Superman on Television
Lois & Clark: Episode Reviews
Season 4 - Episode 2: "Battleground Earth"Reviewed by: Rob Ó Conchúir
Originally Aired: September 29, 1996
Directed by Philip Sgriccia
Written by Brad Buckner, Eugenie Ross-Leming
Simon Templeman as Lord Nor
Mark Kiely as Ching
Mark Lindsay Chapman as Jen Mai
J.G. Hertzler as Trey
Richard Grove as Col. Ambrose Cash
Eric Allan Kramer as Drull (as Eric Allen Kramer)
Dan Hildebrand as Ran
Justine Bateman as Zara
Julian Barnes as Messenger
Nor arrests Clark, citing an ancient Kryptonian law. He threatens to kill the Kents and everyone in Smallville if he doesn't agree to be taken in.
The Daily Planet team learn that the store of Kryptonite from STAR Labs has been taken. Trey insists that Nor isn't a despot at heart. Zara heads to Smallville alongside Ching and Jimmy to confront Nor. Zara demands that Nor surrender and return to New Krypton - Nor refuses and announces plans to colonize Earth. He also announces that Kal-El will be charged for high treason for a number of crimes including entering a sham marriage with Zara and attempting to marry an Earth-woman. Kal-El counters with the fact that he was trying to do what was best for New Krypton. The tribunal finds him guilty nonetheless and sentences him to disintegration. Nor forces Zara to marry him.
As Kal-El is being disintegrated, Ching and Trey rush to his rescue having found a loophole - two noblemen in competition for the throne may settle the matter in a private duel. They manage to reassemble Kal-El's atoms.
Metropolis is under siege by Nor's forces; citizens flee in terror as the soldiers lay waste to the city. Nor accepts Kal-El's challenge to a private duel. Lois worries that Nor may have the missing Kryptonite. Ching trains Clark in the art of the Drey - an ancient and lethal Kryptonian fighting method involving power-staffs. Clark has no intention of killing Nor - Trey and Ching worry that he won't win as a result.
Superman confronts Lord Nor in his traditional uniform, stating to him that he is fighting for his people. As the battle wages on, Lois learns that it was General Cash who has taken the Kryptonite and is planning to use it to kill Lord Nor. Superman defeats Nor without killing him, however the Kryptonite missile hits them. Nor absorbs most of the gas and Kal-El survives.
Trey accepts full responsibility for Nor's actions and offers himself up for arrest - Clark refuses his arrest and suggests that he be an advisor to Zara. Clark leaves the Palace, explaining that he belongs to Earth and that Zara should take her rightful place at the throne alongside Ching.
Back on Earth, Lois and Clark agree to get married as soon as possible with a minimum of planning.
Review Rating - 4 (out of 5): This episode scrapes a four out of five because it contains one of the best character moments for Clark Kent - when he faces Lord Nor in the uniform his mother made for him and announces that he is fighting for his people, he is fully developed as a character. He finally has come to understand his Kryptonian heritage and more than ever he understands the value of his Earth upbringing. This is no longer the struggling super-vigilante of Season 1, this is a Superman as wise and all-knowing as the champion of the Christopher Reeve films. The argument can be made that with the 'New Krypton' arc, Superman becomes a real identity in himself and not merely what Clark 'does', as he put it in "Tempus Fugitive". And it's one of my favorite moments of Dean Cain's acting - for someone who struggled in the early episodes, he just oozes presence here and his costume looks terrific. Truly one of the great Superman moments.
The episode in general is a fast-paced blend of science fiction and political intrigue, not unlike an episode of Star Trek. Again we are shown a number of cultural Kryptonian oddities that don't match up with any other version of the mythos, but it makes for compelling viewing. I mentioned last week that Deep Space Nine-veteran J.G. Hertzler is just splendid as the nobleman Trey - it's so rare that the comic relief works on this series that it's a real treat when it does. When he offers himself up for arrest at the end, it's heartwarming and hilarious. In fact the only comedic misfire of the episode is when the duplicitous Jen Mai gives smiley-faced pamphlets to the soldiers and reporters of the Daily Planet as he outlines Lord Nor's occupation of Metropolis as though it's some kind of corporate merger. It's just odd, it's not that funny and it cheapens the genuine sense of threat.
The sore point of this episode for me is that for some reason, the DVD release is missing some of the visual effects in the climactic fight scene between Lord Nor and Superman - wires are tragically apparent as Clark makes his majestic landing (accompanied by the series' theme tune) and when Superman and Lord Nor use their vision powers, we hear the sound effect, but we don't see the visual ones. I know for a fact that this has nothing to do with the production team as I have seen TV airings of this episode with all the effects intact - it must be some kind of problem with the masters tapes and however they were archived. Luckily the awesome glow as Superman whacks Nor with the power staff (his chest emblem glows as well for some reason, not sure why, but it's so cool!) is intact.
The fight obviously pales in comparison to the kind of high-flying combat in "Superman II" or the crushing, world-beating violence of "Man of Steel". A super-punch knocking Superman or Nor to the other end of the street wouldn't have gone amiss and with clever editing it might not have even cost any great amount of money. Nevertheless, I'm just glad the showrunners were confident enough to show a few fisticuffs, however primitive it looked. As much as I find it irritating that people constantly yearn for Superman to be seen beating people to a pulp on the big screen, I'd be lying if I said it wasn't fun to see every now and then. In the George Reeves' show it became increasingly frustrating that they seemed to refuse to give him any superpowered enemies. There's one episode with a robot in it...couldn't he at least have a fight with him?!
"Battleground Earth" is by no means one of the best episodes of "Lois & Clark," but like much of the 'New Krypton' arc, it's peppered with some terrific character moments and I'm truly grateful that the series had the opportunity to flex its muscles in such a science-fiction/fantasy direction. Had the series continued on into a fifth season it would have been nice to revisit Ching, Zara and Trey, but sadly that was not meant to be.
A few small considerations before I leave you once again:
- The episode's title obviously takes its name from scientology creator L. Ron Hubbard's book "Battlefield Earth". Passionate scientologist John Travolta starred in the critically-annihilated film adaptation of the book. Roger Ebert described the film as "Like taking a bus trip with someone who has needed a bath for a long time. It's not merely bad; it's unpleasant in a hostile way. I watched it in mounting gloom, realizing I was witnessing something historic, a film that for decades to come will be the punch line of jokes about bad movies."
- The Daily Planet newspaper that Nor steps on has the headline, "How Hot Can it Get?" - this would appear to be one of the newspaper props from "The Man of Steel Bars"
- The disintegration chamber is kind of cool and it's adorably cheap-looking. When the bars 'clang' together you can tell they are made of foam or plastic rather than metal, based on the way they clumsily bounce off each other.
- At the scenes of Kal-El's trial, Trey's gavel appears to be translucent. A play on the old 'glass hammer' gag?
- I enjoyed Clark's brief recollection of eating banana splits in the Smallville Malt Shop. A nice touch.
- I will admit that as much as I enjoy the silly 'power-staff' duel between Superman and Nor, the climax where Nor and his minions absorb all of the Kryptonite gas (thus saving Superman from certain death) is a bit far-fetched. It must have been very minimal amounts of Kryptonite.
- "Excuse me, do any of you hold Kryptonian law degrees? No? Then SHUT UP!"
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