As the second season of “Supergirl” marches on, the series continues to focus on, well, pretty much everyone but Kara Danvers. That’s not to say that “Luthors” doesn’t spend the bulk of its time with Kara. More importantly, this remains an ensemble show that’s anchored with charm and no small amount of skill by Melissa Benoist, who lights up nearly every scene in which she appears. Still, “Supergirl” seems to be spending a lot of time making Supergirl somehow its lead and a supporting character all at once, and “Luthors” is no exception.
That’s also not to say that it doesn’t sometimes work. “Luthors” is the strongest “Supergirl” outing since the season two premiere, a focused, efficient and dark hour that still makes time for a few quick bursts of fun. The big focus here is the Luthors, as you might have guessed by the title. It’s a chance for Katie McGrath to show her stuff. Boy, does she ever. She’s joined in this by Brenda Strong, who was compelling as a vague but menacing villain but is far more interesting here. That’s thanks in no small part to episode writers Robert Rovner and Cindy Lichtman, who give Strong, a veteran television actor with serious chops, plenty to do.
For what feels like a fairly twisty-turny hour, the “Luthors” plot is fairly straightforward: Metallo, called to the witness stand during Lillian Luthor’s trial, takes the opportunity to blast the prosecutor with his freshly re-powered Kryponite heart, creating chaos and allowing Lena to escape in his company. Footage later seems to show that the Kryptonite he used was stolen by Lena Luthor, but Kara can’t believe her friend would do such a thing. Lena is arrested, promptly broken out of prison by Metallo, and no one but Kara thinks there’s even a chance she’s innocent. Chaos ensues.
It’s a suspenseful enough plot, but the real meat of “The Luthors” comes in the form of its themes. This is an hour that dives into trust and how it’s gained or broken, and what one’s background says to others. It’s about how your past can define you, even to yourself. Somehow that theme manages to link Lena’s story with Kara’s ongoing will-they-won’t-they with Mon-El, and that’s no small feat. The assumptions we make about people, the show seems to say, cloud our ability to see the truth of things, and faith in those you care for is of enormous value.
Yet there’s still a twist on the horizon. After Metallo’s new Kryptonite power source — stolen by the real Hank Henshaw, not Lena — is proven to be unstable, Kara has to fly to the secret Luthor airplane hangar/armory to which Lillian has spirited her daughter. As Lillian revealed earlier in the episode, the adopted Lena is actually her father’s biological daughter, the product of an extramarital affair. That’s why, Lillian explains, she’s always been so distant from her daughter. It’s also why she’s being nice now — the hangar’s armory (complete with Power Suit!) can only be accessed by someone with Luthor DNA.
It’s a raw deal, and McGrath handles the storyline with no small amount of grace and guts. There’s a palpable longing for closeness in her scenes, a wish she seems to resent that she could have a real family after all. Despite her anger at being framed and then kidnapped by her own mother, you can tell Lena wants to believe this newfound affection is real. The revelation that it’s all just another manipulation hits her hard, and McGrath sells the hell out of that moment.
She also nails the episode’s single most enigmatic moment. Lena gets a warm and fuzzy reunion with Kara, thanking her for her role in saving her (as Supergirl mentioned that Kara Danvers was the reason she was there). Afterwards, however, there’s an odd moment with a chess set and a flashback to playing the game with Lex. McGrath’s face is inscrutable here, but the implication is clear: there’s something about Lena that we don’t yet know, and her experience with her mother, Metallo and Supergirl hasn’t made her any happier.
Elsewhere, “Supergirl” lets a few other relationships develop. Kara and James make nice after James gets his butt kicked by Metallo and admits he was wrong about Lena, but they obviously still have some work ahead. Alex introduces Maggie to the gang, something that bewilders Mon-El, as he can tell the pair seems a bit nervous. (They’re more forward-thinking on Daxam.) Most importantly, Kara has a minor meltdown about Mon-El dating Eve, which spirals in a new direction when she learns that they’re not dating — the first date was terrible because, according to eve, “Mike” wouldn’t shut up about Kara.
It leads to a pair of scenes in which Mon-El, struggling with social cues that might perplex even earthling men, urges Kara to tell him why she’s so angry when she doesn’t like him. The answer, of course, is that she does, and they lean in for a smooch — right before Mr. Mxyzptlk shows up. Hijinks, one assumes, will ensue.
Overall, it’s a strong outing for “Supergirl,” and a great set-up for whatever comes next for the Luthors. In Brenda Strong and Katie McGrath, the “Supergirl” team struck gold, and whatever comes next, you can bet it won’t be the least bit boring.
Airing Mondays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on The CW, “Supergirl” stars Melissa Benoist, Mehcad Brooks, Chyler Leigh, Jeremy Jordan, David Harewood and Chris Wood.