Supergirl's 100th episode, "It's a Super Life," stepped back from the main action of the season and gave Kara the chance to try to repair her relationship with Lena through Mr. Mxyzptlk's particular brand of fifth-dimensional magic—along with multiple trips into the past. Although Kara had the best of intentions, with each change, the landscape actually became more and more bleak. (RIP, everyone?)
The hour starts with a flashback to an episode earlier this season, "Tremors," in which Lena and Kara have a faceoff in the Fortress of Solitude and the friends' relationship reaches a final (?) breaking point. Lena tells Kara, "I'm not a villain. You shouldn't have treated me like one." However, the results of each change Kara and Mixy make to the timeline might suggest otherwise.
In the one timeline shift that seems the most positive, Kara tells Lena the truth at the very start of their friendship. The two of them working together makes the world a much better place, but they're unable to stop other evil elements like Ben Lockwood from causing their own special brand of pain. Kara's rightfully distraught about how everything she does backfires—"It doesn't matter if I tell Lena the truth. It always makes things worse." But the worst timeline of all, Kara soon finds out, is the one in which she and Lena never had any sort of relationship at all.
Without Kara in her life, Lena's Luthor side eventually overwhelms her more rational side, and she becomes the worst kind of dictator: one who believes indelibly that what they're doing is right and just. The Lena of this timeline, who overcame her brother's murder attempt and her mother's betrayal, certainly seems villainous, especially when you look at her actions through the eyes of the "good" guys—and even more so when Kara nearly dies at Lena's hands. Mixy just barely saves everything in the literal nick of time. (The ominous red lighting in those scenes don't do much to dissuade this view, either.)
But is Lena ever truly a villain, even in the darkest timeline?
She's certainly single-minded, and she's deeply hurt by her perception that her friends and family have betrayed her time and time again. Kara's assertion that she only kept the truth from Lena out of a sense of protection doesn't resonate with Lena, particularly because she's a woman who believes so strongly in having agency in her own life—she would have liked to make that decision for herself, thank Kara very much! But Kara now knows that as much as Lena thinks that knowing all along would have been a good thing, it's really not. And there's never a time in their entire history as friends that it would have shifted things for the better.
Lena's a grey character, sure. We knew this from her previous actions (see: making Kryptonite and lying about it), and it was cemented in the various timelines we saw in this episode. But being a grey character doesn't make her evil. People are nuanced and make rash decisions. They learn from their mistakes and have to ask forgiveness when they make the wrong choices, even if it’s years later when they've finally realized that they were in the wrong. Broken hearts take some time to mend. Situations that seem like betrayals might be seen much differently in the long term. Being stubborn and retreating into oneself when hurt doesn't make anyone a villain—it just makes them more human. All of these aspects combine to make Lena a vastly more interesting character. If everything was black and white, she would be...well, her brother.
In the end, Kara turns to tough love, telling Lena that she's now accountable for her own actions. Kara's been punishing herself for what she thought she did wrong for so long, but she's realized through Mixy's intervention that regardless of what she does, Lena will still have issues to sort out—and that's on her. It's a hard pill to swallow—likely for the both of them—and when Kara says, "I will do everything in my power to stop you. Just like I would any other villain," my heart broke a little for what seems like the final nail in the coffin of their friendship. But Kara never said that Lena was a villain, just that certain actions might lead Supergirl to treat her like one.
As the saying goes, when you hit rock bottom, the only way left to go is up (up, and away). Lena's story isn't over yet, her place in history isn't set in stone. And there are few things more satisfying than a good redemption arc!
Let's hope there's one in Lena's—and our—future.
Supergirl airs Sundays at 9 p.m. (8 p.m. CST) on The CW. Be sure to visit our official Supergirl page for more news, features and articles on the Girl of Steel.
Mandy Curtis writes about comics, specifically DC’s Young Adult line, and TV for DCComics.com. You can find her on Twitter at @mandyannecurtis.