Reviewed by: Neal Bailey
Premiered: June 15, 2021
Written by: Adam Mallinger
Directed by: Harry Jierjian
We here at the Superman Homepage realize that errors happen from time to time, and wish to issue a correction of grave importance to the last review before proceeding with this one.
Last week I, the reviewer, made jest about the way Morgan Edge said “brother” at the end of last episode and I then proceeded, with wanton reckless abandon, to identify the wrestler who spouted “Brother!” in interjections as Randy “Macho Man” Savage.
It was, in fact, Hulk Hogan.
It is only fair that I be held to task for misremembering a small detail of the exact catch phrase of a wrestler I watched when I was five in a comment section that badgers me regularly for all of the details I note and tells me how I shouldn’t do stuff like that.
The difference between a muscled man who calls himself a hulk and the muscled man who wears large glasses is quite important when one says YEAH and the other says BROTHER. I mean, obviously.
But that’s not the worst of it, I’m sad to say.
I may have entered said comments in a fit of pique and, lamentably, challenged the person who corrected my mistake to a CAGE MATCH NEXT WEEK IN THE RING, YEAH, OH YEAH BROTHER.
The problem is not that, it’s that I did it in the voice of Hulk Hogan, assuming it was Hulk Hogan’s catch phrase, further compounding my glaring obvious error.
And I don’t actually own a wrestling ring. Or a cage. I have a next week, but they’ll probably repossess it soon. There are some liens.
Anyway, I have consequently scheduled an appointment with Steve to be hit by a chair after he drops from a turnbuckle, and have also handed over my “KNOWLEDGE OF WRESTLING FROM 1985” belt over to Julian Finn. It’s a dark day here.
Wrestling jokes should, at very least, be period accurate, appropriate, fully vetted by a team of fact checkers, and certainly never devolve into caricature. Any even slightly erroneous commentary on people who wear snakes and rip their shirts off is lamentable.
We here at the Superman Homepage regret any errors we may make in goofy free reviews you absolutely don’t have to read. We know that when you come here, you expect quality and substance, not humor, so you can later not read the review, complain about it being too long, and then shout at the reviewer about how much they clearly hate Superman despite having written over a thousand articles about the character, the last while literally wearing a Superman shirt.
Please do continue to hold us to task on minutiae while complaining about the minutiae I cite in my review. It definitely does not make you look ridiculous, at all.
We now post the following picture I made when I was operating under said incorrect assumptions, this despite its evident notoriety and historical inaccuracy, in an effort to both clear the record and remain fully transparent as we trot out this absolutely sincerest of apologies:
IMPORTANT NOTE: That is Randy Savage’s body on Morgan Edge, not Hulk Hogan’s. This is NOT funny. It should be Morgan HOGAN, not Morgan Man Edge. Shame on us. Do not laugh. We-
We are now being instructed by our lawyers that further correction is required, by the estate of the late Hulk Hogan. Here, to avoid legal entanglements strictly, is a perfectly corrected image of Morgan “Macho Hulk” Hogan:
We here at the Superman Homepage now consider this matter formally closed.
And now, with a swell of classical music, we commence our entirely serious and ponderous review of “Oh Mother, Where Art Thou?” in which farmers and small-town folk apply heat vision to giant eggs while flying in the sky with swapped bodies and consciousnesses.
OH YEAH BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU:
It’s hard to know where to start. Things in this show have become so much like a professional wrestling match, speak of the devil, and gone so far afield from the original character premises that I’m struggling to functionally regard it.
The slightest thought makes this show start to fall apart, given what’s happened, what recently happened, and what just happened. Worse, it’s leaping every tall building it can find to reinforce negative stereotypes and present horrid optics.
For plot, as a simple example, take Morgan Edge as established in this show so far. A rich, billionaire industrialist who takes pleasure in minute power plays and movements. He buys the Daily Planet. He takes over a small town. Presumably he’s spent forty years or so on Earth being this way.
