The TDF Top 10: Supergirl
In our next TDF Top 10, we continue a look back at the greatest episodes of each Arrowverse series with Supergirl...
Supergirl, the fun, frothy younger sister to Arrow and best friend to The Flash was a very welcome addition to The CW line up of superhero shows (moving to the network after a season one cancellation by CBS). This refreshingly female lead show was headed up my Melissa Benoist in the title role with Chyler Leigh and David Harewood providing excellent support. The cherry on top of the TV cake was Calista Flockhart, giving an impeccable turn as Kara’s boss, Cat Grant (formally of the Daily Planet gossip column). This show was women front and centre with a big does of truth, justice and hope.
I have to fess up at the start; I sometimes have a strained relationship with Supergirl. At its core I think is a great show, with a good heart and its general message and approach is especially great for kids. I do, however, often find myself being frustrated with it for not being better. It can be over acted and under baked, while the scripts can sometimes shine, too often they’re a little lazy… but I still consider it to be a really good show.
One of the shows strengths is its general character work, especially in the earlier seasons and there are a lot of episodes that do amazing things for one or two characters without being exceptional over all episodes, so I’ve tried to pick actual stand out episodes for this top 10, while acknowledging there may be less good episodes that actually tackle a single character’s development better.
So without further ado, allow us to present The TDF Top 10: Supergirl...
10. Crisis on Earth-X, Part 1 (3:08)
In all good faith, this isn’t a great episode of Supergirl itself but it triggers one of the best Arrowverse crossovers so makes my list on the bigger picture points.
It doesn’t serve the main Supergirl season story that well, in fact the show’s own story gets slightly chunkily put to one side. But the episode (as the rest of the crossover does) looks great and has a truly grand feel to it. The botched wedding of Barry and Iris (Grant Gustin and Candice Patton respectively) from The Flash is a brilliant set piece that kids things off beautifully and Alex (Chyler Leigh) having a rebound fling with Sara (Caity Lotz) is a really fun B-Plot and actually does progress Alex’s character nicely forward, when she realises (having only recently come out and to terms with her sexuality) that not everyone she hooks up with has to be the new love of her life.
This is a fun and goofy episode that just slips into my top 10 of Supergirl!
9. Worlds Finest (1:18)
This episode is just great fun! It represents the first, proper crossover in the Arrowverse (The Flash being back-door piloted in Arrow doesn’t really count). When Barry Allan (Grant Gustin) accidentally jumps universes and ends up in Central City, he quickly teams up with Kara to find a way home.
What is so much fun about this episode is how quickly Barry and Kara just become friends. Its very wholesome and very old-school comic book to see them just becoming buddies, especially since, at this point at least, both characters have less super powered friends in their respective shows to understand and hang out with. Highlights are Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart) instantly twigging that Barry is in fact the Flash – further suggesting she’s worked out Kara’s secret but isn’t letting on – and a conversation about ice cream! The connection and future cross over potential of these two shows is firmly cemented in this first, fun adventure.
8. Back from the Future - Part One (5:11) - and a cheeky nod to Back from the Future - Part One (5:12)
I was a big Winn (Jeremy Michael Jordan) fan. At first the show seemed a little confusing, Jimmy Olson (Mehcad Brooks) was this super cool, buff, sexy guy and Winn was… well… Jimmy Olson. The character of Winn never really gets away from being a Jimmy surrogate but he grows greatly as a character and really finds his place from season two onwards. He quickly became the heart of the show and developed a nice and genuine friendship with Alex after his relocating to the DEO. I was really upset when he left the show so this short return was very welcome.
Winn, who went to the future to be a hero, has returned because a time criminal is trying to besmirch his good name in the past. He’s built a life for himself, is a hero, married and has a kid and he needs to protect that. The arc (he’s in two episodes proper then cameos in a third) allows for some closure that maybe he didn’t get when he first left the show. He also gets to spiritually pass the torch, or perhaps more appropriately give his seal of approval, to his replacement character of Brainy (Jesse Rath) who is going through a crisis of conscience in this season. While the second episode gives us the real closure, with Winn facing his father (Henry Czerny) or rather, a downloaded-conscience, virtual reality version of his father, the whole story is a very welcome reminded of why Winn had become so integral to the show and both episodes pack quite an emotional punch.
