Superman & Lois – Season 3 Episode 8

May 10, 2023 | Posted by in TV

“Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”

Superman & Lois steps up the investigation of Bruno Mannheim as Natalie goes to dinner with the Mannheim family to meet Matteo’s parents.

Creating connections between different plots often raises logistical questions. An obvious one after the reveal that Matteo is Bruno and Peia’s son is what surname Matteo goes by and whether anyone bothered to ask him what that is. He has never been known as anything other than Matteo since his introduction. It stands to reason that he isn’t Matteo Mannheim as Bruno’s marriage to Peia isn’t public knowledge so it’s likely that he goes by whatever her maiden name is or some other name that doesn’t point to his connection to Bruno. Matteo previously referred to John as “Mr Johnson” so Bruno not making the connection between Natalie and John is justified but the creation of a link between Natalie’s relationship and the ongoing Bruno Mannheim plot does highlight the now noticeable lack of surnames being disclosed.


It’s getting real now

Ultimately, it’s a minor concern if the connections prove worthwhile and transcend any logistical questions surrounding them. So far, the quality of the drama being depicted renders these questions minimal in the grand scheme of things. Meeting a partner’s parents is one of those innately anxiety-inducing experiences that provides fodder for drama by itself. Adding additional factors such as the partner’s father being a crimelord with a super-powered criminal wife and Natalie being the daughter of a man from another universe whose counterpart was killed by her boyfriend’s father add extra fuel to that drama. The threat of what will happen once the truth is known hangs over the interaction like a bomb waiting to go off. It’s an example of Alfred Hitchcock’s device of an innocent conversation coloured by the viewer knowledge that a bomb is under the table waiting to explode at any time.

The dinner by itself is interesting because the show has done enough to ensure the viewer is invested in all present. Bruno Mannheim has been constantly presented as a complex character who seems genuine as a devoted husband -and now father- as well as in his desire to help his community. His criminal activities are a hidden side of him that he justifies through his devotion to those priorities. His established humanity means that it’s easy to accept that he wants to meet his son’s girlfriend and spend an evening getting to know her because she’s an important part of his son’s life. It initially plays out largely in a way that wouldn’t be out of place in a teen drama like One Tree Hill or The O.C. There is an early reminder that it isn’t as normal as it appears when Peia briefly loses control of her powers which naturally weaves in the superhero spin on what is otherwise a perfectly normal reaction. They talk, laugh and try to embarrass Matteo to indicate that a genuine rapport is developing.

There’s an idyllic quality to the dinner that capitalises on that viewer investment. We want it to go well because Natalie and Matteo are an engaging couple. Bruno and Peia are also worth investing in because the effort has been made to characterise them beyond their villainous activities. When John shows up to disrupt the dinner it reads as tragic because he’s destroying the potential for a cordial relationship to develop. It does unnaturally escalate at this point when Bruno savagely attacks John simply for being there. Not listening to Peia begging him to stop removes some of the nuance from the character. The Bruno Mannheim depicted over the course of the season would approach this in a more measured way and it may have been more interesting for all present to address the complexity of the situation by talking about it. John only seeing Bruno when he looks at Matteo now that he knows the truth could still have been established as could Bruno’s hatred for John. A conversation about the unexpected connection created between the two families could have more effectively utilised the antagonism between John and Bruno. It could even have ended the same way but there’s a distinct lack of buildup which makes the escalation seem unnatural.


Wowing the in-laws

The consequences of the truth becoming known to all parties are significant. One development is Peia being imprisoned by the DOD while the cancer spreads throughout her body. Clark tries to argue for finding her proper treatment as she doesn’t have long left to live. He appreciates her as a person because he has spent a significant amount of time getting to know her and knows how much Lois values her friendship. This was reinforced to him when investigating her through repeated reminders of how she is perceived by others. None of this is actually required as Clark wouldn’t want to see someone die imprisoned by the DOD when they could be helped elsewhere but characterising Peia as something more than the villain he has faced allows for a personal investment to compliment his innate compassion.

There is possibly a story to be told about Peia’s level of involvement in her husband’s business. She tries to talk Bruno down when he goes after John which indicates that she doesn’t always see eye to eye with him. It makes sense in context as she is clearly focused on having a pleasant evening getting to know her son’s girlfriend. She begs her husband to be more reasonable which falls on deaf ears and it was established in the previous episode that she took some convincing to commit to Bruno in every sense of the word. All of that points to her support of him not being unconditional and her perhaps being a moral compass of sorts that prevents him from crossing certain lines. If her perspective is followed during the confrontation, it could be interpreted that she is stuck in the middle of two men driven to kill each other. John arrives at the restaurant out of a desire to protect his daughter and Bruno is angered by his presence to the point that he wants to kill John so there’s a complete impasse that Peia is unable to influence. Eventually, she uses her powers to protect Bruno when it becomes clear that John is trying to kill him but her clear reluctance and desire for a more peaceful outcome adds extra tension to the confrontation.

Other than Peia’s capture, there is significant fallout to this confrontation. Matteo is shown to have no idea what his father is involved in and seems horrified to learn. The end montage shows a rift has been created between them that may play out in subsequent episodes. On the other side, Natalie has been forbidden from seeing Matteo again even though he has nothing to do with the animosity that exists between John and Bruno. This has weight as it’s a major regression for Natalie who has been pushed back into isolation by her father. Any steps taken towards forging her own identity and building a life for herself outside of her father have been negated. It’s understandable that John would feel this way but it’s also an example of extreme tunnel-vision thinking that doesn’t take all of the factors into account. It’s evidenced elsewhere when he dismisses Clark’s desire to help Peia because he has written her off as a bad person. This sets up a potential arc where John embraces that the situation is far more complex than he would like and re-learns that his daughter is intelligent so can’t be dictated to in this way. At this point, he’s controlling her life because of who her boyfriend’s parents are so needs to recognise that doing this is wrong.


