Superman & Lois – Season 1 Episode 11
“A Brief Reminiscence In-Between Cataclysmic Events”
Superman & Lois flashes back to the early days of Clark’s careers, his relationship with Lois and his growth as a hero to flesh out the histories of these versions of the characters.
Flashback episodes are often a mixed bag as they often chronicle information the viewer already has without supplying anything all that new to chew on. They have the same problem a lot of biopics have with a matter-of-fact delivery of events without having time to drink in the texture of them. Arrow is an obvious exception with five whole seasons of a dual layered narrative cutting between flashbacks and the present day but The Flash or Supergirl have typically lacked in that substance with their flashback episodes.
This particular example sits somewhere in the middle with plenty of substance to be found in the moments depicted as well as a rushed quality to some of it that rushes through or completely sidesteps what should be really significant events in the lives of these characters though many of them are given the care and attention that they deserve. It is perhaps an unavoidable problem when only taking one episode to depict the entire origin story of the mythology of this show.
The early part of the episode shows Clark creating the fortress, meeting the hologram of Jor’El and being trained to use his powers. All of this will seem very familiar to fans of the character with riffs on the Richard Donner movies, Smallville and Man of Steel to be found in abundance. It’s over very quickly which is a smart decision as this part of Clark’s journey to becoming Superman has been done so many times that there’s no need to explore it in excruciating detail. A flavour of what this version of Clark experienced is delivered and that’s enough to prompt the viewer to fill in the blanks. The important details are there such as Jor’El’s understanding of Clark’s desire to help the people of Earth and him encouraging his son to rejoin the world in order to explore the reasons behind that motivation. Jor’El effectively gives Clark permission to be a hero after providing him with the knowledge and tools he will need to make that a reality.
Clark’s return to Smallville as the first step in rejoining the world allows for some strong moments. Martha welcoming him back with open arms, being fully understanding about his reasons for leaving and being honest with him about the realities of being gone a long time provided a further showcase of how strong that relationship was and how much Clark valued it. Clark’s realisation that the world didn’t simply stop when he was gone when he sees the engagement ring on Lana’s finger is appropriately tragic and a sign to him that he needs to actually be a part of the world to find his place in it. Martha doesn’t sugar-coat that lesson for him which shows how practical her guidance is. She wants her son to live in the real world which means accepting some uncomfortable truths.
One moment that is given the time to breathe is Clark’s first meeting with Lois. It comes after a hilariously bizarre scene where Clark convinces Perry White (Paul Jarrett) to give him a job despite his complete lack of qualifications by simply asking nicely and is immediately clear as a significant event in the lives of the characters. Lois is confident and self assured while being supportive of her new colleague though unwilling to slow down for his benefit. She keeps moving and expects him to keep up as he goes on about his first grade teacher who was also called Lois. It’s a nice detail that quickly establishes how Lois has been so successful in her field while giving Tyler Hoechlin a chance to play the bumbling cub reporter version of Clark that we haven’t really seen either in this show or on Supergirl. It’s delightful, pleasant and has a comforting familiarity to it especially as a fan of the character. This show has moved beyond that period in Clark’s life and that has allowed it to put its unique stamp on this version of the mythology but it’s good to get a taste of what it took to reach that point.
Clark’s career at the Daily Planet begins not long after his debut as Superman -unnamed at that point- takes the city by storm. Lois comments that the arrival of this new hero is distracting people from other problems that are worthy of attention. The specific example is a man in a metal mask setting fire to buildings and brandishing Nazi symbols. Clark’s voice is full of regret when he admits he had no idea this was happening. It’s an important part of his development because it’s the first time he became aware of a bigger picture beyond saving people from traffic accidents, stopping crimes and the various other one shot heroics he had been pulling off before this point. Thanks to Lois he realises that there’s more he could be doing and more he could stand for than simply being a Good Samaritan helping people in random ways. The episode doesn’t have time to showcase how he applies that lesson but taking the time to show how he learns it is significant and done well. Hoechlin’s apologetic tone as it dawns on Clark that he has missed something fundamental is pitch perfect and the scene itself gives another example of why the Lois/Clark partnership is so strong.
The montage of them working together to investigate this case is a quick yet effective way to show them growing closer. Lois clearly grows to respect and value Clark very quickly by seeing how hard working and intelligent he is. Their open conversation about enjoying working together marks that first step towards their relationship in the present day and it’s charming in how earnest it is. This is expanded later in the episode when Lois admits that she’s in love with Clark after dating him for a short time. It’s notable that she is won over by Clark’s nerdy sincerity rather than the confidence he exudes in the Superman persona.
