Superman on Television

Lois & Clark: Episode Reviews

The Man of Steel Bars

Season 1 - Episode 9: "The Man of Steel Bars"

Reviewed by: Rob Ó Conchúir

Originally Aired: November 21, 1993
Directed by Robert Butler
Written by Paris Qualles

Guest Cast:
Scott Burkholder as Prisoner
Rosalind Cash as Judge Angela Diggs
Richard Fancy as Dr. Saxon
Tony Jay as Nigel St. John
Elaine Kagan as Dr. Katherine Goodman


It's 95 degrees Fahrenheit in November and the citizens of Metropolis are as confused as they are boiling. As a heat-exhausted Lois discusses the problem with a visibly non-plussed Clark, various citizens are secretly aided by Mr. Kent's superpowers as Clark cools down a taxicab's radiator with his ice-breath and unscrews a fire hydrant with his super strength and speed.

Mayor Berkowitz calls a press conference where angry reporters from different media frantically question him as to what the city plans to do about the heatwave. Lois mentions that brown-outs are occurring all over the city, to which the Mayor responds that it's nothing the power company can't handle; before another brown-out occurs. Lex Luthor announces that he has achieved total clearance for a brand new LexCorp Nuclear Power Plant that will power the city.

When questioned about a theory as to why the heatwave is occurring, one of the scientists suggest that Superman may be the cause.

Later at the planet, one of the reporters shows Perry a graph that shows various super-feats (some referring to previous episodes) committed by Superman, which correlate to the rising heat. Lois very vocally disagrees with the theory, but Perry warns her to try and be objective. Clark reluctantly agrees with Perry.

Back at LexCorp, Lex and the scientist from the press conference talk about the scheme. Luthor is not only responsible for the heatwave, but also for implicating Superman's involvement.

Superman appears in court and agrees to comply, by ceasing the use of his superpowers. This suspension doesn't last very long however, as Superman uses his heat vision to incapacitate an escaping crook. Superman is put under arrest and a humorous montage of his procession takes place. While in a jail cell, Superman gets hazed by the other prisoners, including the one he caught earlier that day. Later, he pleads not guilty and the judge agrees to release him to recognizance of the Daily Planet until further proof is available regarding the relationship between the heatwave and his superpowers.

While in the Daily Planet, Superman is bombarded by Elvis stories from Perry, as well as pleas from Lois and Cat for him to come and stay in their respective apartments. Superman decides to stay at Clark's, knowing that he wouldn't mind.

The scientist warns Lex to stop messing with the city's heat. Luthor reveals that 5 million dollars has been paid to the scientist and that he should stop meddling. He then opens a suitcase revealing a power console, controlling the city's heat.

Lois shows up at Clark's apartment and offers to make some dinner for he and Superman. Clark explains that Superman would prefer to be alone. Lois suggests that in saying that, Superman is probably crying out for help. In order to appear to be in his apartment at the same time as Superman, Clark creates a ruse, suggesting that Superman is just coming out of the shower. Clark convinces Lois that he is going in to fetch Superman for dinner, and when he emerges, he is dressed as the Man of Steel.

Luthor causes an express train disaster, in an attempt to attract Superman's attention, forcing him to use his powers so that Luthor can implicate him further in the cause of the heatwave. Jimmy alerts Lois to the fact that the hotspots in the city are completely unrelated to where the super-feats took place. However, it's too late as Superman has already agreed to leave Metropolis for good. A heartbroken child throws a Superman action figure at him in disgust.

Jonathan and Martha show up and try to convince Clark to stay in Metropolis, perhaps even at the cost of his identity as Superman. Clark is adamant that he is leaving and breaks the news to a confused, angry and ultimately heartbroken Lois.

After receiving Jimmy's findings regarding the hotspots, Dr Goodman, a STAR Labs scientist who believed that Superman had no connection to the heatwave, shows Lois the Metropolis Aquifer, explaining that they are boiling, when they should be extremely cool. Lois and Goodman deduce that the heat that's causing the Aquifer to boil must be a leak from the LexCorp Nuclear Power Plant, as that's where all the heat seems to be coming from.

Meanwhile, Lex rejoices with Nigel that Superman will finally be out of his way for good.

During a Live Special News Report regarding Superman's departure from Metropolis, Lois Lane interrupts, sending a message to Superman that he had nothing to do with the heatwave and that there's a serious emergency at the LexCorp plant. Superman meets Lois at the plant and despite Luthor's protests, goes into the reactor and interrupts the injection sequence, enabling him to stop the leak and end the heatwave.

Later, a depressed Lex bemoans the failure of his plan to Nigel, explaining that the leak was perfectly under his control the entire time. However, when Nigel points out that the Air-Conditioning division of LexCorp made a 2000% profit in the past two weeks, Lex rejoices this 'silver-lining'.

Clark returns to the Daily Planet where Perry returns his unopened letter of notice. Lois claims that she knew Clark would be back.

3Review Rating - 3 (out of 5): "Half-baked's better 'n raw!"

