“Superman & Lois” Review – S01E13 – “Fail Safe”

Review

Reviewed by: Neal Bailey

Premiered: July 20, 2021
Written by: Jai Jamison & Kristi Korzec
Directed by: Ian Samoil

It’s been a while since we had two decent episodes in a row. It’s a pleasant shift. The arc of this season has been rocky, at best, but it seems as they head in to the landing, they’re trying to stick it, acknowledging some things that didn’t work or just sweeping things that were bad about them under the rug. Things are proceeding back to where they need to be, which is—ironically in a show about people who fly—grounded in human interactions.

This episode does nothing crazy epic or hugely cinematic, but nonetheless it works in many respects where other episodes failed, even when I disagree with the behavior of the characters in question, because it’s trying to do something with the people involved that isn’t arbitrary. Some of it fails, some of it succeeds, but it’s trying, as opposed to positioning pieces for plot, and is thus vastly more enjoyable.

Almost every character gets a decent bit of time here. The show benefits from keeping the threads distinct and not wrapped around one big element of plot that ALL MUST SERVE. Consequently, I figure I’ll look at each character individually for a change up.

EDGE

Edge is much clearer now. A lot of the motivations that were absent or muddled are given an A to B to C that wasn’t present before with one simple scene to correct the shifting needs for Edge’s journey as we see it.

He was with his father, then he wasn’t, then he was out of necessity when he failed to get Superman to be his “brother,” and went back as a failsafe.

This wasn’t conveyed in “A Brief Reminiscence…” well at all. It seemed they were flatly chummy, and that hindered this as a possibility until it was spoken, and made it very out of the blue. Edge turning on a dime from wanting a brother for however many years to “Welp, that’s it, I quit!” also hindered things. But stating it and moving on here helps.

That kid, too. Man, is he a dead-ringer for young Edge. Eerie, and more evident, now that we’ve gotten some more lines from him.

They also take a minute to explain the Lara-sized plot hole, with one easy line, and that too shows care, that they are thinking about these things. They could have ignored it, and most of the audience might not have noticed, but they chose to try for consistency. That goes a long way.

Edge doesn’t completely give in to being the Eradicator at first. That’s fine, though initially it bothered me. He still thinks he can persuade Clark, come what may, so that fits in with his character, until he gives up.

It also fits, in ways that it never would have in the show Smallville, that he isn’t immediately spouting Clark’s secret to the world. His arrogance and his plan would have him believe that he is about to become a thing that will kill Superman, so he has no need to expose Clark through guile or to the larger world any longer.

The bit where he absorbs the sun and hears the voices of the Kryptonians is well done. Chilling.

Leslie Larr (which I include under Edge because it’s so brief, and they’re so associated) was a brief and interesting appearance that allowed for the potential of the Steel and Superman partnership to shine through, and I enjoyed it.

It’s a bit odd that she’s so easily caught, and a weird loose end to leave, but I’m starting to believe—seriously—that it might actually serve a purpose, the way this show has started paying attention again after a prolonged lull. I imagine we’ll see her absence had a purpose. May I be right.

SAM LANE

They decided to stick with “true believer” in Superman style Sam this time, which surprises me, because I thought that it was a temporary pat on the back to end the denouement last episode, but now I see it’s more of a piece move for the drama in this episode.

I like it, as it gives Sam a purpose and a place in the narrative. It also maneuvers him to make right the things he consistently got wrong that made his character both unsympathetic, and made us wonder why Lois and Clark would still have him around at all.

It’s a solid turn, and the only real way he can continue to be a viable part of the show without becoming one-note. He is, tragically, in kind of a Lionel Luthor situation, where he can seem to be trying to do right for a while, but ultimately has to serve as a foil. He’s one of those characters that are always good for reductive plot manipulation, but hard to give an arc or some kind of weight, because it’s clear he’s ultimately a device to the viewer. If they start making him part of the team again, he can actually be more of a philosophical foil than a one-note good or bad guy as the plot needs him to be.

“We have to act now!” “No, Sam, we have to be circumspect.” Etc.

That has far more value in terms of drama than “You are a threat because you exist, now accept that I almost killed you!” It’s a smart move.

