Superman & Lois – Season 1 Episode 8
“Holding the Wrench”
Superman & Lois deals with reawakened feelings of loss as the details of John’s past reopen old wounds while Jordan wrestles with what it means to be among those with powers.
The John reveal in the previous episode greatly enhanced his character and the existence of his daughter with his version of Lois opened the door for reflecting on the implications of those alternate policies. At its best the Multiverse is a fascinating way to explore alternate scenarios for familiar characters and the impact the knowledge of those possibilities has on a given character.
This proves especially relevant where Lois is concerned as she has the largest emotional connection to this knowledge. She learns that an alternate version of her was married to John Henry Irons, a corrupted Superman killed her and, most importantly, she had a daughter named Natalie. The very mention of the name Natalie is a major emotional trigger for her as she miscarried a child that they were going to name Natalie after her grandmother. Even though it’s not really her and the father isn’t a version of Clark Kent she is still impacted by it because it’s a sobering reminder of what she lost.
The episode keeps cutting back to a therapy session where Lois reflects on that loss in the midst of the complications that she deals with in her life at this point. An incident involving Jonathan being moments from death is what leads her to admit that she needs help. This comes after Clark makes it clear to her that there’s no shame in asking for help when it’s needed; he points her in the direction of Doctor Wiles (Wendy Crewson) because he knows she felt comfortable approaching her in the past. It’s a small moment but very well done as it shows how well Clark knows Lois and that he doesn’t want to pressure her to confide in him. He sees that she needs help, encourages her to go and get it and leaves her to come to him if she needs to.
Lois reflects on her reaction to the miscarriage and the associated guilt she feels because of it. She remembers continuing to work hard through the pregnancy and live a normal life so blames herself on some level for it happening. Doctor Wiles rationally tells her that miscarriages are common and nothing about the choices she made caused it. This was something that happened to her rather than being caused by her which Lois is aware of on an intellectual level but on an emotional level she has trouble accepting it. Lois is a very intelligent person who spends a lot of her time thinking about the world around her, imaging different possibilities and using information to reach particular conclusions. In this case it counts against her because she can associate her actions with a horrible life event. Notably she is acutely aware of this but also thinks that her feelings are valid because of how strong they are. Regardless of the facts surrounding a given situation feelings shouldn’t be dismissed. They should be acknowledged and dealt with which is exactly what Lois is doing.
It’s clear that Lois is very self-aware. She understands what she needs in order to deal with difficult periods in her life and does what she feels is necessary to weather them. She talks about throwing herself into work following the miscarriage because when keeping busy and being focused is how she moves forward but she also failed to recognise that things remained unresolved in the back of her mind that have now come to the forefront. Now that they have she wants to deal with them but it isn’t easy and blaming herself for something she knows she had no control over is an unfortunate emotional barrier she finds difficult to break down. She didn’t properly take the time to fully process that loss and the result is that she lashes out at Jonathan for almost getting himself killed.
Elizabeth Tulloch’s performance throughout the episode is excellent. She plays a lot of complicated emotions and delivers a very moving portrayal of repressed grief. Everything including the fear of reopening that wound, her reluctance to be honest about her feelings, the misplaced anger and raw acceptance of being unable to bury that loss underneath her coping mechanisms comes across perfectly. The arc she goes through pays off when she talks John out of killing Clark by understanding how he feels though it isn’t simply a haphazardly thrown together emotional journey to justify that payoff, it’s a moving and haunting portrayal of grief on its own terms. Most of the information around what Lois is dealing with may be new to us as viewers but it feels lived in thanks in part to Elizabeth Tulloch’s performance.
All of this relatable emotional storytelling helps to make the outlandish nature of the Multiverse and the possibilities it brings more palatable. It isn’t a simple science fiction concept, it’s the reawakening of trauma that has been buried for Lois and access to information that wasn’t previously known for Jonathan. When investigating the RV he sees pictures of Natalie and is immediately on board with the idea of having a sister. He says he wishes he could have met her which is a sentiment that is easy to understand when applied to a sibling that never had the chance to be born. The key difference is that he sees possibilities through the life that Natalie lived in the other universe rather than simply imaging what his sister might have amounted to had she been born. The sci fi works because the emotional grounding is in the right place and Jonathan’s role within that is very strong.
