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Supergirl's Lena Luthor is Not a Villain (at Least, Not Yet)

Supergirl's Lena Luthor is Not a Villain (at Least,...

By Tim Beedle Thursday, November 28th, 2019

It was the moment Supergirl fans have been dreading. After seven episodes of quietly harboring her anger and resentment towards Kara, it all came out at the end of last week’s episode, “Tremors,” as Lena Luthor finally revealed her true feelings regarding Kara’s secret life as Supergirl. It was an inevitable confrontation, but that didn’t make it any less shocking or emotional, especially since prior to that moment, the episode had been filled with the sort of Lena/Kara camaraderie that fans of the pair have come to love.

Those moments feel like a thing of the past now, with Lena’s future looking particularly fraught. For four seasons, we’ve watched her resist her family’s influence, but she’s never seemed as Luthor-like as she does right now. “Tremors” ended with Lena leaving Kara trapped at the Fortress of Solitude as she returned to National City to work on Project Non Nocere. So, is this it for Lena? Has she officially become a villain?

While it may seem so, the question’s not so black and white. At least, not in the mind of Katie McGrath, the talented woman behind Supergirl’s most complex and compelling character.

“No, I don’t think she’s a villain,” she tells us when asked about Lena’s possible moral fall. “She’s not trying to hurt anybody. She’s not coming from a bad place. She’s trying to make sure that nobody ever feels like what she’s going through.”

And yet, to lean on two common expressions, all villains are heroes of their own story and the road to hell is paved with good intentions. It may be too soon to decide which side Lena will ultimately fall on, but this weekend’s episode—the final episode of Supergirl before December’s “Crisis on Infinite Earths” crossover—is likely to provide some pretty substantial hints. To prepare us, and perhaps to offer a little hope for Lena fans, we chatted with McGrath about where she sees her character at the moment, why Lena’s been making the choices she has and whether there’s any way her friendship with Kara can be repaired.

Lena has gone through a progression and change that most TV characters don’t. As an actor, what’s that been like?

What still blows my mind about Lena as a character and my involvement with Supergirl is that I only ever signed up to do three episodes. They hadn’t yet gotten the full scope of what they were going to do with Lena. So much of this has been learning as we go and realizing how integral a Luthor is to a Super-story. It’s difficult to tell a proper Super-story without a Luthor—so much so that they’ve now given us an extra one, which is very lovely of them, thank you!

I think what’s so wonderful in the way that I became involved is if you had told me the mantle and the weight of what it was that I was taking on, and the journey that Lena was going to go on, I don’t think I would have been able to do it. I couldn’t have wrapped my head around it. But because every season and every episode has been a baby step, I’ve never had to take a great mantle leap to get from where I started out with Lena to where she’s now ended up in season five. It was like taking little bites of the apple, and it was manageable.

I think, for me, I would have been so daunted by this amazing character trajectory of where they started her and all that they’re sending her through. I wouldn’t have had the confidence in myself as an actor that I could have done it justice. So, those little steps that I’ve been taking have kept me sane. I just deal with each episode as it comes rather then thinking about the vast, amazing trajectory that they’ve given the character. You just want to do it justice. You just want to get it right.

Is Lena at a turning point in her life right now?

Oh, for sure. But I don’t think Lena realizes that’s where she is, and that’s kind of the crux of her character at the moment. She’s on this precipice, but I don’t think she realizes how dangerous the point she’s at is. I think everything she’s doing right now is a very pure reaction. She’s running on pure emotion in finding out that Kara’s Supergirl and that she’s been lied to. There isn’t a huge time difference between season four and season five, and Lena is running on pure hurt. She hasn’t got the ability right now to be self-aware of what it is she’s doing, and to see that she’s in such a dangerous position for herself.

I think it’s very interesting from a viewer and actor’s point of view in that we can understand it. It’s so dangerous and so tenuous where she is, but for Lena, she has no clue about it because she’s all hurt and emotion right now. I think that came to a head in the last episode because there’s no way you could have that outpouring of hurt if you still didn’t really care.

Do you see Lena as a villain?