JOHN HENRY

Moving John into the barn seems kind of cold at first, until you realize he literally has a murder camper to sleep in, and is probably a bit standoffish to begin with. Then there’s that whole awkwardness of sleeping in the house where your dead wife is sleeping with the man who killed your dead wife. So it’s not as dismissive as it might seem at first.

He’s clearly stepping into the role of partner to Superman, and I’m honestly about as intrigued with where he’s going now that he’s got more than one dimension (KILL SUPERMAN!), to the point where he’s probably the most interesting character next to Sarah for me personally right now. I wish there were more time for Natasha here.

CLARK

Clark has an arc that I immediately bristled at, when it started, but then came to embrace. That happened with almost every character a bit, mostly because I’m primed to not like where they’re going, because they’ve gone in such weird directions until the last two episodes. But with thought, I got over it.

There’s a huge divide in the Superman fandom, I’ve observed, over whether or not it’s cool or terrible to show a Superman that fully cuts loose and does terrible damage to the world and the people he loves.

You often see a phrase along the lines of “C’mon, man, yeah, Metropolis was leveled in Man of Steel, and realistically a bunch of innocent people would die, but you have to admit it was cool, right?”

What that effectively is, in its construction, is someone saying “C’mon, now, I know the story was out of character for Superman, but I saw something that was absolutely awesome because of it, and thereby excuse it, so why don’t you?”

The simple answer to that question is always, always, because context matters. I can go “Yeah, it’s cool to see a city leveled!” when I know it’s not full of people like, say, my child. And I can even forgive seeing a city leveled by, you know, a bad guy doing bad things. But when Superman is there, and he doesn’t take the fight out of the city, and he then makes out in the ruins of that city, it’s not the leveled city that gets me, it’s the complete disregard for how that character would feel in that situation, and the leveled city is a symptom of the broader disease.

Here, in this show, we see a contextualized and in-character regard, through Clark, of what it means to unleash the weight of his power, and how it speaks to him as a person. The last time I saw something of the like was the widely cherished scene where Superman has his dialogue with Darkseid where he talks about how he usually has to control himself so well, but now, it’ll feel good to really cut loose. And it works so well because it’s Superman, being Superman, and he has a reason through story to actually cut loose in a way that entirely has to be done.

Clark is pointing out actively that participation in wanton destruction is the antithesis of Superman, and he’s disgusted that he was even tempted to consider the idea in his head (not in real life). He’s then willing to die, rather than be, say, the version of Superman from Man of Steel.

It doesn’t fix the fact that he was willing to become that creature willingly two episodes ago to save three people, or the horrid nature of that plot’s twist in that regard, but it does take the step of refusing to continue down that line, which is important. That does a lot to repair the story damage done by having a mature Superman go “Hey, this is a great idea!” when it was dumb to my eight-year-old.

I read a book once by Peter David, I believe it was, where he stated that the way to fix a thing in the plot that is utterly absurd and wrong is to have the characters speak it out loud and move on. This is not my preference, I prefer that a story have no absurdities to speak of that aren’t part of what’s going on rationally, but in the absence of one, the other is the best path forward. It’s like that expression, “The best time to plant a tree is ten years ago, the second best is now.”

Which is a fancy way of saying that Superman being out of character was deeply wrong, but now that he’s back, all you really need, if you can’t be rid of the times he was out of step, is to state the problem and move on, and we’ll accept that, like as not, if quality continues, and forgive, if not forget.

That’s a lot of prelude for “Superman is right and in character when he suggests that others should continue to have devices that can kill him.”

And to be frank, I don’t think people should have that power, at all, particularly not Sam Lane and John Henry. They’re irresponsible with it, as they’ve proven.

But Superman would trust them with it, NOW, in this narrative.

Why? Because Superman believes in people. He wants to think the best of folks. He believes Sam when he says he’s on his team. He believes John Henry when he says the same. He trusts in the inherent good nature of people, whether it’s real or not. We don’t, perhaps, because we are more cynical, we people, but we are not Superman, and this is why.

I do wonder why they don’t harken back to when Superman wouldn’t work with Martian Manhunter because he had Kryptonite contingency measures, because it was the first exposure to this Supes, but it’s probably better to keep the universes more separate, as much as possible, in my opinion. Tonally they’re just too different.

