“World’s Finest,” the anxiously awaited episode of CBS’s Supergirl featuring the hero of CW’s The Flash, was every bit as charming, quippy, and GIF-able as expected from a crossover between TV’s two most delightful superhero shows. And as many will surely point out, this one sunny hour, filled with ice cream and doughnuts and friendship and optimism, succeeds in ways that DC’s other recent high-profile crossover, Warner Bros.’s $424 million (and counting) blockbuster Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, did not.
Where the latter is a clumsy, disjointed 2½-hour mess featuring two of the world’s most beloved superheroes tearing each other apart for next to no reason, Supergirl and the Flash’s first meeting acts as a much-needed palate cleanser—a sweet, simple reminder of why we look to the sky (or to the multiverse) for super-people in tights.
Barry Allen, the fastest man alive, accidentally speeds through the barriers of his world to the alternate Earth occupied by Kara Zor-El, aka Supergirl, just in time to catch her from a steep fall while she’s unconscious. Though they’re understandably (and adorably) baffled by each other at first, it takes all of two minutes before Barry and Kara clear up the confusion and become friends. And neither even has a mother named Martha! See what happens when you use words before fists, Bats and Supes? Friendship!
Barry geeks out over the fact that Kara is from another planet (“Is that a spaceship?!”) and Kara delights in having a friend who can keep up with her at top speed (even better, he can bring her and her friends instant ice cream). Winn, Kara’s best friend, practically squees at the sci-fi fantasy-made-real of the multiverse, and Cat Grant, Kara’s media magnate boss, unleashes some of her grade-A sass on the unsuspecting Barry: “The Flash? Sounds like someone whose only superpower is jumping out of an alley in a trench coat.”
Jimmy—sorry, James—Olson, the hunky photojournalist Kara has feelings for but who has held back from reciprocating, grows subtly jealous of the way Barry and Kara bond over their superpowers. And true to Cat’s advice, Kara’s inadvertent “power move” works and she and James finally share a passionate kiss. Barry, meanwhile, takes on the role of a big brother, offering Kara super-helpful advice about being a hero.
They smile and race and crack jokes and beat the bad guys, complementing each other’s strengths and finding joy in their new friendship. The episode is all the more poignant for the redemption it offers Kara, whose exposure to Red Kryptonite two episodes ago in “Fallen” temporarily altered her brain and made her reckless and cruel, turning the people of her home, National City, against her.
Like the people of Metropolis in Batman v Superman, the people of National City have lost faith in their hero Kryptonian because of the collateral damage caused in a battle—though in Supergirl, of course, all Kara left in her wake was a sister with a broken arm, smashed sidewalks, and a shaken populace, rather than thousands dead and a city pummeled to the ground.
But while Zack Snyder’s warped version of Superman spares hardly a word in either Man of Steel or Batman v Superman for the thousands of people killed in his battle against General Zod, Supergirl, upon regaining her right mind, breaks down crying harder than we’ve ever seen at the end of “Fallen,” wracked with guilt at the thought of having been mean to the people of her city. In “World’s Finest,” we learn she’s been working overtime to earn back their trust—even building their IKEA tables, a truly superhuman feat.
“World’s Finest’s” big battle against the electric Livewire and new villain Silver Banshee again takes place in the crowded center of National City. At first people run, but when they see Supergirl go down, overwhelmed by her enemies, something special happens: They rally around her to protect her. No congressional hearings or overwrought meditations on God vs. man could do for National City what Supergirl’s time and effort and earnest goodwill could.
This last bit gets at what, to me and to many, is the heart of what Supergirl—and Superman—are supposed to represent: an inspiring, unconditional faith in humanity. At the end of “Fallen,” a heartbroken Kara tells Cat, “To me, every person in this city is a light and every time I’ve helped one of them, a little bit of their light becomes a part of me.”
The line was reminiscent of something a young, pre-Superman Clark Kent tells his mother in writer Mark Waid’s acclaimed 2003 Superman origin story, Superman: Birthright. He tells her that living things have “a kind of glow around them” that only he can see. When a person dies, he says, the glow “fades pretty quickly, and what’s left behind is…hard to look at. Empty in a way that leaves me empty, too. But when it’s there…my God, how it shines.”
Supergirl, in that sense, gets it right: Kara believes in the good of people because she sees something in us, unwaveringly, that we often don't see in ourselves. And she does her best to embody our best qualities, even when people have turned against her. Cat Grant, while on a The View-esque talk show, puts it best: “She is an idea and she is inspiring us to be our best selves. We can learn a lot from her.”
“World’s Finest” kept the heart of Supergirl intact, and put on a show somehow brighter and more irrepressibly exuberant than usual. On the Monday after a weekend mercilessly dominated by Snyder’s hyper-violent, joyless vision of the DC Universe, the Fastest Man Alive and the Girl of Steel swooped in to remind us that it’s OK to have fun with superheroes. They saved the day. That’s what heroes do best.