Monday, May 8, 2017

James Olsen Struggles To Explore His Relevance In The "City Of Lost Children"


The Good: Good James Olsen story, Mehcad Brooks shows off a lot of range in his performance
The Bad: Writing is all over the place, Simple plot, Multiple plotlines prevent any one plot from satisfactorily developing.
The Basics: "City Of Lost Children" brings James Olsen back to the forefront of Supergirl with mixed results.


One of the big problems with a show hitting a high-water mark is that what immediately follows it is inherently less-than that episode (or moment). Unfortunately for Supergirl when the show skyrocketed into truly great territory with "Alex" (reviewed here!), it mortgaged some of its own greatness by treading predictable on one arc and undermining its own intelligence with a punch that, disturbingly, did not phase cop Maggie Sawyer. "Alex" could have been a perfect episode and it came incredibly close by being very smart.

But then, Lena Luthor went in the exact direction viewers figured she would end up going since her very first appearance and the motivation for her character turn was painfully stupid and simplistic. "City Of Lost Children" picks up Lena and Rhea's new alliance, but is much more focused on James Olsen and his feelings of inadequacy.

Guardian rescues a woman from a mugger and is surprised when she reacts in horror to his rescue and runs away. The next day, Kara and Lena have lunch together and Lena admits she is working on a big new project involving quantum entanglement, but Kara does not pursue her with further questions. James and Winn discuss the woman's reaction to his armored self and James questions whether he is actually doing any good. Nearby, a telekinetic alien woman suddenly starts wreaking havoc until Supergirl arrives. Returning to the DEO, Schott identifies the alien as a Phorian, which leaves J'onzz confused given the usual peaceful nature of the Phorians.

Lena and Rhea meet for dinner and Lena is frustrated that their first test of the portal device was unsuccessful. Rhea leaves and Mon-El sees her on the street, but at such a distance that he cannot follow her. Guardian tracks down the Phorian's household and finds the alien's son there. Olsen brings in Marcus, but Alex is unable to make any progress with him. Alex suggests Olsen interview Marcus in order prevent the Phorian from attacking National City again and he agrees. Mon-El asks Schott for help in tracking his parents' ship out of Earth's orbit, but sees no evidence that his parents are still around while Lena gets frustrated with her lack of progress on the project with Rhea. While Olsen slowly bonds with Marcus, Lena finds a new approach to the portal she is building with Rhea.

"City Of Lost Children" is fun for making a solid allusion to Batman, which is pretty cool for the DC Television Universe. Beyond that, "City Of Lost Children" has a funny moment when Guardian busts an alien for buying weed on the street, but is mired in trying to make James Olsen relevant again.

The preoccupation with James Olsen in "City Of Lost Children" illustrates part of the difficulty Supergirl has had in its second season. With the cast expanding, some of the first season characters like James Olsen have had very erratic arcs in the season. Olsen leapt right into the role of Guardian at the beginning of the season and the writers didn't seem to know what to do with him after he made that transition. In "City Of Lost Children," the idea that the people of National City might actually be freaked out by Guardian is a neat one, but it quickly gets sublimated into the plot with Olsen just giving Marcus a tour of his office to build the boy's trust.

The benefit of "City Of Lost Children" is that some of James Olsen's backstory is fleshed out as he talks about his father and his photography. That backstory comes out in a fairly organic way and it does effectively allow Olsen to interface with Marcus. While much of "City Of Lost Children" feels like the writers are trying the shotgun approach to writing James Olsen to figure out what to do with him, Mehcad Brooks plays the role with consistency and in a way that makes him seem like Olsen is struggling with an existential crisis of his own. One almost wishes that Olsen had been given a full episode with more conflict to him to explore, as opposed to peppering Brooks' best moments alongside the Lena and Mon-El plots.

The sense of the writers taking the shotgun approach reaches its peak when Olsen throws out to J'onzz that J'onn might think that he and Marcus are bonding only because the photographer is black. That assertion comes completely out of left field and feels very much out of character.

As "City Of Lost Children" reaches its climax, the DEO figures out exactly what is going on and, unfortunately, it is exactly what one might suspect with the two main plots coming together. While Brooks shows off a lot of range, Teri Hatcher leaps right into being a full-fledged comic book villain with her over-the-top performance.

The only real saving grace of "City Of Lost Children" is that it gives fans of Supergirl the slim hope that Lena Luthor is just being dumbed down into a hapless pawn instead of a predictable villain. Regardless, "City Of Lost Children" tries a lot of different things with Olsen, Rhea and Luthor and in the process makes none of their arcs very satisfying.

For other works with Darcy Hinds, please check out my reviews of:
X-Men: Apocalypse
"Last Refuge"- Legends Of Tomorrow
Robocop

3/10

For other television season and episode reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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