Supergirl: Offering Hope; Reflecting on the Significance of Sanvers & Maggie Sawyer
Supergirl’s strength predominantly rests on its characters. This isn’t to dismiss the comic book nature of the show, or cast judgement on its ability to tell compelling stories through overarching narratives. In fact, many would argue character is king with regards to storytelling; that Supergirl, over the course of two seasons and some change, has nailed this is a feat worthy of commendation. Which is why the arc revolving around Maggie Sawyer and Alex Danvers, lovingly referred to as Sanvers, and Maggie as a separate entity, is so devastating. The ingredients were there and it seems as though the right cooks were in the kitchen, yet somehow, someway the ball was dropped.
Maggie Sawyer on her own is a fascinating character with a complex history in the comics. Initially, she was depicted as a Gotham City police officer; over time, however, Metropolis became her stomping grounds. When it comes to her cross media ventures, Maggie often appears as a Superman character—Superman: The Animated Series and Smallville, in particular. In both of these shows, and in the comics of late, she’s used infrequently, acting as a side character that pushes along a subplot or two without actively partaking in the overarching narrative. This has sadly been reflected with her involvement on Supergirl, as well.
Months prior to the premiere of Supergirl’s sophomore effort, The CW announced it had cast Maggie Sawyer. The Family’s Floriana Lima would return the character to the small screen and few knew what to expect. Lima’s charm and evident bond with Alex Danvers actress Chyler Leigh helped make Maggie interesting in a manner that had yet to be seen beyond the comics. Suddenly, Detective Sawyer was more than a no-nonsense officer; she had a sense of humor, an incomparable dedication to her work, and a heart worthy of Alex Danvers. However, following the couple’s union, one thing became unfortunately clear, she was only meant to act as a love interest. Once again, Maggie Sawyer had to sit on the sidelines.
Most disappointing is her character’s depiction as so much more than that on Supergirl, and its never being fully realized beyond an episode or two. During Season 2’s “Survivors,” she’s shown as a force to be reckoned with—Maggie is the one who cracks the case with Roulette and her fight club, after all. The detective’s police work prowess would not be displayed again until episode nineteen, “Alex,” which is inarguably Lima’s best work on the show, barring the recent “Far from the Tree,” of course. In “Alex,” Maggie’s moral standing is established. For the first time, minus instances in Season 1 with Alex, J’onn, or James, Supergirl’s methods receive constructive criticism and rightfully so. An expansion on Maggie’s perspective on vigilantism is never explored beyond “Alex,” and it’s a shame. Could her apprehension have something to do with Kathy Kane/Batwoman? Here’s to hoping we’ll some day find out.
The Sanvers break up has been a controversial topic amongst Supergirl fans and Sanvers shippers for months. The merits surrounding Alex’s proposal, Floriana Lima’s departure, the baby storyline and positive LGBTQ+ representation will likely plague the show for the foreseeable future. Are there better ways in which Lima’s exit could have been handled? Certainly. But that day has come and gone; thus, it’s time to examine Maggie Sawyer differently.
There are those voicing hope of Lima’s return. She’s a great asset to the show and there’s no question that some of the series’ stronger episodes are when she’s given the opportunity to prove her impeccable skills as a performer (see “Mr & Mrs. Mxysptlk,” “Alex,” and “Far from the Tree”). With said hope comes questions of whether it’s possible to see the character return and be explored more extensively than she has in the past. The answer, if the opportunity were to present itself and Lima were to agree (she has voiced interest in one day reprising her role), is quite simply yes. Let’s not forget, the Arrowverse is no stranger to righting its wrongs, especially in regards to its female cast.
Laurel Lance spent three seasons of Arrow being deemed the weakest link by critics and fans, particularly in Seasons 1 and 2 when the show was at its best. Her unsuspecting death at the hands of Damien Darhk in Season 4 unleashed a wave of ridicule. During Arrow’s fourth run, the character had finally come into her own. Laurel, while not the best hero on Team Arrow, provided an unshakeable support system, specifically to Oliver; additionally, her work in the D.A.’s office was rather impressive. It seemed she was being set up as a reverse-Harvey Dent of sorts, retiring her vigilante persona, Black Canary, to be of better help to Team Arrow in the courtroom. Laurel’s untimely death signaled not only a shift in how the Arrowverse was managing the Green Arrow mythos, but also evidenced the show’s inability to find a use for her character.
Weeks after her death, the Emerald Archer himself, Stephen Amell, appeared on Larry King’s web show to reiterate that Laurel Lance would not return to Arrow. Months later, he rescinded his statement; Earth-2 Laurel had appeared on The Flash, and fans were intrigued by Katie Cassidy’s portrayal of a villain. Laurel, in an unexpected capacity, returned from the dead to again become a staple of the Arrowverse—a feat her sister accomplished just a year or so prior.
