Superman on Television
Lois & Clark: Episode Reviews
Season 3 - Episode 21: "Through a Glass Darkly"Reviewed by: Rob Ó Conchúir
Originally Aired: May 5, 1996
Directed by Chris Long
Written by Chris Ruppenthal
Jon Tenney as Lt. Ching
Kenneth Kimmins as Dr. Bernard Klein
Justine Bateman as Sarah/Zara
Joyce Guy as Mrs. Hofaker
Joe Pichler as Little Boy
Kyla Pratt as Little Girl
Lawrence Maki as Announcer
Lois and Clark are eager to get married as soon as possible following their recent calamities. When a mysterious man in black clothes causes a space station to veer off course, Superman rushes into action, pushing the space station back into orbit. Perry puts Lois and Clark on the story.
Dr. Klein tracks the signal that interfered with the space station's rockets. Lois and Clark track the signal to a house for sale in Metropolis. They meet a sales executive there who tells them that he hasn't seen anything strange. The sales executive is the strange man who interfered with the space station.
The man in black communicates telepathically with Sarah, a researcher at the Daily Planet and alludes to a 'Phase 2' wherein they will test Superman further. Lois and Clark suspect that the man they met that morning was a fraud. Superman receives word of a bomb about to go off outside the Metropolis museum of natural history. Instead, he finds a note with instructions to build a radio that will tell him where the bomb really is. When he finally manages to build it, it gives him a cryptic clue as to the actual location of the bomb. With seconds left, Superman decodes the riddle and tosses the bomb into the sky.
The man in black, 'Ching' kidnaps Jimmy and Perry and presents Clark with a dilemma - save them or save Metropolis from destruction. Lois posits that the only way Superman could stop both bombs would be if he split himself apart. Using a device from STAR Labs, Superman uses his heat vision from space to destroy both bombs at once. Ching realizes that Lois is an integral part of Superman's strength.
Ching contacts Clark via telepathy and tells him that he's waiting at his apartment. Ching surrounds himself in a Kryptonite force field and threatens to kill himself unless Superman tries to jump through and stop him. Superman risks his own life and saves Ching. Ching and Sarah realize that Clark is 'the one'. Lois watches as they fly away.
Review Rating - 4 (out of 5): An outstanding episode. Not only is the writing much sharper, more intelligent and more consistently intriguing than usual, but for the first time in a while, there's a breathtaking sense of scale missing from many episodes. Unlike a lady who can make people little, or an eccentric billionaire who plays with action figures and creates UFO hoaxes, Ching's elaborate bomb threats truly are a job for Superman. The eventual reveal that Ching and Zara come from Krypton is foreshadowed, but not at all predictable. While I was aware of the twist (having seen the episode as a child), the episode cleverly sets up Ching and Zara so that they could be aliens from any world, not necessarily Krypton. When you finally see them fly at the end of the episode, the reveal is effective and surprising (even if the wire work is unconvincing).
Jon Tenney plays Ching with an alarming menace - clearly unhinged, clearly villainous but also a man whose philosophies have been tempered by war. The decisions he feels he has to make for the good of his people must weigh heavily on him and it's to the credit of Tenney that we can see this in his performance. In the final scene where Ching threatens to kill himself if Superman doesn't risk his life to save him, it becomes clear that his pride might be all he has left. Truly, a character worthy of proper science fiction and not just a family superhero show.
Justine Bateman ("Family Ties" alum and sister of Jason) is perfectly fine, if a little bit unremarkable as Zara/Sarah. She doesn't have the otherworldly weight of Tenney and isn't convincing as someone who has grown into adulthood somewhere other than Earth - she does have a vulnerability that works for the character though and she plays off Tenney nicely.
Superman constantly seems to find himself disarming bombs in this series, but I have to say, Ching's multi-layered bomb challenge to Superman was pure comic book brilliance. It's these kinds of challenges that I find interesting in Superman stories, not how far Clark can punch people into space. I liked Superman's use of a STAR Labs 'Chekov's Gun' to disarm the two bombs at once later on as well, although the logistics don't make sense: in order for the two heat vision beams to destroy both bombs at once, they'd need to be positioned in a perfectly straight line across from each other. I don't really buy that (and yes I know this is a series about a man who can fly, etc).
Outside of the arc-building, some small moments of character-building are placed within the episode as well, with Lois having second-thoughts about 'grounding' herself in a Metropolis house with a literal white-picket fence. Not too much time is spent on it, but it is done effectively and it's a natural concern for two people with jobs that take them all over the world. It nearly would have been more interesting though if Clark's steadfast support for all of Lois' anxieties tapered just a little bit in this instance though. Clark really liked that house and he's a farmboy from Kansas - dude's going to want a back garden.
Some stray observations:
- One of the astronauts at the start of the episode is named as Tim Minear. This is a nod to the staff writer on the series who later worked on "Buffy The Vampire Slayer," its spinoff "Angel" and the ill-fated but highly-praised "Firefly". Two of the journalists Perry barks orders at in an early scene are named 'Jurgens' and 'Swan,' which is probably a reference to Dan Jurgens and Curt Swan, although it's so fleeting that it could be a coincidence. Also that's a strange combination of comic book creators, given that both come from very different eras of Superdom.
- The space station effects are impressive, but the shots linger on longer than they need to and once Superman flies into frame, they look a bit off. The way he angles himself parallel to the space station (instead of head-on, the way he dealt with the asteroid in 'All Shook Up') is really strange - why would he do it that way?
- Another oddly-placed James Bond reference, making that three this season. Was this some kind of inside-joke between the writers?
- After the introduction of 'New Troy Cabs' in Season 2, Doctor Klein makes the first mention of New Troy in the dialogue, while looking at satellite images. His wording seems to indicate that Metropolis is a city within the state of New Troy, whereas in the comics it was the other way around to the best of my knowledge. Still cool though.
- "Century 22" as the name of the real estate company is cute. I like the running gag of swapped-out names (New Troy, The Big Apricot, etc). This was common enough on the Adam West Batman series as well (where the Pentagon was 'The Octagon).
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