I also loved, loved, LOVED the scenes where Superman visited Edge. They were almost completely extraneous, save to establish something we already know, that Superman won’t ally with Edge and Edge then believes that (which was already done twice).

BUT, they were classic comic moments. The victorious hero stands over the defeated villain in prison with one last trick up his sleeve before the trap is sprung. Superman believing in even the most lowly villain and their potential to do good, trying to have them redeem themselves by making their villainy right (helping find Larr). I could eat that three meals a day.

LOIS

I deleted a first paragraph here where I ripped into Lois’ inconsistency across this whole “Can Superman be controlled” arc when I realized that her inconsistency actually ends at “A Brief Reminiscence”.

I tracked the path where she is at first sure Superman has gone evil to where she is sure he’ll be fine with absolute certainty, to where she is now, once more sure he will be fine after witnessing Clark not be fine, and the potential contradiction there, but the more I consider, the more I see that she is wholly consistent, if you just chuck “A Brief Reminiscence…” and her statement at the end of that out the window.

Last episode she believes that Clark shouldn’t be put down, very emotionally so, to the point that she is irrational and going to the wrong people and giving up secrets and, frankly, a trainwreck. This is then vindicated, because Clark stands up to the impossible mind control. She is proven right.

This episode, Clark tells her he wants the weapons to exist, and Lois goes off on him in a frustratingly shrill way, as opposed to acknowledging or questioning why he might want that. This when her whole thesis is that he’s so mentally even she trusts him and his judgement wholly, even when he can destroy the world.

She yells and gets petulant and storms off to get Jordan, after yelling at Jonathan, and while yelling at Clark. She gets real yelly.

This is, again, the problem with that “Natalie” episode that will continue to echo, because if slightly yelling at Jonathan for nearly getting killed is enough for Lois to need mental Correction with a big C, her actions here are worthy of committal. She flat out says her goal is to “scare the hell” out of Jordan with anger.

Not that I think that she needs therapy for this, or that her actions are not fully adult, at all, more so I’m pointing out the story’s logic and its flaw, and why I took such umbrage earlier when the show suggested that rational adult anger is bad.

A few scenes later, Lois calms and follows a natural human arc, the arc of a rational adult reasonably emotionally harmed by stress. She speaks with Clark about her issues, and he responds with thoughts that puts her at ease, and they are once again loving partners working toward something together, a thing we haven’t seen much of in the show of late. The payoff justifies the initial irrational steps, and I was agog and baffled at first, because I have been trained by the show not to expect the payoff, just the drama.

I’m glad to be wrong.

The arc where she gets angry at Sam for not wanting to release classified information, where she lies to Beppo with no reason to, that’s trash.

It’s also just a weird premise to base plot on, the idea that the flying people is going to be somehow covered up, or could be. People have cell phones. A hundred people took to the sky and used heat vision on a giant egg, then fell to the ground, and all of their friends and family knew about it. It’s not an isolated fight between two supers in a desert.

It also opens up a few weird dynamics here for Lois. One, there’s no reason she shouldn’t work for the Planet again now, presuming that it’s no longer run by Edge, given her reputation. Two, Beppo in a position of authority over Lois instead of “OH GOD I AM THANKFUL YOU ARE HERE!” is a weird position to give her.

Assuming Smallville’s newspaper is a paper with a readership of, let’s be generous, ten thousand, there’s no way that there’s any kind of demand for information like Beppo’s asserting, or even that they’d turn to her and not, say, the internet. Assuming the router in the barn isn’t in a place that can’t be accessed without dying. Hell, the odds two people could even get paid anything for making a paper is more farfetched than people who fly and shoot fire from their eyes.

Beyond all that, making any character lecture Lois Lane about her “duty to the people” is insulting, particularly considering how Lois came to work for the paper. Beppo fangirls over her. To flip that dynamic without any real catalyst doesn’t play for either character.

Lois is also ultimately right (just generally, and from her perspective) that the DoD shouldn’t have the power to kill or attack Superman, given they’ve been completely irresponsible with it. Nor should John—John has also shown himself to turn on a dime. But he’s far better than the DoD in every respect.

She’s up and down this episode, but mostly up.