Then you have the Morgan Edge established last week. A slipshod incoherent plot guy who’s perfectly willing to send people to kill others ineptly, then boldly reveal his plans to his worst enemy without any real logic save “If I tell him we’re brothers, he’ll certainly become genocidal.”
This week we get Morgan Edge as a tragic figure, thrown into prisons and tortured, burning his way out a husk of a human being. This is, as we all know, the kind of person who then goes to business school and is known for his subtlety. Also hey, he got a crew of murderous Kryptonians willing to kill for him somehow.
These are the minor plot sins, which are bad enough, and constant. But then there’s optics. And there has to be some optic faux pas every week on this show, it seems, since the big John Henry reveal. They don’t look very closely at what they’re saying with their story. If they did, you might have seen a little unpacking when you make a woman Superman has had a physical relationship with (presumably) be possessed by his literal mother.
Even that’s not even a real problem, just bafflingly odd. The problem comes when the strange decision that’s made is to show a group of refugees from a corrupted world/nation arriving at their destination and then depicting them as homicidal maniacs of another race whose sole goal is to take everything we have and leave world a burned-out husk of what it once was.
It’s right there.
And I do understand that Superman stories have a long history of making some Kryptonians geneticist Nazi types who believe in social engineering. That the story follows is no part of the complaint.
My complaint is that they obviously didn’t consider whether or not it was wise to do a show where refugees are depicted as murderous invaders, and have Superman and everyone we are supposed to love in the story fighting them because they are evil.
HINT: It isn’t wise.
This show does a lot of heavy lifting to get Superman to line up with fascist behavior and normalize it. He works actively with Sam Lane, who tortures and threatens to torture while Superman stands idly by.
This gets excused for the weakest of reasons, that a man who can sneeze the moon in two can’t possibly criticize someone following the law, when the person following the law is clearly NOT following the law.
That’s not Superman, it’s a guy who wrinkles his nose dismissively and farts at the notion that if we act like the bad guys, we become the bad guys. That’s not who Superman was in the pilot or the first few episodes, also, notably. It is not the Superman we were promised.
Clark in this very episode actively, genuinely considers lining up with the weird space Nazis just to talk to a dead mother he never knew, and then the show makes a huge point of showing Jonathan suggesting that such an argument must be persuasive.
I hope to hell I’m not the only person those scenes made deeply uncomfortable. My fear is that many were smiling and nodding and didn’t even consider the implications.
These deep, structural optic flaws have cracked open all over this show. The refugee thing, the Clark threatening to kill an unarmed black dude moment that got glossed over, the “women need therapy for things that are okay when men do them” debacle, and now fascist military occupation accepted without question by all of the heroes, to stop violent refugees.
I’m not generally one to bring these kinds of commentary up unless the story really dwells in it or makes it belligerent, not only because it gets me hostile responses, but because the socio-political arguments are often seemingly external to the actual story, and unintended. The problem here is that it’s just so constant and THERE in this show, even with a casual viewing.
Am I, pal? For what? What benefit do I get for pointing this out? It’s just there. You think I want to talk about this uncomfortable s%$# when I could be making fart jokes or riffing on Hulk Hogan? Please, I live in Canada, but I’m still American. A good fart joke is like Jesus riding a dinosaur, it’s manna from Heaven. I crave it like plants crave electrolytes.
But Superman, fundamentally, is a cultural myth of an immigrant and refugee that, because we brought him in and accepted him into our society, became the greatest member of that society, the one who best understood how to apply measured power to noble ends, a paragon of virtue and a hero for the masses. It is so fundamental to his character that people who know nothing about him, generally, people who could not name Lois Lane or Lex Luthor, could articulate that pivotal primary notion.
For someone to take possession of that character, in the wake of the political realities we’ve faced with immigrants and refugees of late, and then conclude “Homicidal immigrant refugees from another planet are the threat Superman should face.” is just astonishing to me.
