Superman on Television
Lois & Clark: Episode Reviews
Season 3 - Episode 10: "Virtually Destroyed"Reviewed by: Rob Ó Conchúir
Originally Aired: December 10, 1995
Directed by Jim Charleston
Written by Dean Cain and Sean Brennan
Andy Berman as Jaxon Xavier
Andrew Bryniarski as X
Paula Poundstone as The Computer
Thomas Bailey as Man
While wearing a beautiful dress, Lois watches a muscular villain beat Superman in a fight, before embracing him. It turns out to be a virtual simulation created by a man named Jaxon Xavier. While talking to his computer, he states that he's looking for passwords from the real Lois Lane.
Lois and Clark are planning their honeymoon. Lois is acting strangely, dancing around the fact that they haven't talked about the issue of consummating the marriage yet. She's glad they waited, but she's still nervous. The Chief sends them on a story to cover a new Virtual Reality centre.
Jaxon (or X) is searching for passwords for a LexCorp database that only Lex Luthor and Lois Lane have access to. He introduces them to his virtual world, stating that it's far more advanced than anything they've seen before.
They decide to 'go' to a virtual version of Hawaii where they continue their discussion about the wedding. They are swiftly brought back to reality by Jaxon, but as they're walking by a poster of the Tasmanian Devil it comes to life and morphs into the villainous man from the fantasy sequence earlier in the episode. Nonetheless, Lois and Clark continue their discussion about sex. Clark reveals to Lois that while he's had girlfriends and intimate encounters before, he is still a virgin.
Jaxon, dissatisfied that Clark is interfering with his plans, sends a virtual car to run him over, but Clark races out of the way in time. When a virtual Superman saves Lois, both Lois and Clark realize that something is very wrong - they are still in the virtual world.
The Computer asks why Jaxon can't just kill Clark in the real world - he claims that the only way to get Lois to trust him is to kill Clark in the virtual world. Lois realizes that Lois and Clark getting close seems to bother Jaxon - they decide to provoke him by embracing passionately.
When Jaxon sees this, he sends in the virtual muscle-man who engages Clark before ejecting him from the virtual realm. Emerging in the real world, Clark is told by Jaxon that if he tries to forcibly remove the virtual goggles from Lois, that he will permanently separate her mind and body. Clark reluctantly leaves, to find another way to save her. Jaxon sends a counterfeit virtual Clark into the artificial reality to try and retrieve the password from Lois. Fake-Clark tells Lois that he thinks all of this has something to do with Lex Luthor.
Meanwhile back at the newsroom, Jimmy tries to introduce the Chief to online dating, but he's nonplussed and horrified - what would Elvis say? Superman asks Jimmy to help him hack into Jaxon's system.
Jimmy helps Superman break into the system and explains to him that the more information they get in the virtual world, the more powerful they'll get. Fake-Clark continues to question Lois, who begins to realize that it's not the real Clark. She explains that Lex told her that he had a son who died in a car crash along with his mother.
Jimmy bursts in and tries to attack Fake-Clark who morphs into the muscle-bound virtual enforcer. Superman backs him up and the trio escape to a location unknown to Jaxon.
Superman, Lois and Jimmy end up in a section of the computer's unused memory. Lois reveals that Jaxon was an illegitimate son of Luthor's. Jimmy tells Lois and Superman of rumors about Lex's cybernetics division working on a virtual reality network that could brainwash people.
Jaxon guesses correctly that the final password is 'Clark'. The trio realize that Jaxon's escape window is his watch. They goad 'X' into a virtual fight where they torture Jaxon about his illegitimate heritage. They manage to psychologically defeat him and safely retrieve Lois from the virtual world. Jaxon disconnects from the virtual realm but his mind is trapped in the virtual world.
Lois is glad that she and Clark had their talk. As they walk away, a faint image of Jaxon appears on Lois' computer.
