The first episode in Supergirl's promising third season can be summed up in a single, promotional-friendly sentence:
Supergirl is back... but Kara Danvers is not.
Nearly all the great stories -- dramas, comedies, and everything in between -- take consequences seriously. A character makes a choice, and then lives with whatever that choice may bring. It's reassuring that a series so willing to hit the reset button (remember when Winn was an IT guy at CatCo and James was the primary love interest?) remains invested in consequences. Better yet, it's a series that knows that when someone is going through a difficult time, those who love them are more than willing to help them avoid a consequence or two.
Thus Supergirl kicks off its third season with Kara Danvers living a half-life, throwing all her energy into the hero game without taking any particular joy, or even satisfaction, in the act of saving lives. She seems only to find solace in being alone and fantasizing about both Mon-El and her mother, and actively avoids all the people she loves. When she, Alex, and Maggie stop a dangerous robbery but fail to capture one of the perpetrators, she zeroes in on the guy they lost, not the lives they saved, and blows off her sister's request to get involved in wedding planning (even passing up potstickers -- who is this woman, and what has she done with Kara Danvers?)
It's obvious that Kara's circle is concerned, including those who know about her double life -- Winn, Alex, Maggie, J'onn, James -- and those who don't. That last group includes Lena and basically no one else, since Snapper's been dispatched with a quick reference to a sabbatical and Cat is now the White House Press Secretary. After passing on Alex's request to come to the tasting, Kara snaps at James in a CatCo editorial meeting, basically telling a room full of people that Supergirl doesn't have time for an interview right now. To the other writers, this is just a bit awkward, but James knows full well that when Kara says Supergirl is busy, she means she's not going to make the time. James holds her back and tries to connect, but Kara is totally uninterested in his helping hand.
Meanwhile, Winn and company identify the villain of the week -- an authority in nuclear technology who goes by the name Bloodsport -- and track him down. Kara shows up to take him in, only to be blasted at by an invisible Daxamite ship. Forced to choose between helping a wounded soldier and chasing Bloodsport, Kara stays to help, only to be called away by James's emergency signal. When she arrives and finds out that there's no technical emergency, that she's simply missed her deadline and that he's concerned about her, she blows a gasket, says none of this matters to her anymore, and quits.
Supergirl quits CatCo. We can't quite say Kara quits, because Kara would never do such a thing.
When Alex, who's also obviously going through something, hears about all this from James, she practically bolts to Kara's apartment to confront her sister. This is the point at which Kara basically says she's not her sister anymore, that she's not human, she doesn't want to be Kara Danvers anymore, she's just Supergirl and that's that. It's a beautiful, upsetting scene, sold like hell by Melissa Benoist and Chyler Leigh. For the briefest of moments, Kara's stony wall crumbles, and you see how wrecked she is, and then that wall's back up, and it's back to work. No time for feelings. There's a city to save.
Since we last left National City, the Mayor and the business community have been hard at work, rebuilding their devastated city. It sounds like Lena in particular has been putting in a great deal of time and money, a fact that boorish rich guy Morgan Edge (Adrian Pasdar of Heroes) seems eager to twist into something dark. He's mostly unsuccessful at that, so he decides to buy CatCo and thus control the press. Lena doesn't like this, as she's a decent human being. As she plans her next move, she stops to perform the big reveal at a ceremony on the shoreline -- there's a statue of Supergirl being dedicated. As she reveals "The Girl of Steel" to the world, J'onn and Kara talk, and we see Kara come back to herself, just a bit more. She admits to some of her hurt, and even smiles at the sight of the statue. It's possible that J'onn could have accomplished even more, but then all hell breaks loose.
The Daxamite cloaking device that hid the ship is now hiding a submarine, and Bloodsport -- also revealed to be an associate of Morgan Edge's -- is firing on the shoreline. Kara dives into the water to find and stop the vessel in a very well-done sequence that physicalizes what everyone is afraid of -- that Kara is drifting away from them, allowing herself to be pulled under. As her loved ones wait in despair for her to resurface, a vision on Mon-El tells Kara to wake up, and so she does, saving the day and taking one more tiny step toward recovery. Meanwhile, on the shore, a mother rushes to the aid of her child and discovers she has super strength, so expect to see more of Odette Annable this season.
Alex, James, and J'onn all do their best to reach Kara, but it's Lena who manages to fully reel her back in. Aware only that her best friend is going through some tough stuff, with no idea that, as Supergirl, Kara had to make all the decisions that led to this point, Lena reveals that she bought CatCo right out from under Morgan Edge and that she wants Kara to help her figure out how to run it well. Kara mentions that she quit, and Lena is understandably upset -- "How often do you get to work with your best friend?" -- but their conversation is interrupted when Edge strolls in. He threatens Lena, and that's about it for Kara, who promptly changes into Supergirl gear and drops him on a tanker in the middle of the ocean. It is terrific.
Kara tells James she'd like her job back via text -- he responds with a simple heart, because he's a good friend -- and begins to go about the business of rejoining her life. First step: a trip to the bar, to spend time with people she loves. Elsewhere, the mystery mother wakes up from a terrifying dream of a woman who looks an awful lot like an evil version of Kara's mom.
All in all, it's a solid season premiere, setting up the season to come while tying itself to all that came before. The best scene in the hour is a perfect example of this: Alex asks J'onn to give her away at her wedding, and he tearfully accepts before they head out the door and into the rest of their lives. It's simple, honest, drawing from the power of a relationship years in the making, but never forgetting that there's also power in the present. These two people have lost a lot, and this is a moment of solace. If Supergirl spends its second season letting Kara Danvers rediscover herself, one moment of solace at a time, it'll be a season well-spent. If not... well, it'll probably be pretty good, no matter what it does.
Supergirl is back, and so, little by little, is Kara Danvers.
Airing on The CW on Mondays at 8 p.m. ET/PT, Supergirl stars Melissa Benoist in the title role, David Harewood as Martian Manhunter, Mehcad Brooks as Jimmy Olsen, Chyler Leigh as Alex Danvers and Jeremy Jordan as Winn Schott, with appearances by Calista Flockhart as Cat Grant and Tyler Hoechlin as Superman.