Photo: Supergirl (CBS)

Supergirl isn’t a very streamlined show. It features a large ensemble, two main locations, multiple love interests, and way too many Big Bads, all of which means most episodes feel overstuffed even before they introduce their villain-of-the-week. But “Falling” trims the fat with remarkable confidence, leaving behind Supergirl’s most effortless episode yet. Rather than feature two separate plotlines, CatCo and the DEO are both dealing with the same problem this week. And that problem just happens to be the show’s protagonist.

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Much like Peter Parker in Spider-Man 3 or Clark Kent in any number of Superman stories, Kara must deal with her raging id after its released by a chemical substance. The synthetic chemical in question is Red Kryptonite, which Maxwell Lord created in order to stop Non’s Kryptonian army from destroying the world. (Which is a pretty justified reason for trying to replicate Kryptonite if you ask me.) Lord didn’t mean for Kara to become infected, but once she does it’s not long before she’s terrorizing her friends, her family, and National City itself.

But before she turns bad, “Falling” smartly reminds us of just how great Kara is. She’s cool about the fact that Winn is hooking up with Siobhan and hesitant to move too fast with James now that he’s newly single. Most importantly, the show reminds us that Supergirl is the kind of hero who takes time out of her day to help a bullied little girl. As CatCo brags, she truly is brave, kind, and strong.

But Red Kryptonite unleashes the darkness buried inside Kara (a darkness we previously glimpsed in “Red Faced”). She’s not transformed into a new person so much as empowered to act on every bad, malicious, or selfish though she’s ever had. And the results are truly terrifying.

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Melissa Benoist sells every beat of Kara’s gradual evolution from petulance to icy indifference to outright villainy. It’s genuinely shocking to see her throw Cat off a roof or coldly mock Alex’s tears, even if I knew both women would likely be okay in the long run. But it’s Benoist’s utter despair upon waking from the Red Kryptonite’s spell that really got to me. The bubbly, bright superhero from the beginning of the episode is replaced with a despondent caped crusader who sits in shame on Cat’s balcony, trying to draw strength from her mentor/mother figure before starting the difficult task of getting National City to trust her again.

It would have been easy to make this a one-off episode in which Bad Kara messes things up and Good Kara fixes them, but to its credit Supergirl offers real consequences for Kara’s brush with the dark side. For one thing, Hank Henshaw publicly reveals himself as Martian Manhunter to prevent Kara from killing Alex (which happens, crucially, after Bad Kara chides him for hiding his true nature to make his life easier). Rather than flee the scene, Hank allows himself to be captured by the DEO to ensure the Danvers sisters aren’t held accountable for his secret identity and to prove he’s not a threat. Supergirl has never been shy about pulling the trigger on a reveal and this particular revelation could potentially change things at the DEO forever.

Red Kryptonite also has some lasting effects on Kara’s personal life too. While her friends and family realize she wasn’t exactly herself while under its influence, they also acknowledge that her Red Kryptonite-inspired words had some truth to them. For instance, James requests space after seeing Bad Kara angrily lash out at Lucy. I’m tired of the ongoing James/Kara saga, but this is about as good a reason as any to keep them apart, which is something the show seems adamant about doing. Elsewhere Alex and Cat are more forgiving but no less rattled by Bad Kara’s harsh words. Alex acknowledges that she and Kara haven’t fully dealt with the Astra-related tension between them, while Cat warns Supergirl that earning back National City’s trust will be difficult but not impossible.

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But for all that gravitas, there’s also something deeply silly about “Falling,” and I’m not entirely sure that’s a good thing. This is an episode that demonstrates Kara’s transformation from good to bad by putting her in tight dresses, high heels, heavy eyeliner, and—gasp—lip gloss! We know she’s bad because Demi Lovato’s “Confident” plays in a club while she’s wearing a black outfit. At one point she dons a turtleneck. The horror!

Photo: Supergirl (CBS)

The resolution to Kara’s Red Kryptonite infection fits more with the silly side of the episode than the serious one. Lord designs a gun that will magically cure her and Alex conveniently uses it before Kara goes too crazy in National City, which feels like a bit of a cop-out. (It doesn’t help that Lord’s involvement is the one truly clunky part of this episode.) In some ways “Falling” changes the world of Supergirl, but in other ways it feels like it’s pulling its punches. When Kara lost her powers in “Human For A Day,” I praised the show for having the guts to let a man die in front of her. Tonight “Falling” embraces the emotional cost of Kara’s trip to the dark side while also ensuring she’s not responsible for anything too devastating. Having Alex immediately recapture the K’hund that Kara released feels especially like a missed opportunity to up the stakes of Bad Kara’s actions.

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But overall those are fairly minor critiques of an episode that otherwise proves Supergirl can indeed tell an exciting, emotional story when it really puts its mind to it. Here’s hoping that trend continues in the last four episodes of the season.

Stray observations

  • Tonight’s episode confirms it: When Melissa Benoist cries, I cry.
  • Lucy Lane is gone and the non-White-Martian version of Senator Crane is back. I’m pretty indifferent to both of those things.
  • Everyone acted like they’d never seen Kara in a tight dress before because I guess they forgot about the time she wore this to a CatCo party.
  • I like that James immediately rejects sexy/evil Kara rather than being turned on by her. He’s attracted to Kara because of her personality and it’s to his credit that her hot club outfit doesn’t distract him from her major personality switch.
  • God bless Jeremy Jordan for his exaggerated delivery of, “She killed Ms. Grant?!”
  • Can we all agree to forget the scene were Cat visits/cross-promotes CBS’ The Talk? Cool.
  • #HankWinks

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