Photo: Supergirl (CBS)
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“Bizarro” is the first episode of Supergirl I can praise without any big caveats. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best episode of Supergirl—sometimes a so-so story with a fantastic sequence is more satisfying than an episode that’s consistently competent—but “Bizarro” is a refreshingly confident installment of this often uneven series. There are no particular stand-out scenes like the breakdown in “Red Faced” or the monologue in “Human For A Day,” but “Bizarro” balances action, romance, character development, and even a bit of thematic depth, something this scrappy CBS show has struggled with in the past.

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What helps elevate “Bizarro” is its titular character. So far Supergirl hasn’t created many compelling villains-of-the-week. Livewire is really the only one who left any kind of impression on me while I had to turn to Wikipedia to remember Vartox, the Hellgrammite, Reactron, Jemm, and the White Martian. (The bomber in “How Does She Do It” was intriguing but underused; Red Tornado is memorable simply for how boring he was; and Toyman was more of an antagonistic for Winn than for Kara). Bizzaro doesn’t really emerge as a fully-fledged character tonight, which hurts the episode a bit, but her existence allows the show to explore a lot of fascinating ideas.

Maxwell Lord kidnapped seven comatose Jane Does and experimented on them until he managed to create his own superpowered young woman, one he thinks will protect Earth against the threat of alien forces. He manipulates her face to look like Kara’s, brainwashes her to believe that Supergirl is evil, and sends her out into the world to commit murder. The episode calls upon the Frankenstein mythology (and quotes Percy Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound), casting Lord as the arrogant creator seeking to become a god and Bizarro as the misunderstood creation he unleashes on the world. Only this time around it does so with a feminist twist.

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From the beginning Supergirl has wanted to explore the female experience through a superhero lens. And the story of an older man who manipulates a young woman into doing something she doesn’t feel comfortable with resonates on a whole bunch of different levels. After Bizarro’s face is deformed by Kryptonite bullets, Lord tells her, “Supergirl made you a monster”—tying her self-worth into her looks and fueling a rivalry between two young women who have no reason to hate one another.

Supergirl’s defining feature is her empathy and she puts it to good use tonight, looking into her doppelgänger’s eyes and recognizing that Bizarro is a victim not a villain. Benoist pulls some impressive double duty as Bizarro, adding an eerie blankness to her performance of Supergirl’s evil twin. Hope Lauren struggles to bring the same nuance in the second half of the episode, but that might have to do with the thick make-up distorting her face. Though she’s a terrifying sparring partner, Bizarro is in many ways a naïve child struggling to understand why the lessons her father-figure taught her don’t match up with the things she actually sees in the world. Supergirl recognizes that Bizarro is a tragic figure and there’s a melancholy to this episode that I found really compelling.

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Kara and the DEO are eventually able to capture Bizarro thanks to a blue-colored reverse Kryptonite (regular Kryptonite only makes her stronger), but there’s no promise they’ll ever be able to return her to a normal life. So Kara does what she does best: Offer comfort in a time of need. Hank places Bizarro into a medically induced coma and Kara assures her, “I’m gonna hold your hand until you fall asleep,” as she tells her stories about traveling from Krypton and waking up among new friends. The mixture of optimism and uncertainty in the conclusion hints that maybe, just maybe, Supergirl is maturing.

It also helps that “Bizarro” has some great action sequences, particularly the stylish backlit fight on the cable car. Even when there’s something a tad cheesy about the CGI, the sheer joy of watching a network show attempt such over-the-top comic book action helps sell the whole thing. Since Bizarro’s powers are an inversion of Supergirl’s, the show has fun pitting ice breath against fire breath, with the added visual treat of watching Kara kick ass in her street clothes rather than her Supergirl outfit. And because Kara’s priority is to help, not hurt Bizarro, the stakes of the fight scenes are slightly different than they are when Kara just wants to beat up a bad guy.

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Thanks to Lord’s experimentation, Bizarro will forever be an outsider and this episode explores feelings of isolations in its other plotlines as well. Adam and Kara go on two truly charming dates (damn do Benoist and her real-life husband Blake Jenner have a lot of chemistry!), before she ultimately decides that her superhero lifestyle is too complicated to leave any room for romance. She breaks things off with Adam before they really have a chance to get started, losing her surrogate mother figure in the process as Cat requests a “strictly business” relationship with her assistant. I sort of expected Adam would stick around a little longer (although he’ll almost certainly be back), but apparently he was just here to teach Kara a lesson: Sometimes being a hero means sacrificing your happiness.

Also feeling like an outsider this week is James, as Kara’s flirtation with Adam causes him confront the latent feelings he’s been developing for his friend. Winn—handling Kara’s rejection like a total champ—gives James some solid relationship advice: Don’t stay with one girl when you’re actually in love with another. But while James can tell Bizarro about his feelings for Kara as he tries to make a connection with his kidnapper, he can’t find the courage to say anything to Supergirl herself—leaving him emotionally distant from both his friend and (presumably) his girlfriend. It’s a little repetitive that every young man in Kara’s life is in love with her, but hopefully this episode is laying groundwork for some momentum on the James/Kara front.

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Alex is the final character who establishes herself as a loner, going over Hank’s head to kidnap Maxwell Lord and throw him into a glass prison lest he reveal the truth about her sister’s secret identity. There’s been a slow burning through-line of Alex’s ruthlessness (particularly her takedown of Dr. Morrow in “Red Faced” and her mutiny in “Human For A Day”), but she crosses a big line tonight as she decides the safety of her family outweighs the U.S. constitution. (“Holding people indefinitely against their will: Can’t get more American than that.”) Alex is the one main Supergirl character desperately in need of shading and hopefully her brush with illegality will lead to some character development.

It feels like Supergirl has started to find its stride over the course of these past few episodes. Here’s hoping that streak continues as Kara faces off against a murderous plant.

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Stray observations

  • I’ve been very suspicious about what Supergirl was doing with Winn’s arc, but apparently the show was just telling the story of a guy who develops feelings for his friend and then learns to get over it when she doesn’t reciprocate them. Cool.
  • Maybe it’s just residual good will because he was one of the only good things about the Twilight franchise, but I like Peter Facinelli’s smarmy, entitled take on Maxwell Lord
  • Okay, even though Adam and Kara are adorable together, it strikes me as a little odd how emotionally invested they are in each other after going on, like, one and a half dates.
  • I love that Alex and Hank go through all of the obvious sci-fi explanations for a doppelgänger: Shape-shifter, clone, android. Nice way to stay ahead of a genre-savvy audience.
  • Two questions: #WhereIsPerd and #WhereDoesMaxPoop

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