Monday, March 22, 2021

Superman & Lois Season 1, Episode 3: The Perks Of Not Being A Wallflower

This week on Superman & Lois we get another very well-done, action-packed and emotionally charged episode. I can't believe how much I'm enjoying this show, and how consistently good it's been. I keep expecting them to drop the ball any time now and give us a subpar outing, but so far it hasn't happened. This is most definitely the best of the Arrowverse series that's airing right now. The other shows could definitely take a page or two from it.

I'm particularly impressed with the writing on the series, and the way it handles its characters. Unlike typical The CW fodder, they feel and act like actual people. 

Case in point— this week Clark forbids his son Jordan to play football, fearing his burgeoning superpowers might accidentally hurt another player. His other son Jonathan speaks up, saying that Jordan actually likes football, and for the first time in ages seems happy about something. Rather than summarily dismiss his son's argument, Clark actually listens, puts himself in Jordan's shoes and changes his mind. 

In another scene, Lana worries about her daughter Sarah's mental state. Sarah says she's unhappy at the thought of living her whole life in a small town with little or no prospects. Lana realizes her daughter doesn't want to follow in her footsteps, and is completely sympathetic to that notion.

In both cases, the adults' reactions were reasonable and much deeper than what one would generally expect to see on a superhero show. These exchanges felt genuine and completely earned, and best of all the writers accomplished them without stooping to the usual Patented The CW Pep Talk®.

I've mentioned this before, but it's worth a repeat— kudos to actor Tyler Hoechlin for his portrayal of Superman. There's a scene early on in this episode in which Superman prevents a bridge from collapsing, saving hundreds of lives. Among those he saves is a grateful fisherman, who gratefully waves at the Man Of Steel. Superman smiles and gives him a little wave back.

That right there is such a Superman thing to do, and sums up the character perfectly! He represents goodness and hope, and dedicates his life to saving the Earth and its inhabitants. It's clear that Hoechlin and the creators understand this, and write the character accordingly. THIS is the real Superman!

Compare this version to the vengeful, angry, neck-snapping god from the DCEU. It's evident that particular Superman resents his powers and has nothing but contempt for those in need. Feh. Who needs him? 


The Plot:
The episode begins as the Kent men impatiently stand around waiting for Lois to decide what color to paint the living room. Just then Clark hears a commotion in China. He zooms to the scene, where he finds a large suspension bridge collapsing and saves it just in time.

The next morning at breakfast, Clark's sons Jonathan & Jordan pepper him with questions about his powers— specifically his super-hearing. Clark & Lois warn the boys to be mindful of their actions & what they say, so they don't accidentally reveal his secret indentity. Clark says they may think he's being too strict, but he just wants a normal life for them.

Elsewhere, Lana & Kyle wait outside the Smallville Clinic, where their daughter Sarah is in therapy. Sarah exits, and Lana asks if she's OK. Sarah angrily says that's between her and her psychiatrist, and tells her mom to drop it.

Later at school, Jordan asks Sarah if she wants to hang out. She sees her bully of a boyfriend Sean watching, and hurriedly tells Jordan she has to go. Sean approaches Jordan and shoves him, telling him to stay away from Sarah. Jonathan immediately defends Jordan, as a fight begins to brew.

Back on the farm, Clark works on the tractor while using his super-hearing to monitor his sons. He hears the scuffle and zips to the school, where he asks the boys if everything's OK. Sean says it's fine, but the boys ask what the hell he's doing there. Clark says he just thought he'd drop by. As he drives them back home, they accuse their father of spying on them. He says he doesn't do it all the time, and they call him a liar.

Lois reminds Clark of the first time he listened in on her, saying he almost lost her that day. He asks how he can fix things with his sons, and she says to make them the same promise he made to her.

The next morning at the Smallville Gazette, Chrissy assigns Lois a story about the local Harvest Festival. Lois balks, saying she was hoping to keep investigating Morgan Edge and his sleazy dealings around town. Chrissy says this isn't the Daily Planet, and every story can't be a hard-hitting expose.

