Superman & Lois – Season 1 Episode 12
“Through The Valley Of Death”
Superman & Lois focuses on the battle for Superman’s soul as his family scramble to find him before it’s too late.
“Evil Superman” is a tired and played out trope that I feel needs to go away. I understand the impulse to take the most powerful being in the world who acts as a protector and turn him into a threat as a way to create tension but it’s a well that adaptations keep returning to and it is tiresome by this point. There is merit in taking all the virtue that makes up Superman and corrupt it but it also makes the character uninteresting and runs counter to the message that Clark Kent’s very core is defined by goodness. If he can be corrupted then it suggests that his morality and values aren’t as foundational as they should be.
Thankfully this show doesn’t go down the “Evil Superman” route with this version of the character. The version native to John Henry Irons’ Earth exists for that purpose and will likely make an appearance before long based on how the flashback depicting John’s transition to this universe play out. Clark is being prepared as a vessel for General Zod meaning the intention is to replace him rather than corrupt him. The conflict is then framed as Clark fighting to hold onto himself as a foreign persona tries to take root within him which means this story is actually about who Clark is and what he has to fight for even if the episode doesn’t focus on that where Clark is concerned. Most of Clark’s scenes depict him struggling to hold onto who he is but don’t go into depth as to how he is fighting against the Zod persona trying to take hold.
The focus is on Lois and the twins who are working with Sam to find Clark before it’s too late. Lois and Sam argue over the expected details of what needs to be done with Lois campaigning for saving Clark where Sam takes the stance of being willing to do whatever it takes. It’s a repetitive argument that the show has indulged a few times but it also makes sense and outlines the stakes nicely. Lois wants to save the man she loves and needs to believe it’s possible where Sam focuses on the threat a corrupted Superman could represent. He keeps himself at an emotional distance and keeps his mind on the situation rather than considering this might result in him having to kill his son in law, husband to his daughter and father to his grandchildren. It’s pragmatic and shows that Sam is very good at his job. Even though he doesn’t have to make the tough call and routinely loses the arguments that he is involved in it’s an important detail to have him be willing to put his personal feelings aside in service of what he believes to be the greater good. Unfortunately this is often simplified down to Sam always being wrong because the emotional argument always wins out over his clinical outlook. It’s perfectly on brand for what this show presents as its core themes but there could be more complexity.
Lacking complexity in the setup isn’t necessarily a bad thing as is the case here. Lois and Sam clearly represent the two sides of the core argument with the other characters weaving into it as necessary. John Henry Irons returns as an expert on fighting Superman and aligns himself to Sam’s way of thinking where the twins support Lois. This works because the characters remain true to their established traits and the argument propels the story. In essence the winner of that argument decides Clark’s fate so the focus on those external to him rather than the internal conflict he’s facing makes a lot of sense. It makes the story about what Clark is fighting for rather than what he’s fighting.
John’s PTSD over the loss of his wife, child and entire world is still his core motivation. He returns to Smallville with the intention of putting Superman down for good because he knows first hand how much of a threat he can be. Wolé Parks delivery of the line about Metropolis falling to him in seven minutes is chilling and perfectly underscores John’s reasons for believing that there’s only one solution here. As far as he’s concerned Superman is a ticking time bomb and his job is to stop him before he has the chance to do the kind of damage he has seen with his own eyes. He’s initially unwilling to even listen to anything that runs counter to what he feels needs to be done and refuses to see the situation beyond those high level facts so a big part of his inclusion in this episode is about convincing him otherwise.
Lois very much takes the lead in a lot of ways and shoulders a lot of emotional weight. There are a lot of voices telling her that Superman needs to be killed to save the world so the strength of her convictions and her faith in Clark are constantly challenged. She has absolute faith in her husband and never waivers in championing the idea that he can beat the conditioning. It isn’t blind faith either as she finds out from Kyle that it’s possible for someone implanted with the Kryptonian consciousness to be aware of what is going on. Lana is a different case because she willingly allowed herself to be inhabited but Kyle resisted though wasn’t strong enough to overcome it. Lois taking the time to investigate this is a great combination of her journalistic skills and how she feels. Those facts are enough to maintain her hope and she never loses it.
