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Through unabashed optimism and positive lesbian representation, Supergirl has quickly become something of a Fandomentals darling this fall season. It’s offered a refreshing break from the current grimdark of our TV-scape, with its shock deaths and dead wlw characters.
In its newest episode, and the last until the new year, Supergirl blew-up what we all expected to be a season (or more)-long slowburn romance between Alex Danvers and Maggie Sawyer, instead sending the good ship “Sanvers” sailing on its merry way.
It seems odd then, for this piece to question the “courage” of a show that gave such a close and personal view of Alex coming to understand her sexuality. However, the relationship in question is not between Supergirl’s adoptive sister and a cop. No, it’s between Supergirl herself, the show’s protagonist, and Lena Luthor.
The thing is, while Alex and Maggie have filled me with nothing but warm and fuzzies, it’s the dynamic between Kara Danvers and Lena that’s left me clutching my chest. Often times literally, and to the concern of my cat. And as much as my brain was cheering on the set-up of Sanvers slow-burn, there was a feeling in my gut that it was the death-knell for “Supercorp”. Sadly, wlw representation tends to be a zero-sum game, and it seemed as though the writers were positioning Kara to act as a straight sounding board for her sister. It’s not that there isn’t value in that, especially since it’s incredibly validating to show how even loving, well-intentioned family members can fall just short of the support needed.
Additionally, there was a question hanging in the air: was Lena Luthor going to get a villain arc? It is, after all, rather hard to trust someone with that last name in the DC Universe.
Yet with “Medusa”, both of these worries were cast aside. Lena made a definitive choice that placed her firmly on Supergirl’s side, as well as in direct conflict with her family, and Sanvers resolved their will-they-won’t-they (duh) with relative narrative ease—heck, Alex only told Maggie she was interested in dating her two episodes before.
So the space is there, if Supergirl writers wanted to pursue it. It would certainly be groundbreaking to have multiple wlw relationships in the foreground, not to mention bisexual protagonists are still too few and far between, but this is also a show that’s demonstrated both self-awareness and a willingness to “go there”…even with swipes aimed against its own network.
That just leaves us with one consideration—is the story there? Could Kara and Lena’s relationship truly be building to a romantic pay-off?
To that I say “absolutely”, because we’ve seen it before: with Korrasami.
A Luthor and a Sato
For those who are unaware, “Korrasami” is the ship name given to the couple Korra and Asami Sato, the unexpected and perfect endgame pairing from The Legend of Korra.
Korra is a uniquely superpowered individual within her own universe, who strives to be an unwavering force of good and balance; Asami is a nonbender [read: non-powerful] engineer, who stands up for what is right against a family pursuing an anti-bender agenda, using her newly-inherited company resources to fight alongside Korra.
While these oddly specific similarities in the two pairings are far from superficial, it’s the absolutely immaculate parallels between Asami and Lena that provide such a strong sense of déjà vu. True, it’s a bit in-vogue over here to claim that Asami is practically the same character as someone else (she’s also Sansa!), to the point where Griffin and I are wondering if there should be a trope named “Too Evil to Fail” in the case of an un-corrupted daughter being shoved into a CEO role for a formerly nefarious company.
But no, hear me out: the way in which Lena relates to her family, plus the way she conceives of and utilizes her company…she may as well be a goddamn Sato.
Kara: What about back when it was Luthor Corp? How did she feel when you changed the company’s direction?
Lena: You mean when I changed it from its “murdering world domination” direction?
Both Lena and Asami have a deeply-rooted sense of justice that causes them to choose what’s right and to be definitively good. Which sure, this might not seem particularly remarkable, because you don’t get brownie points for basic decency. But in their cases, they both have families that do evil, testing their convictions a bit more than, say, Alex Danvers. Plus it’s not just that the reject the viewpoints of their families, they actively place themselves on a battlefield against them.
This almost needs no explanation for Lena. The Luthors are infamous in the Superman universe, with Lex being its most recognized antagonist. In Supergirl, they talk about him in generalizations; we know he did some kind of unspecified, anti-alien, world-dominationish evil that made him a famous enemy of Superman, but the details stop there. Lena talks about how growing up, she loved Lex, almost worshiped him as his adoptive younger sister, but then when she found out what he was, she was horrified to her core.
Her mother, who turned up this year, shares Lex’s anti-alien sentiments, which was revealed to Lena in “Medusa”. Acting as the head of Cadmus, Lillian Luthor (this family is committed to its branding), she hoped to eradicate all alien life on the planet and asked for Lena’s help in doing so. Lena tricked her, and had her arrested.
Asami’s story is not radically different, though she didn’t come onto our screens already aware of her family’s dark history. That was revealed to us during the first season, when she discovered her father was an Equalist, working to eradicate all benders. Actually, she found out as he was attacking Korra, her mentor, and the chief of police. Awkward.
Hiroshi Sato immediately apologized for keeping his daughter out of the loop, but then asked her to join him, citing very real and troubling issues nonbenders faced. Asami tricked her father into arming her, and then incapacitated him while “team Avatar” escaped.
