“Supergirl’s” second season is coming on strong — with a new network, shooting location, and new theme: Where Season 1 rallied around a team that was “stronger together,” Season Two seems… A little more existential.
From the second Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart) kicked Kara Danvers (Melissa Benoist) out of her comfort zone and told her dreams are earned, not handed out, “Supergirl” has been asking a single question of each of its characters:
Who are you?
It’s a question James Olsen (Mehcad Brooks) has been struggling with ever since he appeared in National City. “My whole life, I’ve been a sidekick,” he told Winn during the Nov. 7 episode: “My best friends wear capes. They’re heroes, they save people. I want to do something.”
While “Supergirl’s” changes to classic ‘Superman’ characters like Cat Grant and Mon-El make beautiful sense in the world of the show, James Olsen — ‘Superman’s Pal,’ who first appeared in 1938 — has spent the series stuck between the comics and the show universe, between Metropolis and National City, between Clark and his cousin Kara — between Jimmy and James, you could say.
But the “Guardian” storyline now underway takes James into fresh territory, and at just the right time for the show and for the character. It can’t be easy being buds with the Man and of Steel and Maid of Might, but just as hard-hitting for our pal Jimmy is the change in routine around him: Lucy is gone (okay, maybe for the best for them both), all his friends at CatCo are gone (bummer), he’s been handed a job about which he knows little (a real confidence-killer)… Even his photography has been taken away:
Shattering his father’s camera might have been a little heavy-handed, but we get the message loud and clear, producers: James’ old role is just dust in the wind, dude. Photographs aren’t good enough anymore.
Interestingly, the show underlines this new direction by linking it, once again, to James’ late father: This time, rather than feeling close to his dad, James wants to honor him as a protector of kin and country. It’s a moment of slight cognitive dissonance, switching up the role of observer and fighter, as James — who built a career on staying behind a lens and documenting the actions of others — seems reasonable enough to weight the pros and cons here a little more precisely, but hey: Mehcad Brooks sells that scene, so we’re buying.
We’ve known since mid-October that James is in line to be “Supergirl’s” next hero, Guardian — and this episode sure seemed like the kickoff for his origin story. Guardian — a DC character with ties to “Arrow’s” Roy Harper (Colton Haynes) — doesn’t require superpowers to fight evil.. But then Jimmy never did before either — which Winn points out, while trying to dissuade him from going out and getting his butt kicked in a hoodie again.
It’s something James himself used to talk about, describing the attraction of photography to Kara — and we have to wonder if it isn’t still his true calling. It makes sense that James, famous for his friendship with Superman, now stuck behind a desk and a title he never asked for, separated from his friends and team, would want to be a hero in his own right. But as great as it is to see James take on new challenges, “Supergirl’s” never been shy about letting its characters take and make mistakes in their pursuit of fulfillment — and it’s unlikely to cushion the blow for him if this turns out to be a less than stellar idea.
Alongside Kara learning as she goes, in the pavement-pounding world of investigative journalism, J’onn’s (David Harewood) tentative explorations in his true Martian form, Alex’s (Chyler Leigh) feelings for Detective Maggie Sawyer (Floriana Lima) and even Mon-El’s (Chris Wood) painful attempts at assimilation, James’ introspective crisis fits right in.
Alex herself neatly summed up the theme of these first few episodes in a heart-to-heart with Kara — who really should be paying better attention to the sudden outbreak of self-reflection she’s kicked off among her nearest and dearest: “People have to figure out what works for them. Who they are inside, what they’re meant to be.”
As a direction for the season, “people figuring out what they’re meant to be” has thus far proved rich ground for both conflict and character development. Winn, reappearing to James with a change of heart and an offer of a custom-made suit, seemed to agree, as the show left our two pals laughing in a brightly lit, cheerful, safe office about the addiction of heroism.
For us, we’ll reserve judgment until we see Guardian in action — and maybe hope somebody buys James a new camera… Just in case.
“Supergirl” airs Mondays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on the CW.