fans of the series, Zack Snyder detractors, and comic book aficionados alike have all been looking forward to the Man of Steel’s appearance, and judging by Hoechlin’s performance alongside Melissa Benoist’s Kara Danvers and the rest of the cast, chances are this simple two-off will become something much larger.
That said, things could have gone wrong. Not with Supergirl‘s take on the famous superhero, or Hoechlin’s interpretation in light of Christopher Reeve’s legacy and Henry Cavill’s beefcake alien, per se. But Superman’s introduction in Berlanti, Ali Adler and Andrew Kreisberg’s world could have screwed up the balance of the show, which isn’t titled Superman’s Cousin. It’s a series about Kara Zor-El’s adventures as a young superhero in National City. Sure, she sometimes seeks out her cousin’s advice, and yes, he did show up to rescue her in “Fight or Flight,” but he was never more than an off-camera presence or a blur. Yet isn’t there a chance the iconic figure’s appearance could threaten Supergirl’s place at the center of it all?
Judging by “The Adventures of Supergirl” and the advertising campaign The CW began back in September to promote it, Superman’s two-episode appearance in Supergirl was never even close to becoming a hostile takeover. This is especially true for the latter, which built momentum with teasers and trailers that — despite the editors’ apparent preference for Hoechlin — never strayed far from the real focus. In fact, aside from the line “I’m with her,” the Big Blue Boy Scout didn’t have too many opportunities to speak about truth, justice and the American way. All of the talking was done by Kara and her colleagues at the Department of Extra-Normal Operations (DEO) and CatCo.
Both the bespectacled Clark Kent and the costumed Kal-El scored a lot of screen time in The CW’s marketing, but judging by a previewed exchange between Kara and her adopted sister Alex Danvers (Chyler Leigh) — in which the latter exclaims, “Your cousin smells nice!” — “Adventures” wouldn’t would seem destined to fail the Bechdel Test. The episode itself maintains the previews’ focus on Superman, but with a big catch. Is it a big deal that the savior of Metropolis has decided to visit National City for two episodes? Yes. Will both episodes encircle every bit of narrative and character development around his visit? Not by a long shot. “Adventures” picks up right where “Better Angels” left off, with the main characters’ celebration interrupted by a rogue Kryptonian-like pod crash landing in the middle of the city. Kara and J’onn J’onzz/Martian Manhunter (David Harewood) trail it and ultimately discover its occupant, Mon-El, still asleep after his long journey.
Mon-El’s arrival is quickly overshadowed by an explosion aboard the Venture space ship, which Supergirl and Superman team up to intercept. This dovetails into various subplots involving Lena Luthor’s (Katie McGrath) arrival in National City while attempting to clear her family’s name, John Corben’s (Frederick Schmidt) multiple assassination attempts against her, and a hint of animosity between Kal-El and J’onzz’s human disguise, Hank Henshaw. As promised by the episode’s concluding stinger and a preview for “The Last Children of Krypton,” Corben’s Metallo and Project Cadmus will also feature as season two progresses.
Yet like Superman’s introductory “I’m with her” line, the premiere’s main thrust concerns Kara’s internal struggle with her identity. Who, as the alien Kara Zor-El and the disguised Kara Danvers, does she want to be in this world? The first season finale ended without wrapping things up for the CatCo assistant, but “Adventures” ends with the final entry of an ongoing discussion between Kara and her boss, Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart). Between Benoist and Flockhart’s performances and Kreisberg and Jessica Queller’s script, its believability leaves much to be desired, but its focus never falters. It’s all about who Kara is and where she might be going, and despite Grant’s all too obvious romantic machinations for Kent, his name never enters their final conversation.