The Arrowverse was in dire need of an injection of energy and excitement, and that came last year in the form of Superman & Lois. The first season of the show cleverly turned some Superman tropes on their heads and gave us a complex version of the hero that embraces his human and Kryptonian sides in equal measure, letting us get deeper into his head than ever before. Now, the CW has make good on that with the show’s second season. Spoilers follow for Superman & Lois Season 2, Episode 1, “What Lies Beneath.”
“What Lies Beneath”
Last season brought together Superman and John Henry Irons, and ended with Irons’ daughter, Natalie, crash landing in the front yard of Kent farm. Smallville sure gets lots of otherworldly escape pods crashing in their fields, huh?
As things pick up a few months later, though, things are rocky for just about everybody. It can be as simple as Jonathan not getting time on the field at football practice, but that’s just the start. Lois has been on edge for months; when Natalie climbed out of her pod, she spotted Lois and went to run to her, thinking she was her mother. It’s an unimaginable situation for those of us in the real world, but it’s devastating to consider. Lois looks like Natalie’s mother, but Lois has never seen Natalie before. This woman that looks like her mother is married to a guy who looks like the guy who destroyed her world.
The show doesn’t do as good a job as it should of conveying just how terrible that would be, but taking this all into consideration makes Natalie’s attitude look downright reasonable.
Lois, however, has kept her feelings buttoned down. Bitsie Tulloch was a standout performer in season 1, and that definitely hasn’t changed. One of Superman & Lois’ greatest strengths has been its ability to take these iconic characters and give them depth without losing their essence. Humanizing legends can often be difficult, but the writers continue to succeed with these characters.
Lois is smart, determined, and demanding, but she’s also a parent and a spouse and a person with a past and complicated feelings. The first season laid the groundwork that she’d lost a child due to miscarriage but had never fully mourned it, and seeing Natalie, this young woman who both is and isn’t her daughter, stirs up all kinds of weird, complex feelings. Tulloch does a killer job of conveying just how painful the experience is for Lois, and that helps ground the whole Kent family to some degree.
Everyone is struggling
Meanwhile, Sarah Cushing has returned from a summer away and she’s not feeling as close to Jordan as he is to her. Lana is heavily involved with a new political campaign as she tries to make up for all the hurt she inadvertently caused while helping Morgan Edge, but Kyle is feeling a bit of jealous about all the time she’s spending with the charismatic politician.
On the note of Kyle, he’s one of the most interesting characters in terms of growth since last season. I can imagine how Season 1, Episode 1 Kyle would’ve reacted to all of this, and it looks very different from the more subtle and patient (but still frustrated) version we see this year.
A Superman Torn
It’s Superman and Clark, though, whose world is the most upset. When we meet Superman again, he’s rescuing a rapidly-sinking submarine in the sea of Southeast Asia. It turns out that the submarine was North Korean. Last season, Lois’ dad stepped down from his position leading the DEO to focus on family, and a new guy is in his place, Lt. Mitch Anderson (played by Tyler Hoechlin’s Teen Wolf co-star Ian Bohen), and Mitch is represents what I think is one of the core tenets of this show.
Superman as a character holds ideals that look naive in today’s world. The world is a complicated interplay of politics, money, and alliances. Superman wants to remain apolitical, but he’s based out of America, so America feels a sort of ownership over him. Superman, though, views all life as precious–all life, not just American lives. So if he can prevent a disaster, he will. But the Symbol of America saving a North Korean sub is a bad look for the United States.
The Superman we’re following in Superman & Lois is at the center between the clash of old ideas and the new world. Morgan Edge, the manipulative businessman, invading the dying small town of Smallville. Superman showing up in modern Metropolis in his Max Fleischer-inspired original suit in that first episode last season. Now it’s the clash of a guy who wants to protect the entire planet but whose home country thinks they own him.
It’s not like you copyrighted the ‘S’
Things get decidedly dark when Superman shows up to a mining accident to find two people wearing Kryptonian ‘S’ emblems on their chests. When he confronts Lt. Anderson, the army man gives him a smug smile and suggests that if Superman wants to be a good boy and do the political bidding of his country, that they’ll stop using his symbol. This shifts the conflict from last season of Clark and his father-in-law to Superman vs. the United States military and puts him at odds with the very people he wishes to protect.
Superman is godlike in his power, but the comics reassert over and over that he needs Clark to stay human. I get the feeling from many fans that they want him to be this aloof being who descends from the heavens and punches stuff, but the whole point of the character is that he has a distinctly human side that balances out his remarkable abilities. He can outpunch basically anyone and anything, so situations like these–impossible situations where he has to be the very best of humanity while also being so powerful–are where the character can really shine.
Superman’s Biggest Fight Yet
He does still have to punch stuff, though, and we get hints that something is going on. A couple times, we see him struggling with something that could be a vision, psychic attack, or even just a migraine while the earth around Smallville trembles with earthquakes uncharacteristic of the American Midwest. The last few seconds of the episode take the camera, CGI-style, deep into the Earth’s crust where we see a big hand punching through rock. Showrunner Todd Helbing has confirmed that this is, in fact, Doomsday.
This is the part of this season that worries me. Doomsday was an epic moment in Superman’s history, but it led to equal numbers of corny and cool moments, from mullet Superman to Cyborg Superman. It was meant to be his death, but you can’t kill Superman anymore than you can kill Zeus–even if the character isn’t immortal in his own world, he’s eternal in ours. Additionally, the battle was a moment that consumed all of DC Comics at the time, and Zack Snyder attempted to capture it in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, a movie that cost $250 million to make and introduced new iterations of both Batman and Wonder Woman to the big screen.
A Big Bite
I can’t help but think of The Flash and its first, weak attempt at Flashpoint back in The Flash Season 3. I don’t think the Superman & Lois showrunners will make the same mistake, but they’re trying to eat the whole burger at once here, and that doesn’t always go well.
At the same time, it’s good to see that they’re still being ambitious. After how much I enjoyed Season 1, I’m eager to see what the showrunners can do with Season 2. Tyler Hoechlin and Bitsie Tulloch are my favorite Superman and Lois at this point, and I hope the show continues to support that.