Tuesday, April 23, 2024

James Olsen Shines in City of Lost Children

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Supergirl Season 2 Reviews: Episode 20, “City of Lost Children”

So this was a doozy of an episode for Supergirl, and we weren’t sure what to expect going into it. But boy howdy do we have thoughts on it. Let’s get right into it.


We open with James stopping a mugging/potentially worse of a young woman from two men. After he dispatches with the two men, he turns to ask if she’s okay and she runs away from him in terror. Shaken, he tells Winn to call it a night.

When Winn confronts him at a falafel truck the next day, James finally comes clean. He’s not doing what he thought he’d be doing as Guardian. Instead of inspiring hope like Supergirl and Superman, he’s inspiring fear. Kori’s first reaction was “no duh, they fly around in the open with their faces in full view of the world like they aren’t hiding. You cover yourself in a metal trash can from head to toe and live in the shadows like Batman.” But it’s more than this. Some of James’s longstanding feelings about heroism are coming to the surface, and it’s clear that he’s feeling this is just one more thing he’s failing to measure up to the Super Cousins in.

They don’t get to finish that thought as an alien woman tears apart the park square they’re in before fleeing.

Back at the DEO, the alien women is identified as a race of usually peaceful telepathic telekinetics, “Phorians”. J’onn is thoroughly confused as this is not their MO and decides to treat this as a lone wolf incident. However, they need to find this woman and now, before alien/human tension increases and a riot starts.

Buuuuuuuuuuuuuut, let’s take a side step for a minute.

Lena and Kara start the episode by having lunch at Catco. Lena had to cancel the last three times and meets Kara at her place for lunch. They have an adorable conversation about N’Sync and Britney Spears, though Elizabeth is scratching her head and thinks they’re both too young in Earth years to have really been a part of the boy band, bubblegum pop craze of the early 2000’s.

During the conversation, Lena mentions she has a new partner and they’re working on an exciting project. Kara asks for a hint and Lena drops a load of science jargon on her. Kara’s face remains adorably blank. (Looks like Kara is not a science genius in this incarnation, but shouldn’t she at least have some working knowledge of this since she’s from Krypton?) Lena’s partner calls and she has to leave.

Oh, Rhea. You slimy, charming, manipulative piece of dog doo. She knows just where to hit Lena where it counts. Where to compliment her, what to say… Kori is now terrified that after Rhea’s betrayal that Lena is going to start the long road down to xenophobic Luthor territory. And honestly? We’d at least understand that at this point.


We’re getting ahead of ourselves, however, so let’s go back to James.

He’s Guardian-ing it up and breaks up a drug deal with Brian. (BRIAN’S BACK!) Turns out he was just trying to buy $20 worth of weed to help his anxiety after being abducted. He weasels his way out of being taken in by providing the location of the Phorian to James.

Naturally, James decides to go over there alone, and instead of finding a lair, he finds a regular apartment… and a little boy, the Phorian’s son. The boy, Marcus (played by Lonnie Chavis) is understandably terrified at an armored man breaking into his house after his mom has fled, but James takes off his helmet and kneels down on Marcus’s level, earning his trust.

James takes Marcus to the DEO and Alex initially tries to get Marcus to open up so they can find his mother. It’s radio silence. Eventually, they realize Marcus has a connection to James, so back in James goes. They bond, and James essentially takes custody of Marcus while the DEO continues to try and find his mother.

Elsewhere in National City, Lena and Rhea have another dinner. More manipulation, and geeze, Lena does not deserve this. This time, however, Mon-El is walking buy with an ice cream cone and spots Rhea leaving. He collides with another pedestrian, and when he looks back up, his mother is gone.

The next day at Catco, James comes in with Marcus and introduces him to Eve Teschmacher (Andrea Brooks) as his nephew. Look, yes, Kara was Cat Grant’s long-suffering assistant for literally years. Yes, Kara saw a lot of weird shit. But Kara is also an alien and Supergirl and was putting herself in the middle of said weird shit while also being mentored by Cat. Eve is perhaps one of the most long-suffering and loyal assistants we’ve seen. She’s not alien and she doesn’t have super strength. She doesn’t choose to put herself in these situations. But shit just. Keeps. Happening. And yet there she is. Four for you, Eve Teschmacher.

But before Marcus’s inevitable episode, some stuff happens.

First, Mon-El surprises Kara at work with a giant back of Chinese takeout and opens up about thinking he saw his mother and being confused at a number of emotions he has about her. So, okay. This is right in Kara’s wheelhouse, mommy issues, and this is the one instance where her understanding isn’t misguided. Whereas Mon-El says on Daxam they literally would not deal with these kinds of emotions, instead choosing to drug themselves until they felt nothing (and boy, doesn’t that suddenly give us some clarity on Rhea’s going off the rails?), Kara counters by embracing him and telling him he’s allowed to feel sad. She was still his mother.

Secondly, James and Marcus have another heart to heart. Here’s another important bit of context. All of the Phorians we see are black. The show even goes out of its way to point out that Marcus identifies with James. There is some wonderful commentary in here about being able to identify with someone who looks like you, even if you aren’t exactly the same. In James, Marcus sees a hero figure who looks like him. Who has similar interests to him. Who protects him and opens up to him. It’s no small wonder that he opens up to James over Alex or Kara. (Not that they aren’t heroes in their own right.)

When James tells Marcus about how his dad died as a soldier, another layer blooms. Marcus’s dad was a soldier as well, and died helping him and his mother flee their planet. They bond over feeling isolated, and James introduces Marcus to some of his most cherished cameras. His father’s camera (though now in much worse shape after being shattered earlier in the season), and one of the first cameras James ever bought. The same model that photographer James “Spider” Martin used to document the Civil Rights Movement.

