Thursday, 11 May 2017

Review - 'Supergirl', S02E20 - 'City of Lost Children'

The previous episode of Supergirl had actually managed to catch me by surprise, with the way that it directly addressed some of my lingering issues with the series, as a whole. And, now, it continues to surprise to surprise me with its latest episode, by directly addressing another – with an episode that seems set on finally doing something truly worthwhile with the character of James Olsen.

Now, while I'm perfectly aware that opinions on this point could be wildly varied, I've never actually had any issue with the series portrayal of James Olsen. I don't have any real problem with the changes that have been made to his usual personality and demeanour – and, I also don't have any issue with the fact that he is black, now. I also don't have any problem with Mehcad Brooks's performance, in the role. I feel like I have probably said all of this before. But, it's worth reiterating – especially when talking about this episode.

My only real issue with the character has been with the fact that he just hasn't ever been utilised very well. The writers of this series made the decision, early on, to take a character who was, arguably, almost as important to the story of Superman as Lois Lane, and make fundamental changes to his usual portrayal as they set him up as something of a mentor figure for Kara – then, they absolutely failed to do anything to justify any of that.

Honestly, James's part in this episode is probably the best use that Supergirl has ever made of the character – and, the fact that it had very little, if anything, to do with his ongoing 'Guardian' subplot is actually pretty conspicuous. As we see James connect with Marcus (Lonnie Chavis), the son of a telekinetic alien responsible for the most recent attack on National City, we are finally able to see that this is a character who genuinely does have something unique to offer. Drawing on his experiences as an isolated, and bullied, black kid living in a largely white community, as well as his long-time friendship with Clark Kent/Superman, James is uniquely qualified to be the one to bond with the scared child of a largely ostracized alien race (is he as qualified as J'onn 'J'onnz would have been, had the Green Martian actually made the effort? Well, maybe not. But, given the circumstances, I'm willing to cut the writers a little slack on this point). It may all feel a little heavy-handed, at times – but, it also provides some genuinely great moments between James and Marcus, with Mehcad Brooks and Lonnie Chavis quickly establishing a very genuine rapport as they play off of each other.

Another very interesting aspect of James's story-line, in this episode, is the way in which it seems to directly address the failings of the whole 'Guardian' story-line – as James begins to question his decision to become a costumed vigilante when he realises that the people he is trying to help are actually terrified of him. This causes James to consider what sort of hero he actually wants to be – and, even allows for a fun reference to another of DC's iconic heroes, as James and Winn discuss the fact that the fear Guardian inspires actually makes him similar to 'Superman's friend' (I assume that there are some behind-the-scenes reasons behind why they couldn't simply say 'Batman' – but, this conversation does also confirm that the character does exist in this universe). With Superman, and now Supergirl, as his primary examples for what a super-hero should be, the idea that James is falling short of that with his own efforts clearly troubles him – and, it seems to open the door for what should, hopefully, be some more interesting developments for the future.

Of course, James's primary plot-line, throughout the episode, also ties directly into what seems to be the true beginning of the season's final act. Here, we also learn that Lena Luthor and Rhea have moved ahead with their plans to construct a massive portal, based on Daxamite technology – and, that it was actually the energy generated by their tests which, somehow, drove Marcus's mother (and, Marcus himself) into their violent outbursts, is it interfered with their natural telepathic links. Given that the separate plot-threads, in any given episode, are usually entirely unrelated, this surprising link between the two actually struck me as genuinely clever.

More importantly, though, this secondary plot-thread created the opportunity for some genuinely great moments between Teri Hatcher and Katie McGrath, as we saw Rhea and Lena establish what felt like a very genuine surrogate mother/daughter relationship based on a genuine mutual respect and affection. This, of course, only made Rhea's sudden, but inevitable, betrayal feel especially tragic – as we learn that Rhea's plan, all along, was to use this portal to bring what is left of her own people to Earth, as the first stage in an all-out invasion.

With only a couple of episodes left, in the season, this did feel like a genuinely great moment to end on – as the sight of those Daxamite ship streaming through the open portal, and hovering over National City, made for some great visual moments to end the episode. All that remains, now, is to wait and see whether these final episodes can actually make the most of the potential for genuine drama and excitement created by this development.

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