Superman on Television

Lois & Clark: Episode Reviews

Lois & Clark

Season 2 - Episode 6: "Operation Blackout"

Reviewed by: Rob Ó Conchúir

Originally Aired: October 30, 1994
Directed by Michael W. Watkins
Written by Kate Boutilier

Guest Cast:
Charles Rocket as Ryan Wiley
Melora Hardin as Molly Flynn
J.T. Walsh as Col. Charles Fane
Bill Erwin as Andy Tucker
Tom Hatten as Gen. Ralph Marshall
Kimble Jemison as Soldier
John Lehr as Lead Chanter


Lois, Clark and Jimmy are attending the demonstration of the ATAS weapon, an automated attack robot used for unmanned combat situations. From afar, a mysterious man overrides the controls of the robot, commanding it to kill General Marshall, the host of the presentation. Superman stops the machine from causing any more deaths.

The mystery man speaks to another General, about how they're going to take the entire world hostage.

Later, Lois looks through Jimmy's photos and sees Ryan Wiley (who we recognize as the mystery man) at the launch. Lois knew Wiley as he used to date her college roommate Molly. Lois reckons something strange is going on, as Wily is supposed to have died years ago in a failed weapons test. Lois and Clark investigate Wiley and go to a shop belonging to Molly. Here they find that Molly has abandoned the use of technology, and has written a book entitled "Technology is Killing Us". Her shop is full of herbal and spiritual aids.

Lois shows Molly the photo of Wiley and Molly is convinced that it couldn't possibly be him. Clark speed-reads Molly's book and asks her questions about Wiley's death, but Molly simply says that she doesn't like to talk about it.

After they leave, Lois talks to Clark about how she fell out with Molly, largely because of Wiley and how Lois didn't get along with him.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the two reporters, Molly knows Wiley is alive and he was in her shop the whole time.

Lois comes up with the idea of checking her college yearbook (which was signed by Ryan Wiley) in order to compare the handwritten signature to Wiley's signature on the sign-in sheet the day of the weapons test. She faxes a request to the military base and Colonel Charles "Chuck" Fane tells his aide to fax back that they are having 'technical difficulties'. Wiley and Chuck discuss how they're going to create chaos in Metropolis, starting with the traffic.

When all of the traffic light patterns are sent into disarray, Jimmy nearly gets run over. Luckily, Superman saves him and spends the rest of the day preventing any traffic disasters.

Technical failures sprout up all over the newsroom of the Daily Planet. When a message is received by the unknown saboteur, Lois and Clark suspect Molly, as the message is similar to a line in her book. Perry vows to get the Daily Planet out in any way possible, even if it means having to resort to the old-fashioned printing methods used prior to the advent of computerized layout and printing.

Lois and Clark go to Molly's apartment and find a type of beer that has to be ordered specially. Lois remembers that Ryan loved this beer and from this, they suspect that Molly knows Wiley is alive. Clark's super-hearing warns him of trouble happening across the city and he is forced to abandon Lois as he changes to Superman. Superman finds a car that has crashed because of the traffic light madness and the Man of Steel helps deliver the baby and bring the two parents and their newborn to the hospital.

Chuck and Wiley discuss their plans further. Wiley suggests that they blackmail the mayor.

Perry introduces the news team to Andy Tucker, a veteran newsman who is the only one Perry knows of who can operate the old linotype machine required to print the non-computer-assisted Daily Planet. Tucker is an old man now and is hard of hearing. Perry assigns Jimmy to show him to the machine, an unenviable task as Jimmy has to shout at Tucker in order for him to be able to hear what Jimmy is saying.

Lois is nearly killed when she's thrown out of her window. She manages to grab a flagpole on her way down and Superman saves her.

The first copy of the 'new/old' Daily Planet is printed and published, much to Perry's delight. Perry, Lois and Clark discover that Colonel Charles "Chuck" Fane (the man who refused to supply Lois with the sign-in sheet) covered up Wiley's death - suggesting that he must be working with him. Lois and Clark realize that the blackouts in Metropolis must be a diversion for a bigger plot by Wiley and Fane. Lois steals an army jeep from one of the hundreds of soldiers now maintaining order in the streets of Metropolis. Lois and Clark use the stolen jeep to go to Fort Truman to get more answers.

Upon their arrival to Fane's office, Lois finds a fax saying that Fort Truman has been destroyed. From this, Clark deduces that Wiley and Fane killed General Marshall so that they could clear out the base and hijack an advanced weapons satellite called 'Hawkeye' without interference.

