Superman on Television
Lois & Clark: Episode Reviews
Season 3 - Episode 13: "The Dad Who Came In From The Cold"Reviewed by: Rob Ó Conchúir
Originally Aired: January 14, 1996
Directed by Alan J. Levi
Written by David Simkins
James Read as Jack Olsen
Ben Slack as Trevanian
Una Damon as Sweet Tart
James F. Dean as Bud Collins
Lois and Clark discuss how they may or may not be able to have children. Superman investigates a burning car containing a man he recognizes as Bud Collins. Just as Bud dies, he hands Lois a briefcase containing an encrypted hard drive with secrets pertaining to a man named Trevanian. A secret agent named Sweet Tart arrives and questions Lois and Superman about the explosion - they lie about the contents of the briefcase.
Trevanian enlists the help of NIA agent Jack Olsen to retrieve the hard drive, so that Lois and Clark won't discover the hidden secrets.
Perry suggests bringing the Hard Drive to a data recovery centre, but Lois and Clark agree that the information is too dangerous to be exposed. They decide to enlist Jimmy's help. Meanwhile, Jack Olsen arrives at the Daily Planet and bugs Lois and Clark's computers. He then greets Jimmy, his son. Jimmy is momentarily stunned to see his father, having not seen him in four years (and five years before that last visit). Jimmy asks his dad if he wouldn't mind sticking around for a little while, but Jack apologizes - citing his work responsibilities. Jack invites Lois and Clark to dinner with him and Jimmy. Clark tries to politely decline, to allow Jimmy some time alone with his father, but Jack insists.
Jack and Sweet Tart break into Lois' apartment and plant bugs. At dinner, Clark x-rays Jack and notices that he's carrying a gun, as well as multiple other weapons.
After dinner, Jack warns Jimmy to stay away from Lois and Clark. Back at the Daily Planet, Clark tries to read up on Jack via computer - Trevanian tracks his progress and explains to Sweet Tart that he plans to have Lois and Clark killed with the blame placed on Jack.
Jack attempts to break into the Daily Planet and stop Jimmy's hacking, but Jimmy catches a masked Jack and they end up fighting. Sweet Tart enters and holds Jimmy at gunpoint, but Jack knocks the gun out of her hand just in time.
Jimmy goes to Clark's and explains in a panic what the situation is - Clark senses the ultrasonic waves of the bugs and shoos Jimmy out of the apartment so that he can use his superpowers to find the bugs. He then goes to Lois' apartment as Superman and quickly disposes of all of them. The next day at the Planet, Clark discovers the bugs on the computers as well. Clark uses his vision powers to scan the fingerprints and he matches them up with Jack's, using a gift that Jack gave Jimmy.
Clark tries to persuade Jimmy of his father's shady background, but Jimmy won't listen. Trevanian explains to Jack that Jimmy is a computer wizard who has been using his skills to try and retrieve the secrets in the hard drive - Jack had no idea that Jimmy was so skilled.
Jack confronts Jimmy to try and retrieve the hard drive. After some hesitation, Jimmy reveals that he has deciphered that an electromagnetic weapon is going to be used to crash a plane. Jack instructs Jimmy to hand the computer back to Lois and Clark. Sweet Tart kidnaps Jimmy and Lois and brings them to the top of Metropolis Trade Tower.
Trevanian reveals that aboard the doomed plane are the heads of the FBI, CIA and the NIA - allowing him to succeed all three.
Superman meets Jack Olsen who informs him of the situation. Superman saves Jimmy from being knocked over the Trade Tower. Jack stops Trevanian and Sweet Tart from escaping and Superman saves the plane.
Jack asks Jimmy if he would like him to take a desk job, but Jimmy tells him not to, but simply to try harder to be his dad.
Review Rating - 4 (out of 5): As a huge fan of both the James Bond films and books, it annoyed me that this episode opened up with such a cheap, ridiculous, obvious pastiche - it even got one specific element wrong that these kind of American pastiches always do - James Bond never wears a wing-collared shirt with his tuxedos. I groaned when I heard the name 'Sweet Tart' and the pointless 'fine food and drink' picnic seemed superfluous and campy.
And yet, as soon as we learn that Jack Olsen is Jimmy's father, the episode quickly begins the process of redemption - Justin Whalin gives a more understated performance than usual, his involvement in the plot makes sense (and even has its foundations in previous episodes where he was shown to be "A Computer Whiz!!"), Lois and Clark are actually relegated to sub-plot for once and it works (both questioning their hypothetical abilities as parents, which foreshadows Season Four). Even the mandatory "James Bond Gadgets" that any 'spy' episode needs are surprisingly cute - the lie-detector watch was an inspired way of illuminating some of the subtext behind Jimmy's interactions with his father. Whalin even has a good amount of chemistry with James Read (who apparently has carved out a nice 'TV dad' niche for himself, having appeared in similar roles many times over the years).
