Superman on Television
Lois & Clark: Episode Reviews
Season 1 - Episode 3: "Neverending Battle"Reviewed by: Rob Ó Conchúir
Originally Aired: 3 October 1993
Directed by Gene Reynolds
Written by Daniel Levine
Tony Jay as Nigel St. John
Shaun Toub as Asabe
Miguel Nunez Jr as Jules Johnson
Mary Crosby as Monique
Larry Linville as Grover Cleveland
Brent Jennings as the Forensics Expert
Lois and Clark watch on as a staff impressionist tries to draw Superman's face based on Lois' description. While Lois scoffs at the inaccuracy of the artist, Clark stealthily uses his super speed to save three different people in the newsroom from various calamities.
Lex Luthor is displeased at the incessant attention being given to Superman in the world's media and decides to devise a series of tests to discover just how powerful Superman is.
Perry White explains to the Daily Planet staffers that the publishers are unpleased that the newspaper hasn't delivered a comprehensive story on Superman yet, despite the fact that the story "literally fell in [their lap]" (referring to Superman flying Lois into the newsroom in the first episode). When Lois states that the story should be hers alone, Perry states that Superman is fair game to all of the reporters. Jimmy's excitement turns sour when Perry orders him to pick up some doughnuts for him.
Clark goes to look at a possible new apartment and Lois follows him, thinking that he has a hot lead.
Luthor goes ahead with his plan, outlining to three confidantes how they are going to gauge the powers of the Man of Steel. Luthor references Sun Tzu, stating that "Knowledge precedes victory; ignorance precedes defeat."
Later, Lois and Clark are directed to a possible jumper at the Lexor Hotel. Clark retreats to the mens' room, donning his Superman costume from a sports bag. Lois arrives at the scene of the jumper. Unbeknownst to Lois or anyone else in the crowd, this is one of Luthor's confidantes from earlier in the episode. Superman helps him down, but almost immediately in a direct line of sight across the city, another person is thrown off another building. Superman saves her and Luthor times how long it takes for Superman to reach the other building, deducing that he is indeed "faster than a speeding bullet."
When Lois reaches the other building, Clark is already there and explains the whole story to her. Lois tells him to go back to the Daily Planet and write up the story, but in that time, Lois scoops him. While she is openly guilty to Lucy later on, when confronted by Clark, she tells him that he got what he deserved. When a man turns up to the Daily Planet with information on Superman, looking for a different reporter, Lois convinces him to give her the information instead. Even though the man turns out to be a crackpot, Clark grows ever more frustrated by Lois stealing other peoples' ideas and sources and decides that he's going to do something about it.
Superman arrives at the scene of a building that is primed to blow up by persons unknown. The bomb goes off as soon as he enters the building, but Superman emerges completely unscathed. Luthor watches from afar, proclaiming Superman to be "the Man of Steel", more or less completely impervious to pain.
Jimmy tries to reason with Perry about being given such ridiculous tasks, but chickens out, instead diverting Perry's attention to Elvis. Perry tells Jimmy the story of the last time he saw Elvis, stating that while the King was obviously in very poor shape, it was the greatest experience of White's life.
Having traced the two jumpers to LexCorp, Clark suspects that Luthor is behind the tests. He confronts him as Superman, displaying the full extent of his super-abilities; bending a sword and even shooting the businessman, catching the bullet with ease. Luthor tells Superman that while he does not admit to being behind the tests, innocent people will certainly die if he remains in Metropolis.
In response to this, Clark packs his suit away in defeat, worried that his presence will do more harm than good in the city.
After three days and no sightings of Superman, Lois and others begin to wonder if Superman has left Metropolis or has given up his crusade. Jimmy suggests the idea that if one were to look for Superman's alien spacecraft, they might find Superman. When Lois steals this idea and contacts EPRAD looking for information on unidentified objects that have fallen to Earth, Clark decides to trick her, by drawing a fake map to Superman's spaceship and has it sent to her apartment.
Later, Clark comes back from a shooting, upset by the violence of what he has witnessed and that there wouldn't have been anything Superman could have done anyway. Lois retaliates that it doesn't matter what Superman can't do, it's simply the idea of Superman that matters. "Whatever he can do, that's enough." Clark tries to tell her about the fake map, but she has already left.
Confident in his abilities, Clark becomes Superman once again, saving a little girl from certain death after a billboard for the Daily Planet nearly falls on her. Luthor decides to suspend testing for the meantime, stating that while Superman is obviously extremely powerful, his unrelenting goodness will be his downfall.
Lois arrives at the Daily Planet, completely filthy, having roamed around the Metropolis Sewage Reclamation Plant, looking for Superman's spaceship, having been tricked by Clark. Inspired by this, Jimmy decides to stand up to Perry. Perry is secretly proud of the young man for standing up to him.
Review Rating - 4 (out of 5): "I love the smell of fear in the newsroom."
Truthfully, if I was going on plot alone, this episode might only be a 3/5. Nothing really happens in that regard and Luthor only implies that innocent lives are in any danger. But from a characterization standpoint, this episode is top-notch.