Just then a woman named Sharon Powell enters with a hard-hitting expose. She tells Lois she wants to help Lois put Morgan Edge behind bars. It seems Sharon's son Derek got a job at the Edge Facility in nearby New Carthage. After working there for six months, Edge offered Derek "the opportunity of a lifetime." Sharon says that was the last she ever saw or heard from her son, and knows Edge somehow caused his death.

Across the street, one of Edge's men— codenamed Subjekt 11— secretly films Sharon talking to Lois.

The next morning Jordan arrives at school and overhears Sarah breaking up with Sean. As he smiles, one of Sean's cronies knocks him down, telling him to stay in his lane. Later at school, Lana's coaching the cheerleading squad. She berates Sarah for being distracted, prompting her daughter to quit the squad.

At football practice, Jonathan's shocked to see Jordan suited up in an effort to try out for the team. Jonathan asks what he thinks he's doing, and he says it's time to push back against their bullies.

The Coach puts Jordan in, telling him to show him what he's got. The other players do their best to cream him, but Jordan— who has higher than normal strength due to his Kryptonian heritage— easily knocks them on their asses. The Coach is more than impressed.

After practice, Sarah meets the twins in the local diner. She asks how Jordan managed to flatten the team, and he awkwardly says he's been practicing in the yard with Jonathan. Just then Lana enters, and demands to know why Sarah quit cheerleading. Sarah explodes, assuring her mom she's not going to try and kill herself again. She goes on to say that their entire family is one big dumpster fire— her dad Kyle bunks on the couch every night, her little sister's become a psychopath and Lana can't get to sleep without a pill. Lana angrily hisses for Sarah to grab her stuff and they leave.

Later at the Gazette, Chrissy tells Lois she's suspicious of Sharon's story, as the woman's a known drinker and her son has a checkered past as well. She suggests Lois drop the story. Just then the two hear and explosion and rush outside. There they see Lois' station wagon in flames. Chrissy says maybe she was wrong, as Lois has clearly struck a nerve...

Back at the farm, Lois tells Clark she made a mistake accusing Edge, as everyone in Smallville sees him as a savior. Clark asks what her gut says, and she still thinks Edge is bad news. He tells her to dig deeper then, and he'll support her.

The next day Clark runs into Lana, who confides that her family's falling apart. She then congratulates Clark, saying he must be proud of Jordan's football debut. Clark has no idea what she's talking about.

At practice, Sean demands to scrimmage against Jordan, who easily knocks him ten or twenty feet. Jordan then apologizes for kissing Sarah, saying it wasn't cool. Stunned, Sean says it's OK as the other players finally accept the twins. Jordan's happiness is short lived though, as he sees Clark watching from the sidelines.

That night Clark tells Jordan he's disappointed in him for using his powers on the football field. Jordan throws another hissy fit, saying he doesn't have powers according to his grandpop. Clark admits that taking him to see Holographic Jor-El was a mistake. Jordan says all Clark does is screw things up and he wishes he weren't around.

Lois tells Clark that Jordan's only fourteen and doesn't really mean what he says. She says he should try and figure out why Jordan's so angry. She then tells him she's going to New Carthage to check out a lead. Clark makes her promise not to get his truck blown up.

Jonathan tells Clark he thinks he should let Jordan continue playing football. He says for the first time in a long time, Jordan seems happy about something. Clark worries that Jordan will get carried away and reveal his powers. Jonathan says there's no point in having special abilities if you're never allowed to use them.

Lois drives to New Carthage, where Sharon's staying in a motel room. She sees the door's been kicked open, and stupidly enters anyway. Right on cue, Subjekt 11 appears and attacks her. She stabs him in the side of the head with a pen, which doesn't phase him a bit.

Subjekt 11 then advances toward Lois, intent on eliminating her. She whips out her ELT device and signals Clark. Two tenths of a second later, Superman crashes through the wall and attacks Subjekt 11.

The two men fight in the motel room, and Superman's surprised to see he's evenly matched. As they fight, Lois hides in the bathroom, where she finds Sharon lying unconscious.

Subjekt 11 actually manages to knock out Superman (!) and heads for Lois again. Superman comes to and uses his super-breath to freeze his opponent. He then repeatedly punches him and finally knocks his lights out. Lois says Sharon's barely breathing, and Superman zooms her off to a hospital.

