Reviewed by: Neal Bailey
Premiered: July 13, 2021
Written by: Katie Aldrin & Michael Narducci
Directed by: Alexandra La Roche
There’s this theory about pop culture viewing that I tend to find dismissive. It’s a way for people to US and THEM their friends into camps, which is all too pervasive on the Internet in general. It’s the “Let’s just pretend this doesn’t exist.” school of thought.
When a person is presented with the idea of a part of a media empire they don’t like, the conversation tends to go: “You know, I just pretend Rise of Skywalker doesn’t exist.” Or “I just pretend The Last Jedi doesn’t exist.”
It’s a part of that all-pervasive need not to think too critically, lest you be considered someone who doesn’t just set things aside and enjoy them. As if that’s a sin. It’s also a way for people who have no ownership over a media empire to assert some form of control over a thing they do not, will never, and shouldn’t have.
Which is why it’s incredibly frustrating to me that I enjoyed this episode, and it feels like a return to form for the series, but only if I can legitimately say “Let’s just pretend the last few episodes don’t exist, and take things completely out of context.”
Rating a thing is difficult in this context. Out of 5, it’s a 2 in context, a 5 in terms of the amount of joy I took seeing a good episode after a few stinkers, a 4 with everything weighed based solely on this episode out of context, a 4.5 compared to the best episodes of Smallville, and a 10 put next to literally any aspect of the Snyder universe.
Maybe a 12.
At any rate, I’ll try to give it a number anyway, because that’s the gig.
Preliminary fun fact: I have learned that there is, legit, a professional wrestler named Edge, for those of you who are simply reading these reviews to badly keep up with professional wrestling.
The episode starts on an interesting note, with John chasing after his younger sister. I realized I was making a critical mistake in the previous episodes (hopefully I didn’t enshrine it in the review, but I might have) where I conflated Natalie and Natasha, John’s daughter and his sister, respectively. I assumed that in this universe they were going with Natalie as Steel, not Natasha, so it’s interesting, the idea that we might, as this show evolves, get Natasha as Steel. Or at least part of the Super-family. I like that tease.
It turns out that they weren’t, as some theorized, talking about Diggle when Lois called John. It turns out they really were going with the “Everything is coming to pass just like you said!” line from Lois, about Superman.
This is a terrible position to start from and build from, but it seems the entire episode recognizes that and tries to fix it as best as it can. That’s the problem with “in context” vs. “on its own” in how we regard this particular episode.
For example, it was pretty plain and evident that the dilemma presented in the last episode was patent garbage, designed for arbitrary drama. There’s no universe where Superman would actively choose, knowing Edge’s designs, to become his thrall. And yet it is ESTABLISHED, so the episode has to start from that premise, but this episode also kind of eschews and avoids it.
Superman isn’t Edge’s thrall in this episode practically, he is simply put in a position where he has been essentially kidnapped and is being forced to become Zod. Which, you know, decent premise. The idea is that he is being brainwashed, not choosing to become a murderer’s ally to destroy the world—to save three humans.
The indication last episode was that it was a persuasive choice, which it isn’t. Edge says “Join me and become my ally, or your family and everything you love dies.” And Superman doesn’t do the math that Edge is a liar and that his family won’t survive, and just goes with it. He makes an active point to indicate he has been persuaded.
In this episode, that is completely glossed over, as well it should be, but it sets up a fundamental flaw in the following premises that leads to Lois being in an awkward position of having to be plot dumb.
The writing and acting is artful enough, and accounts for that, in ways that salvage it. Lois comes to a series of increasingly irrational conclusions that no one would ever buy in an attempt to save her husband despite being an intelligent and rational person, generally, but the writing points out subtly that this is because she emotionally fears for the safety of her husband, not because she is being her usual rational self.
The problem then becomes that the bold declaration she makes at the beginning of the show, that Superman has turned, is thusly out of character for everything she does that follows. That’s why the context is an issue.
If she believes he’s turned and has called John, she doesn’t think he’s still savable. The show takes that and, repeatedly, tries to make it that Superman actually instructed her to call John, which is kind of the way it should have been, and kind of the way it was, but there was the added layer to the burrito where Lois voluntarily states “He’s evil now!” as opposed to “Superman said to call you.” which undermines the way this episode shifts Lois and her perspective rather rapidly to salvage story.