No. One hundred percent, I do not. I see her as an extremely hurt woman who is trying to do her best to take control of the pain that she feels. The pain feels so desperate for her right now because it’s not just being lied to by Kara. Imagine if you wake up one morning and you realize all of a sudden that everyone has secretly believed the worst thing about you. The thing that you’ve tried so hard to not be is the thing that everyone has always secretly believed and blamed you for. It’s your one fear realized and realized publicly. She’s in so much pain from that that everything she’s doing right now is just trying to manage that pain, so it doesn’t overwhelm her.

So, no, I don’t think she’s a villain. She’s not trying to hurt anybody. She’s not coming from a bad place. She’s trying to make sure that nobody ever feels like what she’s going through. She truly does believe she’s trying to help humanity. She believes she’s going to save them. She’s not a villain. Every time she’s faced with actually hurting someone, she can’t do it. So, she’s still fundamentally the Lena we all loved. Or at least, that I hoped you loved.

Recently, we’ve seen Lena take down Andrea Rojas and now Kara. Do you think that’s making her overconfident? I feel like she’s underestimating Leviathan.

I think she’s so caught up in her plan right now that she’s unable to see danger when it’s around her—danger of who she potentially might be becoming and danger of Leviathan or anybody around her. She is so focused on making the world a better place that I think you’re right, I don’t think she can see the danger that’s surrounding her so completely. I think there’s a slight element of self-confidence and hubris with her in that she believes she’s so capable. I mean, at this point we have to realize that Lena believes she’s the savior of humanity, and with that, there’s going to come a certain amount of cockiness. I mean, how can you not? She’s like, “How many times have I saved the world?”

She’s feeling good about her ability to save it again, and it’s making her a little blind.

I think it’s good that we get to see that side of her.

I think the best characters are the ones that are flawed. They’re fallible. It’s very difficult to play somebody who’s always good, always right and always says the right thing. We as humans aren’t like that. I think we empathize with characters that make mistakes. That’s what so great about Lena right now—how vulnerable she is and how human.

You mentioned the extra Luthor earlier. What was it like acting opposite of Jon Cryer last season?

There isn’t a scene that Jon Cryer doesn’t elevate from ordinary to sublime. I think he had a very tough job taking on Lex Luthor. It’s a difficult role. I don’t think people believed in him as much as he deserved, and he took it on and he blew everyone the f*ck away. It was like, “Oh, right? Well, here you go!”

The man is genius. It’s a master class being in a scene with him. He makes me a better Lena. One hundred percent. Having a living, breathing Lex in front of you, and having the role played by an actor the caliber of Jon Cryer makes me a better Lena. I am forever grateful to him for that.

Plus, he’s a really nice guy! And he’s the biggest DC fan as well. He’s so passionate about what he’s doing, and it makes you remember that this is a really big deal and we’re really lucky to be doing this. When you’re doing twenty-something episodes and you’re tired, you kind of forget. Then Jon comes in and he’s so passionate, and he’s Jon Cryer, and you’re like, “Oh yeah, this is kind of a big deal!”

Does the upcoming Crisis impact Lena in any way?

I can say that I’m in “Crisis,” does that help? That’s kind of all I can tell you. I’m going to let you tune in to see how. But you can’t be part of the Crisis and not have it impact you. I mean, it’s a Crisis on Infinite Earths. It’s going to have an effect.

Is there any way that Kara and Lena’s relationship can be repaired at this point? Is this friendship cooked?

We have to believe that it can be repaired. I think more than anything, last Sunday’s episode showed that Lena still cares and that Kara still cares. We know Kara does because she says it, but there is no way that Lena could have been that upset and destroyed if she still didn’t really care about Kara.  You know what I mean? To be that raw, emotional and open? That is somebody screaming for help. That’s someone screaming to be fixed. Showing that much emotion and that much of a breakdown. You don’t do that unless you want the other person to fix it. It’s a desperate cry for help. I think that’s where Lena’s at with her friendship with Kara. She’s been pretending that she’s all anger, but really, she’s all pain. And she’s all pain because she still cares about Kara.


“The Wrath of Rama Khan,” the final non-crossover episode of Supergirl to run this year, airs on Sunday, December 1 at 9 p.m. (8 p.m. CST). Be sure to visit our official Supergirl page for more news, features and articles on the Girl of Steel.