Ever since Lena Luthor was introduced as a character in Supergirl Season 2, episodes focusing on her have been some of my absolute favorite hours ever of the series. There’s a depth to Lena that I’ve always found compelling, as she battles against the dark nature of her family with her more altruistic actions. Whenever the spotlight is put on her, it usually leads to some pretty marvelous television from Supergirl, and while tonight’s installment, “Damage,” might not be an all-time great episode, it still succeeds in many ways and features another terrific performance from Katie McGrath, who is always at her best when Lena is facing the worst.
The vulnerability that McGrath brings to the role of Lena is on full display throughout “Damage.” Lena deals with both inner turmoil and physical danger this week when Morgan Edge publicly insinuates that her lead bomb from the Season 2 finale, which was used to force the invading Daxamites off Earth, has caused children throughout the city to suffer from lead poisoning. At first, Lena refuses to believe Edge’s claim, thinking instead that he must be conspiring against her in some way, but after an angry parent fires multiple shots at Lena during her press conference (one of those shots hitting James in the arm), she begins to consider the worst: What if she really is responsible for harming all of these kids?
It’s an act so heinous that not even Lex himself would have done it, Lena drunkenly tells Kara in the episode’s pivotal moment, in which Lena, at her ultimate low point, tells Kara to stop believing in her. “In the real world, my last name’s Bin Laden, and everything I do hurts people,” Lena says. It’s a similar conflict that we’ve seen her deal with before; however, it’s a more layered, nuanced issue in “Damage” than it has been before on Supergirl. In this week’s episode, Lena isn’t just struggling with the idea of whether she’s a bad person or not; she knows her intentions for the bomb were good. Instead, she is struggling with the question of if she is even capable of performing good deeds without having negative consequences; if the actions she takes with the best intentions still have horrific outcomes, then what’s the point of even trying?
Fortunately, Lena has some pretty great friends in Kara and Sam, two people who won’t give up on her even when she gives up on herself. The two of them ultimately discover the link between the poisoned kids and figure out that it was Edge who was behind poisoning them, not Lena. That’s when the most interesting turn in the episode happens, as Lena learns the news and instead of using it as a reaffirmation that she’s a good human being, she instead takes the information and acts on it in the most Luthor way possible: by confronting Edge with a gun. “I’m thinking like a Luthor,” she says to him before his crony knocks her out.
This dichotomy (Good Lena vs. Bad Lena) remains incredibly fertile ground for Supergirl to explore throughout this third season and even beyond. As I mentioned above, Katie McGrath is excellent at playing Lena when her guard is down, but she’s also just as powerful when Lena is embracing her Luthor roots and embodying her darker side. Although I have seen some people cite Lena’s switching back and forth as inconsistent characterization, I strongly disagreement with that assessment. This internal competition between light and darkness is what Lena’s journey is all about; we love to watch her because we want to see her rise above the Luthor attitudes that had been instilled in her from a young age, but we also empathize with her when she falls back into those old, more familiar behaviors. There’s a realism and relatability there that wouldn’t exist if Lena made the right and moral decision in every situation she found herself in. When villains push against her, she typically pushes back in the same diabolical ways because she won’t stand for anyone that threatens her and her friends and, similar to Edge, she believes that you need to fight fire with fire in order to protect them.
But that’s not how Supergirl fights, which is why Kara only confronts Edge but doesn’t harm him after she rescues Lena (in a particularly awesome plane sequence that I’ll talk more about below). The most striking part of their entire exchange, though, is how Edge shows no fear at all in the face of Supergirl. Call it arrogance or call it idiocy, but he comes off as someone who believes the two of them are equals, an idea he makes clear when he threatens her (without technically threatening her) by hypothetically discussing what he would do if the two of them were enemies. While part of me is a little disappointed in the fact that there’s virtually no humanity or nuance at all to Edge’s character, I am excited by the prospect of Supergirl having another human villain to go up against Kara, similar to Lillian Luthor last season and Maxwell Lord in Season 1. It also helps that, like Lillian with Lena and Lord with both Alex and Cat Grant, Edge has a human adversary as well that he can play off of, ensuring that whatever evil actions he takes next will involve more characters than just Kara rallying against him; you can certainly bet that Lena will have some type of response to Edge’s next move, especially since he was more than willing to murder her in tonight’s episode.
