I don’t know about you, but I’ve been loving CBS’s take on Supergirl. It’s entertaining and empowering, and not just because its protagonist is an SFC (Strong Female Character).
Yes, the fact that Kara/Supergirl (Melissa Benoist) kicks ass in the lead role is awesome. But for a show to be truly empowering, it has to offer us more than a lady who can beat the crap out of someone. And lucky for us, Supergirl has a lot more to offer.
The show is unapologetically optimistic. While Kara’s cousin is getting dragged down into the land of the dark and the gritty in Dawn of Justice (yes, they’re different on-screen universes), Kara is getting donuts with Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) and bonding with her adoptive sister, Alex (Chyler Leigh). That’s not to say that dark and gritty comic book adaptations can’t be empowering. I’m a huge fan of Jessica Jones, and I think her story is incredibly empowering, just in a different way.
But despite its upbeat outlook, Supergirl isn’t sappy (scratch that, it’s just the perfect amount of sappy). It’s not the Lifetime version of the character’s story. What makes the show’s positive outlook compelling is that Kara constantly has to choose optimism. It’s not a rom-com where things just coincidentally work out in the end. Kara’s faced with challenges that, time and again, force her to decide who she wants to be. This starts with the first episode. It would have been easy for Kara to give in to the fear that using her powers would expose and endanger her, but instead, she decides to save Alex by preventing the plane she’s on from crashing. And when Kara’s exposed to red kryptonite and basically Hulks out, eroding the public’s trust in her, it would have been easy for her to become cynical – to feel angry that her one misstep apparently outweighs all the good she has done in the minds of the public. But she doesn’t. Instead, she commits herself to earning back their trust – and succeeds by standing up to Livewire (Brit Morgan) and Silver Banshee (Italia Ricci).
The show is empowering because, in a world where Kara could very easily succumb to negativity or a sense of defeatism, she doesn’t. And it’s her positivity and optimism that make her the hero she is. She believes in doing the right thing, and she believes that she can make a positive difference in the world, despite the enormous challenges she’s constantly facing. That’s what drives her.
And it’s not just Kara who actively chooses an optimistic outlook. As a middle-schooler, Alex decides to look out for her adoptive sister, even though the other kids at school think she’s weird, and Alex isn’t completely sure what to make of Kara herself. And Kat (Calista Flockhart) chooses to continue believing in Supergirl even when others question her motives. She chooses to try to reconnect with her son (with a little push in the right direction from Kara), despite the fact that their relationship is fraught and complicated.
So it’s not just a vapid, feel-good show. It’s a show that’s actively preaching a philosophy. It’s encouraging us not to let the challenges and the disappointments harden us. It’s telling us that we have it in our power to be the people we want to be, and to create lives for ourselves that are in keeping with that. What could be more empowering?