Before we start this week’s recap, I have to tell you something. Earlier this season, Heather asked me not to lean into the Lena/Kara subtext in my recaps, because there was a real, beautiful, wonderful, canonically queer storyline happening with Alex, and she didn’t want anything to take away from that. This made perfect sense to me, and I tried, and she laughed at my pathetic attempt, and would edit me down, and my recaps were better for it. But she emailed me after this episode and removed the reigns and set me loose because ARE YOU KIDDING ME WITH THIS? But let’s talk about everything that happened in this episode (including a brief but super cute Sanvers scene) and then I’ll tell you why the ending of this episode made me want to riot (the reason isn’t my usual “Mon-El is boring” spiel, I promise.)
Okay so we start twenty years ago, when Lillian is playing chess with a young Lex Luthor. Lionel Luthor storms in, a small girl by his side, and much to Lillian’s chagrin, the girl becomes part of the family. Conveniently, the girl’s name was Lena, so she already fit in, if only in terms of their familial alliteration.
In actuality, Lillian looks at her like she’s a stray dog that wandered in, but Lex immediately invites her to play chess, and little Lena is quick to join him.
Flash forward to present day, in the gaylien bar, where Kara, J’onn, Winn and James are gathered and waiting to meet the person Alex is dating. James and Winn assume it’s a dude (because heteronormativity is a disease) and ask Kara what “he” does and Kara can just barely get the word “cop” out without either busting out with laughter or the truth, it’s anyone’s guess. Luckily she doesn’t have to keep anything in much longer, because just then, in walks Alex, Maggie close by her side.
Lights dawn on marble heads and Winn and James catch on quick, and go with the flow, despite being surprised. J’onn already knew, because he’s psychic, but it wasn’t his place to say. And he looks at the joy radiating off Alex as she introduces Maggie and he says, “Good for you, Alex.”
Alex looks overwhelmed but relieved all at the same time, and then Mon-El comes over with their drinks and Alex tells him that she’s dating Maggie. She’ll say it to everyone in the bar at this rate, the adrenaline is rushing. Mon-El is surprised that this is why Alex called them all together today, because what Alex calls “Ladies loving ladies” (out loud! on our TV!) is totally fine on Daxom. Kara watches Mon-El’s kindness toward Alex and decides maybe this week he’s less like a moldy peach and more like a scoop of vanilla ice cream. But low-fat ice cream. That has those annoying ice crystals on top.
Maggie, the bold and the beautiful, challenges Winn to a game of pool, and he thinks he can math his way out of it, so off they go. James hugs Alex, and J’onn tells her, “My money’s on your girl,” and for a moment everything is right in the Superfam.
On the bar TV, Kara sees Lena getting torn apart by the media for testifying against her mother in court and decides that she could use a friend, so despite James being snarky about it, off she goes. But first she stops and gets donuts. One of her favorite foods. For Lena.
Lena confides in Kara, says that her mother (who is in jail because of that whole trying-to-kill-all-the-aliens thing) thing) wants to see her, but isn’t sure she should. Kara says she hates not having people from her past around to talk to and that even if she’s not perfect she’s still her mother and she’s here so why not go. But she didn’t shame Lena for not wanting to, didn’t tell her she was wrong for feeling the way she did, just offered a suggestion based on her own experience.
And so, Lena will go.
Lillian gives Lena her sob story. “I did the best I could,” and when Lena isn’t buying it, she plays a card she’s been holding close to her chest for twenty years: Lionel Luthor is Lena’s biological father. He cheated on Lillian and when Lena’s bio mom died, they took her in. But every time Lillian looked into those bright green eyes, she was reminded of her pain, and plus Lionel didn’t like Lillian spending time with Lena, so Lillian kept the child at arm’s length.
And the irony of the situation hits Lena all at once: She really is a Luthor after all.
Lillian wants a second chance, and the hesitation is written all over Lena’s face, but there’s something else there, too. Because hasn’t anyone whose mother mistreated them imagined your mother finally holding herself accountable for how she treated you? Haven’t we all wanted a reason? Something written in black and white that says it wasn’t our fault? So even though Lillian has done nothing to deserve it, of course Lena is considering giving her the second chance she’s asking for.
Meanwhile, Metallo (that Cadmus cyborg who can shoot lasers out of his chest) is given the gift of kryptonite from a guard.
Cut to Lillian’s trial in court, where Metallo is testifying, and Lena, Alex and Kara are all in business suits, watching with serious faces and murmuring complaints under their breath.
Then the guy uses his pew pew powers and causes a ruckus that Supergirl has to break up, but his chest-lasers are infused with Kryptonite now, so Supergirl’s not having an easy go of it. Eventually she chooses to save civilians over chasing Lillian, and Mama Luthor gets away.