Review Rating - 4 (out of 5): Make no mistake: 'Virtually Destroyed' does not receive a four-out-of-five by virtue of it being a traditionally 'very good' episode of "Lois & Clark" - it certainly has high production values and very good moments of character-building, but the overall gist of the episode is once again filler. No, what graduates this episode to an honor rarely enjoyed by Season 3 is that it's one of the most wonderfully crazy episodes of 1990s television I've ever seen. While the storytelling is still standard TV fare, the raw imagination on display here is actually pretty staggering compared to the depressingly realistic plots of so many previous episodes of "Lois & Clark" - I can't believe that some of the very-relevant ideas surrounding the concepts of virtuality made it into a TV show produced in what was ostensibly still the NES era. Not since 'Tempus Fugitive' has an episode's plot seemed as wonderfully free and Superman-like as here. And much like that episode, when I first saw this episode as a six year-old, it opened my imagination to so many different concepts and ideas I'm not sure I was previously aware of. I remember desperately wanting a pair of 3D glasses just so I could pretend they were VR goggles like the ones in this episode. It's hard not to cherish this for reasons like that.
To get the flaws out of the way quick and fast, Jaxon Xavier is very forgettable, very campy and quite annoying - it's frankly a bit of an embarrassment that he could be related to someone as suave and brilliant as this series' Lex Luthor (even if it makes sense on a superficial level - I'm fairly sure the VR headset props in use here are the same as the one Lex used in 'House of Luthor' during his Superman-fantasy). Second, I have mixed feelings about the enhanced role of Justin Whalin's Jimmy - who not only received more lines, but more actual things to do than he may have ever had up to this point. He's always annoying, his 'computer skills' always seem hilariously unconvincing and while he's still demonstrably supposed to embody the spirit of youth - he doesn't even look a whole lot younger than the rest of the cast anymore (admittedly IMDb assures me that Whalin is still the youngest actor in this episode by six years). Calling out "All right Lex, my man!" when he discovers that Jaxon is Luthor's illegitimate child is Jimmy's all-time low.
Amusingly enough, this episode also sees Jimmy guilty of not seeing through Clark's disguise at its absolute flimsiest. After hearing Clark's voice through the door and walking through the door he recognizes Clark as being Clark even though Mr. Kent is NOT wearing his glasses. Despite this, Jimmy doesn't recognize (or fails to make note of) the Super-resemblance. This of course was something that occurred a number of times on the George Reeves show and it's as unexplainable now as it was then - the only excuse that can be made is that this is an alternate 'fake' Clark created within the computer program by Jaxon Luthor, so it stands to reason that maybe Jimmy (who, we must remember is busy performing a display of TV martial arts when he walks in - seriously, this episode!) just assumes it's more virtual trickery. Plus, fake-Clark morphs into a musclebound Michael Bolton lookalike shortly after - it's reasonable to assume that he was transforming willy-nilly and that Jimmy just caught him mid-morph.
I would criticize the inclusion of a preposterous fully-A.I. computer voice (played effectively by comedienne Paula Poundstone), but I think I've demonstrated fairly well that this episode didn't dip its toe into the fountain of the sublime, so much as it dive-bombed into it, completely naked. Her performance was fun, if underused. I wasn't crazy about Jimmy and Superman's ability to pluck a floating computer screen out of thin air while in the virtual world - I understood what the writers were going for (show the characters hacking their way to victory), but I'm not sure it was explained well enough and at times it seemed like an effect for an effect's sake. Jimmy's logic that "The more information we gain the more power we have," is pure Silver Age, though.
It's important to mention that while the virtual reality plot of this episode is unmistakably the most interesting thing about it, the episode also makes a valiant attempt at characterization, with a really solid B-plot regarding the troublesome topic of marriage consummation and ultimately Clark's virginity. Tackling these very grown-up topics has always proven to be a challenge for Superman shows - which I still firmly believe should always be viewable by the whole family (Zack Snyder be damned), but should still strive to include truly human characters - "Smallville" obviously dealt with these topics in its own trivial, teen drama way, which ultimately led to my dismissal of that series (at least until the last few seasons), even the "Superboy" show had an episode where Clark turned down sex with a pretty girl because he was worried his superpowers would interfere (not to mention his wholesome upbringing). I'm pleased to report that 'Virtually Destroyed' delivers possibly the best handling of this issue I've seen outside of the comics themselves - explicit uses of the words 'sex' or 'virgin' are notably avoided in a way that ends up seeming clever and fun, rather than hamfistedly innocent. I really love Clark's description of how he never really 'crossed that line - I went right up and took a good look at it, but I just never really crossed over...'. This tells us all we need to know.
