When Supergirl first debuted only three short years ago, it was a massive deal. To have the Girl of Steel be the debut female-led live action show under the #DCTV umbrella sounded across the zeitgeist in a way that heralded not only how remarkable a character Kara Zor-El is, but how much her type of story was needed in our mass-media marketplace. A couple short years later, Wonder Woman echoed this impact cinematically. In a lot of ways, Supergirl’s status as an icon rose to a new level with the debut of her television show. Just as the last daughter of Krypton made a big splash on Earth when she first arrived, Melissa Benoist’s incarnation of the role has become an important symbol for female viewers across many demographics.
Tonight’s episode of Supergirl is called “The Faithful” and revolves around the springing up of a Cult of Supergirl based on the human interpretation of Rao’s teaching.
A quick history lesson for anyone who is not a big time Supergirl comics reader: Rao is the religious figure of Krypton. He’s an integral figure in both Superman and Supergirl’s lives and is featured during a number of important storylines for both characters.
In “The Faithful,” a character named Thomas Coville (Chad Lowe) was rescued by Supergirl on the night that her heroic persona was born. The plane crash is a well-known scene from Supergirl’s original pilot and this episode presumes that more than just Alex and Kara Danvers left the scene profoundly changed. While the word “cult” certainly carries some negative associations that can make it difficult for some of us to relate to, it’s still the best word I can think of to describe the wayward congregation that has been touched by Supergirl’s heroics.
In place of the misguided individuals that may come to mind when you imagine a cult are some genuine human beings who experienced true moments of salvation at the hands of a power greater than them. Particularly in societies where religion is alive and well, it is not difficult to see how some people could equate a being like Supergirl with a deity.
Given that Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster—the creators of Superman—were Jewish, the comparison is probably more apt to Abraham than to Jesus, but the narrative thread of protectors of Earth remains the same whether we turn our gazes toward Clark or Kara. In spite of this, during the episode Kara insists that she does not deserve to be elevated to the status that the titular Faithful are devoutly thrusting upon her.
To make things even more meta, the Cult of Supergirl that is revealed in “The Faithful” mirrors the cult of personality that has sprung up around the character herself. Supergirl enjoys a bigger spotlight and higher status than she had even five years ago or a decade ago, and no small part of it is due to the increased visibility the show has offered her. There are more of us invested in her than ever before—just like in the continuity of the show.
I adore this quality in Supergirl. It cements her in my mind as deeply heroic. There’s a moment in “The Faithful” that I think epitomizes who she is as a super hero more than maybe anything else we have seen over our three years with her in this medium. When Kara, Winn and James first go to the meeting to learn more about who these Rao worshippers are and the revelation washes over them that these people are actually praying to Supergirl, they hear a number of direct accounts of the people who were saved. They go into vivid detail about the circumstances of their saving, what Supergirl was like and how they, personally, were feeling as a direct result of brushing so close to death. When asked if those rescues had the same impact on her, Kara responded that she remembered every single one of them.
If that is not a truly “super” moment, then I really don’t know what is.
Sometimes the smallest, least bombastic acts are those that can be truly defining for these comic book characters that stand up as some of the only existing American mythology. To me, this moment is comparable to the scene in ALL STAR SUPERMAN when Superman talks down a girl who wants to jump off a building. All they have to do is listen and they have the power to move mountains—which both Kara and Clark could absolutely have done, if that had been called for.
“The Faithful” did feature at least some bombastic action. There was that clever, well-choreographed fight in the final act of the episode that seeds some more Kryptonian secrets coming to the surface over the course of the rest of the season. But this is not what will cement season three, episode four of Supergirl as one of the best episodes that has been made to date.
This style of storytelling elevates the capes and tights genre of storytelling and is something that works better on Supergirl than any of the other #DCTV show. If it continues to distinguish itself in this tremendous way, then it’s shaping up to be a powerful season of TV.
Thanks for hanging out with me for this guest stint writing about Supergirl for the #DCTV Couch Club! Let me know your thoughts about this Cult of Supergirl and what it might herald from the Girl of Steel going forward. I’ll be reading!
Guest writer Ashley V. Robinson covers The Flash as a part of the #DCTV Couch Club. Look for Ashley on Twitter at @AshleyVRobinson and on the Jawiin YouTube channel. Supergirl airs Mondays at 8 p.m. (7 p.m. CST) on The CW.