‘Supergirl’ Editorial: James Olsen Deserves Better

Right before Supergirl is about to resume, two of our staffers take a look at the biggest glaring problem with the show so far this season.

Angela: Supergirl’s second season has taken a drastic nosedive in quality. Many rightly point to the predominate focus on Kara’s love life as the culprit, but I can be more specific. Supergirl’s problem is a lack of James Olsen. The writers have done his character (and Mehcad Brooks) a drastic disservice by sidelining him, and many of the issues surrounding how they have handled his character are endemic of the other problems this season. In other words, James Olsen Deserves Better, and Here’s Why.

Three separate but related problems make up the body of the gross neglect of James Olsen by the writing staff this season. First, the immediate abandonment of a season’s worth of romantic build up between him and Kara. Second, the failure to recognize his full potential to make a difference in the world through his role as the head of Catco, a global media conglomerate. And finally, his general sidelining and lack of presence this season.

What do y’all have that I don’t?

These narrative issues unfortunately stem from tropes that have a basis in racist stereotypes, employed (likely unconsciously) by the writers: trading in a healthy, respectful, loving relationship between a black man and a white woman for a white woman paired with a selfish white (former slave-owning!) man; plain old shoddy writing; playing into the harmful ‘black man gets angry and violent’ trope; and prioritizing secondary white male characters (Winn) over a primary black male character (James).

The first and most obvious criticism to level against the handling of James Olsen is his immediate sidelining at the beginning of season 2. The entirety of season 1 built up a slow(ish) burn relationship between James and Kara. Yet within the timeline of the show, mere minutes passed between their season 1 finale kiss and the season 2 premiere. It’s just dissonant to have Kara immediately change her feelings about James. It made little enough sense that Kara said she just wanted to focus on herself (and given her immediate redirection into a romantic relationship with Mon-El, that argument/excuse is weak). But Kara also said to James that she only has friendly, not romantic feelings for him.

I’m sorry, but no. If that realization is the endgame, have it happen earlier in season 1 or throughout the course of season 2. The point of using something as a cliffhanger is that it’s important to the plot in some way, and any cliffhangers that are immediately swept under the rug when the show returns – be they related to plot or character development – are just bad. In this case it’s at best indicative of poor planning overall to right away negate an entire season’s worth of development by the end of the second season premiere. Especially when it’s never again mentioned by the characters.

Looking at it within the world of the show, Kara grappled for a year with blossoming feelings for James. It just doesn’t follow that she immediately changes her mind. Give the character and the storyline that was built up over 20 episodes more time to run its course or wrap up, if that is the ultimate goal. The suddenness is so jarring that it’s suspicious when James is right away absent from the narrative, and quickly replaced as a romantic interest with Mon-El. Especially because we have a similar example within the same show to follow: Winn.

Winn’s feelings for Kara were also built up over the course of half a season, until she rejected him. He took a few episodes to sort himself out, then soon renewed his friendship with Kara. Their dynamic resumed and remained unchanged until, in season 2, Kara stopped having much meaningful contact with anyone other than Alex and Mon-El (the former decreasing in frequency as well). But that didn’t mean Winn was sidelined – he is present with a few meaningful moments, if only to move the plot forward, in almost every episode.

So it’s very difficult not to point out the one obvious, major difference between James and Mon-El, or James and Winn, when we look at how the season 2 narrative has treated all three of them. Just because James isn’t a romantic interest anymore, or comedic relief like Winn, doesn’t mean he forfeits his importance to the plot. I’ll toss to Tatiana now for how he should function there.

1 2 3