Half the episode is devoted to James Olsen, a character who I feel has struggled to find his place in the show all season. James gets the spotlight here and we get some decent backstory and character progression. We learn about his childhood, how he was bullied, and how he kept his guard up. We also see him step up to the plate as a heroic figure just being James. I don't know if this episode solves the James problem but at least it lets him shine.
The other half is a close look at Lena and Rhea and an experiment that catapults us to the season finale. This is just as good a look at Lena as it is James. We get another peek behind the curtain to see just how damaged Lena is despite her polished and proper exterior. And Rhea definitely takes advantage of this weakness in Lena's personality. I must say that both Katie McGrath and Teri Hatcher slay in this episode
McGrath really has this wonderfully understated way of letting us know just what Lena is feeling just by a glance and a turn of the phrase. And Hatcher chews up the scenery, cloyingly sweet when dealing with Lena, stern when dealing with Mon-El, and turning quite vicious when talking to Kara.
There is the usual dollop of political sentiment and current news in this episode as well, touching racism and refugees.
Overall this was a very good episode with a killer cliffhanger.
The episode starts with Guardian out on patrol and stopping a purse snatching. After the crooks are captured, Guardian extends his hand to the victim who is just as terrified as the criminals. James is sort of devastated by this. You can see a sadness in his eyes while still wearing the Guardian helmet.
Later Winn asks what's up. James says he wants the Guardian to inspire, like Clark and Kara, not be an agent of fear like 'Clark's friend'. In case we didn't know he was talking about Batman, Winn brings up Gotham and does this pitch perfect imitation of the Dark Knight, putting on a grim expression and holding up his finger like ears. This moment alone would make me love this episode.
In fact, I think while James has suffered this season, Winn has shined. He seems so at home at the DEO. There isn't the whining puppy dog chasing Kara. And he is the geek-equivalent of many of the viewers, tossing in references this episode like action figures, Carrie, and even whistling 'I'm your superfriend' from the Flash musical episode.
We also see Kara and Lena having a brunch and talking about Justin Timberlake and N'Sync. While silly, it at least shows these two are friends. Lena ends up discussing her secret experiment and her new mentor but doesn't give Kara any details. Once again, there is an opportunity here for Kara to learn about Rhea's plans but doesn't. Whatever Lena is working on, the first experiment is today.
Back in downtown, a woman wanders into the middle of a street bazaar with food carts. She seems completely oblivious to the surroundings and then her eyes go purple. In a nice action sequence with decent effects, she releases a TK storm, flipping cars, whipping up winds, and tossing trucks high into the air. Supergirl swoops in to catch the automobiles but in the confusion, the woman slips away. Again, these were good, non-CGI effects, that felt real.
In the DEO, we learn she is a Phorian, one of a race of peaceful telekinetics and telepaths. The whole attack is plastered on the news making the crew worry about an anti-alien bias and backlash. The team needs to find her to bring her in and protect her. But James, still smarting from how the Guardian is regarded, leaves.
That night, Rhea and Lena have dinner at a fancy restaurant. Whatever the test was this morning failed. You can see just how crestfallen Lena is about the whole thing. But Rhea reminds her that failure is part of progress. As Rhea leaves, Mon-El happens to be walking by and sees his mother who he thought was on the other side of the universe.
I have decided that Katie McGrath has been put on this earth to atomize people with a glance. Whatever emotion she is feeling, it just emanates from her. And I feel I would be blasted to ash in her presence.
Meanwhile, Guardian gets a tip from resident alien Brian where the woman who attacked the city lives. When James investigates, he finds a young boy named Marcus still in the house. The house screams 'normal', filled with toys, photos, and kid's drawings.
Initially, Marcus is scared of the Guardian but then James removes his helmet and there is a sudden connection. It is a nice moment and clearly shows the hero James wants to be.
In the DEO where Alex uses burgers to try and ply out of Marcus where his mother is. It is clear that Marcus is tight lipped and has put up a wall of his own. The only one he seems to respond to, albeit minimally, is James. The DEO decides that the best option is to release Marcus into James' custody to try and connect.
There is a lot to dissect here. One, I suppose Marcus being a telepath himself would block J'onn from reading his mind. But I would have liked to hear that rather than intuit it. Second, James makes a point of how Marcus is scared given all he sees on the news is people who hate his mother and his people. But the big thing is that the best option is a field trip with James?? That seems like an almost idiotic leap. They know nothing of Marcus!
In an LCorp facility, Lena continues to be stymied by how to make this 'experiment' work. We know from last issue it is a transmatter warp. But the power source can't be stabilized. In a great interaction, Lena divulges how she is still trying to impress her mother and still hoping to prove to the world she is better than her brother. Rhea, in a moment of tenderness and wisdom which feels true, says Lena isn't Lex. It isn't about power, it is about balance.