His near death experience makes for a brief yet really impressive set piece that is incredibly tense. Lois’ desperation to get into the RV to save her son combined with Clark arriving at the very last moment to save him created a lot of urgency and it came across as a very real threat to Jonathan’s life. This is supported by Lois being forced to admit that he very nearly got himself killed by disobeying her instructions. Being confronted by the near loss is a clear trigger for her and brings in an interesting detail for Jonathan in terms of how he sees himself. He talks about wanting to get his hands on one of John’s weapons because he is unable to do anything to protect himself. Jonathan being an unpowered person among powered people has been raised as a potential source of insecurity before but this is the first time it has received explicit coverage. He points out that Clark and Jordan are basically weapons so he feels that having a weapon that levels the playing field somewhat is something that he needs.
This draws a clear line between Jonathan and Lois and encourages Lois to give Jonathan the benefit of her extensive experience dealing with being the one without powers alongside those that do. She doesn’t pretend that it’s an easy thing to deal with and promises to teach Jonathan things that will help him deal with feeling marginalised in that way. The characterisation in this show is more than sophisticated enough to not have each son aligned to one of the parent. Jonathan connects to Clark because of the personality traits and values that he picked up from him while relating to Lois on lacking powers. Jordan has less of an obvious connection to Lois with his powers linking him directly to Clark but there is time to develop these.
Jordan’s contribution to this episode is comparatively minimal but he shares time with Jordan around them both quitting football. This is very awkwardly introduced and seems to have no real purpose at this early stage especially given the focus on what playing the game means for Jordan in terms of his well-being. It has something to do with Lois and Clark being more open with their children around what is really going on in Smallville but it’s an odd choice to get rid of this aspect of the show completely.
For now this leaves Jordan somewhat adrift with no clear indication as to what will come next for him beyond his connection to Sarah. That particular connection is used well here with him acting as moral –and musical- accompaniment for her audition but there is a significant gap created by the loss of football as a pursuit that will need to be filled.
Sarah’s performance anxiety is linked to her previously established mental issues as well as her troubled relationship with Kyle. Their brief moment of bonding over her upcoming audition is really endearing and adds texture to Kyle who often has a tendency to be frustratingly one note. It’s good to see the side of him that is a devoted father who wants to have a meaningful connection with his children as it affords him greater depth even if there is a frustrating shift towards his more problematic tendencies when he learns that Lana is keeping him away from Morgan Edge’s leadership program in order to keep him safe. His reaction to that is what has come to be expected and his behaviour following that news tracks with that though it does maintain the friction between him and Sarah which is interesting from her point of view. It also amounts to a clumsy reminder of that plot without developing it.
The way Clark deals with John reinforces his virtuous nature. He starts off thinking a certain way about him and rapidly changes his mind as he learns more. Once he understands what John has lost he empathises with him and is able to draw conclusions based on the facts that he has. Once he looks into the detail of the alternate version of himself he is taken aback by the similarities and is forced to admit there’s a very good reason John would assume that events in this universe are heading in a similar direction. Clark’s mentality shifts from trying to defeat John to trying to help him understand that he isn’t a threat. It’s a really interesting shift in their dynamic and it’s fully justified by the background work.
It isn’t neatly resolved either because what John has been through can’t simply be forgotten regardless of what the apparent facts are. There’s an obvious similarity between what he is dealing with and what is dredged up for Lois as evidenced by the aforementioned scene where she is able to appeal to his better nature. John has lost everything and can’t see this universe’s Superman as anything other than a future threat that needs to be dealt with. For now he’s content to trust that he isn’t imminently about to turn on humanity but he isn’t ready to fight by his side either. They part on uncertain yet non antagonist terms which feels about right for now. It will be unfortunate if this takes John off the board completely for the rest of the season as it’s an incredibly abrupt conclusion to something that has been a fixture since the first episode though it is satisfying in its own way.
