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

An overstuffed Superman & Lois leans into the weaker impulses of the Arrowverse

Illustration for article titled An overstuffed Superman & Lois leans into the weaker impulses of the Arrowverse
Photo: The CW

It’s hard to beat Superman in a fight. And not just a physical one, but a moral one too. As Lois points out when Clark fails to show up to support her at a town vote on whether Morgan Edge should take over the Smallville mine, Clark always has the most valid of reasons for his absences. When he misses an event, it’s because he’s literally off saving lives. Logically, it’s hard to begrudge that. But, emotionally, it’s hard not to be made to feel small when your everyday human problems are always pushed to the bottom of the priority list.

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It’s an interesting insight into what it would be like to be married to the Man of Steel, and Superman & Lois draws a real-world parallel to families of firefighters, soldiers, and others who are driven by a larger sense of duty. On paper, an episode about the ways in which Clark much choose between his priorities as a husband, father, and superhero/pseudo government contractor is rich territory for Superman & Lois to explore. In practice, however, “Haywire” is a frustratingly choppy episode that never quite finds its storytelling groove.

In other words: It feels like Superman & Lois doesn’t quite know where its priorities lie either. Over the course of these first four episodes, the show has been pushed and pulled between a character-centric superpowered family drama and a CW superhero procedural filled with the requisite episodic beats. “Haywire” leans too far towards the latter, with increased roles for Morgan Edge and General Lane as well as two separate threats-of-the-week. While Superman darts off to Metropolis to deal with escaped prisoner Thaddeus Killgrave (Brendan Fletcher), Jonathan and Jordan must deal with their newly superpowered classmate, Tag Harris (Wern Lee)—who we eventually learn gained metahuman abilities when Jordan’s ocular blast hit the “X-Kryptonite” buried under the town.

The surplus of power-granting space rocks is why Edge is so eager to take ownership of the mine, and it also gives Superman & Lois a ready-made plot device for more villains-of-the-week moving forward. But for a show that already feels overstuffed, I’m not sure the promise of more is all that exciting. Tag’s crisis doesn’t land with the emotional impact it should because he’s basically been a glorified extra up until this point. And the same goes for Killgrave, who’s introduced with a whole lot of pomp and circumstance, but ultimately defeated as something of an after thought.

Illustration for article titled An overstuffed Superman & Lois leans into the weaker impulses of the Arrowverse
Photo: The CW

Ultimately, “Haywire” attempts to do too much too fast and winds up spreading itself too thin in the process. There’s something about the episode’s pace and focus that just doesn’t quite gel. If I had to put my finger on the most extraneous element, it would be General Lane, which is a little ironic given that he’s an ostensible focal point of the episode. But he just doesn’t make a particularly compelling impression as either a grandfather or a military leader. Nor do I have a sense of what his relationship to the family was like before their game-changing move to Smallville. While Supergirl used its secret military organization to generate villain-of-the-week storylines for its titular heroine, I’m not sure Superman & Lois needs a major military throughline in the same way. Especially when the show already has so many other antagonistic subplots.

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Instead, the best moments of Superman & Lois remain the small-scale character-centric ones, like Clark using his powers to run football drills with his sons or Lois and Lana enjoying a much-needed vent session over drinks. The trouble is, those moments don’t shine the way they should when they keep getting cut short to make room for more superhero worldbuilding. It’s sweet that Lana and Lois are able to buoy each other up between shots, but I’m not sure I buy that Lois’ brief praise of Kyle would be enough to make Lana do a full 180 on her husband—even if he does make a mean dinosaur pancake.

Illustration for article titled An overstuffed Superman & Lois leans into the weaker impulses of the Arrowverse
Photo: The CW
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Which is why I really appreciate the more slow-burn approach Superman & Lois is taking with the Jonathan/Jordan/Sarah high school throughline. With the adults carrying most of the melodrama on this series, the teens are allowed to be believably low-key in their strengths and flaws. Sarah is charmingly self-aware about how see and Jordan are “disaffected, wayward” youth, but she’s also wonderfully empathetic to Jonathan’s experience as a once-popular kid who has no skills for coping as an outsider. Meanwhile, Jordan and Jonathan’s brotherly dynamic continues to be a really interesting, nuanced depiction of the blurry lines between sibling love and sibling jealously.

Right now, the best thing about Superman & Lois is that it doesn’t feel like any other superhero show on The CW. But the more it starts to embrace the well-worn tropes of the Arrowverse, the less original it feels. Now that Clark and Lois have (kind of) found the wherewithal to throw off the shackles of the military-industrial complex, here’s hoping Superman & Lois continues to fend off the more generic impulses of the Arrowverse-industrial one too. Which perhaps doesn’t seem all that likely now that General Lane has launched an ominous “Project 7734” contingency plan for dealing with Superman.

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Stray observations

  • The episode opens with a flashback to Saskatchewan six years ago with Morgan Edge chasing down something that fell from the sky. A meteorite made of X-Krpytonite? A space ship? I couldn’t quite tell.
  • In the comics, X-Kryptonite can temporarily give regular people Kryptonian-like powers. In other words, it sounds a whole lot like how Kryptonite exposure functioned back on Smallville.
  • Maybe I just don’t understand sports, but Jordan and Jonathan’s football coach seems full-on abusive? Where’s Ted Lasso when you need him?
  • I can’t say I’m finding Morgan Edge to be a particularly compelling villain, but he did make my skin crawl when he started a conversation with Lana by saying, “I understand you’re one of mine.”
  • Jonathan seems hilariously eager to sell Jordan on the concept of a special school for teens with powers.
  • Clark on Jordan’s inability to catch a football: “Well, that’s why he plays defense.”
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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.