Most of the time, Superman is using the tiniest fraction of his strength. Part of the reason it’s so much fun to imagine a turned Superman is that he would be truly terrifying in a way very few other characters are if he began acting selfishly. This episode gives him plenty of reasons to be pissed off. Spoilers follow for Superman & Lois Season 3, Episode 04, “Too Close to Home.”
“Too Close to Home”
Lois (Elizabeth Tulloch) interrupts an intense conversation between Clark (Tyler Hoechlin) and John Henry (Wole Parks). Meanwhile, Kyle (Erik Valdez) tried to run interferrence between Sarah (Inde Navarrette) and Lana (Emmanuelle Chriqui). Lastly, Jonathan (Michael Bishop) has a heated discussion with Candice’s dad.
With Lois now undergoing treatment for her cancer, Clark is hoping to make her first day as easy as possible. That is, of course, the fastest way to make sure all of the s**t hits the fan at once, and that’s exactly what happens.
We’ve known since he arrived that John Henry’s Earth-Prime equivalent died before he arrived and that it was under shady circumstances. With Lois digging into Bruno Mannheim’s operations, though, the truth is starting to come out–about who this other John Henry was, about what Lois has been up to. Meanwhile, in Smallville, the kids may have gotten Jonathan’s truck back, but the guy who stole it is still his girlfriend’s dad, and it’s only a matter of time before that breaks bad, and both of these result in Superman and Clark Kent showing a small percentage of their rarely-seen tempers.
This series’ take on Superman gives us a lot of time seeing Clark, and this season in particular has put him under a lot of stress. After Candice’s dad, Emmit, punches Jonathan, Lois goes to yell at him–and so he flashes a gun. Upon finding out about this Clark finds him in the city diner and stops him cold and shows that Superman, despite being the strongest person on the planet by a country mile, can use practiced moves to harmlessly nullify a threat rather than relying on pure brute strength.
This all occurs just moments after Sam Lane gives Superman the findings of their investigation into where Bruno Mannheim got a sample of his blood. When Superman was nearly killed by Ally Alston and hospitalized, the DOD used the chance to take a dozen vials of his blood without his permission. They used the excuse of keeping it on hand in case Superman was hurt again, but the person responsible can’t even bring herself to commit to that lie fully, and Superman blasts the vials with heat vision to settle the argument.
Clark vs Superman
Usually, when we see this character’s patience getting tested, it’s a supervillain facing off against Superman. Here though, it’s Clark and Kal-El’s patience that seem to be hanging on by a gossamer thread. His family’s safety and his own personal bodily autonomy were violated. Superman is a god on Earth, but Clark is supposed to just be a guy. The whole clumsy affable dope thing works when he’s a farmboy who just came to the big city, but Clark can’t handle Emmit with a simple “aw gee,” but he can’t just wail on him either. Putting Clark’s patience to the test in a plausible (but heightened) situation is a fun and interesting way to develop the character.
All of this is why I’m convinced that Tyler Hoechlin is a great pick for this role–he can make both Superman and Clark believable, and show us times when those two personas overlap without having to telegraph it. He’s my favorite live-action Clark and ranks among my favorite live-action Supermen.
Another thing this episode does that we haven’t had nearly enough of is developing John Henry on his own, apart from Superman. He was such a key character in early episodes, but he’s been in kind of a holding pattern, acting as little more than Natalie’s father for most of the last season. Bruno Mannheim tests his patience, and we get to see what John Henry is like when he’s angry. I’m still not a real fan of the Steel Suit all these episodes later; it still looks like they borrowed the Doomslayer’s suit from Doom and made some minor changes.
But with that said, the sequence with John jumping out the window as his suit assembles around him is a fun visual, and Superman & Lois’ bigger budget helped ensure that it looks surprisingly good, too. Fans of superhero stories are very used to watching armor snap together around the wearer after so many years of Iron Man appearances, so this seems like kind of a risky scene to put in the show–but it works well and looks great, especially for a CW show.
These scenes also reinforce how Bruno Mannheim is dangerous to Superman. He’s not the inventor Lex Luthor is, but he has a keen understanding of people that lets him manipulate them and anticipate their moves. Until the part where John Henry jumps out the window, Mannheim was streets ahead of where Henry was, and even when his plan was foiled he still had a backup plan in place. Superman can get anywhere in moments, but he can’t be everywhere. With good planning, Mannheim essentially can. I’m looking forward to seeing what Mannheim is planning, and I just hope the writers came up with something interesting.