Reviewed by: Neal Bailey
Premiered: February 23, 2021
Written by: Todd Helbing
Directed by: Lee Toland Krieger
I stomped my way into the house from my garage office about halfway through this episode, growling. My boy asked me what was the matter. I told him that the show was still good.
“And it’s been renewed!” I hollered. “I’m like Luke Skywalker in the Yoda song. I’ll be making these reviews until I’m old and grey!”
It only gets worse. When I went back out, turned the show back on, and watched the rest, it was just as good. Just. As. Good.
Some things even got—dear God—better.
My tongue has a secret identity. It lives in my cheek. Still, I honestly expected things to be falling apart by now, the wheels screaming down the road off the cart toward a Metropolis both half an hour and three hours and on the Eastern Seaboard away all at once.
Post Traumatic Smallville Disorder. You wake up at night expecting to see Lana standing at the door probing your good intentions for white lies. Every ambulance that drives by, you hear squeaky shoes. You walk down the street never knowing who will knock you unconscious and put you in an easily-escaped room.
Yet here we are, two episodes in, and not a single character has been knocked unconscious for the convenience of the plot. None of the characters have ramped up their drama to eleven simply to remind you, fellow kids, that CONFLICT is a part of DRAMA!
I only counted one sentence with “I [affirmative statement], but [here’s the thing my character wants].” Even really great shows usually do that once or twice a show. The dialogue made sense in context and actually forwarded the drama—it wasn’t a stall.
The only consolation to the mountain of work to analyze that stretches before me is that resuming the rock of Sisyphus that reviewing and analysis is has upset the toxic portion of the Superman fandom something fierce.
I tell you, I haven’t heard “If you don’t like it, don’t watch it!” from people who don’t like my review, but still read it voraciously in a long time. It’s like super leopards ate their faces and spat out tribal sectarian amplified Facebook versions of the bungholes that used to stopper civil communication before the internet and grew to prominence threatening to kill people who didn’t want Jim Caviezel in the shorts. Member that? Smallville farms remembers.
Once choice comment went along the lines of “Can’t they leave Snyder alone?” (I always picture it in the “Leave Britney alone!” voice. “It’s been eight years!”
Poor Snyder, with his hundreds of millions of dollars to make movies that plunk under their own weight. Poor Snyder, with the keys to the kingdom and all he can come up with is sad Rand analogues. Poor Snyder, who thinks that all Bruce needs is to bang Lois.
You know, I get the inclination to want to let a thing far in the past lie, so after eight years, maybe there’s a point in there. I once had a friend who used some rather bigoted language in front of me. I called him on it, he learned his lesson, and about ten years later he was a choice dude. We’re friends. It happens.
But the Snyder Cut, with its black suited, fire-eyed monster of a Superman, isn’t coming out eight years ago. It’s forthcoming.
Behold, however, a show that sets its ethic apart, where a black-suited, red-eyed, murderous monster wearing an S is an enemy to be dreaded of such sufficient force that it even made Luthor look reasonable and have plausible motivations. Those are some folks that get it.
Do keep that hate coming, though. It drives eyes to the review, and when you’re toxic, it only helps prove my point, that your No True Scotsman vision of fandom needs to die a horrid death. Or don’t keep the hate coming. Win-win for me. Mwa, boyos.
Don’t like. Don’t subscribe. I ain’t in this for the money. I’m in it for the sweet, sweet idealistic Superman who smiles when he saves people, along with his sons. I just met them, but I like them both. And Lois. Hell. Did you see that prime Lois this week? I did. Haven’t seen that in ages.
Let’s get to it, shall we?
BLOW BY BLOW
Two pages of notes this week. That’s usually good. The more pages, the more flaws. In the case of last week, it was lengthy because it was the prelude, the beginning of this thing. A normal Smallville episode went 4-6 episodes, generally.
In the beginning, they show something that continues to please me, a lack of wealth. The Kent and Lane house drives a station wagon. There are so many ways to spin a rich Lois and Clark, and often people go that route, but this show isn’t. It’s rad. It did stick out that a family of four has way more crap than that. I know this because, well, I’m moving to Canada. More on that later, but I have a three-person family and, well, let’s say I couldn’t get a quarter of my crap into that trailer, and I’m not exactly a person with a huge collection of stuff, given how many times I’ve had to move.
The show is still visually great. It starts so, it proceeds apace, and it ends so. Whoever is in charge of the colors and the framing of the shots on this show, it’s probably the best I’ve ever seen in a superhero show that I can think of. It’s like watching a movie so far, on a par with any prestige show you might come across. This keeps baffling me, but in that good way.
