Supergirl (2015) has managed to extend my interest.
I wasn’t sure what to think at first. I wanted to think of the show as feminist. Certainly it passes the Bechdel test. Two women talk to each other, and the subject is not a man.
Nevertheless, the Bechdel test is of a rather low standard. As Abagond notes in a 2009 post, “The Bechdel Test and race,” “[a] show can pass the Bechdel test and still be racist.” In Supergirl, problems with racial representation range from that there isn’t even one woman of color (except in the background at the DEO), and that James “Jimmy” Olsen exists merely as a love interest for Kara/Supergirl. Hank Henshaw’s character is intriguing, but he follows the trope a la Fringe: no-nonsense black supervisor is tough on white girl, yet she wins him over.
I have other problems with the first three episodes of Supergirl.
- The “bad guys” are misogynists who hate women and think that they’re weak, but it’s ok. They aren’t real. They’re aliens. And there’s a woman behind them who wants to kill Supergirl.
- Whereas Clark Kent and Superman basically look the same, Kara is a cute, awkward girl with a messy ponytail and strange mannerisms. Supergirl, however, is glamorous, with flowing blond tresses, and as the graduate chair of my program at the University of Waterloo recently put it as we discussed the show which she hasn’t yet seen – “Let me guess. A lot of eye make-up.”
- The women don’t support each other. Most of the dialogue is between sympathetic men and Kara/Supergirl, but Kara has a bad relationship with her boss, Cat Grant, and a strained relationship with her adoptive sister.
I kept watching, though, because I liked the dynamic between Alex and Kara, and I hoped the show would move out of cliche territory.
In the episode, “Livewire,” which aired in place of the original episode scheduled for November 16, my hopes were realized. In some ways.
The “freak of the week” episode was totally predictable. How many times has a superhero accidentally transferred powers to someone who used them unwisely?!! However, we begin to see a relationship forming between Cat Grant and Kara, and we see, juxtaposed, examples of maternal relationships gone wrong (Cat Grant’s revelations about her own mother) and maternal relationships that are healthy and honest (Eliza with Alex and Kara). Moreover, Cat admits that she should have taken more responsibility for Leslie Willis. She should have been harder on her in some ways, and cared more in others.
As the show moves on, I’d like to see Winn’s character fill a role other than that of the unrequited lover, and see James Olsen’s character develop as someone who isn’t just Superman’s friend and Kara’s potential boyfriend.
Maybe I’ll keep watching. Maybe I won’t. But at the moment, I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next.
I am a former high school teacher, a current PhD student and professional tutor/editor, and a mom. My passions are higher education, racial equity, LGBTQA advocacy, autism awareness, and conversations around mental health, especially maternal mental health. Please like my tutoring page on Facebook! facebook.com/meghankrileytutoring
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