Superman & Lois – Season 1 Episode 9

May 24, 2023 | Posted by in TV

“The Dress”

Superman & Lois looks to the past as Lois and Clark prepare for a major change in their lives as the next stage in the cancer treatment approaches.

The cancer story has been a raw and harrowing emotional journey from a variety of perspectives. No punches have been pulled in detailing the various challenges associated with the diagnosis and treatment. The primary focus has been on how Lois and Clark are handling it but the perspective of the twins has been accounted for as well as Sam and others. Detailing the different perspectives has heavily contributed to the sophistication of the handling of this story as it offers a range of viewpoints for audiences to engage with. There’s a good chance of most viewers being able to relate to one of the points of view presented.


This time it’s personal!

Another layer of sophistication comes from a realistic depiction of preparing for life after the cancer. The treatment being successful doesn’t mean that life returns to what it was before the diagnosis. Lois’ treatment is invasive and destructive so adjustments will need to be made after the fact and a new normal will emerge that has to be acknowledged. This is starting to emerge with the preparations for the surgery that completes the treatment. Lois has to undergo a mastectomy which means she will lose her breasts in exchange for her survival. This obviously causes her distress but the episode takes the time to explore the nuance of that distress and her anxiety around how her marriage will be affected by it.

The exploration of this makes use of a dress that Clark bought for Lois seventeen years ago. An expensive dress bought for an event is typically used as an expression of superficial beauty. It’s bought to look good at an event that demands formal wear. Lois was up for an award and Clark wanted to celebrate her achievement by buying her a striking dress to wear to the ceremony. From his point of view, it was a gesture of his love for her. He loves her, sees her as beautiful and bought her what he considered to be a dress worthy of her. It was a sacrifice of sorts as he sold collectible Baseball cards in order to pay for it so he parted with possessions that presumably had a great deal of sentimental value in order to show Lois what she means to him.

Lois’ accounts of her feelings about the event and the dress in the flashbacks and in the present day provides an interesting perspective on what the dress represents to her. In the flashbacks she talks about not feeling comfortable in the dress because she isn’t traditionally feminine so feels more comfortable in the clothes she normally wears. Dresses and fancy events aren’t priorities for her as it’s all about comfort and the work she does. Clark encourages her to recognise the value in the nomination as it’s a recognition of that work. Lois comes across as someone who doesn’t need awards to know her value so she initially sees the pageantry as pointless but ends up coming around to Clark’s way of thinking when he convinces her that it’s important because it’s recognition of her greatness and wants her to understand that he sees her that way all of the time.


Say yes to the dress

There’s a fine line to walk between superficial beauty and actual substance that the episode does very well. The dress is designed to make Lois look and feel beautiful but a lot of effort is made to make it clear that it doesn’t diminish her substance. It’s curious that this would appear on a show that airs on the CW, a network that has a reputation for being superficial with its teen dramas populated by exclusively pretty people made to look as attractive as possible. The reputation for being shallow and superficial isn’t undeserved even if there is a lot of substance to be found in the shows themselves. “The Dress” does its best work when exploring the difference between superficial beauty and substance.

Both are identified as being important in their own ways and Lois is very clear about not allowing one to diminish the other. She never wanted to be recognised for how she looks because what her mind can offer the world is far more important to her. This informs her concerns about the future of her relationship with Clark as she’s worried that the changes to her body will mean that he finds her less attractive which will diminish their connection. She doesn’t bring this up to Clark because there’s no easy way to have that conversation and Clark is reluctant to be the one to raise it because he can’t fully understand what she’s going through since he’ll never be able to go through it himself so doesn’t feel comfortable forcing the conversation.

Eventually, Lois does open up to him after some prodding with Lana and she makes her concerns clear. She’s worried that Clark will see her differently because of how radically both her body and mindset will change. In essence, she’s worried that the superficial elements of their relationship such as the physical attraction that exists between them will significantly diminish after her surgery. Clark declares with no ambiguity that his support and love are unconditional. His point in the flashback was that he loves the entirety of her and sees her as beautiful in all circumstances. The scars following her surgery are a symbol of her survivor as far as she is concerned and his feelings for her won’t be changed by physical changes because their relationship has so much more depth than that. He is willing to support Lois every step of the way and let her influence the new normal depending on how she adjusts to the changes.


Getting fancy

Her conversation with Lana adds context to those concerns. It’s a very real conversation between two women talking about their bodies and the challenges that come with them. For Lois, part of the problem is feeling comfortable in her own skin. She rejected the dress initially because she didn’t feel comfortable dressing like that but her recollection of that night is a positive one. It made her feel sexy and wearing it to an event that was recognising her for her mind was an empowering experience. That night was the perfect merging of superficiality and substance and proves that they don’t have to exist in isolation. The fact that the dress was only worn once adds extra meaning to it as it’s associated with a powerful memory. It’s not important as an item of clothing, it’s important because of it represents comfort, confidence and the memories attached to it.

