If this week’s Supergirl episode, “How Does She Do It?,” seemed off, it was for good reason: In response to the Paris attacks, CBS wisely decided to swap out episodes 4 and 5 due to episode 4’s focus on a mad (more like slightly perturbed) bomber planting and/or detonating bombs around National City. On a series that’s built around some measure of continuity, especially where the central relationships are concerned, the jump forward – followed by a jump back – threw the delicate, season-long, relationship- and arc-building into minor disarray. At least now, though, viewers know what some of the seemingly cryptic comments in episode 5 meant (e.g., references to bombings, babysitting, and a renewed romantic relationship) now that episode 4 has seen the light of day (or rather night).
Supergirl/Kara (Melissa Benoist) gets her heart broken, if only temporarily, when James “Please Don’t Call Me Jimmy” Olsen (Mehcad Brooks), rekindles a romantic relationship with ex-girlfriend Lucy “Lois’ Sister” Lane (Jenna Dewan Tatum) by the close of episode 4, leaving Supergirl newly, reluctantly friendzoned (worse than the Phantom Zone according to one character), a zone Kara’s best (male) friend forever, Winn (Jeremy Jordan), knows all too well, as episode 4 reminds us on more than one occasion. The Kara-James-Winn triangle (we’re being generous calling it a “triangle” here) has been in static mode since the first episode, making the arrival of Lucy, however temporary (Tatum is listed as only a guest star), a welcome break from the monotony that’s predictably creeped into the Kara-James-Winn relationship. “Will they or won’t they?” isn’t a question we need answered right now, but playing the same game – and repeating the same question week after week – can and does grow tiresome.
Taking a break from the super-villain of the week (episode 5’s Livewire dragged down an otherwise passable entry), episode 4 shifts the focus to Maxwell Lord (Peter Facinelli), an Elon Musk-inspired tech billionaire with a Super Train about to launch and a megalomaniac/messiah complex to nurse. He doesn’t seem to care for Supergirl’s superheroics, dismissing her on local/national TV when asked about her: He wants to change the world, not just save the occasional life or defeat the weekly super -villain, placing him as the closest Lex Luthor analog the TV series is likely to get without actually bringing Luthor to National City. By episode’s end, there’s a big reveal about Lord’s intentions and motivations and they’re not far from his comic-book counterpart – or at least one well-known version of the character – he’s deeply suspicious of super-powered heroes, seeing them more as a hindrance than a help, not to mention attracting an unsavory element (super-villians).
Meanwhile – and in Supergirl, there’s always a meanwhile – Kara has one or two life lessons to learn. As Cat Grant’s (Calista Flockhart) personal assistant, Kara gets to watch and learn a particular brand of feminism from Cat: it’s all about self-empowerment, of course, but it’s also about work-life balance. To that end (or actually, the opposite), Cat leaves her preteen son, Carter (Levi Miller) in Kara’s care while Cat jets over to Metropolis to pick up a prestigious journalism award of some kind. We know it’s important because Cat doesn’t hesitate to mention that she’s won it over her fiercest rival, Lois Lane, once again reminding viewings (as if reminders are necessary) that they’re watching, if not a second-rate Superman knockoff, then an ersatz one, a carbon copy with only a few marginal, superficial changes. Supergirl the series needs to get away from its Superman fixation once and for all (it almost did two weeks ago).
We don’t meet the bomber until the last few minutes when he’s revealed as another in a long line of disgruntled employees. His name and grievance don’t matter since he’s just a plot device, integral to the machinations of another character, but otherwise a throwaway, disposable character. After all, he’s not really the villain, just a wrong time, wrong place sort of character. It’s the location of the bomber’s last bomb that matter’s most: the inaugural launch of Lord’s Super Train. Not surprisingly, Supergirl’s TV effects budget, despite being higher on CBS than say the CW where The Flash, Arrow, and the soon-to-premiere Legends of Tomorrow make their home, shows its limitations, especially when Supergirl has to not only fly to the rescue, but slow down a speeding train filled with first-time passengers (we see maybe 15-20 tops), a plot turn shamelessly borrowed from Spider-Man 2 (a cinematic misdemeanor, admittedly). Setting the scene at night helps somewhat, but the central issue of making a superhero show featuring a super-strong, flying alien in a cape and skirt on a TV budget.