Supergirl’s Maggie Sawyer was fated to have screen-time issues and the love-interest plot hurdles–but it should never have been a problem.
Floriana Lima’s Maggie Sawyer was introduced in season two, and a mixed bag of reactions flew about. Firstly, she wasn’t of the [
racial] ethnic origin the show claimed her to be, which prompted quick suspicions. Secondly, this was coming quickly after The CW’s biggest (we say this lightly) programmes went on an LGBTQ character mass-hunt.
So yes, people had reason to be wary. Except Maggie bucked the trend–for a few episodes. She was a good, badass detective. Clever, intuitive, hella pretty and smart, she oozed charm and dimples. Maggie Sawyer could do no wrong, until she did. And when she did, immediately she became more than just the attractive cop but someone on the verge of three-dimensional.
I never been a big fan of Maggie but this episode make respect her and make me open more in the LGBT world I just want to say to you thanks❤
— Mrs DiLaurentis (@mrsjennergustin) October 24, 2017
And that’s where it ended. Alex Danvers’ (Chyler Leigh) coming-out storyline was by far the best of Supergirl. The reality and the middle-ground it gave (rather than the overtly happy acceptance or the dramatic ‘I hate you, you lesbian!’ scenarios) was perfect. The romance Maggie and Alex had was patient and it never jumped the shark–even if it was cutting some slack on the definition of “slow burn”.
However, Maggie wasn’t a main character. But if Supergirl had made better use of time, intuition of characters and audience, then it wouldn’t have been difficult incorporating that same romance into a Supergirl-centric story. Whilst fleshing out Maggie’s character. It’s called the principle of running a television show with an ensemble cast. Hero-centric or cast-centric.
Just look at Root and Shaw from Person of Interest. Horrifically different, they worked together–albeit reluctantly at first–until mutually, they became romantically involved. Delphine and Cosima from Orphan Black spent episodes apart, and Delphine even got shot. But their mutual goal was always to understand each other. And to respect their professions. Cosima knew her area of expertise; Delphine knew hers. It worked! Developing Maggie’s character now is a waste when you had a whole season of opportunity. And it’s not even a dig at ‘Sanvers’: we love that pairing! Overlooking–though not disregarding–the many, educated critiques regarding the actress’ heritage and behind-the-scenes issues, we’d like to discuss basic storytelling. Therefore, here’s a run-down of their wrongs, rights, and badly missed opportunities–for Maggie.
Supergirl fed Maggie Sawyer fans breadcrumbs of her past, but never really accomplished a fully-fleshed character with much of a future.
Talk of Maggie’s past rarely comes from Maggie. It’s widely accepted that’s just who Maggie is: closed-off and distrusting. But it’s the way that information is retrieved that’s unnecessary. Her job is essentially Alex, 24/7. Her reputation as a great detective flies off with seventeen hours of hostage negotiation.
You can barely say Maggie is good alone, because she never is. “Far From the Tree” has Eliza and Alex persuade Maggie into contacting her father. Do they spend much time reconciling before his walk-out? No. Does her father witness her kick ass at work? No. Does Maggie tell the same story, plus a few sentences, at dinner with Eliza about her coming out? Yes. Does it ultimately end with Maggie moving on but deciding all she needs is Alex? Look, we love ‘Sanvers’, but that is a important yes.
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Moreover, but we get nothing regarding Maggie’s future. There’s a thirty-second “marry me” from Alex, Maggie’s “lifetimes” speech, but no career-drive shown. Contrast to new character Mon-El (Christopher Wood), who juggles multiple stories, why isn’t one given to Maggie, DC’s legend and now girlfriend of the secondary lead? Do we know what Maggie wants to achieve career-wise, ten years from now? What about relocation? Any promotion possibilities?
If Maggie’s leaving for those reasons, fair play! But if she’s just ditching the city because of a relationship failure she’s literally a plot-device for Alex coming out. And her dad, now? For a weak “show, don’t tell” attempt at Maggie’s past? Lima’s acting combats the last-ditch fanservice here, but it’s too late.
