To illustrate what exactly makes Krypton’s storytelling feel so wonky, let’s talk about Game Of Thrones for a second.
The very first scene of HBO’s fantasy mega-hit established that an ancient race of evil snowmen was approaching civilization—very slowly, but still—hellbent on eradicating all mankind. From that point on, that threat hovered over everything, every political maneuver, every surprise death, every squabble, battle, and passionate tryst incestual or otherwise. While these characters fought tooth and nail over who gets to sit on history’s least comfortable throne, death itself lumbered closer and closer, rendering their human problems—for lack of a better word—pointless.
But this juxtaposition of human issues and supernatural threats works for Game Of Thrones, because a) The futility of life is practically the point of that show, and b) through a combination of performance and writing, Game Of Thrones made you care enough about the small stuff to distract from the very, very big stuff looming in the distance.
Not so much for Krypton.
While last week’s episode ramped up the threat of Brainiac coming to collect the entire planet, “The Word of Rao” focused heavily on the power struggles—both overt and hidden—between the major houses of Kandor. It’s just such an odd choice to find Seg, Strange, and Kem sulking in a bar after learning the end of all life is on its way. Superman’s cape is still disappearing, my dudes! It makes Adam Strange as a character look even more pointless than he already does—arriving on Krypton to give Seg an impossible task and then offering zero help to complete it—and effectively saps much of the tension out of Lyta being charged with treason. “A Krypton without Lyta isn’t worth saving,” is a great line that also happens to make Seg sound like a crazy person.
It’s a shame, too, because this episode is filled with great performances. The women of House Zod have been Krypton’s MVPs since the beginning, but Ann Ogbomo and Georgina Campbell are on another level here as two people torn between legacy and a loved one. As Jayna Zod, Ogbomo is such a physical presence that it’s easy to miss all the subtleties she’s pulling off with her face. As Jayna fiercely tells off both Seg and Dev-Em for being macho in each other’s faces— “none of this is helping Lyta,” she says, correctly —Ogbomo makes it clear that she’s just as angry at the crooked regime that took her daughter into custody, and herself for not doing more to stop it.
The other half of the episode, unfortunately, is such a wacky mess that it almost redeems itself on a purely what-the-fuck level (something I, a person who has seen every episode of Gotham, can appreciate if not condone). Brainiac’s plan to corrupt the Voice of Rao is to get a sentry disguised as a figurine into the hands of Rhom’s daughter, Ona—who may or may not be a vessel of Brainiac herself—in the off chance she is able to hand it to the heavily-guarded Voice, in the hopes he eventually brings it to his sanctum instead of immediately throwing it in his gold-plated trash.
It’s the type of coincidental plotting that plagued last week’s “The Rankless Initiative,” the kind of writing that draws attention to its own sloppiness. Why does Brainiac even need to take over the Voice? Does the Collector of Worlds bring planets to ruin through subterfuge? If so, what’s the point of even having a massive ship shaped like a skull?
Not around to take on any of these questions is Seg, who is abducted by a yet-unnamed former Black Zero member who is now working to stop Brainiac. Arrow alum Colin Salmon is a welcome addition to any show, for sure, and plays the role on that fantastic Forest Whitaker-esque edge between frighteningly intense and quite clearly insane. But his reasoning for kidnapping Seg—hell, the character’s entire M.O.—incidentally gives voice to Krypton’s biggest issue. “If Black Zero knew about Brainiac,” he asks Seg, “do you think they’d be wasting time battling that six-faced liar and his unraveling theocracy?”
Which is a heck of a thing to say, because a good portion of this show’s storylines are… battling that six-faced liar and his unraveling theocracy. It’s not often a script does your critiquing for you, but here we are. The audience does know about Brainiac. Why are we wasting our time?
- This was also a stand-out episode for Wallis Day, whose ever-present coolness as Nyssa Vex elevates even the simplest of conversations. Convincing Jayna to stage a coup against the Voice of Rao is not a simple conversation, of course, but Day’s constant iciness is particularly effective across from Ogbomo’s fire.
- The episode-ending twist might land a little better if we had any idea why the Voice of Rao is so powerful in the first place. Krypton hasn’t worked very hard to explain the hierarchy of Kandor’s ruling class. From what I can tell, it’s a highly-advanced technological society but is also somehow run by a religious organization that puts people to death for suggesting there is life on other planets.
- It’s a weird choice to write Adam Strange discussing R2-D2 but not having Seg ask what the hell he’s talking about. Unless, of course, it’s canon that Star Wars exists on Krypton, which I’d gladly accept despite it making no sense whatsoever.
- Some news: This will be the last weekly review of Krypton on The A.V. Club. If anything huge happens—or if Brainiac ever gets around to showing up—we will of course dip back in to talk about it. As always, thanks for reading!