Superman & Lois – Season 1 Episode 7
“Man of Steel”
Superman & Lois focuses on the Luthor plot when Lois uncovers evidence that her journalistic partner isn’t who he says he is.
The Luthor plot has often been among the weaker aspects of a given episode as it follows the usual Arrowverse structure of drip-feeding information to tease the viewer before a bigger reveal somewhere down the line. Luthor has been a fixture across the season so far but the episodes have contained small morsels of information that point to what motivates him without providing the detail. This hampers the character by preventing him from actually being a character because the focus is on the mystery surrounding the man rather than the man himself.
This all changes in this episode with the reveal of his real name, deeper insight into his core relationships in his universe and a clear view of what he has lost. Some details remain obscured which I’ll cover but Captain Luthor aka John Henry Irons is far less mysterious than he once was. Notably the episode shows rather than tells with flashbacks that highlight how close and loving his relationship with his native universe’s Lois was, how much he loved his daughter and the threat that was being faced. His scene in the bed with Lois quickly shows their connection therefore giving her death the necessary weight when it comes. John is a man consumed by grief and driven to do everything he can to make sure what happened in his universe doesn’t happen here.
Alternate Lois’ death works because of the work put into establishing why that loss would cripple John. An evil Superman being the one to take her life is a chilling prospect when bringing in the knowledge of the relationship that exists between our universe’s version of the characters but the main purpose is for the viewer to understand what drives John to take action. Of course the destruction of Metropolis being caused by Superman and an army of Kryptonians is certainly motivation enough but the deeply personal loss experienced by John makes this his story in a very visceral way and works to endear him to the audience in ways a less direct connection wouldn’t.
A lot of time in the flashbacks is spent focusing on his relationship with his daughter, Natalie (Tayler Buck) as they work on putting together the armour that he will use to take on Superman. As they work they bond and there’s a very real sense of what they mean to one another. As the only loved one he has left John is clearly fighting to create a better world for her as well as avenge the death of his wife. His hatred for Superman is palpable and is completely understandable. Natalie isn’t very well developed as a character but the connection between them is strongly established and that is most important for the purposes of what this episode is looking to achieve. A notable details is that the armour contains personal touches that represent their relationship which makes it more than a tool used for battle. It’s meaningful because he worked on it with his daughter and he takes that connection into battle with him.
Some details of John’s backstory remain a mystery. There’s no context to why Superman is evil his universe. It’s implied that it’s a recent development so more needs to be delivered around what led to his attack on the Human race. It’s also unclear how he managed to move universes. This isn’t a flaw with the episode as that information is likely to be forthcoming but they remain open questions that are in need of answering. It was the right decision to focus on creating an emotional connection rather than overloading the episode with other details that can wait. There is the promise of an interrogation to be delivered in the following episode so it’s likely that those questions will be answered through that.
John’s confrontation with Clark further establishes how credible a threat he is. He understands what it takes to bring down Superman and knows how to exploit his weaknesses. The transition between Clark’s strength and confidence to the weakness brought on by the red sun lights is brilliantly played by Tyler Hoechlin who makes Clark believably vulnerable as he falls into John’s trap. Clark approaching the situation looking to reason with him before realising how consumed by hatred John is works brilliantly as well and makes John much more than a standard antagonist for him. This episode establishes him as the hero of his own story who is operating on the assumption that this Superman will also turn against the Human race. He fully believes that and nothing will convince him otherwise. Wolé Parks’ performance firmly establishes him as a reasonable and intelligent man who has a firm grasp on what he feels he needs to do while having the resources that will allow him to accomplish it.
Clark defeating John with the help of his family creates a mirror between him and Clark albeit a slightly skewed one. John is fighting for his family where Clark fights with his family. They are both driven by strong connections to those they care about and this is evidenced for Clark through his sons coming to help him when he needs them. John leaves his daughter behind in order to fight for her which isolates him. Having his sons enter the fight isn’t something Clark intends to do but the detail remains relevant regardless of the circumstances leading up to it.
Lois’ interactions with John remain compelling. She is uncompromising without being reckless in her pursuit of the truth and always makes her position clear where he’s concerned. Lois isn’t one to accept being lied to or manipulated which means that John is unable to gain any traction with her unless he is willing to offer her something. It’s a great dynamic and reinforces why Lois is a force to be reckoned with in her own right. In this show she isn’t just Superman’s wife; she’s Lois Lane – inquisitive and fiercely intelligent force of nature. She has a defined place within the show independent of Clark that works really well and allows her to feed into the Luthor/John Henry Irons plot in an instrumental way.
Aside from that she is still working to bring down Morgan Edge with Lana’s help as her resource on the inside. It’s dubious that Lana would discuss their efforts on her work phone that Edge could so easily bug but having Lana in a position to investigate what he really has planned is a good resource while also placing her in a position of danger. Edge is still a problem in that he isn’t a character which massively dilutes his effectiveness as an antagonist but the details around his plan are somewhat interesting. Using an Executive Training Program as a cover story for experimenting on people using X-Kryptonite is a very on the nose “Evil Plan” but it also feeds into Lois’ assumption that Edge will corrupt Smallville, bleed it dry and move on. He’s taking the best it has to offer, exposing them to dangerous experiments in order to turn them into soldiers in his army. He has already succeeded in doing this with Leslie Larr who has more lines than usual but still lacks depth. This plot is stuck between being interesting and being dragged down by Morgan Edge being a poorly developed antagonist. The idea of a town being exploited and ruined by a wealthy man who manipulates good people into giving him what he wants is a strong one but a more tangible connection needs to be created on both sides for it to live up to its potential.
