James Olsen is Pretty Darn Heroic in Supergirl S2E20 “City of Lost Children”
Of Supergirl”s main cast, James Olsen (played by Mehcad Brooks) has probably seen the least screen time and had the least amount of storylines centered around him. Sure, he became the Batman/Arrow-esque vigilante Guardian around midseason and is good for the occasional action scene, but we’ve rarely gotten to see what makes the man behind the silver mask click. Luckily, writers Gabriel Llanas, Anna Musky-Goldwyn, and Robert Rovner change that as James discovers a more inspirational brand of heroism that doesn’t include putting alien weed dealers in the hospital. The main plot of “City of Lost Children” is about the telepathic and telekinetic alien race, the Phorians, losing control as wreaking havoc in National City. James ends up bonding with Marcus, the young son of the woman that is responsible for the destruction and starts to find out that they are peaceful, and someone else is behind the chaos.
James Olsen has a fantastic arc in “City of Lost Children”, and part of that is due to Ben Bray’s directing style. The opening scene of the episode made think that possibly Arrow had been moved to Monday’s with tight angles, plenty of shadows, and bone breaking fight choreography. Guardian’s heavy duty costume (That is the utter opposite of Supergirl’s maskless one.) and his blunt force approach to superheroing causes a woman he saves to run away in fear. Bray lingers on Guardian’s eyes in the mask to show that he thinks it’s time to change his methods. (Kara agrees and makes a couple great Batman jokes with Winn.) So, for the rest of the episode we get to see Mehcad Brooks’ smiling, charisma-filled face as he shows Marcus his camera and tells stories about how he was bullied by racist people as a kid and was afraid to open up to people. When James talks about Superman (Without mentioning the name.), Supergirl gains a little more gravitas as we can see in his eyes how this superhero/mild mannered reporter changed his life. Also, kudos to the young actor Lonnie Chavis (This Is Us), who plays Marcus with a sadness and silence that is heartbreaking. You can tell by the twinkle in his eye that he really looks to James too.
Although the Phorians barely get fleshed out beyond being super powered refugees who are are reacting negatively to Rhea and Lena Luthor’s matter transporter experiments, they help James have his All-Star Superman moment. At first, it seems like Winn’s anti-telekinesis MacGuffin is going to stop the group of Phorian refugees (Who live underground) from flipping out. However, it’s actually James’ bond with Marcus that saves the day. They haven’t exchanged many words, but James never treated Marcus like a criminal even when his telekinesis was ripping apart the Catco building. Just being there for Marcus creates a friendship between them, and the simple phrase “You’re not alone” calms him and the other Phorians down. And Ben Bray makes room for a little bit of light to hit the frame even though they’re deep underground. He doesn’t have heat vision, freeze breath, or is a member of the House of El, but James Olsen can bring hope to people in his own way.
It’s kind of inconsequential to the plot, but the interactions between the Martian Manhunter and James Olsen were some of the most enjoyable parts of the “City of Lost Children”. James isn’t a part of the DEO and is a violent vigilante so he and Martian Manhunter don’t normally see eye to eye. However, J’onn relaxes for a second and sees that James wants to be a hero just like him and Supergirl and also has a connection with Marcus. He doesn’t have the same paternal relationship with James that he does with Alex and Kara, but Martian Manhunter takes James aside and tells him about the birth of his daughter gave me purpose to become a police officer (or “Manhunter”) on Mars to protect them. Their conversations definitely push him closer to a less violent and more empathetic brand of heroism as the episode progresses.
Again, Lena Luthor and Rhea have a big, bad B-plot that chugs along throughout the episode, causes the Phorians to lose control, and flips to being the A-plot as it looks like the Daxamites are the final Big Bad of Supergirl Season 2. What makes this more compelling than your typical alien invasion plotline is the dynamic that has been developed between Lena and Rhea over the past few episodes. Although she is a successful CEO and genius scientist, Lena knows that her mother will always love Lex more than her. Throughout the season, she has been reaching out for a mother figure, and Rhea seems to fit the bill until she flat out lies about the experiments they’re running. Teri Hatcher can be super maternal and super evil at the same time as she talks about Lena using her own personality on the transporter and then steals her personal phone to taunt/attempt to guilt trip Kara. Lena’s continuing reaction to the metaphorical knife twisted in her fact will definitely be one of the more compelling subplots to check out in the final two episodes. (Will she go to the dark side?)
Speaking of metaphors, there is also a political element to the Daxamites being the main bad guys at the end of Supergirl Season 2. From what we’ve found out over the show, the Daxamites are the extraterrestrial version of white supremacists with their disdain for other alien races, like using the predominantly POC Phorians to power a portal to get to Earth. And they are definitely authoritarian with their monarchical government and the continued existence of slavery on their planet. They represent a side of humanity that unfortunately still holds power in the world with the rise of far right nationalism in the United States and U.K. through Trump’s election and Brexit, which adds an extra layer to what could just be cool overhead shots of alien spaceships from Bray.
“City of Lost Children” does the genre TV show equivalent of walking and chewing bubblegum by developing an underutilized character (James Olsen) and also setting up Supergirl Season 2’s endgame with Rhea and a host of Daxamites ready to turn Earth into a space tyrant planet.
Overall Rating: 8.0