Supergirl – Season 1 Episode 12
Supergirl pits Kara against her evil twin when Maxwell Lord experiments on a young woman to give her powers equal to Supergirl and sends her on a mission to defeat her.
Most superheroes have some kind of mirror image version of themselves that lets them see their darker side in some way. The Flash has Reverse-Flash, Spider-Man has Venom and the list goes on. As an idea it works because it forces the hero to consider what motivates them and question whether they are any better or not.
That’s not quite what happens here but the idea of Kara facing herself is still present and the fact that her face is used for something that represents everything she fights against is an interesting and somewhat terrifying idea. Kara has spent the entire season trying to build her reputation as Supergirl and has struggled to appear competent while doing the right thing and Bizarro represents something that could tear that apart. If she wasn’t stopped then Supergirl’s standing in the public eye could be completely destroyed.
This possibility is cast aside fairly quickly as it is identified that she is a duplicate of some point and Cat even gives her the Bizarro name. This makes me wonder how easy a time Superman has had in this universe. Unless Cat is a world class plagiarist she is the first person to ever use that name which means that Superman has never had to deal with an evil twin, at least not one like this.
I don’t have an issue with this as this version of Supergirl is proudly going its own way and taking inspiration from the comic books in order to deliver the weekly content. I’m curious as to why Superman comics are being mined rather than Supergirl but maybe there just aren’t that many good stories in Supergirl comics, having not read many of them I couldn’t tell you.
Bizarro is the culmination of Maxwell Lord’s experiments on the unknown girl we have seen a couple of times before now. It turns out that she is only the latest in a rather long line of girls that he has been experimenting on which has some really horrifying implications when you really think about it. What did he do with the ones that didn’t work? I’m almost impressed by how heartless the guy is.
The natural comparison is to Frankenstein’s monster. It’s something that is referred to a lot in fiction because it generally works. Someone who is arrogant enough to play God and let a misunderstood creation loose on the world is an idea that continually resonates as it’s timeless. It’s a powerful reminder of the negative aspects of ambition and Maxwell Lord has consistently personified that since his introduction.
Maxwell Lord is a problematic character as he should be an engaging villain on paper but the execution doesn’t quite match up. The things he does and says are certainly menacing enough but there’s something off about Peter Facinelli’s performance. He constantly chews scenery and comes across as more than a little cartoonish where it would be so easy for him to dial it back to a more unsettling level. There are plenty of examples of scenes that would have worked better in this episode if his performance had been more subdued. His imprisonment in the DEO comes to mind as well as his conversation with Alex where his word choice was careful to avoid a confession.
His treatment of Bizarro is incredibly horrifying to contemplate. Taken to its extreme this is an example of an older man who forces a young woman to do things for him that she is uncomfortable with. Some form of brainwashing is at work to have her be obedient but he basically manipulates her and she is essentially powerless to stop him. I think that the message is subtle enough to go unnoticed by many but it is definitely there.
It’s extended after Kryptonite causes Bizarro’s face to become distorted and Lord tells her that Supergirl made her a monster. By doing this it ties Bizarro’s self image to how she looks to force her to fight someone she has no real quarrel with. It really is a sinister violation when you think about it.
Melissa Benoist does an impressive job in her secondary role as Bizarro. She is literally the opposite of Kara in every way where her personality is concerned. Where Kara is very human, Bizarro is completely inhuman. Kara is light, optimistic and bubbly where Bizarro is cold, confused and unfeeling. Benoist is eerie as Bizarro and manages to create a lot of sympathy for the character. She seems more misunderstood than evil which is definitely the intention.
Hope Lauren takes over for Benoist halfway through the episode and does a capable job that isn’t quite as good. It might have something to do with all of the makeup on her that prevented her from really coming across but either way the two performances are slightly mismatched. I thought Hope Lauren did a fine job all the same and really managed to gain my sympathy by the end of the episode.
