Superman & Lois – Season 1 Episode 1
Superman returns to TV with a new show focused on the Man of Steel as a husband and father in Superman & Lois.
I’ve wanted to see more of Tyler Hoechlin’s version of Clark Kent/Superman since his introduction in Supergirl season 2. He would periodically appear on that show as well as in the crossovers. As a fan of the character I found his take to be in line with what I want from Superman so the prospect of having a show focused on him as well as Elizabeth Tulloch’s strong take on Lois Lane really appealed to me. Amusingly Supergirl felt like a spin-off to a Superman show that never existed and now the Superman show is actually the spin-off. Might a Batman show spin out from Batwoman at some point? It seems in the Arrowverse just about anything is possible.
One immediately striking thing about this opening episode is how different it is to the other Arrowverse shows. That’s not to say the others are all identical in style or execution but there are definite similarities to be found in Arrow, Supergirl, The Flash, Batwoman and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow that suggest they are produced along similar lines. Black Lightning certainly stands out as being significantly different to the others and this show immediately feels very different in the way its shot and the way the setup comes across.
Curiously it doesn’t actually seem to be connected to the other shows in any way so far. General Sam Lane (Dylan Walsh) has appeared over on Supergirl but is played here by a different actor. Morgan Edge also appeared on Supergirl but will be played by Adam Rayner when he appears on this show so two major characters have been completely recast. An in universe explanation will simply be that things changed following Crisis on Infinite Earths and these two characters looking very different will be among them but from an out of universe perspective it makes sense to start this show off on a blank slate and create versions of characters that suit this show specifically without being beholden to prior work. Those fixated on consistent continuity will have trouble with it but it’s certainly not something that bothers me.
Superman & Lois is a great looking show though hopefully that won’t be down to extra resources being thrown at the pilot to make it stand out with the quality significantly declining thereafter. The cinematography is stunning, visual effects are movie quality, the current Superman suit is expensive looking and there’s a lot of detail to the sets that suggests a production that has plenty of resources behind it. Clark’s fight with the Stranger looks great and whenever Superman’s powers are used they are impressively rendered. Long may this quality continue.
Visuals are only a part of it with the most important part for me always being the handling of the characters. As far as Superman stories go this is really unique, certainly in live action, as it presents him in a light that has never been portrayed outside of the comics before. Clark Kent is a husband and a father who has been active as Superman for a long time. The latter part is significant as it completely skips over the learning curve that normally accompanies adaptations since he has been through that on screen, has confidence in his heroics and knows how to tackle situations. This is shown clearly through his interactions with General Lane where they discuss situations as if they always approach problems like this. They are two men who have clearly been doing this a while and know how to start dealing with problems.
It’s also shown in the way he operates as Superman. An early sequence has him freeze a body of water so he can use the melting ice to cool down a nuclear reactor heading for meltdown. He instantly goes for this approach without taking time to consider it suggesting he has a great deal of experience and understands how to problem solve given situations. It’s also a fun nod to Superman III as well as the lifting of the makeshift iceberg being reminiscent of a similar moment in Superman Returns. It’s always good to see shows like this find creative ways to use the super powers and highlight that unconventional methods have to be employed in order ro solve a problem.
Clark’s comfort in the role of Superman acts as a strong contrast to the comparative lack of comfort in his home life. Superman is dependable, always knows what to do and fully in control of a given situation where Clark is absent and lacking in the answers necessary. It’s not that he’s a bad father though he is worried that he might be but he definitely has difficulty juggling the two distinct parts of his life. When he returns home early in the episode and Lois gives him a quick update on what he missed before advising him what he needs to do now that he’s home the idea of him lacking that balance is neatly introduced. Her casual approach to it tells us that it’s a common occurrence and it’s notable that there isn’t an ounce of resentment when she does it which highlights that she is happy to support him probably because she recognises how much Superman is needed in the world.
Of course this has consequences on his relationship to his twin sons in that he seems to only have a passive awareness of what they’re doing with their lives. Jonathan (Jordan Elsass) is introduced as just having been made starting quarterback at school and Jordan (Alex Garfin) is introduced as being diagnosed with Social Anxiety Disorder. Being out there as Superman meant that Clark missed one of his son’s therapy sessions which he has to apologise for. Jonathan’s relationship with Clark appears far less strained than Jordan’s relationship with him based purely on their first interaction. Jonathan is happy to update him on the great things that are happening in his life where Jordan is more dismissive, accepts his apology and generally makes it clear that he wants his father to leave him alone. As the episode progresses more work is done to flesh out these relationships but as introductions go these are very strong and set the stage for further development wonderfully.
