There have been some noticeable changes since Supergirl moved to The CW, and one that has been particularly jarring is James Olsen’s significantly decreased screen time.
In Supergirl season 1, James served a couple of functions for Kara: a connection to Clark, who would not directly appear while the show found its footing, and a friend-turned-love interest. James was, from the jump, supportive of Kara embracing her powers and becoming Supergirl.
While at first it seemed like he would be a mentor, Kara was just as supportive of him. Their friendship was balanced. He and Winn, despite initially butting heads, joined forces to be Kara’s ground support, creating the delightful Superfriends dynamic as the trio worked their day jobs at CatCo while secretly meeting in an abandoned office to deal with alien threats.
Kara and James had an easy and lovely chemistry that made them fast friends and fast crushes. Though their potential relationship took a while to get off the ground as James got back together with his ex-girlfriend, Lucy, it was apparent the two were meant to be in the show’s eyes. And in the season 1 finale, it looked like the hero finally got the boy.
Though this dynamic developed over the season, romance was never an A-plot. And that was welcome since a show with a female lead doesn’t need to focus on romance when there are so many other interesting stories to tell — particularly Kara’s relationship with her adoptive sister, Alex, and her family’s complex legacy.
But everything changed
when the Fire Nation attacked with season 2. In the season premiere, Kara broke up with James before the two could even give dating a chance. “We sort of felt like we were pursuing that relationship more because we felt like we had to than any of us was really truly feeling it,” EP Andrew Kreisberg said following the premiere.
He added, “We realized that the best scenes between [Kara and James] were just the nice, sweet scenes where they were being friends.”
So why haven’t we seen many of those scenes this season? In fact, why haven’t we seen much of James at all? Though James took a big step up professionally by being tapped to run CatCo in Cat Grant’s absence, the narrative moved away from CatCo almost entirely. Winn now works at the DEO and Kara spends significantly more time at the new DEO HQ than she does at CatCo despite becoming a reporter.
This is a departure from season 1, which spent a large chunk of time at CatCo. Kreisberg added after the season premiere, “The theme of last year was how does Kara become Supergirl? The theme of this year is how does Supergirl become Kara? It felt like there was a way to have that realization and actually be part of the story.”
Yet that doesn’t seem to be the story they are telling. (I would also argue Kara working through a new relationship with James would be a good way to explore her “becoming Kara” since James proved over and over that he cared about Kara herself, not her powers). In fact, with the narrative so focused on the DEO and so little on Kara being a journalist (and throw in there the Luthors, Cadmus and Daxam), it’s not clear what the focus of the season is.
And James has been a casualty of this confusion.
Another obstacle in James’s path to screen time has been the introduction of Mon-El. It was clear from the beginning that the writers were going to push Mon-El and Kara together since he was an attractive
white male who suddenly got a lot of focus though his story has remained on the backburner.
The time Kara once spent times with James and Winn is now spent with Mon-El. Romance has also became much more significant.
The show has changed from one with a female lead who has a professional life, a superhero life, and a bit of romance on the side to one with the focus being on superheroing and romancing; her professional life has taken a back seat, and it’s hard not to feel like James is being replaced by Mon-El in the process due to where he is situated in the story.
Yes, James has had a side story where he became Guardian, a street-level vigilante. And this story makes sense for James as we’ve seen his heroic tendencies from the beginning. Not to mention, the amount of time he’s spent around superheroes has clearly rubbed off on him. With James being suddenly removed from helping protect the city, of course he would want to do something.
Alongside Winn, who has been serving as his man in the van, James decided to become a hero. And James and Winn becoming good friends in the process has been a highlight of the season. I just wish we were seeing more of it. And in spite of this delightful dynamic, Kara’s disapproval has undercut James’s attempt to have some agency in his life, as most of his stories up until now have revolved around Kara.
As the only significant character not centered at the DEO right now (other than Maggie, who comes in because she’s a cop and she’s dating Alex), there needed to be some way to bring him into the alien conflicts. Despite becoming Guardian, though, he’s still regularly sidelined. Moreover, James has been missing from several episodes already this season despite being a series regular.
Considering the large part James played in season 1, his absence has been noticeable in season 2. It has also been frustrating. But above all, it feels like a symptom of a larger problem with Supergirl‘s second season: A confusion of what this season is actually about and what makes the show work.