Superman on Television
Lois & Clark: Episode Reviews
Season 2 - Episode 13: "The Phoenix"Reviewed by: Rob Ó Conchúir
Originally Aired: February 12, 1995
Directed by Philip J. Sgriccia
Written by Tony Blake and Paul Jackson
John Shea as Lex Luthor
Christian Clemenson as Rollie Vale
Denise Crosby as Dr. Gretchen Kelly
Randy Crowder as Bomb Squad Leader
Tony Jay as Nigel St. John
Barry Livingston as Sheldon Bender
Sal Viscuso as Bobby Bigmouth
Dr Kelley and Nigel St. John monitor the cryogenically frozen Lex Luthor's progress. When it appears that his heart-rate has flatlined, they are shocked by the sight of Luthor breaking out of his frozen tomb.
Clark daydreams that he and Lois are out together on a romantic evening, sparking him to ask her out in real life. Lois is lost for words and tells Clark that she needs to think about it. Clark's friend from the FBI sends him an envelope containing photos of Nigel St. John spotted talking to Gretchen Kelley, as well as a dossier on Nigel. They recognize Dr. Kelley as the woman who tried to siphon Superman's powers. With his super-vision, Clark spots Sheldon Bender's name on a piece of tissue in Nigel's hand and suggests to Jimmy and Lois that they investigate Bender.
The revitalized Luthor quickly realizes that Sheldon Bender has embezzled his entire fortune. To make matters worse, some element of the rejuvenation process has caused Lex to lose his hair, which infuriates him. A disguised Lex kidnaps Bender, shoving him into a van and driving away. Spotting this, Superman goes into action, but is puzzled when he finds the van empty (the criminals escaped through a sewer manhole).
Lex learns of Intergang from Nigel and Kelley when Sheldon initially suspects that it is they who have kidnapped him. Luthor threatens to throw Bender into a pit of rats unless he restores Lex's fortune and provides him with Kryptonite, which Bender promises to do.
Lois agrees to go on a date with Clark to a Pearl Jam concert. Jimmy tracks the license plate of the van to Ramine Tarbush, a local vagrant.
While leaving the office, Lois helps an elderly man in a wheelchair across the street. The man is Luthor in disguise, toying with Lois and trying to figure out why (in his eyes) she betrayed him. Soon after, Lex vows to Nigel that he will have Lois once again, one way or another.
Lois and Clark visit Bobby Big Mouth to get some information on the abduction of Sheldon Bender. Bobby comments on their upcoming date, adding that many people are rooting for Lois and Clark as a romantic couple.
Bender meets with Rollie Vale in prison, accompanied by Nigel and Luthor, who is disguised as a driver. Vale has access to Kryptonite and asks for half a million dollars and his freedom in exchange for it, to which Lex agrees.
Perry sits down in his office only to realize that his chair has been fitted with a chair bomb that is wired to explode should he move out of the chair. The bomb squad arrive and evacuate the building, but when they attempt to deactivate the bomb, they simply set off a 60-second timer. Luckily, Superman is now on the scene, who flies both Perry and the chair out the window. He drops Perry and lets the bomb explode, before quickly saving the editor-in-chief.
Jimmy explains to Perry that while the bomb squad were busy taking care of Perry, their van was raided for various supplies, suggesting that Perry was just a diversion, much to White's disgust.
Lois runs into the elderly man once again, who now reveals himself to be Lex Luthor. He makes no attempt to capture her and she simply tells him that she pities him.
Perry puts Lois and Clark on stakeout duty to keep an eye on Sheldon Bender - which unfortunately clashes with their date. Clark gives the concert tickets to a delighted Jimmy, who says that his girlfriend Angela will be delighted.
The morning after the stakeout, Lois and Clark spot Bender bribing a judge. Lois and Clark go to confront him, but Bender gets shot in the neck with a dart by a mysterious scuba-diver assailant. Lois and Clark do manage to track down Tarbush, and spot him entering a manhole, through which they follow him. Clark hears the sounds of an explosion and rushes away as Superman. Lois is found by Dr. Kelley.
Lex blows the wheels out of a police escort car to create a diversion while he plucks Rollie Vale from a prison van. Superman tends to the wounded police officer in the car while Lex escapes with Vale.
Later, when Vale asks for his money, Lex double-crosses him, ordering Nigel to shoot the convict. However, Nigel and Ramine reveal themselves as members of Intergang and shoot at Lex, who covers himself with Rollie Vale, who is killed. Nigel shoots again, hitting Lex in the shoulder. In the confusion, Kelley throws Lois into the rat pit, which angers Luthor. Lex tosses Kelley into a power converter, which electrocutes and kills Kelley, while Nigel and Ramine escape.
Superman arrives and saves Lois. Lex tries to commit suicide by electrocuting himself, but Superman cuts the power with his heat vision, demanding that Luthor go to prison for his crimes.