Lois first meeting with Superman is also depicted though it’s not as significant as you might expect. It’s very quick and ends with Lois coining the name “Superman” for the first time. Far more significant is the TV interview where she uses her tenacity and ability to get to the root of a story to attempt to trick Superman into revealing where he was raised. It’s an excellent riff on the classic “American Way” pillar of Superman’s values that removes the focus on it in a very character driven way. He tells her that he’d like to think he stands for all that is good which includes truth and justice while deflecting from the “American Way” because it’s an obvious tactic to get him to provide information he’s unwilling to make public. He remains committed to truth but also reserves the right to some privacy. Tyler Hoechlin plays Superman with a confident swagger that never descends into the realm of unappealing arrogance. It’s a noticeably different persona to the Clark Kent one shown earlier and Lois being mildly unimpressed by him is a really strong detail that Elizabeth Tulloch’s performance capitalises on wonderfully. There isn’t a lot of time but her dynamic with both sides of Clark is very different and watching them interact never ceases to be engaging. It’s very brief but a clear sense of how these connections evolved is given thanks in part to the strengths of the performances.
Other moments aren’t so well served such as Clark revealing his identity to Lois for the first time. He is shown hovering in front of her but the episode moves on before her reaction can be shown. Considering the attention to detail on other pivotal moments it’s strange that this one didn’t receive the coverage it deserved considering the impact it would have on their relationship. Visually it’s very impressive but it’s lacking in substance which is unfortunate. The same can be said about their wedding though that’s less important to depict in its entirety
The details around Lois’ pregnancy and the birth of their sons work really well as character beats and transition wonderfully into the present day portion of the episode. Clark’s realisation that something is amiss and the reveal that the flashbacks are the result of Morgan Edge pouring through Clark’s memories to find weaknesses was brilliantly handled and instantly shifts the episode in a sinister direction. Clark’s memories transition from happy events to weapons that are being used against them which really ramps up the threat that Edge represents. Lois continuing to play her part in the memory as Clark steps away from the event while she reacts the things he was supposed to have said and done was a really nice touch to showcase Clark’s awareness of the truth of the situation.
This is the most threatening Edge has been and frames in a different way through having the knowledge of everything that Clark holds dear. He represents a major threat to Clark because he now has tangible leverage that can be used against him. As a character he is still distinctly lacking but there’s something appealing about how casually villainous he is and his plan is an intelligent one. It works better than his world domination scheme as it leans heavily into the strengths that this show has. It’s a character driven attack on who Clark is rather than a nebulous high stakes threat with a simple catch all solution. Clark’s family are now vulnerable and there would appear to be no way to effectively deal with it under his current value system. This highlights the importance of Clark maintaining his secret identity.
Edge going after Clark’s family is a truly tense moment because it’s more than clear he holds Humanity in contempt so doesn’t value their lives. His threats against them have weight because it’s believable that he will carry them out. His promise to spare them if Clark submits also seems genuine with him believable as a man of his word despite all the horrible things he’s comfortable with doing. It’s a simple choice that requires Clark sacrifice himself to protect those he cares about the most and without hesitation he chooses what he believes to be the only solution. Of course it’s less than ideal that Superman be subservient to a villain who will undoubtedly make him attack the Human race but given Clark’s aversion to killing as a core value then it’s easy to see why he would choose a non violent solution. Killing Edge isn’t something he’s comfortable with doing so he submits to him if it means protecting his family.
From here the key difference between Clark and Edge is reinforced. Clark was raised with love and compassion then took that forward into his adult life where Edge was feared and hated. Edge does have a strong sense of family and believes that Clark has betrayed his true family. Since he has never been loved he doesn’t understand Clark’s connection to the people of Earth and the family he has created. His belief is that loyalty is a requirement of blood relation and that Clark has betrayed that by creating his own family while renouncing the connection he believes they should share as brothers. Clark’s values are obviously geared towards his connection to people being defined by the way they treat him and others so in his mind Edge hasn’t earned the loyalty he feels he deserves. His pledge to submit is under duress and forces that loyalty rather than earning it through providing value to a relationship.