This is not to say that immigrants and refugees can’t be bad people, or that there aren’t stories to be told where they are.
But Superman? That’s the character you put the violent refugee story next to? It’s probably second-to-last on the list of characters you might want to run through that storyline, right after you give your pitch for An American Tail 3: Fievel Actually Took Our Jobs (And the Cats Were Right!).
I just don’t know why they’re doing this.
Why is that plot there? To service character? Not in this show, not so far, when it comes to the other controvertible plotlines.
Did Superman learn anything about the application of force after he nearly kills John while he’s disarmed? Do we?
Has Lois and her miscarriage been used as anything more than a cheap device to make her scream when her boys are in danger?
I’m disinclined to suppose that Superman will make a point to show the world these Kryptonians are an exception rather than a rule, even with the most optimistic look at this show and its intentions.
Are we all supposed to turn our heads and ignore what’s beneath this premise because people flying in the sky looks cool? Is that the big thing I’m somehow missing? Just roll with it? Be cool?
I mean, it did look cool. It was artfully portrayed, those homicidal refugees.
Coincidentally, Superman snapping a neck was also visually dynamic.
It’s really neat to see a man’s eyes glow red when he’s mad. Does it matter that he’s a white dude in a cop’s position doing it over a disarmed black guy when all of these police shootings are so prominent in the news?
For me it does.
Things do not exist isolated from context.
The show could engage any of these things, but it doesn’t.
“Neal, it’s a superhero show. Lighten up.”
The problem is I can’t lighten up. Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Oh yeah, brother.
I can’t take a joke or make light of things. My intro was entirely serious. Totally.
Or maybe—just maybe—I can take a joke, I can make light of almost anything and do, offensively so at times, but I also have a sense of moral obligation to notice things that are weird about the way we tell story and bring them to our attention in between farts and wrestling gags, especially when I see that almost no one is talking about them.
Maybe bad messaging slips through and becomes acceptable when we don’t question it or think about it. Consider that.
Look at militarized policing. The idea of a military occupation on the streets of America terrified the public just two decades ago. I was there. I was one of them. When, in the wake of the terror attacks, military presence increased in New York, when soldiers with guns walked the streets, it was easy to believe that we were a few steps away from a coup justified by the abstract notions of terror, and there was right and ongoing criticism of what might happen if we allowed the military and the police to blend.
Now civilian cops ride forth in their APC chariots of thunder handed to them by military forces and rain down hell on protestors with impugnity. A show like Superman & Lois can show an entire military takeover of a town, complete with the rollback of any and all due process, and we as the audience are expected (and probably will not) bat an eye. A president stands behind a legitimate, obvious coup attempt, and there isn’t even an investigation.
Fiction informs our attitudes. That’s why this being portrayed as okay, and not even questioned, is important. What we accept in our fictions without question says something about where we are, and if we don’t examine it, that never changes. It gets worse.
Superman is perfectly fine with the military occupation, to the point that its novelty isn’t even noted. Only Jonathan kicks at it, and he’s shamed for it. Superman participates and enables, though nothing in this show indicates the DoD is effective in any way at dealing with the threat. He bows because they are authorities. It is out of his character.
If Captain America behaved as Superman in this show does, though they traditionally have very similar attitudes toward people in power, Winter Soldier ends with Robert Redford killing all the potential threats and Cap shrugging, going “Hey, waddayagonna do? I can’t stop the law!” And his relationship with authority, as Superman’s should, ends the minute it steps past what’s right and what is lawful evil, in D and D parlance.
This Superman is largely unburdened by such notions. Or by an obligation to act. Superman and Lois, and even all our heroes save Sarah, seem contented to stand by idly as Morgan Edge was converting all these people. Because the caves are lined with lead?
And what about Sarah, the last untarnished character here? What does this show do with Sarah this episode? The one person in this show who, because she is in the dark, cannot be said to be actively be allowing this madness to continue?
