Superman on Television
Lois & Clark: Episode Reviews
Season 1 - Episode 2: "Strange Visitor (From Another Planet)"Reviewed by: Rob Ó Conchúir
Originally Aired: 26 September 1993
Directed by Randall Zisk
Written by Bryce Zabel
Terence Knox as Jason Trask
Elizabeth Barondes as Lucy Lane
George Murdock as General Nukem
Joseph Campanella as Agent Thomson
One morning as Clark begins to write a story about adopted children seeking their birth-parents, a team of Government agents from an organization called 'Bureau 39,' headed by a man named Jason Trask, storm the Daily Planet offices ordering that Lois and Clark be captured until they surrender information about Superman. Trask believes that Superman may be a threat to national security; that he may in fact be an alien scout whose purpose on Earth is sinister. Lois and Clark undergo a polygraph lie-detector test which causes trouble for Clark. When the Bureau agents depart, Perry orders Lois and Clark to make themselves scarce, not to hide out at their homes. Cat offers to let Clark stay in her apartment, and promptly tries to seduce him, only to be interrupted by a phone call from Lois.
When Lois and Clark discover Trask's warrant was a fake, they are contacted by a 'Government Ombudsman' named George Thomson, who ends up grilling them once again for information regarding Superman. Whilst in Thomson's office, Clark spies a file with his x-ray vision marked 'Smallville 1966'.
Clark asks his parents what really happened the day they found him. Jonathan explains that shortly after they discovered him, some men appeared in the town, asking questions, suggesting that debris from a Russian satellite may have fallen in the town. The Kents told them nothing, but this prompted Jonathan to burn the evidence of Clark's spaceship. However, he couldn't do it as it was a valuable part of Clark's heritage. Instead, he buried the ship deep underground. When he and Clark follow the trail of the ship, they find that it has been stolen.
A retired, embittered former colleague of Trask's provides Lois and Clark with the keycard needed to enter a secret Bureau 39 warehouse. Lois and Clark enter the warehouse, finding dozens of files and paraphernalia related to aliens and UFO sightings from various decades. Clark discovers the ship that brought him to Earth as well as a globe, which he learns to be a model of his home planet Krypton. Trask enters and captures Lois and Clark, dragging them on an army plane, with the intention of throwing them overboard in the hopes that they will lure Superman to him. After a brief tousle with the soldiers onboard, Lois and Clark are thrown out. Clark transforms into Superman and saves Lois. Before he can catch the plane however, Trask fires a missile at him.
Later, Lois, Clark, Jimmy, Perry and a SWAT team close in on the Bureau 39 warehouse, only to find it completely deserted and emptied of all of its treasures. Perry refuses to allow Lois and Clark to write the story, as the physical evidence has vanished.
That evening, Superman arrives at the Daily Planet and provides Lois with an exclusive interview regarding who he is and what he believes his purpose is on Earth.
Review Rating - 3 (out of 5): First and foremost, this is not actually the second episode of "Lois & Clark" at all. In fact, it's the third. For some reason, it was decided that these two episodes were to be aired out of sequence. I honestly have no idea why. Perhaps it was for the two or three people in the entire world who were watching the show and weren't aware of Superman's alien origins (even though it was explicitly stated in the first episode that Superman was not of this world - even if it was never quite explained how anyone guessed that). If you watch the episodes in the incorrect sequence, the way the story progresses makes it becomes quite clear that Episode 2 is 3 and vice versa; but ever since that original mis-airing, the episodes have been presented in that sequence, including on the DVD box set of the first season. On the subject of the DVD, because of the wealth of extras on Disc One, there are only two episodes featured on that particular disc, meaning that if you want to watch the episodes in the originally intended sequence during a marathon-viewing, you have to switch to Disc Two and then back again to Disc One (first-world problems!).