I don’t know why I thought it would suddenly lose the bars and go to obvious stages. I think it’s because I’ve been bitten by so many bad shows. Smallville had a lot of good visual qualities, honestly, but this blows it out of the water.
The continuity touches are nice. The pipes on the ground from last episode, and Clark’s little look at them, like, “Yeah, not gonna store those up high any more.”
At first I bristled at the idea of Jordan staying home, because it felt like arbitrary drama. But then this premise, hit subtly, gave a good A to B progression. They didn’t just say “I’m scared, so you stay home!” per a typical teeny drama, it was with a plan to help him that a parent would engage. And it isn’t just forgotten, the ramifications carry forward. People notice Jordan’s gone.
It also reiterates the themes from the first episode. “We came here to focus on our family.” The through-lines between the first and second episode make it feel like one story instead of episodic television—which you obviously want.
The reveal of Luthor, that he’s a black dude, was done well. I expected them to tease that reveal out half the season, but it’s progressing at a reasonable pace. The whole Luthor story, aside from the hokey keychain, works really well for me. He’s obviously from a world where Superman has gone rogue. Folks are saying Earth-3, that it’s Alexander Luthor. The way they’ve now opened it up (by making Luthor a black dude instead of a white dude, bald instead of with a fro, a soldier instead of a scientist), there are any number of cool ways this could go.
It’s something I haven’t seen before (though I’m sure there’s been a black Luthor somewhere, I don’t recall ever seeing one in a major piece of media), and so far they give him proper motivations so that he’s not simply a cardboard cutout. There’s absolutely nothing saying that his impressions of Clark aren’t perfectly reasonable, and that ultimately, when he realizes Clark’s nature in this universe, they won’t be fast allies. Or it could end tragically. But the point is, I care.
It could easily have been a stunt moment, a cliché reveal, but they show how Luthor looks and they move straight on to character. They leave the reactions to us. That’s good. We’re the ones who say what it’s about, they’re the ones that tell the story. Too often writers get that backward. And fans, frankly, who think they know what a thing should be, having never made things themselves, only consumed.
Lois shines in this episode as a reporter. One of the biggest (and most fair) critiques of the first episode was that she had less to do. In the first episode, Clark stole the show. Here, outside of the action foray, Lois led the way, and honestly, was the catalyst and solution to all of the problems around. She kicked into gear this episode, got a lot of screen time, and cemented who the character is. And it’s Lois all the way, dogged, not taking crap, fighting for the little guy or gal, and sacrificing prestige for what’s write.
She writes for the love of it, for what’s right, and that’s the way to be. I like her quite a lot.
Clark hasn’t even mentioned journalism, in stark contrast, focusing on being a Dad. Which is fine. You don’t need Lois and Clark and the Daily Planet for Superman to be Lois and Clark from the Daily Planet. It’s their ethic that carries them as characters, and this show gets that. They’re not making excuses for her to stay there, or for Clark to be in Metropolis to keep the action quotient high.
In fact, the action quotient is such a minor part of this show so far, when something happens, it really draws you in. And that they do it so well only helps.
Jonathan continues to perplex me. I want to like him, and at times I hate him. I can’t decide if it’s an old grizzled fink’s instinctive squint at a teenage boy thinking he knows everything, or if the character is genuinely being a bum at times.
Certainly he behaves reprehensibly at times. He flat-out calls Jordan more names. “Baby have a bad day?”
On the one hand, this is how teenage brothers behave. I mean, it really is. On the other hand, I just want to fart him through a wall sometimes. BRAP! Boom. Kid on the other side of the wall. “Baby have a bad day?”
But old man fantasies of violence against children aside, they snap the football of Jon’s character back and forth, throw the pigskin a bit, and in the end his character has a lot of salvaging moments. He is there for his brother when he needs him, comforts him, accepts the apology, and frankly does a lot of things to show that his petulant behavior is a phase, but his core character is solid. He can learn. I like him. But I reserve the right not to, if he doesn’t cut out with the “rag on the kid with the anxiety disorder” thing.
Which, importantly, doesn’t mean that’s bad story. It means I care about that character and what’s being done with it. He’s not one-dimensional. It’s great story. People aren’t all one thing or another, nor are any characters in this show. Even Kyle, or Edge, so far. And they could easily be.
