Forgot the Lanas, Laras, and Larrs, this week’s Superman & Lois kicks off the era of the Johns! Specifically Jon Kent, John Henry Irons, and Arrowverse crossover guest star John Diggle (David Ramsey), who all have prominent roles to play in tonight’s episode. Despite the potential confusion of having multiple major characters with the same name, “Through The Valley Of Death” is actually one of the most straightforward episodes we’ve had in this jam-packed back half of the season. The show returns from its brief hiatus with an episode all about the battle for Superman’s soul. As Edge tries to infuse Clark’s body with General Zod’s consciousness, Irons and the DOD make plans to kill the newly corrupted Man of Steel, while Lois and the boys fight to save their dad. And that simple set of stakes leads to one of the most emotionally affecting hours of the series.
So much of that stems from Bitsie Tulloch. While Tulloch is great at playing Lois’ steely reporter side, she’s even better at tapping into her inner vulnerabilities. Instead of trying to turn Lois into a “strong female character” in the reductive sense, Superman & Lois is true to the limitations of her circumstances and the way she reacts within them. Lois initially tries her best to stay cool, calm, and collected in the face of Clark’s latest brush with danger. But as everyone around becomes increasingly convinced that the only way to save the world is to kill Superman, Lois grows more emotionally desperate, which lets Tulloch hit some of the same heartbreaking notes of desperation she did back in “Holding The Wrench.” As Superman & Lois sees it, however, Lois’ strength comes not from her ability to keep it together at all times, but from the unwavering courage of her convictions—particularly her faith in her husband and her confidence in the decisions she makes.
What I love most about “Through The Valley Of Death” is how much it revolves around people making emotional appeals to one another. The idea that you can be a hero with words as much as with physical strength is one of my favorite Superman tropes (and something Supergirl frequently excels at too). And it’s all over this episode. Lois may be physically limited in how much she can do to save her husband, but she makes a huge move in deciding to reveal his real identity to Irons. Lois’ speech is the calculated move of a pragmatic strategist mixed with the emotional appeal of a worried wife, and Tulloch conveys both of those ideas beautifully.
So does Jordan Elsass as Jonathan reaches out to Irons with his own emotional appeal. It’s a lovely moment of a son echoing his mother, not to mention a nice callback to the video footage Jonathan saw back in “Holding The Wrench.” While Lois asks Irons to believe in the possibility of hope, Jonathan acknowledges the depth of pain that Irons has experienced too. Elsass is heartbreaking as Jonathan tacitly asks Irons not to put the Lane-Kents through that same pain: “You seemed like a really good dad. But I just want you to know, this guy you’re about to kill, he’s a really good dad too.”
Though Irons denies it in the moment, both speeches clearly resonant with him. (Wolé Parks does some really great silent reacting during Jonathan’s plea.) And in the episode’s ultimate grace note, Irons also winds up using his words to save the day. Even as Clark breaks through his mind control long enough to beg Irons to kill him, Irons doesn’t take the easy way out. Instead he delivers a speech infused with tough love and even a little resentment, which is a nice way to subvert the classic “I know you’re still in there!” superhero trope with something a bit more emotionally complex.
Irons will never fully let go of the trauma he experienced on his own Earth, but his time with the Lane-Kents has allowed him to reconnect with a sense of hope. He knows how hard he would fight to get back to his family, and he trusts that Clark will fight just as hard to get back to his too. Irons’ speech makes a sharp contrast with the vulnerability that Lois and Jonathan showed. Yet it turns out that tough love is exactly what Clark needs to hear in order to find the will to fight just a little bit harder to free himself from Zod. It’s a great way to bring Irons firmly onto Team Supes without losing the character’s slightly more hardened edge in the process.
“Through The Valley Of Death” not only weaves together just about every major storyline of the season, it also hits on all the thematic beats that have made Superman & Lois feel so original. Like “Loyal Subjekts,” it’s another episode that easily could’ve been a season finale, particularly in how quickly and definitively Clark and Irons team up to take down Edge. The Cushings even get a sweet family bonding subplot that puts an optimistic button on their season-long storyline and serves as a nice contrast to all the drama the Lane-Kents face this week.
So where does Superman & Lois go from here? Back to Edge, I guess. Though the ending of this episode is a little confusing in how rushed it is, it seems like Edge blows up the Eradicator in order to fuse with it and then let himself be captured as part of some yet-to-be-revealed master plan. As with most plot-heavy elements of Superman & Lois, it’s an idea that’s less compelling than the small-scale character stuff the show does best. “Through The Valley Of Death” gets the balance right, though, and hopefully sets a template for the final three episodes of the season to follow.
- Given how pointedly this series has ignored the rest of the Arrowverse (even its own parent series!), it’s wild how casually Superman & Lois throws Diggle into the mix with absolutely no explanation of who he is or how Lois knows him. I’m very curious how that played for viewers who don’t know the character from his days on Arrow.
- The whole sequence of Jordan scanning the Earth for his dad and then communicating with him across continents was very well done.
- Has Kyle always had such a thick Southern accent? Didn’t he grow up in Smallville?
- Big week for little sisters: The episode opens with Irons searching for this Earth’s version of his younger sister, and the Cushings finally remember they have a second daughter.
- There’s some excellent scoring in the montage where Clark regains control of his mind by remembering moments with his family.
- 10/10 for that golden-hour superhero kiss!