When we shift Superman out of his classic origins and into the modern day, some things are going to have to change. The view of America that the original stories had looks very different in 2020 from what it looked like in the Silver and Golden ages. Superman and Lois is facing that instead of avoiding it–just another way this show is keeping me interested. Spoilers follow for Superman and Lois Season 1, Episode 5, “The Best of Smallville.”
“The Best of Smallville”
There’s a moment early in the episode that endears me to Tyler Hoechlin’s Clark Kent as much as the bridge-catching scene did Superman the other week. It’s time for the Harvest Festival in Smallville, a staple of small towns from Pawnee, Indiana to Smallville, Kansas. For the Kent boys, it’s yet another symbol of their small-town displacement, but for Clark it’s a happy memory of his childhood.
When Clark is describing the various foods to the boys, his excitement about chocolate bacon on a stick is infectious, and a great reminder that yes, Superman is basically a god on Earth, but he grew up as a boy in a small town in America. He can still get excited about little stuff like high-sodium fair food. It’s just another way that Superman and Lois manages to both show us the traditional side of Superman that we know while also establishing him as a human in ways that movies don’t have time for and comics too often (but not always, of course) ignore.
You can’t go home again
While the festival is a joyful memory for Clark at first blush, it brings back memories of his last years in Smallville, too. Meanwhile, Lois is still pursuing her investigation of Morgan Edge’s involvement with Smallville, and the boys are doing teenager stuff.
Clark’s story is the most interesting of the three this week. It fleshes out his backstory in interesting ways, giving him a little bit of pathos. After Jonathan Kent passed away, it was just Martha and Clark, a quickly-growing teenager who was eager to use his powers. The two are at odds with each other, with Clark going out in all-black and a balaclava to fight the rare Smallville criminal. His faceoff is a hybrid of Smallville and Arrow, as the very serious teen in a closet-cosplay outfit handily stops the petty thieves, only for his mom to chew him out for it later.
The actor they cast for young Clark is awkward and gangly, as a teenage boy should be–he’s not Superman yet, just a kid who wants to try out a new look but is afraid of what Lana will think. He comes across as a sweet kid who has good instincts but, following his father’s death, is really struggling with his feelings.
Eventually, Martha gives Clark the red stone that will activate his ship so that he can learn about his origins, because she knows it’s time for him to leave.
In the present, Clark looks back at those moments the same way most adults do, cringing as he thinks about the way he responded to his mother back then, wishing he’d appreciated the time he had.
Stories Never Sleep
It’s through Lois’ story that Superman enters the picture. The missing man Lois was looking for last week shows up, seemingly unharmed, and his mother completely drops her interest in participating in Lois’ investigation. Minutes later, though, he’s firing Kryptonian-style lasers from his eyes, starting the Smallville community center on fire before flying off at high speed. He’s the second human exhibiting Kryptonian-style abilities; it seems Morgan Edge is looking to replicate Superman, making an army of unbeatable warriors for himself.
The storyline gives us some great time with Lois and Chrissy, a pairing I’m enjoying more and more. Thanks to Lois being unable to write for fear of lawsuits, Chrissy and Lois are in a weird boss/mentee-employee/mentor relationship, and so they play off each other in some fun ways. While Clark and Lois are at the festival, Chrissy finds her inner Lois and ends up following this missing guy to a place where apparently Edge is using something to power up the people he’s experimenting on, sort of like an MRI machine meets superpower tanning bed.
Superman shows up in a flash, and we get a great chase between Supes and the powered-up guy. It’s a good-looking sequence, but I’m hoping that we’ll be able to see more of Superman’s traditional enemies before long. Thing is one thing that’s difficult for serialized shows to do. An episodic cartoon like the New Adventures of Superman, whose story arcs last a few episodes at most, can throw whatever villain it wants at Superman for a single episode. With a show like Superman and Lois, the serialized nature of the show makes it tougher to randomly integrate supervillains, and this season’s are clearly Morgan Edge and this Luthor from another world.
Speaking of Luthor, we get a little more background on him. Apparently this Luthor was married to Lois on his Earth, and we see a flashback to them kissing. Luthor confronts Lois but calls himself a fan of her work. The Lois wrinkle to this whole thing has turned Luthor’s quest from being interesting to being a little creepy. Luthor also shoots down Superman and the powered-up man with some kind of rocket launcher. While it’s clear that he wants to kill Superman, I didn’t really understand why he was there or what the next step after the rocket was–it seemed like he was there to be an interruption for the plot.
Finally, the other plotline is the Kent boys as they continue to adjust to Smallville. Which brother is the hero shifts back and forth from week to week, swinging like a teenager’s moods. One of the most impressive things about these characters, Jon, Jordan, and Sarah, is that they actually look and act like teenagers. Too often we’re told someone is a teenager, but they’re 31 years old and look like it.
This week, it’s Jonathan’s turn to struggle. Where Jordan is struggling internally, Jonathan is struggling externally. He was a popular kid in Metropolis, with success in sports and dating. In Smallville, he finds himself playing second fiddle to his twin brother, who is now a football favorite and, even if Sarah Cushing isn’t his girlfriend yet, there’s clear chemistry for us and Jonathan to see. And so when Jonathan’s now-long-distance girlfriend breaks up with him, he goes off the rails a bit, lashing out, accepting alcohol from his friends.
This plotline feels like, in another show with teenage characters as main cast, something that would act as the main story, a Very Special Episode of Superman and Lois. Instead, the show resolves it quickly and doesn’t drag any one aspect of it out. Even Clark’s response to it–first, smelling it from yards away, then giving Jonathan a single ‘get out of jail free’ card–feels surprisingly grounded. Clark’s decision to treat his son like an adult results in his son acting like an adult. It feels real, and sweet, and it warms these characters for me that much more.
In Loving Memory
This all culminates with Morgan Edge paying to replace the community center, thus looking like the hero even as he is the instigator, and with the Smallville community dedicating a bench to the memory of Martha Kent. Clark spends some time on the bench, remembering sitting on it with his mother.
There’s a weird moment here where the show is cutting between Clark and Martha and the modern day, and I expected the show to have Clark end up in Martha’s place since he’s the parent with the unruly kid now, but instead Clark stuck in his spot and Martha was replaced by Lois. There’s a weird equivocation there that I’m sure the show didn’t intend to make but I couldn’t miss it all the same.
It should be clear that, at the moment, I think Superman and Lois is really good. It’s doing a great job of both exploring what it means to be Superman when you have all of these human connections and obligations pulling you in every direction. Kal-El loves his life, and it’s clear that despite bearing heavy burdens, he doesn’t find his life burdensome. He’s not stoic or stone-faced. He can be emotional when he needs, and he has feelings. He gets frustrated, sometimes he makes wrong decisions. This Superman is cool to watch, but also interesting to think about in a way Superman often fall short of.
My biggest complaint about the show right now is that it’s moving very, very slowly. After five episodes we know only the tiniest of scraps about the greater plot, and we’re spending a lot of time on Clark getting tugged around by life. That stuff is good, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of forwarding the story itself, and right now that’s the case.
Because everything else is so enjoyable, I’m not too mad about it, but it’s something that will have to change.
Superman and Lois airs on the CW on Tuesdays at 8 PM CST, though the show is taking a short hiatus after this week until May 18.