Superman & Lois – Season 1 Episode 13

Jul 21, 2021 | Posted by in TV
Superman

“Fail Safe”

Superman & Lois slows down to take stock of recent events as the characters consider what it means for them and their future.

In particular the Cushing family are having a hard time in the wake of Edge’s defeat as most of the town are punishing them for the part they played in what Edge did. It’s factually unfair for them to do so because there was a willingness on the part of the people to accept help from a well meaning billionaire but Kyle and Lana are easy targets because they so loudly championed Edge. The episode spends a lot of time showing how difficult it is for the family being in Smallville at this point with Kyle being encouraged to temporarily step away from his job, Lana facing persecution in public and Sarah getting a hard time at school. All of this really sells how difficult their lives have become and the tension that exists within the town.

Superman

It’s hard being the town outcasts

The previous episode shows that it wasn’t all bad because the situation was at least bringing them closer as a family. It has been well established throughout the season that things were less than ideal in the Cushing household but having the town turn against them has reawakened that familial solidarity because they need each other. This is wonderfully showcased through Kyle and Lana in this episode. They are affectionate and supportive of one another while also considering the harsh realities of their future. They have a distinct choice to make; do they stay in Smallville in the hope that it blows over and they’re forgiven or do they pack up and try to make a fresh start elsewhere? The latter option is unappealing because their families have lived in Smallville for generations and they consider it to be their home but they are keenly aware that it might take a long time for attitudes towards them to change if it happens at all.

A lot of attention is given to the scope of this decision and the impact it would have. There’s a brief scene with Sophie where she asks Lana about Kyle questioning whether she would like to try another school that underscores Kyle’s guilt over his mistake negatively impacting his children. Lana’s reaction to Sophie bringing that up highlights that she also has no idea how to deal with this. Mayor Dean (Eric Keenleyside) coming to them as a friend offering to fight their corner before being caught talking about them behind their back is another great example of the ill will directed at the Cushing family. Lana sees first hand the toxicity that exists and is made to feel that she has nobody to turn to outside of her family and the Kents. The hopelessness being felt by every member of the Cushing family is brilliantly portrayed by Emmanuelle Chrique and Erik Valdez. Their stress levels develop subtly and the loss of hope is gradual.

Lana and Kyle’s difficulties neatly ties into Lois’ central conflict for the episode. The town are looking for answers and Lois is torn between her responsibilities as a journalist to deliver them and her familial responsibilities. Sam doesn’t want the truth becoming known because he doesn’t want the story to spread beyond Smallville to become an uncontainable issue so he refuses too issue any sort of statement on the matter. This makes Lois complicit in a government cover-up which goes against her commitment to the truth. Early on she works to convince Chrissy that they need to take a different approach to telling this story by focusing on what the people of Smallville experienced rather than the high level facts of the overall situation. Chrissy counters that by insisting that the people have a right to know and that they are understandably curious about what was really going on. The military presence in Smallville, the people gaining powers and the sudden resolution have people talking with no grasp on the truth of the matter so Chrissy wants to find answers to those questions both for her own peace of mind and to provide the service to the town that she promised.

Superman

Team up fist bump

This creates a fascinating conflict between Lois and Chrissy over their responsibilities as journalists. Chrissy is smart and quickly realises that Lois is deflecting so calls her out on that. She reminds Lois of what she is supposed to stand for and bluntly states that if she is unwilling to do her job properly then she has no business working for her. This comes from Chrissy not being aware of Lois’ connection to the events and the difficulties that creates for her but she’s also completely right to challenge Lois on her clear desire to avoid telling the whole truth. As far as Chrissy knows Lois is being deliberately deceitful and she lacks the necessary information to understand why. In a way she represents Smallville as a collective in her desire to understand what happened. That uncertainty will be difficult for the people to deal with and Chrissy wants to do everything she can to alleviate that but can’t when Lois is actively sabotaging her attempts to do so.

A couple of things help Lois realise that the people of Smallville deserve an explanation. One is seeing the difficulties Lana is having simply living her life in the wake of everything that has happened. Lois notices that people in the town are looking for someone to blame and have chosen the Cushings as their scape goat. Lana and Lois have become good friends over the course of the season and Lois feels a measure of responsibility for what Lana is going through so feels that she has to do the right thing and find a way for the story to be told.

