Superman & Lois – Season 3 Episode 5

Apr 12, 2023 | Posted by in TV

“Head On”

Superman & Lois jumps right into the reality of Lois’ cancer treatment as other characters consider what their next step should be.

The cancer storyline is a refreshing surprise in this season because of how grounded it is. Clark can’t use his powers or Kryptonian technology to solve the problem so Lois is at the mercy of medical science and her own survival instinct. Much has been said about the impact Lois’ battle with the cancer will have on everyone around her and the show seems to be content to take its time exploring the different aspects of that impact. It’s a deeply personal emotionally driven story that provides many opportunities for a lot of the characters to feed into it in their own way.


You are not alone

Viewers would be forgiven for wondering if the cancer plot is an isolated story that doesn’t link into the rest of the season. I would argue that it doesn’t have to as it would be perfectly valid for it to be on the long list of things Clark has to deal with while trying to stop Bruno Mannheim. Clark being conflicted over his priorities is in itself a valid challenge for him and supporting Lois through her treatment is a significant demand on his attention. If done well then it’s an extension of the conflict between Clark’s superhero exploits and his civilian responsibilities that has been detailed in other ways. Prior to this, he has tried to find a balance between employment and being Superman, parenthood and being Superman and now his need to be a supportive husband is in conflict with his responsibilities as Superman.

People need not worry about the cancer plot connecting to the rest of the season as there’s a very clear link to the Bruno Mannheim plot that this episode exploits. Lois deliberately became a patient of his clinic in order to give herself the opportunity to investigate while undergoing treatment. Mannheim is aware that she’s a patient in his facility and is far from concerned about her uncovering the truth. One reading of this is that both think they have the other right where they want them while neither fully appreciates the capabilities of the other.

Their conversation is excellent because it furthers the notion that Bruno Mannheim is a complex character who can’t simply be labelled as a villain. His desire to help people comes across as sincere because of what he cites as his motivation for doing so. He presents himself as someone who holds the system that governs society in contempt because of what happened to his mother and the place he cares about. His view is that those in charge were never going to do anything to help those that really needed it so he took it upon himself to fix those problems. It’s easy to draw a connection between losing his mother to cancer caused by a system that doesn’t care about the least fortunate and his willingness to go to extreme lengths to find a cure. It’s not yet clear if his less ethical experiments are in service of that goal but there’s enough to infer it.


Moving into unfamiliar territory

Bruno Mannheim’s apparent sincerity in his conversation with Lois makes him more interesting. We as viewers know what he’s working on in secret but none of the characters can prove it because he covers his tracks so well. As far as the public is concerned, he’s a philanthropic humanitarian who offers complete transparency. He’s so confident that he has covered his tracks that he volunteers the information that Lois was trying to steal. This isn’t something he would do unless he was certain that those files contain nothing incriminating. He knows if he can convince Lois that he’s innocent of what she is accusing him of then he is practically invincible in a legal sense. The fact that he appears to be genuine is perhaps what makes him most dangerous as people -including Lois- may be unwittingly benefitting from his unethical experiments. It could be that Mannheim has a strong desire to help people and very much believes that the ends justify the means. It’s still relatively early days but the progression of Mannheim as an antagonist is difficult to fault so far.

The handling of the cancer story is very strong with many angles represented. Chief among them is how Lois feels about what she has to deal with and the change in attitude she experiences by the end of the episode. The treatment montage is excellent as it shows the routine of undergoing chemotherapy coupled with the silent depiction of the emotion surrounding it. The score compliments Tyler Hoechlin and Elizabeth Tulloch’s soundless performances perfectly and there’s an eerie mundanity to the process that Lois undergoes. For those working in the facility, it’s something they do every day and are very skilled at and for Lois, it’s the most challenging ordeal she has ever faced. It’s a striking contrast conveyed perfectly.