Well, see, funny thing is, they take what they’ve established, that she is legitimately the victim of ongoing, prolonged, abusive parenting, and suicidal, and they turn it into how she was wrong because she didn’t give her abusers enough of a chance.
They give her a scene where she is so very upset with herself, because of the one time her dad wasn’t drunk, and it becomes about how actually, he is a good guy, you know?
“Like, your mom’s trying really hard, Sarah. Maybe you should give her some credit.” I’m paraphrasing Jonathan there, but not by much.
And Sarah, actually pipes up and says (again paraphrased) something along the lines of, “Actually, she’s sitting idly by as my Dad worships the bottle. She’s not doing anything, and that’s her parental duty.”
This is, of course, the absolute truth. And yet the show then takes that legitimate impulse, that human truth, and decides to make the lesson that Sarah’s parents actually really love her. She should feel bad for judging. And she’s a wreck about it.
Try running that optic past an abuse survivor. See what they say.
I’d tell you about the ten thousand times I was told that the problem was me for not going along to get along, and the community around me fostered that myth rather than being supportive. I’d tell you about all the shows I watched where the abusive parent is one small epiphany away from being the Good Dad or the Good Mom, and how that creates a false sense of pressure on people to cave and accept adults acting like children, because family.
And then I’d show you this show, the last at the end of a long line, and I’d say “See? Another.”
I’m gonna laundry list the blow-by-blow this week, because there was just so much.
-Sending in Lois first to Lana’s house with a small chunk of Kryptonite when they have Kryptonite bullets, Kryptonite gas, and (get this) an actual Superman is ridiculous.
-Tal-Ro and Superman trade light blows (for gods), and then Superman, the man who can hear a robbery in Mexico, somehow can’t hear or see where Tal went, because plot.
-Superman and Lois give Lana a slide show while Kyle is in custody, the military occupies their city, and Tal-Ro is on the loose as a bad excuse to introduce Dabney Donovan, only to shelve him.
-Dabney Donovan, an established character, is entirely inconsistent with his previous comics incarnations save that he is a scientist, AKA the ol’ Smallville Mxyzptlk-a-roo.
See also: THAT’S SO TOYMAN.
-Donovan in the plot serves to help the DoD find the Eradicator. Fine. But Edge, subtle villain genius, left the device that allows his entire plot undefended in an easily found place, and let Lana know about his evil doctor?
-“Why would Edge give Superman time?”
Good question, Lois. He wouldn’t. Even if you use a few lines of dialogue that would collapse under any scrutiny to intimate he would. If Morgan needs time, he wouldn’t let the cat out of the bag with Superman. If he doesn’t, he’d just attack.
-“But he wants Superman to be his partner!” Even the Emperor in Return of the Jedi is shaking his head at how watered down and thin the gruel of that persuasion is. At least Luke has an emotional connection and love for his father. Edge has, at best, a good haircut and a nice coat. And, notably, just tried to kill Lois. You know, the man he’s trying to persuade’s WIFE? Which Edge and the plot seems to have forgotten.
-“It has been so long since anything strange happened in this town!” Actual quote from Lana. On this show.
-Lana knows what the Edge process does, and the effect it’s having on people, but she waits to ask Kyle about where the machine causing it all is until the very end, and then doesn’t follow up, because answering the door is important.
-Apparently Lois and the DoD aren’t listening remotely before their ill-considered ambush.
-Apparently Kyle-as-Kryptonian doesn’t sense himself weakening from Kryptonite.
-Apparently Kyle-as-Kryptonian doesn’t hear the entire army out front.
-Apparently he’s just waiting to snap Lois and Lana’s necks because reasons.
-The entire DoD MUST know that Clark is Superman at this point, or they’re all morons.
-No one goes to Jor-El to ask what they might do to solve a Kryptonian technological problem. Instead, they put a dead Kryptonian in Lana’s body first. Sure, it means Lana loses her soul and orphans her kids if it doesn’t work, but hey! Go with the first option in front of your face. That’s smart.
