Supergirl: 220 “City of Lost Children” Review
Reviewed by Ben McClure.
City of Lost Children, the 20th episode of season 2 of Supergirl, accomplishes something that we never thought we’d see again, which is a fairly strong and convincing episode focusing on James Olsen. James has been the obviously neglected character of the year, having very little to do in a world where Kara is not romantically drawn to him, where his work life is of little importance, and where he is not dating the head of the DEO.
Becoming the Guardian offered a hint at something interesting, but the show had nowhere to take it, and the concept quickly became stale. Thankfully, James himself comes to realize that in this episode, and the writers are able to take their uncertainty about what to do with the character and turn it into a story about James’ uncertainty about himself. And Mehcad Brooks shows us that he does have the ability to turn in quite a moving performance if only he is given the material to work with. His discussions about his father, his connection with young Marcus, and his desperate attempt to save the Phorians at the end of the story all ring true thanks to the quality of the acting, even if the pacing of it all is not as smooth as it could be.
It helps that this character focus is painted on the backdrop of a strong plot. The destruction wreaked by the out-of-control alien at the start of the episode is powerfully realized, and draws us into the story well. It all appears at first to be in the vein of what we’ve had the last couple of weeks, where a largely standalone main plot is balanced against the slow burn subplot of Queen Rhea’s interactions with Lena Luthor. But then the story pulls off an excellent narrative swerve when it reveals that the two threads are really the same. The threat of Queen Rhea’s suddenly become the main focus, with James’ story becoming a subplot that keeps us grounded in the humanity of it all.
And what an ending! The sight of all those Daxamite ships making their way through the portal, intent on the colonization of the planet definitely raises the stakes from the end of last season. The fact that there are still two episodes left, with promised appearances from Superman and Cat Grant, fills me with high hopes for the conclusion of the year.
But can the show pull of a climax that is genuinely satisfying? It’s hard to say. As much as I enjoyed City of Lost Children, it was by no means perfect. As already stated, some of the rhythm of the story was a bit abrupt, such as the pace with which James gives up on Marcus, responds to J’onn’s pep talk, and then decides he’s found his “calling”. Also, Lena Luthor comes across as a bit stupid, too quickly smitten with Rhea’s motherly encouragement. And as always in these sorts of situations, the attempt to show how one character is so inspirational to another is shallow and contrived (the same thing happened on this week’s episode of The Flash). And finally, though I liked the struggle Mon-El had with killing his mother, in the face of such dire circumstances maybe he could have just shot her in the leg or something?
In spite of a good showing this week, the series still hasn’t cracked the problem of James. For an episode built largely around him, there is no strong set up for where the character is going in the future. In fact, with all of the mayhem going on, I was fully expecting him to get crushed by some falling rubble, wind up in a wheelchair, and set himself up to quietly exit the show. I suppose they could start telling stories of his ongoing relationship with Marcus and his people, but it’s hard to imagine that not becoming either as trite as his being Guardian turned out to be, or as distracting as Alex’s whole story was this year. To me, the obvious ways for him to stay an important part of the series would be to either have him become the head of security at the DEO, or even better, to go deep undercover to infiltrate Cadmus. That would make a cool story.
(Or even better, he could be part of a Justice League TV show featuring Superman, his pointy-eared friend, the Martian Manhunter, a certain ring-slinging space cop, and a dimension-hopping Flash.)
Aside from all that, City of Lost Children was a gripping installment of this series, and gives fans every reason to hope a spectacular final couple of weeks. If the show can just maintain its energy and focus (ie, tell an epic movie-worthy story that does not get too bogged down dealing with everyone’s work and relationships), then we could be in for something special.