Review Rating - 4 (out of 5): An impressive return for John Shea, this episode gets most of its kudos from me as a result of its impressive continuity. These elements, coupled with Shea's acting ability really elevate the episode's weak points. Still though, there's a sense of too many things being crammed into one episode with no real conclusion. It's a darn shame that Shea couldn't have appeared over the course of multiple episodes, with an underground Lex trying to destroy Intergang, Superman and (hopefully) Metropolis itself. It could have been an amazing arc, but instead it's relegated to one short 'special guest star' return. Perhaps I'm being a bit unfair - this is nearly a 20-year old show and arc-style storytelling was still a relatively new invention for network television. I can always dream, though.
Shea's inclusion in this episode really highlights that the show is missing a valuable cog from its initial glory. Shea's acting is above and beyond practically all of the villains in the rest of this season so far and he elevates every single scene he's in. He really is the best Lex Luthor ever, in my opinion; film, television or otherwise. It really makes me wonder why the producers didn't even try to add in a different character (good or bad) to even out the stakes in terms of acting ability. It's quite sad really.
In talking about how good Shea is, the setting in which the revitalized Luthor is placed in is confusing at best. Lex has lost all of his money and is seen wearing (what seem to be) clothes from the Salvation Army - and yet we frequently see him in expensive-looking disguises. Couldn't he just wear them instead of the raggedy ex-army jackets? It's a little bit too contrived for me, anyway. Also, I understand the thought-process in wanting to make Shea bald for his special appearance, but the bald cap just looks ridiculous. The 'cancer patient' eyebrow-covers look even worse - I understand that Luthor is supposed to have lost ALL of his hair, but I can suspend my disbelief when it comes to his eyebrows. There's at least one scene where you can see the edges of the bald cap. I suppose I'm glad that there's at least one episode of "Lois & Clark" where Lex Luthor is actually bald (just like I suppose I'm glad there's that one scene at the end of "Superman: The Movie" where Luthor reveals he's been wearing a wig for the whole movie), but it's just really irksome. When Shea returned again in the third season (for a much better swansong, even if the story took a wild, insipid turn at the climax), Lex Luthor's beautiful mane of hair had mercifully grown back.
I was delighted to see Rollie Vale return, and giving him a robotic arm (containing the Kryptonite) was an even more welcome piece of continuity. Honestly, the actor playing him could have supported an entire episode of his own, such was his demanding presence. I'm even able to suspend disbelief that Rollie Vale went from a bumbling scientist to a hardened criminal within the space of a few episodes. And it's still funny that he looks so much like Conan O'Brien. As for Nigel St. John, I was delighted to see him back also, although it does bother me that there's still no explanation given as to his whereabouts during the "House of Luthor" scandal. Was he away on a villainous assignment for Luthor? Denise Crosby also makes her final appearance as Gretchen Kelley and to be quite honest, that's fine by me. Crosby over-acts in just about everything she's in and I can only put up with her for so long.
This episode marks the beginning of the end of Lois and Clark's quirky, will-they-won't-they dynamic and from here on out, we're heading into hardcore, full-fledged romantic angst territory. In many ways the magic of suspense dies with this episode and the whole thing turns into a cruel game of shipping for the sake of ratings. Once again, I feel like if we'd had a bit more of a premise for Clark finally deciding to make a move, it would be that much more effective when he actually did, but really all we've had in this season and the last has been Clark dodging back and forth between making a decision. Plus there's the matter of continuity: Lois has thought QUITE A BIT about Clark as a romantic prospect. In this episode however, she claims that this is the first time she's even entertained the notion and has no idea what that relationship would be like. It would have been far more refreshing if Lois had had more of an expectant response, e.g. "So, you finally decided to make a move?" or something better-written than that.
Once again, I'm lost for words by the revelation that is Lane Smith. After a few dollops of brilliance throughout the season, he knocks it out of the park in this episode, almost rivaling his mammoth charisma in "Neverending Battle". All of his comedy beats in this episode would be lost in the hands of a lesser actor, but lines like "Now that's what I call turbulence!"...if that doesn't make you smile, you're fired.
Not much to say about special effects in this episode. There's so much going on plot-wise, that you almost forget that there's only a few minor moments of Superman-action peppered throughout. The bomb-disposal scene was done really well, as I probably already indicated, and the blue-screen is fine (for 1995). Most of the other special effects are the usual combinations of micro-vision and heat vision, as well as one shot of Superman rising into the air with Lois in his arms (probably on an elevation-rig, as you can't see the bottom part of his body). Nothing too shabby.
One small blooper in this episode: The headline on the Daily Planet at the end of the episode notes "Lex Luthor" as being jailed. All well and good, except the sub-heading spells his name as 'Luther,' an unforgivable crime in the world of Superman. I'm fairly sure I even noticed this as a kid watching it on television (so it's not just something that popped out at me while watching the pristine picture-quality DVDs). I hope Perry White fired his layout editor.
All in all, this was a reasonably effective return for Lex Luthor, slightly marred by the fact that it would have been far better had he made multiple appearances throughout the season rather than just this one. Nevertheless, the excellent continuity and John Shea's continuous acting brilliance make for an easy 4/5.
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