This Krypton review contains spoilers.
Krypton Episode 2
Revenge is a narrative theme as old as story itself, which is why it’s so hard to pull off in refreshing ways. The second episode of Krypton, which picks up immediately where the pilot leaves off, spends a little too much time on Seg-El’s half-hearted attempts at revenge, distracting itself from its more ambitious exploration of systems of power and what motivates those within them.
Most of “House of El”‘s problems come in the confused exploration of Seg’s state of mind following the brutal death of not one, but both of his parents. Though we see glimpses of Seg grieving them, most effectively when he sits in their ransacked house with their ashes, the story is never allowed to linger.
This is a young man who has lost his entire family and, more or less, support structure (as he is moving away from the Rankless community and up to the Guilds). That necessitates a complicated, intense reaction. It is a terrible situation wrife with dramatic potential and nuance. Instead, Krypton funnels all—or at least most—of Seg’s reaction into his plans to kill Daron.
While it’s not hard to understand why Seg wants Daron dead, it is a disappointing move for the character we’re meant to think of as a hero. This is a show that is, ostensibly, about power. There is a clear division of haves and have-nots in Kandor and a system of oppression and privilege that is seemingly constructed to make comments on our own real-world class divide.
That’s why it’s so disappointing that Krypton has to rally its protagonist to the cause. When his parents die, Seg says he has nothing, but that’s not true. He has the power to affect change, to bring down the system that killed his parents. I’m not sure why Krypton doesn’t seem to think that would be enough to motivate Seg’s character into some kind of long-con revolutionary action, but the second episode is an exercise in catching Seg up to where the rest of us already are, and it’s a bit of a drag.
It’s apparently not enough that Seg has grown up understanding the corruption and injustice of this system on a fundamental level, it takes a convoluted search for evidence that Brainiac is, indeed, making his way across the universe with plans to conquer Krypton and a pep talk about the power of Seg’s El blood to get him on board with the concept of challenging the oligarchy.
The Fortress of Solitude and the return of Val-El are cool and everything, but I don’t want Seg to challenge Daron, the Voice of Rao, and the entire Guild system because it’s part of the El legacy; I want him to do it because the injustice of the oligarchy makes his blood boil. I want him to do it because he has lived amongst the Rankless and they were the ones who grieved his parents’ deaths alongside him. I don’t need a fancy revenge tale; I just need a decent person with nothing to lose.
And, sure, that speaks to my preferences as a viewer, but it also speaks to a preference for shows that don’t rely too heavily on tired tropes. Watching a dudely protagonist challenge the ruling power for revenge or honor (his own or his family’s) or a combination of the two is one of the oldest tricks in the book. We need new stories of heroism and power in these confusing times and I truly believe that Krypton can do better.
Krypton did do a little better with Lyta’s arc in this episode. Unlike Seg, she isn’t just motivated by personal backstory, but by a deeper sense of justice and the need to affect positive change. When the Sagitari plan an indiscriminate raid of the Rankless in order to root out the Black Zero, Lyta tries to talk the military leadership out of it. She fears that attacking the Rankless will only turn them further against the Guilds, especially as the vast majority of them are not members of the Black Zero. Basically, she’s against racial profiling.
When neither Lyta’s squad leader, nor her mother, Jayna, take her concerns seriously, Lyta decides to communicate in the only way the Sagitari know how: with force. She challenges her squad commander to a duel. The winner will lead the squad and get a voice in the decision-making process of the military guild. The loser… well, the loser will probably die.
In a probably unsurprising turn of events (given that Lyta is a main character), Lyta wins. When her commander asks for mercy, she snaps his neck instead, parroting back to her mother the same words thrown at her in the pilot: Sagitari don’t ask for mercy. It’s an understandable choice within the world of Krypton, though it left me uneasy to see a character who seems to have such a deep sense of compassion for the Rankless take the life of someone so casually.
Lyta’s storyline is further undercut by Jayna’s insinuation that Lyta did it all for Seg, which was not how I read her motivation up to that point, though the reading is certainly there. Perhaps, in knowing and loving Seg, Lyta has grown to understand the Rankless in a way that her comrades have not attempted to. A conversation between Lyta and Seg at any point during Lyta’s lead-up or aftermath of the duel would have been nice here. How does he feel about Lyta’s decision and new position of power? And how would Lyta describe her own motivations to Seg?
While we didn’t get much Lyta/Seg time in this episode—other than a brief scene in which Seg basically said he didn’t blame Lyta for his parents’ deaths (um, good, it wasn’t her fault), but was confused about what their future might look like—we did get some interesting interaction between Lyta and her intended Dev.
In the pilot, Dev seemed like a G-man who never stepped outside of the company line. He still seems like he’s chugging the Kandor Kool-Aid, but he steps up to support Lyta emotionally in the lead up to her duel. It’s an unexpected move from the stoic military man and may hint that there is more to Dev than meets the eye.
Speaking of hidden depths, Nyssa proved that she is a master manipulator—or at least has aspirations to that effect. It was she who hatched the plan to give Seg the ashes of his parents in the hopes that it would provide closure and he could move on to his new life as a pawn of the House of Vex. And the kicker? She planned it all with her dear old dad. While Seg ultimately rejected the Vex sigil, he does seem to trust Nyssa more than he did yesterday, which is bad news for him and good news for the House of Vex.
And what of that many-faced man lurking in the background? Yes, I speak of the very shiny, very good at walking evenly Voice of Rao. He backed Seg up at the end of this episode when the youngster announced he would not be joining the House of Vex, but rather wearing the sigil of the Science Guild. What is this guy’s deal? Who is under the mask—someone we have already seen, perhaps? How does he keep his many faces so shiny? And does he sleep in that thing? So many questions, and it feels so good.
In other, less exciting news, Adam Strange had to sell his Detroit Tigers cap to snag he and Kem a ride to the Outlands where they uncovered some kind of giant scout rock proving that Brainiac is, figuratively (I think?), already on Krypton. I know this is important or whatever, but I can’t take these two knuckleheads seriously. They’re all wise cracks and one-liners. Give me something to hold onto, Krypton. As our only true Rankless character, Kem should play a vital role in this story.
And we’ve yet to establish why Adam Strange cares so much about saving Krypton and the world. Like, yeah, most people should, but most people also wouldn’t zap through space and time and away from everything they know, including the Detroit Tigers, to do it. They’d bury their heads in the sand and wait for someone else to do it. That’s how being human kind of works.
So what’s different about Adam Strange? Yes, Superman asked him nicely, but what else? What makes this guy stay up at night? What makes him laugh? What makes him cry? Because, so far, the only answer I have to all of those questions is: the Detroit Tigers. And it’s not enough.
Look, I’m not here to bash Krypton. I criticize because I care and I am genuinely enjoying this show. I just know how competitive the TV landscape is and for a show to make it, especially one as ambitious as this one, it needs to hit the ground running. Right now, Krypton is an ambitious science fiction adventure that I am very much into. But it needs to be willing to take chances and step outside of established tropes if it’s going to survive. No pressure, Seg, but the very future of Krypton depends on you.