Superman & Lois – Season 1 Episode 3
“The Perks of Not Being a Wallflower”
Superman & Lois has the Kents continue the process of adapting to life in Smallville with everyone trying to find a sense of belonging as Lois’ investigation provokes unwanted attention.
One of the things that impresses me most about this show is how it manages to spin so many different plates without losing track of anything. There are so many elements feeding into it with Lois and Clark’s relationship coupled with their parental struggles, the twins having individual and collective stories, Sarah’s mental issues along with her family drama, Smallville’s ongoing decline as a town, Lois’ investigation of Morgan edge and Clark’s exploits as Superman. The balance isn’t perfect because it never could be but having barely any noticeable cracks is a definite achievement. The show is especially noteworthy for legitimately being unlike anything the genre has delivered before.
The twins settling into Smallville High is set up as an ongoing narrative that will provide complications over the course of the season. Jordan’s mistake in the first episode had consequences for each of them that started to show themselves in the second episode with this one building on that tension in a big way. Jordan is the subject of really intense bullying because of what he did and Jonathan rushes to his defence. A really tense early scene highlights how much anguish being on the receiving end of that kind of treatment can cause and Jordan’s urge to retaliate even though it might reveal his powers as well as inflict major damage on his aggressors makes it even more stressful to watch. Close-ups on Jordan’s clenching fist highlight his distress and the temptation to retaliate. Clark ends up stepping in to break up the fight which causes another issue that I’ll talk about later in the review but it’s clear that something needs to be done as it’s not sustainable for Jordan to continually be treated like this.
In a surprising move he decides to try out for the football team and does really well because of the advantage granted him by his powers. He is able to stand up to those that are bullying him and show that he’s capable of giving out what he has been receiving. The key difference is that on the football field the aggression is acceptable because it’s part of the sport and it’s something of a display of strength on his part so that he can move out of the role of victim in a natural way. It does end up resolving the tension when he admits fault and apologises for kissing Sarah. He is also accepted as part of the team which provides a much needed confidence boost for him.
Jordan joining the team has a lot attached to it worthy of exploration. Jonathan is initially less than pleased because he sees football as a pursuit unique to him that he’s good at so Jordan taking up the sport feels like he’s encroaching on his territory. It’s a very natural reaction particularly after he was feeling left out with Jordan spending so much time with their father following his powers manifesting. This animosity isn’t something that will define their relationship as Jonathan is a reasonable person who is prepared to admit he was wrong when faced with evidence. It takes time but he does come to realise that Jordan actually enjoys being part of the time and feels part of something for possibly the first time in his life. He now has a passion and Jonathan realises he has no right to take that away from him. Football isn’t something he owns and Jordan has just as much right to pursue the sport as he does. This is another example of a very complex relationship explored through the journey Jonathan takes towards realising understanding how Jordan feels and supporting him once he does.
Clark disapproves of Jordan joining the team because of his powers. He feels that they give him an unfair advantage on the field while also posing a danger for both those he plays with and against. It’s not an unreasonable concern and comes from Clark’s childhood where his own father forbade him from pursuing sports because of the risk associated with them. If Clark lost control of his powers when on the football field and people found out about them then there would be major consequences both for him and his family. Clark has a similar fear around Jordan and his concern comes from the desire to protect his family.
His position on the issue does come with some assumptions. He assumes that Jordan is unable to control his powers and is using them to give himself an advantage over the others but the problem is that he isn’t initially prepared to take the time to understand how Jordan feels. His blanket approach is to tell him he can’t play football and declare the issue resolved because that’s how his father dealt with it so his arc for the episode is to find his own take on fatherhood.
Ultimately this leads to him having an open conversation with Jordan where he admits that he always wanted to play baseball and still carries the regret that he was unable to do so when he was younger. After a bit of soul searching he is able to understand how Jordan feels and finds a desire to make sure his son doesn’t carry a similar regret through the rest of his life. It’s a really heartwarming moment that offers growth for Clark in the realisation that he has to raise his children in his own way. Clark does admit that he felt his strict upbringing was unfair but he understood the benefits of it which stops this from turning Clark’s childhood into a tragic one. It’s clear it was a loving one though there were a lot of limitations because his father was afraid of the consequences of mistakes.
