Superman & Lois – Season 3 Episode 13
“What Kills You Only Makes You Stronger”
Superman & Lois ends its third season with life moving forward in unexpected ways and Lex making his move.
Regular readers will know that I consider this season of Superman & Lois to be a consistently strong one. The detailed and sensitive cancer storyline was routinely compelling as well as compelling and a legitimate attempt was made to give attention to characters that had previously fallen by the wayside. It didn’t always succeed in what it set out to do in the latter case but the intent was clear and the attempt was appreciated. There was a sense that the writers were committed to rounding out the show as a whole and were working to give underserved characters more inner life.
It’s important to preface the review with this praise in order to establish why this finale was so disappointing. Instead of a season finale, it feels more like the setup to a season finale as it spends the majority of the running time setting things up to play out in the subsequent episode. Lois’ opening narration sets up that they are in a period of calm but the threat of Lex Luthor hangs over it. The Kents are living their lives while being aware that he can strike at any time and the other characters are all going about their lives as normal. A sense of fragile bliss is really well established as is the notion that something is coming.
Some may argue that the threat of Lex Luthor isn’t being taken seriously enough and there’s certainly merit to that argument but it’s addressed neatly in dialogue that neither Clark nor Sam are worried because they don’t believe that Lex has any way of getting to her when Superman and the DEO are committed to her protection. Neither of them is taking the threat lightly but equally, they aren’t overly concerned about it. This suggests a more passive antagonistic relationship between Clark and Lex in the period before the show began as Clark doesn’t regard him as being capable of carrying out his threat. Clark underestimating Lex is an interesting starting point for this show as it can develop into him learning the hard way that he was wrong to do so.
To the episode’s credit, it does spend the majority of its time focusing on the characters and their relationships with one another. Some choices are confusing such as Chrissy’s pregnancy and the fallout of that revelation. It does indicate that life is moving on in unexpected ways but it comes across as a strange development when considering that Kyle and Chrissy’s relationship has received variable coverage over the course of the season. It started off as two lonely people connecting and making each other feel wanted and progressed to an actual relationship once Lana found out about them. Now they’re suddenly having a child and Kyle proposes to her in full view of the town as a declaration of how committed he is to both her and their unborn child. It all happens very quickly and the season has mostly depicted the milestones in their relationship rather than organically presenting them as a couple. There has been next to no time devoted to them simply spending time together to show how their relationship functions under normal circumstances.
There is a lot to play with such as how the town would react to seeing them together after Kyle and Lana’s divorce. Smallville is a small town where everyone knows everyone so true privacy is nearly impossible but this is something that is routinely forgotten. The town has never felt fleshed out as a community and it wouldn’t take much to do so through creating stories out of things like Kyle moving on quickly after his divorce. Not that their relationship needed to be shunned by the town at large but it was one option amongst a variety of them that could have been explored. The pregnancy is an underwhelming and confusing development because it hasn’t been earned.
It does allow for an engaging scene where Lana reacts to hearing the news. She congratulates Kyle and pledges to support him even though it’s clearly a bombshell that is difficult to process, particularly when blindsided by it. Emmanuelle Chriqui plays this perfectly with the full range of emotion delivered in her performance. Bizarrely, Sarah and Sophie’s reaction to learning they will soon have a half-sister receive no attention. It does give Lana’s reaction more weight but the scene is very deliberately set up so that Kyle can deliver the news to all three of them at the same time so the lack of coverage of Sarah and Sophie is confusing. Lana not following up by discussing this with her daughters also stands out, particularly when this season has featured so many scenes where Lana and Sarah collectively deal with various issues.
Lana taking her feelings about Kyle’s news into her date with John is a natural progression and deciding to engage in a moment of passion with him makes sense, especially coming after John tells her about the job offer that means he will have to relocate to Metropolis. Lana likely feels like she’s stuck in a rut while people around her are moving on with their lives so acting on her attraction to John is a way for her to do something outside of the norm. It’s an act of rebellion in a sense and understandable considering everything that is rattling around her mind.
