Superman & Lois – Season 3 Episode 4
“Too Close to Home”
Superman & Lois deals with consequences and explores how best to move forward in the face of them.
One thing that separates Superman & Lois from its contemporaries is how “grown up” it is. That may seem like an odd thing to praise but shows like The Flash are perpetually bereft of meaningful character work where adults act their age and approach situations appropriately. Superman & Lois stands out because it frequently provides complex looks at how people of all ages deal with difficult situations. The adult angle is covered in the parent characters and the teenagers provide their own perspective as they navigate life and learn important lessons.
This aspect of the show deserves praise because it does it so well. The Superhero action is often secondary to complex and compelling character drama that gives the show a strong grounding to support the superhero storytelling. Superhero TV -particularly network TV- operates on far fewer resources than the big screen counterparts so the focus must naturally shift to focusing on character-driven storytelling with the spectacle being something the show offers but can’t base itself around. Arguably, the priority should be the same no matter the budget but the limitations forcing concentration on the non-superhero elements has been to this show’s advantage.
In this episode, the Kents and Cushings deal with the consequences of recent events and try to work out what the appropriate next steps should be. The previous episode depicted Lana losing control and slapping Sarah in a moment of anger that she now regrets. Sarah has fled to Kyle’s place and quickly tells him why but leaves some details out. A classic reaction to feeling wronged is to disregard anything that doesn’t fit with the narrative of being the victim of an injustice. Sarah was slapped by Lana and Lana was absolutely wrong to do that to her but Sarah actively provoked her so shares a measure of responsibility. Her selective editing of the events isn’t a malicious act on her part, it’s simply a common reaction to something like this. For whatever reason, Sarah needs to feel angry and believe she is the wronged party. Accepting that she provoked Lana would mean she has to think about the situation more objectively and she isn’t emotionally in the right place to do that.
Kyle acts as an intermediary through all of this. He’s the voice of reason that facilitates Lana and Sarah sitting down to have a discussion about what happened. Kyle has come a long way since the first season and is measurably a better person now. He is someone that has accepted the consequences of his actions and remains committed to improving himself despite some heavy setbacks. It’s a commendable example of self-improvement and happened organically.
He’s in a very difficult position as he is putting himself between his ex-wife and daughter over something that has an indirect connection to him. The slap happened because they were talking about Kyle but the topic of conversation is largely irrelevant as tension was mounting so a release would have happened sooner or later. Kyle being the topic of conversation allows him to have a connection to it. Lana mentions Sarah bringing up Kyle’s infidelity which causes Kyle to take some of this situation personally. He tells Sarah it’s not okay for her to weaponise his affairs when arguing with her mother which helps Sarah to start thinking about being far from blameless in this situation.
Another pearl of wisdom Kyle offers comes when he encourages Sarah to think about how she would feel if people judged her because of her behaviour on her worst day. His point being that Sarah should know better than to do that. He also reminds her that Lana is far more than her recent emotionally driven behaviour by talking about the night of Sarah’s suicide attempt and Lana’s determination to save her followed by her refusal to leave her side in the hospital.
Eventually, Sarah and Lana talk things over. Lana extends an olive branch by apologising and promising she will never raise her hand against her again. Sarah responds by apologising for being so hurtful and confirms that she didn’t mean the things she said. All would seem to be resolved but Sarah recoiling when Lana tries to take her hand shows there’s a lot of healing still to go. Kyle defines this as a first step and that’s certainly what it feels like. It’s commendable that this show leans into the complexities of this by leaving the resolution in a place where there’s still work to be done but at least the pair are on speaking terms. These sorts of problems can rarely be resolved with a single conversation as the relationship needs time to heal and both parties have to prove themselves through future action.
The Kents are dealing with the consequences of two recent developments, the cancer diagnosis and Candice’s father stealing Jonathan’s truck. Clark has become overprotective following Lois beginning her treatment. He wants to ensure Lois rests and resolves to take on any familial burden by himself so that she gets the opportunity to do so. Things he doesn’t know about get in the way of that such as the theft and subsequent recovery of Jonathan’s truck. The former is solved by Lois being forceful with Clark about his overprotectiveness being the exact opposite of what she already told him she wanted. Lois was very clear in not wanting people to treat her like she’s fragile because she’s sick. Being a mother, wife and a journalist is her life and taking any of those elements away from her means that she isn’t herself. The problems her children have are her problems because she’s their mother and she doesn’t want to be deliberately left out of helping her sons.