Back the DEO, the team can’t figure out where the kryptonite came from, because they thought Clark had all the leftover green stuff, when Maggie comes in with bad news. The only visitor who could have given him the kryptonite was Lena Luthor.
Kara, not believing that for a second, walks herself right over the Lena’s office and warns her that there’s a detective looking at her as the lead suspect in this case. Lena bristles, and accuses Kara of being more of a reporter than a friend, but Kara swears she’s on her side of this.
Maggie storms in then, and tries to make Kara leave, but Lena — despite kind of being in a fight with her right now — wants her to stay.
So Maggie arrests Lena right there, showing them the footage of Lena going to the jail cell. Lena starts to say it wasn’t her, but Maggie cuts her off. Kara tells Maggie to let Lena explain, but Maggie tells Kara to stay out of it. Kara looks ready to fight her sister’s girlfriend in defense of Lena, but Lena says it’s fine, and goes off without a fight.
Kara. is. Livid. She goes on a rampage trying to convince someone, ANYONE, that Lena is innocent.
No one at Catco believes her, no one at the DEO believes her. Poor Alex stands there like she’s on a tightrope, afraid to lean too far one way or the other. But she understand where Kara is coming from. She understands Kara and the heart she wears on the outside of her chest.
Then James and Kara have one of those infuriating conversations they’ve been having where James-logic only makes sense to James. James is like, “I know you’re saying you believe in Lena, but I can’t trust your feelings, and by the way, fuck you for not trusting me to be Guardian, I literally always trust you.”
And then Kara and I start punching walls. Me figuratively, but Kara literally, in what Jenna calls her “wreck room,” which is too perfect not to borrow. Mon-El comes into the Wreck Room and he’s actually on her side on this; after all, she trusted him against all rhyme and reason, and he’s better for it. Kara starts to apologize for pushing him away ever since their last “I don’t like you like that” conversation and eventually things get too awkward for Kara so she runs away. To check on Lena.
In the getaway van, Lena is pissed that her mother broke her out because now everyone is going to assume she’s guilty. She wants to go back, but Lillian tells her that there’s nothing for her to go back to, that everyone hates her, that no one is on her side. Lillian says that she’s all Lena has now, and she’ll be the mother Lena always wanted. It’s classic abuse, and because she’s endured a lifetime of it, Lena believes her and resigns herself to her fate.
They get to a warehouse that used to belong to Lex and there’s a vault there full of weapons. But only true Luthor DNA can open it. And suddenly it all clicks for Lena. Her eyes are wide open and she sees this for what it is: manipulation. Lillian is playing with her, but Lena wants out of the game. Unfortunately, Lillian is willing to do anything it takes, and Hank Henshaw the Cyborg is there to force Lena’s hand. Literally, he takes her hand and puts it on the keypad.
At the DEO, Kara is pacing back and forth behind Winn while he checks the surveillance video again. This time, he figures out that the video was tampered with, and Lena was framed. Winn is shocked that Kara was right all along, and Kara is a little offended at how shocked he is.
Kara’s triumph is short-lived, though, because a different computer starts beeping, and it’s the alert Winn set up to track Kryptonite…and it’s leaking. It’s unstable and bad news and basically Metallo is gonna blow up in a big green cloud of death dust.
But Kara doesn’t care, she has to save Lena. Now.
In Lex’s Evil Vault, Lillian is delighted to find weapons galore, including one of those awful plants that made Kara imagine a life on Krypton. Lena is still annoyed, generally unimpressed by the whole situation, until Supergirl swoops in. Lena is so excited to see her, and her voice betrays her utter surprise that anyone would bother saving her, since her mother has convinced her she was worthless.
Supergirl tells Lena she’s there because Kara Danvers believes in her. Even if no one else does.
Fighting ensues, and Winn and Alex talk into Kara’s earpiece, warning her that every time Metallo uses his lasers he gets closer and closer to going boom, but Kara’s not worried and keeps fighting; she’s not just leaving Lena. (Alex is worried enough for the both of them.)
Luckily J’onn shows up and they get out just in time, with Lena safe and sound. Though Lillian and Hank Henshaw got away.
The next morning Kara uses her sweetest “I told you so” on Snapper and he tells her to just get an exclusive with Lena Luthor. Even James apologizes for not trusting her about Lena. So they decide to wipe the slate clean and stop stepping on each other’s toes and (drum roll please) HAVE A GAME NIGHT.
Happy as can be, Kara goes to see Lena, who LOVES the article Kara wrote about her. “You flatter me,” is literally what she said and not something I made up just now.
