Superman on Television
Lois & Clark: Episode Reviews
Season 1 - Episode 16: "Foundling"Reviewed by: Rob Ó Conchúir
Originally Aired: February 20, 1994
Directed by Bill D'Elia
Written by Dan Levine
David Warner as Jor-El
Richard Belzer as Inspector Henderson
Robert Costanzo as Louie
Chris Demetral as Jack
Tony Jay as Nigel St. John
Eliza Roberts as Lara
Clark awakens one night to find the mysterious Kryptonian globe he found in the Bureau 39 Warehouse (in the episode "Strange Visitor (From Another Planet") glowing. When he touches his hand to it, a recorded hologram message from a man calling himself 'Jor-El' appears. He reveals that he is Clark's birth-father and that as there is little time to record the message, he will appear five times. He explains that he is searching for a way to save Clark (who's Kryptonian name is 'Kal-El').
Clark tells Jonathan and Martha about the globe and how it is likely to reveal facts relating to his past about which he has wondered his entire life.
In the Daily Planet, Jimmy reads an article that says that if two people's family lived in the area for more than a few generations, they are likely to be distantly related. He holds a bet with Cat as to whether they might be related.
Lois tries to find an angle to a story about rising crime rates in Metropolis. Clark's apartment is robbed and she decides to focus her story on the human interest of cherished items being stolen, much to Clark's chagrin. Clark is particularly frustrated at the loss of the Kryptonian Globe. When Lois and Clark go to Clark's apartment, Lois gets angry with Inspector Henderson for not taking the investigation seriously enough and not 'dusting for prints'. Henderson argues that it's a waste of time and resources.
Jack, a homeless orphan taking care of his brother, has stolen Clark's belongings, including the Globe. Jor-El appears to him, as the Globe plays its second message; explaining why he is speaking English rather than Kryptonian. However, when Jack drops the Globe, the message ends.
Lois and Clark go to Louie, a bar-owner with underworld connections who Lois knows through a college friend. He assures Clark that he will find his belongings and the person responsible for stealing them.
Jack sells the Globe to Nigel St. John, accompanied by Lex Luthor, who stays hidden in the shadows. To entice them, he plays the message for them again. They buy the Globe and ask him to keep an eye out for similar items in the future.
A miserable Clark doesn't believe he's ever going to find the Globe, just when the phone rings and Louie reveals that he's found the boy responsible. Lois and Clark question Jack and Clark gets most of his stuff back, minus the Globe. When Jack runs away, Clark easily catches him and tries to get more information from him, but nothing Jack says is of any help.
Lex stores the Globe in his top-secret vault of priceless, stolen works of art from centuries past. Among the items are the arms of the Venus De Milo, Beethoven's 10th Symphony, a Van Gogh painting of the artist's severed ear and a full figure portrait of the Mona Lisa. While Lex talks to Nigel about the wonderful room, the Globe starts displaying its second message in full, further detailing Jor-El's attempts to rocket the infant Kal-El to Earth. Clark sees the message as well, even though he's not present.
When Lois discovers photos Jack took of the Jor-El messages, she notices the Superman symbol and realizes that Clark has been lying to her about having stolen an item that had something to do with Superman. Perry realizes that she is very angry about something and tries to talk to her about it. For once, he doesn't relate the problem to an event in the life of Elvis Presley, which Lois admits would have been better.
Clark goes to Jack again, desperate to learn more about the people who bought the Globe. He meets Jack's brother and is shocked to learn of the poverty the two boys live in.
Lex and Nigel see the 3rd message. Jor-El describes finding Earth, a planet compatible with Krypton in many regards. Lex and Nigel mention how high the 'production qualities' are for the messages and that every home in America should own a Globe.
Lois confronts Clark, telling him she can't trust him anymore, for lying to her. Clark retorts that he may have lied to her, but that she lies to him all the time and that he only did what she would have done.
Lex and Nigel kidnap Jack and torture him to try and get more information as to where the Globe came from. Denny desperately calls Clark for help. Superman flies around Metropolis looking for Jack, just as the fourth message begins to play. Jor-El explains that he discovered Earth through space-probes that have been sending information back to Krypton for centuries. He further explains that the Globe is what guided the ship to its destination, through Hyperspace.
Superman finds that the Globe is calling to him and he tracks it down to Luthor's secret vault, just as Lex and Nigel escape. Superman easily penetrates the secret lair and retrieves Jack and his Globe, as well as halting the self-destruct process. Clark ponders over the other unexplained mysteries of his Kryptonian parents, such as why they weren't able to save themselves. However, he is also at peace, knowing that he wasn't abandoned by his parents, but that he was saved.
Jack gets a job at the Daily Planet and his brother gets a good foster-home. Even though Jimmy wins the bet, Cat refuses to go through with the 'night of passion' she promised Jimmy, as he is technically related to her.
Jonathan and Martha place the Globe in a safe place: Clark's Treehouse from his youth, affectionately titled "The Fortress of Solitude".
Review Rating - 4 (out of 5): This episode may be a 4/5, but it does just barely scrape that mark. Really, it's more of a 3.8.
