The CW’s Supergirl is a superhero series that’s largely based on relationships. Sure, Kara Zor-El’s desire to protect Earth from those who want to cause it harm is a big part of Supergirl’s mission statement. But it’s the connections between the characters at its center that have always driven the series’ story—whether that’s Kara and Alex’s sisterly bond, her mentor relationship with J’onn or her romance with Mon-El.
But one of the series’ most important and largely unexpected relationships is between Kara and her best friend, Lena Luthor. Yes, that Luthor. Sister of Lex, daughter of Lillian, and scion of the family that traditionally exists to be devoted adversaries of the House of El.
In a different world, Kara and Lena would have been instant enemies, at one another’s throats constantly as they continued the long-simmering feud between their families. On a different show, the two women might have been frenemies at best, offering grudging admiration for one another even as each worked to thwart the other’s ambitions. On this one, they’re none of those things, and this choice illustrates a big part of the reason Supergirl is one of the strongest, most emotionally-complex shows on The CW. Particularly when it comes to female characters.
Rather than place Lena and Kara into immediate conflict with one another, the show chooses a different path. Instead, it spends entire seasons developing a rich, meaningful relationship between the two women, with all the heart and occasionally awkward messiness that comes along with it. And on a network that’s not always great at portraying female friendships—Arrow only just figured out how to build actual relationships between its various leading ladies in Season 7—this is certainly no small thing.
On the whole, Lena and Kara’s BFF status feels real, genuine and completely earned. They’re friends who discuss everything from jobs to boyfriends, who cheer each other up when they’re down, and who drag one another to spin class simply to spend time together. They have group game night and regular wine dates for no reason other than they can. They get jealous over stupid things and hurt one another’s feelings without meaning to.
Basically: Every woman watching Supergirl recognizes what Lena and Kara have in one another. Because we have someone just like that in our own lives, too.
What sets this relationship apart, however, is that it must exist in the shadow of Kara’s gigantic Supergirl-shaped secret, and the tension that naturally adds to every scene these two women share. Because no matter how much Kara might claim to love and care about Lena, it’s hard to justify the fact that she’s kept her true identity from her supposed best friend for literal years. Sure, we have a basic idea about why Kara’s done so—insert standard CW superhero speech about protecting loved ones from the dangers of their lives here—but it is difficult to believe that she’s felt completely okay with keeping the truth from her for quite this long.
Especially given how many others already know the secret of her alter ego, Kara’s decision has often felt like a manufactured plot necessity rather than a genuine desire to continue withholding the information from Lena. (And, to be honest, I could have done with seeing some more guilt over the whole situation from her over the past few seasons, too.) True, Kara doesn’t owe Lena—or anyone, for that matter—her secret, but when third-tier characters somehow know the truth, but not the woman she insists is her best friend, it’s more than a bit odd.
Luckily, now that the series has decided that it’s finally time for the truth to be revealed, it’s taking a suitably nuanced approach to this secret’s fallout. Given the thoughtful way Supergirl has handled Lena and Kara’s relationship to date, it probably shouldn’t come as such a surprise, but it’s hard to put in words what a relief it is for those of us who love these characters and this pairing. Let’s be real: When Lena discovered Kara’s identity at the end of Season 4, most of us immediately assumed she’d confront her friend with the truth, and there’d probably be some yelling and a messy friend break-up pretty quickly. But that isn’t what happens at all.
Instead, the story progresses in a way that —at least so far—honors the very real underpinnings of Lena’s anger and reaffirms how much Kara truly does both care about her friend and regret what she’s done. Her sudden and surprise decision to confess to Lena before her Pulitzer ceremony is heartbreaking in its emotion and sincerity, and the scene plays out nothing like the way we all thought this moment would go. The way Kara just blurts the truth out feels both raw and real, as does Lena’s reaction to her words, particularly since she already was so convinced Kara would never tell her the truth that she was planning to expose her identity as a weird form of payback.
Lena’s decision to keep Kara’s secret—though ultimately explained away as a chess move in a larger revenge plot—feels genuine as well, as though she simply couldn’t bear the thought of repaying such a long-awaited moment of honesty with that steep of a betrayal. The clever twist of upending Lena’s revenge plans by having Kara tell her the truth before she can execute it cuts off what would otherwise be a predictable story at its knees. And it gives both women a much-deserved moment of emotional honesty together, while also setting the stage for further conflicts to come.
During Kara’s (admittedly very moving and heartfelt) apology, both women are visibly upset and in tears. It’s easy to see that they both care about one another very deeply, and even if Lena still does want to punish her former bestie, you can see through every ounce of Katie McGrath’s performance that some part of Lena wants to keep right on loving Kara too. It’s rare that television—particularly superhero television—depicts female friendships with this sort of complexity and messiness. But that’s precisely the sort of story Supergirl sets up for the rest of the season, and it’s one I can’t wait to watch every minute of going forward.
Now it’s Lena who’s keeping a secret, and it’s legitimately terrible if also sort of understandable. Not her idea to use Supergirl for her own to be determined selfish ends, of course, but the fact that despite Kara’s very sincere regret, Lena’s not ready to forgive her yet. And maybe she won’t ever be. She might not even know how to begin to do so. Because, to be fair, Lena’s anger is more than justified. Kara’s been lying to her for years, through countless dangers and stupid excuses for why she suddenly had to leave in the middle of a yoga class. And she’s kept right on lying to her, even in the face of Lena’s own not very subtle needling on the subject. Until she didn’t. Is that enough? Can any apology, no matter how heartfelt or well-intentioned, make all of that go away? And even if it could, how do you rebuild a relationship that was always built on a lie?
Those are the issues Supergirl Season 5 must wrestle with, as it figures out what the friendship between Lena and Kara will look like going forward. To be honest, it’s past time the series really delved into the relationship between these two, and if the premiere is any indication, it’s prepared to do so honestly and in a way that fully honors both the genuine emotion and complex motivations between them. Bring it on.