Also something I swear I did not make up and am not exaggerating: Kara’s office is OVERFLOWING with flowers that Lena sent her. Kara chalks it up to friendship, but Lena says she’s never had a friend like her. Kara then negates everything Lillian said to Lena, everything she had started to believe, and says that she will always stand up for her.
Lena then calls Kara her hero. Outright! They stand up and hug and in some other universe, they would have kissed, but they don’t and it’s whatever.
As soon as Kara’s gone, the music gets suspicious, and Lena picks up the white knight and examines it with a serious face. What is she thinking? Is Kara the white knight? Is Supergirl? Because in a flashback, four-year-old Lena is very good at chess and used the queen to take down the white knight and beat her brother. Is she planning the same thing now? Or is she playing a chess game with her brother? Is Lex alive? I HAVE SO MANY QUESTIONS.
Kara, probably worked up after that intense meeting with Lena, calls Mon-El over and maybe she’s inspired because she ended up being right to trust Lena, but she decides to give him a chance. She says that she didn’t think she could be Supergirl and have a relationship but she wants to have it all. She even calls him a dudebro in her spiel so I’m not sure how into this she really is, but she’s gonna go for it. She leans in for a kiss and I mean I can’t blame Mon-El for wanting this LOOK AT HER.
But right before their lips touch the ghost of angry fandom comes swirling in on a cloud of blue and manifests itself as Mr. Mxyzptlk, which somehow is a thing he says out loud. He, like us, declares to love Kara and is going to spend at least one entire episode proving it.
The way they’re going about this Kara/Mon-El thing (having everyone tell Kara she’s into Mon-El when she keeps saying she’s not into Mon-El until finally she has to start wonder if her own feelings are wrong and maybe she IS into Mon-El) is not great. BUT now that they’ve toned down the macho macho man attitude, Mon-El is actually a fun character sometimes. So maybe, as time went on, I could have gotten on board with Mon-El and Kara. But here’s the thing. Juxtaposed with the Kara/Lena dynamic? It’s impossible for me to get behind Mon-El/Kara.
Kara brings Lena donuts and Lena sends her flowers and they smile these special smiles at each other and and they talk in these special voices with each other and they look into each other’s eyes and sometimes have to look away and they’re never uncomfortable even when they’re having uncomfortable conversations. Kara was uncomfortable talking to Mon-El about club soda. Lena calls Kara her hero — separately from Supergirl entirely — and Mon-El spent half this season berating Kara for wanting to teach him how and why she uses her powers for good.
And the thing that frustrates me the most is that there’s a parallel universe, another Earth, or a distant future, where this wouldn’t be happening. In a world without homophobia or biphobia, even though the Alex/Maggie thing was on the books, when writers and producers and directors saw the way Melissa Benoist and Katie McGrath interacted with each other, they would have tabled the Mon-El romance, kept his thing a what-is-a-hero deal, and made Kara and Lena a thing right there on the spot. A complicated thing — Lena hates aliens! Even though she likes Supergirl, it’s still part of her ethos. There’s so much to do with that! And that was only my first idea!
But the issue is, shows are afraid of being labeled a “gay show”. Every other show has more than one straight relationship and LGBT+ people still watch those. And it’s not like straight people will not be represented on this show. And don’t even start with me on this “statistically unlikely” BS because first of all, we’re everywhere, and second of all, THERE ARE ALIENS ON THIS SHOW.
Having two queer couples at the forefront of a show would be polarizing, especially now, when the leaders of this country are trying to Lillian-Luthor us queer people into thinking nobody cares about us, about our rights. I really, truly believe that in another world, or if Lena was a man, they would have kissed in this episode, even if it left them both confused and conflicted. Even if it’s part of Lena’s evil endgame. Hell, even if the writers hadn’t originally intended it before they saw those two on the couch.
And I know this is not just me shipping subtext, and the reason I know is because Maggie and Alex is a canonically wonderful queer storyline. We’re not starving on this show! If Lena Luthor had never graced our screens, if I had never seen Katie McGrath bite her lip in the general direction of Melissa Benoist, I wouldn’t be just shouting from the rooftops for Kara to be in a relationship with just any woman. (Maybe whispering it now and then, I still want Kara to be bi, especially after Mon-El’s statement about Daxon, but honestly I was a huge fan of Kara not being in a relationship before now.) This is a thing we have seen play out on TV over and over and over again: Writers being handed a diamond, but it’s a queer diamond, so they try to turn it back into coal.
Talking about subtext is always tricky. We don’t want to glorify it in a way that encourages queerbaiting. We don’t want to diminish the power and intimacy that exists in platonic friendships between women. But sometimes you’ve gotta get real about what would happen if two characters had this kind of storyline/unexpected chemistry on a TV show and they weren’t both women.
Next week: Sanvers Valentine’s Day!