Again, Hatcher and McGrath really show their chops here. There is vulnerability in Lena. There is this mentoring feel and true warmth from Rhea. It all works.
There is a nice juxtaposition to Marcus and James at CatCo. Here James tells his story to Marcus. James father was a soldier, defending his people, who died in service. Same with Marcus. And James talks about his love of photography and how he was inspired to report the news. Slowly, we see Marcus warming up to James as a mentor, so similar to Lena/Rhea.
At CatCo, Mon-El shows up with lunch for Kara. I guess he has learned his lesson about hiding things because he tells her that he saw Rhea. And then he says that he had feelings other than anger. He misses his mother. He is a bit sad. On Daxam, he would take drugs to blunt these feelings. He is trying to deal with them here.
Rhea's talk of how Lena is better than Lex seems to have worked. A new configuration allows the gate to be opened. And it is a big gate!
As the gate fires up, Marcus's eyes go purple and he also releases a TK storm, ripping apart CatCo from the inside. Once again, there are good effects of how this would feel, wind whipping in the offices, ceiling tiles and desks being tossed around.
Kara does a classic shirt-rip and flies in to take Marcus out of the building. As the gate is powered down, Marcus regains controls. But there is a fabulous shot of CatCo from the outside showing how the upper part of the building is cracked and battered. He could have taken the whole thing down.
The DEO maps an electromagnetic spike when Marcus lost control. They know he and his mother are innocent. They need to find Marcus' mother before she loses control and unleashes destruction. James, upset that his bringing Marcus to CatCo almost led to everyone's death there, walks off again. He feels he is out of his element.
And then we get a great fatherly speech from J'onn. J'onn didn't know his role on Mars until he saw a reflection of himself in his daughter. James seems to have a similar connection with Marcus. James is still trying to define who he is as a hero. Maybe Marcus can inform him.
It leads to James talking to Marcus about his past. James was in a school where he was bullied. There weren't many people who looked like him. He put up walls to protect himself. Until he met Clark and opened up. The speech softens Marcus.
Again, this gives James some much needed spotlight and depth.
The connection between Lena's experiments and Marcus' spells is sussed out by Winn. Kara calls Lena to investigate, it is Rhea who answers.
If there is one scene to watch, it is this one.
Rhea sheds all the civility she has shown Lena. And she gives a great speech that Kara is selfish for wanting to keep Mon-El on Earth. She says Kara craves the worship of the people of Earth to make up for the failure of Krypton. And then ... wow ... everything that happens next ... cities burning, nations falling, babies crying out ... is her fault. People will suffer and will ask why and will the answer will be 'Supergirl'.
Whoa ... brutal. And completely sold by Hatcher.
Luckily, Marcus reaches out telepathically and knows where his mother is. James and Winn head off with a 'telekinetic dampener' to try to blunt the Lena experiment. Meanwhile Kara and J'onn head off to try and find Lena's lab. It turns out there are more Phorians than just Marcus and his mom.
Meanwhile, Rhea opens up the portal and finally reveals how evil she is to Lena. She truly thinks Lena is a marvel. While something bad is about to happen, everything she has said to Lena has been true. Hmmm ... maybe she thinks Lena is a better match for Mon than Kara?
The portal opens. The Phorians all go purple-eyed crazy.
Meanwhile, Supergirl fights Rhea but decides that shutting the gate is more important. She flies off.
Rhea pulls out a device which incapacitates J'onn.
That leaves that only Mon-El to face his mother. He pulls a gun on her! (Remember, lead weakness!)
But he can't shoot his mother. She says his father committed suicide out of grief because Mon-El left. He basically can't act.
Again, a bit to unpack here. He could have shot her in the foot to stop her without killing her. He should have destroyed her device instead of letting J'onn be stuck in a telepathic loop of pain. But instead he just slumps his shoulders.
Meanwhile, James knows that all the Phorians are connected telepathically. He is able to get through to Marcus to shake off the experiment's effects. When Marcus shuts down, the others do as well. It shows how James breaks through those emotional walls, screaming that Marcus is not alone. It shows how James is the 'superman' in this relationship.
But the whole thing is a bit oversold when Winn yells 'That is a hero without a suit!!!'. A bit too on the nose. At least James gets his moment for the season. And this would be an easy out for them to write James off if they want.
But the gate remains open and a Daxamite fleet flies through. Hundreds of ships pour out and Rhea declares that Earth will be the New Daxam.
Now this is a great shot and a great cliffhanger. This is my favorite shot of the show, wonderful cinematography.
So the Rhea/Lena scenes were the highpoint of this episode for me. And clearly the big threat of the season finale has been set up. So hooray for us!
And I was glad to see James get some dedicated screen time because he needed it. This season has struggled with him.