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

Superman & Lois returns with an explosive episode

Illustration for article titled Superman & Lois returns with an explosive episode
Photo: Bettina Strauss/The CW

Oh, what a difference a cliffhanger makes! The last time we saw Superman & Lois back in March, the show ended with a rather perfunctory tease about a newly superpowered teen coming to seek revenge on Jordan Kent. Tonight’s compelling midseason premiere not only manages to make speedster Tag Harris a more interesting character, it also ends with a stronger, more gut-wrenching cliffhanger of its own. “Broken Trust” puts Jordan through the wringer both physically and emotionally, and then ends with the angst-y Kent twin collapsing in a superpowered seizure that only the Fortress of Solitude can heal. And while I don’t think there’s any real risk of the show killing off Jordan, the cliffhanger is still viscerally upsetting in its own right.

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It’s a strong conclusion to an overall strong episode of the freshman superhero series. Though it’s not ideal for a brand new TV show to take a seven-week (COVID-related) break after airing just five episodes, in this case, absence definitely made my heart grow fonder. The time off made me realize that for all its pacing issues, Superman & Lois has done a great job making me care about its central characters and their world. I was genuinely excited to dive back into Smallville (and Metropolis!) this week. And it’s nice to return with an episode that has a lot of big, meaty things to say about the Superman ethos.

In the same way Supergirl once used Kara’s powers to explore female anger, Superman & Lois uses the notion of superpowers to explore male anger and vulnerability—specifically as it relates to teenage boys. Jordan and Tag are both young men overwhelmed by the abilities that have been thrust upon them; desperate for help, but also struggling to find the emotional vulnerability to ask for it. That vulnerability is especially hard for Jordan to access because there’s a part of him that still wants his super-strength too. With a big football game coming up, he dreams of living out the fantasy of taking down all his old bullies back at Metropolis High.

“Broken Trust” does reveal some of the flaws of Superman & Lois’ early worldbuilding. I still think it was a mistake not to spend more time on the Lane-Kents’ life in Metropolis, which would’ve helped the contrast with their new lives in Smallville, and also made Jordan’s rivalry with his old tormenters feel much more personal in this episode. Similarly, if Tag had been a more active member of the show’s teen ensemble to begin with, there would’ve been a lot more emotional resonance to the scenes where he tries to reach out to Sarah for help.

Thankfully, some standout superhero sequences (mostly) make up for that shaky foundation. As in the show’s strong third episode, football once again brings out the best in Superman & Lois. A brutal skirmish during the Smallville vs. Metropolis game causes Jordan’s powers to build up beyond his control. And in a genuinely unnerving moment, he has to stealthily beam his heat vision into his dad’s hands to keep himself from exploding. It’s a terrifying reflection of Jordan’s unchecked abilities—and an impressive reminder of Clark’s indestructibility.

Illustration for article titled Superman & Lois returns with an explosive episode
Photo: Bettina Strauss/The CW
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While some of Jordan’s early breakdowns call to mind similar sequences in Man Of Steel, the heat vision explosion feels unique in the live-action Superman canon. Jordan’s eruption makes Kryptonian abilities seem like a threat and a burden, not just a cool power fantasy. And it’s a sequence that’s just as impactful on a metaphorical level as a literal one. The image of Clark absorbing his son’s blast is a powerful encapsulation of the way that parents can inadvertently pass on burdens to their children, but then help them carry them too.

Indeed, there’s a lot going on beneath the surface of this episode. Particularly when it comes to the central themes of trust, honesty, and vulnerability. On the surface, the subplot about Lois and tech reporter “Marcus Bridgewater” (a.k.a. Captain Luthor) sneaking into Morgan Edge’s mines is a fun way to get Lois in on some investigative action—one that lets her prove she’s no slouch in how quickly she sees through Luthor’s act too. But it’s also interesting that the way “Marcus” asks her to trust him without knowing the full picture is almost exactly the same thing that Lois asks of Lana and Kyle when she comes to them with her suspicions about Edge. Maybe Lois and her alternate universe husband aren’t so different after all...

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But by far the best thing about “Broken Trust” is its ability to ramp up tension. Director Sudz Sutherland crafts an edge-of-your-seat climax in which all three of the Kent men find themselves testing their mental and physical strength. As Jonathan tries to stop Jordan from losing his cool with some Metropolis bullies, Clark tries to stop the U.S. military from murdering a scared teenager in cold bold. And Superman & Lois gets to the heart of what makes Superman a hero: It’s not his powers, it’s his restraint.

Illustration for article titled Superman & Lois returns with an explosive episode
Photo: Bettina Strauss/The CW
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Tyler Hoechlin colors his performance with angry, authoritative notes this week, which adds some incredibly effective depth to his sunny Superman persona. We see just how hard it is for Clark to keep a level-head as the military shoots bullets at a teen and then Kryptonite at him. And we also see just how easy it would be for him to take them all down in one fell swoop if he wanted too. But doing so would mean losing humanity’s trust forever, as Clark tries to explain to Jordan in a stand-out monologue: “It took me a minute to realize that other people were more afraid of what I could do than I was.”

Unfortunately, it’s the son who didn’t inherit his power who did inherit that magnanimous spirit. Jonathan continues to emerge as the heart of Superman & Lois. He selflessly sacrifices his hand (and potentially his football career) to stop his brother from maiming a bully with a superpowered punch. Jordan, meanwhile, is petulant, selfish, and downright unlikable in this episode. But that’s part of what makes his climactic breakdown so powerful too. His teenage mistakes feel real, as does his teenage regret. It’s Alex Garfin’s best work on the series yet.

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Indeed, one lovely grace note of Superman & Lois is how real the family dynamics feel. Like Sarah’s sweet attempt to buoy her mom’s spirits after Kyle’s less-than-thrilled reaction to Lana’s new job with Morgan Edge. Or the way Clark and Lois wrap-up their tough-love parenting only for her to casually segue to the fact that she almost got killed earlier in the day, which is such a great depiction of their marriage of equals. Across the board, “Broken Trust” delivers a reminder of what Superman & Lois does best, while also laying storytelling groundwork that I suspect will have dramatic ramifications on the rest of the season. It’s a strong way to welcome the show back to our airwaves.


Stray observations

  • Though the CGI is far from perfect, I appreciate the ambition of the opening train rescue. Superman & Lois is clearly committed to depicting Superman’s powers in big-scale ways, even on a TV budget/schedule.
  • I love how Lois casually namedrops her friendship with Superman while trying to get Lana and Kyle to agree to her plan to spy on Edge.
  • I know Lana and Kyle were a little drunk in love after their date night, but it seems really weird that they didn’t check on their daughters as soon as they got home.
  • I don’t know if it’s a conscious thing or not, but Tyler Hoechlin and Jordan Elsass have a lot of the same mannerisms in a way that really makes them feel like father and son.
  • “Why does a journalist have a ray gun? That makes no sense!”
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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. She loves sci-fi, Jane Austen, and co-hosting the movie podcast, Role Calling.