Widgets Magazine
Three seasons in, The CW’s ‘Supergirl’ still doesn’t know what it wants
A promo photo after the season three hiatus of "Supergirl." (Courtesy of The CW)

Three seasons in, The CW’s ‘Supergirl’ still doesn’t know what it wants

For anybody who has read my writing, I’m a self-proclaimed nerd. I started watching “Supergirl” at the end of high school in an attempt to balance my Marvel obsession with some DC content. “Supergirl” was moved from CBS after its first season to The CW and was immediately embraced by the fans of the network, namely those who follow “Legends of Tomorrow,” “Arrow,” “The Flash” and now “Riverdale” and other teen-oriented shows. Arguably, the content that is presented for all of these shows isn’t purely stereotypically adolescent in nature, but the presentation certainly is. When I begin to watch shows, I usually make a commitment to follow them through until they end or they’re canceled — and I’ve begun to develop a love-hate relationship with “Supergirl,” which was just renewed for a fourth season. Now, I usually “hate-watch” the show, even though I admittedly still love the superhero format and sometimes can’t even explain why.

“Supergirl” was placed on a mysterious hiatus for a couple months before being brought back with the 14 episode of its third season, “Schott Through the Heart” (a terrifyingly awful play off of Winn Schott, one of the supporting characters on the show). In an attempt to revitalize the show, “Supergirl” brought on Laure Metcalf as its first guest star after the hiatus. Despite pulling in many relatively high-profile guest stars (former Superman Dean Cain, for one) throughout the show’s run, the glowing Metcalf almost felt too good for this CW show. Metcalf played Winn’s estranged mother, an impish parental figure who was forced to leave him when he was little because of her husband’s abuse (and ultimate descent into super-villain-hood). Coming right off of “Lady Bird,” I was almost unsettled by the nature of Metcalf’s performance — I began to question the pure absurdity of “Supergirl,” which had crafted this superhero-centered world that didn’t allow for outside interactions beyond the realm of the characters that existed within the framework of the three seasons of the show. This even goes without barely a single mention of Winn’s mother other than the first season episode of “Childish Things,” to the extent that Winn’s cheery nature is completely and utterly overhauled when his mother appears — not so much an issue that there is clearly deep-rooted anger and trauma but that “Supergirl” failed to uncover it until three years in.

Its nearly laughable CGI notwithstanding (I truly thought they fixed it after it moved to The CW) in this episode, “Schott Through the Heart” presents what “Supergirl” truly fails to accomplish. It stands as an episode without a cohesive backstory — even if it does only act as a stepping stone in the entire “Supergirl” narrative surrounding the Worldkillers, for any viewers out there. “Supergirl” completely lost its charm after failing to find successful narratives with Winn Schott (Jeremy Jordan) and James Olsen (Mehcad Brooks), a former love interest for Kara Danvers/Supergirl (Melissa Benoist). The “Supergirl” team literally does not know what to do with Winn and James after a recent stint to attempt to include them in the superhero world by moving Winn to the DEO (the government organization of Supergirl and her sister, Agent Alex Danvers — played by Chyler Leigh) and making James an impromptu superhero. James spends his entire episode in cameos, a tiny moment singing at karaoke night at the “Superfriends’” favorite dive bar and the rest calling Lena Luthor (Katie McGrath), Lex Luthor’s tightly wound, soft-at-heart CEO turned potential-villain turned Kara’s best friend turned the Supergirl fandom’s desired love interest for Kara (Google “Supercorp,” I dare you). His appearances are essentially a benchmark for the show, a tribute to the devolving plot lines of “Supergirl.”

Even further, the karaoke scene in “Schott Through the Heart” reminds viewers of a failed attempt to both include musical elements in the show (capitalizing on Benoist’s stint on “Glee” and pulling another “Glee” alumnus, Grant Gustin, from “Arrow” into a number of bizarre, convoluted crossover episodes) as well as to combine humor and drama. The purely gratuitous nature of such a cold opening led me to drift away from the actual content of the episode and more towards the fact that “something dramatic had to happen soon.” The episode even attempts to gently touch upon the unfortunately failed romance of Alex with Maggie Sawyer (Floriana Lima), the beloved relationship of the queer (and the general) Supergirl fandom. I can’t (and won’t) begin to even try to get into the complicated importance of the Alex + Maggie — “Sanvers” — relationship within queer-represented, young adult-oriented television. After Maggie’s (spoiler alert) choice to break off her engagement to Alex after discovering an unresolvable difference in wanting to have children, Alex is granted one episode of mourning, and then she’s back on the job. In “Schott Through the Heart,” fans are tossed a scrawny, unfulfilling morsel from the “Supergirl” writers when Alex sings a sad song and cries onscreen for no more than five seconds before moving away to the next shot.

Don’t even get me started on Mon-El (Chris Wood), a character introduced at the end of season two as Kara’s love interest. Plenty of controversy has surrounded his character as the embodiment of fragile masculinity, hypocrisy, patriarchy and justification of violent and abusive behavior. The show explicitly makes his character a deceitful alien slave-owner (who knows why they thought that was a good idea) in an attempt to set up a redemption arc, only to be completely torn apart by the Supergirl fandom. Nevertheless, apparently his appearance on the show garnered enough fans to create a relationship dubbed on the internet as “Karamel” and to continue his appearance on season three, and it’s been said that season three will be his last. However, the inclusion of his character begins to take the show into corners — time travel, a relationship with another character that isn’t Kara and some attempt at a futile apology — that are just too complicated for a show that can’t even handle its own existing plots.