Kara’s empathy became the key to defeating Bizarro which made sense on a thematic level as she wasn’t a simple enemy that needed to be defeated. The real enemy was Maxwell Lord and what Bizarro was forced to do for him wasn’t her fault so she shouldn’t be blamed for it. Bizarro was subdued by Blue Kryptonite -which was conveniently cooked up in a lab in the space of a few hours, I can let that slide but it was a little too convenient- but Kara showing compassion was what ultimately won. Kara eases her into her medically induced coma by holding her hand and telling her stories to make her feel less scared. It was a really touching scene that shows what Supergirl’s greatest strength really is. If and when Bizarro comes back it’ll be interesting to see what her relationship to Kara is.
An interesting contrast between Kara and Alex appears in this episode. Alex sees Bizarro as an experiment that needs to be shut down where Kara sees her as a girl who has been violated by Maxwell Lord and needs to be helped. It’s not a conflict that is dealt with in great detail but their different outlooks is something that could definitely escalate in future episodes. I do wish the episode had made more of their opposing points of view as it was promising.
Alex going over Hank/J’onn’s head to arrest Maxwell Lord was a really ballsy move that I was glad to see. For the first time we see Alex torn between her duties to the DEO and her responsibility to her family. She chooses her family over the DEO and stands by that decision when confronted about it. Maxwell Lord presents a direct threat to Kara and her mother so as far as Alex is concerned he really needs to be stopped and locking him up against his will is the best way to protect them. I did enjoy Lord’s jab at Supergirl’s desire to uphold Truth, Justice and the American Way when he said “Holding people indefinitely against their will: Can’t get more American than that.”. It’s an interesting reference to America’s modern foreign policy and how that is at odds with what the Constitution is supposed to stand for.
One thing that bothered me about this part of the story is that nobody picked up on how confident Lord was in his situation. Kara, Alex and J’onn should be smart enough to figure out that he will have some kind of backup plan and some effort should be made to prepare for it. The fact that he isn’t at all bothered by his imprisonment should be raising all sorts of red flags.
The action sequences in this episode were really well done. I liked that Bizarro’s powers were the opposite of Kara’s and that we got to see ice vision and fire breath. Their first confrontation on the cable car was particularly impressive and I liked seeing Kara fighting in her civilian clothes rather than her Supergirl outfit. It provided some nice variety. There was a different feel to the fights as Kara was trying to help rather than defeat. It altered the stakes and made for a more engaging confrontation.
As good as the main plot was there was plenty to be frustrated about. Kara and Adam started going out on dates and getting to the point where they were becoming comfortable with one another but in the space of a single episode Kara decided that her life was too dangerous for her to pursue a relationship with someone. This was exactly what I hoped would be avoided as I’m really tired of all of this secret identity driven angst as it has been played out on other shows and it’s never terribly interesting when it is. It’s especially annoying as it seems like Kara and Adam could be a very watchable couple for a few episodes instead of tearing it apart after a few minutes of shared screen time.
Cat’s reaction of downgrading her relationship with Kara to a purely professional one was understandable considering what Kara did but also added to the frustration. It seems to put the brakes on what was an interesting dynamic for no other reason than manufacturing needless angst. It all really irritated me to watch.
James and Winn’s conversation about who gets to be with Kara was possibly even more frustrating. It was a highly insensitive exchange that made it appear as if both parties were objectifying her. Kara is able to make her own decisions and doesn’t belong to either of them. I did appreciate Winn’s mature reaction to rejection. Apparently Winn is someone who developed feelings for his best friend and gets over it after being rejected. It’s a refreshing take on the whole thing and it’s very much welcomed.
This is possibly the best villain story on the show to date. Bizarro is a sympathetic antagonist who works well as an opposite to Kara while also having an unsettling connection to Maxwell Lord. Kara and Adam’s short relationship manages to be an exercise in frustration as it painfully manufactures angst in a way that has been run into the ground by other shows.
• Melissa Benoist’s dual character performance
• a really engaging sympathetic antagonist
• genuinely horrific symbolism in Maxwell Lord’s treatment of Bizarro
• the contrast between Kara and Alex’s way of looking at things
• Maxwell Lord’s cartoonish scenery chewing
• a tired, angst manufacturing non relationship for Kara
• James and Winn discussing Kara as if she is an object