This Superman & Lois review contains spoilers.
Superman and Lois Episode 3
“Morrissey’s a xenophobic has-been.”
This one line, delivered with deadpan perfection by Alex Garfin’s Jordan Kent pretty much sums up why Superman & Lois episode 3 is so good. Wait, really? Yes, stay with me for a minute…
I loved the first two episodes of Superman & Lois. There’s no question about that. But there was a very slight nagging feeling in the back of my mind, that maybe this show was going to be a little too serious for its own good. That maybe in the process of making Jonathan and Jordan Kent as believable as possible, and as “relatable” (god, I hate that word) to young audiences as they needed to be, that the show would end up trying just a little too hard, get a little more wrapped up in its “family drama, but with Superman” high concept than it strictly needed to, and maybe forget to lighten up every now and then. I could excuse it in those first two episodes, which play like one feature length pilot when watched together, and which had a lot of work to do to get us to buy this very different take on the Man of Steel, but I wasn’t sure if the tone would sustain over a longer stretch of episodes.
And then along comes “The Perks of Not Being a Wallflower” to put those fears at ease. To be absolutely clear, this is absolutely not a drastic change in tone from what has come before. But now that we’ve gotten to know the Kents and their neighbors and classmates, and that the Smallville setting feels very much like the natural setting of the show, there’s a little more fun to be had. No, this isn’t suddenly The Flash and STAR Labs with a team of folks cracking wise at every opportunity, and it’s certainly not my beloved Legends of Tomorrow, but the humor is here, it’s subtle, and it works at every opportunity.
The opening scene with the family trying to paint the old Kent home is a charmer, a moment broken by Clark hearing a bridge collapsing in China which he speeds off to save. It’s another near-cinematic action sequence for this show, but the special effects aren’t really what sell this scene, it’s the moment of terror to relief to pure joy of a single fisherman as he realizes he’s witnessing Superman hold up a bridge…and Superman’s wordless interaction with him is equally joyful. This is something that simply hasn’t been done in live action interpretations of Superman since the Christopher Reeve years, and I honestly rank those few seconds with Supes and the fisherman as one of the best screen moments in the character’s history.
This episode is full of moments like that, even though Tyler Hoechlin once again spends most of his screentime as Clark rather than Superman. But even there, this is certainly Hoechlin’s finest performance as the character so far, bouncing effortlessly between Man of Steel to “Clark the superpowered dad dealing with problems new even to him” to “Clark who has to act like there’s nothing special about him.”
I worry slightly that Elizabeth Tulloch’s Lois Lane still doesn’t quite have enough to do as they build her Morgan Edge investigation through the Smallville Gazette. In every other aspect, moving the family to Smallville has worked, particular in regards to exploring completely new facets of the Clark/Superman dynamic, but Lois so far feels a little out of place. On the other hand, I should probably be thankful that they aren’t trying to “do a journalism” the way it’s so often been portrayed on Supergirl or The Flash, and maybe the slow burn is the more prudent move here. Anyway, it doesn’t change the fact that Tulloch is a delight in every scene, and she is quickly becoming the definitive screen Lois for me.
But the real highlights for this episode come in the form of Jonathan and Jordan, the two characters I was most skeptical about going into this show. I’ll confess, despite some terrific comics by the likes of Peter Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Dan Jurgens, Brian Michael Bendis, Ivan Reis, and others in recent years, I’ve never been the biggest fan of the “Superman as dad” concept. I tend to like my Superman stories a little more unencumbered (or some might say traditional, but whatever). But Jordan Elsass’ Jonathan and Alex Garfin’s Jordan are just so darn likeable, and the story being written for them so compelling, that I can’t really complain.
The idea that Jordan would try out for the football team despite his burgeoning powers seems a ridiculous one, and I honestly thought that sequence was going to be revealed as a daydream (similar to Clark’s in the first episode of Smallville). But it’s real, and it doesn’t go quite where I thought it would. Jordan excels at football…as it turns out, he’s a bit more powered up than Jor-El suspected last episode. You’d naturally expect this to lead to friction with Jonathan, who has yet to get the hang of his new team, and for a brief period it does, but then the show does something unexpected.
This isn’t about football going to Jordan’s head or even about him “getting even” with the guys who have been bullying him. Instead, it’s the first time he’s felt part of something. After absolutely leveling Sarah Cushing’s boyfriend (well…ex-boyfriend now) on the field, he offers his hand and apologizes for that awkward kiss at the Shuster Mines. Jonathan, meanwhile, sees the good the team is doing for his brother and advocates for him with a Clark who is understandably annoyed that his son is using his powers to gain an advantage on the football field.
I know, I know, this all sounds far weightier than the Morrissey joke I quoted at the start of this, but it all unfolds with a little charm, and some surprisingly light touches here and there. Jonathan and Jordan reacting to an incredibly awkward moment with Sarah and Lana, Clark overdoing his “dorky, eager dad” routine, and other little touches just make this feel like the show is settling into a rhythm with these characters and getting more comfortable being playful.
It’s perhaps a little worrisome that Wolé Parks’ mysterious Captain Luthor is nowhere to be seen this episode, with the only superhuman punch-up coming in the form of guest star Daniel Cudmore’s mysterious, nameless goon who makes the mistake of trying to take out Lois during her investigation. That leads to a really sharp (but quick) punch-up between him and Superman, with a terrific sequence where Superman freezes him with super-breath before delivering a perfect uppercut that would look right at home in a comic panel. If this show continues to work out creative ways to use Superman’s powers the way they have with Barry on The Flash, I think we’re gonna have some real fun in the coming episodes.
But then there’s that ending. As Lois asks, why DOES Morgan Edge have someone with super powers working for him? More than one, apparently, as Cudmore’s mysterious baddie is vaporized by a woman with heat vision named…Larr. So far, the formula for Superman & Lois seems to be to give us a family drama heavy episode, punctuated by moments of cinematic action, and then to close with a mind-bendingly cool reveal. Well, if they insist, who am I to argue?
There’s not a ton of DC or Superman Easter eggs this episode, so I don’t think it’s necessarily worth its own post. But, here’s what I’ve got…
- The bridge collapse scene does faintly call to mind Superman saving the Golden Gate Bridge during the earthquake in Superman: The Movie.
- Jonathan telling Clark that “if you’re not actually allowed to be special” etc feels like a subtle nod to teenage Clark telling Jonathan Kent in Superman: The Movie that he could excel on the football field if he wanted to, which Jonathan forbids, saying that Clark isn’t here to “show off.” But that Clark’s answer was a philosophical “is a bird showing off when he flies?”
- Cudmore’s nameless character is apparently “Subjekt-11” a designation which calls to mind “Subjekt-17” an alien raised by the Soviets to make Superman’s life miserable in Kurt Busiek and Carlos Pacheco’s incredibly underrated run on the Superman comics.
- Sharon Powell may not be a character from the comics, but the folks at Kryptonsite used their X-Ray vision to point out that the actress who plays her, Jill Teed, was known for portraying Maggie Sawyer on Smallville!
- Tyler Hoechlin finally gets to talk a little baseball on this show. Before going into acting, he was a baseball prodigy.
- It seems that’s Morgan Edge’s right hand woman, “Leslie Larr” vaporizing our mysterious baddie. The closest I can find to her is a “Lesla-Lar” who was an obscure Supergirl villain. THAT version of Larr hailed from Kandor (post shrinking) and she made Supergirl’s life miserable from time to time. I don’t expect this version of the character to have too much in common with her comics counterpart, but it seems like “evil Kryptonians” are definitely gonna be a thing on this show going forward.