Another factor that helps in her realisation is her conversation with Clark where they discuss the shaky relationship they have had with journalistic integrity over their careers. Lois makes the distinction that it was always in service of keeping his secret rather than helping the government cover something up. She knows that she is wrong to let this story go untold even though she understands the rational arguments for the details remaining obscured but she needs to work through it before arriving at a decision. Ultimately her compromise is to give Chrissy access to a statement that her father made and let her write it because her relationship with her father makes her involvement a conflict of interest that would disrupt the credibility of the reporting. It’s an interesting arc for Lois to follow though the episode doesn’t dig into the ethics behind it all as much as it could given the complexity of Lois’ relationship to Sam, her relationship to Clark and the intimate knowledge she has of the events themselves. It works very well as presented but there was a much larger story to be told that isn’t served.

Superman

About time they spent time together

Clark is dealing with the fallout of recent events in a very personal way. The background debate around what to do with the Kryptonite weapons that Sam had made to be used in the event of Superman going rogue causes him to consider the necessity of them. This is on the back of him almost losing himself to Zod and the uncomfortable realisation that for a time it felt good for him to cut loose without worrying about holding back. He talks about consciously holding himself back every day because he knows how powerful he is and knows how dangerous that can be if left unchecked. Every single day for Clark is an exercise in restraint and over the years he has gotten really good at it but he is forced to admit that he can be tempted to unleash everything he is capable of under particular circumstances.

One example he cites is almost killing John when he was battling Zod’s consciousness and Lois points out that he wasn’t himself in that moment but Clark remains concerned because he knows that there is a possibility that he could be corrupted or go too far. There is another example of that earlier in the season where he was almost driven to retaliate when attacked by Kryptonite weapons. His rational mind and well practised restraint held him back but he was undeniably tempted to lash out for a time so he knows the potential is there. To that end he believes that a fail safe -hence the title- is sensible because people need a way to bring him down if the unthinkable should happen. Lois doesn’t want to hear it because she believes that him turning on Humanity is impossible and backs that up by pointing out how he managed to defeat Zod’s possession meaning his will is stronger and to her that means there is no possibility of him straying in the way he believes is possible.

Clark’s argument is a very pragmatic one and he’s making a sacrifice for the good of the Human race as he can’t guarantee that he is as incorruptible as he would like to be. Lois thinks that the existence of these weapons means that it’s possible for them to fall into the wrong hands but Clark believes the risk is acceptable and trusts Sam to only use them when he feels it’s necessary. Sam does go back on his commitment to having these weapons unrealistically quickly but him being undeniably convinced that he needs to get rid of them shows Clark that he can be trusted with them. Lois is more cynical and knows there is more to the chain of command than Sam so doesn’t want Clark to allow these things to exist.

Superman

Last time I open up to anyone

It’s a very simple argument with Clark and Lois positioned on either side of it. Both have valid points and there is no easy solution that is obviously the right one. This allows for an exploration of the strength of their relationship as they are able to be so passionately opposed on a given issue without it spelling the end of their relationship. Lois talking about how she feels guilty for yelling at Clark yet has to stay angry because she has wayward sons to deal with is a beautifully complex and adult reaction to this disagreement she has with Clark. She’s upset but willing to hear Clark out and agrees to a middle ground when pushing for a compromise. Clark respects her too much to make a monolithic decision without consulting her and Lois’ perspective helps them arrive at a compromise that acknowledges both sides.

Another interesting aspect of that is challenging the widely held misguided assertion that Superman is “too perfect”. The flawless reading of the character is often cited as a reason for people not being able to engage with him and there is definite validity to that in some ways. The symbol of Superman is perfect as far as the public is concerned as he stands for everything that is good in the world and inspires people to live up to those ideas by demonstrating them but the man behind the symbol is anything but. Clark openly admits a major flaw around the temptation that exists to unleash the full capabilities of his powers. He is a man constantly working to contain himself, constantly trying to do what is right and working every day to live up to an ideal that is realistically impossible to embody. All of that takes a lot of work and Clark’s weakness is that he believes that he isn’t always up to the challenge. He draws strength from his family and Lois helps give him perspective that he wouldn’t get otherwise. This show leans into Clark as a flawed Human doing everything he can to appear perfect and it’s excellently handled.