Lois and Clark split up and Clark gets caught by armed guards who mistake him as a criminal. Lois and Molly get locked up in the control room by Wiley who has primed the Hawkeye to fire at the base, making it look like it was all a plot by Molly. Wiley reminds the two that he'll never be suspected for the crime, because to the world he's already dead.

Clark breaks out of the military prison and becomes Superman. Molly can't over-ride the program that Wiley created and her and Lois overcome their differences as they are forced to await their deaths.

Superman flies into space and repositions the satellite, allowing the weapon to harmlessly fire off into space. He then catches up with Wiley and Fane, humorously pretending as though he is driving a car as he flies alongside theirs. He reminds them that on top of their many heinous crimes, that they are also guilty of speeding.

The power comes back on throughout the city. Lois ponders the personality flaws that may have led to her falling out with Molly originally. Clark assures her that while she has problems like anyone, that she's a really good friend. Perry points to Jimmy who has passed out on the couch, after a hard night of helping to get the paper out on time. Perry ensure Lois and Clark that he has the makings of a real newspaperman - but that he just lacks a bit of endurance.

3Review Rating - 3 (out of 5): When I started watching this episode and remembered its ho-hum plot and villains I was all set for the possibility of a mediocre 2/5 experience. But, as Perry says to Jimmy at one point in the episode "Jimmy, just remember - what looks like a plough-horse may just run like a thorough-bred!". While the plot is good (but not great), what saves this episode from blandness is its amazing dialogues and interactions throughout.

Dean Cain shines like a diamond as Clark Kent in this episode, cementing himself as the iteration of Clark that seems like he'd be the most fun to hang out with and share a beer with. Every moment in the episode where Clark tries to wind Lois up, either in the company of Molly or just amongst themselves is just terrific. Molly herself is a slightly more memorable character than the similar character of Linda King from "The Rival". Molly is played by the excellent Melora Hardin, whom many viewers will recognize as the duplicitous Jan Levinson Gould from the American version of "The Office". It's almost eerie to think that this episode was produced eleven years before her first appearance in "The Office" (and nearly seventeen years before her last appearance) and yet she looks mostly the same now as she did back then. It's quite possible that the actress has had a lot of cosmetic surgery in the intervening years, however.

Bill Erwin plays Andy Tucker, the hard-of-hearing linotype operator, and an old friend of Perry's. The whole subplot regarding the power outage and the Daily Planet having to go 'old-school' was terrific and gave Lane Smith even more of an opportunity to deftly steal the show. Justin Whalin is finally likable as Jimmy as we root for him trying to keep up with mad antics of these hardened newspapermen as they desperately try to meet the deadlines and put out a morning edition. Bill Erwin is a recognizable character actor who appeared in dozens of notable TV shows and movies, including the cult Christopher Reeve movie "Somewhere in Time" (which is really entertaining and beautiful if you can track it down on DVD).

While the special effects in this episode are mostly unspectacular, the cinematography is notably higher in quality than usual. There's a terrific opening shot of the Daily Planet that begins at ground level and pans around parts of the newsroom that we don't typically see, before it finally lands on Lois. Later, there are numerous shots of the Daily Planet's rarely-seen skylight window from the inside, where we can clearly see letters that spell out "The Daily Planet". It's a shame we never got to see what the whole building looked like from the outside (we only ever see the entrance and its accompanying Globe). I suppose the budgets for something like this just weren't there.

Where this episode fails is that it is once again too much like "The Rival" and other similar episodes where something from Lois' past comes back to bite her. While not quite as obvious, this plot device is becoming as repetitive as the frequent "a character's personality is altered after they are exposed to Kryptonite/Kryptonite-radiated substance/possessed by something" trope from "Smallville" (although admittedly, there probably would have been just as many annoyingly repetitive tropes like this in "Lois & Clark" had it lasted more than four seasons). One thing that always bothers me is that we never meet characters from Clark's past. And I'm not just talking about his life on the farm in Kansas, I mean the years he spent traveling the globe working as a reporter for various news services and learning all kinds of amazing things about the world. This seems like a great plot tool and yet it was almost never utilized outside of Clark's MacGyverisms in the first season (such as the bullet-wound cure to seal Lex's wound in "Fly Hard").

While Wiley's plot of faking his own death and making it look like Molly was behind the whole thing (in some kind of anti-technological protest) was admittedly quite clever on the part of the writers; Wiley and Chuck Fane are underwhelming villains that are never particularly interesting to the viewers. Certainly, they outrank the villains in "The Source", but they will go down as being one of the lesser villains this show had to offer.

Next week Professor Hamilton finally appears and decides it would be a great idea to (sigh) bring Al Capone back to life in "That Old Gang of Mine".

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