I’m gonna forgive that though, because it made for a better time, and that last episode is best ignored and forgotten anyway. It seems more and more clear that the last episode was a bottle episode, but most of what happened didn’t need to, and didn’t establish anything, really, of importance, that I can think of.
The last show was a bottle episode, mostly, and then fifteen minutes of plot that is entirely slipshod and could probably be excised, if you think about it. The only unique aspect was one of the more lamentable aspects, Zeta Malfoy. Another motivation/weirdness for Edge that, presumably, won’t return. Strange how a guy whose sole motivation seems to be a family at times is just absolutely apathetic about straight up killing his dad, or disappearing his own personality, I suppose, but that’s for the next episode.
If you consider things structurally with the last episode entirely excised, just imagine Superman blows up the egg, he passes out, and wakes up being converted to Zod by Edge this episode. With that scenario we need nothing of the last episode to be up to speed. John arrives because the DoD saw Superman taken away by Edge, we have the same plot, but with better rationales. It seems the clip show needed an extra BURST at the end, or a reason to exist, so they threw in some incoherent elements, and this episode seeks to make sense of that by ignoring it and taking the best. Mostly.
But it makes the opening slightly clunky, in that we have Superman utterly submitting to Edge ending the last episode, and then he’s fighting it with all his might this episode, despite the knowledge that Edge will kill his family if he does, which was his purported motivation for going to the Edge Fortress to begin with.
That it’s Zod is kind of telegraphed, but I still like the idea of meeting this Zod. That it’ll be Edge is also telegraphed, but that’s also something I like. Edge and the actor playing him would make a great Zod, and I’m eager to see how they do it.
There’s a lot of glossing-over of the Sam Lane and Lois Lane family drama of the last few episodes, where Sam basically tries to kill kids, is nearly responsible for the death of Superman, and lets John go without reasons. All of these things have been remarked upon. If you consider this episode in context with the preceding ones, Sam falls apart.
Even internally in this episode, Sam is off. He goes from “Superman has to die because he MIGHT be brainwashed!” in a way no one can see or quantify, to “Well, you were able to think of your family and weren’t brainwashed, so I’ll never doubt you again!”
Nonetheless, they still manage a few tender scenes with Lois and Sam that actually have some weight to them. When the show operates from a place of character and feeling, a lot can be excused, and I found myself, despite the weight of past plot, enjoying the scene where Sam comforts Lois in fear that she was losing her husband.
The Cushing family stuff was both good and bad this episode. There was some weirdness.
I have two reads for the initial stuff, before the big “water hose that washes away all the abuse” scene. The OPRESSION OF THE CUSHINGS was either a commentary, in which case it was brilliant, or it was meant to be sympathetic, in which case, it was really, really awful as a dramatic choice.
We have the Cushings, a family pretty directly responsible for a lot of the chaos and death and destruction that occurred in this town. An analogue for right-wing philosophy, very clearly, they (the parents) are so pro jobs over what’s good for anyone (particularly Kyle actively, but often Lana passively, though she also directly participated) that they allowed and aided Morgan Edge’s entry into the town. And all the eventual destruction.
They were presented with the fact that it was bad and dangerous multiple times, and ignored it. Lana worked against it slightly in the end, but still had a kind of shrugging acceptance for the good it did for some a lot of the time.
There were consequences.
People died. People lost their jobs. People were nearly killed. That’s not nothing.
It’s also analogous to what happened over the last four years in America in a lot of ways, and the show doesn’t often shy from that commentary. And it hasn’t been on the nose, either. It’s been artfully done, for the most part.
In this episode, we have the results of what happened and its consequences made very plain to the whole town, in the style of the January 6th attacks on the capitol in the United States, and the town is reacting rather naturally to being nearly destroyed and under sudden unexpected military occupation. They’re like “Hey, you brought this guy here, you told us we could trust him, and now we’re all messed up. You were part of that.”
Because they were.
And a few randos who are probably on the fringe of these otherwise rational folks decide to break a window and spray paint the house, taking things too far in a way that, notably, doesn’t get anyone killed.
Then, very rapidly, rather than taking responsibility for the terrible things that they’ve been part of, the Cushing adults adopt the role of being persecuted, and victims. “I was just trying to help the town by letting those leopards eat those faces!” Then they just clean off the paint, which means the consequences they face don’t really change anything for them practically, and go back about their lives as before, happy and unchanged.