This episode is very typical of "Lois & Clark" in that it had a reasonably mediocre, plothole-filled story that was saved by moments of brilliant characterization that were independent to the overall progression of the story. For the first and only time, we see Cat Grant's apartment and we learn that there is more to her than meets the eye (she's well-read and seemingly a lot more intelligent than she appears at first glance). We see Clark squirming at the notion that he has become Cat's "latest notch on the garter-belt", we see Jimmy brilliantly refer to Ms Grant as 'The Cat-woman' and we see the first full example of Perry's endearingly ridiculous Elvis metaphors, as he misunderstands the situation between Clark and Cat, telling the story of Elvis' first love Anita Wood and how the love Elvis had for her might have sabotaged his career, had he not listened to his mentor The Colonel and ended the relationship. Later on, when the gang discover that Trask's warrant was a fake, Perry exclaims that it was "Phony as a lock of Elvis' hair from a Memphis souvenir shop!". You could cut the 1990s-ness with a knife (or a sharpened Pog-slammer). And I love it.
Other minor moments I liked included Clark's general nervousness around Trask and the entire lie-detector scene. Nowadays as Superman's power levels have regressed to a more streamlined version of the nigh-omnipotent levels of power he had in the Silver Age, a scene with a lie detector would lack any tension, because Superman would already know how to tamper or completely disable the machine, or control the beat of his heart, rendering the machine useless. In "Lois & Clark," he hasn't a clue what to do and nervously writhes around in his seat, cracking the leg and accidentally hovering up into the table. Cain really does a great job here. Lois also had a moment I liked here; when asked if she thought Superman was working as an alien assassin, she suggested that maybe leprechauns were also being used by the IRA. As an Irishman myself who knows quite well of the troubles that were going on in our country at the time this episode aired, it's nice to know that the rest of the world were thinking about it too. Plus, it establishes Hatcher's Lois as being someone who references current affairs in general conversation and attempts at humor (whereas Durance's Lois never, ever stops referencing pop culture and the zeitgeist to the point where I want to put my head through the screen). It's just more realistic for someone in her line of work to make jokes like that.
Outside of these great scenes, the story is a just-barely-interesting spin on the mandatory "Clark discovers he's from Krypton" story, but as this is only the "second" episode, it might have been interesting to see more episodes where Clark wasn't at all sure where he was from (like the Byrne revamp, "Adventures of Superboy" and "Smallville"). Luckily though, not all is revealed in this episode. There's no sign of Jor-El or Lara yet and Clark isn't even aware that his home planet has been destroyed. The problem is that all the episode shows us is Clark picking up a Kryptonian globe (which was a neat replacement for the crystals in the movies, I think) in the Bureau 39 secret warehouse, seeing it morph into a reddish planet and then saying the word 'Krypton'. Nothing is explained to us as to what is happening here. Did the globe communicate with his mind telepathically? That seems to be the only plausible explanation as we never see any literal reason why Clark would choose to say that word at that time. For viewers who weren't familiar with the movies and how Kryptonian technology seems to have telepathic interface abilities, this lack of explanation could be completely baffling.
Similar to this loose-storytelling is Trask's villainous plan in the third act. He takes Lois and Clark up in an army plane, planning to throw them out of the airplane so that they'll contact Superman. If this was later on in the series, where it's established that Superman can hear cries for help all over the city, then I'd accept this. But Trask and the other characters frequently reiterate throughout the episode that none of them know much about Superman. What did he hope to accomplish by throwing them to their deaths, then? Did he think they'd be able to contact the S-man with their cellphones? The only possible explanation given is that Trask seems to toy with the notion of Superman being capable of telepathic communication. Perhaps he thought that Lois and Clark would contact him that way. Nevertheless, it's handled really poorly and it seems like a rushed excuse for Lois and Clark to be put in a certain-death situation so that Superman can come and save the day.
The biggest, most gaping plot hole in the episode is that there's nothing to suggest to Trask that Clark Kent would know diddly-squat about Superman (if this IS supposed to be the second episode, which we as the viewers should assume it is). As far as Trask and the entire Daily Planet crew are concerned, Clark wasn't even in the newsroom when Superman flew Lois in, in the first episode. There's literally no reason (that we know of) why he would be singled out and grilled for information over Jimmy Olsen, Perry White or anyone else who was actually present the day Superman was in the newsroom. The only possible explanation might be that something happened in between the first episode and THIS episode of which we are not yet aware. Hmm...