The compromise involves giving the Kryptonite weapons to John. This along with the John/Clark team-up earlier in the episode showcases how quickly a bond of trust has developed between them. John has moved beyond seeing Clark as a threat and Clark has grown to trust him after he made the decision to appeal to his better nature rather than kill him. That trust means he knows John is the right person to have access to those weapons because he believes that he will know when it’s necessary to use them. John is working to figure out his next move which culminates in him deciding to forge his own path in this world now that he is freed from the self imposed responsibility of ending the threat that Superman represents. He genuinely believes that there is no threat so is content to move on and Clark putting his trust in him furthers his commitment to that belief. It’s a believable and well earned bond.

Superman

Together

Part of Clark’s anxiety around the potential for him to turn against Humanity comes from Edge’s pointed words. Edge says that they are a lot alike and Clark has the potential to turn into him. It’s a fairly standard villainous boast that highlights Edge’s lack of understanding of who Clark is despite all the time he spent exploring his memories. Edge has nothing but contempt for Humanity and believes that everyone is always on the cusp of giving into their darker nature. Deep down Clark is afraid of that too and his words tap into that fear. As always Edge isn’t all that well utilised but the words he uses effectively compliment Clark’s arc.

There is some attempt to develop Edge further through flashbacks. It’s welcome to get some insight into who he is and how that bitterness developed but the flashbacks are very quick snapshots that can’t make up for the lack of prior development. Getting further insight into his loneliness and desire for connection is definitely a good thing especially in stark contrast to the abusive attitude his father demonstrates when forcing him along the path that was planned for him. Edge does try to suggest an alternative and asks for permission to reach out to Clark to give him the family that they both lack but his father refuses to allow this because of the resentment against the house of El. With more development this could be a really interesting commentary on how resentments can be forced to persist through generations of families with nobody ever to break the routine but as it sits it’s little more than a background detail.

The frustrating thing about this is that there’s real potential for Edge to be a complex and fascinating character especially with these added details of him practically begging his father to abandon the plan involving the Eradicator and allow the latest generations of the two families to find a way forward together. Edge was abused and forced into a life he was reluctant to take up and has desires of his own that have been stamped down by a father that doesn’t care for him. He mentions wanting to speak to the hologram of his -and Clark’s- mother but the request is refused. Another thing to note is that the hologram shouldn’t have any power over him as it is confined to his Fortress so if Edge decided to defy him then there’s very little that could be done about it. Edge allows his father to have this hold over him and that has poisoned his life. There is so much that could be done with this but there isn’t time and any content involving Edge occupies the background meaning that there is never the opportunity to fully explore it.

Superman

A new development

Recent events have affected the Kent twins as well. They are both reluctant to go to school knowing what they know and knowing that there will be questions that they have to make sure they don’t answer. Jordan and Jonathan separate to deal with this in their own way when the offer to duck out of school is extended to them. Jordan goes with Sarah who is dealing with her family being unwelcome in Smallville. Their romantic relationship is very new but Jordan makes it clear that he is there to support her and that she will always have people to turn to even if things seem hopeless. It’s an endearing interaction that highlights how strongly developed these characters are separately as well as together.

Jonathan is taken away from school by Tegan (Kayla Heller) who suddenly seems interested in him after rejecting him before. Jonathan allows himself to be vulnerable around her which he later regrets when he realises she is only spending time with him to exploit his connection to Sam in order to find out what really happened. Jonathan is noticeably hurt by this and Tegan seems genuinely regretful when she is called out on it but the damage has been done by this point. Opening up to her about certain things amplifies how betrayed Jonathan feels and serves as a further reminder of how out of place he feels in Smallville. There are periodic reminders of how much Jonathan has sacrificed to live in Smallville and this is a great example of that.