The Kryptonian army plot is awkwardly shoehorned into this with Clark gaining the knowledge that Kryptonians are being implanted into Human hosts which means that actual people from Krypton are effectively possessing them. He had to learn that sooner or later but gaining that knowledge has very little impact and is dropped in almost as an afterthought. Clark’s reaction to it and the realisation that his people are being reborn inside Humans will undoubtedly be the basis of some sort of emotional development in his part but it’s far from evident here and comes across as more of an afterthought. This is a symptom of how much content the episode has overall but it doesn’t alter the fact that it’s a clumsy reveal where Clark is concerned.
A strong episode with a powerful emotional story connected to Lois, generally excellent character work and an impressive showcase of how alternate possibilities can inform growth. Lois confronting her feelings of loss and guilt over her miscarriage is brilliantly portrayed by Elizabeth Tulloch and brings in a lot of deeply relevant commentary around the validity of emotions regardless of what the fact of the situation is. She struggles to accept that the miscarriage is her fault and knowing that it isn’t does nothing to counter her guilt. It’s a powerful display of the importance of accepting and acknowledging feelings rather than discounting them. As a consequence of failing to deal with her sense of loss she lashes out at Jordan when he almost gets himself killed prompting Clark to recognise that she needs help processing what she’s dealing with. It’s a brief moment but it shows how supportive he is and that he supports her without pushing her to confide in him. This relatable emotional storytelling helps ground the outlandishness of the Multiverse in something that audiences can understand. This is further reflected through Jonathan wishing he had the opportunity to meet the sister that was never born with the key difference being that he gets an idea of her potential rather than imagining it. Jonathan’s desire to get his hands on a weapon that can make him powerful brings in the idea of it being difficult being without powers among those that have them. Lois is well positioned to understand his feelings on this issue and offers to teach him how to handle it. It’s a great point of connection between them and feeds into everything else the episode offers.
At this point Jordan is somewhat adrift as the bulk of the focus in this episode is on Jonathan though they both give up football for reasons that aren’t completely justified. Without that being a fixture it’s difficult to see how Jordan will progress with his main contribution to this episode being moral -and musical- accompaniment for Sarah which works well enough for now but it’s clear Jordan is a little adrift. Sarah’s performance anxiety feeds into prior established mental issues and allows for an endearing bonding moment with Kyle as he helps her practice. This develops Kyle in positive ways though this is undercut by the forced reminder of the Morgan Edge plot and his reaction to Lana keeping him away from the leadership program. Seeing him fall back on standard habits is interesting from Sarah’s point of view but continues to highlight the problems that keep cropping up in Kyle’s character. Clark dealing with John reinforces his virtuous nature. He comes to reasonable conclusions based on what he learns and is able to empathise with him after understanding what has been lost. Another thing he notices is the similarities he shares with the Superman in John’s universe which adds to that understanding. Ultimately they part on terms that mean they are no longer enemies but with John being unable to trust him after all he has experienced. This plot also clumsily adds in Clark finding out that Kryptonians are possessing Human hosts thanks to Morgan Edge which is something he has to know and deal with but would have been better left for later.
- Lois’ powerful emotional story
- highlighting the importance of acknowledging emotions instead of dismissing them
- Elizabeth Tulloch’s excellent performance
- showcasing Clark as a supportive presence for Lois
- grounding the Multiverse details in relatable emotional storytelling
- bringing in Jonathan feeling insecure being around those with powers when he has none
- Lois and Jonathan connecting over both of them lacking powers
- Sarah’s performance anxiety and how that allows for an endearing moment with Kyle
- Clark empathising with John
- John and Clark parting on realistic terms
- Jonathan and Jordan quitting football not being fully explained or justified
- Jordan being somewhat adrift following this
- Kyle falling back on old habits
- a clumsy reminder of the Morgan Edge plot
- the haphazard approach to what Clark learns about the Humans with Kryptonian abilities
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