7. Survivors (2:04)
Survivors is a great episode that ticks a lot of boxes. Season two of Supergirl was a a huge improvement on season one. Over all, I think the series tends to start and ends its seasons well, with saggy middles (perhaps less episodes is what would strengthen the show?). Season two really hit hard with a great first four to five episodes.
This episode opens with a flash back to Mon-El (Chris Wood) on Daxam, which is really well realised and provides a lot of background to this charismatic but amoral character. It also strengthens the series’ wider world of alien planets and civilizations, something which becomes a huge part of the show going forward. We also get to know M’Gann (Sharon Ann Leal), J’onn’s (David Harewood) kind of girlfriend/ally, so the alien culture emphasis is strong. The plot revolves around an illegal alien fight club that Kara and the gang need to put a stop to. Again, this sets up some of the political and social allegories and narratives the show would later come to focus more heavily on and it really helps build the idea of an earth with a wide alien population.
What I especially liked was Alex getting to know Maggie (the excellent Floriana Lima) better. The romance between Alex and Maggie is and will always be one of my favourite parts of this show. A genuinely accessible, pure and sweet love story that deftly dealt with Alex’s burgeoning sexuality. I’d like to include their entire storyline in the top 10 but this episode will have to represent their entire romance!
6. Better Angels (1:20)
The season one finale episode wasn’t a guaranteed belter; the previous episode had been a little weak and there is some narrative gymnastics done to make sure Superman is out of the picture but they deliver a pretty solid if slightly bitty narrative with some good action and inspiring speeches. With a deadly mind control device causing the people of earth to act like zombies (including Superman) it’s down to Kara to save the words from her evil Aunt. While the show definitely improved in terms of production values and narrative stakes, this is a great first big finale for the show. Its dramatic, exciting and has some great visuals and set pieces. By episode end, Kara has faced her doubts and even been given a promotion at work by Cat Grant (we love you, Calista Flockhart) who you’re pretty sure knows her secret…
There are some stand out moments, such as when we think Superman is on his way to save the day but he gets effected by the mind control device; this is exciting as you think you might finally get to meet the Big Blue Boy Scout but then terrifying as he is being controlled by the bad guys. Also, Alex, under mind control, fighting with Kara allows for some emotional catharsis for the characters and the episode ends with a pretty impressive stunt of Supergirl launching a ship into space and being caught – physically and metaphorically - by her sister (in a space suit) after she passes out from the effort.
5. The Adventures of Supergirl (2:01)
This was an exciting episode for me. I am a Superman fan. A big, big, Superman fan. Like, I can’t describe to you how big a fan of Superman I truly am. I can try but even as I wax lyrical, you’ll assume I’m exaggerating. Just believe me when I say, I bloody love Superman. This show has always suffered from the superman problem. It’s the same as The Avengers problem: if you live in a world with the ultimate superhero, why do they not help out with all your big problems? To be honest, Supergirl never quite gets round this problem, though they do offer a few little fixes along the way (Its suggested that Kara is actually more powerful than Kal-El and that Kal-El is spending a lot of time off world or with his family) but this is the first time we get to see the Man of Steel on the show - on the entire Arrowverse, in fact.
Its not, to be honest, the best episode of the show by far but it does a great job of establishing this new Superman. And he’s a pretty good Supes. Pretty good in context. Yes, he’s a bit small. No, he doesn’t have the same charismas as many previous Superman actors. He’s a bit TV and his costume is, frankly, awful. But Tyler Hoechlin is charming and plays a likable, earnest Superman and a friendly, bumbling Clark Kent. Superman does op up in a few later episodes where he’s probably used better and Hoechlin is of course now spinning off in to his own show but this episode makes this list simply because it’s the first episodes where the Arrowverse Superman shows up.
I really, bloody love Superman.
4. Midvale (3:06)
In picking my top 10 episodes of Supergirl, I have kind of settled on a lot of episodes that fall outside the show’s standard format. It would be disingenuous for me to suggest the show doesn’t have some great episodes within its standard format but I do think the show shines best when it plays with its format. Midvale actually feels very much like a back door pilot, an almost entirely flashback episode about Alex and Kara solving a crime in there home town as pre-teen kids, the main cast barely feature and the episode is more like a Nancy Drew story. It also feels kind if Smallville like, probably because of its setting and extensive location shooting.
