Sunday, March 14, 2021

Superman & Lois - The Perks of Not Being a Wallflower

I was almost ready to comment on how this series is using single-word episode titles, just like "Smallville" did, but now we've got this mouthful playing on a book that was roughly contemporary with that show. It's pretty clunky, but whatever. 

It's nice that this episode gave us a break from the Luthor story, choosing instead to focus on Lois's investigation and some good character moments for the Kents and Lana's family. The mantra that "life is simpler in Smallville" gets an explicit repudiation, some fences are mended, and some new mysterious antagonists are introduced.

Spoilers ahoy! 
If not for the enormous amount of COVID-imposed lead time this series had, and the amount of time it takes to write and record and add special effects to a live-action TV show, this episode would feel like a course correction for a lot of the problems I've had with the last couple of installments. 

I'm writing this a little longer after watching the episode than I typically have, so I'm going to go plot-by-plot rather than chronologically through the episode. 

Painting the House: a cute scene, and a good way to remind us that, even with all the drama and the teen angst, the Kents are a loving family. 

Jonathan & Jordan: Jordan joining the football team is a neat plot point that goes in unexpected directions, given how that kind of thing has typically played out in Superman stories. I like the way that it sets up conflict with Jonathan in the beginning, but eventually he realizes that Jordan's not trying to take away the thing that makes him feel special. Jonathan being the one to convince Clark to let Jordan play—and making the case that Jordan's abilities just even the playing field with respect to his size—is a good moment of solidarity and understanding for him. 

And Jordan, for his part, really does seem like he's found what he needed. Being able to take out some aggression on the football field—and having Clark's support—ends up being the key to getting a handle on his anger and being able to solve some problems with kindness rather than sulking and violence. I also appreciate that at least one of our initial antagonists—Sean—has moved out of that role, at least for now.

Coach Clark: There have been lots of attempts over the years to saddle Superman with various character flaws, but I think the one that fits best is being overprotective. On the macro scale, you get "Must There Be a Superman" and "King of the World," and on a micro scale you get stuff like this, being a bit of a helicopter parent and nearly losing Lois early in their relationship by eavesdropping. It rings true in a way that other attempted flaws—being dull-witted or indecisive—haven't. So it's nice here to see him realize it and acknowledge his mistakes, and to realize that he doesn't have to make the same choices his father did in order to keep his kids safe. After all, Jonathan Kent I didn't have superpowers. It'll also be nice for Clark to have a place to be earnest, mild-mannered Clark Kent, since he's outside the Daily Planet environment.

Lana and Sarah: Somewhere in my drafts I have a post about poor Lana Lang, a character made to fill a niche—the Lois Lane analogue for Superboy—and has never had much of a life outside of that niche. Every time Lana is introduced into adult Clark's life, she has a different deal. She's a TV reporter with a British accent, she's married to Pete Ross, she's a successful engineer, but she's almost always the girl whose life fell to pieces in one way or another after Clark Kent left. It's not fair to either character—Clark's presence in a person's life should elevate them, not devastate them—and while I understand the reason for giving her a failing marriage and conflicts with her children, I do want to see Lana have a happy ending in some adaptation or incarnation. 

Anyway, I like Sarah as a character, and it's interesting to see how her story parallel's Jordan's, with her mother's overbearing overprotectiveness leading to conflict. It creates a contrast between how Clark and Lana are handling their respective teenage offspring, and gives them a nice bonding moment. It's easy to see how these bonding moments could turn into Lana trying to rekindle the old flame with Clark, and I really hope that doesn't happen, but platonic male-female friendships are rare enough on TV that I can imagine it's hard to set one up without everyone seeing a ship setting sail. 

Speaking of ships, I know that Jordan and Sarah are an obvious pairing, but I hope Jordan is smart enough not to try to be her rebound relationship (and ruin his reconciliation with Sean). But honestly, I kind of hope Jordan is gay or bi, giving a way to tie his feelings of being different and search for identity to the struggles queer kids commonly face in an explicit way rather than an allegorical one. 

Seriously though, let Clark and Lois have a strong marriage that doesn't need to be threatened by the Other Woman for unnecessary drama. Let the drama build out of normal family conflicts, not tropes that were sexist and outdated when they were common in the Silver Age. 

Lois's Story: "The news comes to Lois Lane" seems to be an ongoing theme, as the next lead in her story just walks through the door of the Smallville Gazette. Unsurprisingly for a story involving Lois Lane, this leads to a conspiracy involving disappearing workers and super-powered enforcers. Lois explicitly makes the point I said earlier, that the stories in small towns do matter, and too often get overlooked because there aren't enough reporters covering them. 

The action scene where Lois is attacked by someone with Kryptonian-level abilities is pretty good. I always like when Superman enters a confrontation by trying to de-escalate before fighting, and I always like when Lois enters a confrontation by trying to fight before calling in the big guns. The fight between Superman and the assailant (who I think is credited as Subjekt 11, but I assumed that character was going to carry forward and, uh, doesn't look like he is) showcases both a nice escalation as Superman learns what the guy's strength is, and some nice uses of powers. The CW effects teams have gotten pretty creative over the years. The one issue I have is that Superman slams the guy through a cinderblock wall right at the start of the fight, before he's tested those abilities, and I feel like that would have done some real damage if he'd guessed wrong and the guy was a baseline human. The No-Prize Answer would be that either he scanned the guy before hitting him and knew, at baseline, that he was a meta, or that he knew Lois wouldn't call him unless she was dealing with a metahuman threat. Still, it bugs me. 

I do hope we learn more about what Subjekt-11 was. Metahuman? Kryptonian? Some kind of experiment? I'm frankly more interested in the Morgan Edge stuff than alt-universe Luthor. 

The woman who takes out Subjekt-11—who I guess was also with Edge at the meeting last episode—seems to be named Leslie Larr, no doubt a reference to Lesla-Lar, the Silver Age Kandorian villain who happened to be an exact double for Supergirl, because every major character had a double living in Kandor. Whether that means she's Kryptonian or some other swerve is something, I guess, we'll learn later.

Other: I noticed an Easter Egg that I haven't seen reported anywhere else: The Whitty Banter Show! For those who don't remember, Whitty Banter was the host of a Metropolis talk show in the 80s and 90s; there's ads for it all over the Death of Superman Newstime issue. In trying to remind myself what Easter Egg I remembered catching, I also learned that Kryptonsite still exists! What a blast from the past. There was a time, many moons ago, where that was a daily visit for me, along with the Superman Homepage

And, for that matter. But those days are clearly far behind us.

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