Another excellent display of her skills is when she tells John that Clark and Superman are the same person. It’s a calculated move on her part because up until that point John didn’t see the Human side of Superman as he was fixated on the dangerous Kryptonian. Learning that Superman is her husband as well as father to her children alters his perception and allows him to start thinking along the lines of him being a person who needs to be saved rather than a threat that needs to be stopped. Lois also makes the point that this version of Superman has a family and other connections that he is willing to fight for where the Superman John knew was -presumably- a monster who had nothing tethering him to Humanity meaning he had no reason to care. The actual details of the Superman native to John’s universe are unknown but John believes that to be the case and understanding the differences between the two versions is crucial to changing his mind.
This is backed up by Jonathan making an emotional appeal to him. He goes to John as Clark’s son which further humanises Clark in John’s eyes as he sees a morally upright young man that has been raised by the supposed monster he is looking to kill. Jonathan acknowledges the pain that John has experienced by referring back to the video he saw of Lois being killed. His appeal is around asking John to not put his family through that same pain. Jonathan telling John that he seemed like a really good Dad while making him aware that he is looking to kill someone who is also a good Dad. He is appealing to John as a son who doesn’t want to lose his father but also strengthening the idea that Clark shouldn’t be written off as beyond saving. John’s reaction is regretful and sincere when he tells Jonathan he wishes there was another way prompting John to respond with “there’s always another way”. This highlights a core lesson he has learned from Clark while giving John something to really think about.
All of this resonates with John and allows him reclaim a sense of hope within himself. He still enters the battle with the Zod possessed Clark with the intent to kill but when tested he doesn’t take the opportunity to deliver the killing blow even when Clark begs him to. Instead he uses words and delivers an impassioned speech about his family still believing in him and encourages him to fight against Zod’s possession. Instead of platitudes about being still in there and knowing he’s strong enough to beat it, John’s approach is much more hostile and brings in the resentment he remains unable to fully let go of. He talks about the pain of losing family being the worst pain imaginable and Clark should fight against this possession because it’s nothing compared to what he’ll experience if his family are taken from him.
Rather than being encouraging John takes a tough love approach which gets around the usual CW trope of using compassion while still hammering home the theme. John is motivated by pain so uses that as a way to convince Clark not to give up. Added to that is the message that being a hero is much more than having and using powers. What you stand for and the words you use to articulate that are just as -if not more- important. It’s a satisfying resolution and well earned by the episode building up to John understanding that.
Clark beating the possession comes after a beautifully scored montage showing everything that he has to fight for and the strength that it gives him. It’s unfortunate that the episode didn’t make more of the internal turmoil that Clark was experiencing and that the Zod possession is dealt with so quickly but there’s no denying that the emotional resolution was a powerful one. The subsequent action beat where Clark and John team up to fight Edge was rushed and awkward though it seems that Edge planned to get himself captured based on what he did with the Eradicator. Rejecting his father as an abusive presence in his life should have been more significant than it was especially as an opposite to Clark drawing strength from his family.
The strength of family is woven into the DNA of this show and Jonathan champions that by encouraging Jordan to use his powers to find Clark. Jordan is plagued by self doubt because he doubts his ability to control them so already believes that he will fail before even trying. Once again Jordan’s powers are tied to his insecurities and his difficulties mastering them are directly tied to his perception of his own worth. He feels his powers are useless because he is useless but Jonathan believe in him and uses the urgency of the situation to put Jordan through his paces. Naturally it ends up working which gives Jordan a boost in confidence while furthering the idea of Jonathan being selflessly supportive of his brother. It is well established he feels left out because Jordan has powers and he doesn’t but instead of wallowing in it he is working to find a place for himself. It’s something he is learning from Lois while feeding into his core personality traits.
Familial strength also comes into play with the Cushings who are currently less than welcome in Smallville due to Kyle’s unwavering support of Morgan Edge. It’s something he feels immensely guilty about but he also doesn’t regret his actions because he recognised that something needed to be done to save Smallville and at the time it seemed like the only option. The reaction in the fallout of that being revealed to be a mistake is for many in the town to forget that they also supported Edge and place the blame on his most fervent supporter. Kyle is prepared to accept responsibility for what he did and move on but many want to run his family out of town. An early scene punctuates this with Emily and her family going on the offensive and blaming them for what she ended up being forced to do. In Emily’s case it’s misplaced guilt directed at the Cushings but it also represents the ill will being directed at them.