-Lois suggests Clark can leave the family alone and it’s safe because the DoD is there to protect them. After the DoD’s behavior the last two episodes. Clark buys it!
-We’re expected to believe that Jor-El just never thought to tell Clark he had a half-brother. And also that Superman never went to the Fortress and was like “Hey, Dad, is there by chance some way humans can be made Kryptonian? I just saw a dude explode, and you know things about Krypton and superpowers, I’ve heard.”
-Clark suggests that because Tal spoke Kryptonian and had powers, he is therefore telling the truth, which is just ABSURD. Supes gives Tal, a known liar and manipulator, the ol’ blue checkmark. He couldn’t POSSIBLY be lying, not Morgan Edge. That he wasn’t lying, but that’s not the point. It’s Superman’s stupidity here.
-The Eradicator and Dabney Donovan, comic ideas, are farmed for plot fanservice while not being the Eradicator or Dabney Donovan. Morgan Edge, too, at this point.
-It would be more compelling and unpredictable and fit the character better to have Lara be put in Sam. Think it through. Not enough time in Smallville makes it a risk for him. It’s an excuse to make up for the awful things he’s done. He knows how to get out of the way and sublimate his personality to a higher cause as a soldier. Clark sees something he loves inside someone who’s been a threat to him. Big missed dramatic opportunity, if you gotta go with the body swap plot. Choosing Lana gives you awkwardly Greek myth mother-as-ex-girlfriend moments that never pay off because the situation is so very, very awkward.
-The actor who plays Kyle has some real awful, moustache-twirling clunker lines. He’s already playing a villain, but now he has to play one that lacks any and all subtlety. Not that his main character is growing in depth, but ten steps back and down is a rough drop.
-Superman is asked to let a mother of two subsume her entire personality in a way that may kill her, to get information they don’t know will be fruitful, save that the plot requires it to be so. The general response is: “It’s her choice and we have to respect it!” and she gets a glory hero walk as if she liberated France and personally killed Hitler. To hell with her already neglected kids who have, in theory, already lost a father, and that they’ll now be all alone. Let’s, as a show, applaud her decision-making skills and paint Sarah as the girl who clearly didn’t give sane people enough of a chance.
-They even used slow-mo to convey this more.
-Lana sits idle while her husband drinks himself to stupor, fails her children, forsakes their marriage, and subsequently attempts to murder her while brainwashed to win the approval of a clear sociopath. Now, however, she is A TOTAL HERO YOU GUYS because she let someone else possess her body for a weird plot need.
I therefore hereby present her with the DARTH VADER AWARD FOR HEROISM, granted once every dysfunctional childhood to a parent who is excused for all the horrible things they have done by one noble act.
-Edge and Larr seem to notice that something is happening about 60% of the way through the show, long after the military has to shut down and set up a cordon and what is essentially a base in town square.
-Tal-Ro laments in dialogue to Clark how bad humans are to others when they’re afraid. He then does something that makes humans afraid, expecting good results.
-“What is it like being with my son?” is not at all creepy as a sentence that Clark’s literal mother is saying to Lois Lane through the body of his ex-girlfriend.
-Oh wait that IS creepy. Like, REALLY weird and creepy.
-I have thought long and hard about which is worse, Sarah developing faux anger at people who have done her no wrong, or Sarah developing faux regret for things she did that were in no way irresponsible, and have decided that both are empirically terrible and it’s a false dilemma.
-Edge speaks to knowing the pain of losing a planet, and his character’s solution is yes, of course, plot to destroy a planet.
-Superman’s solution to not having a power source as strong as the sun is a SOLAR FLARE, which is never explained and then doesn’t happen. Instead, he uses heat vision on an egg that explodes everyone back to normal.
-Superman uses heat vision on an egg that explodes everyone back to normal. I know I already said it, but it’s worth saying twice.
