I had always thought that there was just one Bizarro, meant to be Superman’s exact mirror-image. But, in searching out the character’s history in comics, I realize that just as we pass multiple reflections of ourselves in various surfaces every day, there are countless Bizarros who have compared themselves to the Man of Steel, over and over again, and who have always found themselves wanting. Which makes this week’s Supergirl, in which Maxwell Lord engineers a clone of Supergirl that gets dubbed—you guessed it—Bizarro, one of the season’s better installments. Because when you make Bizarro female, there’s an added dimension to the otherwise one-note “I kill Supergirl” mantra.
Spoilers for Supergirl 1×12 “Bizarro.”
But first, let’s see what Maxwell Lord has been up to:
“Death is the veil which those who live call life; they sleep, and it is lifted.”
Yes, he quotes Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound while removing the bandages from his Supergirl clone—a poor, comatose Jane Doe who, we see in flashback, he forcibly brought back to life three months ago. The parallel between Shelley’s poem and his wife Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein is clear, but it doesn’t make it any less creepy when we watch Maxwell coo to his creation (who calls him “my lord,” shudder) about how she owes everything to him. “Together we won’t just change the world,” he tells her, “we’ll change the meaning of life itself.” Except that we quickly learn that 1) the whole point is for her to kill Supergirl, and 2) Maxwell has apparently already tried this experiment on six other girls before he struck gold by injecting this one with a creepy black liquid that wouldn’t look out of place on The X-Files.
While previous episodes of Supergirl have made small feminist statements in various subplots, “Bizarro” might be the first episode since the pilot to really layer these superhero plotlines over struggles faced by young women. Here you have a creepy man grooming this poor, nameless girl with douchey quotes and manipulating her into hating a stranger—roughly the same age, body type, and coloring—so much that she wants to kill her. At first, this “Bizarro,” as Cat Grant christens her (because she named Supergirl, so of course she gets the right to name her rival) looks like a shoddy carbon copy of Kara thanks to some hand-waving about genetic synthesis. But after the DEO blasts her with some kryptonite lasers, she mutates into the kind of Bizarro we’ve come to expect: chalky white skin riddled with cracks and inky black eyes.
And what does Maxwell Lord say to her? He plays on her vanity:
“Supergirl made you a monster. If I were you, I’d be very angry about that. I’d want to take away everyone Supergirl loves.”
Sigh. Oh, and when Bizarro has the shocking notion that maybe Supergirl is a good person for saving everyone, Maxwell reminds her that:
“Sometimes things that seem good are really very, very bad.”
Complete with creepy hair-stroking.
A recurring theme of the series so far has been female competition, the notion that women should be helping each other up (like Cat Grant, as a prickly but caring mentor) instead of tearing each other down (remember mean girl Livewire?). While Bizarro was originally created as a male character, and has had countless opportunities in comics to try to go up against Superman, having Bizarro be a woman here—and, clearly, there’s no male precedent in this universe—taps into the kinds of struggles that modern-day young women grapple with: Is it more valuable to have rivals to remove, or a support network? When you see someone who is similar to you in some way, do you remove her or celebrate that solidarity?
At least Livewire had a tenuous reason for being so upset with Cat Grant and Supergirl. Bizarro, with her “Cookie Monster speak” (good one, Kara), is a one-dimensional antagonist. She’s only going after Kara because Maxwell Lord programmed her to. This could have been a rich opportunity for Bizarro to have more of an identity crisis, to look at Supergirl in the uniform and Kara in her civilian clothes, and wonder about a world in which she got to juggle these lives. We know nothing about Jane Doe before she was transformed, and (as you’ll see from the episode tying itself up neatly, as usual) her presence is fleeting.
With Maxwell telling Bizarro to eliminate whoever Supergirl loves, of course now there’s a subplot about Kara’s love life. I have to say, I really enjoyed seeing Winn and James attempting to play it cool and have some inter-office boy talk about her upcoming date with Cat Grant’s son Adam Foster:
Yes, apparently Winn and Kara are talking again, which kind of erodes the impact of his decision not to be involved with her life. And when she’s out of earshot (even super-earshot), he seems way too at-ease saying to James, “Why are you being supportive? You could have Kara immediately, if you wanted.”
Which is, of course, why Bizarro nabs him instead of Winn, or Alex, or (hah) Adam. James gives a stirring speech about loving Kara for who she is on the inside, but he’s also trying to distract Bizarro so he can use his Super-distress-signal watch. But even when Kara perkily invites him for happy hour wings, he declines so he can go pick up Lucy, because he feels obligated to make his relationship work.
And while Kara blushes furiously around Adam, she ultimately decides to break things off after two aborted dates (one in which she has to save a crashing tram of people, the second where Bizarro snatches her off the ground). To be honest, this boy might be a bit thick if he doesn’t guess that Bizarro kidnapping his date might have to do with her being Supergirl. I mean, he’s Cat Grant’s son; he should have been able to put two and two together. Instead, he thinks that she’s scared of everyone leaving her because her parents died:
“I thought this wasn’t gonna work because of my baggage, my issues, that I’d be the one to chicken out.”
In this case it’s… capes before dates? Kara believes that, if she can’t make things work with Adam, she’s incapable of having a normal relationship with anyone. We’ve tread this ground before, but it’s going to be a while (if ever) before Kara and James make their timing work. For now, the episode concludes with Kara bonding with the person you’d least expect her to: Bizarro. Getting taken down by the DEO makes this lab experiment suddenly sympathetic to Kara; as they prepare to put her back in a coma, Kara grabs her hand. She’s clearly rattled, not just by seeing a copy of herself, but also by the depths to which Maxwell will sink to take her down:
“She didn’t deserve what happened to her… Maxwell Lord made her to be just like me, and she was.”
Now Maxwell is in the DEO’s favorite holding cell (which seems to be regularly empty, not a good thing), holding his knowledge of Kara’s family over her head. But does that mean he’s not behind the creepy plant in the Danvers’ apartment?
DON’T TOUCH IT, KARA. What the hell.
There were some great one-liners in this episode:
- “The skirt was surprisingly comfortable, but no.”—Hank, when asked if he’s the one shapeshifting as Supergirl
- “Kira, you are like a character from a Jane Austen novel… Bizarro.” —Cat, disapproving that Kara and her son Adam haven’t had their first kiss yet
Also, Cat was in fine form, sauntering in swinging her morning coffee that Kara forgot to pick up:
Proof that Cat never picks up her own coffee: No one would carry coffee like a particularly light handbag, for fear of sending scalding liquid flying everywhere.
Then there’s this creepy smile:
At first I thought it extremely out-of-character for Cat to look like a mother drawing up wedding table settings in her head just because her estranged son was going on one date with her assistant. And even though Cat scolds Kara for breaking Adam’s heart (come on), her true intentions were revealed: She was excited that Kara was prioritizing people over work. Her disappointment about Kara putting aside a potential love interest was so acute that I almost felt bad for Cat… But again, surely she can’t have forgotten her conviction that Kara is Supergirl. Surely she must understand that Kara is worried with matters of life and death, not work versus personal life. Can we get back to scenes where these women are respecting each other as peers and working together to save National City?