It actually plays really well and I’d happily watch a show or follow up episode using this format. The stakes are dangerous but not end of the world and it has a nice, almost innocent, vibe about it. The young actors are great and it provides some nice character background for the adult Alex and Kara. Some people, I think, hated the extreme swerve away from the core characters and format of the show but I actually really enjoyed this odd little flashback and would have been happy to see it repeated.
3. The House of L (4:16)
This is one of the Supergirl flashback from a different respective episodes. The show pioneers this idea earlier in season four and has, since, done an episode like this two or three times a season. While they’ve maybe over done the idea they do usually stand out and the The House of L (which is a really good title) does it pretty well.
This is basically an episode showing how Lex Luthor has been the orchestrator of everyone’s woes for this entire season (and perhaps a little before). We see how he manipulated various characters, including the season main villain Agent Liberty (Sam Witwer) into dong his bidding. Its fairly well done, implying Lex was in the background for many of the season’s big moments and it showcases Jon Cryer pretty well in the role. Sure, the reveal of Lex as mastermind maybe undermines some of the other character’s emotional and developmental arcs this season but the episode is big, bold and stylish and brings a flair to proceedings that has been missing for a while.
2. It's a Super Life (5:13)
For its 100th episode Supergirl decided to have a little fun, something the show knows how to do but often forgets to enact. In a kind of greatest hits re-enactment, Mr Mxyzptlk (here brilliantly played by Thomas Lennon) turns up top atone for his past crimes towards Kara ands offers to let her undo one mistake in her life. The mistake she chooses to undo is – of course – not telling Lena her secret sooner.
The show is a kind of a riff on It’s a Wonderful Life, each time Kara finds a new point in her timeline to tell Lena, it has terrible results. Its fun to see some of the better moments and significant story beats of the show played around with and there are some great guest stars and character call backs throughout. By this point in the show, Supergirl has maybe over done the previous stories from a different perspective thing but it works really well here and a lot of fun is had by all involved.
Lennon is great as Mytpltlix and the framing device and various ways he presents the past to Kara in her apartment works really well. Supergirl never gets as meta as sister show, Legends of Tomorrow, but a character like Mxyzptlk allows for some real reality bending and injects a sense of fun that Supergirl sometimes lacks (or forgets to have). While there are no real stakes this week, the story manages to throw a little legit peril in just for the final act before re-setting everything to how it was at episode start. Its not just a fun and silly story, it does provide for some major – almost fast tracked – character development and actually pushed things forward really well for the end of the season.
1. Man of Steel (4:03)
This is for me the stand out episode of the whole show. Several of my earlier inclusions on this list are variations on this theme which came after this season four episode and, hence their positioning on the list, they were lesser, more watered down versions of this format. In this episode we’re shown how Ben Lockwood (Sam Witwer) is radicalised and becomes Agent Liberty. The episode is fantastic in how it shows this character’s arc, from liberal, left wing collage professor fighting his own father’s bigotry (an always good value Xander Berkeley) to a hate fuelled, murderer.
The use of previous, big story moments from the earlier seasons of Supergirl as the backdrop and catalyst to Lockwood’s transformation works really well, allowing us to see the other side of events. A triumphant hero moment for Supergirl and her pals is shown to have real world consequences such as property damage, job loss and even civilian death. To watch a series of small events chip away at Lockwood’s compassion and humanity is genuinely heart-breaking. The success of this episode is in no small part down to Sam Witwer. While the writing and directing are good on the episode, its his central performance that brings gravitas and pathos to the character. The quality of acting on Supergirl can be a bit varied at times but Witwer is a huge boon to the show and a strong addition to the regular cast.
Its hard to pick a top 10 for a show which genuinely has so many great episodes. Here are just a couple of honourable mentions…
Welcome to Earth 2:03
Lynda Carter! Need I say more!
Duet (The Flash) 3:17
Okay, not actually an episode of Supergirl but this crossover deals very heavily with Supergirl plot points – Kara’s burgeoning romance with Mon-El – and teams up these two Glee alum and finally allows Broadway star Jesse L. Martin (Jo West in The Flash) to sing! Godspell star Victor Garber, gets shipped over from Legends of Tomorrow and of course John Barrowman turns up, like they could have ever stopped him!
Do you have any suggestions for episodes that I missed or you think deserve to be in the top 10? Let us know in the comments below!
You can also check out our other Arrowverse TDF Top 10s for Arrow, The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow. (We thought it was a little too early for Batwoman, but you can check out our full season one reviews here)