‘Supergirl’ Sails Toward Future in Cliffhanging Season Finale (SPOILERS)

Beyond lauding the pilot, Variety’s initial review of “Supergirl” posed several questions, the most pointed (or at least pragmatic) being whether this sort of unabashed superhero series – having thrived on the network’s kid sister, the CW – could take off on CBS. The answer was not entirely, which didn’t prevent producers Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg and their team from applying a very “The Flash”-like formula to this handsome, fun, chaotic, slightly geeky addition to DC’s stable of TV heroes.

As with their other shows, the series chewed through great chunks of story, revealing Supergirl’s secret identity to multiple characters, introducing additional heroes (as in J’onn J’onzz, a.k.a. Martian Manhunter), and digging deep into comic-book mythology. While those weaned on comics might readily know the effects of red Kryptonite or the rules surrounding alternate universes, these series simply dive in and let the less-formally initiated follow along as best they can.

All that built toward a finale (and SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t watched) with nothing less than the fate of the world hanging in the balance, as Supergirl and her Martian pal (David Harewood, one of the show’s best assets) squared off in a four-way fight with the Kryptonian renegade Non (Chris Vance) and the villainous Indigo. The latter was played by Laura Vandervoort, one of several actors with past ties to the franchise nostalgically incorporated into the show.

The protracted build-up to the slightly anticlimactic showdown underscored both where the series can excel and, frankly, become a tad clunky. Faced with the prospect of death, Supergirl/Kara used the opportunity to go around telling everyone in her life how important they are to her, from her pal Winn (Jeremy Jordan) to her slow-simmering love interest James Olsen (Mehcad Brooks) to her imperious boss Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart), who paid the whole thing off, sentimentally, by finally acknowledging Kara’s contributions — and even getting her name right. There was even a half-baked rescue of the stricken hero by Kara’s adopted sister Alex (Chyler Leigh), whose butt-kicking abilities against threats alien and domestic have certainly been put to the test over the course of the season.

Although bullets bounce off her, “Supergirl” has been buoyed throughout by Benoist’s inherent vulnerability, managing to invest both halves of her iconic role with ordinary doubts and longings. The producers have also incorporated a number of winning little flourishes, such as Kara’s texts back and forth with her unseen cousin, Clark, whose boots she has spent the better part of the season trying to fill.

The special effects have also been impressive, credibly conveying battles between super-powered foes. While no one would expect the visuals to rival what’s on display in theatrical blockbusters, “Supergirl” (like “The Flash”) is clearly a major and welcome departure from the bad old days, when TV shows featuring Wonder Woman or the Hulk could afford to lasso a bad guy or break through a wall for about two minutes, twice per episode.

For all that, this latest series proved uneven as the year dragged on, and a slightly shorter episode order — or perhaps an “A” and “B” run, creating more air between flights of originals — might benefit all concerned. Nor did the cliffhanger involving another Kryptonian space pod, or for that matter the lingering questions about the fate of Kara and Alex’s dad, do all that much to whet the appetite for whatever awaits.

From a bird’s-eye view, everyone responsible for the series — from Warner Bros. TV to CBS to the astonishingly prolific creative team — deserves kudos for getting so many key elements right, especially as “Supergirl” took flight. Yet while the show mostly continued along that path, it also underscored the high bar and head winds associated with such properties, and the difficulty, as the finale demonstrated, of completely sticking the landing.

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