-Why is there a whole “Sarah is left behind!” beat for the solar flare if Clark’s plan was to do heat vision way up in the sky? Is the idea that he changed his plan to save Sarah? Unclear.
-Why do the Kryptonians ignore Edge and apply heat vision to the egg Superman is applying heat vision to? I get that they’re trying to heat vision him, I think? But when they see Superman putting heat vision on a thing, are they all so dumb that they don’t go, “Hey, maybe this helps Superman?” “Maybe we should heat vision his leg or his exposed groin or his forehead or maybe punch him.” “Or take the egg!” “Yeah, Carl-Ro! Good one! Take the egg! There are eighty of us and one of him!”
-Somehow Clark can still fly to the Fortress of Solitude after an act that Sam Lane says will put him out of commission for days.
-Sam Lane and Lara and Lois are like “We’re ready!” with the weird egg thing when Superman asks. And then, after a beat, they say, essentially, “But we have literally no way to power this at all.” This is treated like an asterisk, not a vital flaw in their utterly terrible plan that we’re supposed to forgive because the plot says it works.
-If Kryptonian consciousness gives these folks their power, when the egg goes off, they would all have fallen to their death en masse. This is a big thing to miss.
-Leslie Larr is remarkably absent for no reason in this narrative.
That’s the laundry list. As you can see, it was, well, a lot. And I’m sure one or two or five of them is wrong.
All seven thousand can’t be.
There is one set of things the show does well, and that hasn’t changed. Visually, it’s beautiful. The acting is top-notch, even with these clunker lines. The cinematography is better than any average TV show. The music is great.
Everything else has gone from good to passable straight into terrible. We are now in an incoherent superhero soap opera with ridiculous motivations and horrible character work. The sole goal, it seems, is cool scenes and the false appearance of depth.
These cool scenes are being actively married to plots that are at best ill-considered, at worst optically harmful, and clearly designed explicitly to move pieces on a board, rather than the people viewing the show, unless said viewers are already along for the ride come what may. Which, you know, if you are, that’s not meant as a slight. It’s just not me.
I’ve taken flak for “hating” this show. Until this review, my ratings half positive and half negative, by and large. Now they’re mostly negative, with solid reason. The things I like about the show have gone away. If they haven’t for you, good.
SHUT UP AND LET PEOPLE ENJOY THINGS is a rallying cry I hear a lot, paraphrased, for sharing my perspective, as if an opinion can be wrong. I always respond sure, yes, enjoy. Good. That part of the phrase? Enjoy things? Go for it.
It’s the “Shut up!” part I take objection to, particularly when no one forces you to read this. Why?
Well, if it isn’t obvious, which it should be, this article I came across explains it well, though there are several naughty words.
When I am silent, it will be because I choose to be, because I’ve said what I wanted to say and am done. Whether you approve or disapprove is irrelevant to that. If you want to engage, if you want to discuss my critiques, step one is actually reading and raising some salient points, which I actively encourage. Saying “I didn’t read this but you hate my show, therefore you suck!” is a bad, dumb hot take that will not get my attention, nor hurt me, it will make you look foolish.
Most importantly, it won’t change my mind or what I do or this review. Or anything, really. I’m still going to live like criticism and regard and looking at something beyond its surface qualities holds inherent value. I will still think. I will not go along to get along and quietly enjoy. If that threatens you, if it makes you angry, that says something about you, not me. And it certainly says something about this show, if that’s the response it provokes, a with us or against us reductive flailing at the very idea of critical regard.
Yeah, yeah, oh yeah.
Rating – 1 out of 5.
NOW, AN IMPORTANT NOTE.
I don’t get paid for this, so if you like any of the stuff I’m doing, plunk a buck in the tip jar or buy one of my books, help keep the work coming.
If you don’t like my review, hell, buy one of my books anyway, then savage the hell out of it. I won’t mind. I can use your hate money to make more words. Mmmmm. Hate money.
Until next week!