THE BOYS

Jordan and Jonathan have the same basic arc, ending in two distinctly different ways, with the same consequence—trouble. It’s interesting, the way it’s done, and shows how the two boys are experiencing Smallville differently. The character is the more important thing here, and it makes up for the glaring weirdness of the “arrest” scene. More a detention, really, though I know people use arrest for detention. I think they were using it colloquially.

However you use it, police don’t randomly patrol looking for people who might be trespassing in a small town. Resources, lack of harm, lack of no trespassing signs, lack of verbal warnings. It’s farfetched. Better if they had simply ended the scene with them kissing.

I suppose they wanted the symmetry of the two boys both ending up in trouble for what they did, for the parenting moment, but police is a weird way to do that.

Also, it’s really weird, the idea that a teenage girl might try to seduce a teenage boy for gossip on a thing. Does it happen? Mmmmmmmmaybe? But it probably would have been better served to reverse it and make the girl an actual person more than a plot device, maybe. She genuinely likes Jonathan, that’s her first priority, but she’s also legit curious about what happened (not for, say, popularity), and that upsets Jonathan legitimately, that he literally can’t tell her out of duty, so he leaves. Otherwise it just makes the girl a prop, not a person.

Neat moment seeing the water tower again, though. Half expected Remy Zero and a meteor to fly by.

THE CUSHINGS

Sarah’s fine. She has the attitude of any teenager confronted with this parental/town weirdness. “This town is full of garbage people, and I’m sick of the way they [and you, implied] treat me.” She did nothing wrong, and tarring her with the brush of her parents is ridiculous. She is a victim. Wanting to cut class and get away also makes entire sense, and is consistent with someone dealing with the life she has. I continue to identify with her journey more than any of the others.

It’s a bit frustrating that the reference to Kyle’s past behavior with her is relegated to “It’s only a matter of time before he goes on a tear.” when he’d already be on it, likely, realistically. But it’s not ignored—that’s important. It matters.

Lana and Kyle I don’t even know what to make of, and it was simultaneously the best and worst part of this episode, depending on whether or not their actions are a metacommentary. I legitimately can’t tell.

You should have a hint one way or the other, but I think the show is either afraid of making even a slight commitment toward a read for the brigading flak they’d take, or genuinely telling the wrong story. The outcome is nonetheless worth a good solid look, and has a lot of commentary, even if it’s entirely unintentional.

As I pointed out last week, I have two potential reads. One, this is the Cushing adults being legitimately socially punished for behavior that caused injury and death to others, and they’re just oblivious to it, as people of their persuasions tend to be. Two, this is the Cushings being portrayed in a way designed to provoke sympathy and indicate they’re somehow oppressed by the town’s legitimate reaction, which is an incredibly bad path, both optically, and story-wise, because both legit enabled all the bad stuff to happen willfully in story. That they were ignorant to the consequences at times (and not all) is no excuse for continuing to ally with Edge at any point for money, nor does it mitigate the consequences of their criminally bad judge of character.

I drew a parallel to the politics this reflects in American culture last week, and it ticked a few people off. Good. I’m about to again. Take your “I come here for fancy reviews, not to hear your politics!” and put it back in your BAD DUMB STUPID IDEA box with those slips reading “Print more money!” and “Maybe poor people need to work harder!”

Everything is political. Period. If you think it isn’t, you’re foolish. If you have ever uttered the phrase “I don’t like it when _____ brings up politics!” regarding anything, then what you have actually stated is “This makes me examine something in a way that makes me uncomfortable and/or that I disagree with, and I can’t handle that emotionally.” Usually followed by big crying baby sounds and the soiling of pampers.

My response to this failure on your part is to ask you to grow up and do the work or go sit at the kiddie table, where we put people who can’t act like adults for a reason, that being they often drool on themselves and have nothing to offer the conversation and demand that people validate it when they are irrational because they FEEL THAT WAY.

If you want to avoid anything that will make you uncomfortable or make you question yourself, you are part of a huge problem that needs fixing before it descends into MORE violence. And note the MORE part, because if you haven’t, God help you.