When the show moved from CBS to The CW, fans of the show mourned the loss of actual character development and exploration but reveled in its narrative strength (or as much as it could grasp). I thoroughly enjoyed the second season more, not just because the CGI was not as cringeworthy but because of the narrative-driven nature of dramatic television that requires a story to actually exist. Nevertheless, a show can’t survive without both characters and a narrative, and season three provides little of either. Seeing this show through its third season is going to be an interesting ride, to say the least — the tropes that “Supergirl” embodies and perpetuates never fails to impress me over how much the show can’t seem to get a hold of what it wants.

Contact Olivia Popp at oliviapopp ‘at’ stanford.edu.

About Olivia Popp

Olivia Popp '20 is a self-proclaimed TV junkie who has an eternal love-hate relationship with the entertainment industry and her home state of Michigan. Contact Olivia at oliviapopp 'at' stanford.edu with TV recommendations or musings about barbecue sauce.
  • redkrypto

    But NOW we said it!

  • jukie

    yes we love a legend

  • KET1

    Article reads like a clueless rant from a fangirl who doesn’t understand the Supergirl show at all instead. LOL…loved this example: “It stands as an episode without a cohesive backstory….”

    Must have missed the “Childish Things” episode from Season One, which originally paints Winn at ‘Toyman, Jr.’. “Schott Through the Heart” (Bon Jovi pun notwithstanding) pretty much undoes this moniker, demonstrating that Winn pretty much got most of his techno-geek and gaming interests traits from his mother, played to perfection by Laurie Metcalf.

    “When the show moved from CBS to The CW, fans of the show…”

    Those weren’t fans; most of the controversy of the network switch came from click-bait sites that preyed on some fans. Season Two plotting was already in place well before the show moved to The CW, because the show has a multi-season plot plan in place that they’ve been utilizing all along. Network switch also had nothing to do with production moving to Vancouver as well, as sets were already being moved while CBS twittled their thumbs on their decision-making.

    And another thing: shippers of the show on social media aren’t most of the show’s audience. They’re still just small, often self-delusional groups…some of them getting desperate for attention again…sort of like YOU.

  • Susan Spilecki

    All of this is so on-target. I’ve longed for the good characterization from season one. The abusive Karamel relationship was tired before it even began and the sooner they get rid of M-E, the sooner, one hopes, Supergirl can get her own show back.

  • KET1

    Supergirl already has a show, and Kara has managed to build up an extended family of characters (it’s called a ‘circle of influence’, exemplified by the words ‘stronger together’, from the series’ 2nd episode, in case your memory has failed you) over three seasons. However, what you self-indulgent social media types always seem to forget is that this is still an ENSEMBLE series, not a solo vehicle…just like the rest of The CW’s superhero fare. Luckily for the series, the show runners continue to ignore idiot shippers and haters online (who always employ the worn-out cliché “it’s the writers’ fault!!” for their own failures to comprehend where the varied subplots are coalescing towards) and still follow their own, already mapped out direction.

  • Minneapolis Gal

    Lots of words. Really bad review. First Alex is mourning the loss of Maggie over many many episodes, not just one. And second Monel was brought in at the end of Season 1, not the end of Season 2. You really don’t know what you are talking about. Sorry. It’s like you were trying hard to complain about something.

  • dee

    Kinda makes me sick when I see articles like this …I think the majority of those of us who do watch this show learn a great deal …and yes the sanvers group are only interested in having a sex filled show so that they can fuss and fawn over ….I think the Gang at CW is right to ignore those whom always seem to gripe about the production the cgi and actors whom they feel they do not like ….but on the other hand if those within the gay community would like to make their own version of the show then raise the millons of dollars to make and produce the show ad call it what ever the hell you want then come back in a couple o years and rave about how no one watched your version .

  • lawdog

    I agree with most of your comments. I think a more appropriate criticism on the Winn story is they really have not mentioned Winn’s traumatic childhood since “Childish Things”. They made his character the “comic relief” and he is incredibly chirpy, which seems really at odds of a backstory where his father is(was) a supervillain who he loathed and a mother who he thought abandoned him. I have never seen a character’s backstory so at odds with what we see of the character now. A super tragic backstory for a character that for two seasons has been basically the funny, well adjusted comic relief is just a little odd.

  • lawdog

    Agree, the criticism most have is Alex spends TOO much time mourning over Maggie. The actress left the show and this navel gazing over a past relationship is just odd. If they wanted Maggie to stay, they should have given the actress a big raise. Most shows basically act like a character does not exist after they leave, but Alex almost every episode is still simpering over it. Even the last episode, they stated the reason why she was so cruel over one of the worldkillers was not that they almost killed Kara..but was over Maggie? That was so odd it was just bizarre. So now it is affecting her work too?

    They need to either have her meet someone new or have her get over it.

  • Brandon Kammarr Stennis

    A good clap for this guy eh??? It’s like he’s there with the writers and knows what’s happening in the room. I’m sorry but people like you and those who agree with you are so fucking annoying that I pity you. Since season 2 and until now, THE PLOT HAS BEEN AN STILL CONTINUES TO BE A MESS. All these subplots that go no where, idiotic romances that have no build up, making politics a thing ( yay go strong females who are lesbians), and introducing a toxic douche bag of a character who takes up most of the show making it more about him ( case your brain hasn’t put 2 and 2 together, I mean Mon el) resulting in everyone to come to a halt in character development. It is the writers fucking fault for making such a convoluted plot that doesn’t know what it wants to be.

  • vivaldi0

    It’s just man hating 101. Is Superman even a man. He seems like a self loathsome man that hates being in a mans body and agrees with the toxic feminism on this show. Pathetic. I watched 1 show and was puking for 2 days.