Jonathan and Jordan are themselves fully realised characters with a lot of room for growth. On the surface they represent different sides of Clark’s personality with Jonathan embodying his confidence and upbeat disposition and Jordan representing his feelings of otherness. There’s plenty beneath the surface but at a high level that is what they represent and it makes them immediately distinct while the audience becomes more familiar with them. Their acting combined with the writing makes them feel like brothers with plenty of casual insults and teasing as well as brotherly support that transcends that. Jonathan has to be reminded on a couple of occasions that he has gone too far when teasing his brother and has no trouble admitting it. He also looks out for Jordan unconditionally. Jonathan’s confidence could so easily be off-putting but there’s a real sense that it’s earned and that he understands that he shouldn’t bring others down. Equally Jordan is so much more than his mental health condition which makes for a fair portrayal of how such things impact people, at least so far.
This episode is more heavily weighted towards Jordan with Jonathan encouraging him to come out of his shell especially when it comes to Lana Lang’s (Emmanuelle Chriqui) daughter Sarah (Inde Navarrette). She expresses interest in him because she notices him taking a pill and recognises the similarities as she is dealing with her own mental health struggles. Sarah talks about the seedy things that go on in Smallville and opens up about her own brush with suicide as well as he continuing struggles. Jordan misinterprets this and kisses her which upsets her boyfriend and causes a fight to break out. It’s a contrived situation though it’s understandable that Jordan would lack the awareness of what is acceptable in given social situations. It amounts to a prolonged excuse to trigger his powers therefore linking their emergence to moments of heightened teenage stress.
This is nothing new for a tale about emerging super powers but the way it is presented here really works because it links nicely to what has been established about Jordan. It’s an obvious choice to have him be the one with abilities after setting up that Jonathan has enjoyed a lot of success in life thanks to his athletic abilities as it presents him as the likely inheritor of Clark’s abilities so it counts as a subversion of expectations and gives Jordan an extra burden to deal with where Jonathan would most likely take it in his stride. It’s unknown what direction this will go in or if Jonathan will manifest abilities later but so far it’s great ground to build on for both of them.
One of the major events in the lives of the twins in this episode is learning that their father is Superman. Clark wanted to keep it from them after learning that passing on his powers was unlikely because he feels that growing up is hard enough without being aware of being half Kryptonian. This is something they both agreed though Lois makes a case for them knowing the truth before it gets to the point where Clark basically has no choice. He continues to advocate for keeping the secret and it’s an interesting point of tension between them. The underlying debate over whether Clark was right to hide the truth from them will likely be revisited over the course of the season and in some ways it’s analogous to not telling children that they’re adopted even if the situation isn’t the same. Lois and Clark have made a decision on their behalf that they have no say in and have to deal with the consequences of the damage their dishonesty has caused. That’s a great setup and highlighting that Clark Kent is far from perfect despite what is believed about Superman.
An interesting thing about the structure of this show is that it’s roughly equally focused on the teenagers and the adults though a problem with this episode specifically is that Lois doesn’t have an awful lot to do beyond act as a supporting figure for Clark and the twins. There are hints of a mystery for her to investigate and the fact that she gets to stay at the Daily Planet when Clark doesn’t sets the stage for a defined role for her. It isn’t really in this episode though which stands out as an issue here though that will hopefully be rectified soon. It’s odd that she would be so open to moving back to Smallville without going into how that will impact her career and the family dinner that is mentioned for them to arrive at the decision is mentioned but not seen. Early on Jonathan and Jordan are resistant to even visiting Smallville and the episode fails to sell that their minds would be changed no matter how many pretty girls happen to be in town. The family dinner may happen in the next episode and we’ll see the discussion but it was clumsily deployed in this one.
Another weakness was the way the villain was executed. It would have probably been enough to have Superman deal with situations for the first episode with the suggestion that there is someone or something behind them rather than forcing a confrontation and revealing the name Luthor at the end of the episode. It didn’t get in the way of the better content on display but it did stand out as being weaker even if the action sequence was impressive to watch. The episode is longer than a typical one will be but the inclusion of a villain for Clark to fight as Superman felt unnecessary.
Unless things change massively following the pilot it looks as if the show will split its time between adult problems including superhero action focused on Lois and Clark and teenage problems focused on the twins. Essentially this means there will be something in here for everyone and a there will be a variety of perspectives considered. So far the structure works really well and there’s plenty of room for things to progress along different lines.
