Cancer is at the center of Superman & Lois Season 3, and we’re seeing not just how it affects Lois, but how it affects Clark, and what it looks like to be on the other side of it as Bruno Mannheim’s wife fights the same battle. This week, Lois struggles with how the battle will change her body. Meanwhile, John Irons and Superman butt heads repeatedly. Spoilers follow for Superman & Lois Season 3, Episode 09, “The Dress.”
Superman (Tyler Hoechlin) and John Henry (Wole Parks) clash over how to handle Bruno Mannheim (Chad Coleman), while Lois (Elizabeth Tulloch) worries over upcoming treatments and confides in Lana (Emmanuelle Chriqui) about her early courtship with Clark (Tyler Hoechlin). Meanwhile, Jonathan (Alex Garfin), Jordan (Michael Bishop), and Sarah (Inde Navarrette) work together to help Natalie (Tayler Buck) deal with the aftermath of meeting Matteo’s (guest star Spence Moore II) family.
I continue to be astounded by how elegantly Superman & Lois is handling Lois Lane battling cancer. Comic books can offer deeply mature and thoughtful stories but often end up being more about melodramatic soap opera stuff with hamfisted storytelling. Over and over, though, Superman & Lois finds a way to make this all feel very introspective and mature–without forgetting that we’re watching a superhero show.
When winning isn’t victory
This week, things are looking up as Lois seems to be winning her battle against cancer, but even a victory over cancer is still a pyrrhic victory, and Lois still needs surgery to remove the cancerous masses from her body. At the same time, Smallville’s yearly clothing drive is going on, and the family is going through their things to figure out what they can give away. Among those items for Lois is a red sequined dress that has intense memories associated with it, which pulls us into flashbacks of Lois winning a major journalistic prize. Clark bought the dress for her as a way to encourage her to accept the award, which she deemed nothing more than a popularity contest.
This is what cancer looks like to people battling it versus those around them. Even while being fully supportive, loved ones still cannot see through the eyes of the person experiencing it. To Lois, the dress is a symbol of the way her body will change; to eliminate her cancer, she will lose her breasts, and reconstructive surgery is not guaranteed.
For Clark, it’s the first major gift he ever gave Lois, a reminder of a huge victory for her, and a part of a night important to their relationship. All Lois sees is something she’s losing and the things that will go away with it. So often, even well-meaning people cannot see what someone is struggling with, and one party doesn’t know what to ask, while the other doesn’t know what to say.
This whole storyline is personal and intimate and uses major elemental pieces of who Lois is in the comics and the show to help frame them. It feels like a Lois Lane story, not a story that happens to feature Lois Lane.
Meanwhile, Bruno Mannheim’s wife Peia is still under medical care with the Department of Defense following her body-wrecking attack against Superman and Steel. Bruno wants to see her, while the D.O.D. and John Irons all want to use Peia as leverage. Irons has an axe to grind with Mannheim; the gang boss tried to kill his other-Earth sister, made multiple attempts on his life (one of which takes place in Smallville in broad daylight), and put his daughter in mortal danger. He wants to punish Mannheim. Superman, meanwhile, both sees how dangerous Mannheim is and empathizes with his desperate position, giving him a better understanding of just how much more dangerous that actually makes him.
This episode is surprisingly adversarial considering how aligned Superman and Irons have been previously, but it’s not tough to see Irons’ position. After Irons leans too hard on Mannheim, Superman manages to make some headway–only for Irons to come in with a heavily-armed team of men. Mannheim, furious, sends a powered-up Henry Miller after Irons. While Miller gets the upper hand pretty quickly, Superman shows up to help, but isn’t able to stop Irons from killing the superpowered white supremacist with his hammer.
This all puts John on a dark path and potentially in a three-way face-off against Superman and Mannheim. It’s hard to say that any of the three is completely wrong. Mannheim is doing what he believes is necessary to save his wife and protect his family. Irons is doing what he feels he must to protect his daughter. Superman feels for both of them but is trying as he always does to get people to end things peacefully. All in all, it’s a very effective episode that moves forward both Lois’ battle and the broiling conflict surrounding Mannheim in important ways.