Clark’s change of heart comes following a conversation with Jonathan who makes a very compelling case for allowing Jordan to play football. Outside of the obvious benefits for his mental health as he makes friends and enjoys himself the point about using natural gifts is raised. People who have a natural affinity for things tend to pursue that avenue by using their talents to achieve success in whatever that field may be. For the moment Jonathan has no powers but is naturally athletic and gifted at football so that’s something he actively pursues and is supported in doing so because of the benefits that brings him. Jordan is seen as more than Human because of his powers so from Clark’s point of view he thinks that gives him an unfair advantage when playing sports. Arguably that’s true but it’s also a natural gift that he has so it could also be seen as unfair to deny him the use of that in pursuit of something that makes him happy.
There is talk in the episode about the responsibilities that come built in with powers. It’s a common thread in superhero stories as the hero is often burdened with a sense of responsibility to use their powers for the benefit of others. Clark has demonstrated that in every episode but ultimately that’s a perspective that has been adopted by Clark and is being taught to his sons because he believes that powers should be treated in that way. It’s possible that Jordan will come to his own decision on what his powers mean for him and he may not be interested in using them to protect others in the same way Clark does. Is that a selfish attitude? Possibly but it’s also his decision to make because they are his powers. If he wants to use them to win at sports then there’s an argument for that not being intrinsically wrong. The episode doesn’t go fully into that debate because Clark wants Jordan to hide his powers for his as well as the family’s safety but Jonathan touches on it by highlighting that they are his natural gifts. He boils it down to a simple question over why someone should be denied from being special when something about them is special and Clark is willing to listen to that point because he understands how Jordan feels even if he was blinded to it by what he had decided needed to happen.
Clark’s parenting is also challenged when both of his sons call him out on listening in on them when they’re at school. Both see it as an invasion of privacy and wonder how often he listens to them from afar without their knowledge. Lois helps provide him perspective on this by reminding him of the time she found out he was doing that with her and how much he was made to pay for that. The fact that he does so again suggests that his desire to protect is at odds with what is appropriate at times which further humanises Clark by adding more flaws for him to overcome. Ultimately he sees how wrong he was and resolves to fix that by giving his word not to tune into their conversations again. Since it’s Superman making the promise there’s no reason to doubt the earnestness of it. Little things like this that highlight how unprepared Clark is to be a parent really add to the overall complexity this show enjoys.
Sarah continues to be an endlessly fascinating character and the approach to her mental health problems is a very sophisticated one. More clarity is given on some of the reasons she feels the way she does and it has to do with her family. Lana talks about being brought up to keep drama hidden from the outside world and ignore problems rather than address them. Snippets of this are seen in the way she and Kyle interact. They barely speak even though there is something major to talk about and there’s clearly issues right beneath the surface that are not being addressed. Sarah’s suicide attempt was very much a cry for help prompted in part by her being part of a family who don’t deal with their issues. She talks about how Kyle sleeps on the couch indicating a breakdown in her parent’s relationship and that her sister bullies others in her class without facing consequences. All the while they have to act like the perfect family who organise neighbourhood barbecues and are general pillars of their community. It’s false and Sarah feels trapped within that so she lashed out with a suicide attempt.
The way she behaves towards Lana especially is interesting as it highlights a frustration with a lack of understanding on Lana’s part. Getting the adult perspective through Lana and Clark’s conversation is useful because it helps with the understanding that Lana genuinely wants to understand what her daughter is going through but struggles to find a way to relate to her. This adds far more depth than would otherwise be there to the conversation Lana and Sarah have because we as the audience know that Lana is genuine when trying to connect with her daughter while being sympathetic to what Sarah is going through. It clears the air to an extent and allows Sarah to understand why her mother behaves the way she does while highlighting that Sarah is working really hard to understand who she is and what she wants from life. This dynamic naturally mirrors Clark and Jordan’s difficulties while being distinct.
