Supergirl returned from summer hiatus a darker and more brooding character. With her boyfriend gone—she presumes dead but we presume living in the 30th century with fun heroes like Saturn Girl —Kara Danvers is left with a void in her life and a turn at the corner of her mouth. This chick is positively grim, and my knee-jerk reaction was to accuse the show of ruining what we love: Supergirl’s sunny disposition in the face of enormous setbacks.
But by the end of the hour I was asking myself if it was okay for Kara to be a dick every once in a while. Sometimes a hero has got to mope.
That didn’t stop me from being concerned. The modern iterations of Batman are all super dark and super no fun—appealing more to fanboys in need of validation than audiences in need of entertainment. On Smallville, Tom Welling’s Clark Kent rejected his humanity and friends to mope across the globe every other season premiere , and Henry Cavill’s Man of Steel iteration spent the better part of two movies being a grim-faced fuddy duddy . Even in the Arrowverse we’ve devoted more than one article to our irritation over Barry Allen’s sporadic instances of woe-is-me-itis and the general Batman-like black hole of fun that is Oliver Queen .
Supergirl has always been a big bowl of refreshing sunshine. Even when you think the stories the show tells are stupid (and they are frequently stupid), Kara Danvers is a bright point. She lost her whole world, and while the show never shies away from the gravity of that loss, it shows that a young woman can endure.
After the finale saw Mon-El forced to leave forever so Supergirl could save the world from a Daxamite invasion, Kara is tetchy. She’s avoided her friends and family for months while channeling all of her energy into being the most efficient Supergirl a super girl can be. Her sister is busy planning her own big gay wedding to Maggie Sawyer, and her friends James Olsen and Lena Luthor are busy fending off real estate mogul Morgan Edge (Adrian Pasdar is really really good at playing slimy jerk rich guys) who wants to gobble up National City real estate and maybe even Kara’s place of employment, CatCo.
A shinier and happier Kara Danvers would be focused on the threat of Edge, but instead she’s busy brooding, punching bad guys, and offering up her bloodied fist (with the bad guy’s blood) to Winn for some quick DNA tests. This version of Supergirl feels like a rejection of what we adore about the character.
But by the end of the hour I was okay with a glimpse at a grimmer Supergirl. I don’t need—or want it—every episode, but half way through the premiere, after Alex, Kara’s sister, and James, her best friend and boss at CatCo, had both reached out to try and get her through her mope session, she was confronted by J’onn J’onzz, another refugee of global genocide.
J’onn quickly calls Kara out for her attitude and general behavior and she finally admits to exhaustion and a sense of weariness over her loss. Losing Mon-El was hard because Kara cared for him, but it’s also one more loss stacked on her rather large pile. Kara might be a dick, rejecting her humanity to embrace her supposedly more altruistic and self-sacrificing Kryptonian nature, but maybe it’s okay, every once in a while, to be a mopey asshole after you see your planet destroyed and then commit a little minor Daxamite murder to save your new home world.
This isn’t the first exploration of grief on TV, and it isn’t as good as some others, including Buffy’s landmark episode, “The Body.” We never cared for Mon-El the way we cared for a character like Joyce and knowing that the actor is contracted for the entire season and almost definitely alive and coming back soon keeps the audience at arm’s length—making it difficult to empathize with Kara’s grief.
Yet the conversation between Kara and J’onn brings that grief into focus and the two actors are so good that you do, after nearly an hour, understand where Kara is coming from. “I’m not human,” Kara says to J’onn—repeating words she uttered to her sister earlier in the hour. She’s tired of being the victim, she’s tired of the expectations of sadness that have plagued her since she came to earth. She wants to reject Kara and be Supergirl because Supergirl doesn’t face the messiness of life like Kara. She’s a god, and that’s an easy way to live.
David Harewood expresses a wonderful heartbreak in response to that line, and his character, J’onn, quickly reminds Kara that while she might not be a human biologically she’s become one culturally and spiritually. Supergirl may be able to save lives and stop invasions, but Kara Danvers was the one that pulled J’onn back from his own grief-stricken abyss in season one. She’s the one, to J’onn, that matters.
But it’s actually Lena Luthor who finally convinces Kara that embracing the cape and rejecting the glasses is a bad idea. Of course Lena has no idea she’s doing it. Despite being a genius mogul of a billion dollar company who can buy major media companies without batting an eye (she snaps up CatCo to keep it out of Morgan Edge’s hands) Lena has no idea her friend Kara Danvers is also Supergirl.
While she appreciates Supergirl—and even builds her a giant statue—Kara Danvers is who she begs for help in the running of CatCo. Lena is the one character who has no notion of Kara’s duality, and like every best friend/love interest of a superhero in that role she’s ultimately the one that grounds Kara, pulling her back into the fold her own sister couldn’t return her to.
So was it okay for Kara to mope for an entire episode? Absolutely. Kara’s grief over losing Mon-El has only served to highlight what might be the focus of this third season of Supergirl: The titular hero’s struggle between her Kryptonian legacy and human future. We’ve seen Kara try and balance heroism and humanity for two seasons, now it’s time for her to try and balance the culture and birthright of a lost world with the emotional needs of a new one.