The last four years happened. Our culture has to assess and bargain with what that means ethically and morally. How do we do that? Story. It’s directly germane, pertinent, and necessary no matter what it does to your feelings. If you don’t want to get political, don’t read this review. There are plenty of benign inoffensive options out there for you not to challenge yourself with. This episode touches on a thing that requires a little digging and a little politics. Get on board or don’t.

Of late there has been a pretty broad cultural pattern. When someone in a place of power does something reprehensible, they are perfectly fine, so long as they control the messaging. To “put the blame where it should be” as the mayor says in this episode.

I don’t think it’s unintentional that he comes off as a blowhard and a villain, because it’s what moneyed interests and political hacks have been doing for decades now to dull us into criminal wages and high rents.

WE are to blame, you see. We aren’t working hard enough. Insidious stuff like that. WE are responsible for climate change, not the companies. On and on. Responsibility for thee, not me. That’s the message that, if one repeats it enough, few people question, and it’s why things don’t change.

Continuing with this show’s examination of the way corporations and politics (the town hall) provide an avenue to allow villainy to run rampant, the mayor here is a clear fitting analogue to Trump, the literal human embodiment of message and controlling narrative being vastly more important than veracity. He’s also quick to sell out anyone who displeases him for power.

The Cushings, meanwhile, are people working for the will of a corporation thinking it the will of the town, with legit good intentions, we presume. Kyle is more selfish than he’ll admit to himself, but I believe that he believes he was trying to do good, though it’s obvious to anyone with eyes that he’s being a dangerous idiot.

The parallels are pretty clear. When the belligerent violence finally came down with Trump (if you don’t count the “subtle” indirect violence of hundreds of thousands dead for his sluggish response to Covid—which I certainly do), there was a reckoning of sorts, just as there’s a reckoning now for Kyle and Sarah. Call them the senators, in this simile of sorts. They did the messaging, they followed the orders, and they stuck by even when the megalomania of their leader became clear, and that people were legitimately dying.

Then something funny happens. Lana and Kyle learn again that the company/person in power doesn’t give a single crap about you once you no longer directly benefit them. It’s impersonal, inhuman, even. The mayor or the company will lie, cheat, break promises, and take giant phallic ships to space for fun while you suffer down with the rest of us, and if you don’t like it, you’re a problem. Behold, the mayor who laughs as he lies through his teeth. Look at Lana and her utter surprise and befuddlement at this inevitable betrayal.

If there weren’t legitimately people like this, I’d be maligning this as implausible—even ten years ago, I would have. Then I saw the leader of the free world talking about injecting bleach and large groups of people pretending he didn’t because it suited their particular power structure. It goes that far.

It’s the big problem with MESSAGING. It implies that everyone can make their own truth, and that it’s just as valid as the literal truth. “Inject bleach!” becomes “He never said that,” or “He meant it this way,” or, in extreme cases, “Yeah, inject bleach! It’s always been wise!”

And this shows what happens when one buys in.

“Oh no, the consequences of my actions!” Lana laments, paraphrased, with Kyle. “It’s so unfair they no longer trust us!”

Yet when the leopards ate her face it was not tragic. She participated through inaction. Kyle deserves more condemnation, but both were involved. They don’t now get to complain about the face-eating leopard they unleashed.

I know a few of you might not know what I mean when I’m making that reference, so here: https://knowyourmeme.com/memes/leopards-eating-peoples-faces-party

Facing, for the first time, the problems of the rabble (because recall both were gainfully employed in a small town, a miracle in and of itself, which both gave up to serve a corporation and specifically Edge), Kyle is blown apart. He’s reduced to throwing a ball against a wall after looking into eight jobs in a newspaper (I counted).

Ask any millennial, or any Gen X, or any of whatever they’re calling anyone who was born after 1975 these days, they’ll tell you that looking at eight jobs and nearly giving up in frustration is the mark of someone who’s been extraordinarily lucky and is, in fact, entitled.

Kyle’s on LEAVE—not fired. He’s getting paid to mope about how people are treating him for the things he actually did.

Earlier, Kyle goes over to his former colleagues, including the one whose life he “saved,” (it was Superman, recall), and they’re like “Dude, you brought leopards here! They ate Stan’s arm! Give us time!” and he’s like “The leopards are gone, so forgive me NOW! Yeah, I invited them in, but I said I was sorry you felt that way! GAH.”

