Superman & Lois – Season 1 Episode 5
“The Best of Smallville”
Superman & Lois continues to deal with Jonathan’s ongoing discomfort around living in Smallville as the town readies itself for an annual celebration.
Every review I write about this show highlights how impressed I am by the character work. It’s sophisticated, deliberate and endlessly compelling while also being a masterclass in how to juggle vastly different character types within a single show. Neither the adults or the teenagers suffer from a lack of focus nor does it stray into being superficial in any way. There are hiccups but for the most part everything hangs together.
One of the more compelling ongoing plots has been exploring how Jonathan’s life has been changed negatively since moving to Smallville. His brother has usurped him on the football team, he’s away from the friends he had in Metropolis and he can’t help but feel marginalised following Jordan manifesting powers and commanding what seems to be more of Clark’s attention as a result. The last one is Jonathan’s perception of the situation but it is a valid one. His life gets worse in this episode when his long distance girlfriend dumps him via an insensitive “Dear John” phone call that Jonathan takes in the middle of the hallway at school. Realistically this development was inevitable as the writers have chosen to put Jonathan through the wringer to generate drama. This doesn’t feel at all forced as it’s perfectly in keeping with what would be expected where teenage long distance relationships are concerned.
Being dumped hits Jonathan in a really big way. There’s a great contrast between the opening of the episode having Clark talking about how much he loves Smallville and Harvest Festival time in particular and Jonathan’s growing resentment of the town because it represents the unravelling of the life he built in Metropolis. Taking the time to point out that the Harvest Festival represents many of the values Clark holds so dear was a really nice touch as it brings in the desire he and Lois have to have their sons share those values. Smallville is seen as a good environment to cultivate them and Clark’s childlike exuberance when talking about his connection to where he grew up is certainly infectious even if the teenage twins are too “cool” to admit it at this point.
Jonathan isn’t in a position to accept that Smallville has any merit at this point and makes some major mistakes on the back of being dumped. He gets sucked in by a bad crowd and drinks too much which certainly numbers among the more common examples of teenage rebellion but it’s used well here in terms of what it allows to happen. Once he’s had enough to drink he decides to confront Jordan who is partly the source of his frustrations because of how easily he has settled into life in Smallville. Despite Jonathan’s best efforts to be happy for his brother having finally found purpose in his life after dealing with so many issues up until this point he is still jealous that Jordan occupies a privileged position on the football team, has easily made friends and is able to explore the possibility of having super powers. It’s easy to see how that would be hard to deal with particularly when so little is going right in his own life.
It really stands out how quickly Jonathan’s attitude changes when his behaviour is challenged. Sarah immediately makes it clear that she’s not impressed with the displays of drunken bravado and Jordan steps in to snap him out of his drunken outburst. Jonathan starts apologising pretty much immediately and Jordan forgives him because he does understands what it feels like to be an outcast who doesn’t fit into their surroundings. Their brotherly connection remains strong and Jordan understands that he needs support rather than judgement. It’s a really impressive scene that allows Jonathan to be out of line while still being a good person. Once again the characters are handled with care and complexity.
Jonathan does try to take steps to reclaim his life by securing a possible living situation in Metropolis but his parents won’t let him go. Naturally this causes frustration because on the surface it would seem to be the perfect solution where everyone gets to have what they want but Lois and Clark intend for the family to be together which means Jonathan has to adapt to Smallville. Clark is eventually willing to meet him half way and promises to revisit the discussion at a later date once he has given Smallville a chance. It’s a mature solution that makes great use of Clark’s particular parenting style. He approaches Jonathan’s behaviour with empathy and understanding rather than outright condemnation but also makes it clear that there is a line and that Jonathan is close to crossing it.
The episode picks up the thread of Lois and Jonathan being on similar wavelengths. It is perhaps obvious to have Lois and Clark aligned to a specific son but the show does enough in general to show that the individual relationships exist even if the alignment is something the show falls back on for added simplicity. It fits the characters as established so can’t be seen as a fault. Lois’ perspective on how Jonathan is feeling is an interesting one and it’s good to see that their similarities are being drawn on to create strong moments.
Clark is afforded the opportunity to connect with Jonathan in ways he hasn’t before through his understanding of Jonathan’s desire to leave Smallville and make something more out of his life. The flashbacks to a teenage Clark (Dylan Kingwell) struggling to feel a sense of belonging to Smallville in the wake of his father’s death punctuate Clark’s empathy for Jonathan’s feelings. Martha (Michele Scarabelli) is shown to be dealing with the loss of her husband and struggling to accept the reality of Clark having a desire to move onto greater things. Ultimately she’s the one to push him towards becoming Superman by giving him the crystal and with it the permission to leave in pursuit of what he was meant to be. It allows for really meaningful moments and it’s refreshing to have Martha positioned as a motivating factor in Clark becoming Superman rather than the historic use of his two fathers.
These flashbacks inform the present as it adds weight to Clark telling Jonathan that he understands what he’s going through while also enabling a moment of vulnerability from Clark when he admits that he thinks about his decision to leave. Lois adds that he never came back and there’s a clear streak of regret that Clark constantly carries with him where he feels that on some level he abandoned his mother when she needed him. This all ties into the general sense of Clark not being aware of how much Smallville has changed in the years since he was last there.
