After six seasons and 126 episodes, Supergirl ended its run with mixed results when it comes to LGBTQ+ representation. While the finale included an interracial lesbian wedding and a beautiful love story for the show’s transgender character, the series left viewers wanting more from the two characters who've queerbaited viewers for the majority of the show.
When I first began watching Supergirl in the summer of 2017, it was a rough time for me. I had just graduated from college and moved to Washington D.C. without knowing many people. I had trouble making friends. To make matters worse, I was having multiple panic attacks a day, which in part, stemmed from some of the internalized homophobia I was facing in a new relationship.
But Supergirl was my respite. Most nights when I came home from work, I binged Supergirl. Watching Kara Danvers/Supergirl (Melissa Benoist) and her friends made me feel like I had my own set of friends — right there on television. Every time Supergirl gave one of her classic inspirational speeches, it gave me a little bit of hope that I would one day find a way to manage my anxiety.
When Kara’s sister Alex Danvers (Chyler Leigh) came out in season two, I felt something magical. Although Alex came out at 28, and I had come out in college about two years prior, there was something about Alex coming into her true self that resonated with me.
I related to the way she never expected to be queer, but when she figured it out, it just made sense. I was inspired by how she navigated life as a queer adult and how she overcame her internalized homophobia. And I loved how she pursued a relationship with Maggie Sawyer (Floriana Lima), although she was terrified. I looked at Alex as the queer adult I could be if I really worked towards it.
Seeing Alex and Maggie, or “Sanvers” as they were called, break up in season three was devastating because I loved their relationship so much. Little did I know that my queer heart would pine for another couple that was sitting onscreen on the series right in front of me.
Lena Luthor (Katie McGrath) entered Supergirl in season two and was only slated to appear in three episodes. She quickly became a pillar of the show — a villain Kara sought to unravel to prove that there is good inside everyone.
Not long after Lena’s arrival, an undercurrent of romantic chemistry between Lena and Kara sparked. It wasn’t all just the long-held gazes and Lena biting her lip when she looked at Kara, though that’s certainly part of it.
In an early interaction, Lena fills Kara’s office with flowers and tells Kara that she's her hero. In another episode, Lena cries on her couch about how worried she is about losing people and Kara says, “I will always protect you,” while practically cuddling with Lena. In season five, Supergirl flies to three countries (including Paris, the city of love) to pick up lunch for Lena, and then tells Lena that she's willing to break the law for her.
There are also some very clear Superman/Lois and Supergirl/Lena parallels, including one scene where Kara catches Lena mid-air, just like Superman does with Lois Lane in the classic ’70s film that starred Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder.
A central storyline in Supergirl’s fifth season focuses on Lena and Kara’s relationship, and the betrayal Lena feels when she discovers Kara is Supergirl and didn’t tell her. The 100th episode of the series, specifically, goes through all the scenarios in which Kara could have told Lena her truth. Talk about subtext.
Fast forward to November 2021, and Supergirl just aired its series finale. Throughout its run, the show was often a leader in LGBTQ+ representation. In the fourth season, Nicole Maines joined the cast as Nia Nal/Dreamer, the first transgender superhero on television (and one played by a trans actress). The writers seamlessly wove her identity into the story.
Also in season four, Azie Tesfai enters the ring as Alex Danvers’s love interest, Kelly Olsen, who delighted even Sanvers fans like me. Adding a layer of authenticity to her portrayal, last year, Leigh came out as part of the LGBTQ+ community. In her social media post, she credited playing the role of Alex Danvers as being crucial to her journey.
All of that is to say, the show and the cast have often been beacons for queer visibility. In some ways, the series finale did not disappoint. Alex and Kelly adopt a child and get married, which was a full-circle moment given that Alex and Maggie broke up because Alex wanted to be a mother. And Nia ends up with her love interest Brainy (Jesse Rath), giving our transgender superhero the happy ending she deserves.
But where was the romantic closure for Kara and Lena? This last season had plenty of breadcrumbs. Kara tells Lena that she protected her from losing herself. She also tells Lena that they are family. At various points during this season, Kara and Lena say to each other with raw romantic chemistry, “I believe in you.”
The series finale had a chance to make up for its mistakes: the queerbaiting of two characters that are so clearly meant to be. But the writers missed the mark. And they had their chance given the social media buzz and the think pieces about the couple that have circulated for years.
In the last few minutes of the final episode, Kara and Lena have a heart-to-heart about how Kara is afraid to live her truth as both Kara and Supergirl. Kara says that Lena is the one who has challenged her the most, and Lena tells her that Kara has made her a better person.
But the words “friends” and “friendship” are used in the scene to describe their relationship. And for that, I will always be disappointed.
Supergirl made so many queer strides, but at the end of the day, it didn’t go far enough. With so much romantic chemistry left unexplored, and after years of teasing viewers, people will inevitably be left wanting more.
Thankfully, I’ve learned from Supergirl herself that there is always hope. Even if it’s not written in the script, there’s no stopping us from dreaming.
Becca Damante is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Tagg magazine, GO Magazine, and The Advocate. Follow her on Twitter @beccadamante.