Even though Lois takes on a supporting role there’s plenty of great content for Clark. The opening monologue quickly detailing his history points out that the show won’t be following the familiar superhero story beats as Clark has already been through those while also providing important context for this version of Clark Kent/Superman. The depiction of his first meeting with Lois was particularly charming to see and the whistle-stop tour of his life leading up to this point was a good start. It basically outlines the status quo that is about to be changed in favour of what this show will be about.
In effect this represents a homecoming for Clark Kent who returns to Smallville after moving away to the big city. His return to Smallville is partially motivated by wanting to honour his mother and be true to his own principles of helping others. Lana’s husband Kyle (Erik Valdez) strikes a nerve when he comments on those who move out of the community never returning to help it. The animosity Kyle has towards Clark because he feels that he abandoned Smallville along with jealousy over his prior relationship with Lana makes for a compelling antagonistic presence so far. I find it interesting to see that Clark isn’t liked by everyone he meets as it does a lot to humanise him along with his uncertainty over his abilities as a parent and the decisions he’s made that affect his family. There’s also a great deal of guilt associated with leaving Smallville as he feels that he left his mother alone. Not knowing about the reverse mortgage is an example of how uninvolved he feels in the life his mother lived after he left so there’s a sense that he’s looking to redeem himself to an extent which is certainly a worthwhile starting point.
On a personal note, there was a beat in this episode that affected me really profoundly. Clark learning about his mother’s death after taking a phone call he thought was from her only to hear another voice that would deliver the tragic news provoked a really strong reaction from me because that’s exactly my experience. I lost my mother in October 2019 and I found out via a phone call made from her phone by someone else delivering the news. Like Clark my life was forever changed by a single phone call so I really have to applaud all involved for how this came across and how it was used as the basis for Clark making profound changes in his own life. Depictions of grief is something the Arrowverse shows are typically good at and this was another strong example. The phone conversation earlier in the episode establishing a quick baseline for Clark’s relationship with Martha (Michele Scarabelli) added more weight to the tragedy while establishing that Clark has lost an important source of advice and reassurance in his life. Spending a lot of time on the funeral and the aftermath of it also lends importance to the loss.
An excellent opening with stunning visuals, beautifully complex characterisation, a fascinating setup and a compellingly fresh take on iconic characters. Visuals are only part of the appeal but the production design including the visual effects, superman costume, cinematography and much more are really impressive with the writing complimenting them nicely. Jonathan and Jordan are fully realised characters with a strong connection that feels complicated and real. Similarly Lois and Clark are characterised well though Lois takes on more of a supporting role which lets the episode down slightly. There is the suggestion of a mystery for her to solve and having her remain employed at the Daily Planet gives her a defined place. Jonathan and Jordan embody different aspects of Clark’s personality on the surface while still having a lot underneath to make them more than that. Having Jordan manifest powers is an obvious choice given his underlying character as a contrast to his brother but that doesn’t make it less effective. Jordan’s mental health issues come into play in a very realistic way and the connection he forges with Sarah over their shared struggles is really interesting even if it leads to a contrived situation.
The disparity between Clark’s confidence in his role as Superman and the uncertainty he deals with in his home life sets up an interesting conflict that goes a long way towards humanising him. Reflecting on decisions he’s made and being unsure if they were mistakes definitely goes a long way. There’s a lot of great content for Clark including his guilt over feeling that he abandoned Smallville and wasn’t aware enough of the life his mother lived after he left. Having Kyle bear animosity towards him is a compelling point of antagonism and the handling of his reaction to Martha’s death was incredibly powerful, particularly for me on a personal level. From a structural point of view splitting the time between adult problems/superhero action and teenage struggles has a lot of potential for a variety of perspectives to be explored. The villain was somewhat unnecessary in the grand scheme of everything going on and might have been better left in favour of Superman dealing with more situational problems rather than a villain to fight. The action sequences involving Superman were excellent with some creative uses of his powers. Assuming this pilot represents the direction for the show following this episode then there’s a lot to build on and work with. This really was an excellent start that delivers a fresh take on such iconic characters.
- stunning visuals
- Jordan and Jonathan being fully realised characters
- the twins representing a part of Clark’s personality while having plenty beneath the surface
- a strong portrayal of mental health issues through Jordan and Sarah
- the disparity between Clark’s confidence as Superman and his uncertainty in his home life
- humanising Clark in a variety of ways
- Clark’s powerful reaction to Martha’s death
- a strong structure to carry the show providing opportunity for a variety of perspectives
- creative uses of Superman’s powers
- Lois being sidelined as a supporting figure
- the addition of the villain being unnecessary
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