Jack Olsen even offers Superman/Clark the most sobering line of the episode and one of the most thought-provoking of the season. When Superman condemns what he believes to be Olsen's dirty work, Jack responds "I believed in what I was doing! I believed in it so much I had to lead a double life! But what would you know about that?". Not only does this offer a troubling look at the ramifications of a double-life (which Clark can only contextualize through his life as a bachelor - not a parent) but it also raises the question of whether or not Clark's determination and rigid self-belief may one day be his undoing. Will Superman make the right decisions forever or will he pave a path to Hell? I'm certainly reading too much into it, but it's an interesting thought.
In a rather blatant exchange, Clark notices that for once Lois isn't playing devil's advocate - she assumes Jack Olsen to be a man of his word, with no suspicious background, whereas Clark, usually the one to try and see a spade for a spade, suspects something rotten about him. Clark opines that this perhaps has more to do with her wishing for a more stable relationship with her father - something with which she agrees. This is an interesting bit of development for Lois; after the recent episode (and arguably the first season episode featuring Sam Lane's debut), she's finally admitting to herself that she wants to mend fences with her father and she wants it to be possible for others to do the same. This is a far cry from the frosty, hard-nosed Lois of the first two seasons.
Ironically, the only player who is not given enough to do is the one who should have had the most input in the plot: Perry White. He does get a great piece of irony when he exclaims that he can't imagine why someone would choose their career over their family, but other than that, he is largely absent from the episode in any meaningful way. Perhaps the divorce is really taking its toll on him, or perhaps there was one plot thread too many. Unfortunate.
The episode, as always, isn't perfect. Despite Jimmy's great interactions with his father, it bothers me that we got the mandatory "I love you, Dad," so early in the second act, when conventional tradition mandates that these kind of situations feature a large amount of emotional stuntedness between prodigal father and son. How much more touching would it have been if Jack had said it early on but Jimmy couldn't bring himself to say it until the end of the episode? As effective as I think the chemistry was between the characters, it wasn't always paced as well as it could have been.
A lot of my usual complaints abound as well - Superman uses his cape to protect Jack and Jimmy from a hail of bullets in the finale; how the heck does that work?! In the Silver Age, Superman had an 'indestructible cape' and did this sort of thing all the time, but in the John Byrne era which this series heavily bases itself on, Superman's cape was just ordinary cloth sewn by Martha Kent - if I'm not mistaken, we've established in this series that Superman's invulnerable aura is only skin-tight and protects little beyond the tunic of his uniform. Doesn't make sense.
This isn't a complaint so much as an observation - the film not only borrows the general look and feel of the Bond mythos, it also directly lifts a lot of the plot devices from 'GoldenEye', which came out a year earlier (and still seems to be one of the more popular Bond films among casual fans in the US, despite being nowhere close to the best; perhaps it's down to the Nintendo 64 video game). Not only is there a character named 'Trevanian' (which sounds awfully similar to Trevelyan, Sean Bean's villain from the movie), but the finale suddenly introduces an experimental satellite that can initiate electromagnetic pulses from space. That's exactly what the GoldenEye satellite did in the film.
- Jack's awesome personal-organizer/GPS tracker is another terrific visual effect for a TV show from the 1990s. It's not even a million miles away from something James Bond might use today (he certainly did in a lot of the video games).
- "Are you ready for a little Spy 101?" Ugh.
- "Are you a good guy or a bad guy?" UGH. Justin Whalin, you were doing so well in this episode.
- "I punched him! I punched him!" Ah, there's hope for you yet.
- In the opening of the episode, Jack takes off his combat suit revealing a tuxedo underneath (with a wing-collar). This is a reference to 'Goldfinger' but it's been parodied many times, most notably in 'True Lies' and in Pierce Brosnan's homage-ridden Bond finale 'Die Another Day'.
- I said it when I was five, and I'm saying it again now. There's just too much kissing in the episode. There's displays of affection and then there's just gross exploitation of romance. I know that Lois' shell should be softening by now, but it seems odd that she's gone from being as tough as she once was to being one of the most lovey-dovey people on the planet.
- There's a terrible superimposed photograph of baby Jimmy (seemingly baby Justin Whalin) with Jack. Couldn't they have just gotten James Read to pose with virtually any baby?
Next week, we get the return of the show's only truly great original villain: Lane Davies' Tempus. Join me for some more 4th dimensional frolicking as Lois literally has to create Superman.
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