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In defense of the end of Sanvers on Supergirl

Contributed by
Jan 5, 2018

One of the hardest things about being a diehard fan of a show is when something happens on it that truly breaks your heart. As aware as we can be that the thing we’re enjoying is fiction, when it matters to us it can resonate as deeply and as importantly as the things we experience in real life.

I’ve poured a significant amount of digital ink over the relationship between Alex Danvers and Maggie Sawyer on The CW’s Supergirl. I’ve gone into detail about why Alex’s coming out was so important. I also shed actual tears simply reading stories like the one that went viral last year of a teenage girl wandering into a comic book store, meekly asking about queer characters in comics, and finding a place for her to feel like she belonged.

Of course I was upset when I found out that actress Floriana Lima would be leaving the show (or at least not returning as a series regular), which ultimately facilitated the end of the ship known far and wide as Sanvers. The backlash was as swift as expected. Sanvers meant a lot, especially to queer women and girls who have had to deal repeatedly with queer love stories ending tragically with a partner being killed off, leaving their female partners for men, or being killed off so their female partners are free to hook up with a man. These storytelling decisions are never made in a way that seems to legitimize biseuxality as an orientation, usually instead treating queerness as a passing phase, a hat to be tried on for sweeps week.

Which is why, in spite of my apprehension and sadness that it was going to happen, I found myself surprised that I actually felt very emotionally invested in how Alex and Maggie’s relationship came to a close. Even more surprisingly, I found it very touching - and dare I say it, maybe even kind of important. I knew Maggie would be leaving, but I didn’t expect their breakup to feel so real to me.

Alex’s initial coming out story, which was deeply intertwined with her discovery of feelings for Maggie, provided a tonally amazing bit of representation of a later-in-life coming out. Similarly, the break-up of Sanvers gives viewers a reference point for real-life experiences that they may not have come to yet, or an ability to look back on ones we’ve had and relate in a way we rarely get to through TV.

Coming out is tough, and often the depiction of queer romances on the other side of it are of these intensely passionate pairings that made it through hell and are now unbreakable. Very few people come out of the closet and think, “Perfect, now I can’t wait to get my heart broken for real!”

But it happens. Y’all, it happens so much.

Of all my LGBTQ+ friends, I can’t really pull a single pairing that I know of who came rolling out of the closet together and stayed there for the rest of time. People still fight, relationships can turn sour, and we often need to take our lumps in order to learn how to manage that. There’s no magical dust tossed around at Pride parades that makes that less true for us. My own first big breakup after coming out hurt a lot. All the emotions I’d felt at the start of things, the “this is how it’s supposed to feel” moments, met their complete opposites at the end. It felt almost like a betrayal, a sense of “you see me more fully than anyone I’ve ever dated and it’s still not enough.”

The only real comfort is in knowing that pain hurts more because comes from a more real place, which gives us the ability to heal from it a little bit, because we know on the other side of it we’re still looking in the right place. The one-night stand that Alex had with Sara Lance in the Crisis on Earth X crossover really showed that. It let Alex know that even while she’s hurting, there’s a path for her to eventually be okay. (And that path is girls!)

What I loved about the Sanvers breakup is that it didn’t come from infidelity, it didn’t even come from an angry fight or someone doing something to hurt the other, per se. Supergirl’s writers had enough of a heads-up that Lima was leaving that they were able to seed in the story of why Alex and Maggie would call off their engagement in a way that felt organic and earned. It was a situation where both women truly loved each other and just had a line that they both knew they couldn’t budge on.

There’s so much emphasis on "love conquers all" as a storytelling trope that it can often end up being toxic to people trying to do the work to make real-life relationships succeed, or even painful for those who do the work and end up feeling like failures when things don’t last. What Maggie and Alex’s breakup shows is that sometimes love conquering all doesn’t mean staying together at all costs. It can also mean loving someone enough to know that you might be in the way of what they ultimately need to be the happiest.

Sometimes the shows we love are at their best when they don’t give us the things we immediately want. In addition to most of the best stories happening out of the unexpected, the fact that we’re occasionally very resistant to a change is exactly why we may need that story to begin with.

For a show whose plots can get downright absurd at times, Supergirl has taken extra care to treat Alex and Maggie’s story with respect, giving it an authenticity that stands out. I do want Alex to find a partner that she can be happy with (and whose actor will sign a contract tying her to the series long-term), and I think it is important for media to show us examples of loving, healthy relationships between LGBTQ+ people, but given the circumstances that orchestrated the end of Sanvers, I’m glad that that Supergirl chose to give them the goodbye they deserve.