Lois’ investigation into Morgan Edge is very much a slow burn plot which makes sense given the resources available to her and the influence he commands. Her back and forth with Chrissy (Sofia Hasmik) where they butt heads on what their priorities should be and disagree over whether Lois’ story is worth pursuing is really engaging. It’s good to see that Lois is partnered with someone who isn’t afraid to challenge her and remind her of the realities of small town reporting. It doesn’t diminish Lois any and makes her think differently about how best to operate in an unfamiliar setting. Lois is definitely on the right track as her car is bombed as a warning and she ends up almost being killed by a super powered assassin. This feels like classic Lois Lane content in the best way though it does reduce her role within the family in the confines of this episode as most of her time is focused on her investigation. With this being a show about the Kent family unit it stands out when Lois has less to do around her family though the content she is given is far from bad.
Clark’s exploits as Superman move away from the Captain Luthor plot and focus more on other things he gets involved in. The early sequence where he deals with a collapsing bridge and shares a meaningful moment with a fisherman was an excellent way to underscore Superman as a global symbol of hope while providing a set piece not concentrated on him fighting someone else. It’s hard not to smile during this sequence because it’s a heroic display from Clark that brings out his casually earnest personality. There is a later sequence where he fights someone who matches his strength after Lois summons him to protect her. It’s an engaging fight and helps reinforce the world is a messy place with threats coming from many different angles.
A strong episode that continues to expertly juggle the various elements, delivers thought provoking character work around the Kent family and excels in the portrayal of Sarah’s mental health problems. Jordan taking up football is an unexpected development that prompts an array of compelling content around what that means for everyone. Jonathan starting off being less than pleased before realising he doesn’t own football as a pursuit and then supporting his brother because it’s allowing him to make friends and feel like part of something is another example of the realistic sibling relationship. Clark disapproving of Jordan’s decision on account of his powers neatly calls back to his own upbringing while starting an arc towards him realising that he has to do things differently as a parent. Once he realises that the open conversation he has with Jordan around his own regrets and not wanting Jordan to go through life with similar was excellent. Jonathan helping Clark realise how important it is for Jordan to pursue this by bringing up the idea of others not being expected to hold back their natural gifts was a nice touch that suggests a more complicated debate around the use of super powers. Clark’s parenting being challenged by both of his sons when he listens in on them at school also worked really well as a way to humanise Clark by pointing out how much he has to learn about fatherhood.
Sarah continues to be a fascinating character and the handling of her mental health issues is really sophisticated. Adding texture to her issues through exploring her dysfunctional family works really well and getting the adult perspective through Lana’s conversation with Clark shows that Lana is genuine when she says she wants to understand what Sarah is going through even if she can’t articulate it properly. This adds depth to the conversation Sarah and Lana have where Sarah opens up about not working really hard to understand who she is and what she wants from life. Lois’ investigation is a slow burn plot but it makes sense for it to be that way. Her back and forth with Chrissy is engaging and sets up how much she has to learn about the demands of small town reporting. Having someone willing to challenge her is to Lois’ benefit as it spices up their interactions. Keeping Lois away from her family in favour of this plot does have drawbacks though the content is far from bad. Clark’s exploits as Superman are more varied with less focus on combat and a showcase of other things he gets involved in. The fight he participates in is very well done and overall it shows that the world is a messy place with threats coming from different angles.
- more displays of the complex sibling relationship
- the debate around whether Jordan should be allowed to play sports
- Clark learning that his approach to parenting has to be different
- his open conversation with Jordan about his regrets
- Jonathan and Jordan challenging Clark’s parenting
- adding depth to Sarah’s mental health issues through exploration of her dysfunctional family
- Lana’s conversation with Clark highlighting her desire to understand what Sarah is going through
- Sara and Lana’s open conversation
- Chrissy challenging Lois in interesting ways
- Clark’s exploits as Superman being more varied
- Lois’ focus being almost entirely pulled away from her family
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