I remember watching the Smallville pilot in high school and thinking what a “great twist” it was for the creators to make Clark Kent and Lex Luthor friends—what delicious opportunity for them to grow close before their destinies would necessarily put them on opposite sides. But there’s something very different to how Supergirl treads that ground with Kara Danvers and Lena Luthor. For one, knowing next to nothing about Lena’s history in comic book canon, their interactions are lacking in any dramatic irony for me. But what really makes it different is that they’re both young women: It’s not that they’re water and oil, as Clark and Lex were, but instead that their friendship contains a measure of solidarity.
Spoilers for Supergirl 2×12 “Luthors.”
Seeing as Kara is kind of estranged from James for criticizing his work as the Guardian, awkward with Mon-El after their constant will-they-won’t-they dance; and she and Winn are cool, we got to see more of her friendship with Lena. The only Luthor who’s not imprisoned or otherwise out of the picture, Lena is struggling with how to feel about her mother Lillian’s impending trial. On the record, she tells Kara the reporter that she doesn’t want to be involved with any of Lillian’s schemes; off the record, her friend Kara suggests that she go visit her in prison, because Lillian is her mother.
Now, here’s the thing. As per the episode title, we get to learn a lot more about Lena this week—some of it news even to her! It turns out that while she was adopted into the Luthor family at the age of four, she’s actually a blood relation—Lionel’s love child, conceived during one of his dalliances sometime after Lex’s birth, and now without a mother. Lillian didn’t want to open her home to this bastard girl, but it was that or the foster system; and once she saw how Lex immediately warmed to Lena, she decided that it might be good for him to have a sister. Regardless, she herself kept her distance from Lena growing up, as she resembled her mother to an almost painful extent.
Which means that Lillian has a lot of ground to cover when she needs Lena, who has publicly denounced her mother in court, to help spring her before the end of her trial. And if Lena isn’t willing to honor blood, then Lillian will just have Cyborg Hank Henshaw doctor some CCTV footage to frame Lena for stealing the kryptonite from LCorp that helps assassin-turned-hybrid John Corben/Metallo free Lillian. But, because she’s such a nice mother, she has Metallo get Lena out of jail, too.
…Though it may have something to do with needing someone with Luthor DNA to open the biometric lock on one of Lex’s various arsenals—filled with goodies to fight Superman—stashed around the world. Damn, Lillian! “We’re the only two Luthors left, and we need to be there for each other,” my ass. You really have just one agenda.
Awkwardly, this whole time Kara has been taking Lena’s side… including trying to get between Maggie and the NCPD as they arrest Lena for supposedly delivering the kryptonite to Metallo. Over at CatCo, Snapper Carr wants to run a cover story on Lena’s guilt, due process be damned—or, as he so succinctly puts it, “She’s a Luthor, of course she did it.” This leads to an impassioned argument between Kara and Snapper about conspiracy theories and whether it’s the press’ responsibility to find the truth when people have already decided what they believe:
Kara: She told me on the record she didn’t do it.
Snapper: She said, she said. This town will need more than just a quote. Otherwise, it’s just another conspiracy theory for Twitter.
Kara: Well, I’ll keep digging, then.
Snapper: Your gumption annoys me to no end. But keep gumptioning for tomorrow’s cover.
Kara: Tomorrow? But that’ll be too late. By then, everyone will think she’s guilty already.
Snapper: Everyone will think she’s guilty today. Tomorrow’s another story.
Kara: But once it’s out there, it’s out there. People still think Macaulay Culkin’s dead. James, come on, you know we can’t print this.
James: I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I agree with Snapper, and I think you should, too.
What’s fascinating is that the public has the same bias against the Luthors that Lillian and her Project Cadmus followers have against aliens: Each believes that the group of people in question pose a danger to the planet, that individuals can be neither trusted nor redeemed because of the crimes of the whole. Lillian seems to have made her peace with this, as she tells Lena, “Even if they found out the truth about you, no one would change their mind. The public wants to believe the narrative they expect from us, that Luthors are evil. We don’t get second chances.”
Yet, interestingly, both biases revolve around Lex. Lillian clings to her belief that Lex could have changed the planet and saved it with his brilliance and his inventions, but that Superman twisted everyone’s opinion against him and—here’s the especially interesting defense—”drove him crazy defending himself.” So, she’s accusing Superman of gaslighting Lex Luthor (in as many words)?
And for all of her talk about mother/daughter bonding, the only thing she wants from Lena is Luthor blood, and the chance to carry on Lex’s plans. In the arsenal, she crows over Lex’s warsuit, an atomic axe, a black mercy, and some snazzy krypto-grenades that send Supergirl’s ears ringing when she swoops in to save the day. But the real threat is Metallo’s heart, which is a literal ticking time bomb; because the kryptonite is synthetic, it’s decaying at an alarming rate and will blow any minute.
But… didn’t we have a core reactor about to blow as last week’s big conflict? Sigh. The 100 does nuclear radiation/war/fallout so much better.
Surprise surprise, everyone makes it out before Metallo turns himself into a mushroom cloud: Lillian and Cyborg Superman run away without Lena (because that trope isn’t overplayed…), while J’onn J’onzz and Supergirl carry Lena to safety.
We don’t see Lena wake up, but she remembers Supergirl saying “Kara Danvers believes you,” a point she brings up the next time she and Kara have a professional-slash-personal hangout: Snapper Carr got his cover story, but it’s about Lena Luthor’s innocence, and not only do Lena and Kara share a warm hug, but Lena says, “Well, Supergirl may have saved me, but Kara Danvers, you are my hero.”
I have to believe that Lena is intelligent enough to put two-and-two together with how much Kara and Supergirl seem to influence one another’s actions, but she’s not broadcasting her suspicions the way Cat Grant did in season 1. Although we do end on the ominous shot of Lena picking up a chess piece, and the flashback of four-year-old Lena besting Lex at chess before she’s even taken off her backpack. Maybe Lillian does have a reason to feel some motherly pride…
- I wasn’t sure who didn’t know about Alex/Maggie at this point, but it was still sweet that Alex built it up into a bit “introducing my girlfriend to my friends” deal.
- “Of course I knew, I’m psychic.” Oh, J’onn, never stop being the best.
- And kudos, Mon-El, for learning “coulda shoulda woulda.”
- The Kara/Mon-El love story is a runaway train, so I could only roll my eyes at Kara’s big speech:
Kara: Last year I thought I could have it all, and then I thought I couldn’t, that I had to pick. So I chose being Supergirl over having a relationship. And then you came along and I thought you were thoughtless, and selfish, and I kept writing you off. And you kept proving me wrong. It just got me thinking… Maybe I can have it all.
- YOU SHOULD BE TELLING JAMES ALL THIS ARGH
- But this is the one time I didn’t mind Supergirl interrupting its own action with a cliffhanger—in this case, the appearance of Mister Mxyzptlk, “and I love you, Kara Danvers.”