Elsewhere, Lana enters Sarah's room and the two have a Patented The CW Pep Talk ®. Sarah says she tried to kill herself because she felt trapped by her family and the town, and saw a future she didn't want. Lana admits their family's messed up, and asks what kind of life she wants. Sarah says she hasn't figured it out yet, and the two embrace.

The next morning, Clark asks Jordan if he honestly likes playing football. Jordan says he didn't at first, but once he started making friends he actually enjoyed it. He says he's sure he can hold back his strength. Clark reluctantly says he can continue playing— with one catch.

Later at school, we see that Clark's now the Assistant Coach. Wa-wahhhhh. Jordan sees Sarah and asks if she's coming to the game. She tells him she'll be there as a spectator, not a cheerleader.

At the Gazette, Chrissy apologizes to Lois for not trusting her instincts. Lois wonders why someone with superpowers is working for Morgan Edge.

Later that night, Subjekt 11 is driving along in his car. He calls someone and tells them Superman rescued Sharon. As he hangs up, he sees a figure standing in the middle of the road. It's Leslie Larr, Edge's personal assistant. Incredibly, Leslie's eyes glow read as she 
uses her heat vision to incinerate 11. She makes a call, says "It's done" and walks off.

• This is some Hardcore Nitpicking right off the bat, but whatever.

At the beginning of the episode, Clark hears the screams of commuters as a suspension bridge collapses— somewhere in China (!). He instantly springs into action and flies around the globe to save the day. Lucky for everyone involved that he heard their cries for help!

There's one major problem with this scenario though. Smallville, Kansas is approximately 7,000 miles from China (give or take a few hundred miles). The speed of sound is around 761 mph near the Earth's surface. That means it would take about 9.5 HOURS for the victims' screams to travel halfway around the globe and reach Clark's ears!

Unfortunately, by the time he heard them everyone was already long dead.

Told you it was hard core! And yes, I realize this is a superhero show about a man who can fly and shoot heat rays from his eyes, so scientific accuracy isn't a priority here. I just thought it'd be fun to do the math.

Actually I think the show's aware of all this as well. Immediately after the rescue, Clark's back in Smallville, where Jonathan & Jordan grill him about his powers.

Jonathan: "Wait, so you can hear every sound in the world at once?"
Clark: "It's more like I hear all the fluctuations taking place in the collective sonic frequency."
Jordan: "That makes zero sense to me."

Based on that line, it sounds like the writers know he couldn't hear disasters around the world as they happened. So they came up with some technobabble nonsense to explain it. They deliberately lampshaded the problem to get around it.

• Speaking of the Chinese Bridge Rescue, I get the feeling it was a late addition to the script, after the writer took a look at what he'd typed and thought, "Oh sh*t, I'd better put some actual superheroics into this superhero show. Otherwise it's just forty two minutes of family drama!"

• Back in Pilot, Superman battled Captain Luthor in downtown Hong Kong, where it was daytime. He then returned to Smallville, where it was night. In my review of the episode I praised the producers for understanding that it's not high noon all over the world at the same time.

Sadly, I'm forced to withdrawal my kudos. In this episode it's early morning in Smallville when Clark hears the bridge collapsing. When he arrives on the scene in China, it appears to be midday. Whoops!

By the way, the Pintang Bridge is a real structure, and Guizhou's an actual city in China. It's the second tallest bridge in the world.

• One last thing about the Chinese bridge rescue before I mercifully drop it forever. During the disaster, we see a school bus full of kids in danger as the bridge threatens to collapse under them.

I couldn't help it— I burst out laughing the second I saw this scene. Virtually every time there's a crumbling bridge in a superhero movie, it's a given there'll be a loaded school bus hanging off the side of it. It's State Law at this point.

It's a cheap & easy way to generate drama, as well as showcase the hero's powers.

Actually this episode's "School Bus In Peril" scene is likely an homage to a similar one in Superman: The Movie.

Lastly, I wondered if they even have school buses in China. Turns out they recently started using them, although they don't look anything like the ones we have here. Or in this episode. Eh, I'll give 'em this one. No one could realistically expect them to ship a freakin' bus from China to Vancouver for a ten second scene.