Sara Lance’s departure from The CW’s superhero franchise was even less expected than Laurel’s. After stealing the show in Arrow Season 2, and Caity Lotz’s appearance during SDCC 2014, her murder at the end of Season 3’s premiere shocked many. As a character that had already “died” and disappeared, the book was sure to be closed on the Arrowverse’s first Canary. The finality of it all was cemented in interviews where cast and producers spoke of Caity Lotz’s role fondly, but never teased nor offered hope of her reappearing.
Clearly a beloved hero whose presence was deeply missed, Season 4 saw her literally returned from the dead via Lazarus Pit and soon thereafter obtain a starring role on The CW’s newest spinoff, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. Put simply, if the Canary sisters can return from the dead, in Sara’s case on multiple occasions, then there must be hope for Maggie Sawyer. The trick isn’t to make sense of her reappearing, there are no logical hoops to jump through; the catch would be in giving her something to do beyond acting as the love interest for Supergirl’s big sister. Maggie would have to be developed and involved in a manner worthy of Floriana Lima’s overly obvious talent.
Maggie’s prowess as a detective is no secret; audiences have watched her work and the one thing her father seems proud of is her ability to close cases. Again, this has been previously reflected in the discovery of Roulette’s fight club and Alex’s abduction. But what about giving her a case that’s intrinsically tied to a season-long big bad? Perhaps there are serial murders she investigates, which connect to whatever overarching threat is looming that the DEO is facing. For Maggie, it could feel like a race against the clock; as more bodies are found, she’s thrust into an emotional rollercoaster, one wherein her and Alex’s relationship is tested in ways that have yet to be explored. Furthermore, such an arc could see her work closely with both Alex and the DEO, while still allowing her to take lead. Maybe her time as an officer before she was promoted to detective could be of use, introducing criminal informants and delving into her past as a beat cop. This, too, is something the Arrowverse is no stranger to (see Quentin Lance’s arc in Arrow Seasons 1 and 2).
Aside from Maggie’s gross underutilization, the break-up itself is devastating in its own right. Positive representation of LGBTQ+ couples appear to be difficult to maintain in media, particularly on television… and on The CW, specifically. In a world where such unions are depicted as toxic or seemingly act as a ratings ploy, Sanvers was a breath of fresh air. The coupling of Alex and Maggie developed organically, beautifully; their relationship, including the ups and downs, came across as healthy and fulfilling. They supported one another in their work environment and in their personal lives; their story was more than one encompassing Alex’s coming out journey, Maggie grew as well, learning to accept her past and take bold steps forward. To state it succinctly, Sanvers represents the epitome of relationship goals.
To those who gravitated towards them for hope, the split may seem emblematic of a bigger problem in media—a lesbian couple’s inability to be shown as having a happily ever after. Truthfully, it’s difficult to regard it as anything less. However, without knowing the full breadth of the situation behind Lima’s departure and the viability of her returning once again as a series regular, judging the outcome is an equally arduous task. All things considered, the couple’s break-up, even though the how’s and why’s are controversial, is lovingly depicted. In their goodbyes, the bond between Leigh and Lima is just as visible as that between the characters they so elegantly portray. The final scenes were hard to watch: Alex’s reluctant admittance that they couldn’t be together, their heart-to-heart conversation after making love one final time, and, finally, the beautiful delivery of “See you around, Danvers.” Maggie’s last lines, amidst bringing their love story full circle, also seem to convey a bit of hope.
There is hope. Hope for Sanvers, as evidenced by similar circumstances with other Arrowverse leads. Hope for those truly devastated by what’s transpired. To some, Supergirl is more than a television series; Sanvers is more than a fictional union—they’ve saved lives, healed wounds, and offered guidance for anyone’s story remotely resembling that of Maggie Sawyer or Alex Danvers. To fans in need of help, The Trevor Project offers aid and a safe place in which to share your struggles and express whatever you may be feeling:
— The Trevor Project (@TrevorProject) November 7, 2017
As far as LGBTQ+ icons are concerned, or icons in general considering the depth of their characters, folks have to look no further than Maggie Sawyer and Alex Danvers. That is what deserves emphasis–their story matters, and so too does that of those like them.
Is The CW’s hopeful pursuit of Floriana Lima’s return ideal? Of course, it is. But whatever happens next, one thing is abundantly clear: Sanvers, as many have noted, is endgame. And that is precisely how this romance should be remembered.
As a final note, many thanks are owed to Chyler Leigh and Floriana Lima, not just for bringing these characters to life but for also being bastions, allies and advocates for the LGBTQ+ community. Their continued efforts ensure Sanvers is more than a subplot on a show about an alien fighting crime alongside her adoptive sister.