Frankly, the episode is mostly only above-average: the plot involving Jack and his brother is interesting enough, but Chris Demetral just isn't a very good actor. There isn't really that much of a plot; there's almost no journalism and the sum-total of superheroism involves Superman having to save Jack.
That said though, from a purely 'Superman' sense, this is an invaluable episode. Clark discovers the truth about himself with visions of Krypton and his parents, and while the images we see do look rather tame and TV-show like, the production values are still surprisingly high for a TV show made in the 1990s. We never got such an extensive look at Jor-El or his lab on "Smallville", although we did get literally dozens and dozens of episodes exactly like this episode of "Lois & Clark", none of them with as much impact and sense of scope. Star Trek regular David Warner is a wonderful Jor-El. He plays the role with a tenderness and credibility that's similar to Brando, while noticeably different and more immediate at the same time; it makes him plausible as a real scientist. His outfit is interesting, but it's perhaps a bit of a missed opportunity that it was made to look so similar to the movie Jor-El. His lab is really funky, very 1990s B-movie like. I'm glad that the producers didn't take a 'less-is-more' view like "Smallville" did. I also really like the Globe as a substitute for the crystals of the movies (and *sigh*..."Smallville"). Eliza Roberts (who is strikingly similar-looking to Susannah York) doesn't have any dialogue, but looks the part and the sequences wouldn't be the same without her. Sadly, in Jor-El's one other appearance, much later in "Lois & Clark", he wasn't played by David Warner.
I really liked the interesting touches by the writers to explain certain unanswered questions about Krypton. "You may wonder why I speak your language and not our native Kryptonian" says Jor-El in one brief message, before being cut off by Jack's bungling. We're not given a decisive answer as to why Jor-El's speaking English, but who cares? The fact that it was addressed the way it was is enough for me. It meant that the writers were thinking about it and thought that it was an important enough consideration to be mentioned in the actual episode. It brings a strong sense of verisimilitude to the episode about a subject that (ironically) was sorely lacking in verisimilitude in the Superman movies. I also enjoy how Jor-El mentions Earth's ethical and moral similarities to Krypton, as well as how they share the same flaws.
Lex Luthor's secret room filled with previously unknown artistic treasures is hilarious and awesome. This is exactly the kind of thing Elliott S! Maggin's Lex would've had in the magnificent Bronze Age stories. Grant Morrison paid all kinds of homage to these kinds of hobbies in "All-Star Superman". And in a possible-nod to the movies, Lex's vault has 5 waves of defenses, similar to the gauntlet in "Superman: The Movie". Sadly, the low budget of the series mandates that we never see Superman battling through the various obstacles; we're informed by Nigel and a blinking monitor, instead. Nevertheless, it's fun. Unfortunately, like many other things in this episode, the concept of Lex having secret underground vaults doesn't survive the episode. It would have been tremendous to see him have a secret underground fortress when he eventually resurrected in the second season, instead of fiddling around in the sewer with stock-footage of rats.
The excellent character-actor Robert Costanzo makes a welcome-inclusion in this episode as Louie, the guy "[who knows] guys who know guys". DC Universe fans will of course recognize Costanzo's distinctive voice as that of cynical detective Harvey Bullock from "Batman: The Animated Series" as well as its various spinoffs and the unmissable movie "Batman: Mask of the Phantasm". Louie is one of those one-dimensional plot-device characters that every adventure series eventually falls back on to speed up the progression of the story. The thing is though that he's a lot more enjoyable and watchable than the viciously annoying "Bobby Big Mouth" character that eventually appears out of nowhere midway through the second season of "Lois & Clark". Personally, I would have preferred Louie to have a recurring role.
Finally, we come to Jack. The character was shoe-horned into the show to appease the 15-25 year-old women watching the show, to try and lure them away from "SeaQuest DSV" which stole a lot of its ratings away from other series like "Lois & Clark" thanks to its cute teen heartthrob character (whose name escapes me). The idea of Jack is appealing, and while Demetral is a fairly sub-par actor, he at least has chemistry with Dean Cain. The trouble is that his character completely, comprehensively undermines the role of Jimmy Olsen in the series as the youthful foil for the characters. We'll see in later episodes that Jack's presence leaves Jimmy with little or nothing to do. Perhaps the producers recognized this problem when they did away with Demetral and Landis' Jimmy and completely revamped Jimmy into the unrecognizably different Justin Whalin model, who was noticeably younger and was the best thing they were going to get where a teen heartthrob was concerned. On the other hand, as a wholly original character, Jack could have been the one person (prior to Lois) to discover Clark's secret and cover for him. But...then again, they could have just done this with Jimmy. It's all a darn shame, if you ask me.
Ultimately, one of my favorite things about this episode is that it tied back to one of the earliest episodes. The series really could have benefited from stronger continuity linkage such as this, leading me to believe that if "Smallville" hadn't tried its hand at a warped, nonsensical version of "Lois & Clark" for its final few seasons, the time would be ripe for a Superman show in a similar vain to "Lois & Clark" with more characters and a greater emphasis on continuity. Oh well, at least there's the movie to look forward to.
Next week, Lois clashes with an old college friend who became an enemy and is now scooping her at every turn in the lazily titled episode "The Rival".
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