• On the Kent farm, Clark unsuccessfully tries to start an ancient tractor that belonged to his late parents. He lifts it with one hand, looks underneath and sees a large crack in the oil pan. He then sets the tractor down in frustration and wipes his hands.

Back in Pilot he used his heat vision to seal a crack in the side of a nuclear power plant. Why doesn't he use it here to fix the tractor?

• After watching this episode for three weeks now, I've started noticing a somewhat alarming trend— is Lois a functioning alcoholic? Virtually every time we see her at home, she's got a glass of wine (or other alcohol) in her hand.

Don't believe me? Here she is knocking back a couple beers with Lana & Kyle in Pilot
We see her guzzling away at some wine on the porch in Heritage.

And here she is this week, pouring more wine down her throat in not one, but TWO different scenes.

Jesus Christ! Looks like the stress of investigative reporting, dealing with two teenaged boys and being the wife of a superhero are too much for her!

I'm being facetious here of course, but it's definitely a thing on the show. So much so that I'm wondering if it's actually a setup for a future storyline?

• At the Gazette, Sharon Powell approaches Lois and says her son Derek went missing after Morgan Edge offered him a mysterious "opportunity of a lifetime." She then gives Lois a flyer poster featuring her missing son.

Wow, that's a pretty detailed flyer the prop department cooked up. It even features a pretty good look at Derek Powell's face. And the camera takes a good long look at it, to make sure we all see it. That makes me think he's going to show up in a future episode as one of Edge's superpowered goons.

• This is some more heavy duty nitpicking, but again, that's what I do. When Jordan tries out for the football team, Coach Gaines consistently refers to him as "Short Stack." This causes the other players to call him that as well.

But take a look at the image above. That's Jordan on the far right, under the arrow. He doesn't look particularly height-challenged to me. In fact he seems to be the same height as most of the other players. Hell, there's even one a few feet away who's a good foot shorter than him!

Now I could see if the Coach called him "String Bean" or "Toothpick," since he does have a slighter build than the others. But he's definitely not short!

• Over on The Flash I started a "Run, Barry, Run" Counter to keep track of how many times various characters have said that phrase to the title character over the seasons.

I think I'm gonna start a similar counter on this show— a "Jordan Hissy Fit" Counter, to record every time he storms upstairs to his room after not getting his way. As of this episode we're up to 4 so far!

• What year is this? Check out the portable picture tube TV Kyle watches during dinner! Holy cow! I can't remember the last time I saw a portable like that. 1995, maybe? Where the hell did he get an antique like that? Do they even make those anymore? I guess Smallville really is behind the times!

• After one of Jordan's weekly tantrums, Clark goes outside and blows off some steam by crunching metal pipes into compressed pancakes.

Ah, Metal Pipes, my old friends. How you been? How's your mom?

This marks the third time these metal pipes have popped up in the series. They first showed up in Pilot, where they were inexplicably stored fifty feet off the ground inside the barn and fell on Jonathan & Jordan. They returned in Heritage, where we saw Clark sensibly stack them on the ground. And now they're back this week.

At this point I feel like the Metal Pipes should be listed in the cast!

• Let's talk about the show's pop culture references, shall we? At one point Clark forbids Jordan from playing football, fearing he'll inadvertently hurt someone with his powers. Jonathan then talks with Jordan and says, "Now you can just go back to hanging out with Sarah and listening to LP remix Morrissey or whatever." Jordan replies, "Morrissey’s a xenophobic has-been."

A bit later Jonathan realizes Jordan actually likes football, and tries to convince Clark to let him play. He tells Clark, "Yeah, but he doesn’t have super strength like you. That’s what Jor-El DeBarge said, right?" For the record, he's combining the name of his Kryptonian grandpa with El DeBarge here.

Both Morrissey and El DeBarge were successful singer/songwriters who had numerous hits back in the 1980s. What are the odds that two fourteen year olds in the year 2021 would have even heard of either of these artists, much less joke about them?

Either Jonathan & Jordan have VERY eclectic and unusual musical tastes, or the writer of this episode grew up in the 1980s and has no idea who's popular with current teens.

• Lois drives to New Carthage to get more info from Sharon Powell, who's staying in a motel room.