The villain story isn’t as well served and stands out as being a fairly disposable plot even though it ties into the larger Morgan Edge narrative. Lois and Chrissy continue to be an engaging team with Lois’ tenacity rubbing on on Chrissy significantly. She is shown letting her reporter’s instincts override her sense of self preservation and a dogged determination to pursue the truth. She slots naturally into that role and maintains this narrative with Lois supporting her while also being freed up to engage more meaningfully in the family plot so structurally that works. The actual details of the plot as it plays out don’t work quite so well because there’s essentially a disposable villain of the week in the form of the recently powered Derek Powell (Clayton James) who sets fire to a building and destroys some charitable donations before having a brief tussle with Clark that ends in him taking his own life.
There is a vague mention of resurrection which suggests that the spirits of Kryptonians are somehow being implanted into Human hosts using X-Kryptonite. Derek having knowledge of Clark and Kryptonians points in that direction at least though there isn’t enough information to draw a concrete conclusion. With more work Derek could have been a tragic figure but instead he comes across as the enabler for the mandatory action beat of the episode without fleshing out the Morgan Edge plot in any significant way. Weaving in antagonistic forces is one of the few weaknesses this show has though it remains impressive to see Superman in action against villains that can give him a run for his money.
Captain Luthor makes his return after a brief hiatus and a little more information is revealed. A flashback establishes that he was married to the Lois Lane from his universe. It’s an intriguing detail and the fact that “his” Lois is pretty much the same as “our” Lois adds credence to the idea of him believing that Superman turning on this world is inevitable. There isn’t much exploration of this but it stands to reason that he has noticed many similarities between the two universes which would only amplify his fear of the same thing coming to pass in this one. All of this is interesting but the show has yet to commit to Captain Luthor beyond a few minutes of screen time in a given episode. The time will come to give him meaningful screen time eventually but until that point the brief teases of further background details are doing him no favours and providing very little for Wolé Parks to work with.
The ending of the episode has Jordan attacked by Tag who blames him for what he has become. It’s a standard Arrowverse type cliffhanger ending that creates some urgency though it’s probably not enough to be sustained over a nearly 2 month hiatus. That isn’t the fault of the episode but it’s unfortunate that this show will be taking such a long break so soon after debuting. Supergirl will fill the time slot until then and coverage of that show will be found here.
A strong episode that continues the complex character work particularly around Jonathan and uses it to inform the existing dynamics in really impressive ways. Jonathan’s discontent with living in Smallville reaches a peak when his long distance girlfriend dumps him therefore taking the last tether to his old life from him. He reacts in a typical teenage way by mixing with a bad crowd and drinking too much but his quick change in attitude when challenged on his behaviour was really striking and shows him as misguided while still being a good person. Clark’s particular parenting style has him approach Jonathan with empathy while making it clear that there is a line he shouldn’t cross. Promising to revisit the conversation about moving him back to Metropolis if he feels the same after giving Smallville a chance was a really nice touch. Jonathan’s reaction made for a compelling contrast to Clark’s passionate account of loving Smallville and talking about the values that the Harvest Festival represents for him. Lois and Clark talking about how important those values are and that they’re trying to raise their sons to hold them in high regard worked really well. Clark’s empathy for Jonathan’s feelings is punctuated by flashbacks that chronicle the aftermath of his father’s death up to his decision to leave on the journey that would lead to him becoming Superman. Positioning Martha as the motivating force in sending him to pursue his destiny was a refreshing detail and having the flashbacks inform the present day with Clark talking about the guilt he carries over deciding to leave and never come back was a great opportunity for Clark to be vulnerable.
The villain story isn’t as well served but it does allow for more growth in the Lois/Chrissy dynamic by having Chrissy take a few leaves out of Lois’ book as Lois offers her support. This continues to be engaging but the plot itself didn’t quite work. Derek Powell could have been a tragic figure but instead he came across as the mandatory action beat of the episode with vague references to the ongoing arc that will be developed. It’s good to see Superman presented with viable threats but the people behind the threats could be far stronger. The reveal that Captain Luthor was married to the Lois Lane native to his universe is intriguing and adds credence to him being convinced that things will play out the same in this universe given the similarities he has observed. All of this works but the lack of screen time for the character episode to episode does him no favours.
No more Superman & Lois until May but until then coverage of Supergirl can be found here.
- Jonathan’s complex and relatable outbursts following further setbacks
- the striking shift in attitude once his rebellious behaviour is challenged
- Clark approaching Jonathan with empathy while making it clear that there is a line that can be crossed
- punctuating Clark’s understanding of Jonathan’s feelings with flashbacks to a similar time in his life
- the flashbacks informing the present and allowing Clark to be vulnerable when confessing to the guilt he carries around
- Martha being responsible for pushing Clark down the path to becoming Superman
- Chrissy taking a few leaves out of Lois’ book
- further Captain Luthor intrigue with the reveal that he was married to his universe’s Lois
- Derek Powell being more of an enabler of the mandatory action beat than a compelling tragic figure
- Captain Luthor’s lack of screen time in given episodes doing him no favours
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