It’s been a little over a year since the downright awful spring of 2016 that saw many queer female characters killed on shows across the television landscape. Strides have certainly been made since that time, as we’re seeing more and more fans, writers and showrunners educate themselves on harmful tropes and pledge to do better. There are shows like Supergirl delivering stories of positive queer representation and change is slowly happening. However, despite the beacon of light that has been Alex’s (Chyler Leigh) coming out story, Supergirl may be in danger of treading on some seriously shaky ground when it comes to the relationship between two of its other female characters.
Throughout the second season, Kara Danvers (Melissa Benoist) and Lena Luthor (Katie McGrath) have been getting closer and closer to each other, in the process building a very strong friendship. Kara is someone who sees and sticks up for the person Lena is trying to be, as she proves to the world that she’s so much more than her last name. Meanwhile, Lena fills a void in Kara’s life that cannot be matched by her relationship with her sister or friendships with the likes of James (Mechad Brooks) or Winn (Jeremy Jordan). The friendship between the two women is just another example of Supergirldelivering complex and intelligent female characters to our TV screen. The only problem is, Kara and Lena are way more than just friends and Supergirl knows it.
By definition queerbaiting is an attempt by writers and creators to attract queer fans, all the while having no intention of consummating the queer relationship on screen. Some classic examples of this include Jane (Angie Harmon) and Maura (Sasha Alexander) on Rizzoli & Isles and the highly debated sexual/romantic tension between Castiel (Misha Collins) and Dean (Jensen Ackles) on Supernatural. During many of these relationships, the line between friends and lovers is blurred, so fans in the queer community begin to watch the show in hopes that the relationship will be taken to the next level. Of course, the harsh reality of queerbaiting is that the relationship never ascends to anything more than just friends.
Now, more than a year removed from the huge debacle that was Lexa’s death on The 100, avoiding queerbaiting seems like it should be one of the major rules in the TV writers’ playbook. On Supergirl the writers have never established Kara or Lena as anything other than straight. Kara is currently in a relationship with Mon-El (Chris Wood) and Lena was recently visited by an ex-boyfriend (Rahul Kohli). So why then does the friendship between the two women have all the makings of a budding romance? What purpose does that serve if not to pull viewers in?
Perhaps the larger question here is whether or not a show with queer characters can still queerbait? As previously mentioned, Supergirl has delivered one of the most positive stories of queer representation on screen this season with Alex coming out and her subsequent relationship with Maggie (Floriana Lima). Sanvers is an established queer couple and the show has certainly proved to be an ally of the queer community, capable of treating stories with the love and respect they deserve.
The writers certainly seem to have done their homework and have taken great care in crafting Alex’s storyline this season. That same care, thoughtfulness and research should then translate into the writers’ responsibility to be upfront and not enter queerbaiting territory with Lena and Kara, AKA Supercorp. Due to the still-lacking representation of queer relationships on television, the LGBT+ community will always be looking for subtle hints in on-screen relationships. Kara and Lena not only have moments of gay subtext, but their scenes seem to shout it from the rooftops.
Now, one could certainly argue that the reason it’s easy to read into the friendship between the pair is that McGrath and Benoist just have insane chemistry together and that’s what is jumping out off the screen. After watching McGrath in several different projects it’s easy to dismiss and subscribe to the theory that “it’s just Katie McGrath and that woman has chemistry with everyone!” While valid, that does not explain the way Benoist’s Kara reacts to Lena in scenes. Chemistry also doesn’t remove blame from the show’s writers or directors that are putting the characters in questionable situations or seeing scenes played out in a manner that suggests deeper feelings could be had.
Whether it’s the flustered giggling that Kara did after Lena told her ex Jack that Kara is “one of the best reporters in National City” in “Ace Reporter,” or the longing look that Kara gave Lena after their lunch date in the recent “City of Lost Children,” it’s evident that Kara’s reactions are not typical for people that are “just friends.” In fact, one of the biggest problems I have with the way these scenes are played out is that if Lena were a man, everyone from fans, the media and the stars themselves would probably be touting the character as a love interest.
