Heck, is Maxwell Lord thinking? Seriously, his genius status is definitely in jeopardy tonight. Basically it comes down to this, creating “Bizarro” Supergirl to fight Supergirl at best leaves you with a creature that’s evenly matched in power, but with less actual experience. Not a great approach if you’re looking to defeat a hero.
Early on, it seemed his plan would be to discredit our heroine, and that I would understand. That might even prove valuable, especially since his whole insane mission seems to be to convince people to not rely on superheroes. Why Supergirl veered away from this approach I’m not sure, but it certainly makes me question just how afraid we should be of someone whose idea of a brilliant plan is pitching a hero against a lesser version of the herself.
Maxwell Lord aside, tonight’s episode did use the Bizarro character to interesting effect. The “inverted” hero type is pretty common in comic books. Superman and Supergirl each have a Bizarro. Iron Man has Ultron. Spiderman has Venom. And whether or not each of these “inverted” characters chooses to work for the side of good or evil—or, more often, their own definition of either—they all exist to hold up a mirror. Each is used to show why our version of the hero works as a hero. Venom cannot be Spiderman because he lacks Peter’s humility and everyman social intelligence. Ultron can’t save the world because he lacks Tony Stark’s ability to embrace flaws. Bizarro can’t be Supergirl because she doesn’t understand compassion and love.
Bizarro is fueled entirely on hate, thanks to Maxwell Lord’s careful creature rearing and some nonttoo-gentle shock therapy. And it doesn’t take a tied up James Olsen to recognize that what makes Kara special isn’t the physical (how she looks, the powers she has), but her heart. Kara’s personality is what makes her Supergirl—that much has been obvious from the start. There’s not going to be a plot in the far-flung future where Kara wonders which of her two identities is truly her. Okay, so I actually can’t promise that because, you know, 24 episodes per season can get hard.
The point is that having other character’s talk about how amazing Kara is isn’t new territory. We know she’s awesome. She’s comfortable being awesome. Everyone agrees she’s great. And for most hero arcs that’s how this story plays out, with a collection of supporting characters trying to convince Bizarro that they should trust our hero, wearing this misinformed character down until they finally realize the error of their ways and come over to the side of good.
Supergirl goes a bit further, and interestingly enough, the proof we see of Kara’s compassion and love aren’t visible to Bizarro. They do nothing to prove to Bizarro that she should trust Kara. They’re for us, the audience.
It’s a tricky thing to show that your hero is as exceptional as you say they are. It’s part of why this kind of plot can often feel a bit flat. Because in order to show that your hero is exceptional you have to have people to compare them to, which can prove difficult, when the makeup of most superhero casts is comprised of either super villains or the hero’s supportive friends. It requires you to sacrifice other characters that writers spend a lot of time building up as being good guys—good guys who compliment the hero’s ideals and ethics, and very rarely disagree with the hero’s approach.
But Supergirl, not content to do things by halves, sacrifices Alex tonight to show us just how compassionate Kara really is. That’s not to say that Alex’s desire to protect her family is out of character. Her desire and the basically illegal lengths she goes to are perfectly in character. She lacks any sympathy for Lord, which is certainly understandable, but it’s her behavior towards Bizarro that really tarnishes the Alex Danvers star. Her stance on Bizarro as a creature, her blatant disregard for the person Bizarro once was, and her single-minded solution of simply killing Bizarro, puts her at odds with Kara tonight. Kara wants to reform Bizarro, rescue the young woman she once was, and instantly recognizes Bizarro’s humanity. We see Kara’s compassion in her desire to protect Bizarro, and even as they put the reformed villain into a coma, it’s Kara who’s there to hold her hand.
It’s telling that this scene ends with Alex alone in Bizarro’s room. While she’s never going to regret the things she’s done to protect her family, Alex must certainly be aware of the differences between herself and Kara in that moment. We, the audience, are as well. It’s hard to watch a good character fall down, but necessary if you really want to show us how unique the hero is. And show don’t tell is pretty much the name of the game when it comes to television.
Katherine Siegel is a Chicago-based freelance writer and director and a regular contributor to Paste. You can find out more by checking out her website, or follow her on Twitter.