Strictly from an enjoyment standpoint, I'd love to give this episode a 4/5, but the fact remains that it's yet another episode where Luthor and a fall-guy create a scheme that requires the intervention of Lois, Clark and Superman. It has all the usual beats of "Requiem for a Super-Hero" and "Smart Kids" where Luthor and his apprehensive crony have their usual back and forth. The only difference is that the nameless scientist never seems to suffer any comeuppance (Max Menken and Doctor Charlton DIED). In fact, there's nothing to suggest that The Scientist Guy (IMDb tells me the character's name is 'Dr Saxon') isn't still $5 million dollars richer by the end of the episode.

Still, there are some really great uses of Lex in the episode, even if the break-down is the same formulaic stuff that Season One would eventually abandon (for the better). When Superman announces that he's leaving Metropolis, Lex has a dialogue with Nigel that is so completely, scene-chewingly fantastic that I must recite it in full:

Lex: (Looking out toward Metropolis from the window of his office) Knock knock.

Nigel: Who's there?

Lex: Superman.

Nigel: Superman who?

Lex: ...EXACTLY.

It's hammy certainly, but it fits Luthor's character so perfectly that it wouldn't be out of place even in stellar comic book works like All-Star Superman. Gene Hackman had some great moments, but "Lois & Clark" provides consistent proof that John Shea's Luthor is even better. Also worth a mention is Tony Jay's Nigel who provides the perfect foil for Luthor, effortlessly proven in this episode.

The plot of the episode is interesting and actually useful in explaining the science of Superman's powers to the audience. I may be mistaken, but I believe that this is the first time in the series that it is explained that Superman acts as a solar conductor, absorbing yellow sunlight which fuels his super-abilities. It's explained so seamlessly as part of the plot that it never even seems like exposition, unlike the similar "Smallville" episode.

As for the chemistry between Lois and Clark in light of the plot, I really don't have much to say. This episode doubtless proves how much Lois cares about Clark, but "The Green Green Glow of Home" did a better job of developing and expressing that outright than was done here. As far as their relationship is concerned, this episode could be considered filler, even in spite of the drastic events (Clark almost leaving the Daily Planet) that take place.

The episode's weak points unfortunately also lie in the plot. While suspension of disbelief is critical in a series such as this, I just can't buy the fact that no one would notice that the subterranean aquifers were boiling. Did Luthor pay off the entire staff monitoring this? Possibly. It's still a bit hard to swallow that it would take a (presumably) esteemed STAR Labs scientist to realize that this was the cause of the heatwave, though. I also can't buy the fact that so many Metropolitans would rally behind Superman's expulsion from Metropolis, considering that he saved (what must have been) over a hundred people in a railway accident. Perhaps, I'm nitpicking.

The only other significant complaints I have to make are regarding the actors performing the minor parts in the episode. The stunt-casting of Sonny Bono as Mayor Berkowitz was fun (I'll forgive the writers for the obligatory insertion of the line "I got ya' babe!" when the mayor was answering Lois' question; it had to be done), but it almost automatically meant that Berkowitz couldn't be a regular character. Sonny was still enough of a celebrity in 1993 that he would have been too costly to bring back even as a recurring character. I would have liked to see more appearances from the Mayor, particularly in light of how the character worked in the comics throughout the 80s and 90s. Rosalind Cash as Judge Angela Diggs was a little bit too over-the-top and campy, in my opinion. I understand they had to inject a bit of life into what was essentially an expository character, but she was just annoying and detracted from the (and I hasten to say this) seriousness of what was going on in the scene.

Negativity-wise, that's just about all I have to say. This episode was definitely above-average, but it doesn't quite deserve the honor of a 4/5, in my opinion. Consider it a 3.5/5 if you're offended by the fact that it got the same on-the-fence mark as lesser episodes.

A few more things I want to mention:

- When Superman is in Perry's office and is being told Elvis stories, Perry does an impression of Richard Nixon, from when Nixon offered to make Elvis an honorary member of the FBI. Lane Smith played President Richard Nixon in the critically acclaimed TV adaptation of the non-fiction book "The Final Days", chronicling the end of Nixon's tenure as President. He was even nominated for a Golden Globe.

- Superman preventing the injection process in the reactor core was one of the shots used in the opening credits sequences of Season Two. For that reason, it's one of my favorite shots of the entire series, as Season Two was when I really got into the series, as a child. Similarly, the visual of Superman using his heat vision on the crook with the pistol in the courthouse is one of my earliest memories of anything to do with Superman.

- The graph shown to Perry makes reference to numerous super-feats performed by Superman in his time in Metropolis. Impressively, many of these relate back to previous episodes (Superman lifting the shuttle into orbit in the pilot, Superman absorbing the blast of a rocket in "Strange Visitor"). I find it kind of odd that they included a reference to Superman fighting Max Menken's cyborg boxers, though. All he did was tie two of them up and flick the other in the face, knocking him out. I guess that's "super-strength", but it hardly seems like it should be considered a 'super-feat'.

Next week, Morgan Fairchild (Chandler Bing's mom) causes love-related havoc and Superman breaks the fourth wall for the one and only time in his 'new' adventures in "Pheromone My Lovely". If you have any questions or (always-appreciated) comments regarding this week's review or any future reviews, please leave a comment or send me a PM!

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