Clark sees her point and apologises for his well-meaning but wrongheaded thinking. It needs no further coverage because Clark understands where he has gone wrong and they can move forward. It’s another example of the strength of their relationship allowing them to discuss any disagreements they have and agree on the next step without manufacturing unnecessary drama brought on by an unnecessary lack of communication.
The other problem is Candice’s father, Emmett (Adrian Glynn McMorran) punches Jonathan. After clearing up the first problem, Lois begins an interrogation to get the truth out of Jonathan, which of course she does. She’s less than pleased with Jonathan, Jordan and Natalie taking it upon themselves to recover the truck without telling her but the priority is ensuring that Emmett answers for attacking her son.
Emmett isn’t really a character which speaks to a persistent problem with worldbuilding on this show. I’ve written previously about little effort being put into characterising Candice even though she would have been an ideal case study to highlight the destruction of Smallville’s economy following the loss of Morgan Edge’s investment. Currently, Candice is nothing more than Jonathan’s occasionally appearing girlfriend and Jonathan is also relegated to the background most of the time so Emmett doesn’t arrive with a lot of depth. It works for the purposes of what this episode delivers because he doesn’t need to be anything more than a problem that needs to be solved.
His being so violent and unreasonable means that Lois’ attempt at being diplomatic fails and Clark takes it upon himself to get involved. This results in a very public altercation when Emmett tries to take a swing at Clark after repeated requests to have a discussion outside. It doesn’t look good for Emmett as he is openly hostile in a public place in front of his daughter and ends up suffering immense embarrassment when Clark easily overpowers him before outlining what will happen if Emmett crosses his family again.
It’s a testament to how good this show is that this confrontation works so well. Clark is approaching this in his civilian identity rather than Superman because he is an angry father standing up for his son and refusing to let Emmett get away with threatening his wife with a gun. It’s as engaging -if not more so- than any large-scale fight Clark gets into as Superman because the build-up to it has so much weight. Previous episodes have shown that Clark can be pushed to near breaking point. His strength of character is found in his ability to always exercise restraint when he is unquestionably the most powerful man in the room. Emmett challenges him in ways that few can and Tyler Hoechlin’s performance shows how close to the edge Clark is before pulling away. It’s a hugely tense moment seeing Clark being so forceful knowing what he’s capable of. The decision to allow Clark to exhibit a wide range of emotions in this continues to prove to be the right one.
There may be a debate about whether Clark abused his power in threatening Emmett. He’s Superman and used his strength to overpower a person without powers in order to prove a point so there is an argument for him not being right in doing so due to the massive imbalance. His threats were about coming after him legally and having him answer for his crimes rather than inflicting violence. and Clark’s reaction was defensive after Emmett attacked him. Prior to that, Clark was asking that they discuss the matter out of the view of others and he’s immediately apologetic after the fact. It’s certainly true that he used his powers to subdue Emmett but he tried a reasonable approach first and only retaliated when pushed so that doesn’t count as an abuse of power as far as I’m concerned.
Candice staying with the Kents hopefully provides an opportunity to develop her more as a character. Lois and Clark joke about possibly coming to regret that decision. It should change the dynamic in the Kent household and will certainly force Clark to be more cautious about his comings and goings as Superman. Whether this will lead to Candice being in on the secret is unknown but her constant presence definitely presents new challenges. Emmett is also namechecked as a returning problem at some point so there remains a lot to cover surrounding Candice. Allowing her to stay is a different example of heroism as the family all recognise the importance of helping someone in need. Candice certainly qualifies and she’s grateful to have good people looking out for her. Jonathan could have decided that being in a relationship with Candice is more trouble than it’s worth because of the trouble that invites but he recognises that she’s a good person and the hardships she has endured are not her fault.
Linking to this tangentially in order to highlight how many things need to be juggled in parenthood is Jordan and Sam’s brief conflict. When Jordan is caught on camera with his hood down and his distinctive hairstyle on display, Sam decrees that he needs to have a haircut in order to blend in. Jordan’s refusal is a brief exploration of the concept of identity and the confidence that comes with being comfortable with who you are. He refuses to get his hair cut because he likes it the way it is and doesn’t want that to be changed because his grandfather demands it. One reading of it is a grandfather criticising his grandson’s cosmetic choices as a comment on generational differences. Older characters are often portrayed as being inflexible by choice because they believe things were better in their day. This isn’t quite that as Sam isn’t dismissive but it’s briefly an example of that sort of conversation with a superhero twist and is a good example of exploring normal impasses in the context of the extranormal.
