We Need to Talk About the Sanvers Split on ‘Supergirl’


We all knew it was coming, but none of us were ready. Last week, Sanvers met its untimely end, and so many reflections and responses have insisted that the couple’s fan base should somehow be grateful that Maggie’s exit didn’t fall victim to the “Bury Your Gays” trope. LGBT fans deserve better isn’t about gobbling up every crumb of representation we get, or applauding when the writers swiftly end a relationship without slaughtering one half of the couple. LGBT fans deserve more characters, better arcs, deeper storylines, and character exits that are given as much time and attention as their straight counterparts.

Kara and Mon-El’s relationship hit a hiatus at the conclusion of season two of Supergirl, and their separation with heartbreaking. But it was also well executed, fleshed out, and unsurprising considering the foundation onto which the duo’s relationship was built. Alex and Maggie’s conflict came flying in from left field, fizzled out before boiling over faster than a pot of easy mac, and left us bewildered and bereft.

The conflict the Sanvers breakup was built on abruptly appeared in the beginning of this season, contradicting the dynamic the couple has had since day one. Alex, even through the first few episodes of the season, has constantly pushed Maggie to let her guard down, to communicate. Alex’s honesty is swift and steady, almost to a fault. She spends her time cracking and crumbling the walls her loved ones put up, just as she pushed Kara to open up about her withdrawal after losing Mon-El. Now suddenly we’re expected to believe that no one had a clue how strongly Alex feels that one of her life’s primary purposes is to be a mom.

If the couple’s relationship had been properly explored when it came time to write in an exit for Maggie, this conflict would never have been a possibility on the table. We know Alex so well. We’ve watched her as a young girl, we’ve cried with her, we’ve fought with her. Hell, we came out of the closet with her. When Maggie dropped the information that she didn’t envision having children in her future, if the proper foundation had been laid for this, we would have all looked at one another and winced, knowing Alex’s stance on motherhood.

Maggie reunites with her father and chooses to move back in with her family. Or Alex pushes Maggie too far with facing her family and her demons. Maggie gets an unparalleled work opportunity in another state that triggers a choice between a split and a long distance relationship. These are potential conflicts that would fit within the narrative of their characterizations and relationship arc, not the potential irreconcilable difference of the future possibility of having children. That’s not a key piece of information either of these women we’ve come to know would have been surprised by.

The frustration over this choice of conflict as the breaking point for Sanvers is compounded by both the decision to U-Haul the couple’s relationship and the constant placement of Maggie into situations of isolation and rejection. Alex has been the driving force of the forward movement of this relationship from the beginning. She intervened on behalf of Maggie after a run-in with an ex the latter was unfaithful too. She was the one who proposed marriage. Alex was also the one who pushed Maggie to reach out to her father in reconciliation. The same father who was the reason Maggie was left homeless on the streets as a gay teen.

This constant cycle of Alex mothering Maggie and prodding her again and again to venture outside her closed off comfort zone has painted Maggie into a corner of constant invalidation and unworthiness. So, to cap off the Sanvers relationship with an issue that is created solely on the concept that Maggie’s love alone is less than enough is devastating and just as dangerous to young lesbian and bi viewers as the character’s death.

In Buffy, Tara is shot and killed by a megalomaniac. In The 100, Lexa is brutally murdered by her own trusted advisor just minutes after her she sleeps with Clarke. Although there are exceptions to the rule, these character deaths are outrageous and unrealistic. What happens then, when LGBT character exits begin to evolve instead out of shoddily written, real world issues that deserve infinitely more care? The fans watching these relationships are cast aside with these surface storylines.  How does this affect their real life relationships if they never get to see a couple on screen work through it?

The heart of conflict, days of discussion, tears, and arguments regarding the subject of children, is merely alluded to by Alex just before the two call it quits. When a show drops a baby bomb like this out of nowhere into the couple’s narrative, it deserves, at the very least, more than a casual nod to the road they traveled to arrive at the conclusion that Maggie’s love, yet again, is just not enough.

I’m being hard on Alex here, but in reality she’s not the villain. Neither character is, nor the fantastic, supportive actresses who play them. Chyler Leigh and Floriana Lima have been nothing but enthusiastic allies throughout their relationship’s tenure on Supergirl. Alex’s coming out story was one of the best that’s ever graces our television screens, and I’m thankful for the example and the standard the show set for that. But, what a series does right doesn’t exempt them from the mistakes and mishandling it makes later on.

Representation matters, and LGBT fans deserve to see healthy versions of themselves on screen. Versions of themselves where who they are, what they’ve been through, and what they want matters. False promises of a wedding, the sudden appearance of an insurmountable mountain to climb, all imply that no matter what, lesbians just don’t get their happy ending. This happy ending doesn’t even have to be a future together, but it should at least be one where the identity of both characters is viewed as equally valid. Whether or not Alex and Maggie are or should each other’s happy ending is up for debate, but that each of them deserves one is not.

To those of us who are an Alex, you matter. Discover yourself, find your happy ending, and don’t apologize for it. To those of us who are a Maggie, you too matter. You won’t always have to apologize for who you are, and you can choose your own family. You are enough, and you matter.

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