Outside of that, Lois is more concerned with finding a chance to sneak around and investigate Bruno Mannheim than the treatment itself so much of the content in the facility is focused on Clark. He begins the episode unconditionally supporting Lois in how she decides to handle things while others are raising their issues. He’s confident that she knows her limits and won’t exceed him but his perspective changes when he talks to two patients who give him a practical idea of what to expect. It’s early days for Lois so she still feels that she can carry on as she did before the treatment but the two women Clark speaks to are much further along and suffering the side effects of the treatment so give him a clear idea of what’s coming for Lois. One of them refers to “the pull”; a point in the process of the treatment where giving into the cancer feels attractive. It’s a long fight and staying motivated to fight for survival is difficult. It’s something Clark now knows to watch out for thanks to the first-hand account from the kind patients willing to share their experiences with him.


He’s not all bad…maybe

His stance on Lois’ handling of her treatment changes and he confronts about her unwillingness to rest. The issue comes up in relation to Lois’ insistence that she acts as a chaperone at the high school Valentine’s Day dance so she can see her sons dressed up. She ends up having a strong reality check when she finds herself so low on energy that she no longer feels able to attend. This comes after Clark calls her out for not listening to the opinions of others who are just looking out for her. She agrees to talk things out with Clark and they are interrupted because Superman is needed before understanding his point of view when the fatigue hits her. It’s an excellent progression from her dogged determination to accepting that she is vulnerable and understanding that it’s ok to look out for herself. This is very early in a long and difficult road for Lois and her family and the show is handling it with complexity as and sensitivity.

The dance allows some of the ongoing teenage plots to progress in significant ways. One of which is the Candice and Jonathan relationship. The previous episode ended with her living with the Kents until she can find a place to live and this one has her move to live with her aunt who lives very far away. The same issue that has always existed applies here; the problem is that Candice and Jonathan’s relationship has never received enough attention for the audience to invest in it so a complication that drives them apart doesn’t have the impact it should. The details could be interesting with a stronger background as he once again has to deal with a long-distance relationship after his last one failed but there’s no reason to root for the success of this one.

Another issue is that there is potential that is bypassed because Candice leaves so quickly. I stated in my review of the previous episode that her presence could change the dynamic of the Kent household as Clark has to be more careful with his comings and goings as Superman now that someone not privy to his secret lives in the house. There are also the obvious problems that can be created when two hormonal teenagers in a relationship live under the same roof. The only issue that is raised is Jordan being irritated by the length of time Candice spends in the bathroom and it amounts to a singular joke.


Support when it’s needed

Candice leaving does allow for some progression in Jonathan’s ongoing search for purpose. Kyle offers him the opportunity to volunteer with him in order to gain experience and see if he’s interested in pursuing the path of a firefighter. The offer is awkwardly placed within the episode but it gives Jonathan something to think about and presents a life lesson for him to learn when Candice moves too far away for him to see her regularly. Kyle makes it clear that his offer is only valid at weekends and tells him that he has to decide which commitment is more important to him. Jonathan learning that it isn’t always possible to get everything you want and that life is full of hard choices is an important one. It’s handled very well with Kyle casually challenging him to make up his mind and leaving him to it. The point isn’t laboured, it’s simply deployed and left for Jonathan to ponder. Candice is supportive and expresses her gratitude for all he and his family have done for her by telling him that he can’t waste this opportunity on her account. It’s unclear how this will develop but it’s a strong start and may lead to Jonathan finding something he can call his own.

The dance is important for Natalie as she is reunited with Matteo who has no problem telling her that he is interested in her. When they start to get close she retreats and confesses to Sam that she feels left behind when compared to others her age and the experience of relationships she has. In effect, she is feeling pressure to catch up but also doesn’t feel comfortable rushing things. This speaks to a larger issue around expected milestones that people experience when growing up. There is a widely held expectation that by a certain age people should have experienced particular things and those who aren’t are abnormal in some way. Natalie doesn’t want to feel any more abnormal than she already does coming from another universe but also isn’t comfortable taking what she considers to be massive steps. This results in her recoiling from Matteo in fear until Sam tells her that there’s nothing wrong with how she feels and she apologises to Matteo for the way she acted. It may come that she has an open conversation with Matteo where she outlines how she feels and clarifies whether her slower pace is acceptable to him. Natalie taking control of her own pace of development is a confident decision as she is listening to herself when it comes to what she is ready for rather than the expectations of others.

