From a 13-episode order on CBS to 100 episodes after a shift to the CW, Supergirl has come a very long way. Often an uneasy mess, but forever entertaining, the show has frequently served as the CW’s love letter to the Silver Age of comics. From Supergirl battling ice versions of her dead relatives to flying robot monkeys to any one of Lex Luthor’s countless evil plans—the show has made it clear that sometimes the best Super-stories are the silliest ones.
To celebrate 100 episodes this week, Supergirl tackled a decidedly serious story and relied on a previously silly villain to do it. With the help of Mister Mxyzptlk (now played by Thomas Lennon), Supergirl explored one of the show’s most divisive relationships—that of Kara Danvers and Lena Luthor.
If you’ve been a Super-watcher from the start, you may recall that after season one the show had a major change-up. Calista Flockhart left and took her character, Cat Grant, with her; Alex Danvers’ role slipped from deuteragonist to supporting character; Mon-El was introduced as a love interest; and Lena Luthor appeared as friend to Kara.
She took on a role introduced late in Super-fandom, becoming the Luthor to Kara’s Super. While in early Super stories Lex Luthor was a mad scientist, over time he became a dramatic foil, possessing all the power a human can realistically possess (intelligence, wealth, and mechanically augmented strength) but lacking the empathy that makes Superman the hero and Lex the villain.
Lena was always intended to inhabit the same role on Supergirl, but as with the version of Lex found on Smallville, she was Kara’s friend long before she was any kind of rival or villain. And more importantly, the chemistry between the two women seemed to turn sapphic at the drop of a hat.
A lot of viewers read something more romantic in the relationship, and it’s hard not to when Supergirl is forever telling Lena she’s one of the most important people in her life and then catching her mid-air in a bridal carry pose. That’s the sort of stuff that happens to love interests usually, not friends.
The question of whether the two are friends, foes, or something romantic has led to a lot of talk in Supergirl fandom. It’s made the relationship divisive to some of the show’s most ardent fans and the nuances of their every interaction have been dissected on Twitter, Tumblr, in fandom Discords, and even on the rare message board. While there are contingencies of fans who just want to see some kissing, there’s plenty who are upset with Lena’s year-long descent into villainy—and plenty more who are delighted by it.
For its 100th episode, Supergirl elected to bring elements of that discussion out in the open. Not the kissing bits (more on that in a second), but the Lena problem itself. Namely, did Kara push her into villainy with some truly shitty betrayals of their friendship or is Lena’s oncoming evilness innate?
Mister Mxyzptlk returns to the show to offer Kara the choice of salvaging her friendship with Lena via time travel. Mxyzptlk has been recast though. Instead of a fifth-dimensional stalker with a British affectation (Peter Gadiot), Mxyzptlk is now just Thomas Lennon being extra Thomas Lennon. Which isn’t a bad thing! While I’ll always associate Mxyzptlk with Gilbert Gottfried—who voiced the classic DC Comics character for Superman: The Animated Series—there’s something gentle about Lennon’s imp that lets you believe he’s reformed and isn’t about to get all grossly sexual like he was back in season two.
After sending Alex and J’onn off to another dimension to play paintball (for the record, I was delighted by this complete throwaway moment), Mxyzptlk sits down with Kara and begins playing back her entire relationship with Lena. There are little jaunts to her life with Mon-El (Mxyzptlk doesn’t get the appeal), and Odette Annable returns as Reign and her alter ego Sam Arias, but ultimately each jaunt to the past, and subsequent look at the newly formed present, is about Kara and Lena.
What becomes clear is that a Lena without a Kara is a harder, more vulnerable, and more dangerous person. It also leads to distractions and vulnerabilities on Kara’s part that ultimately end in someone, or everyone, dying. A lot.
Kara finds herself damned because saving her friendship with Lena, while relatively easy every time, always leads to a different catastrophe, while ignoring her entirely leads Lena into fascism, torture, and some excellent makeup choices. The bulk of the hour reads like a love letter to this relationship and how these two women balance one another out. Which is why the end of the episode is truly bizarre—even if it’s satisfying.
After trying and failing a few times, Kara learns what it took Barry Allen like five seasons to realise: Trying to fix the past never works. Kara realises she has to own up to her mistakes in the friendship—and the show takes pains to show they are legion—but that she is not some dike holding back Lena’s villainy. Lena is her own person and makes her own choices. If plenty of alternate versions of Lena could make the right choice even after Kara hurt her then the current Lena can too.
But Kara takes this lesson to Lena and delivers it in about the rudest way possible, telling Lena that she will support her if she decides to do good, and stop her if she decides to do bad, and trust her to make her own damn decisions. Again—a sentiment I think we can all get behind. But when it’s delivered with the empathy of a scone it does not inspire confidence in Lena redeeming herself any time soon.
Sam has been missed.
The fights were plentiful and goofy.
Dreamer was a supercharged badass in the most apocalyptic version of the world. Just looking her best!
Mon-El appeared and was...fine. It was very funny when Kara sought his opinion because it is very clear his opinion is deeply biased.
Man remember when Teri Hatcher was on the show?!?!
Cat Grant appeared! But as a picture of someone who dies in one of the alternate versions of the world.
It is very interesting that Mxyzptlk shows up and offers to change something for Kara—and it’s the relatively mundane option of fixing a friendship instead of, oh I don’t know, bringing Krypton back? Like wouldn’t that be on Kara’s radar? How has she now had multiple interactions with the multiverse and alternate worlds and this has never been addressed?
Look, this is the second episode full of flashbacks where poor Melissa Benoist had to wear a wig and the wigs are bad, but I appreciated that one of the alternate futures specifically says Lena is responsible for convincing Kara to get bangs just so she doesn’t have to wear the wig for that specific flashback.