Supergirl has a singular character problem. That is, the show has one character about whom the audience has built up certain expectations to a point where that character’s development almost seems inevitable to the collective fandom. That character happens to be Lena Luthor. I happen to disagree with that consensus.
Don’t give people what they want, give them what they need.
— Joss Whedon
Lena Luthor has become enveloped by two character possibilities that a lot of Supergirl fans consider a near certainty: 1) Lena finds out that Kara is Supergirl; 2) Lena turns evil. As a storyteller, I reject both of those because: 1) It ruins a character dynamic for little reason than the momentary bliss of saying, “I called it!”; 2) It’s lazy and, frankly, insulting.
Let’s address the second item first as it’s much more basic. Turning Lena evil is simply, once again, copying the Superman storyline. It wouldn’t be the first time, of course, as the powers that be opted to straight up make Kara a reporter in direct imitation of the Superman narrative. To do so again by simply lifting the Smallville story of a Super and Luthor going from friends to enemies is not just uncreative but patronizing.
Here’s the thing: Supergirl, Kara Zor-El, is more and needs to be more than just Superman in a skirt. As I mentioned in Supergirl Season 3 Commentary – Alien Me, Kara’s story has very distinct differences from Kal El’s journey. To subvert those differences for the obvious cheat is to, basically, subvert the show itself.
What has made Lena Luthor interesting to this point is that she allows Kara to have a friend and ally who is in it for the sake of friendship and not what Kara does extracurricularly. This also feeds into the idea of Lena finding out Kara’s secret.
I privately wrote over a dozen types of scenes and sequences (each between 5-8 script pages long) of Lena finding out about Kara — Kara telling Lena, Lena stumbling into it, someone else telling Lena, etc. — exploring various immediate reactions and then also extrapolating them out several episodes, up to more than a season afterwards. No matter how it happens, it destroys the dynamic that makes the Kara-Lena partnership special. Even when it’s Kara who tells her and Lena is OK with it and accommodates Kara’s duality, the spark dies. Lena’s obvious hero-worship/crush of Supergirl disappears, and her innocent acceptance of Kara’s friendship is never rid of the blot of the deception to a Luthor. At best it makes Lena just another one of the Superfriends.
Or it turns her evil.
That’s what the Internet keeps saying. The precipitating event that turns Lena evil is finding out that Kara has been lying to her — just as Lillian said would happen. How…um…creative? Exciting? Franky, I’m at a loss to see how this actually helps the long-term story. (I will concede a possible lack of imagination on my end.)
But… but… surely Lena must see through the glasses and know it’s Kara.
Perhaps. Being that they’ve already done this with Cat, that path again feels pathetically lazy. And frankly, I’m tired of the whining about it (not the mere mentioning (though still…every time?), but grown adults actually whining). It’s a conceit as old as Action Comics #1: the weak-ass disguise of a pair of glasses being able to fool some people and not others. This is a story about an alien who defies gravity, can shoot lasers from her eyes, and has that freezy-breath thing and this is the straw that makes it unbelievable? There are some things in any science fiction or fantasy story that have to be accepted as how that universe works. The glasses are one of them. Accept it and live a happier life basking in Rao’s light.
Where does that leave us? Basically, the only sane, sustainable course is leaving the friendship alone and exploring the nicer, sometimes toeing-the-line aspect of Luthordom. The first should be easy. Lena is basically Kara’s second chance at the friendship that was blossoming with Kenny Li ten years before. After all this time, shouldn’t she get to have that? For once? Finally? (Yeah, yeah, Kenny knew…and he ended up dead.) Lena is also more dimensional as she struggles with what she wants vs her family legacy. If she succumbs to fan expectations, she’s little more than Morgan Edge in fetching designer ensembles. I think Supergirl and Supergirl fans (and Katie McGrath fans) deserve better than that.