The family meeting where Lois and Clark team up to remind Jonathan and Jordan of the rules that they have to live by is another great familial moment. Clark reminds them that their teachers work really hard and that skipping school disrespects that. They both know and understand this even if they are reluctant to admit it at that time. It’s a casual reminder of the values that they look to impart as parents while also showcasing that the Kent twins will make mistakes especially when under emotional distress.

Superman

Nothing beats solar power


Verdict

An excellent episode that focuses on consequences through how all the characters handle the fallout of recent events with each of the major characters having strong content to work through. The Cushing family being ostracised by the people of Smallville affects them deeply while also bringing them closer together as a family as they only have each other -and the Kents- for support. There is mention of generations of their families growing up in Smallville and having no ties anywhere to start fresh. It’s a great showcase for Lana and Kyle as characters with the actors performing this brilliantly. Lois seeing Lana’s difficulties ties into the conflict she has over whether to allow the truth to come out. Chrissy calls her out on supporting Sam’s decision to cover this up and reminds her of her journalistic responsibility to the truth. Lois does understand what the right thing is and recognises that Lana is experiencing difficulties that she could help to alleviate but she also struggles with her own connection to the events. Eventually she decides to trust Chrissy to run with it. This neatly connects to her disagreement with Clark about his decision to allow the continued existence of Kryptonite weapons as part of the argument is around their difficult relationship with journalistic integrity. Lois makes the distinction between covering up the truth and protecting Clark’s secret which helps her make a decision while she disagrees with Clark’s reading of his potential to be corrupted. She believes that he can’t be corrupted but Clark knows that he struggles with a desire to unleash the full extent of his powers and is reminded of this following that strong desire as Zod tried to take him over. Clark recognising that he is flawed and has to live up to an impossible ideal continues to be fascinating. The disagreement is handled in a mature and adult way that brilliantly showcases the strength of their relationship while highlighting that their differing perspectives enable a compromise.

The compromise involves allowing John access to the weapons because a bond of trust now exists where Clark believes he will know when it’s appropriate to use them. This comes after a great deal of development and is entirely earned. John letting go of his resentment for Superman and the belief that it’s his responsibility to protect Humanity from that threat allows him to concentrate on being part of this world which is also earned. As usual the weakest content is around Edge though the flashbacks offer fascinating insight into his loneliness and desire for connection. There’s a lot of potential here that there isn’t time to explore everything associated with this. It’s frustrating because there is clear potential. The Kent twins dealing with the fallout of recent events by skipping school to process them works really well. It allows for a great showcase of the new Jordan/Sarah romantic relationship in a way that furthers her feelings of being unwelcome in Smallville. Jonathan is reminded of how much he sacrificed to live in Smallville and feels betrayed when he opens up to Tegan only to learn that she is exploiting his connection to Sam to find out the truth behind what happened. The family meeting where Lois and Clark remind their sons of the rules and the importance of respecting their teaches is another great moment that showcases the strong values as well as the flaws that can get in the way of them.

Overall
  • 8.5/10
    Fail Safe - 8.5/10
8.5/10

Summary

Kneel Before…

  • the complexities around the Cushings being ostracised by the town
  • Kyle and Lana being brilliantly handled as characters
  • Lois and Chrissy’s conflict over journalistic integrity and Lois struggling with how best to deal with it
  • Clark facing up to the potential for him to be corrupted and taking responsibility for that
  • furthering the idea that Clark is flawed while trying to live up to an impossible ideal
  • the complex adult disagreement that Clark and Lois have
  • showcasing the strength of their relationship through how their perspectives come together when they disagree
  • the bond of trust that now exists between Clark and John along with how that allows John to move on
  • some development of Edge’s loneliness and desire for connection
  • a strong showcase of the Jordan/Sarah romance
  • the reminder of all that Jonathan has sacrificed
  • Jonathan feeling betrayed by Tegan and the effect that has on him
  • the family meeting where Lois and Clark remind their sons about what is important

 

Rise Against…

  • failing to capitalise on the obvious potential associated with Edge
  • overly simplifying the argument around Lois’ connection to Sam and the conflict that creates with her job

 

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