By Chancellor Agard
July 17, 2019 at 03:00 PM EDT
Carlos Serrao for EW
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As Supergirl whizzes into season 5 (and toward 100 episodes!), Melissa Benoist says she’s proud of her hero’s journey.

“Kara is always evolving and becoming more of a woman,” the actress explains in the newest issue of Entertainment Weekly. But while “it’s so fun to look back on season 1 and see how much she has grown,” Benoist admits that it wasn’t until season 4 that she found a deeper connection with the Girl of Steel. “I just felt an ownership and responsibility, and what I wanted [the role] to mean to other people.”

Benoist’s high-flying drama also came into its own last season, soaring to new heights with a topical plot about Supergirl confronting xenophobia toward aliens and divisiveness in the country. “Season 4 was the first time [co-showrunner Robert Rovner] and I had full creative control since our predecessor left in the middle of season 3,” says co-showrunner Jessica Queller. “We felt like it was our baby from the start and that was really special, and we were incredibly proud of it. It was kind of an ambitious goal to attack the subject of divisiveness in America, but we were pleased with how it all came to be.”

The producers hope to repeat their success by building the upcoming season around another strong and timely theme. “It’s our Black Mirror season,” says Queller, with Rovner adding, “What we’re looking at is how technology is impacting the way people engage and giving them an escape not to engage. It seems like nowadays, everyone is kind of on their phones or not really present, and so we wanted to speak to that and kind of how it might be hard to live in the ugliness of what’s going on, and how a character like Kara can try and help us overcome that. It speaks to a lot of the stuff the characters will be going through.”

The season’s ethos was partially born out of Lena Luthor’s (Katie McGrath) arc. In the season 4 finale, her diabolical brother Lex (Jon Cryer) revealed that her best friend Kara is Supergirl, and Lena’s still reeling from that bombshell when the series returns on Oct. 6. “Lena throws herself into a type of work that is going to increase people relying on tech rather than relying on humans who can hurt you,” says Queller. “The way Lena found out about this lie definitely colors how things are going to unfold between [Kara and Lena].”

“This season’s going to be a fight for Lena’s soul,” says Benoist, who was surprised and heartbroken by how Lena found out Kara’s secret. “I was devastated that it was Lex Luthor that told her. That was such a shot in the heart to Lena, a character that my character loves so dearly. It was painful.”

Carlos Serrao for EW

Interestingly enough, Lena’s portrayer Katie McGrath previously told EW that she hoped Lena never learned Supergirl’s identity because she liked how unique Kara and Lena’s relationship was. Benoist, on the other hand, was already prepared for this twist and believes it serves one of the show’s overall themes. “To me, that would be wishful thinking, but I always knew it was going to happen,” she says. “I think part of what we are trying to do on Supergirl specifically, too, is explore relationships between women, and friendships, and sisterhoods, and how we treat each other, how we communicate that’s different between men and women. I think their relationship is singular already because they’re such close friends and you get to explore that. This is only going to make that conversation a little more complicated.”

In season 5, Supergirl will also have an entirely new sibling dynamic to explore: The one between J’onn (David Harewood) and his brother Malefic, whom the Monitor (LaMonica Garrett) transported to Earth in the season 4 finale. “I think the Monitor wants to make sure J’onn is ready for the crisis that is coming,” says Rovner, referencing the impending crossover “Crisis on Infinite Earths.” ”This is J’onn’s test, and I think it’s an interesting story because there are levels to that relationship that even J’onn wasn’t aware of that will take them on quite a journey and impact everybody in our cast.”

Adds Rovner, “What’s fun about Mal is that since he’s a shapeshifter, he will shape-shift in every episode that he’s in, and [Phil LaMarr] will only voice the Martian version of him, so we won’t have a regular actor that embodies Mal. Whenever we see him human, it’ll be different.”

Supergirl’s fourth season finale also established a new big bad: Leviathan, a seemingly all-powerful and malignant secret organization that was pulling Lex Luthor’s strings. “It’s an organization that tries to move the needle to protect the planet. Their agenda gets incorporated to our season, unbeknownst to the rest of our characters because nobody knows they’ve been working in the shadows forever,” says Rovner. “We were excited about this idea that even when we think Lex is acting alone, there are even people bigger than Lex, especially in our Black Mirror season.”

In the comics, Leviathan was first introduced as an anti-Batman incorporated criminal organization run by Talia al Ghul, and this summer Brian Michael Bendis is writing a mystery-thriller event called Event: Leviathan, which is about the mysterious group dismantling all of the DC universe’s law-enforcement organizations. The showrunners, however, aren’t really following either of those arcs.

“We’re putting our own spin on it,” says Queller, with Rovner adding, “It really fit into what we’re doing [this season with technology], and so I think it was a happy marriage of us needing a big idea and there being a big dark organization [from DC canon] to use.”

Even though we have this dark and insidious force looming over the season, the showrunners believe this season is much more focused on the characters’ relationships than season 4. Says Rovner, “Last season was really about us dealing with big ideas, and this [season] is about us dealing with people and so it’s a much more personal season.”

Carlos Serrao for EW

Supergirl returns Sunday, Oct. 6 at 9 p.m., following Batwoman, on The CW.

For more on how the Arrowverse saved the TV superhero, pick up the August issue of Entertainment Weekly on stands July 25-26. You can buy all five covers, or purchase your individual favorites featuring Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, White Canary, and Batwoman. Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

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Kara (Melissa Benoist) steps out from her super-cousin’s shadow to become Supergirl and defend National City in the third Arrowverse show.
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