John being offered a job developing tech for the DEO and relocating to Metropolis is another example of things changing in unexpected ways. John is uncertain at first but Natalie is excited because she sees it as a way for them to have the life they talked about with their own company while Natalie attends the DOD academy. John advises her to slow down and accuses her of leaping to that possibility because Matteo recently enrolled. It’s a bizarre reaction as he knows her potential and should understand how thoughtful she is. As such, he should appreciate that her desire to join the DOD academy won’t be motivated by getting to see Matteo. The mention of Matteo being in the DOD academy is another strange inclusion as it develops him as a character off-screen without providing any coverage of the aftermath of Bruno Mannheim’s arrest and the impact it has on him. A general problem with this episode is missing or ignoring key character beats and at best writing them off with a line or two of dialogue.
Another character-driven story that receives attention is Jordan becoming a public superhero in the previous episode. The idea that he was frustrated by the anonymity and was looking for the same kind of recognition that Clark gets as Superman is an interesting one and Clark dismissing it because it’s not what he actively looks for created a relatable barrier between them rooted in Clark not understanding Jordan’s perspective. Clark doubles down on his stance on recognition. Jordan is still banned from heroics until he can understand what should motivate him to be a hero. His advice is more measured and takes Jordan’s feelings into account but still presents the narrative that Jordan is wrong to want recognition. Clark tells him that the recognition won’t give him what he thinks he’ll get out of it and the purity of helping others and making a difference is the only true validation that can be gained being a superhero.
It’s a valid perspective because it comes from Clark’s experience. Public opinion is fleeting and there will likely come a point where they turn on a superhero if a mistake is made or there is a narrative created around their deeds so being fuelled by the praise and recognition gained from strangers won’t be real because it can change or disappear on a whim. Clark is confident that he is trying to do the right thing so the opinions of the public mean nothing to him and he has built his persona around helping unconditionally. The problem is that Clark doesn’t try to see Jordan’s perspective or understand the world he lives in. He is a teenager so popularity and the pursuit of validation is something he encounters frequently. He is also more dialled into a world that is being made smaller due to the internet and social media. Perception is very important to him because of the external factors that make it seem important.
If Clark wants Jordan to rise above all of that then he needs to approach Jordan from a place of understanding. He isn’t doing this as he is being entirely directive about how things work from his point of view rather than taking the time to understand Jordan’s point of view. He articulates himself better than previously but there’s a lot missing and no attempt is made to have the conversation even though there’s a clear opportunity to do so. If Jordan feels that Clark is unapproachable because there is no chance of changing his mind then that could be something to explore but as presented Clark has all the answers even though there are clear gaps in his understanding.
His advice to Jordan about Sarah is far better. He encourages Jordan to consider how Sarah feels regardless of how much she hurt him. The advice is rooted in his core values as it’s about always thinking of others especially when it’s very difficult to do so. He knows that Jordan understands this deep down and helps him process it so that he can do the right thing and approach Sarah with empathy rather than hostility. This leads to a genuine apology where he is finally honest about the cause of his behaviour and they agree to not try to be friends for now, as difficult as this is. It’s a harsh yet mature acknowledgement of the fact that sometimes time needs to be taken to heal rather than force a relationship to exist that neither is emotionally prepared for.
The cancer story receives attention with Lois deciding that it’s time to be intimate again. It’s a significant step forward in the healing process and an attempt on Lois’ part to embrace her new normal by reclaiming the intimacy that she considers a fundamental part of her relationship with Clark. Elizabeth Tulloch played Lois’ vulnerability in the moment beautifully and Tyler Hoechlin was an excellent scene partner portraying Clark’s endless patience in letting Lois go at her own pace. It underlines his unwavering support of her through this ordeal. The handling of this is wonderfully sensitive and it comes across as another earned victory in this ongoing story. It perhaps signifies the end of this at least in terms of the treatment and milestones. If that’s the case then the show has to be commended for it being a human story that had no intervention from the fantastical elements the show has access to.
Lex Luthor makes his move against Clark towards the end of the episode. He turns the resurrected Bizarro into a weapon by exploiting his ability to come back strong after every death which eventually turns him into this show’s version of Doomsday. It isn’t a bad idea by itself but the show’s handling of it is rushed. There is no explanation for why Bizarro suddenly has this ability as the show rushes from Lex Luthor learning about this to the transformation from Bizarro to Doomsday.
