There's something specifically terrifying about Agent Liberty. It's not just how completely mundane, even safe, his actual origin story is—I mean, come on, a university professor? It's that it's all so achingly familiar. We've all, at one point or another, seen or heard about someone who’s turned into someone else because they underwent some sort of tragedy. We've all seen the world make monsters out of people. Ben Lockwood is a character dealing with aliens from outer space in Supergirl, but he's also just as easily any number of real people living their real lives today—people who don't know how to handle their fear of things outside of themselves with anything but righteous fury.
It's tough to watch, really. Ben's life probably should have gone very, very differently—and would have without the cascading domino effect of terrible circumstance after terrible circumstance. But that's the real kicker, because while Ben seems to believe he's representing a whole population of people who were caught in the same storm, he's only ever thinking about himself and what he's owed because of what he's been through. It's always about what he lost, what he's suffered and who he can blame. Thinking like that can be worse than quicksand.
Ben Lockwood's comic book counterpart has a very different story than his live action self. An ex-CIA agent, this version of Ben grew disillusioned with the government after realizing the missions he was being sent on were doing more harm than good. He left his job and took up with a radical—but not actually deadly—group called the Sons of Liberty who wished to overthrow the current government. This, naturally, made him pretty disruptive in the eyes of some superheroes and brought him into conflict with Superman more than once. But as things began to spiral more and more out of control, Lockwood promptly realized he had been misled and left the Sons to work on his own. He hoped this new leaf would give him a chance to actually create some positive change, rather than more chaos.
Of course, that's not exactly how things went down. If this Ben had one consistent theme in his life, it was getting manipulated by people, or, sometimes, just straight-up brainwashed. You know how these things go. Or, maybe you don't. Actually, hopefully you don't.
Though comics Ben (who died in ACTION COMICS #873) was pretty different from his live-action counterpart, we can still see some of those themes emerging here and now. Going from a successful, open-minded, pro-alien university teacher to a mask-wearing zealot isn't something that happens without a little outside pushing. Some of that pushing was no doubt unintentional. There's obviously no way Lena Luthor could have known, or anyone could have predicted that the Lockwoods would have lost their house in the Daxamite catastrophe.
But others? Others are definitely moving pieces around deliberately.
I'm talking about Mercy Graves here, specifically. Not that I, even for a second, want to say that Ben Lockwood is somehow a victim in all of this—let's be absolutely clear on that front, he's not. But Mercy is nothing if not a lethal opportunist. The seeds of rage and hatred and fear sown within Ben just made him a perfect mark for her to weaponize. And that's pretty terrifying, too, isn't it? It's not enough that he's already so bad, some outside force has to come in and make him even worse, embolden him even more, pull the strings that have already been pulled so taut.
Agent Liberty may think he's powerful, but I don't think it's going to last, and, in a weird way, that makes him the most terrifying bad guy Supergirl's seen yet. He's a representative of an idea even he doesn't seem to fully understand.
Supergirl’s Benjamin Lockwood is a supervillain, make no mistake about it. He had some terrible things happen to him, but that doesn't excuse what he's become, and it certainly doesn't absolve what Mercy has done to him now. If there's any one lesson to be learned here, it's that spreading that kind of hatred and violence is like pouring blood into the water. Eventually, the sharks are going to come, and it doesn't matter how big or bad or righteous a predator you believed yourself to be. There's always going to be something out there with much, much bigger teeth.
Supergirl airs Sundays at 8 p.m. (7 p.m. CST) on The CW.
Meg Downey covers movies, TV and comics for DCComics.com, and writes about Batman each month in her column, "Gotham Gazette." She's also a regular contributor to the Couch Club, our weekly television column. Follow her on Twitter at @rustypolished.