Katie McGrath’s Lena Luthor, sister of infamous and unstoppable Superman villain Lex Luthor and step-daughter of the almost-as-heinous Lillian Luthor, is one of the most complex characters on Supergirl (and just on television, in general).
Lena Luthor on Supergirl is, or *spoiler alert* was, one of Kara’s best friends, and one of the only people to be kept out of the loop on the secret. Despite knowing what Lena’s past held and of her major trust issues, Kara decided to keep her identity a secret for their three-year friendship, afraid of the consequences if she revealed her other side to Lena, who had often been at odds with Supergirl.
Many of Lena’s actions on Supergirl season 5 are being criticized (and rightfully so, to an extent), but more often than not, this criticism comes without an understanding of the many complexities to each thought she has that drives her actions forward. It’s so much deeper than just screaming “Lena Luthor is a villain!” into the void.
Before we dive into what makes Lena Luthor such a complex and layered character story-wise, it’s important to note that much of what makes me believe Lena isn’t a villain is Katie McGrath’s portrayal of her. With each scene, there are so many layers of Lena contemplating what she’s doing, how this will impact people, and how it’ll hurt those she loves (despite, in some ways, wanting to do so because of her own heartbreak).
On Supergirl season 5, episode 3, Lena asks Kara as Supergirl to do a task for her — breaking Lex’s journals out of a government facility — under the rouse that she’s having nightmares and will use them to calm herself. In reality, it’s to get more insight on Lex’s past research to use it for her own.
As soon as Lena asks Kara, she looks very pained and conflicted by her decision to follow through on this plan, thanks to McGrath’s performance. It easily could have come across very one-note, as Lena Luthor is too far gone to be saved. But McGrath is adding in the necessary elements to make it clear that Lena, as long as she doesn’t go too far down the rabbit hole, is (in my opinion) redeemable.
Lena Luthor’s hard-knock life
Where to begin with all of the trauma Lena has experienced in her life? First, let’s begin with the fact that she watched her mother drown when she was only four years old. The one good person she could have had in her life died, right in front of her, and Lena was sent to live with her (unbeknownst to her at the time) father, adoptive mother, and half-brother AKA the most evil family in the world.
Throughout her life, Lena has actively learned not to trust anyone because of the type of people she grew up with. Lex and Lillian are two of the absolute worst, morally corrupt people on Earth, so it’s amazing that Lena turned out how she did at all. Perhaps it’s partially because she thought she was adopted until Supergirl season 2, but it’s also because she’s just not like them.
When Lena learned of Kara’s betrayal, too many emotions to describe would have gone through her head. Betrayal, heartbreak, sadness, rage… you name it, Lena probably felt it. After being disappointed by her best friend and chosen family (who had all kept the secret from her too, except Kelly), Lena snapped. She’d been let down and betrayed one too many times. Of all people, Kara should have known how the secret would hurt Lena, and it was just another person letting her down and proving that she’s “right” not to trust anyone.
Crossing a line
Personally, I don’t think Lena has ill intentions with her plan on Supergirl season 5, other than to use Kara to help her achieve it. Do I think it’s right? Absolutely not. But I think Lena’s mind is so warped by everything she’s feeling (and the emotions she’s avoiding) and the trauma she’s experiencing in her life that she’s not seeing clearly.
And, technically, Lena hasn’t actually done anything to hurt Kara so far (despite wanting to expose her identity on Supergirl season 5, episode 1).
As of now, Lena hasn’t crossed a line she can never come back from. Yes, she shot Lex, but c’mon, Lex was an absolutely monster. It’s not like other heroes have never killed to save others. Look at Oliver Queen on Arrow. (It’s also probable that the Monitor brought Lex back to life.)
And yes, she had her creepy version of Alexa, Hope, plug in to Eve’s body and take control, but Eve was also kind of a monster. She lied to Lena and company for years, shot James, and would have killed Lena if Lex gave her the word. Eve will, obviously, regain control over her body at some point, so it’s not even a permanent issue. It’s about the equivalent to (maybe just a little bit worse than) Kara locking up Maxwell Lord in the DEO on Supergirl season 1.
She’s not a villain… yet
It’s not fair to look at Lena Luthor’s actions blindly and call her a villain solely because of what she’s doing on Supergirl season 5. It undermines many seasons of story building up to this, and turns fans against Lena when the story is obviously trying to show how much she’s hurting because of how she wants to “help” humanity.
Lena is hurt and, like any Luthor, expressing her emotions in the wrong way. But let’s not forget that Lena has always tried to help people. She saved the world from the Daxamites, tried to help Sam get rid of Reign to protect the city and her friend, and has created new technology in past seasons meant to enrich the world.
I think, in her mind, Lena genuinely believes that what she is doing is for good. Her vendetta against Kara/Supergirl seems to be gone after Kara confessed her secret (albeit too late), and now she’s just taking advantage of knowing who Supergirl is and how Kara feels (and what Kara would do for their friendship).
Supergirl airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on The CW!