GEORGES SEGUIN/CC BY-SA 3.0 Katie McGrath's Lena Luthor is reminiscent of her Merlin character Morgana Pendragon.
Irish actress Katie McGrath joined the cast of Supergirl last season as Lena Luthor, sister of the infamous Superman villain. Lena moves to National City to rebrand her brother’s tech corporation as a force for good and soon befriends Supergirl/Kara Danvers (Melissa Benoist).
Lena and Kara’s relationship became an instant hit among fans, with some interpreting their relationship as sisterly and others as romantic, inspiring the ship “Supercorp.” Either way, Lena and Kara are undeniably close, except in one critical aspect. Lena still has no idea that Kara is Supergirl.
McGrath has said in multiple interviews that she actually likes the fact that Lena is still in the dark. McGrath argues that it both keeps the magic of the show alive and also allows Kara to be more vulnerable around Lena.
However, she also essentially confirmed in a recent Entertainment Weekly interview that Lena will ultimately head down a dark path and embrace her Luthor identity. McGrath believes her fall will result from a confluence of events as well as a “straw that breaks the camel’s back.”
I believe that straw will be Lena finding out that her friendship with Kara is built on a lie. If so, her trajectory could very well mirror that of Morgana Pendragon, a brave, kind and compassionate lady of Camelot turned villainous high priestess, who McGrath played on the BBC’s Merlin from 2008 to 2012. (Warning: spoilers)
Morgana grows up as the ward of King Uther of Camelot (Anthony Head), alongside Uther’s son Arthur (Bradley James). She has all the luxuries of afforded to members of the royal family, but she often feels like an outsider.
She constantly confronts Uther about his cruel authoritarian rule of the kingdom, most notably his persecution of people with magical abilities. She risks her life multiple times to save people he has sentenced to death, including her maid and best friend Guinevere (Angel Coulby), who is falsely accused of witchcraft.
Morgana and Gwen’s relationship is a highlight of season one and early season two. Unfortunately, they begin to grow apart because of deception. Gwen refuses to discuss her budding relationship with Arthur, and Morgana desperately tries to hide her horrifying discovery that she has magical abilities. It’s tragic and frustrating, because viewers know the pair would be so supportive of one another if they only knew the truth.
Instead, a terrified Morgana makes the fateful decision of turning to her friend Merlin (Colin Morgan) who, unbeknownst to almost everyone in Camelot, is a practicing magician. Merlin, like Kara, refuses to trust Morgana enough to tell her the truth, forcing her to turn to more malevolent sources for support, including her half-sister and fellow sorceress Morgause (Emilia Fox).
Morgause uses the opportunity to make her unwitting sister the vessel for a sleeping plague designed to cripple Camelot. Merlin learns the only ways to break the spell are to A) make Morgause undo it or B) kill the host: Morgana.
What Merlin stupidly doesn’t think of, which I’m still bitter about, is secret option C: tell Morgana the truth. I guarantee someone as selfless as Morgana would’ve tried to reason with her sister and, if necessary, would’ve willingly sacrificed herself to save Camelot’s citizens.
In the end, Merlin tricks Morgana into drinking poison. It saves the day in the short term. After Merlin reveals he used Hemlock, Morgause disappears into thin air, cradling her dying sister in her arms. When Morgana is found in the woods a year later, she is traumatized and turned against Camelot.
To make matters worse, she soon finds out that she is actually Uther’s illegitimate daughter, a fact he hid from her for fear of her threatening Arthur’s claim to the throne. Having suffered another betrayal, Morgana plans a coup against Uther Once she starts down that path, she never comes back, only growing darker and suffering more pain.
I’m not saying Morgana is not responsible for her later cruel and murderous actions. And she definitely had a dark side before Merlin’s betrayal, as evidenced by a previous plot to kill Uther. But in that case, she actually foiled it after a last-minute change of heart.
Morgana is never again offered a similar opportunity for redemption. Her former friends don’t even offer her a lifeline or confront her when they suspect she’s turning against them.
I’m fully aware that Merlin is based on Arthurian legend, in which Morgana is a decidedly villainous figure. But to put things in perspective, even Darth Vader, who is arguably the world’s most universally iconic villain, is given the chance to redeem himself.
If Morgana is evil for turning on those closest to her, why is Merlin still a hero after he tries to kill her? And since he poisons her because he doesn’t trust her, how is he any different from Uther, who kills magicians because he doesn’t trust them?
So how does this all relate to Lena? She too is adopted and grows up feeling like the black sheep of her family.
Like Morgana, she discovers in adulthood that she is actually her father’s bastard, and therefore a Luthor by blood. The reveal is a major blow to Lena, who’s spent years trying to convince everyone that she is different from her villainous family.
Kara and Lena’s business parter Sam (Odette Annable) always support Lena, even when she doesn’t believe in herself. She is incredibly grateful, frequently admitting that she’s never had friends before.
Her adoptive mother Lillian (Brenda Strong), on the other hand, always deceives Lena and uses her as a pawn for villainous pursuits, which ironically causes Lena to unwittingly seek support from another villain, Queen Rhea of Daxam (Teri Hatcher), who tricks Lena into catalyzing a Daxamite invasion of Earth.
Lena does also have a dark side of her own. She is forced to kill the love of her life Jack (Rahul Kohli), who was being mind-controlled, in order to save Supergirl. After that, she expresses a bitter desire for revenge, though not specifically against Supergirl.
In last week’s episode, local business mogul Morgan Edge (Adrian Pasdar) accuses Lena of poisoning children with a lead bomb she reluctantly built to force the Daxamites to leave Earth.
She had been confident that it would not harm humans, but the accusation sends her into a tailspin. She believes that, despite her best efforts, she may actually be the worst Luthor of all, having threatened the lives of children.
Kara and Sam refuse to give up on Lena and prove Edge was responsible for everything. Lena confronts Edge and tries to shoot him in cold blood but is thwarted by a blow to the head from Edge’s bodyguard. She remains without blood on her hands (Edge’s or the kids’) and, thanks to Kara and Sam’s support, is able to return to her normal bubbly self.
But as I see it, Lena is on the clock now. One day soon, she will turn to the dark side, and it will be largely Kara’s fault. Lena was devastated over losing the trust of strangers. I can only imagine the pain she’ll be in when she realizes she’s never even had the trust of her best friend: the one person she’s counted on to believe in her even when she couldn’t believe in herself.
Hopefully, Lena will ultimately get the chance at redemption Morgana was so unfairly denied, and Kara, unlike Merlin, will understand that she too has a wrong to atone for.