Tonight on Supergirl, the series bid farewell to James Olsen (Mehcad Brooks), who has been in National City and a key part of Kara's extended CatCo family since the pilot. In real-world terms, we know why James is leaving: Brooks, a handsome young actor with five years on a hit genre show, has become an attractive "get" for Hollywood and is leaving Supergirl to play a role in the upcoming Mortal Kombat feature film. But story-wise, that doesn't exactly fly. What happened to James Olsen, to drive him away from National City? Well, that's a bit of a longer story.
To the show's credit, James's departure feels relatively organic and completely believable -- something that is not always true in the Arrowverse or in TV in general. The decision he makes in tonight's episode feels in line with the conflict he has been having so far this season as well as the sisyphean tasks he has taken on over the last two years in the name of living up to the influence his old friend Clark has had on his life.
Spoilers ahead for "In Plain Sight," tonight's episode of Supergirl.
When Kelly found herself in potential danger from Malefic, James decided to get his sister out of town -- and brought her back to Calvintown, where they grew up. Instead of the relatively peaceful place he left, though, he found the place suffering from corruption and economic downturn. It was ugly, run-down, violent, and nobody seemed to have much hope. There were a lot of people serving long sentences for petty crimes in a for-profit prison located locally.
The one piece of good news in town was that James discovered an old friend of his -- the reporter who had been his mentor -- had risen to the rank of publisher of the local newspaper. That excited James -- until he discovered that his old friend had become exhausted and jaded, and had stopped trying to fight the local corruption that led to such an inhospitable Calvintown. The prison, he explained, could apply financial pressure to force people to stop advertising with the paper if he did too much digging.
Ultimately, this was the push James needed to finally separate himself from National City and return home. He bought the paper and named himself publisher, handing the camera he had inherited from his father to a local youth whose family was one of those affected by the prison's corruption and offering the kid -- named Simon Kirby, after Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, who co-created The Guardian -- a job. When the kid called him "chief," James -- echoing decades of actors who played Perry White -- said not to call him Chief, adding, "it's Jimmy."
Supergirl returns with its fifth season in October on The CW. Facing a new threat and featuring a new costume, Kara Danvers (Melissa Benoist) and her team of allies will square off with Leviathan — bringing Supergirl closer to synching up with the comics than almost any show in comics history, since Brian Michael Bendis is writing a Leviathan-centric event that finds a lot of its story core in what he has been doing with the Superman titles right now.
At the same time, the first half of the season will build toward the massive CW-wide “Crisis on Infinite Earths” crossover, which adapts the storyline in which Supergirl and The Flash died in the comics. It seems unlikely that will happen on the TV version, but that does beg the question of how they manage to outrun their destinies, and what the Arrowverse (especially Supergirl, which takes place on an alternate Earth) looks like following the events of the Crisis.
Supergirl airs on Sunday nights at 9 p.m. ET/PT on The CW, following episode of Batwoman.