The one flashback of Edge entering his Fortress and being taught strength through pain and suffering punctuates this core difference while also setting up Clark being conditioned in the same way. It quickly highlights the differences in their upbringing while opening up a question around whether Clark’s resolve will be strong enough to overcome what is being done to him. It’s a really powerful and shocking ending that leaves things on a very tense note especially after Edge removes his Kryptonian support system by destroying the crystal housing Jor’El.
On a less life threatening note things are looking up for Jordan who sees his relationship with Sarah progress to the next level. It comes after the realisation sets in that she has misjudged her father and needs to be more aware of the facts that she might not have access to before pronouncing judgement. It’s an important lesson to learn for her that doesn’t explicitly connect to her decision to start a romantic connection with Jordan though the brothers being there for her offering support through all of it certainly confirmed her decision. Jordan’s reaction to having things progress with her is wonderfully joyous to witness and is a well earned payoff to a long development which makes it even more unfortunate to have his life threatened moments later.
Kyle taking stock of the situation and recognising his role in it is also really strong content. Self improvement has been on the cards for him for a while so it’s engaging to see that he is able to admit that he was wrong to follow Edge so blindly and apologise to Lois after realising that she had the best interests of the town at heart. Lois’ interactions with Lana and Kyle are really well written and progress the relationships between these characters believably. Another strength the show has is juggling character dynamics and delivering an impressive variety in a given episode.
An excellent episode that uses the flashback setup in meaningful ways for the involved characters before seamlessly transitioning into a sinister plot. Flashback episodes often go down the route of showing the viewer what has already been established with nothing extra being added to them. This episode makes much of the flashback content meaningful though does still fall into the trap of failing to dig into detail where it’s required. Great examples include Clark’s return to Smallville having Martha teach him an important and realistic life lesson, Lois and Clark’s charming first meeting which includes a great showcase of Tyler Hoechlin playing the bumbling Clark as well as Lois giving him an awareness of a bigger picture that exists beyond saving people and the montage of them working together on a particular case. Lesser examples include not showing the reaction to Lois learning Clark’s secret and rushing past their wedding.
The details around Lois’ pregnancy and giving birth to the twins adding in the reveal that the flashbacks exist because Morgan Edge is pouring through Clark’s memories looking for weaknesses. It immediately adds a sinister edge to the memories that now become weapons being used against Clark. Having Lois continue to play her part reacting reacting to what Clark is supposed to be saying as he steps away to confront Edge. This is the most threatening Edge has been with the leverage he now has over Clark and it leads to a really tense moment where Clark’s family are threatened if he doesn’t submit. Under his well established value system self sacrifice is the only option because there’s no way he can protect his family from Edge now that he knows the truth. Edge remains a thinly sketched character though he is used well here and the core difference between him and Clark is strongly established. Growing up being feared and hated has formed his world view and his contempt for the Human race has caused a failure to understand why Clark would choose the family he has created. Blood is important to him and he believes it deserves loyalty by itself. Subjecting Clark to the same brutal treatment he endured to break him raises questions around his resolve to endure it and what will come next. The development of Sarah and Jordan’s relationship to romance is well earned and comes after Sarah realises she needs to be aware that other circumstances have to be considered before pronouncing judgement. Kyle taking stock of the situation and accepting the responsibility while reconciling with Lois was a strong development of these relationships which plays to the strengths the show has.
- flashbacks being used in meaningful ways
- the important and harsh life lesson Clark learns when returning to Smallville
- Lois and Clark’s delightful first meeting
- Lois making Clark aware of a bigger picture at play he should be aware of
- the Lois and Clark working together montage
- Lois’ skills being used well when she interviews Superman
- flipping the flashbacks in a sinister direction with the reveal of what’s causing them
- making great use of the core difference between Clark and Edge
- Edge weaponising Clark’s memories against him
- a shocking ending
- self sacrifice being the realistic only option for Clark
- the well earned payoff in the Sarah/Jordan relationship
- Kyle’s development feeding into an overall development with his and Lana’s connection to Lois
- some important moments being rushed past such as Lois learning the truth about Clark
- Edge remaining a thinly sketched character overall
What did you think? Select your rating in the “User Review” box below
User Review( vote)
We’d love to know your thoughts on this and anything else you might want to talk about. You can find us on Facebook and Twitter or just leave a comment in the comment section below. You’ll need an account for Disqus but it’s easy to set up. Don’t forget to share your rating in the “User Review” box
If you want to chat to me directly then I’m on Twitter as well.