Nice girls finish last is one of those exhausting aphorisms because it splits women into binaries, putting the “interesting” bitchy ones up on a pedestal and deriding the others who play it safe. And yet, when watching this week’s Supergirl, I was surprised (and a little bit embarrassed) to realize that I found the Kara infected with red kryptonite to be more compelling than usual.
Spoilers for Supergirl 1×16 “Falling.”
Throughout its first season, Supergirl has ticked off various narrative boxes belonging to Superman: Bizarro, the Fortress of Solitude, and now, red kryptonite. While Smallville waited until season 2 to bring out Bad Clark, his reaction is not unlike his cousin’s: Both of these unfailingly good (but also kinda goody-two-shoes) Kryptonians tap into their darker sides and find they kinda like it.
In Bad Kara’s case, it means strutting into CatCo in a slinky pencil dress and a bad attitude. Bad Kara says the things we’re all thinking: Lucy Lane’s jealousy and insecurity made her lose out on a good thing with James; Siobhan’s self-serving attitude is transparent, and she deserves to lose her job for not having more integrity to CatCo; and Cat herself is just as mean and manipulative as she’s now accusing Kara of being.
The thing is, Cat’s brass balls are part of her brand—you can’t say the same for Supergirl. And once Bad Kara’s petulance begins bleeding over into her superhero work, it goes from a bad attitude to putting people’s lives in danger. She lets a Fort Roz villain go instead of apprehending him; when Hank chides her, she takes the upper hand in the argument by shaming him for hiding his own powers.
Just because she’s abrasive doesn’t mean Bad Kara doesn’t make valid points, several times over. When Cat calls Supergirl to her office to give her a dressing-down, she finds herself flung forty stories and barely caught before hitting the ground. It’s all part of Bad Kara’s frustration with feeling more like an archetype than a person:
Kara: “Supergirl is brave, kind, strong. Kind of a stock characterization, very two-dimensional. […] People have a dark side.”
Cat counters that Supergirl has to represent all of the good in the world—she doesn’t get to be nuanced. Where there wasn’t really any nuance was in Cat’s decision to publicly separate herself from Supergirl, without trying to figure out what was going on first… but you also can’t really blame her for trying to get out of a PR nightmare with her own brand intact.
While this kind of story (good character discovers their ~dark side~) is so overdone, Supergirl at least brings something fresh to its retelling. Kara in her usual state is kinda boring. She’s adorable, to be sure, but a lot of her bumbling, nonthreatening persona is meant to be a misdirection so that no one ever equates her with Supergirl. The show has gone back and forth about how it’s not just a cover, how Kara really needs her normal life in order to feel balanced. But Kara operating under the influence of red kryptonite actually felt like the most balanced version of the character we’ve seen thus far. She gives Siobhan the smackdown she deserves, and her dancing with James actually gives you a sense of their chemistry, instead of Kara’s usual aw-shucks blushing at accidental physical contact.
We’ve already seen some of Kara’s darker side, like in 1×06 “Red Faced” when she pours all of her frustrations of never having a normal life into punching a car. At the time, she’s shocked to discover the well of anger within her. By the end of “Falling,” when Alex has managed to knock Kara out of her red kryptonite haze, we witness a similar reaction, but this time it’s shame.
The moment with Kara sobbing in realization of how badly she’s screwed up really got to me. In “Red Faced,” she managed to contain most of her frustration; here, she’s broadcast it for everyone to see. She’s damaged Supergirl in the eyes of innocent citizens who already have plenty of reasons not to trust her. She also got J’onn J’onnz arrested by the DEO, when he revealed himself as Martian Manhunter to save Alex’s life from Bad Kara’s laser-eyes.
So, the other annoying adage of bad girls have more fun proves untrue. But I hope this isn’t the last time that Supergirl taps into the very real, very legitimate frustrations that Kara’s double life forces upon her.
What did you think—yay or nay on Bad Kara?