Instead, on more than one occasion, the show insists what good friends the two women are through blatant character remarks. However, Kara looks and acts with Lena in many of the same ways she did with James in Season 1 when he was indeed the object of her affection. These moments become even more perplexing when juxtaposed with the way Kara acts around Mon-El, her current boyfriend, with whom she never seems to be prone to fits of flustered, school girl giggles when he’s in her presence.
Part of this really pains me to write because I really do appreciate the fact that Supergirl is attempting to give us a fully fleshed out friendship between two female characters. We always need more of those on screen and in many ways this one in particular is important. Neither Kara nor Lena have close female friends in their lives and that’s a relationship that is very vital for any woman. These are also just scenes between women that we need on television as they routinely pass the Bechdel Test and give us women talking about not only their lives, but science and saving the world too, never with any mention of a man.
While I adore the Kara and Lena friendship and what the writers are attempting to deliver, there’s just something extra to their scenes that at this point the writers have to be aware of its implications. At first, even though I still quite believe it’d be impossible given everything with The 100 last year, the writers could be given a pass. You never know how scenes are going to play out until you get them in the actors’ hands, and I’m not certain anyone could’ve accounted for the chemistry oozing out of those Benoist and McGrath interactions. But once that was made clear, and the fact that many fans were starting to become invested in the pair as more than friends, that’s when the writers’ responsibility comes into play.
It’s no question that Supercorp has started to become a thing that many fans are hoping comes to fruition. Writers, if you have no intention on ever following through, then please realize the responsibility you now have. Knowing that fans are wishing for something more than just friendship between Kara and Lena, it’s up to Supergirl to not mislead or raise those hopes in an unrealistic manner. If they truly have no intention of having Kara and Lena’s relationship ever escalate beyond friendship then they need to start paying attention to the subtext happening in their scenes.
It’s not hard to find examples on TV today of female friendship done right. One of the cornerstone relationships on Orange is the New Black involves the friendship between Taystee (Danielle Brooks) and Poussey (Samira Wiley). The show delivers a complicated, sometimes strained, but unwavering bond that is never questioned or made out to be anything other than friendship. Even when Poussey, who is gay, wanted something more, Taystee quickly made it clear that was not going to happen. Elsewhere, Parks and Recreation’s Leslie (Amy Poehler) had Lena’s tendency to shower her best friend Ann (Rashida Jones) with compliments, but Ann never seemed to end up in the giggly fits that Kara is prone to breaking out in. Grey’s Anatomy even proved with Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) and Cristina (Sandra Oh) that friends can be your person, your soulmate, without giving off an added layer of romantic tension in the process.
So all I’m asking is take heed, Supergirl. You’re doing so many things right and you’re a show I love having on the air. You constantly prove that women are badass, intelligent, powerful creatures capable of rescuing themselves, that love is love no matter how it finds you and that sometimes your found family can be just as important and powerful as the one you were born into.
While you’re doing all those things right, please proceed with caution when it comes to Kara and Lena. There’s a huge portion of your fandom that has expectations about this relationship, and if not managed correctly you could cause a lot of pain in the end. Only you know what the future holds for this pair, so in the meantime all I ask is that you be considerate, take care and tread lightly. For it only takes a few small missteps to end up in queerbaiting territory and you really are so much better than that.
What do you think of Kara and Lena’s relationship? Add your thoughts in the comments below!
Supergirl airs Mondays at 8 p.m. ET on Showcase and The CW.
Editor in Chief Bridget Liszewski comes from a long line of TV Junkies who fostered her love of television from a very young age. She's channeled that passion into covering both US and Canadian television shows, and is thankful everyday for the invention of the DVR. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame, she loves college football and is a fan of sports in general. Bridget is always up for talking TV and you can follow her on twitter at @BridgetOnTV.