The Fortress set is understated. They just use a big ice cave, essentially, not the whole museum, and honestly, I kind of prefer that. It’s just an opportunity for fanservice over reverence, and here they stick with the pattern, using stuff familiar to Superman fans but not overdoing it. Sunstones. Kryptonopolis. But not “Look! Here I hold a SUNSTONE!” Subtle. A push, not a hammer to a nail.
Usually they get a rather distinguished and known actor to play Jor-El. Here, he’s someone I didn’t recognize, and he didn’t look like an actor. He looked like a scientist. A little Dad bod in there, the beard, not chiseled and one slight facial feature away from looking exactly like Clark. I like that. It works better for me.
I also like that they didn’t tease it for season after season as a voice we would someday see. Luthor? Here he is. Look. One episode of anticipation. Jor-El? Here he is. No screwing around. Refreshing for serial comic storytelling, where every ounce of plot is often stretched. Here who Jor-El is doesn’t matter save how it informs Jordan’s insecurity. He’s there to help Jordan’s character in the story’s structure. Jordan is not there as a vessel to show us Jor-El so we can crow OH I KNOW THAT!
War causing the destruction of Krypton seems an odd choice at first, but it doesn’t state anything empirically. It’s war and the environment and…
I have full confidence they’ll get there. It’s leaving story options open but giving a taste to build anticipation. It’s also fine to set it aside—it isn’t needed here.
At first I thought they were going the genetic purity route, the way that Jor-El’s eyes got all wide at Jordan continuing Kryptonian lineage, but it turned out to be benign, and Jor-El didn’t suddenly try to kill them both for failing to be ideal Kryptonians or punish either by taking away their powers (Hi, Smallville!), but rather he kind of shrugged and sympathized with his son, knowing Clark would want his son to be happy and strong like he was, and seeing that it upset Jordan.
Jordan being named for Jor-El is a bit too precious, but it’s close enough I’ll forgive it. Just never forget, Jor isn’t short for Jordan—it’s short for soap. Ask Monkeybella. That there is an inside joke for longtime readers. If you don’t like it, I highly encourage you to deal with it. (waves)
Lord almighty, it’s been so long since I wrote these reviews I just had to re-add Monkeybella to my dictionary so spell-check doesn’t flag it. I also sometimes spell-check now. THPPT.
When Jordan comes home and is upset, though Jonathan is clearly suffering from envy for both Sarah and his powers, they hug. That’s one of those moments I mentioned where you like both, genuinely, and see their potential as a family.
This show, in fact, has had multiple times where I poise the pen preparing to write down “ARBITRARY DRAMA,” and know for a fact that if the show were called Smallville it would. Two big examples?
Jordan arrives home from the Fortress, and though his brother declared his jealousy earlier, he doesn’t ramp it up—the jealousy pulls back, because showing the characters love each other services character more than tension.
Clark shows concern for Lois looking into Morgan Edge. This, in a lesser show, would easily dovetail into Clark being out of character. “You shouldn’t upset the status quo, we just got here!” and initially, it looks like that. But the direction, and in fact Clark’s actions, show that he’s just worried about what being ostracized will do to his son—he not only doesn’t try to stop Lois, knowing what she’s doing is right, he encourages her, and commiserates. Tell me with a straight face Smallville wouldn’t make a pouting hissy fit out of that, and I’ll sell you some Kryptonite that totally isn’t green glass.
Chrissy Beppo, and the Smallville newspaper, I really like. Her character isn’t very developed yet, but I like the choice to show how indie journalism, and writing, and creating in the trenches isn’t glamourous, it’s beset by corporations.
Beppo’s name is a REALLY weird homage moment, the idea of naming a character after a super-monkey. It could be inadvertent, but almost nothing in this show seems so thus far. I puzzle.
Sam Lane steps in with a bit of what almost became arbitrary drama—if it didn’t ring so true. Anyone who’s ever had a dysfunctional relationship with a parent you’ve had to cut off will know this drill. The old “I’m your ally and will help you and we’re friendly!” that suddenly dovetails the minute you stop doing what the parent thinks is best for either you or your kids.
I’m sadly intimately familiar with that crap—an orphan of choice. It rings true. Sam wants to tell Clark how to do what he does, and when he can’t, or when what Clark chooses doesn’t align with his worldview, off come the gloves and out comes the shame.
It’s not limited to parents. It’s present in a lot of the post-internet human interaction, I’ve noticed, and thank my lucky stars I’m pre-internet for it. I’ll die sooner but I’ll never be that. The idea that you will absolutely agree with my worldview, or I will make you suffer and punish and estrange you, is strong right now.
