One of the pleasant surprises in this week’s Supergirl is just how comic-book-y it is. If the pilot was stingy with its references to the Superman mythos — it barely even said the word Superman, even though it had no qualms about alluding to him using increasingly cumbersome euphemisms — “Stronger Together” lays it on thick. Superman, Clark Kent, and Lois Lane all get name-checked more than once, an important DC Comics character or two make blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameos, and there are more than a few hints about some pretty big twists that could lie ahead.
Also, freeze breath gets used twice. Freeze breath is the best superpower, and I will never forgive Man of Steel for entirely skipping over it.
The episode proper starts in a remote location as Hank Henshaw and the DEO are putting Kara through her paces, seeing how well she can outmaneuver guided missiles. (She’s pretty good at it.) It’s a training session that’s cut short, however, as Supergirl — to Henshaw’s chagrin — is summoned by Winn to the National City harbor, where a fire is threatening to ignite a massive oil tanker.
Try as she might, Kara can’t keep from messing this one up, though — first she uses her freeze breath (YES), but it only spreads the fire; then she tries pulling the tanker away from the fire, which initially works, but then she cracks the hull and leaks crude oil into the harbor. It’s both funny and heartbreaking to see the crowd start to cheer for her and then turn once she makes things worse.
Afterward, at the CatCo offices, Kara laments that she “went from superhero to ecoterrorist in a single bound” as she gets lambasted in the news — and by a guy named Maxwell Lord, who doesn’t appear anywhere else in the episode but is pledging a clean-up fund and will almost certainly play an important role in the long run if Supergirl has any intention of making him anything like the comic-book character of the same name. For now, though, he’s Winn’s hero, a figure of Steve Jobs–ian proportions in his eyes.
Surprisingly, Cat Grant is also concerned by Supergirl’s sloppiness, telling her newsroom that she needs to change the conversation around Supergirl, since she’s reflecting poorly on her company after she made such a push to “brand” her. (She also name-drops Clark Kent and Lois Lane, so that’s fun.)
Talking to James after the meeting, Kara says she doesn’t want to do the interview for fear that Cat will see right through her extremely flimsy disguise. James assuages her concerns by addressing an age-old Superman argument — you know, the one about how it's ridiculous how no one recognizes Clark Kent is Superman with just “glasses and a slouch” separating the two. The answer is kind of poetic and sad — no one really expects to have a hero among them. Kara won’t be recognized by Cat because Cat already doesn’t see her.
That night, a chemical plant named after Supergirl co-creator Al Plastino is broken into by a mysterious intruder who seems like a normal dude until a security guard approaches him and he turns into one of the Reapers from Blade II.
After he gets away, we discover — thanks to a flashback to Kara’s childhood on Krypton (the upside of her not being an infant when her planet met its fate) that this guy is actually an alien known as a Hellgrammite, a name that sounds like it was made up on the spot but is actually both a real DC Comics villain and a particularly gross larval insect. Hellgrammite has a nasty ability to shoot out daggerlike stingers willy-nilly, but he’s not, as it turns out, on Team Bad Guy.
This is a bit of a surprise, but when Kara’s evil aunt General Astra has her henchman track him down, it becomes clear — not every baddie that escaped Fort Rozz is working with her. Some just want to hide. He’s not going to get the opportunity to, though — Astra is going to use him as bait to draw out Supergirl.
Back at the DEO, Alex regales Kara some more about how she needs proper training before she can take on alien threats that can actually hurt her, bringing her into a low-level kryptonite-filled room in order to toss her around some and prove she’s not ready to do any proper fighting. Kara, of course, is a bit sour about all this.
But what surprises her most is Cat Grant. The next day, after confronting Cat about a cover story critical of Supergirl after talking so much about rehabilitating her image, Kara asks her what Supergirl is doing wrong. Cat tells her it’s simple: She’s taking on too much. Start small.
(It’s really great to see Cat Grant slowly start to expand beyond her cartoonish Miranda Priestly riff — although she plays it so well, with an incredible line about day-drinking with Ruth Bader Ginsburg).
So she does just that, enlisting the help of both James and Winn (who, adorably, had no idea about the other new Kara’s secret) in both tracking down people that need her help and coaching her on the best way to use her powers. It’s a big campaign to turn her perception around, and it works. (She even saves a snake from a tree, after Winn assumes it’s a kitten because it’s named Fluffy.)
After stopping by Kara’s apartment to apologize for roughing her up at the DEO HQ (and discovering Winn and James know the truth), Alex heads back to the DEO and learns what the Hellgrammite is after (the chlorine in DDT pesticides, it’s what he eats). Together with Hank, Alex hatches a plan to lure the Hellgrammite out, transporting a large amount of DDT on the open highway.
It works perfectly, but the Hellgrammite pretty much creams the entire squad and takes Alex hostage, which probably wasn’t the desired effect.
This happens while Kara and James have a bit of a heart-to-heart where James opens up a bit about how he’s always been known because of his friendship with someone famous. It’s something he wanted to escape by moving to National City, but can’t seem to — especially with Cat threatening to fire him if he can’t land her an interview with Supergirl. Kara finally acquiesces to doing the interview (and mentions how the “S” family crest also means “Stronger Together”), but their moment is cut short by Hank, who tells her the news about Alex.
Kara is furious that Hank went after the Hellgrammite without her, saying Alex would’ve never been caught if they weren’t so obsessed with training her and just let her help.
After a brief search, Kara finds her sister and the Hellgrammite, but it’s a trap, and Astra finally makes herself known. Turns out Kara had no idea that her mother’s twin survived Krypton, or was even locked up by her mother. She also says something about how her goal isn’t to kill humans but to “save you all,” which, sure it is.
There’s a big fight between Astra and Kara and Alex and the Hellgrammite, and we get a SECOND use of freeze breath (is it Christmas? I mean, I know it’s Astra that uses it, but that kind of makes it even better) and Alex is a total badass and takes out the Hellgrammite on her own.
Either way, Kara and Alex are in a jam (because of the freeze breath) but luckily, Hank shows up to save them by stabbing Astra with a kryptonite dagger, which makes her shriek and fly away like the Wicked Witch of the West.
The episode winds down back at the DEO, where Kara asks Alex to teach her how to fight and Alex decides to show her a project she’s been working on, referring to Superman’s Fortress of Solitude as a place where he can connect with his culture. To that end, she shows Kara a room with an AI based off her mother, built with the tech that came aboard Kara’s ship.
Kara decides to ask it what it knows about Astra.
The next scene is interesting if you know Hank Henshaw’s comic-book backstory, but for right now it’s just a bit of creepy intrigue. Alex thanks him for helping her build the AI, and when she leaves, HANK’S EYES GLOW LIKE A TERMINATOR AHHHHH.
Back in her Evil Lair, Astra, having never encountered Kryptonite, is in pain and confused at why the knife could hurt her. She instructs one of her people to help figure out how the humans got such a deadly weapon. Which is probably bad news for Kara.
Finally, Cat Grant is getting into her car and getting ready to fire James when all of a sudden her car starts FLYING to some remote location outside of National City. It’s Supergirl. She’s ready to talk.