Sam’s growth is shown in the resolution of this impasse as he opens up to Jordan about his feelings being hurt. That isn’t something he would have done even a short time ago so his willingness to be vulnerable shows that he has changed in positive ways. Another sign of growth is the effort he puts into finding a compromise that doesn’t involve Jordan compromising his expression of individuality. That compromise is a suit made by the DOD that the viewer doesn’t see yet and gifting him the goggles his father wore during the second world war. It’s a poignant moment as it marks the passing of an heirloom with immense sentimental value between grandfather and grandson. Jordan wearing a costume that disguises his identity is the opposite of Clark as, for him, the disguise is the civilian identity with efforts to blend in so as not to be noticed whereas Jordan seems to make the superhero alter ego his disguise. In theory it’s an interesting contrast but the grandfather/grandson dynamic as presented in this episode is very strong.
The Bruno Mannheim plot receives significant development with John becoming involved. It starts off with John being upset with Lois and Clark for not telling him about going to his sister’s doppelgänger to question her about his doppelgänger’s connection to Bruno Mannheim. It’s resolved when Clark hears him out and takes responsibility for not telling him. A simple apology is all that’s needed because the problem is far bigger than that. John goes to speak to his sister, Darlene’s (Angel Parker) doppelgänger and the interaction is handled in a very sophisticated way. Darlene lives in this world so will be aware of other universes after Ally’s attack. This means that John coming from another universe isn’t all that outlandish to her. She can easily accept that he can exist but finds it difficult to deal with the fact that he does. Both see things in the other that remind them of the sibling they lost and Darlene requests that he stay out of her life because it’s too difficult to interact with someone who resembles her dead brother.
Darlene is dealing with exactly what John has already gone through with Lois. He was able to find a way to separate Lois from his wife in his mind and craft a unique relationship with her but not everyone will be able to do that. The events of this episode suggest that Darlene will be forced to interact with John at least until this crisis is over which may increase her comfort level with having John in her life. Equally, it could reinforce her belief that she can’t be around him and they amicably part ways once Bruno Mannheim has been brought to justice.
Bruno Mannheim currently holds all the power, especially now that he knows John exists. He threatens to kill the doppelgängers of his family if John moves against him which creates a natural barrier between them. Why John doesn’t simply record Mannheim declaring his attentions to use as evidence is unclear but the idea of Mannheim believing he’s invincible because he has carefully spread his influence into all the right places makes him a true threat that believably challenges all of the powerful people in this show.
The previous episode revealed that Bruno Mannheim has access to Clark’s blood and this episode reveals how that happened. It turns out that the DOD kept some in stock after they had to attend to Clark and Mannheim appropriated it likely through an informant he has in their midst. Clark sees them keeping his blud as a violation of trust and tries to put an end to the possibility of it falling into the wrong hands by destroying it. Mannheim likely has enough for his purposes or will attempt to extort more out of Clark in future but the idea of the DEO betraying Clark’s trust in them as a continuation of the tense relationship Clark has with the military is an interesting one that hopefully doesn’t end in this episode.
Bruno Mannheim is clearly the main threat of the season which so far seems to be a good idea as it has been made clear that he has the resources to present a variety of obstacles. Lex Luthor will appear this season so drawing a distinction between the two wealthy businessmen will be key but, for now, Mannheim’s resources are presenting a variety of challenges which keeps his inclusion from becoming stale. Lois pledging to receive treatment at his clinic as a way to spy on him increases the tension and links the villain plot to the cancer plot in a way that can enhance both if handled correctly.
An excellent episode that delivers a complex exploration of the consequences of Lana’s outburst and an outstanding depiction of the Kents dealing with a variety of problems, all while furthering the villain plot in engaging character-driven ways.
- highlighting Kyle’s growth through how he mediates Sarah and Lana’s conflict
- the realism of Sarah selectively editing events
- Kyle encouraging Sarah to look at the situation differently
- the indication that the conflict isn’t fully resolved and will require more time
- Lois calling Clark out on his well-meaning but wrongheaded overprotective attitude and the quick resolution
- Clark confronting Emmett and how he handles the situation
- Candice staying with the Kents creating a lot of potential to develop her character
- highlighting Sam’s growth through how he deals with Jordan
- Jordan’s refusal to get a haircut bringing in the notion of identity and confidence
- setting up Jordan to disguise his identity as the opposite of Clark’s method
- John calling Clark out on not giving him all of the necessary information
- the awkwardness of John and Darlene’s interaction
- Clark’s handling of the DOD having his blood and the strong implication of a breach of trust having occurred
- connecting the Bruno Mannheim plot to the cancer plot
- Bruno Mannheim constantly showing he is a varied threat
- Emmett being nothing more than the episode needs him to be as a consequence of poor handling of Candice previous to this
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