Hey kids, whenever you're at a seedy motel and see a door that's obviously been kicked open, do what Lois does— barge on in by yourself and loudly announce your presence! It's the safest course of action.

• As Lois enters the motel room, we see the TV's tuned to the Whitty Banter Show.

This is a very, VERY deep cut, as well as a private joke among the Superman comic creators. See, back in the early 1990s the creative team for all of DC's Superman comics were flown out to Hollywood to be extras on the Lois & Clark TV series. 

During their downtime, Glenn Whitmore— the colorist on the Superman titles— would entertain his coworkers by pretending to be a talk show host named "Whitty Banter," and would conduct mock interviews with them.

Apparently the creators of Superman & Lois somehow knew that obscure bit of trivia and incorporated it into this episode.

• When Subjekt 11 attacks Lois, she jams a pen into his ear.

I don't have anything to say about this image, other than I thought it was pretty funny— especially when taken out of context.

By the way, at no point during the episode is this character ever called "Subjekt 11." I got his name from the cast list. No idea why it's spelled so odd and "Russian-ey" either.

• Boy, that Superman is reeeeally fast. After Subjekt 11 throws Lois across the room, she activates her ELT. Less than one second elapses before Superman crashes through the wall to save her

Note Supes' glorious, Zack Snyder-esque cut-to-slow motion punch too!

• I was glad to finally see Superman fight someone besides Luthor this week. I was beginning to think Clark was the only being with powers in this entire world. I was also starting to worry that Luthor would be the only opponent he'd ever have, which would make for a very lonnnnnnnnnng season.

Until we're definitively told otherwise, I'm going with my assumption that this series takes place on its own Earth— one that's separate from the Arrowverse

Think of all the times that Clark's stressed over trying to balance his home life with saving the world. If this was Earth-Prime, he could just get his cuz Supergirl to fill in for him while he sorted out his family.

Or maybe this really is Earth-Prime, and the writers are just trying to establish Superman's place in this world before they start bringing in Arrowverse guest stars.

• There's a really cool effect during the motel room battle. Every time Subjekt 11 punches Superman, there's a kind of sped-up blurring effect. It works very well, and really sells the idea that 11's hits are brutally powerful.

• Eventually Supes has enough and dispatches Subjekt 11 by freezing him with his super-breath, then playing ping-pong with him by repeatedly punching him from one side of the room to the other. It's an awesome little fight scene.

• Apparently Superman & Lois is like Stargirl, as the streaming versions of its episodes are slightly longer than the broadcast ones. 

Case in point: There's a scene in this episode in which Clark asks Coach Gaines if he can be an assistant football coach, so he can keep an eye on Jordan and make sure he doesn't accidentally kill someone during practice.

This scene is only in the streaming version. It was cut from the live broadcast.

• At the end of the episode, Chrissy apologizes for not believing Lois' instincts about Morgan Edge. To make up for it, she puts together a good old fashioned conspiracy board, complete with news clippings, surveillance photos and other ephemera. The only thing missing is the strings of red yarn to connect the various items!

• In the tag scene, Subjekt 11 is driving through the countryside after his beat-down by Superman. He screeches to a stop as Leslie Larr steps in front of his car. We then see she's apparently some kind of meta, as she uses her heat vision to incinerate him. A couple things here:

First of all, we've seen Leslie before— just last week in fact. Lois barged into the Daily Planet, told Morgan Edge she quit, then spun on her heal and stormed out. Leslie was the woman who told Lois, "He's going to crush you."

Secondly, I'm assuming Leslie's based on Lesla-Lar, one of Supergirl's enemies from the comics. She debuted in 1961's Action Comics #279, and was a rogue Kryptonian living in the bottle city of Kandor (it's a long story). 

Lastly, again with the "Double L" names! For some reason the Superman comics are lousy with 'em. Most are women, but there are a few men as well. Lois Lane, Lex Luthor, Lana Lang, Lori Lemaris, Linda Lee, Lucy Lane, Lyla Leroll, Lyrica Lloyd, Lee Lambert and many, many more.

I assume this particular quirk probably started when some writer noticed that Lex Luthor & Lois Lane both had the initials L.L. and decided to keep the trend going, until it became a tradition.

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