The last few days have been absolute garbage. You know that, I know that. I don’t mean to take away from the terrible things currently happening in America and the rest of the world. That’s truly the last thing I would ever want to do, but I think it’s important to focus on little positive things in whatever way you can, and I’d been planning on writing this before the nightmarish election results happened, so here I am, writing it.
Characters come-out onscreen. This isn’t new. Is it something that doesn’t happen often? Yes. Do we need more of it? Absolutely. Coming-out scenes for characters who are in the process of realising their queerness are just as important as the need for openly confident and out queer characters. Basically, we need more queer characters. But that isn’t news.
However, coming-out scenes often seem to take the form of the same kind of one-note trope. For the most part, these characters are in their teenage years, struggling with all the stresses that puberty, school, or college bring, only to also be attempting to navigate their own sexual discovery. And let me say that there is nothing wrong with this. This is something that endless queer teens go through, and the struggle to examine your own sexuality alongside the stresses of growing up is really, really hard. But, of course, this is not the reality for all queer individuals. There are many people who don’t realise that they may not be heterosexual until well into their adulthood. Not everybody realises in their teens, to then live out an adult life of self-awareness and self-acceptance. The representation for this on television is almost non-existent in comparison to high school/college coming out storylines. But boy, did Supergirl knock it out of the park on Monday night.
Alex Danvers, sister of main character Kara/Supergirl, had no romantic sub-plot throughout the duration of the first season. In fact, the show never even showed us any of her social life (the implication being that there was no social life for Alex) as she spent 95% of her time running around with the DEO, helping Supergirl & Co save the day episode after episode. A couple of times she flirted with human slimeball Maxwell Lord in order to gather intel, but beyond that: nada. And then, during the third episode of the show’s second season, in strolls Maggie Sawyer and, after one meeting, stoic Alex Danvers is gone. Like, a ‘bumbling wreck of a person every time Maggie so much as breathes the same air as her’ kind of gone. It’s great, you guys. (Also, totally understandable, Floriana Lima manages to make that NCPD uniform look good.) Many hoped for an Alex/Maggie romance following the news of Lima’s casting as canonically lesbian DC Detective Sawyer, and it was clear to queer viewers what direction the two would be taking after only their first scene together.
We get a fair amount of adult women on TV shows saying ‘I’ve always liked men, I just never thought about the possibility of also liking women.’ And this is fine, this is good! We desperately need more bisexual representation on TV, it’s just that so often when this happens with an established character, the word ‘bisexual’ is never uttered. It’s always ‘it’s complicated’ or ‘I like hot people.’ And Supergirl could easily have followed suit, having Alex realise she was attracted to more than one gender, and I’m sure, judging by the way this storyline is being treated thus far, we would have received respectful representation of that. But, instead, Supergirl did something unforeseeably impressive and took on perhaps the Biggest Bad of the show so far: compulsory heterosexuality.
After a few episodes of tentative flirting and Maggie’s girlfriend popping up, only to dump her the next episode, the two finally have ‘the talk.’ Alex is eager to spend time with Maggie and make her feel better about her breakup, when Maggie eyes her curiously and says, ‘I think I read you wrong…I didn’t know you were into girls.’ The Kill Bill sirens sound frantically inside Alex’s head, and she splutters a shaky ‘I’m not’ before proceeding to all but backflip out of that situation.
Throughout the rest of the episode it’s clear the conversation’s been on her mind, and she tries to talk to Kara during an uncharacteristic mid-day doughnut but, surprise surprise, Kara has people to save and Katie McGrath to stare longingly at. After Maggie gets shaken up by three bad guys basically combusting in front of her, Alex seeks her out in their regular bar to see how she’s doing. Maggie asks her why she’s there, and what follows is one of the most authentic and touching coming-out scenes in television history.
What’s amazing is that there’s no ‘my life was fine and I’ve realised I like girls too!’ or ‘I don’t like girls, it’s just you.’ Instead we see Alex admit that dating has always, always felt wrong, and she had resigned herself to the fact that maybe it never was going to be a pleasant thing for her. She didn’t like being intimate with guys, but decided that’s just how she was always going to feel, without ever considering that it could be, as Chyler Leigh does such a heart-rending job of stuttering, ‘that…that other…’ Because, when you first realise that you might not be straight, you don’t dive headfirst into waving a rainbow banner and saying, with complete sincerity, ‘I’m gay.’ You’re confused and reluctant and, frankly, have no idea what’s going on. And getting to watch Alex do just that onscreen was immensely powerful and refreshing. On the flip side, we have Maggie, who says in one of her first scenes that she’s known she was gay since she was young, feeling alienated growing up a ‘non-white girl, non-straight girl in Blue Springs, Nebraska,’ sitting opposite Alex and offering nothing beyond a comforting smile and a couple of tender ‘about what’s’ when Alex tells her there might be some truth to what she’d said previously. To watch a lesbian in her late-twenties come out whilst directly addressing the struggle of compulsory heterosexuality is beyond amazing, and for it to be one half of the show’s most beloved characters is even better.
Unsurprisingly, however, there have been reactions of wariness to this storyline. Following the worst year in TV history for the ‘Bury Your Gays’ trope, and Supergirl now airing on the same network as the show that killed off fan-favourite Lexa back in March, some people are reluctant to get invested, understandably so. But I think one of the best things about this storyline is that it isn’t done to create drama, or for shock-value, or for forced representation. It’s being done, as Executive Producer Andrew Kreisberg says in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, because ‘I want Alex to be happy.’ After a season of watching Alex feel like she’s always second-place, this is a storyline that is going to let Alex find happiness and go onto to experience life with a sense of inner-freedom that she didn’t know was possible. And, on top of that, Kreisberg had said, ‘It’s going to be funny, it’s going to be serious, it’s going to be romantic, it’s going to be heartbreaking. It’s going to be everything that any relationship that you see on TV, no matter what the gender, should and will be.’ WHICH IS AMAZING. Alex is the female lead, behind title character Kara, and taking into account the amount of screentime already dedicated to this storyline in only three episodes, I’d say that’s a good sign. Plus, with openly-gay producers Ali Adler and Greg Berlanti at the helm, as well as Lima’s Maggie signed on for the whole season as a regular, I’m going to let myself believe that this storyline will unfold in the way that we, as fans and as a community desperately in need of authentic, healthy representation, deserve.
Supergirl is a silly show, as my housemate and I like to yell at the screen whenever Kara narrowly avoids being revealed as Supergirl, or the bad guy reels off the most cringe-worthy dialogue imaginable mid-fight. But god, is it fun. It’s all bright colours and found-families and a superhero who may very well be the human (well, alien) equivalent of a puppy. But this show’s strength lies in its characters and their relationships with one another. Alex is set to come out to Kara in the next episode, and their relationship as sisters is absolutely the best thing about this show, so it’s bound to be wildly touching. Alex and Maggie are currently the driving romantic relationship of Supergirl, a show that doesn’t focus a whole lot on romance, and I have complete faith that their story is going to continue to be treated with the kind of respect and slow-burn that they deserve. And if that hasn’t made you feel any better, when asked about the BYG trope, Kreisberg said, ‘Well, they’re not dying, either of them, so we’re not really thinking about that right now.’
My fingers are crossed and my eyes are peeled, and I am more than ready for the next few episodes of this show, as we all watch Alex Danvers become the Big Damn Gay Hero we all need right now.