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Supergirl: In Defense of the Sanvers Breakup

It's not right, but it's ok

Lindsay MacDonald

Ever since Floriana Lima announced her exit as a series regular on Supergirl, fans have been anxiously awaiting news about how and when her character, Maggie Sawyer, would be written off the show. Even worse, they've been agonizing over what will become of the fan favorite "Sanvers" ship between her and Alex Danvers (Chyler Leigh).

Executive producer Andrew Kreisberg confirmed almost right away that Maggie would not be killed off as a way to explain her absence, which was a relief. The "Bury Your Gays" trope, which often stipulates that an LGBT character dies suddenly and/or violently rather than getting a happy ending, became a major topic of conflict for LGBT fans back in 2016 when they became sick of seeing themselves as tragic canon fodder for story purposes. Killing Maggie off before she could marry Alex would have followed that terrible trope to the letter, so Kreisberg and his team naturally wanted to go another route. Still, knowing Maggie would survive the season wasn't exactly a reassuring promise when it came to the fate of Sanvers and the state of queerness on Supergirl.

Considering how hard it would be to keep up a romantic storyline with a character who would at best be in a handful of episodes all season, Maggie's days with Alex were definitively numbered. The couple had major issues that could drive them apart: Whether or not to have kids, for example. Maggie remained steadfast in her decision that motherhood was not for her, while Alex explained that being a mom wasn't just something she wanted, it's something she always knew was a part of her. It was a rock and hard place if ever there was one, and the most recent episode ended with Sanvers saying sayonara.

Fans were obviously devastated, but the Sanvers breakup actually opens the show up for an even deeper exploration of queerness than ever before.

Logistically, this breakup was the result of a perfect storm of timing, storytelling, and logistics; those logistics being that Floriana Lima wanted to pursue other opportunities, which bumped her down to a recurring role on Supergirl. Acting is a transient profession by trade, and Lima's got hustle, which fans can appreciate, regardless of how they feel about her exit.

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Floriana Lima and Chyler Leigh, Supergirl

Floriana Lima and Chyler Leigh, Supergirl

Jeff Weddell, Jeff Weddell/The CW

But regardless of casting issues, there's more than one compelling reason for a Sanvers break up, starting with the fact that Maggie and Alex's relationship might not have been built to last from a plot perspective.

Alex Danvers was given one of the most beautiful coming out story arcs ever seen on television, and her romance with Maggie continued that trend. Their courtship has been everything a hungry, queer audience could hope for - near death experiences, Valentine's Day slow dancing, cuddle sessions in bed, etc. - which is gratifying considering how few LGBT relationships get this kind of development TV.

The downside of this glorious storytelling, however, is that huge milestones whisked by without the repercussions that would normally accompany them. Important opportunities for drama and growth like Maggie's previous infidelity or the fact Alex proposed after only dating Maggie for a few months never quite manifested. Meaty plots like these are built to test how far you can push a couple before they reach their breaking point, but Supergirl preferred to keep things between Sanvers copacetic instead. There's nothing wrong with a happy couple, but knowing this is the final chapter of their story (for now at least) throws their lack of conflict into a harsher light, revealing the queerness of Supergirl to be more two-dimensional than LGBT audiences have come to expect.

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The silver lining here is that now that Sanvers is finished, Alex has the perfect opportunity to define her queerness for herself, rather than tying that part of her identity to an external force -- in this case Maggie. Single queer life, especially for women, is a minefield of self-doubt, and watching Alex explore that part of herself and figure out who she is on her own is a journey LGBT fans deserve to see. Watching Alex tackle the agony of having a crush on a straight woman or try to figure out how to meet other queer women, even just to build a sense of community would add depth to a character who's so self-assured in every other way that even Supergirl considers her a rock. And let's not forget, the fluidity of sexuality opens Alex up for a plethora of discovery: Now that she know what she wants from a relationship, is it possible for her to find happiness with any gender? Regardless of who Alex dates next, adding struggle to her romantic relationships (while keeping them from straying into canon fodder territory) will shade in a three dimensionality to the representation of queer people on Supergirl that fans are desperately clamoring for. After all, that's why they fell for Sanvers in the first place.

It has to be said though, that of all the ways to end this relationship, Supergirl at least managed to give Maggie and Alex a pretty epic farewell. Instead of screaming matches and tears and devastation, Maggie and Alex had a calm (if emotional) discussion about how their paths diverged. Then, while packing up Maggie's things to depressing music, they decided to get rid of the somber atmosphere and have a dance party (followed by goodbye sex) instead. It was about as joyful and touching as a breakup can be, which was a bit of a balm on an open wound.

The most important thing to keep in mind here is that all parties involved in this split have remained steadfast on the promise to bring Maggie back if and when Lima's schedule allows; whether that be in the near or distant future. A Sanvers breakup now does not mean a Sanvers breakup forever (assuming someone has a change of heart about having kids) so let's all cross our fingers and pray that the gods of scheduling and series regular contracts smile down on us one day.

Supergirl airs Mondays at 8/7c on The CW.

(Full Disclosure: TV Guide is owned by CBS, one of The CW's parent companies)

Chyler Leigh and Floriana Lima, Supergirl

Chyler Leigh and Floriana Lima, Supergirl

Dean Buscher, Dean Buscher/The CW