Supergirl recap: James Olsen, hero
Coville's cult resurfaces, and James considers going public about Guardian
James Olsen was the emotional and narrative highlight in this week’s episode of Supergirl, and how fantastic that the character who’s so often struggled to fit into the show’s structure was at the center of such a powerful and memorable scene.
First, let’s check in on the family drama. In order to help a wounded, snarling Ruby, Alex turns to books on childhood trauma. But of course, there’s no chapter on “So your mom’s a Worldkiller who tried to kill you,” and her offer of a motorcycle ride, a new pet cat, and blue-dyed hair are roundly rebuffed.
J’onn, too, is struggling as his father slips further into dementia. He’s read that 3D video games can reverse cognitive decline, so he and Alex load up their reluctant charges and head to the arcade.
At first, it goes badly. Ruby mopes and whines, while a shoot-em-up alien hunting game terrifies Myr’nn. But when they’re left alone briefly, Ruby’s interested to learn that Myr’nn is from Mars (hello, who wouldn’t be?), and the next thing you know, the two are happily playing foosball. By the end of the day, Ruby lets Alex add blue to her hair, apologizes for her rudeness, and asks if J’onn ever worries that what happened to his father will happen to him.
Sensing the bigger meaning behind this question, Alex assures Ruby that some of the smartest people on the planet are working to cure her mom, and “I will fight to protect you as long as I live.” Excellent job drawing these plotlines together, show!
Now, to the main storyline, where Kara’s at CatCo for the first time in forever. She’s there to chastise James for telling Lena about the breaking and entering mission, then she confuses him, herself, and us as she vents that Lena’s got a problem with Supergirl but not Kara, but Supergirl can’t tell Lena to trust Kara, nor can Kara explain why Supergirl took it all so personally. Double the identity, double the trouble.
Their conversation is interrupted by Tanya, the woman from last week’s episode, who explains that she’s a linguist who was translating Coville’s journal until she became disturbed by what she was uncovering: plans for a bomb. When Mon-El and Supergirl race to the cult’s now-abandoned location and find a necklace lying in a pile of ash, they realize these are the remains of a person who apparently got caught in the blast.
Meanwhile, Coville’s cult arrives at CatCo to snatch Tanya back, and we’re yet again left to ponder why CatCo has such terrible security. They’re led by Olivia, last seen becoming disillusioned by Coville when he tried to blow up a stadium full of people but who experienced a Rao renaissance after visiting Coville in prison.
As the cult hustles Tanya out, James dons his Guardian gear to get her back. His mask is destroyed in the struggle, and when the police arrive, they train their weapons on James, not believing Tanya when she frantically insists that Olivia and her goons are the real bad guys.
James tosses a smoke bomb so they can escape. Tanya’s delighted to learn that he’s Guardian. (But not to worry; “I’m not gonna start a church or anything.”) Her face falls when she realizes that superhero or not, the police drew on him, like they did her father and her brothers. Then James gets a text from the cult threatening to release video outing him as Guardian unless he hands over Tanya and the journal.
At the DEO, Kara worries that she set Olivia on this path by cutting her hand to reveal her vulnerability during the stadium bomb scare. She’s also struggling with her decision to keep her secret identity from Lena, but Mon-El tells her it’s more noble not to protect Lena from the truth.
Supergirl does try to apologize to Lena, but Lena’s made of ice when she explains that she and Supergirl never had a friendship to ruin, and Lena has plenty of actual friends who would never, ever lie to her. So, you know. Awkward.
Turning back to the comfort of science, Lena reports that the cult member was reduced to ash not by a bomb, but by the Rock of Yuda Kal, a statue of a Kryptonian goddess that Coville found in Addis Ababa and that his cult wants to use to make a new Worldkiller. That’s the bad news. The good news is that if they can reverse the process, they might be able to un-make Reign and cure Sam.
Then James arrives to tell the group that he’s going to hold a press conference to reveal his identity, which will take away the cult’s blackmail leverage and keep the journal out of their hands. (Next: James Olsen shines)
Lena pulls him aside for a private moment, and he confesses how worried he is about the public learning that Guardian is black. Then he tells her about the first time the police ever handcuffed him: He was 7 and playing hide-and-seek at the hotel where his family was vacationing. The police refused to believe he was a guest there and had to place the cuffs around his forearms because he was so small.