You know what makes me lean toward the idea that this is subtle commentary most? The fact that, after the mayor absolutely throws them both Lana and Kyle to the wolves, Kyle legit indicates that the mayor was just doing what he had to do, looking out for himself. He praises the man destroying his life for having no moral scruples save “I got mine.”

That’s how indoctrinated he is.

Kyle may not even realize why he’s being an idiot, or the harm he’s done, but that doesn’t make him any less dangerous to the people around him than the person who chose to do evil. I want to punch his smug, self-serving face, for his daughter if no one else.

That’s good character work, that it makes you plumb those depths. If exploring it makes you uncomfortable because you initially found Kyle altruistic and sympathetic, but now you see what happens when one behaves as he does, with good intentions but not thinking about what they’re getting behind, then it’s moral character work. It helps you learn something about the way people are, and how we can avoid future mistakes like, say, the mistakes of the last four years.

HOWEVER.

If I’m completely misreading this, and they’re saying that Kyle’s the victim of unjustified small town oppression, we’re further gone as a society than I’d thought.

I’m gonna live in the world where it’s the first read. That’s the perhaps false message I’m keeping for my truth—that we still have a chance to pull out of this. Remind me of that in ten years, willya? If I’m still around.

THE WALL OF WEIRD

Sam Lane has a thousand Kryptonite bullets and five gas cannisters, but swore up and down that the only solution was John Henry’s weird rocket last episode. And he wanted to kill Superman, but deployed none of those weapons, at all. I never served, but I can say, empirically, that’s bad generaling. It’s also bad gerunding, but I do this to KEEP PEOPLE SAFE (slightly manly wet eyes, staring off into the distance at a waving flag).

CONCLUSION

Next month, when Necromancer Morgan Edge from Raised by Wolves comes back, I’m actually excited to see what’s happening. I’m enjoying the show again. There are some things that are odd, but everything odd works in service to the story, thusfar, and they actually made up for a lot of lost ground with a few simple moments in this one.

This isn’t a five, because it wasn’t perfect, and it wasn’t an amazing hour of television, but it was good. Competent. Above average. A show perfectly worth watching.

4Rating – 4 out of 5.

NOW, AN IMPORTANT NOTE.

I am an independent writer of novels and comics and occasionally, reviews like this. If you liked this review, don’t like, don’t subscribe, just get yourself yonder to NealBailey.com or my Patreon.

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.

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Until next week!

Neal Bailey

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4 Comments
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redcape
July 22, 2021 12:52 pm

I always appreciate the “honorable mention” of MoS in these reviews.

lcmcbain
July 22, 2021 12:54 pm

Thanks as always for the review ! I’m digging John Henry-Iron and hope he sticks around as a series regular going forward. I actually feel bad for Edge as he’s been brainwashed by his malevolent father his whole life and counld’t seem to get out from under his thumb, supposedly “dying” so that the eradicator could takeover/live. His whole life still doesn’t make much sense apart from that, but I thought it was sad when he gave in. As you said, i hope the last 2 episodes are indicative of the future as opposed to some of the clunkers prior.… Read more »

Superman2878
July 22, 2021 10:34 pm

Spoiler Alert! Spoiler Alert! Spoiler Alert! Where to begin with my thoughts on this episode? I guess I’ll do my best so here I go. I liked this episode even though Superman really didn’t have much to do. Other than interrogating Edge and capturing Larr that is. I think that it was good seeing Clark interact a little more with with his family this week even though his boys got into trouble for skipping school. It was interesting to see Superman interrogate Edge like a scene out of Silence of the Lambs. I get that he needs to talk to… Read more »

Last edited 2 months ago by Superman2878
Superman2878
July 23, 2021 2:06 am
Reply to  Superman2878

I almost forgot to say that I don’t think that Steel needed to help Superman take down Larr. She was headed to the DOD where as far as I could remember still had Kryptonite weapons. So I’m pretty sure Superman and the DOD would’ve stopped her from freeing Edge. Plus I don’t want Superman start needing help for every situation. He doesn’t need a team of heroes like the other CW heroes do. I don’t mind Superman teaming up with Steel every once in a while but I don’t want it to be a constant thing. I just don’t want… Read more »

Last edited 2 months ago by Superman2878