And yet... despite the great dialogue here, I can't help feeling that in all of Clark's experiences traveling the world, meeting all kinds of different women from different cultures (in 'Honeymoon in Metropolis' he admits to Lois that he has had at least some kind of a live-in partner at least once, albeit 'not full-time') that it seems odd that he be so celibate. It feels like something of a retcon, even though there's nothing to contradict it. Nevertheless, a difficult character issue was handled effectively - a hallmark of this show.
The fact that Dean Cain was involved in the creation of the story (he has a combined 'Story by' credit and he solely wrote the teleplay) of this episode is amusing when you consider that this episode contains some of the steamiest scenes of the series so far. In fact, Clark's ploy to goad Jaxon into making a move involves making out with Lois to provoke him. What I personally hope happened here is that the producers said, "Listen Dean, your script is great, but we need a reason to have you and Teri passionately embracing so we can put it in the promos," and Dean Cain basically just forced it in as a way of stopping the bad guy. Either way, it's difficult to suppress a desire to give him a high-five.
There are so many wonderful touches in this episode that prove the creators truly cared about the script, immersing themselves in the concepts. There's a short establishing shot of Lois' 'virtual' apartment and just before the two walk in, a candlestick flickers like a malfunctioning hologram. It's a glitch in the Matrix three years before 'The Matrix' came out! Another wonderful piece of writing is when Clark states that he's just seen the same five people walk around the block four times - I'm sure this was a relevant joke at the time (role-playing games like Zelda and so on were popular on the SNES) but it was nonetheless far ahead of its time - how many times have you made note of the same pedestrians popping up in one of the modern Grand Theft Auto games?
Perhaps I'm praising too highly, but there was some truly excellent 'morph' effects in this episode, among the best visual effects of the entire series so far. A poster of the Tasmanian Devil comes to life and morphs into Jaxon's virtual alter-ego 'X,' completely seamlessly. I honestly don't know if the effect would have been any better had it been on one of the later season episodes of 'Smallville'. Quite similar is the seamlessness with which 'X' later devolves into Jaxon. In terms of actual 'Superman' special effects, there's nothing particularly special (in fact there's quite a mediocre wire-sequence in the opening of the episode), but with so much that still holds up today (and with an imagination that renders it irrelevant whether it holds up or not), I refuse to criticize the visual effects efforts of this episode. Hats off all round, guys.
A few small notes:
- Roughly ten minutes into the episode when Lois and Clark arrive in Jaxon's office, a shadow of a crew member can be seen moving across the wall as the camera moves.
- Jaxon is a Mac user - the distinctive Apple logo (the 1990s multicolored version) can be seen on his keyboard. Guess that's why he's an evil egomaniac. ;)
- Lane Smith's Perry White badassery is approaching critical mass in this episode - Jimmy tries to show him (an already hilarious, antiquated-1990s version of) online dating and Perry has the inimitable line - "Disposable love! Electronic romance! What would the king say?!"
- Jimmy early on in the episode: "Chief you can't just pull a virtual goggle off someone like that, it's dangerous" - Despite his increased role in the episode, he lays down Chekhov's Gun pretty heavily in this ridiculous expository sequence. What's he even using a virtual goggle for if he's just typing?!
- I love Dean Cain's performance of the 'fake' virtual Superman who proclaims goofy phrases like "Citizens! You are safe now!". The icing on the cake is 'real' Clark's snide retort: "Guy sounded more like RoboCop than me!"
- "Are you ready?" "I'm Superman." - 'Nuff said.
Loved this week's episode. Join me next week as the Lanes meet the Kents for some Yuletide disaster in 'Home is where the Hurt is'.
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