The episode finishes up with a really shaky interpretation of Lois' first interview with Superman. With no prior explanation, Superman appears in the Daily Planet in the middle of the night, where Lois is still at her desk. Not even startled, she very calmly asks him the questions to which she's been itching to know the answers. Why is she so calm and collected here when usually she completely loses her reserve at the sight of him? The scene seems tacked on and while the spin on the "Truth and Justice" line is clever and innovative (following the first episode where she named him, we now see her piecing up his motivations and strengths herself; something she would do a lot in the first two seasons, to great effect), neither of the actors are on top of their game here. Hatcher seems too calm, almost to the point of disinterest. Cain just doesn't cut it as Superman at all in this scene. Cain's Superman-in-costume works best when he plays the character softly and lower in key; when he exhibits moments of insecurity and humanity. Those are what make his version of the character work, rather than trying to be another grandiose Christopher Reeve/George Reeves-like warrior for justice, which he is trying to do here. This is also hampered by the costume he's wearing. Not only is the cape gimmicky and fake-looking (the costumers were still testing out various different suits and this was one of the early failures), but there seems to be a bit of loose-thread near Cain's neckline. This would work to the advantage of the story in other kinds of scenes, but in this scene we should be seeing Superman in all of his glory and these cosmetic disappointments detract from what should have been a great scene.
From an acting standpoint, there's not much to say about this episode that I haven't already covered. Terence Knox as Jason Trask is an interesting villain (interesting enough in fact, that he made a second appearance, which not many original villains of the show were successful enough to do) and to my knowledge his presence in "Lois & Clark" is the first time Clark/Superman goes up against a xenophobic egomaniac who believes the Man of Steel's role on Earth is simply setting the seeds for a full-scale invasion. This type of villain has become used and overused in the comics in recent years, with both General Sam Lane and even Lex Luthor using the same justifications Trask uses in their various campaigns against Kal-El. Personally, while it's a decent enough motivation for a villain, I think it's wise to restrict it to a newer, expendable character like Trask as opposed to a time-honored arch-villain like Luthor. Luthor's stories are more interesting to me when they are shown as quests for power, to rebuild the world in his own image, rather than entirely spinning off of a hatred of Superman. But that's just me.
A few more things before we go:
- Eagle-eyed Superman-on-TV fans will note that this episode features Joseph Campanella as the ill-fated Agent Thomson. Campanella also guest-starred in the "Superboy" episode "Phantom of the Third Division" as one of Jonathan Kent's deranged army buddies from the Korean War. It's always interesting to see character actors re-used like that in different Superman productions. Even Eagle-eyed viewers will note that the creepy Bureau 39 warehouse in this episode is located on 'Bessolo Boulevard' which is of course, a nod to Ol' George himself. The first series of "Lois & Clark" is full of wonderful nods such as this.
- Even though there's a sub-plot involving Jimmy asking Lucy Lane out on a date, as this is the third episode produced, this is the last appearance of Elizabeth Barondes as Lucy and the last time she is seen living with Lois.
- Terrence Knox was one of the stars of 'Tour of Duty' a TV series which also featured Kevin Conroy (the greatest Batman of them all, to the few of you who don't know).
- This is the first episode to feature the opening titles sequence in all of its glory. Even though it's just a montage of images, I think the opening titles sequence for this show is just great, full of excellent establishing shots (particularly John Shea as Luthor, blowing cigar smoke at the camera). And the more said about Jay Gruska's theme for the show, the better. Like so many elements of the show, Gruska's theme moves away from the traditional three-note-style theme that awarded John Williams so much success in the Reeve movies. Gruska's theme flows in a distinctly different way but is a thoroughly adventurous, exciting piece of music that pumps you up for the latest episode. Every time I see the opening titles for this show, I'm brought right back to the days when it was first airing, on a Saturday night on RTÉ Two here in Ireland and that kind of nostalgia is priceless.
Next week we'll tackle the ACTUAL second episode "Neverending Battle", which is not only a better episode, but it has the greatest single exchange between Perry White and Jimmy Olsen in the history of Superman.
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