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With all of the high-profile guest stars and exciting regulars to appear on Supergirl this season, James “Don’t Call Me Jimmy” Olsen has gotten lost in the shuffle. He was established early on in the second season as Cat Grant’s successor in the CEO chair before being promptly whisked to the sidelines—in fact, his presence in last week’s episode was barely missed. “Crossfire” seeks to remedy this imbalance by focusing on James’s attempt to be a superhero. The pursuit seems quixotic at first since James doesn’t have a) superpowers or b) any special skills and abilities (aside from being a black belt, a fact that is casually established for the first time in this episode). He isn’t even rich, which often seems to be a superpower of its own if superheroes like Batman and Iron Man are any indication.
James feels compelled to pursue the superhero lifestyle for a myriad of reasons: he’s tired of playing the sidekick role; he wants to do good and lead a more fulfilling lifestyle; he’s motivated by the example by his late dad. Even the loss of the camera his dad gave him during an armed robbery involving alien weaponry is used as a motivating factor. In the aggregate, James’s reasons for suddenly becoming a superhero aren’t especially convincing; it’s as if the Supergirl writers are channeling their own lack of conviction about the role James should take in the series. And in not having come up with a suitably satisfying answer as to what James should become other than a thwarted Supergirl love interest, the writers seemingly threw up their hands and say, “eh, let’s just make him a superhero.” It’s a common trope of genre shows like Supergirl to take non-powered characters like James and make them combatants rather than leave them in a supporting role. This cliché is currently playing itself out on The Flash, another CW superhero show where the metahumans are in danger of outnumbering the non-powered members of the cast. While Supergirl isn’t quite at that point yet, there is real potential for having an overcrowded, overpowered cast of “super-pals” that makes the star of the show seem just a bit less super.
Aside from James’s heroic quest, “Crossfire” can also be categorized as easily the most randy of the series to date. For starters there’s the relationship between Alex and Maggie, which began as collegial and is now progressing to the flirtatious stage. It’s obvious to anyone with eyes that Alex is seriously crushing on Maggie, even if Alex is herself seemingly the last person in National City to realize it. In fact, the “will-they-or-won’t-they” relationship between Alex and Maggie pivots on the “will-she-or-won’t-she” question surrounding Alex’s sexual identity. The barroom scene with Alex and Maggie toward the end of “Crossfire” underlines the fact Alex has never found much time—or more aptly, has made the time—for a love life. Even her brief quasi-fling with Max Lord last season was primarily for the purposes of investigating him. Up until now, her main priorities have been her job at the DEO, her adopted sister, and seemingly little else. Having Alex come to terms with what she previously perceived to be her asexuality, and what may have instead been a lack of attraction to men, gives the character a terrific defining moment that doesn’t involve her kicking alien ass. The audience may already been frustrated by the writers’ insistence on dragging out their eventual union, but to their credit those writers (along with actors Chyler Leigh and Floriana Lima) are treating Alex’s coming out with the sensitivity and care that it deserves.
While audiences could’ve seen the shipping of Alex and Maggie coming from a mile away, a less obvious pair may be in the offing in the form of Kara and Mon-El. Given the rocky relations between the two at first, it’s a bit of a 180 to see them slow dancing with one another and making moon eyes at one another. To be frank, this new romantic tenor between Supergirl and Mon-El not only comes out of left field from a narrative standpoint, it’s also a bit, well, weird. Moreover, it seems to complicate and sexualize the mentor-mentee dynamic that had been previously established. While the show gets a lot right about Supergirl as a character, one of the more maddening tendencies is her inconsistent perspective on balancing a romantic life with a superheroic one. In the past, she’s decided that, because she couldn’t have both, she’d rather wear the “S” on her chest. Perhaps the fact that her potential beau is as indestructible as she is changes the calculus somewhat, but hopefully the two won’t be tethered together. All things being equal, I prefer a Supergirl who isn’t defined by her romantic partners and a Mon-El who’s free to chart his own path (which will for sure work out far better than him trying to be “Mike of the Interns”).
Oh, and BTW, Supergirl fights some criminal jamokes who use alien technology given to them by the mysterious Project Cadmus. The antics of Chet Miner, i.e., the lead nobody, and his crew of anonymous flunkies can hardly compare to the charisma of Roulette from last week’s episode, but they’re there to serve as punching bags for Supergirl and to further establish the threat Cadmus will pose this season. We learn more about the motivations of the unnamed Cadmus bigwig (played by Brenda Strong) who is revealed at episode’s end to be Lena Luthor’s mother. Given Cadmus’s effort to undermine the public’s trust in aliens through the use of fear-mongering PSAs and other disinformation techniques, Lena’s association with the program through her mother confirms that she’s still a mendacious Luthor through and through. The episode sheds some little light on Mama Luthor’s zealous xenophobia but so far it seems like she and Lex have quite a bit in common. Whether Lena also falls from that same family tree will be something to track as the series progresses.