The comfort commentary extends to the cancer. Lois talks about the cancer robbing her of feeling comfortable in her body and the dress now serving as an uncomfortable reminder of everything it has taken from her. That forms her rationale for getting rid of it as she doesn’t want to be reminded of what she once had but she fails to understand that it can and should stand for so much more than she can recognise in her current mental state. She does come to realise it and even recreates a beautiful memory from that night after being open with Clark and having it reiterated where they stand as a couple. It’s a moving, complex and thoughtful exploration of the widespread impact of the cancer.

Connected to the cancer story is the ongoing Bruno Mannheim plot. The strength of this has been down to the complexity given to Bruno as a character. Despite being a villain responsible for morally reprehensible crimes, he is genuine when it comes to his desire to benefit his community and loves his family. This means that it’s not quite as simple as punishing a villain because there is more to him than that. The particular issue in this episode is whether to let him see Peia. John firmly advocates for not allowing this because they’re both murderers who don’t deserve that sort of consideration. It has become understandably personal for John but he has lost objectivity by allowing it to become personal which means he has lost the capacity for empathy where Bruno and his family are concerned.


Young love conquers all

Being consumed by anger and fear motivates John’s actions in this episode which ends up prompting violent responses from Bruno. He sends people to attack John and later tasks the once again revived Henry Miller to go after him. Clark tries to warn him against meeting a threat with another threat and is proven correct by the extreme retaliation that John’s approach invites. Bruno’s retaliation is still to be condemned but it’s easy to see how backed into a corner he feels and how that leads him to deal with what he considers to be the root of the problem.

Clark sees the other side as he understands that Bruno is a man who loves his wife and may not have long left to see her. Added to that is a son that wants to see his mother. Clark understands because he’s going through something similar but even if he wasn’t his capacity for empathy would allow him to recognise that Bruno is a man who wants to see his dying wife. Regardless of what he has done, he doesn’t deserve to lose that precious time as far as Clark is concerned. Matteo certainly doesn’t deserve that as he is completely innocent. He approaches Bruno with empathy and is making clear headway before John bursts in with soldiers and ruins any chance of a peaceful resolution. It’s a strong scene and a good example of how Superman is far more than his powers while connecting the two plots on a personal level through Clark’s understanding of how Bruno feels and his desire to make sure he is given that time with his dying wife before it’s too late.

One thing that stands out about John being under attack by Bruno is the threat is heightened by his suit being out of commission. His A.I. being damaged is also used as an indicator of him being in greater danger. At no point is Natalie’s suit referenced even though it would be immensely useful in ensuring that she’s safe. Instead, he takes other far less effective precautions to protect her when it has previously been established that her suit is far better than is.


Girl talk

John’s approach negatively impacts Natalie as he has completely taken control of her life out of a desire to protect her. He monitors her whereabouts at all times and tells her who she can and can’t see. This frustrates Natalie for obvious reasons while also being a symptom of John’s desire to take control of a situation he has no actual control over. It’s somewhat overdone but feeds into the notion of Natalie building a life outside of John and those connected to him. She had made great strides in achieving that and has now had it all taken away from her. Meeting with Matteo despite being forbidden from doing so is a demonstration of her desire to build a life of her own. Both of them being entirely focused on their relationship and uninterested in their parents being at odds with one another is a testament to that idea and reinforces Matteo’s innocence.

There does exist the risk of Matteo being corrupted by his father now that he is starting to learn the truth about his parents. After facing resistance to his demands he decides to show Matteo what he has been working on while making it clear that everything he has done has been for his family and his community. Either Matteo will be unwilling to cross that line or he will see the merits of compromising in service of a particular goal. There isn’t enough known about the character to guess either way and there is perhaps not enough reason to invest in him making one decision over the other. The bulk of the connection to Matteo comes from the audience investment in Natalie so it isn’t a compelling challenge for him to deal with by itself.

The episode also contains some confusing additions. The tension between Jordan and Jonathan is massively overblown and isn’t actually in service of anything beyond having them bicker in this episode. Jonathan’s resentment comes from a strange place as he’s condemning Jordan for saving a life. Regardless of how careless he was when doing so that’s ultimately a good thing so Jonathan resenting him for it doesn’t make sense. It’s poorly founded and resolves itself with a simple apology so has no reason being there despite the tenuous connection to the threat created by Kyle starting to look into what doesn’t add up about the fires where Jordan has saved lives.




A strong episode that delivers another moving, complex and thoughtful exploration of the widespread impact of Lois’ cancer.

  • 8/10
    The Dress - 8/10


Kneel Before…

  • sophisticated exploration of the preparations for the aftermath of the cancer
  • using the dress as a representation of the superficial and substantial aspects of Clark’s love for her
  • the complexity of even approaching the conversation about Lois’ mastectomy
  • Clark’s unconditional support of Lois as she progresses through her treatment
  • Lois and Lana’s real conversation where two women discuss their bodies and the challenges that come with them
  • the commentary on the cancer robbing Lois of her sense of comfort in her own skin
  • John making mistakes because he has made the conflict with Bruno Mannheim personal
  • the contrast between John and Clark’s approach7
  • Clark relating to Bruno and handling him with empathy
  • the Natalie/Matteo dynamic


Rise Against…

  • no mention of Natalie’s suit when fixated on keeping her safe
  • the overblown tension between Jonathan and Jordan


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User Review
9/10 (3 votes)

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