Breaking the family curse: Why ‘Supergirl”s Lena Luthor should break good
One of the best additions to Supergirl’s cast was Katie McGrath as Lena Luthor in season two. McGrath took a rather minor comic character and turned Lena into a nuanced, charming, and morally ambiguous character. She rebels against everyone’s perceived destiny of hers, thanks to the actions of her brother (Jon Cryer) and adopted mother (Brenda Strong).
When Lena learns about Kara Danvers’s (Melissa Benoist) true identity as Supergirl at the end of season four and just how many keep it from her, fans were worried that this would push Lena over the edge. As season five continues to unfold, Lena’s been making some less than stellar decisions.
Lena kidnapped her former assistant and friend Eve Tessmacher (Andrea Brooks) and allowed her AI Hope to take over Eve’s body. She kidnapped Malefic (voiced by Phil Lamarr) in order to study his mind-control ability so she can brainwash people into “doing no harm”. She then brainwashed Malefic and reneged on a deal that they made. She also used Kara a couple times to further her agenda.
Lena’s original plan for revenge was to out Kara’s secret identity to the world. You can understand her anger – but that’s not cool.
Right now, Lena is working toward her own endgame. Everyone has teased that the main storyline for season five is “the fight for Lena’s soul”. Katie McGrath sells it. In her star-making role on BBC’s Merlin, McGrath played Morgana. Like Lena, she was a friend to the main characters but over the seasons broke bad into the villainess of myth & legend.
Clearly, viewers familiar with McGrath’s previous role thought Lena would break bad. Over the course of season two through four, she’s defied expectations time and again. While responsible for some shady actions like the whole Harun-El cure in season four, they always come from a good place.
This is why we think Lena should break good in season five of The CW’s Supergirl.
It’s the obvious move.
A lot of storytellers nowadays throw unexpected twists at the audience or pull something totally out of left field for a surprise no one saw coming. Never mind that said twists don’t make a lick of sense in relation to character & story. (Here’s looking at you, Game of Thrones.)
Lena was always set up to be a character that lived in a morally grey area with her own code. Her questionable actions always come from a desire to do good in the world. The character has been set up so that she could break bad and the story will still make sense – but she could also break good and make it work.
Here’s a rare moment when subverting audience expectations would be a good thing. Luthor is one of those names that has an instant negative connotation. Even if you don’t know comics that well, you’ve heard of Superman and Lex Luthor. Lex Luthor is always the bad guy. Having Lena go the way of her brother and adopted mother would be playing into everyone’s expectations: lazy writing.
The desire to “do good”
The name Luthor in the world of DC Comics carries certain connotations. Everyone who doesn’t know Lena on Earth-38 believes she will go the way of her family. It’s in her DNA. (At least they don’t spout “serial killer gene” a million times like on Riverdale.)
Lena, however, strives to make her family name into something to be proud of. She is a half Luthor, but she’s also her mother’s daughter, not Lillian’s. The woman Lex remembered was a kind person. In DC media, it appears destiny wants Lena to go full-on villain. Lena is her own person. While she has the Luthor name and inclinations, she also wants more than anything not to be like her family. It’s practically her defining characteristic.
If we can cross the streams for a minute here and bring in a quote from Marvel, Kamala Khan once said, “Good is not a thing you are. It’s a thing you do.” Above all else, Lena strives to do good in a world where the majority of people expect her to do evil.
Strength in forgiveness
Making a conscious act to do good can be one of the most difficult decisions a person can make. There’s an inclination in all of us for retribution when we have been hurt. Lena is hurting and betrayed. Even though she’s trying to logic her way out of an emotional situation, Lena is doing what people do when they get hurt. She wants to make sure she can’t get hurt again.
It’s a decision rooted deep in her character. Learning Kara’s secret identity in the worst possible way (after killing her evil brother) may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for Lena. This is an issue with no clear right side. Audiences understand Lena’s anger at being lied to and Kara’s fear for telling her the truth.
Lena struggles with emotions; they’re complex and messy. She was raised in an environment where they were a sign of weakness. She wants to create a world where such betrayals can never happen to her again. In order to do that, she seeks to control people into behaving a certain way.
Sooner or later, people will learn about this plan. They’ll confront Lena on her choices. A lynchpin of her breaking good or bad is how Lena will actually deal with her emotions when confronted with them. She can either stew in hurt or anger like her brother, or she can try to work past them as best she can.
Ultimately, Lena needs to forgive Kara – not for Kara’s sake, but for her own sake. The one thing that no Luthor has ever done in any universe is forgive and really mean it. Holding a grudge, holding onto those bad feelings, just hurts the person holding the grudge in the long run.
Our girl Lena Luthor needs some serious therapy; she needs to explore her feelings in a healthy way in order to heal deeply. Right now, Lena’s actions may feel good in the short term, but they’re likely to backfire in the long run.