Doomsday isn’t an interesting villain for this show as it has always been founded on characterisation and Doomsday isn’t a character. He’s an engine of destruction with no personality who exists to overpower Superman in ways that no other being ever has. Bizarro turning into Doomsday could have been an opportunity to build some character to the monster but Bizarro is characterised as being monstrous and driven by instinct following his resurrection so there is no character in the monster to begin with. He was able to understand Lex enough to consent to being killed over and over to become stronger but he doesn’t speak or present anything other than pain when being tortured. With a few tweaks, the idea of Lex stripping away the man to create the monster could have been a compelling tragic development as it would further show how merciless Lex is through his disregard of Bizarro’s agency. He sees Bizarro as nothing more than a tool or a weapon to be pointed at Superman. Since Bizarro has no agency other than giving consent to be repeatedly killed there’s no sense of Lex taking anything from him.
There is merit to Clark having to deal with something that is nothing more than raw power. There is no way he can reason with Doomsday because there is nothing to reason with which means that his core values have no power. Being Superman is of no use to him in this fight because there’s no hope to inspire in a brutal engine of destruction so it is about which side is more powerful. The episode doesn’t do anything with that idea as Clark immediately accepts the monstrous being as something he needs to fight with no attempt to establish a dialogue with him. This makes the fight nothing more than spectacle because there is no showcase of Clark trying to be the hero that he advised Jordan to be earlier in the episode. A few lines of dialogue where Clark tries to reach Doomsday on a personal level and fails would have intensified the conflict significantly.
It is impressive spectacle that does have some moments of character for Clark. Taking time to reassure the terrified onlookers after believing he has defeated Doomsday is an excellent Superman moment that highlights why he does what he does, working to take the fight away from populated areas is another strong touch that shows Clark’s priorities and Clark finding the willpower to continue the fight by thinking about his family is excellent. It reinforces that his family give him strength and reinforces the things that motivate him to fight. It’s an engaging way to begin another round of this difficult and brutal physical conflict.
There is to be another season of this show but it will change significantly. The episode count has been scaled back and the cast has been massively reduced which means that a lot of the developments detailed in this episode may end up going nowhere if the characters don’t at least make a brief appearance to offer some form of closure on them. The cost of renewal may prove to be too high as so much of what makes the show engaging is disappearing and there’s no indication of how it will adapt to those changes. This episode ends on a cheesy mid-fight cliffhanger which contributes to this feeling like the setup for a season finale rather than the finale itself. It’s an overall unsatisfying viewing experience that doesn’t earn a mid-fight cliffhanger due to the lack of investment in the fight itself. Hopefully, this can be rescued in what is sure to be the show’s final season.
An uneven finale that does have some engaging characterisation but also contains several glaring character beat omissions and culminates in an unsatisfying spectacle-driven sequence.
- Lana’s wonderfully played reaction to Kyle’s news
- Lana taking her feelings about that into her date with John and allowing them to inform her decision to engage in a moment of passion with him
- Clark approaching his advice to Jordan about recognition better than previously
- his advice to Jordan about Sarah being rooted in his core values
- Jordan’s genuine apology and his honesty about the cause of his behavior
- the mutual decision to acknowledge there is too much baggage for Sarah and Jordan to be friends currently
- the sensitive handling of Lois’ decision to embrace her new normal intimate with Clark again
- the impressive Clark vs. Doomsday action sequence
- some injections of character such as Clark reassuring terrified onlookers
- Clark finding the willpower to continue the fight by thinking about his family
- Chrissy’s pregnancy being a confusing and unearned development
- no coverage of Sarah and Sophie’s reaction to Kyle’s news
- Lana not following up by discussing it with her daughters
- John accusing Natalie of wanting to enrol in the DEO academy because of Matteo
- Matteo developing off-screen
- failing to address Jordan’s perspective when Clark advises him about his approach to heroism
- Doomsday being the wrong villain for this show as there’s no character to him
- the fight being little more than spectacle
- a cheesy cliffhanger that doesn’t have the required level of investment
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