Again, he restated, if you like anything I hate, save a few very exclusive things like, say, bigotry or Nazis, go you. And most things aren’t that. Though more things sadly are lately.
“You’re ruining their childhood.” Classic projection. You hear it from parents that ruin childhoods. Parents who don’t know that making mistakes or different choices for your kids is normal. They double down on mistakes and insist they’re always right and always have been. The best parents I know are sure they’re constantly wrong.
That’s me too, unless I’m constantly wrong. Oh God. Am I? OH GOD.
I lamented the idea last week of Sam Lane being the guy who turns on Superman and ends up dead. I hope they don’t go that route. But I absolutely believe his adversity here with Clark.
In dysfunction, the spouses are just avenues into the “stray” daughter or son they want to manipulate, and that’s on full display here. Sam wants Lois in the city and Superman patrolling his skies, damn what the kids need or what Lois and Clark want.
It’s the kind of thing a dude who moves from base to base and pushes his daughter to be like him would do, certainly, but that doesn’t make it healthy.
It’s my biggest “in” and point of relation for this episode, given that I’m fleeing that “General” trend myself (DAD JOKES FOREVER NO REGRETS IT’S QUACKERS).
I and my family are moving to Canada and leaving the US by choice. Largely abandoned by a society and family we flee an obsessively selfish culture concerned with money over ethics and life, fanatically obsessed with telling you what’s important for yourself rather than letting you have any determinative power over it. Walking these maskless streets and descending into existential peril, we’ve decided to instead head north, where caring about people isn’t just a hashtag, from what I’m learning.
Many of the friends we’ve made over the years have been supportive (love you), but a lot have been, frankly, Sam Lane. Or Kyle. “You think you’re too good for us?” “You’re leaving us right when we need you!” “This will get better—just give it time!”
I don’t, I am (because you don’t need me, and if you do, the internet exists), and it’s not getting better.
It won’t get better.
These are Nazis, friends, not distinguished opposition.
They own everything. You. Me. Kyle. Eventually Beppo.
You can’t defeat that. It’s foolish to try. The house is haunted. Get out.
I tried to explain that it’s like driving down a road and seeing overturned cars on fire—where if you stop to help people, the people setting the fires will get you too. You don’t have to die just because other people are dying. There’s no honor in a forlorn hope.
It’s different when you can actually help others, which power and money and the ability to have two days off a week can sometimes provide. We ain’t got that. It’s different when you can actually help yourself, even. But this culture is long past that and it’s expiration date… and all the Sam Lanes of the world could give a crap when you point that out, so long as you keep you’re a$$ on your mop, Andy. And everyone who has to stay hates you for speaking the truth.
But the truth it is. That’s what journalists do. No wonder people want to kill them. Not me. Bad people. But they do.
Anyway, I loathed Sam in that moment, but I read verisimilitude. More to the broader point, the episode speaks to poverty and the way that the ruling class make us turn against ourselves. You have duty (Sam Lane), but you also have survival (Kyle). Both are bad reasons to let yourself stay in a house on fire.
“Something is better than nothing, Miss Lane!”
Is it though? I mean, really? You can understand how a Kyle would be hoodwinked into thinking they had no choice. They tell themselves it all day, and whenever anyone suggests that a worker has power over the employee, they get laughed at.
I remember when they furloughed the social workers in Washington State, union folks, people who did essential services for the most desperately in need people, in the middle of the financial crisis. The state had no money for them, they just kept asking for more work and less pay, and people were most caught up in what would happen to the kids they services if they stopped working or demanded better conditions. And they were right. But that didn’t mean something didn’t need to change or be done.
That’s how people are turned on one another. The problem is always the person who won’t sacrifice more, not the one who sacrifices nothing. Ever. We give up our rights and our needs so that we can have 600 jobs that is actually 60 jobs that are substandard, dangerous, have no vacation, and won’t pay the bills.
Morgan Edge and the Edges of the world are what keeps places like Smallville down, but locals in impoverished areas see that there are people in the Metropolis-style big cities who have more, and it’s enviable, and it’s also fair to envy, so they turn on each other, they turn on their cousins in the city, and they never seem to realize that ten thousand against one isn’t even a battle if they just faced the right direction.
If you don’t go to work, they won’t, as the poor fear, give you nothing. They’re still going to want to make money on your back—and they will take less. You have been trained to believe they won’t, but they will. Just look at when unions had power. We had living wages.
If everyone leaves a job at once, the boss will make things better or they will be as poor as you. But there are laws against that! March from your work and change it. Don’t act like you don’t have options. Like you have options now. Come on.