We’re finally getting to see James at his season one best. : a caring young man who wants to help people, but also knows how to connect with people and inspire them because he knows what the right thing is and believes they do too. The same James that appealed to Kara’s better angels when she struggled with her anger over Maxwell Lord.

Of course, Marcus then loses control and nearly brings down Catco before Kara can fly him out of the building and back to the DEO where he’s placed in a telekinetically shielded cell.


Now we find out that the Phorians can experience altered mental states if there’s a big enough fluctuation in electromagnetic energy. Winn traces two spikes, that also just happen to coincide with Marcus and his mother losing control. Suddenly that science jargon Lena was talking about earlier comes into play, and Kara realizes whatever Lena is working on is connected.

Kara naturally assumes that Lena is unaware of the side-effects, and calls… only for Rhea to answer the phone. We’re treated to a stellar villain monologue as Rhea basically threatens everything Kara holds dear, calls her a sanctimonious ass, and tells her every bit of carnage coming is Kara’s fault. Yikes.

She then proceeds to start the device again, which we see is essentially a giant freaking stargate. Lena twigs onto the fact that something isn’t right, but it’s too late, it can’t be stopped now.

At the DEO, J’onn and James have a discussion about what a person’s calling is, how they find their purpose. Again, we’ve been upfront in previous reviews about feeling like James has been drifting along aimlessly all season. Yeah, James pretty much feels the same. J’onn relates to him about how he felt when his first daughter was born (the feels!), and says that he found his purpose in her. And that he thinks James has found his purpose through Marcus. J’onn tells James that he’s going to be defined as a hero through what he does next, and then J’onn, Mon-El, and Kara saddle up to go confront Rhea.

Courtesy of DC gifs

James does decide what kind of hero he’s going to be, so he and Winn take Marcus and go find his mother. It’s not safe for her to be out without protection, but Winn makes a device that will shield her and Marcus from the electromagnetic pulses. Only to realize that Marcus’s mother isn’t the only Phorian in hiding. There are a dozen more, and far too many for Winn’s device to shield.

When the stargate begins to run at full capacity, the Phorian refugees could completely level National City.

Team Super finds the Luthor lab and begins to battle Rhea. Poor Lena is once again knocked out in the process. (She has really, really shitty luck with mother figures. Someone get her to Eliza Danvers, stat.) Kara manages to overpower Rhea and then flies out to see if she can shut down the gate.

Except Rhea is sturdier than she looks and is back up to finish her evil plan. J’onn goes to stop her, warning her that she won’t get away with threatening his family (more feels!), and might have been able to stop her if it weren’t for the convenient little plot device doohickey that comes out of nowhere. Rhea essentially traps J’onn in his own mind in a never-ending nightmare thanks to a white martian invention, and it’s now down to Rhea and Mon-El. He threatens to shoot her, but Rhea is still his mother and his flesh and blood. He just can’t. And yeah, we get it. That’s something you can’t really come back from.

Back at the Phorian hideout, all of the Phorians are starting to lose control. James refuses to leave them and he and Winn theorize that since they’re also telepathic if he can reach Marcus, he could reach them all.

Here is James’s best moment, and this will define the hero he’s meant to be: James saves the city, not through super strength, laser vision, or freeze breath. He saves the city and the Phorians because he has the heart of a hero, and he refuses to give up on Marcus. He’s willing to sacrifice his life because he believes in Marcus. That Marcus is a hero too, is strong, and can rise to the occasion. James is a hero because he brings the hero out in others, even in the face of certain death.

Also, boy howdy if that wasn’t a powerful shot in the arm for why representative heroes matter. It ought to make you even more excited for the upcoming Black Lightning series. But going back, James does get through to Marcus, and Marcus in turn is able to bring the other Phorians out of that altered state. National City is saved.

…For a hot minute. Rhea is full on world take over, and it turns out she built that stargate to bring in the remaining Daxam fleet. She’s hellbent on turning Earth into New Daxam.


Thoughts & Feelings


For most of the season, James Olsen has been floundering as a character after his romantic relationship with Kara ended. He bounced between being the new CEO of Catco after Cat Grant’s departure, and then he took up masked vigilantism as the Guardian with Winn. But outside of those two elements, James has remained pretty static and hasn’t had nearly the development as the rest of the Super Friends. If there’s one thing we can say for certain about James, it’s that the writers really had no idea what to do with his character this season. We’re glad they’re figuring it out, but we wish it wasn’t in the literal final hours of the season.

We talked in the past about how there have been several missed opportunities to utilize James as the CEO of Catco in the war of public opinion and information on CADMUS. Or how he bizarrely lied to Kara about his identity as the Guardian. In “City of Lost Children”, James finally has his moment to shine. This feels much more like the James we know and love from season one. We hope this is the direction he continues to move in.

Oh, Lena. Poor Lena.

We just want to hug her too.

On the happy end of things, the Supercorp fandom got yet another stunning scene to add to their gif repertoire. Lena and Kara’s friendship is being heavily reinforced over the second half of the season, which is probably due to Katie McGrath being added as a series regular for season 3. We also would like to hope that this is evidence that Lena is going to stay on the side of good. However, after all the shit she’s been through in just the past few months alone, a dark turn could be understandable.


This was definitely one of the most solid episodes of the season. It was pretty action-packed in its own right, but it’s also clearly the ‘slow-climb-up-the-hill’ part of the roller coaster ride that will be the end of this season. We are both excited and kind of terrified of what’s going to happen next, if things keep ramping up higher and higher each episode. It’s going to be another really long week until next Monday.



Also, Maggie and Alex look like they’re going to be suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuper badass. Can’t wait!

Image courtesy of the CW


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