Identity reveals are a big deal in superhero stories, whether it’s Tony Stark announcing he’s Iron Man in the first movie, Peter Parker taking his mask off in the Civil War comics, or Clark Kent revealing himself as Superman to the world. These reveals are often spots where disbelief is hard to suspend, but the CW’s Man of Steel actually handled it in a way that, pun intended, really landed for me. Spoilers follow for Superman & Lois Season 2, Episode 11, “Lies That Bind.”
“Lies That Bind”
We pick up right where we left off with Clark (Tyler Hoechlin) levitating in front of Lana (Emmanuelle Chriqui). Meanwhile, Jordan (Alex Garfin) and Jonathan (Jordan Elsass) question whether Lois (Elizabeth Tulloch) and Clark are telling them the complete story. Lastly, Natalie (Tayler Buck) tries her best to get Sarah (Inde Navarrette) to acknowledge Jordan.
It’s okay to be mad
Superhero stories often push secret identities so far past their breaking points that they make their way back around the globe to right where they started, or find ways to kill off people who know the truth rather than make the character deal with the fallout. By revealing Clark’s identity to Lana, though, the show is giving us a secret identity reveal with actual consequences. Lana isn’t going anywhere. She’s a core character in both Superman & Lois and in the comics, and none of this is set up like its foreshadowing a tragedy.
Instead, it’s all about the fallout. Lana handles this information in probably the most believable way of any of these reveals. She’s confused. Wildly, deeply confused. And when we’re confused, we get mad–being confused feels bad. She has plenty of reasons for that confusion, and we get time with many of them throughout this episode.
The adults are talking
Lana immediately sees how complicated all of this is. In an instant, a thousand little moments from her younger years make sense. But she’s a mother first and foremost, and she seems to make sense of why someone would keep an identity like this a secret. She also sees how having to know that secret–as exciting and privileged as it might be–essentially dooms you to a life of lies from the moment you know it. Once you know that Clark is Superman and vice versa, you’re signed up to the Making Excuses For Clark to people in your life. You have to lie to your friends and family to protect Clark’s family of normal everyday humans.
This is what makes Superman & Lois such a compelling show week after week. It treats his Superman-ness as a given, and gives us as much Superman action as you can afford to fit into a 45-minute episode, but then digs into all of these little ways that his mere existence ripples out into those close to him. This episode feels clear-eyed in a way that superhero stories rarely are.
Superman in the real world
This isn’t a “realistic Superman story” in that it’s making Superman evil or corrupt or having him knock over buildings. It takes the Superman we know and just keeps the camera pointed at the places he’s been after he leaves and before he comes back. What is it like to be Lois, a person committed to telling the truth on the world stage when your personal existence is predicated on telling lies to everyone close to you, including your children? What is it like to be Superman’s kids and know that he’s Superman, to be Kryptonian yourself, changing and growing in ways a human won’t, and not being able to share it with almost anyone?
On film, we’ve seen Superman make the world spin in reverse, we’ve seen him punch Doomsday into the ground. On television we turned his romance with Lois Lane into a cheesy soap opera. This is just Superman living in the world with no embellishment, and it makes the whole show feel really special, like someone finally cracked “how do we tell television-sized stories about Superman” after all this time. The Arrowverse is in a rough spot, but Superman & Lois stands out thanks to episodes like this. I think that if all the Arrowverse shows were written like this, we’d be looking at a very different series of shows.
Toward the end of the episode, Lana tells Lois and Clark that they need to keep their distance, even though she cares about them. It’s intensely strong mom energy that normally comes out on television as crazy behavior. Here it’s just a single painful decision, made calmly, that shows how important her family is to her and why she earned that spot as mayor of Smallville. It feels right and real. It’s not a soap opera. It’s just adults talking about real stuff.
Saving the world with eye lasers and a science hammer
Meanwhile, Superman, John Henry, and Tal-Rho work to destroy the pendant from the Inverse World. This is your usual comic-book silliness, and it pairs well with these real conversations. In this storyline, we see Superman trying to do the right thing, even when it means potentially making mistakes to get there. He frees his brother, who tried to convert all of Smallville into Kryptonians, trusting him to do the right thing after a tough conversation with Lois. He doesn’t close the portal because he wants to get Jon El back to his world and to not doom the other dimension just to save himself.
It feels authentically Superman in his decision and his approach, while the story feels fresh and new thanks to Lana’s side of things. Can these writers give The Flash team some tips for Season 9?