Getting to the bottom of it

As always, the episode strikes a good balance between Bruno Mannheim’s humanity and the reality of him being the villain. His humanity is showcased in the dinner and his villainy is explored through the investigation Lois, Clark and Chrissy conduct. Their investigation leads them to question the evidence that resulted in Lex Luthor going to prison. All signs point to Peia using her powers to replicate his voice in order to manufacture a confession which means that they have to deal with their investigation possibly resulting in Lex Luthor being freed from prison. This presents them with having to choose which is worse between Bruno Mannheim remaining at large and Lex Luthor gaining his freedom. Lois points out that Lex was imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit and his incarceration resulted in Bruno’s rise to power.

The dilemma comes from presumably knowing that Lex Luthor is guilty of many crimes so there’s a question around whether it matters if he stays in prison for one that he didn’t. Added to that is there’s effectively a potential trade of one crimelord for another as the only lead that could possibly implicate Bruno Mannheim ever found carries the potential consequence of freeing Lex Luthor. That may be a worse prospect while also being the best-case scenario as what they’ve found may be enough to free Lex Luthor but not enough to send Bruno to prison. Lois, Clark and Chrissy have to make a choice between upholding their journalistic integrity and being punished for it by having Lex Luthor be inflicted on the world again or keep their discovery to themselves and look for another angle to bring down Bruno Mannheim. It’s a fascinating moral problem that will hopefully be explored in the coming episodes.

An aspect of the episode that receives too much attention but still manages to be thematically relevant is Lana trying to offload concert tickets because she has nobody to go with following her divorce. After Sarah says no and Clark is unable to set aside the time she ends up talking to Sam about life choices. Sam encourages her to not follow his path and isolate herself as he did because it makes for a lonely existence. He’s trying to remedy that now by trying online dating but that doesn’t make up for decades of lost time. His recommendation is that Lana find someone to attend the concert with her as an early first step towards her own social independence. It ends up being resolved when Jordan helps Sarah realise that being invited to the concert is more about Lana wanting to spend time with her than the music itself. It works as an idea but receives far too much coverage for what amounts to a very simple point.


On reflection, this may have been a bad idea

The thematic relevance comes from the tendency other characters have to isolate themselves. John is another character who has driven himself into isolation, something that has worsened following the developments in the Bruno Mannheim plot. He has taken steps to break out of that pattern by reaching out to Darlene in an attempt to cultivate some kind of a relationship with her but it’s likely he will be encouraged to double down on solitude and safety and drag Natalie down with him.

Jonathan’s training with Kyle is something that is progressing but it suffers from the problem of showing the milestones rather than the steps taken to achieve them. His promotion to being given his own gear would have meant more if more time had been devoted to the work he was doing to impress Kyle enough to reward his efforts. There was a clear progression from him not being worthy of a shirt with his own name to earning that privilege in a prior episode but this next milestone just happens without any coverage. It appears to only exist to set up the threat of Kyle learning the truth about Jordan. Sacrificing a possible Jonathan-centric plot to add an additional layer to Jordan’s training is a bad idea as Jonathan fades into the background far too often. If both were being given equal coverage then drawing a connection between them might be to both of their benefit but the imbalance is too great. Adding insult to injury is addressing the imbalance by Sarah pointing out to Jordan that Jonathan has found something to define him and Jordan is making it about him. The show hasn’t earned pointing that out because the writing is complicit.

One advantage to Jonathan’s progression is that it allowed for a very well-executed sequence where Kyle and his crew mobilised to deal with a fire. They are experienced and efficient as they follow procedure with Jordan contrasting the perfectly in-sync team with his fear and inexperience. There’s even an effective visual contrast between Jonathan’s perfectly clean gear and the obviously well-used gear worn by Kyle’s crew. It’s exciting and reinforces Jonathan being very much at the beginning of the journey towards becoming a confident and experienced firefighter. It shows the potential this story has but Jonathan needs to have more focus in order to truly own this narrative as his own.


A victory…sort of


A strong episode that strikes an excellent balance between the humanity and villainy of Bruno Mannheim and makes great use of the viewer investment in the Natalie/Matteo relationship.

  • 8/10
    "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" - 8/10


Kneel Before…

  • the dinner working because of the work put into ensuring the viewer is invested in all present
  • John disrupting it reading as tragic because he’s destroying the potential for a cordial relationship to develop
  • Peia being in the middle of Bruno and John’s conflict while looking for a peaceful solution
  • Clark arguing for finding Peia proper treatment when incarcerated
  • significant fallout to the Bruno/John confrontation
  • the suggestion of a rift between Matteo and Bruno
  • John pushing Natalie into isolation negating any progress made towards forging her own identity
  • striking a good balance between Bruno Mannheim’s humanity and his villainy
  • the dilemma created by potentially freeing Lex Luthor to implicate Bruno Mannheim
  • Lana’s concert ticket plot reinforcing the theme of self-imposed isolation in some of the characters
  • Sam and Lana’s conversation about life choices
  • the well-executed fire sequence


Rise Against…

  • Jonathan’s progression being unnecessarily shared with Jordan and contributing to the character imbalance
  • Jonathan’s training with Kyle suffering from only showing the milestones rather than how they were earned
  • Bruno attacking John robbing him of some of his nuance
  • Lana’s concert ticket plot taking up too much time for such a simple point


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User Review
7.88/10 (4 votes)

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