While the episode is admittedly low-key, it is once again saved by the characters and how fun it is to watch them bounce off one another in the newsroom. Lois' comeuppance is classic and reminiscent of something they would have done in the George Reeves "Adventures of Superman" TV series. There's great comedy between Clark and his eccentric landlord when the landlord walks in to the apartment which had previously been a complete dump, only to discover that the place has been stylishly repainted and repaired. But the best entertainment comes from Perry and Jimmy.
For the first time in the series, we really get a feel of what this incarnation of Perry is going to be. There's less emphasis on him being hot-tempered and stressed out and more focus on his years of experience as a newspaperman as well as an avid Elvis fan. When Perry appears to be livid with his staff, he shows quiet moments of pride suggesting that his tough-as-nails approach is actually all an act and that he really appreciates the work his staff put in. This is further exemplified when Jimmy finally plucks up the courage to scold the Chief for giving him mundane, pointless tasks (like fixing a Big Mouth Billy Bass), the chief sits there quietly until after Jimmy has slammed the door, only to joyfully exclaim "Good for you, son!". It's my favorite Perry White scene in the entire series and maybe the entire history of the character. It's hilarious and uplifting at the same time.
There's another great moment of Lois "building" the premise of Superman later in the episode, when she is talking to Clark about the idea of Superman and how it's more important than his actual abilities. It's the kind of thing they did a lot with on "Smallville," but I think it's a lot more effective here. On "Smallville", the idea was for Lois to reinforce 'the Blur' while he was in the prototypical stages of super-heroism, so that when Clark finally did become Superman he would be completely flawless. This idea is sound enough, but I think it's more interesting to see a human Clark attempt to be Superman before he's entirely ready. Over the course of this series, we truly see Clark develop from being an unsure, vulnerable young man to eventually becoming the infallible Superman of the comics and movies. And Lois is key to this transformation.
Luthor's focus is greatly expanded in this episode, with good and bad results. We see the extent of his grip on the city to the point where he has no problem setting up a bombing in a prominent building, with no hope of anything being traced back to him. The way he sets up his tests for Superman is a clever way of establishing the extent of Superman's powers for the other characters in the show who weren't previously familiar with him, as the viewers most likely are. His referencing Sun Tzu is wonderful and his final words to Nigel at the end of the episode are completely indicative of the way he works and thinks throughout the series. Unlike other versions of Luthor, he does not see it as a problem that Superman is 'unrelentingly good,' or that he has infallible morals and ethics. To him, it is an advantage that Superman is 'human' (for lack of a better word); that he cares. To him, this is why he will win.
The scene where Superman confronts Luthor is notable not just because of the improved costume or the great characterization. In 2001, a lot of people were unhappy at the characterization of Superman shooting an arms dealer and catching the bullets in 'Superman: Birthright'. Here, we see Superman doing exactly that to Lex Luthor. Personally, I've never had a problem with this. It's possibly a bit dark, or even a bit too macho for someone like Superman (although Grant Morrison does like to characterize him as a 'brawler' and specifically not a pacifist), but I think it works well. Even though Superman is probably leaning a bit too much towards Batman-levels of intimidation, sometimes he should be allowed to do that, especially if the person on the other end is as wicked as Luthor.
Miguel A. Nunez Jr appears as 'Jules Johnson' in this episode and anyone who's familiar with the actor will recognize that he plays the same wise-ass bit-character he plays in everything (he shows up in a lot of action shows throughout the 80s and 90s and was a supporting character in 'Joey' for half a season). He's not annoying to watch, but like a lot of minor characters in this show, he's a bit forgettable. Mary Crosy who plays 'Monique' is even more one-dimensional, to the point where the only interesting thing she does is an awkward reference to Sharon Stone in "Basic Instinct," where she crosses her legs twice, and suggests that, "All men are weak". Is she going to try and seduce Superman? It's never explained. Among the three characters, Nigel (who isn't even named in this episode) is the most significant, as his role as Luthor's evil version of Alfred Pennyworth, would be greatly expanded over the course of the series. He gets to do pretty much nothing in this episode other than tip Monique off the edge of the building, but it's still important to note his first appearance.
I'm inclined to take issue with the execution of Luthor's plan in this episode, however interesting it is. Why is it that he needed two well-paid, important members of his staff to act as diversions for Superman? If all he needed were people to jump off buildings, he could easily have hired two completely unrelated, expendable people who had no knowledge of Luthor's involvement in the tests. It seems odd that he revealed his involvement to two obviously intelligent members of his staff. Perhaps there was still no real way they could touch him. And maybe he was just paying them an awful lot of money.
Another small flaw in this episode is something that would come up time and time again in "Lois & Clark". When Lois arrives at the Lexor Hotel to see the jumper, there is a small crowd of maybe a dozen people being restrained by police. There is visibly nobody else on the street at all. It's extremely fake and takes away from the usual verisimilitude of the events taking place onscreen. If the show couldn't afford enough extras for the scene, they shouldn't have executed a wide-shot that so obviously betrayed the budgetary limitations of the series.