Jordan’s difficulties that created the cliffhanger ending in the previous episode are resolved fairly quickly here. The episode begins with a great deal of urgency which makes sense from Clark’s perspective as he’s worried about his son but it’s an anticlimax for Jor’El to be so flippant about this being an expected factor of his emerging powers just as it was with Clark. For Jordan the rest of the episode is about learning to control his super hearing by focusing on individual sounds rather than being overwhelmed by everything hitting his ears at once. The noise cancelling headphones shielding him from the influx of sound was a really nice modern touch and made his attempts to control his ability clear. Every time he took off the headphones he was making another attempt and when he failed to master singling out a particular sound he put them back on. It’s simple and elegant and fits in with Jordan’s established variable levels of confidence.
Having him listen in on a conversation between Jonathan and Sarah where he ends up getting the wrong idea was very forced especially since what he heard in no way supported the conclusion he jumped to. It makes sense from the point of view of him being generally overwhelmed and having no idea what to do about his feelings for Sarah but it amounted to a very unconvincing argument between him and Jonathan with Jordan going on the offensive without taking the time to actually understand the situation. Jonathan’s hostile reaction was very over the top but also believably teenage. He makes some very hurtful comments that absolutely aren’t true but function as an extreme reaction to Jordan attacking him when Jonathan was only trying to help him. This does result in a heartfelt apology that makes great use of the excellent brotherly dynamic but getting there was somewhat clumsy.
Jonathan’s desire to help him and cover for him is made apparent through his conversations with Sarah where they start to establish a friendship of their own. She sees him in a different light in this episode possibly because of his greater vulnerability in the wake of his injury. A lot of time has been spent developing the Jordan/Sarah connection so it’s good to see Jonathan beginning to form a friendship with her on his own terms. Similarly there’s a sense that Jonathan is starting to find a place in his new surroundings. Up until now his role has been more fixed in the direction of supporting Jordan while reinforcing all he has sacrificed and lost to live in Smallville but him being approached by an attractive girl at school who shows interest in him starts to give him something that he can latch onto. Hopefully there will be further development of Jonathan finding his own place that doesn’t rely on his connection to Jordan.
Jordan mastering his hearing in time to save Clark’s life works as a resolution. The Kent’s are motivated by protecting family so him hearing his father in trouble and enlisting Jonathan to help reinforces this idea nicely. It is somewhat convenient how quickly he comes to master his hearing but on a thematic level it works and supports other things the episode is trying to say. It’s a cheesy message that the Kent family can conquer anything when they’re together but there’s an undeniable earnestness to it that fits with the mythology of Superman.
A strong episode that explores Luthor’s backstory to make him a really engaging character while continuing to expertly weave in the other ongoing plots. The focus on Luthor and the reveal of his real name as well as deeper insight into the core relationships he had in his universe and how they inform his motivations was brilliantly done. His scene with his Lois quickly established how close and loving their relationship was which gave her death the necessary weight. John’s connection to his daughter was also really well done with the personal touches they add to the power armour furthering that connection in really impressive ways. Natalie isn’t a well developed character but their connection is strongly established. John’s confrontation with Clark firmly establishes how credible a threat he is. He understands what it takes to bring down Superman and is able to exploit his weaknesses. Tyler Hoechlin plays the transition from strength to vulnerability when Clark falls into John’s trap brilliantly. Clark defeating John with the help of his sons creates a mirror between the two characters through their connection to their families. It’s not an exact match but the parallel is definitely there. Lois’ interactions with John remain compelling. She’s uncompromising without being reckless and cements her own distinct role within the framework of the show in terms of how she deals with him. Working with Lana to investigate Morgan Edge raises its own questions and ties nicely into the idea of Morgan Edge corrupting the town by taking the best it has to offer for his own ends. It’s let down by Edge failing to be an engaging character but the ideas are interesting.
Jordan’s difficulties raised in the cliffhanger in the previous episode are very quickly resolved. The urgency makes sense because Clark is worried about him but it’s an anticlimax for Jor’El to be so flippant about the situation. Using the noise cancelling headphones to represent Jordan’s struggle adapting to his ability is simple and elegant while connecting to what has previously been established about Jordan as a character. Having him overhear a snippet of Sarah and Jonathan’s conversation leads to a forced conflict between the Kent brothers that doesn’t work as set up though Jonathan’s realistically teenage reaction to Jordan’s attack goes some way towards making up for it as does the heartfelt apology. Jordan mastering his hearing in time to save Clark’s life with Jonathan’s help is convenient but works on a thematic level and ties into the overall message of a close family conquering all. It’s cheesy but there’s an undeniable earnestness to it.
- turning Luthor/John into a well developed and sympathetic character
- highlighting his core relationships and how they feed into a believable motivation
- John and Clark’s confrontation showing how credible a threat John can be
- establishing a parallel between Clark and John through their different family connections
- Lois firmly in her own role that feed naturally into the main plot
- the idea of Morgan Edge taking the best of Smallville and corrupting it
- Jonathan establishing a friendship with Sarah on his own terms
- seeing him start to find his own place in Smallville
- Morgan Edge remaining underdeveloped
- the forced brotherly conflict between Jordan and Jonathan
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