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Supergirl can’t stop making bad choices

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Should she save innocent lives, or fetch drinks for a bully?

Read all Polygon's Supergirl recaps here.

CBS' decision to push this terrorist bomb-themed episode back by a week was a good one. 10 days on from the atrocities in Paris, "How Does She Do It?" was a reminder that the more we see bombs in real life, the more upsetting they become in fiction. It was sometimes difficult to watch the panicked crowds, the overwhelmed security agents.

This was the story of a disgruntled former employee of Maxwell Lord's and his ostensible desire to wreak revenge on his former boss. Since his firing, Ethan Knox has lost his mind, planting bombs in the tech entrepreneur's offices, finally making an attempt to bomb the launch of a high-tech train.

At each turn, Supergirl is on hand to superhero the threat away, at one point effecting the old fly-the-bomb-out-to-the-ocean trick, just prior to its explosion.

Have it all

Supergirl may be a formulaic action show, but it offers a cast of characters with enough variety and nuance to hand us a fistful of narrative threads. It's a credit to the writers that watching two episodes out of order really did feel like a disjunct. Some of the themes explored here were fully developed in the Thanksgiving episode shown last week.

This week was about the problem of balancing family, work and living, as Supergirl's frazzled alter ego Kara struggles to do her job, babysit her boss's kid and save National City from Knox's terror campaign.

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There is a central artifice to this show's set-up which is nearly impossible to ignore. Supergirl must surely have plenty of work to do, saving lives and thwarting criminals. Yet she chooses to spend at least 40 hours a week as the lackey of despotic media mogul Cat Grant.

It's reasonable to assume that she needs the contact of her friends at CatCo Worldwide Media, but isn't that a selfish decision, given how much more useful she could be as Supergirl? This is not a problem for Clark Kent, who is free to spend time out of the office, or for Bruce Wayne who is rich. Peter Parker is still at school and so has no choice.

In a way, this plays into the theme of women balancing their responsibilities (usually as mothers) with their ambitions and personal desires. Cat Grant tells us that it's something that "you learn," like juggling, picking up two balls, then three. But still, wanting a career and a family and a social life is rational. Sacrificing super-hero time to go fetch Cat's salad is not.

Supergirl crush

The plot this week centered on Kara's failure to keep her life in equilibrium. While looking after Cat's sweetly nerdy kid, Kara gets distracted. The kid has a crush on Supergirl and goes looking for her at the launch of the train, which is about to be bombed. Supergirl has to resolve Kara's mistake. All the while, Kara's work is suffering.

All ends well enough when Supergirl talks the bomber out of murdering a train-full of innocents. Knox blows himself up. But Supergirl is now suspicious about the whole terror campaign. Something doesn't add up. She confronts Maxwell Lord with her suspicions and, sure enough, he's a standard Silicon Valley slick villain, wanting to change the world one dastardly deed at a time. The whole thing was a test to find out Supergirl's strengths, her weaknesses and perhaps one day, her true identity.

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This episode took a slump about two-thirds of the way in, when Lord gave us his anti-Government views and a backstory about how official incompetence and heartlessness had killed his scientist parents. Lord is one of those fellows who believes in the power of the self. But Supergirl believes in collective responsibility, which is neat, given that she's an actual super-being.

Romance is in the air for just about everyone right now. James Olsen and his girlfriend Lucy are having it tough, but Kara fancies James, which is tricky because dorky friend Winn fancies Kara. And then there's Kara's somewhat lonesome sister Alex who gets into a flirting-while-defusing-ticking-bomb moment with Maxwell. It all adds up to a whole bunch of yearning eyes and sad sighs.

Poor Kara has it bad for James, and, as Lucy points out, if James was so attached to his best buddy Superman, "how can I compete with Supergirl?"

But Supergirl has her own problems. Lack of time, for one. As both Alex and Cat point out, in their different ways, she's spread too thin. A good life coach would suggest Kara quit her crappy job and throw her lot in with saving the world, but that ain't going to happen. For one thing, this show would be lot less fun without the icily tyrannical Cat Grant.