Finding their house vandalised is an obvious indicator of how welcome they currently are in Smallville and how dangerous giving into fear can be. It looks to be the start of this particular plot but the people of Smallville feeling hopeless again and failing to be their best selves in the face of adversity is an interesting idea. There’s a lot of emotional heft where Lana and Kyle are concerned as they accept their role in creating that situation and their shared trepidation over what this means for their kids is firmly established.
The situation also brings them closer together as they work to remove the graffiti from their house. It results in a really endearing bonding moment that is implied to be the happiest they’ve been together in a long time. There has been a lot of tension showcased in this family unit over the course of the season so them having the opportunity to be brought together when they think they only have each other is done brilliantly. This carries through to when Sarah’s younger sister returns home and she is greeted with warmth and love. Whether this experience will continue to build to a more functional family dynamic or exist as an anomaly is currently unknown but it was a pure and joyful moment.
Arrow alum John Diggle makes an appearance in the episode though he was definitely surplus to requirements. As a fan of Arrow and the character of John Diggle I always welcome his presence but had he been absent then nothing would have changed. He does back Lois up and brings the benefit of his experience to do so while also name dropping Oliver Queen while confirming that this sort of life is behind him. This is the first explicit confirmation that Superman & Lois is part of the Arrowverse though equally this could simply be another version of John Diggle native to the Earth this show belongs to. His appearance here is unfortunately not necessary which slows the pace of the episode somewhat devoting time to him. On a personal note it was good to see him but it’s unclear why he was included here specifically. I do wonder how this would be perceived by people who have never seen Arrow as the episode does very little to explain who he is or why his random appearance is significant.
An excellent episode that has a strong core argument around whether Clark needs to be saved or stopped, uses the complexities of Lois as a character brilliantly and expertly explores the theme of familial strength. Lois championing saving Clark while Sam argues that it might be necessary to kill him in order to save the world is a simple and clear issue that the episode explores. Sam arguing for his side makes sense and highlights that he is good at his job though continuing to simplify this down to him always being wrong is somewhat limiting. Lois backing up her hopeful attitude with facts when she learns it’s possible to resist the possession is a great combination of her journalistic skills and how she feels. Knowing that gives her a reason to have hope and she never loses it. Another excellent display of her skills is when she tells John that Clark is Superman. It’s a calculated move to encourage John to see the Humanity behind the threat he believes he needs to stop while also pointing out to him that this Superman is very different to the one he fought because he has connections he is willing to fight for. This is backed up by Jonathan who prompts John to see that Superman is a good father who shouldn’t be taken from his family. It plays into John’s loss and devotion to his own family. This pays off brilliantly when John appeals to Clark to fight against the possession because the pain he’s experiencing is nothing compared to losing his family. It’s a tough love approach that is in line with John as a character and offers a different version of the usual speech that shows like this tend to present. It also highlights that being a hero is more than having and using abilities. What someone stands for and how they articulate that is equally -if not more- important.
Clark beating the possession comes after a brutally scored montage that highlights where he draws strength though it is limited by the focus being away from his internal turmoil. The subsequent action beat is somewhat rushed and clumsy as is the resolution to the threat Edge represents though it’s highly likely he has another plan. His rejection of his father as an abusive presence in his life isn’t as significant as it needs to be as an opposite to Clark being made stronger by his family. The Cushing family being at odds with the town who want them out of Smallville is used well so far. Kyle feeling guilty but also standing by feeling that it was the best course of action at the time makes a lot of sense and the misplaced guilt directed at the Cushing family sets up an interesting ongoing story in the wake of Edge’s influence. This hardship bringing the family closer together as shown by the joyful moment they share when removing the graffiti is excellent. John Diggle’s appearance is unfortunately largely pointless as he doesn’t meaningfully contribute in a way that makes his inclusion necessary. As an Arrow fan I was pleased to see him but I wonder how it would be perceived by viewers who haven’t seen Arrow.
- a simple and clear conflict explored well
- Lois backing up her hopeful attitude with facts
- the calculated move of Lois telling John Clark’s secret to encourage John to Humanise him
- supporting this with Jonathan appealing to John as a father
- John taking a tough love approach in convincing Clark to fight back
- the beautifully scored montage that highlights what Clark draws strength from
- Jonathan supporting Jordan in mastering his powers and his own sense of self worth
- the clumsy action beat following Clark beating the possession
- General Zod being very much a non entity
- not focusing on Clark’s inner turmoil
- Edge’s rejection of his father not having the impact it needed to
- John Diggle’s pointless inclusion
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