Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

A moving Superman & Lois puts Martha Kent’s legacy front and center

Illustration for article titled A moving Superman & Lois puts Martha Kent’s legacy front and center
Photo: Bettina Strauss/The CW

It can be hard for family-focused shows to get the balance of their storytelling right. Root yourself too much in the perspective of the kids, and the adults can feel like boring wet blankets. Root yourself too much in the perspective of the parents, and the kids can feel like whiny punks. What’s impressive about the first five episodes of Superman & Lois is how much they’ve gotten me to care about both generations of the Lane-Kent family. I totally sympathize with Clark and Lois’ struggle to raise two very different teenage boys whose moods can swing drastically. But I also totally empathize with Jordan and Jonathan’s ongoing struggles with identity and community in their new hometown too. It’s a tricky balancing act that Superman & Lois makes look easy—even as it adds a whole new generation to the mix with flashbacks to Clark’s own teen years too.

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While last week’s episode felt overcrowded with Big Bads and superhero struggles, “The Best Of Smallville” is one of the most tonally cohesive episodes of Superman & Lois yet. There’s forward moment on Chrissy and Lois’ investigation into Morgan Edge, while Captain Luthor ingratiates himself into the main storyline in a surprising and compelling way. But those storylines exist on the margins of an episode that’s first and foremost about family life in Smallville. Beneath the cozy exterior of the town’s annual Harvest Festival lurks all sorts of complex domestic drama—from long-term marital troubles to first high school breakups. And, naturally, it all comes bubbling to the surface at the most inopportune moments.

After plastering on a smile for the first few weeks of the family’s move, Jonathan finally snaps when his girlfriend Eliza dumps him the day she’s supposed to show up for a visit. Frustrated, Jonathan not only gets drunk and ruins Jordan’s first date with Sarah, he also threatens the stability of the Lane-Kent household by suggesting he’d prefer to live with family friends in Metropolis. It’s an emotional explosion that’s been a long time coming, but rather than punish his son or shut down his feelings, Clark approaches Jonathan with empathy. He gives him a one-time “get out of jail free card” for the drinking, and promises that if Jonathan still doesn’t like Smallville after giving the town a second chance, they can revisit the conversation about where he should live.

It’s a forgiving, empathetic parenting style that Clark learned from his own mom. Given how often Superman stories center on Clark trying to live up to his father(s), it’s nice to see Superman & Lois put Martha’s heroic influence front and center for once. It’s only in retrospect that Clark can look back and recognize just how selfless his mom was in supporting his journey of superhero self-discovery, even as it took him away from her at a time when she was still grieving the loss of her husband. Though the teen Clark flashbacks don’t have the same production values or acting confidence as the main storyline, they’re a strong thematic addition to the series. Clark’s surprisingly cruel teenage tantrum proves he wasn’t always a shining beacon of truth, justice, and the American way. That Clark had to grow into his sunny superheroism makes him a more relatably human character.

Illustration for article titled A moving Superman & Lois puts Martha Kent’s legacy front and center
Photo: Bettina Strauss/The CW

Though “The Best Of Smallville” isn’t the most conventionally exciting episode of Superman & Lois, it’s filled with wonderfully lived-in character moments that are thrilling in a different kind of way: Clark sweetly putting his head in Lois’ lap as the talk about the troubles of their day. Jordan immediately accepting Jonathan’s genuine apology. A dispirited Kyle suddenly realizing just how quickly his daughter is growing up. Superman & Lois tends to be strongest when it’s at its most personal, which is also why the latest twist with Captain Luthor is so exciting. It turns out that in his universe, Captain Luthor was married to Lois Lane. Which is how he knows exactly how to get on her good side as he continues his mission to track down Superman.

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Having deduced that wherever Lois goes, Superman follows, Luthor poses as a Reuters tech reporter named Marcus Bridgewater and offers to team up with Lois to write an exposé on Morgan Edge. It’s a smart way to weave Captain Luthor into the Smallville-side of the series, and his personal connection to Lois makes his storyline way more exciting than it was before. Unfortunately, “The Best Of Smallville” is less successful at adding a more personal touch to the Morgan Edge X-Kryptonite throughline. The reveal that missing miner/misbegotten superhero experiment Derek Powell is dating Edge henchwoman Leslie Larr is a bit random. And Derek’s worried mom Sharon isn’t a particularly compelling character either. Still, at least it’s cool to watch an action scene unfold through the barns and fields of Smallville as Clark chases down Derek before he self-destructs.

True to its title, “The Best Of Smallville” manages to make the Lane-Kents’ new hometown feel more lived-in and expansive than it has before. I like the idea of Superman & Lois adding some Stars Hollow-esque quirk to balance out Smallville’s sepia-toned despondency. (Clark’s giddy excitement about the Harvest Festival is adorable.) It’s also a welcome surprise that the most moving moment of the episode centers on a bench that Lana dedicates to Martha’s memory. Ma Kent embodied the selfless communal values that Lois and Clark are trying to instill in their sons with their move to Smallville. And though Jordan and Jonathan will continue to make mistakes on their road to maturity, they’re well on their way to living up to their grandma’s ideals.

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Stray observations

  • The episode ends with a cliffhanger that sees a newly suited-up Tag attack Jordan. We’ll have to wait a while to see how it’s resolved though. Due to pandemic-related delays, Superman & Lois is going on hiatus until May 18.
  • If you still want a Kryptonian in your life, however, the first chunk of Supergirl’s sixth season will be taking over the Superman & Lois timeslot starting next week. And I’ll be back with weekly reviews of that series as well!
  • Lana organizing the donation portion of the Harvest Fest gave me major flashbacks to Cher Horowitz captaining the Pismo Beach Disaster relief drive in Clueless.
  • Given that in the post-Crisis reality, Lex Luthor is seen as a heroic philanthropist, it’s a little weird that Lois openly discusses him as a villain.
  • I couldn’t quite get a read on Wolé Parks’ vibe as an actor in his first two shadowy appearances, but I really love how he plays Captain Luthor in this episode. There’s a compelling mix of charisma and tragedy to his performance.
  • Chrissy is another really fun addition to the series. “WWLLD: What would Lois Lane do?”
  • This is the second episode in a row to feature someone in Smallville talking about taking a ride share. I like to imagine there’s just one local guy who does all the town’s driving.
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Contributor, The A.V. Club. Caroline Siede is a pop culture critic in Chicago, where the cold never bothers her anyway. Her interests include superhero movies, feminist theory, and Jane Austen novels.