Watching Alex and Maggie evolve has been great. But series stretch on for a long time. If writers make the mistake of plotting season by season, plot holes stretch. Just make an anthology series like Black Mirror. Don’t boast about positive LGBTQ representation when you offer a one-sided relationship, with one perspective, and a love-interest with minimal career interests. That isn’t representation. That’s producing a great coming-out story for one character, and bludgeoning tragedy onto another with zero repercussions made somehow worse with a last-minute character-centric episode that…really did nothing except to highlight the hurt we already knew Maggie Sawyer had been through.
The one episode Maggie is allowed to use her detective skills, the vocation she’s trained her whole life for, she unnecessarily proves that she’s a very good cop.
In the episode “Alex”, Alex is kidnapped. It’s a tense, if stupidly resolved episode. We start with Supergirl nullifying Maggie’s job mid-hostage negotiation and flies off. Though Supergirl/Kara argues that she saved people, which is correct–Maggie’s point is 100% valid. Both were rude. But if someone swipes your job–your living–away from you so arrogantly, do you defend yourself or let it slide?
Maggie: “Police-work requires a more…delicate touch.”
Kara: “A delicate touch?!”’
Maggie: “You broke a guy’s arm and you gave another one concussion.”
Clearly, “Alex” is set up for them to clash. But having to physically remove Alex in order for the two to work in confidence is a cheap plot point. Secondly, it only stresses the importance of the DEO when Supergirl is so useless with interrogations. She’s the brute force; Alex and Maggie have the detective brains. And honestly, whilst Kara is often likeable and sweet, if Supergirl’s duty is defending the city, then why be the sole cocky asshole about it? Why render Maggie’s job so useless at the start?
If anything, this episode proved Maggie’s necessity. Supergirl is the superhero, but Maggie is the detective. And it’s Maggie who displays rationale and calm when she’s in just as much turmoil. Maggie asks the right questions; presses the right buttons; squeezes the right info. And frustratingly, multiple times during the episode, Kara ignores Maggie’s level-headed advice despite knowing her girlfriend loves her–and does “what she thinks is right”.
Throughout, Supergirl behaves exactly like Teri Hatcher’s character, who was lambasted because she believed aliens superior to humans. Eventually, Supergirl and Maggie reconciled. Vigilante and cop. Old meat, recycled, yet somehow still far too late.
Alex Danvers’ coming-out storyline was beautifully executed, but a relationship involves two–and Maggie was not exactly spearheading representation.
Alex’s story is so important it’s essential to season two. Clearly, whether Lima’s purposeful or not, Maggie’s evidently interested in Alex. Yet she uses her own experience in encouraging Alex to find herself. And she does. Perhaps reading comprehension fails here, but what Maggie says is actually rather selfless:
Maggie: “Everything is changing for you and everything’s gonna feel really heightened and shiny…and you should experience that for yourself. Not just to be with me.”
But what lacks is Maggie. What does Maggie think? Apart from one line about being “scared”? Alex doesn’t even let her talk when they argue at work. Maggie’s hatred of Valentine’s Day is seen purely as irrationality briefly explained by her real coming out story. The tragedy scarring Maggie’s past is deep, and Alex’s choice to help her heal is healthy. However, apart from a minute reconciling with her ex, we don’t see Maggie healing. But we see Alex seeking naive vengeance–not Maggie confronting her issues.
Maggie’s past could’ve been used not only to understand her better, but to make active headway in character progression thus relatability. Yes, she moves on from her father–only to the conclusion that she only needs Alex.
1.6 million* LGBTQ youths experience homeless annually in the USA. 40% of LGBTQ youth. Maggie’s past is important because she overcame it. She’s a cop. That’s hope for these youths; that is representation. Supergirl had a golden opportunity to use this story to inspire, not utilise it as a tragic plot device for a shell of a character.
But representation is not a one-way street. Alex’s story was beautiful. Maggie tells her she deserves it; that she’s real. So is Maggie Sawyer, and she deserved beautiful representation too.