This is also a significant conversation for Sam as he is starting to think about things he’s missing in his life. He opens up to Natalie about the lack of romance in his own life and also feeling far behind others his age. His wife left him and his focus shifted to work to compensate. Now he has changed his outlook on his own priorities and family has much more prominence than it once did. It has been good for him as he is more emotionally expressive as shown by his attempt to get closer to Natalie and his vulnerability when talking to Jordan in the previous episode. Now he is open to the prospect of having more in his life when prodded by Jordan to give online dating a go. Jordan sets him up with an app and no doubt this will be picked up in subsequent episodes. Giving characters who served a particular purpose in the previous seasons without much going on outside of that more nuance by forcing them out of their comfort zones is working very well so far this season.


If Lois can’t go to the dance…

The Sam/Natalie dynamic is really strong and having Sam take on the role of the overprotective grandfather following Matteo’s surprise appearance was very entertaining. It’s clear that he cares about Natalie and sees anyone expressing interest in her as a threat because of that. It’s amusing that he reprimands Jordan for forgetting everything he was taught about being cautious and he’s very suspicious of Matteo tracking him down in the way that he did. It’s a relatively small detail but it shows the deepening of this relationship and Sam’s willingness to be a part of Natalie’s life.

Some attention is given to the tense Lana/Sarah relationship but it’s more in service of exploring the consequences of the former Mayor’s murder. His son, Junior (Dylan Leonard) blames Lana for his death because he is grieving and looking for someone to blame. Chrissy tells Lana that many in Smallville are looking to do the same so Lana ultimately decides that it’s best not to drag the former Mayor’s name through the mud by revealing what she found out about him. Instead, she chooses to honour him by naming the new town hall after him. It takes Sarah to help her realise that any animosity between them no longer matters now that he’s dead and it’s more important to show him respect for the sake of his son if nothing else. It’s evident that he was popular and as the current Mayor it’s Lana’s responsibility to consider the morale of the people she represents. Honouring their former Mayor is a way to do that and it gives Junior something to look at and be proud of.

Sarah’s compassionate approach is in keeping with her established traits. She tends to approach conflict directly and recognises that Junior is in pain so needs an outlet for that. She approaches him and they talk which lets him express his feelings and realise that he isn’t alone in dealing with the loss. The tension between Lana and Sarah comes into play in the midst of this interaction when Lana reacts with hostility to finding them. She is specifically angry that Sarah is found drinking but it’s clearly symptomatic of a larger communication issue that they both have to deal with. A lot was packed into this episode but most of it flowed together and very little feels obviously out of place.


Next – Zombie Bizarro


A strong episode that presents a sensitive handling of the cancer plot through informed perspectives and contains thoughtful characterisation for Natalie in particular.

  • 8.5/10
    Head On - 8.5/10


Kneel Before…

  • a clear link between the Bruno Mannheim and cancer plots
  • Bruno Mannheim continuing to be a complex character who is believably sincere
  • many angles represented in the cancer story
  • Clark’s shift from supportive to concerned after being party to two first-hand accounts
  • Lois transitioning from dogged determination to accepting her limitations when the fatigue hits
  • Candice supporting Jonathan by refusing to get in the way of the opportunity he was offered
  • Natalie dealing with the pressure of expectation and deciding to trust her own comfort level
  • the Sam/Natalie dynamic
  • continuing Sam’s growth by going down the romance route
  • Lana coming to realise the importance of honouring the former Mayor
  • Sarah reaching out to Junior to help with his grief


Rise Against…

  • Kyle’s offer to Jonathan being clumsily introduced
  • Candice leaving lacking impact due to the consistent issues developing their relationship


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User Review
6.88/10 (13 votes)

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