The dead people say nothing. They’re still dead.
Taken as a commentary for American politics right now, the parallels are pretty stark and obvious. We have a group of people who advocated for a megalomaniacal narcissist who then took power and got a bunch of people killed by essentially brainwashing a group of sycophantic folks to become his inner circle. When he was removed from power, he left all of his lackeys in the lurch. And these chief lackeys, despite the fact that they clearly enabled evil and took it all the way to the bank, get to act like they’re persecuted when the rest of the world says “Hey, you got people killed with your actions, that’s unacceptable.” because a few of the people saying that take it to an extreme and break a window in their natural angry response to evil. Though most people are just quietly rational in their response. And though breaking a window next to getting a bunch of people people killed is apples and oranges.
I’m talking about Morgan Edge in the above paragraph, of course. COUGH COUGH.
(I’m not at all.)
The problem is, this show has been so surface in the past few episodes, I don’t know if ascribing it that level of thought to what’s shown here is merited. Especially since, at the end of the episode, there is no consequences for the Cushing hubris. The family is, essentially, back together, and all of the bad things Kyle and Lana did to leave Sarah in the lurch are forgotten because all’s well that ends well. That’s a terrible message. And if that’s what they meant, that the Cushings are really just persecuted for trying really hard to do good, and that they now have their deserved happiness back, wow. Just… wow.
I want to err on the side of it being in good faith and a commentary, but if it’s not, it changes the read entirely, and takes this show down to at least a 3.
Should people like that be forgiven? That’s a good dramatic question. It’s a good real life question. That’s depth.
The is an utterly hilarious moment where the boys walk right past the murder camper and no note is made. You’d think Jon at least would step a little aside. It’s also hilarious that Jon and John talk and there is no mention of nearly dying in his murder camper, or all the guns he stole from the gun fridge. It’s all “Oh, oh, oh, don’t kill my Dad!” As if that’s more important than commiserating about a gun fridge. PFFFT.
But that’s one of the problems with scenes like the gun fridge, is why I bring it up. You can’t have a serious scene between those two without the gun fridge popping into your head, or the murder camper, or all of those weird inconsistencies, and across the life of a narrative, that matters.
I also err on the side of intentional choice as opposed to oblivious mistake in the scene where Jordan tries to hear where Superman is, and uses the excuse “But what if I fail?” to move the drama in the scene. In one read, that’s a failure of craft, because it’s not a reason he wouldn’t want to try. Of course you might fail, in everything. And on the surface, out of context, it doesn’t work. But in the context of the show we want this to be, where the anxiety of the character is a constant and recurring part of who he is, that’s absolutely the way that someone with anxiety might respond to this problem. It’s not about the logic, it’s about the presence of tension, when it comes to anxiety, often. That made it a great scene for me, along with the acting from the boys.
The Red Sun missile, and the fact that it opens up portals to other dimensions, is weird even for comic book science. As a way to stop Superman, fine, I’ll accept the red sun depowering thing, but it opens a weird loophole where if they then use the missile, but it doesn’t open a portal to another world, there’s something odd there, and the way it’s used in this episode is weird.
They establish it as a device to stop Superman long enough to kill him, and then point to it repeatedly as the ONLY OPTION when the show itself has established many, many other options. Remember the Kryptonite dust? Remember the bumper red sun generator on the murder camper? Remember, I dunno, KRYPTONITE?
All of these brilliant scientists and military generals going “How the heck are we gonna stop Superman?” and Sam Lane is even like “Yo, dude, I have like, this totally sick bunker filled with stuff that could—”
NO ONLY MISSILES!
There’s even a part where John kinda lifts his eyebrows at Sam Lane and says something like, “I got this tech here that’s above and beyond what you got. We can use it!” And I immediately wondered why he didn’t pull that out when he was hammering the hell out of Superman. Or use his suit. They also gloss over how his suit is repaired.