He’s in tears as he explains that when he put on the Guardian mask, he finally felt free. “It was the first time in my life I had the opportunity to be judged on my actions and my heart, not how I look.” He wants to change things, especially for 7-year-old boys who look like him, because there’s too much at stake for him not to.
But before he can actually go public, Tanya offers to give herself up. So they hatch a plan, which involves Mon-El putting on a bow tie, “stumbling” into Tanya’s kidnapping, and getting taken captive with her. It works like a charm — except that the cult’s van blocks the tracker. Supergirl assures them that Mon-El can handle himself.
And sure enough, he ditches his glasses and bow tie to break his cuffs and overpower his guard, then pulls a Barry Allen to steal a bit of Kryptonian Sunstone that emits a frequency Kara can hear. Unfortunately, Olivia’s already completed the ritual, and the Rock of Yuda Kal begins transforming her into a Worldkiller who’s able to fling Mon-El across the room.
Supergirl arrives and jumps into the fight, but when she tries to remove the rock from Olivia’s hand, it triggers her laser vision, which she struggles to control. So she uses her true super-skill, empathy, and reminds Olivia that she saved her from the stadium bomb in order to give her a new chance at a life.
As Olivia struggles with what that life should look like, Supergirl says she understands about not knowing what role to play and pleads, “Let go of that rock, and you’ll have a lifetime to figure it out.”
But when Olivia tries to drop the rock, it clings to her palm and starts to burn her. Not wanting to touch the rock again, Supergirl lasers it loose so Mon-El can knock it away. Once the Worldkiller power drains away, Supergirl uses her breath to cool Olivia’s burning palm and holds the weeping girl in a comforting embrace — another of her super-skills.
As they clean up the crime scene, Supergirl and James apologize for putting each other in an awkward position regarding Lena. James says he understands the complications of a secret identity, and he respects, understands, and appreciates why Supergirl does it. However, when the time is right, he plans to remove his mask and go public on his own terms. “I think people like Tanya need to see heroes who look like me so they know what they’re capable of.”
Alas, the Rock of Yuda Kal was drained of all its power during the ceremony, but Lena and Winn recorded its radiation signal and locate the exact rock on a meteor five light years away. Mon-El offers to accompany Supergirl on the retrieval mission since she can’t touch the rock without gnarly effects.
As J’onn hands over the keys to his convertible/spaceship, he warns Mon-El that he might want to share his lovey feelings with Kara, but it would be selfish to burden her with them. And yes, that’s essentially the advice Mon-El gave Kara about Lena, so what goes around comes around.
Still, as they fly away in J’onn’s chariot, you have to wonder where their one-on-one conversation will take them. And they’re facing a deadline, as Reign’s growing immune to Lena’s restraints and will likely be able to break free in a few more days.
As if that wasn’t enough, the episode ends with Thomas Coville approaching the abandoned Worldkiller creating-cauldron and telling the police officer who finds him that he’s never been better. Which probably means bad things for Supergirl and the DEO.
Snaps of the cape
- This was James Olsen’s finest episode. All credit to the Supergirl writers bringing James’s race to the forefront and addressing a crucial and timely issue in such a sensitive yet resonant way. Mehcad Brooks owned every moment of that gut-wrenching and honest monologue about the helplessness and humiliation experienced by too many black men of color in America.
- Wh knew that Worldkillers have a similar genetic makeup to crops? Also, Reign’s promises to rip out Lena’s spine before cracking the planet in half was a nice reminder that Worldkillers also excel at making threats.
- As for the rest of the episode, the J’onn/Myr’nn/Alex/Ruby quartet remains stellar, and if the return of the Coville cult felt a bit rushed and easily resolved, I’m not going to quibble.
- In the end, “The Fanatical” did a bang(-arang) up job of reminding us about Kara’s central struggle this season: Human or alien, woman or hero, Kara or Supergirl? As foreshadowing goes, the suggestion that we’re headed toward a big Kara-Lena-Supergirl reveal isn’t subtle, but that’s not going to make it any less painful (for them) and juicy (for us).