Superman & Lois Explores the Human Cost of Superhero Stories

Superman & Lois star Eric Valdez on how the show balances its biggest comic book moments with more heartfelt, human stories.

Superman & Lois "Into Oblivion" -- Image Number: SML208a_0111r.jpg -- Pictured (L-R): Emmanuelle Chriqui as Lana Lang Cushing and Erik Valdez as Kyle Cushing
Photo: Bettina Strauss/The CW

The following contains Superman & Lois spoilers.

Superman & Lois Season 2 Episode 12

Though the overarching narrative of Superman & Lois season 2 has involved everything from alternate universe doppelgangers and portals to other worlds to cults and corrupt military leaders, the most affecting storylines this season have consistently been the show’s most human stories. 

From Sarah’s discovery of her father’s affair and the subsequent breakup of the Cushings’ marriage to the Kent family’s decision to finally tell Lana the truth about Clark’s secret superhero identity, this season has been an emotional rollercoaster for all its major characters. And all of this once again reminds us that what sets Superman & Lois apart from many of its small screen superhero brethren is its willingness to treat its smallest, most everyday moments with the same gravitas as it does its most outlandish comic book homages.

Such is the case in “Lies That Bind,” an hour that’s as focused on Lana’s emotional reaction to the discovery that her childhood BFF is an alien superhero as it is on Ally Allston’s ongoing attempt to force all of humanity to merge with their Bizarro World selves. But while Superman & Lois quite rightly allows Lana to be angry at the years’ worth of secrets kept from her, it also forces her to acknowledge the difficulty of the Kents’ decision to do so (she decides not to tell either her children or her ex-husband, as that would ask all of them to become equally complicit in lying to everyone else they know).

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 “I think that’s what separates our show from a lot of others,” Eric Valdez, who plays Kyle Cushing, tells Den of Geek. “It’s not a full-on family drama. It’s not a full-on superhero show. It’s something that blends the two uniquely and I think we do a great job of it. Our writers do such a great job of balancing [the two], and in terms of being a fan of the show, not just working on it—when I watch it, I love that.”

On a different sort of show, Kyle would have likely been little more than a side character, an oafish caricature meant to illustrate the close-mindedness of small-town life, particularly in comparison to the more progressive world of Metropolis the Kents’ so recently left behind.

But that’s not the story Superman & Lois chooses to tell. Instead, Kyle is another example of the way the show privileges the stories of regular people as much as those of its superpowered heroes. His infidelity, the dissolution of his marriage to Lana, and his attempts to remain an integral part of his daughter Sarah’s life are all the sort of everyday stories that help keep the series grounded. 

“I feel there’s a big responsibility in playing a character like this,” Valdez says. “[I get] to play the quote-unquote normal or real person on this show and [represent] the human element of things. I love the fact that our writers continue to give me stuff to chew on and stuff to do with the character versus him just feeling like filler.” 

Much like his co-star Emmanuelle Chriqui, who plays Kyle’s wife Lana, also emphasized earlier this season, Valdez sees the Cushing family as providing an important balance in the larger world of Superman & Lois

“I think it allows us to play with storylines that are a little more raw, a little more like real life,” he explains. “We all wish we had a Superman around. It’d be fantastic if I knew a guy personally that could fly and shoot lasers out of his eyes and just solve the world’s problems. But in the real world, we have to deal with these problems and this adversity on a human level.” 

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I doubt I’m the only Superman & Lois viewer surprised by how invested they’ve become in the Cushings’ marriage over the past two seasons, a relationship that has turned out to be as moving and multifaceted as that between central couple Clark and Lois. 

“Em and I discuss this all the time, we love that we’re getting to deal with all this messiness and this unfortunately true-to-life situation right now,” Valdez says. “It’s not always puppies and rainbows.”

Unfortunately, things aren’t so great right now for Lana and Kyle. She asked him to move out after discovering his infidelity, and though the two are cordial to one another and active co-parents, there’s not much hint yet about what the future holds for their relationship. And although Valdez still sees reason to believe things will work out, he’s adamant that any sort of healing will take time.

“I think there is hope for them,” he says when asked about the state of the Cushings’ marriage. “I do know they love each other deeply. And I think a lot of the fans really want to see a reconciliation. People make mistakes, and I love the fact that this isn’t being buttoned up in a two- or a three-episode arc. I like the fact that we’re getting to live in this for a while.”

And of course, there’s the question of Lana keeping Clark’s secret, and how Kyle might react to learning that truth. But, according to Valdez, he thinks his alter ego will handle this more calmly than many might expect—and that’s because he’s grown so much over the course of the show.

“I think old Kyle would’ve compared his secrets to her secrets, and it would’ve been an argument of, “well, I did this, and you did that”, and I don’t think we’re going to see that,” he says. “I think Kyle’s evolved. I do think it’s going to mess with his psyche quite a bit…I feel like deep down inside, he’s always, maybe, felt like he was second choice to Clark from high school so when he learns about all of this stuff, I feel a few of those intrusive thoughts are going to pop into his mind. But I think he’s matured and I think his priority will be to be there for Lana.”

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Valdez also credits Kyle’s desire to be a good father and, in particular, his realization that Sarah is on the cusp of adulthood herself, with his newfound maturity.

“Instead of thinking the world is out to get him and being stubborn about everything, he’s realized where his priorities lie. Especially with Sarah—he has a real opportunity to help map out the rest of her life, and what is that going to look like?” he says. “Is he going to be the person that she looks back at, 15, 20 years from now in a therapy session blaming all of her issues on, or is he going to be a source of inspiration? He’s got to set an example.” 

But though Kyle’s certainly come a long way since the series pilot, that doesn’t mean his emotional journey is over. Far from it, in fact. 

“I think there are elements of Kyle—he has a chip on his shoulder and he has an ego and he’s still heavily flawed,” Valdez admits. “[But] his maturity has been fun to play and now with everything that he’s done pretty much out there in the open now for his daughters and his wife to see, he has nowhere to go but up from here.”