As I mentioned before, "Neverending Battle" was originally prepared as the second episode, with "Strange Visitor" primed for the third outing. The chronology of the events of this episode mark it as clearly taking place only a few days after Superman returned Lois to the newsroom. It also marks Clark Kent's first major scoop relating to Superman (towards the end of the episode), setting him up as someone who knows more about Superman than others (which is why it makes more sense for Bureau 39 to question him AFTER this episode). I've finally come to a theory as to why the episodes were shown out of sequence. In "Strange Visitor" Superman's costume is noticeably odd in that the cape seems like it's pasted onto the shoulders. In this episode, in some of Superman's appearances the neckline is plunging halfway down Dean Cain's chest and looks completely, almost unwatchably ridiculous. However, in the scene where Superman confronts Luthor, the suit is the perfectly designed suit that would remain for the rest of the season and would appear often throughout the remainder of the series (with some slight changes in season two through season three). My theory is that the producers of the show were extremely unhappy with the 'look' of the suit in this episode and ordered some of the major scenes (such as the one with Luthor) reshot after the suit had finally been perfected. If that's the case, then I'll forgive them for showing the episodes out of sequence, because Dean Cain looks great as Superman when confronting Luthor. It's possible that certain scenes were even added in to accommodate the inconsistencies with the costume. Clark mentions to his mother that he "loves the new cape" and that, "We're getting there." This is a great addition, as it suggests that the suit has not quite been perfected yet and it just continues the reality of the series. Why would Superman's costume be perfect straight away? In a similar vein, we get a great scene with Clark trying to turn into Superman in the men's room, keeping his costume in a sports bag, having not yet come up with the idea (or not yet being comfortable with) just plain wearing it under his clothes as he usually does. It's great seeing Clark fumble around in the small space, trying to yank the suit on. It's great that the writers addressed this nagging problem in the Superman mythos. No matter how many superpowers Clark has, it still doesn't really take away from the fact that phone booths, janitors closets and toilet booths are fairly awkward places for changing clothes.
I mentioned in my first review that I thought the suit this show finally settled on (seen in the aforementioned scene with Luthor) was better than the altogether different, and more 'accurate' one in the pilot. Most casual fans of the series generally seem to prefer the suit in the pilot as well. On the surface, it's easy to see why. The S shield in the pilot is an almost perfect "comics S" and matches the shield in the banner of the Superman Homepage perfectly. Honestly though, I prefer the one in the subsequent episodes. The reason is simple: It looks like Martha Kent made it. One of the most significant things about this version of Superman is that he was created by Clark's imagination, Lois' enthusiasm, Jonathan's tirelessness and Martha's innovation. That's what this suit embodies. It's a suit created by ordinary people and not high-tech costume designing supercomputers or Kryptonian crystals. It really looks like the Superman costume your Mom would make, rather than the Superman costume you'd see at San Diego Comic Con (which to me, is what the "Superboy" costume looks like), or the one you'd buy in Toys-R-Us (which I'd liken the pilot suit to). Despite all of this 'homemadeness', the suit just looks powerful. The blue of the suit, while a bit dark, seems to sparkle and shine, almost like Superman is bursting with power. The cape is longer than usual and while this can sometimes lead to moments where it looks a bit over-the-top, for the most part it gives Superman a sort of regal authority, like a Roman Gladiator. I also love Dean Cain's hair and what the designers came up with. It's well-documented that in "Lois & Clark" the famous hairstyle was done in reverse, so Clark had the S-curl and Superman had the manufactured, slicked-back style. That was obviously a clever idea to set up the 'identities' in the series, but beyond that it does something even better. Look at Dean Cain as Clark in this episode. Then quickly look over to him in the scene with Luthor, where he is dressed as Superman.
In Man of Steel #1 (or is it #2? I'm never sure, because I've only read the story in trade paperbacks), Jonathan remarks how, when Clark changes his hairstyle and puts on the glasses, his whole face seems to change. This was attempted quite well in the Reeve movies and in the Superboy show, but I honestly believe "Lois & Clark" can claim the most effective use of this premise. As Clark, Dean Cain's eyes seem wider and softer, possibly magnified slightly by the glasses he wears. His hair is clearly black, but for some reason, the viewer remembers it as being brown later on. As Superman, his hair is clearly jet black, his eyes are less defined and his entire face seems a different shape before. People will doubtlessly disagree with me, but for me, Dean Cain's Clark Kent/Superman is the most successful at looking like two completely different people. The only consistent feature between the 'two' men that betrays their dual identity is Cain's distinctive mouth. There's also the small matter of Clark being a confident go-getter (as opposed to Chris Reeve's bumbling goofball) who could easily be discovered as secretly being Superman, but I also have a theory about that that I'll address in later episodes.
A bit of trivia:
I've spoken a lot about the costume now, so I'll briefly get back to the episode before I wrap up. A bit like the pilot, this episode was successful not because of its plot, but because of its extensive, entertaining study of the characters that make up the show. At last, all of the characters are set up and while there were a few small moments of cosmetic inconsistency involving the costume and the errors in continuity pertaining to the mixup between this episode and the last, this was a really entertaining episode of "Lois & Clark", and if you had missed the first episode, this would certainly bring you up to speed.
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