She could have been more than just a clash with Kara over her girlfriend: clearly, the DEO and the cops aren’t buddies.
Supergirl revolves around Kara Danvers, but such centric shows don’t automatically disqualify good character development.
What Supergirl can’t physically do is achieve that for all characters. Winn is literally comic relief; Mon-El is a love-interest; James/the Guardian is…well, who knows, okay? The development this season came impressively from Alex and J’onn, whose extended storylines both included Kara and were hugely important in self-discovery.
If you gave everyone in Supergirl a rich story, there’d be no time for Kara. And that’s a valid argument. However, this season spends considerable time developing male superheroes…on a show about Supergirl. You want to waste more time? How about a musical crossover? You can afford that if you had Buffy’s ten billion seasons, sure! But look at shows like The Gifted–a family-led show with an ensemble that’s more developed than any of Supergirl’s supporting characters. And they’re halfway into their first season!
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So instead of having Maggie argue with Supergirl in order to set up Alex’s kidnapping storyline, why couldn’t she have had a story arc of her department versus vigilantes interfering the entire season? Why not make use of residual, reluctant resentment? For something as pointless as the Guardian, why wasn’t Maggie the one to chase after him–on-screen–to amp up the drama? None of these alternatives divert from Kara and Alex’s screen-time–they just make Maggie more competent. Is that really so difficult for a story?
Rather than using Maggie’s detective skills when they needed to save a main character, Alex, how about using them during the season? In conjunction with Supergirl and the DEO? Maggie Sawyer is legendary; Floriana Lima has proven multiple times that she can be phenomenally moving. So why reduce her competency to just a plot device when it’s so vital?
People were frustrated at Maggie’s lack of substance and they were right–yet Supergirl’s writer’s room lacked the intuition or ability to rectify it whilst maintaining a Kara-centric season.
We’ve established that screen-time for Kara and Alex, the leads, does not need to be reduced by increasing Maggie Sawyer’s utility. Supergirl being Kara-centric isn’t affected by that either. In such a case, the show should probably look at its male ‘superheroes’ instead. And there’s a gaping plot-hole in terms of the cops versus Supergirl. Because don’t they work together? But why, if Supergirl is as cocky as she is in the opening sequence of “Alex”? Do other cops feel similarly to Maggie? Instead of alien after alien, what if the cops or the DEO saw Supergirl as a threat–momentarily–in a Batman/Jim Gordon type hunt?
Some intuition is needed when you write seasons of twenty-something episodes. Intuition regarding your audience, your actors, and the characters. But look at Person of Interest or Lost Girl. Creators saw they had opportunities and jumped at it–mid-shoot. They were adaptable–not fan-servicing. On Supergirl, it seems like it’s hammered down.
For example, look at Amy Acker’s Root (Person of Interest). Built deliciously slowly, she didn’t appear in all episodes. In fact, she wasn’t even a regular until a few seasons in. She had character-centric episodes–yet John and Finch remained central. Always. If the writers were intuitive and natural, they wouldn’t have jumped to “let’s make Alex gay this season” or been unable to foresee this. They would’ve given appropriate perspective episodes, let Supergirl remain Kara-centric, and written Lima a proper, fleshed-out character and exit.
Frankly, Lima proved in “Far From the Tree” she’s better than Supergirl. She can lead a series.
For shippers, they failed “Sanvers”. For character development, writing and the actress: they failed Maggie Sawyer and Floriana Lima.
SUPERGIRL airs MONDAYS, at 9/8c on The CW.
*Statistical figure corrected from 1.6billion to 1.6million (28/10/17)
Maggie Sawyer could have been one of the most important lesbian characters especially on The CW, but they fudged it. It’s understandable: the coming-out story belonged to Alex Danvers, a series regular. But why bother introducing a career-driven recurring cast member if you won’t utilise her? Follow more of our Supergirl thoughts with our weekly livetweets and roundtables.