The biggest difference that can be pointed out is how as an adopted daughter, Lena always felt a bit unloved by her family (especially her mother, who outright told her she preferred Lex), where Asami and Hiroshi were incredibly close, she just didn’t know his entire guiding motivation in life. It could happen to anyone! Though once she was clued in…
Lena went on to inherit Luthor Corp following her brother’s arrest, changed its name to “L Corp”, and was determined to make it a force for good. Asami inherited Future Industries following her father’s arrest, and used it as a force for good by landing crucial infrastructure projects that helped bring Korra’s vision for the world into the material. Though she still produced military tech to some extent.
“I’m a businesswoman. L-Corp is in the business of making money and this device is going to make us a fortune.” —Lena Luthor
Oh, and finally, as icing on the cake, both Lena and Asami are engineers. This was very obvious from the get-go in the case of the latter, who would talk about piloting Future Industries forklifts and took Korra on a test-drive around her racetrack. For science!
However, Lena’s engineering prowess came in the form of a reveal in “Crossfire”. The episode prior, she had made it clear to Kara that she owed her a debt after Lena helped her out, while ominous music played. I was sure she was getting a villain arc, and thus my Supercorp ship would be sunk. However, nope, the favor was just to get Supergirl to come to a party so that Lena could set a trap for some bad guys and destroy them all. A science trap!
This is getting…spooky.
The chemistry can’t be an accident, right?
But of course, this is only half of the ship. And while we’ve seen a character exactly like Asami to tell a slow, slow burn built on mutual trust and a commitment to justice with the series protagonist, we do have to consider those supers. And this is where the parallels just keep on rolling.
For the first half of the show, both Korra and Asami fell victim to some love-triangle scripting, in which they were both interested in the same boy. However, they always were friendly with one another. Now, perhaps it’s tey slightly vamp-ish character design, perhaps it’s Seychelle Gabriel’s performance, or perhaps it’s just a very well-scripted character with a ton of inherent agency, but even from the start, Asami seemed to be always a bit flirtatious with Korra. Or at the very least, completely blown away by her.
“No, that’s nonsense! You’re amazing!” —Asami to Korra
Once showrunners Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino learned to listen to their characters during the last two seasons and seemed to realize Korra and Asami should be on a trajectory headed towards a romance, these flirtatious gestures became a lot less subtle.
Korra, for her part, began to noticeably enjoy Asami’s presence more and more, and by the end of the third season, it was clear that this was the person closest to her. Though she’d often bicker with other members of her team, she and Asami worked in more or less perfect synchronization, with Korra always seeming incredibly content around her, and even comfortable enough to display vulnerability.
By the time the final season rolled around, these two were being total, and completely unsubtle, nerds:
We’re rather lucky that with Supergirl, we didn’t have to wait four years for Lena and Kara to be flustered around one another, since it happened out of the gate.
Gretchen and Elizabeth have hypothesized that this phenomenon might be due to the fact that Katie McGrath could have chemistry with a decorative house plant. And that’s not, strictly speaking, untrue. But then we also see how Lena is canonically overwhelmed by Supergirl’s mere existence (repeatedly), and that she and Kara can bond on a rather unique level.
“I’m just a woman trying to make a name for herself outside of her family. Can’t you understand that?” —Lena Luthor
Kara certainly agrees:
Heck, this might come into even sharper focus since Kara discovered that her parents were the ones that created the Medusa virus. They’re certainly no Lillian Luthors, but it is a betrayal to her sense of justice, and to her previous idealization of them.
Oh hey, remember in the second season of Legend of Korra when Korra finds out that her father had been lying her entire life and had done some not-so-great things up in the Northern Water Tribe? Sadly, the potential to relate to Asami on that front went largely unexplored, but Supergirl could still offer follow-through.
And if the narrative potential doesn’t woo you, can’t this at least do the job?
Good gods, Lena! This is Asami flipping her hair while driving Korra around a racetrack, shouting about how much she loves her haircut.
To which Korra would be just:
To the Future! And Beyond
I’m sorry to say, but before there can be any hopes of Supercorp, we have to take out the garbage first.
Let’s just call a spade a spade: Mon El is being foisted on us as Kara’s current love interest. They have no palpable chemistry to speak of, and why James was dismissed as her romantic partner in favor of this piece of milk-toast is beyond me. And yes, there’s ugly implications inherent in that. But there’s also no denying that we’re likely too late into the production schedule for any sort of different result this year.
That doesn’t mean all hope is lost! In fact, The Legend of Korra offers our greatest source of it, given that Korra and Mako were smashed together in the first season, only for them to break up the following year, and for him to go on and become the wonderfully dorky and awkward cop we know and love today. Mon El is more than free to step into a similar role.
Further, The Legend of Korra is hardly the first narrative to favor organic on-screen chemistry that is character-driven, over best-laid plans. And I’m sorry, I don’t care if Katie McGrath is the most shippable actor in existence, I refuse to think anybody could watch these scenes back without *something* being palpable to them.
Plus, we’ve seen this before! To the letter. The result was one of the most effective, positive, and validating conclusions of a TV show to date.
We’ve called Supergirl the remedy to grimdark before, and it’d be disingenuous to ignore that if there was ever a time for such a boundary-pushing and salubrious narrative, it’s now. But is it a show that’s truly brave enough? There’s only one thing we can do…