John Diggle showing up is pointless and weird and begs for some debate, but I am going to (mostly) ignore it completely. I know he’s on other shows, and I know a whole can of worms opens up if you suggest that this show exists in the same universe as those other shows tonally, plot-wise, and in almost every conceivable way. It’s why they shouldn’t have put him in this episode, because it will only anger the people who want that connection between the shows that can’t have it tonally, or estrange people like me who hardly have any clue who Diggle is at all, and, from his few scenes here, can’t be brought to care because his role is so interchangeable with literally any other character’s. All I get is that he knows Lois and is involved in science military stuff, and that’s what Sam Lane is for.
It also begs the question where Supergirl is, where the other heroes are, why no one else but the DoD is involved. I don’t know what’s going on in the other shows, but if you open that door, it’s open, and with it comes baggage.
Shifting gears, as someone who has built a house, and renovated and repaired many houses, I wanted to put another brick through the window of the Cushings for the way they approached that paint cleaning. Soap and water on dried paint is dumb, as is thinner. You just get a scraper or a razor, line it up, push with light pressure, and it flies right off. If you’re worried about paint chips in the yard, get a tarp.
Worse, the scene devolves into big happy family time in the most clunky and awful and awkward part of this entire show. The music and the way it’s depicted as semi-wholesome and a great resolution for what happened seems to completely forget all that happened. They are not a big happy family simply because the plot states it is so now. There was alcoholism and suicidal ideation and kidnapping, not years ago, but weeks ago. Badly removing paint doesn’t fix that, and the show is dropping a huge ball here.
The scene where John is told the secret by Lois initially irked me, because why would she tell him, I initially though? Him knowing that they have children won’t make John less inclined to kill Superman, because John lost his child because of Superman. And being like “It’s my husband!” won’t help, because John lost his spouse because of Superman. And he also lost his spouse HERE to Superman, in the sense that Lois is still alive but can’t/won’t be with John.
It’s also one of those moments where, logic be damned, the acting sells it. Lois and John feel every inch of that scene, and honestly, it is persuasive even if it isn’t logical. And the thing that sells it is that Lois is emotional and wrong, obviously, but John is rational and consistent, but also, and this is important, fundamentally good and trying to do good, even if his methods have been illogical. The scene, somewhat impossibly, helps make the otherwise clunky pivot for John easier to take in the end.
It isn’t easy to take, to be clear, it’s still too fast for how UTTERLY SURE he was that Superman was LITERAL HITLER, but at least effort was made not to just screech through the turn, and the acting sells it.
The Jon/John scene was weird. Mostly because it was redundant. There’s no reason why it ups stakes or makes John more persuaded to see Jon over Lois. It’s also a weird choice to take a woman character, have her make a statement more powerfully, and then have her younger man child underling character make the statement in a far more emotional way, and seem to have it resonate more. It’s bad optically. With that said, it’s a moment that’s filled with real emotion, and again, both actors sell it so well, it’s easy to look past.
This is a principle I mention repeatedly, but that is easy to miss, and worth stopping to emphasize. When a show has you, emotionally or logically or both, and isn’t just beating you in the head with how off and wrong and weird plot stuff is, it’s far easier to go along to get along. Though this episode proceeds from a flawed premise, and has some weird dramatic choices, its plot flaws are overshadowed by acting and execution and things proceeding rationally from one premise to the next. What is stated is what is followed through, for the most part (ignoring where the episode was forced to start by the last episode, admittedly), and it is executed well, even when I disagree with character choices, the “house wash” garbage being the lone exception.
I’m not sure why the other shows have not been like this, but I hope it’s the beginning of righting the ship.
Even the fight scene, usually the dumbest and dullest part of the show, is so suffused with character moments that you forget there are many easy outs. That Superman could be subdued by Kryptonite is not really on your mind, because you’re wondering if John can be persuaded, if Superman can save himself and become the exception to the rule. The show does well, and the actors do well, to make this work.
There’s a lot of care here, and if you’ll note, not a lot for me to criticize. That’s good. Believe me. As much as it may seem that I relish the idea of a laundry list of things to pick at, I don’t. This is the preferred outcome for me, because I like this show, I want it to be good.
This one worked for me, and I think it would have been a five if it hadn’t been so hindered by the previous episode and the just starkly bad run of shows preceding it. Other than the montage last episode, which was cut short by stupid, this is the best this show has been in almost half the series.
Here’s hoping we see more of this after a prolonged and terrible dallyiance with plot for the sake of plot.
Rating – 4 out of 5.
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Until next week!