It’s possible to question the feminist bonafides of “Supergirl” from time to time, but one thing is absolutely clear: the worst enemies she’s had to face are men who think they’re in control of the people — and in this case, the bodies of women — around them.
In “Bizarro,” Maxwell Lord’s mysterious dark-eyed comatose woman comes to life, and the episode is not even a little ambiguous about it: that Jane Doe is the biggest victim. Well, her and that car (full of people?) she threw at a mountain. Played at first by Melissa Benoist and then, post-Kryptonite bullets, by Hope Lauren, Bizarro’s a pawn, manipulated by the man who ripped her back to life like a cape-wearing Frankenstein’s monster, but she’s also damaged — understandably, but with real consequences — by the people who hope to both take down and save her. She’s utterly without agency, shocked and brainwashed into submission and then drugged (mercifully, but still) back into a coma.
Kara’s life isn’t Bizarro’s, but like her doppelgänger, she’s struggling to retain control. She gets one minor victory in her personal life — the return of Winn to the fold, as he grabs his big-boy pants, gives into his curiosity, and starts getting adjusted to the new normal — but everything else doesn’t go so well. From dealing with a bizarro (i.e. friendly) version of Cat, who seems to be making nice with Kara in advance of her date with Adam, to having to run out of said date when a public transit accident occurs, she’s having a rough go of things. Is it a good date? Sure. It’s actually one of the downsides of this episode, because the date seems so good, so capital-M meaningful, that it seems utterly implausible. Certainly Kara and Adam had a pretty heightened start, what with the Mom coaching and the falsified mail, but going straight from strangers to love seems pretty implausible.
After a second date is cut short by when a plainclothes Kara gets Bizarro-napped, Kara realizes she can’t handle that kind of intrusion in her life right now — a scene Benoist nails, implausible or not — and calls it off. It’s not the only door Kara seems to shut, as she also pushes JimmyJames in a simple, straightforward manner that’s as adult as anything Kara’s done to date. JimmyJames, slightly whiskeyed-up (though Winn kept the bottle), tries to talk to Kara about Adam, and she shuts it down: “I think and I both know that nothing you can say or do will make me feel better right now, so… maybe you should just leave me alone.” James is a good guy, but that deserves an attagirl.
Still, this is where Kara’s life collides with her work — and that’s her caped crusading, not her latte fetching — when Bizarro swoops in, directed by Maxwell Lord to give into her rage about her DEO-sponsored disfigurement and damage someone Kara loves. JimmyJames manages to distract Bizarro by talking about his love — yes, everyone’s in love with Kara this episode, full speed ahead — and signals Kara before he gets some of Bizarro’s fire-breath directed right above his head. Mehcad Brooks, like Benoist, sells the hell out of this scene, but it feels again like we rocketed past the part where we get to see these relationships grow and instead went right for the big declarations. “Supergirl” has done some great things with growing relationships, namely that of Cat and Kara and of H’annk and the sisters Danvers, but this seems unnecessarily rushed, Nevertheless, it’s well acted, and James’s confession doesn’t change anything anyway: at the episode’s end, he’s still headed off to Lucy, and Kara’s still on her own.
But for all the screentime it takes up, Kara’s love life isn’t what drives this episode. It’s Maxwell Lord doing the damage and pulling the strings, and Peter Facinelli digs into this with earnest. If he had a mustache, he’d be twisting it. Bizarro’s like Kara, and so she has the capacity for empathy, a trait Lord tries to first kill and then pervert. It’s one he doesn’t possess, something that links him to Toyman: both manipulate someone with the capacity for darkness, both see the person they’re toying with a “creation,” rather than a person, and both ultimately fail because they underestimate the power of kindness, concern, and placing a value on life.
Even at her most vicious, Bizarro looks at the world and learns. It’s not subtle, the “Cookie Monster” talk and animal-like movement, but it gets the point across. In her first fight with Kara, she sees the hated Supergirl saving people and learns that perhaps she’s not bad after all. In her second fight — the coolest of the evening, centering on a heat vision vs. cold vision thing that’s reminiscent of “Harry Potter” — she learns that perhaps bad is exactly what she is (or at least what the DEO is). In the last, she’s just broken.
But Lord? Lord doesn’t learn. Whether he’s the product of a difficult childhood or simply a straight-up bad guy, he’s just interested in damage and power. Not for one moment does it seem that he actually thinks Supergirl is a menace (although, he does have a point about unlawful imprisonment…), and never does he do anything but gloat, jibe, taunt, or condescend. He took seven women–and who knows what became of the other six–and treated them like toys. He’s behind bars and still threatening the Danvers family. If “Supergirl” has a big bad thus far, it’s not Astra. It’s him. Simply said, he’s the worst.
Still, he’s contained for the moment, and Kara’s got bigger problems, in the form of a big Black Mercy. It looks like things will get a lot worse–and more vine-covered–before they get better.