Fittingly, James (Mehcad Brooks) had a problem in Season 1 of Supergirl that was very similar to his best friend, Superman. James was too good. He was charming, dashing, vulnerable, morally balanced (mostly), and intelligent with a voice that wrapped around you like silk and a body that seemed chiseled from Pantheon-quality marble. There was the small matter of being in love with Kara (Melissa Benoist) while still dating Lucy (Jenna Dewan-Tatum) and struggling to find the balls to figure that situation out. But, otherwise, he was a good dude with a good look who really wanted to do good things.
So, you know, super boring. Just like Superman.
And it seemed like the people behind the show were seeing that, too. The immediate thing they accomplished once the show started was to make sure that he wasn't going to be defined by his love for Kara (Melissa Benoist) anymore. He needed more and following The Last Daughter of Krypton around like a puppy or putting himself in a position to get held hostage by an evil Supergirl automaton wasn't going to cut it. I talked before about how the show bailing on that seemingly inevitable relationship was one of the best moves they could've made for Kara as a character to spend time on herself. But it was also good for James. Because it's hard to separate yourself when all of your scenes are long gazes toward or flirty conversations with an increasingly romantically indifferent woman.
Enter James's quest for service and the creation of Guardian.
Supergirl's Earth doesn't trade much in the whole regular human trying to save the world scenarios. Although Oliver Queen and his crew run a nice crimefighting game on Earth-1, Kara's adopted world is more of a "let the flying, invincible, Midwest-hearted supermodels take care of business" kind of folk. As I like to say, the humans on Supergirl are a bit squishier than the humans in other worlds. They also don't teach their children to get out of the way of cars flying right for them. What was that little girl doing in the street anyway? And why was the mother so far away? Did the mother plant her child in danger and hope that insurance covers acts of alien violence? Did Mon-El (Chris Wood) save a little girl from a flung car only to turn her over to foiled yet determined murderous parents?
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Anyway, National City now has a human vigilante (as opposed to the alien vigilantes currently rescuing the city) with all kinds of wonderful toys. The best thing that this does is broker a new kind of power dynamic in a city. Things can get stale if it's only about Supergirl punching things, getting punched, and rescuing her hapless friends from mortal danger. The idea that regular people want to be heroes too isn't distant for our real lives but it is distant for the lives of humans on Supergirl's Earth, where people tend to just be casualties waiting to happen.
That might be the greatest success in transitioning James from sidekick to a man living on his own terms. I should hate how quickly this came about. When did James learn how to expertly kick butt? How did Winn (Jeremy Jordan) construct that amazing suit in a matter of days? Why does his voice have to be so growly?
But I don't hate it. And that's powered by James's always-boiling-under-the-surface yearning to be like his alien pals. The aspect of his personality that I joked about was his fetish for Kryptonians has pivoted to be a longing to save people, to be empowered like the Kryptonians are when they just stand in the sun. So getting James into the Guardian suit might seem rushed when you think hard about it, but it's the truth in his presence that sells this as something plausible. Of course James wants to be a hero. He's had a front-row seat to some of the greatest acts of heroism his Earth has ever known. His own sense of service has been wildly stoked.
James tells Winn as much near the end of "Changing" as they tie themselves to a clandestine night gig and I'm happy to see their bromance blossom into something more productive than their "one of us should tap that" conversation regarding Kara during last season's "Bizarro" episode. It's a bit healthier for them to bond over something that isn't the "friend zone." It makes me look forward to more zingers between the two as they banter their way through crime-fighting. I might not have been so positive about it last season when the zinger-quality was sub-par. But now Winn is riding around in a "DEO Speed Wagon" so things are looking up.
Sure, the Guardian costume kind of looks like the big-headed baby of Judge Dredd and Robocop and, yeah, one episode isn't enough to really judge how successful this partnership could be. I'm not talking spin-off yet, although Berlanti could probably pitch it tomorrow and get a two-season deal. I do, however, like where this is headed. This season is into questioning Supergirl's standing and way of life in a similar way that they did for the back five of Season 1, which is what made the last few episodes of that season so good. Mon-El doesn't necessarily want to be a hero even though he has all these powers which actually makes a lot of sense. Why is Kara's way the best way? Why do superpowered aliens need to look like a Bonobos catalog and be squeaky clean? And why do all the heroes have to be invincible? Why can't some of the heroes be squishy humans with magical technology?
This is a good step forward for the series and, specifically, for James, the last remaining single-dimension character. I'm not exactly sure how he's going to explain away nightly injuries like that head wound ("Cat's cushy job is a lot harder than you think") or when James is going to sleep. But that's never been a problem for Batman, so why would it be for Guardian? Besides, I kind of like the idea of a super-tired Winn falling asleep in the control room while adrenaline-charged James puts down an enemy by himself then takes a nap right there on the spot. There's got to be a lot of conditioning that goes into superhero-ing. And I hope they don't pull the plug on this partnership too soon.
Supergirl airs Mondays at 8/7c on The CW.
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