But neither the nail-biting action of Kara’s plane rescue nor the deceptive scheme of Morgan Edge is the most dramatic or emotionally powerful part of “Damage”; that honor goes to the expected but still heart-wrenching break-up between Alex and Maggie. Supergirl fans have been awaiting this split ever since it was revealed back in May that Floriana Lima would not be returning as a series regular, and while I can understand if some viewers are still sad or angry about the break-up, I think you also have to give the Supergirl writers credit for crafting a beautiful farewell episode to the couple and for handling their parting in a mature, believable way.
Perhaps the most admirable part about the writing of Alex and Maggie’s break-up is that no one is made to look like the bad guy; neither of them are at fault for the two of them going separate ways. While the two of them lie in bed, after sleeping together one last time, Alex eloquently explains to Maggie that being a mother is a part of her identity, and that she’s known and recognized that it’s something she’s wanted for as long as she can remember; to deny herself of it would be like taking away a piece of herself. Similarly, though, Maggie has been very open and honest with Alex that all she has ever needed and will ever need is her; she, and she alone, is enough for Maggie, and she can’t see that ever changing.
The love between the two of them is still strong and real, but they also understand that love can’t force them to deny the people who they truly are. This conflict isn’t something that will just fade away with time, and they both deserve to be with someone who wants the same things. However, their decision to end their relationship also doesn’t negate what it has meant and will continue to mean to both of them, which is why it’s so important that Alex and Maggie share those final words with each other. Alex thanks Maggie for helping her learn to be happy and accepting of her true self (“I never would have gotten here without you,” she tells her), while Maggie says how grateful she is for having Alex in her life and that, because of her, she is now a stronger person. Even though Alex and Maggie can’t be together, they’re still better people because of their relationship, and no matter who or what awaits them in their future, they’ll be ready for it because of the love they shared together.
But before Alex can deal with her future, she and Kara will take a trip back to the past, if the ending scene between them is any indication. Kara meets her sister at the bar and tells her to pack a bag because they’re headed home, and while this trip should be a time for Alex to start healing, I’m also hoping it’s an opportunity to explore the sisters’ history together. Maybe the key to both Danvers sisters dealing with their losses is in the past, and maybe next week’s episode will finally have them find it.
- James is injured by one of the shots fired at Lena at the press conference, but Sam takes a bullet without getting a scratch on her. Seems like whatever powers she has are growing even stronger, which makes sense since she’ll be looking like this pretty soon.
- And speaking of James, they are definitely setting up a romance between him and Lena. Did you feel those sparks? Did you see those looks on their faces? This is happening people, and I’m actually kind of excited about it and also very curious about how Kara will react to it when it happens.
- “Damage” was directed by Kevin Smith, and it’s the third Supergirl episode he’s directed and his fifth DCTV episode overall (he’s also helmed two for The Flash). I absolutely loved how Smith staged and filmed the plane sequence near the end of the episode; he made everything feel grand and epic, even though the only two people in peril were Kara and Lena. However, what really impressed me was how well-done all of the more emotional scenes in “Damage” were, from Lena’s breakdown to Alex and Maggie’s tearful goodbye. Not only did Smith get really strong performances out of the actors, but he also used the right shots and angles to get the most emotion out of every conversation. Really nice work.
- It’s only eight-seconds long, but this short teaser promo for the two-night, Crisis On Earth-X crossover got me SO pumped up, you guys. I can’t wait.
- “See ya around, Danvers….You’re going to be a great mom.”
What did everyone else think about this week’s episode of Supergirl? Comment below and let me know.
[Photo credit: Jeff Weddell/The CW]