This episode broaches that. Kyle has his barbecue, and his moral haughtiness, and Lois looks like she has no leg to stand on because she is of some means, but he can’t see past the means to see that she’s right, while also gleefully seeing past Edge’s means to ignore that he’s so incredibly wrong. It’s odd that people target the selfless when they’re right, and stand by the selfish when they’re so obviously wrong and self-serving, just because the wrong, self-serving person gives you a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of their money, while the Lois Lanes of the world only give you the truth.
This inability to juggle two balls at once that Kyle has is why journalists are important—they can juggle those balls for you and pare it down—if you pay them and not Jeff Bezos.
But you can’t pay anyone if you don’t have any money, so hey, work for less. It’s vicious.
The Edges of the world know journalists can quell ignorance, which is why they bought all the papers and tv stations and direct a pro-business message at the expense of human lives. This show skewers that, excellently. Lois has her work edited, and she quits, and is rendered virtually powerless in two seconds for standing up for her principles.
As Kyle predicted, she has nothing now. In his jaded eyes.
But she also has everything now, and it’s a happy ending. They hold no power over her. And I’m sure what’s next will be her showing what that can mean. As a Lois should.
So down with Kyles, and down with Edges, and up with fiction that plumbs those depths like this. See you in Thunder Bay, eh?
The Superman and Luthor fight outdoes the first. It’s well-filmed, the effects are solid, and I had a good time watching it. I can’t say that for many TV-based superhero fights. Wandavision is right there. But that’s new. I haven’t seen much else that’s wowed me yet.
And a brief pause, a moment of silence, and a wide grin, for the OLD ROBOT-A-ROO! That’s right, folks, Luthor sent a robot to do his dirty work. In such a grounded show, it was a moment that could have been comically absurd, but it’s such a classic Luthor move it plays. Unlike the identity reveal, this absurdity coming from a villain—potentially, at least—works.
And we don’t know. That’s great. I like the ambiguity. What does Luthor believe and why? I want to care. Especially since they didn’t do what I thought they might and kill Sam. I thought briefly they’d want to create symmetry between Lois and Clark’s losses by having her lose her father after he lost his mother. I’m glad they didn’t. I worry they might.
I like that Jordan’s anxiety continues to be played subtle. I was about to make a note “What happened to Jordan’s anx—” As I did, he tried to fall on his sword for his brother’s bad day. I can’t tell you how many times a person I very much love has tried to make themselves at fault for a thing they had no responsibility for. Anxiety can make you feel like you owe the world everything and are responsible for things other people do.
Dysfunctional Dads like Sam Lane love to tweak that. It makes me so glad Clark is his father, and that Jonathan at least appears to have good intentions. I’ve seen the reverse, and it ends badly. There is vicarious joy in seeing people with real problems solve them in a healthy way.
This is also what’s great about the two (maybe three) “Barn scenes,” as we used to call them in Smallville. Where the action is over, but the main characters meet to discuss what happens. Here again, we have Lois and Clark having an adult parental discussion and sharing the joy in success, and two brothers straining under the weight of being teenagers coming together—even if I don’t entirely believe Jonthan’s pledge to help doesn’t have some brand of selfishness driven into it with a tack.
The third, the signal watch for the boys, is probably my favorite. “Being there for you is as important as saving the world, and I will find a balance.” It’s a very Superman moment. And we know it’s Superman—because we believe him.
And it’s shown to be true when he’s at practice.
Of all of this though, there is one tender moment that hits me the hardest out of all of this. It’s when Lois goes off with the boys to City Hall. There’s a moment when the boys have to go, and you see Clark standing there, and they leave, and he just has this look like “There goes everything I know and love. I have to be away from it. For hours.” That seems insane. And it is, really, until you’ve had a kid, or been truly close with someone. I spent most of my life learning to be self-sufficient alone, but then, over time, I opened my heart and a little boy crawled in, and his mother, and it’s such that though I would literally kill you, and you, and you, and yes, probably you, to have five minutes of peace from questions about Adventure Time and demands for screens, if I have to spend even a minute away from my boy, I give that look, and that look goes from the glasses into the soul and it gapes wide open and all the world falls in and there’s nothing left.
This Clark is a Dad, you can see it in his eyes, his actions, and his mannerisms, and all of a sudden, I’m closer to Superman than I’ve ever been.
Even if this punk kid is somehow six years younger than me. When the hell did I get older than Superman?
Rating – 5 out of 5.
NOW, AN IMPORTANT NOTE.
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Until next week!