While it's difficult to deny that the second season of Supergirl has been an overall improvement on the first, in a variety of ways, it has still had its issues. The 'Cadmus' story-line which had initially set the events of the second season in motion just hasn't been terribly compelling, overall – and, the villainous figure at the centre of it all, Lillian Luthor, has rarely been able to come across as anything more than a fairly generic villain. On the other hand, though, it is directly through Lillian's action that we have two equally imposing minor villains, in the form of Metallo and the Cyborg Superman. Also, while Lillian Luthor hasn't been terribly compelling on her own, those scenes shared with her adopted daughter, Lena, have made for some genuinely great drama.
While all of these various plot-threads have been set to one side, since the series returned from its mid-season break, they are all brought back to the spot-light with the season's twelfth episode. With the attention turned to the trial of Lillian Luthor, is seemed like the perfect opportunity for an escape attempt – as Metallo, brought in to act as a witness, reveals that he has, somewhat, managed to get his hands on some synthetic kryptonite. With the two now on the run, though, it seems that all evidence points toward Lena Luthor as the one to instigate the whole thing – especially when the police uncover a convenient video which clearly shows Lena handling the glowing green rock.
The central question that the episode asks is, of course, whether Kara is actually right to put so much faith in Lena Luthor. While her friends and allies are very quick to assume the worst about her, and are clearly suffering from a very overt 'anti-Luthor' bias, Kara is entirely convinced that the woman she has come to think of as a friend can be trusted. James might be quick to point out the fact that Clarke and Lex were, also, once close friends – but, this obviously isn't going to be enough to convince Kara. Even actual, and very compelling, evidence of Lena's role in Metallo's escape from prison doesn't do much to sway her faith – with Kara immediately (and correctly, it turns out) assuming that the video evidence is fake.
Rather than attempting to establish any sense of genuine uncertainty about Lena, though, the episode seems to go out of its way to reward Kara's faith in her friend. With constant cut-aways to scenes of Lena's protests, and her anger at her mother (along with the ultimate reveal that Lena, as Lionel illegitimate daughter from an affair, is the only one capable of opening on of Lex's many secret vaults of alien-killing weaponry) all serves to clearly establish that she is very much a victim of her adopted mother's continued attempts to coerce and manipulate her, rather than a willing participant.
From the very beginning of the episode, it feels obvious that the audience was never actually meant to assume that there might be any villainous intent in Lena Luthor. It all seems fairly straight-forward, actually. But, then, the episode comes to an end with a scene featuring some fairly heavy-handed chess symbolism clearly meant to imply that Lena Luthor might actually have plans of her own in motion, after all.
Honestly, this is a moment that I found to be frustrating, rather than compelling. For one thing, it is obvious that the writer's aren't ready to reveal exactly what Lena's secret motives might be – and, are instead willing to settle for the vague hint of something. The entirety of this final moment can be summed up as Lena remembering the moment that she once beat her brother, Lex, at chess while ominously fondling a chess piece, in the present – but, the implications of this moment, from a symbolic view-point, are fairly obvious. While I'm sure that it must have felt like a clever way of hinting at the sort of person Lena Luthor truly is on paper (by painting her as a literal 'chess-master' who might actually rival Lex) it also, on reflection, is a moment that doesn't actually tell us anything, at all. Whatever this final moment was actually meant to represent, though, I'm hopeful that it will turn out to be something a little more interesting than some heavy-handed hint at Lena being secretly 'evil' – because, so far, the idea of a Luthor genuinely committed to trying to restore the reputation of her family, following the antics of a villainous mother and brother, has made for a much more compelling character arc.
That issue aside, though, this was still a very entertaining episode of Supergirl. Lillian may not have made for a terribly compelling villain, on her own – but, much like in previous episodes, the scenes between Lillian and Lena, here, prove to be a very effective way of developing her into a fully rounded character. More importantly, though, is the simple fact that Brenda Strong and Katie McGrath play off of each other very well. Similarly, while Metallo hadn't really made for a terribly compelling villain, either, the genuine physical threat that he poses to Supergirl is, once again, put to good use. While it does seem like a bit of a shame that we see so little of the original Hank Henshaw (who actually does manage to come across as a genuinely compelling villain), it is also pretty clear that we haven't seen the last of him.