Photo: Steffan Hill/Syfy

It’s pretty clear that Krypton’s writers love to explain. By Grodd, do they love to explain. This show explains the minutiae of its alien tech, military operations, and ancient belief systems so often, and in such scene-stretching tediousness, it occasionally becomes something very close to a parody of a sci-fi series. This exchange between helpful human thesaurus Seg-El and his hologram grandfather Val-El from tonight’s “The Rankless Initiative” is one of the more unintentionally funny bits of dialogue over Krypton’s first three episodes.

Val: “This is only a casing for another device.”

Seg: “It’s a shell?”

Val: “Precisely.”

But there’s more to this than just your average complaint about exposition eating up a new show’s runtime. Krypton’s redundant storytelling problems are actively holding back a show that is consistently stunning purely on a visual level. (How much leftover Caprica merch did Syfy have to sell to afford to make Brainiac’s ship look so damn cool?) Whenever it comes time for the script’s “tell” to become “show” the action never quite lines up with what was just explained to us ad nauseum, and that divide is tearing Krypton apart.

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Take, for example, the Rankless Initiative itself, a show of force by the Sagitari meant to weed Black Zero out of the highly-populated Sector 19. Despite a prevalence of Krypton’s trademark scene—several people discussing a hologram—the lead-up to the operation is actually boldly topical for a show about Superman’s grandfather. Coming off a year where the U.S. orchestrated about 120 drone strikes in Yemen alone, discussions on any planet about the toll of innocent casualties hit home. Just a few weeks after Stephon Clark was shot eight times in the back by Sacramento police, you feel a hell of a lot of weight added to any story that sees someone gunned down just for being “Rankless.”

But the Rankless Initiative plot is such a mess overall that it kind of negates the seriousness of any points it’s trying to make. I can’t, for the life of me, understand what the Sagitari were actually trying to achieve here. I’m not sure how surprise zip-lining into the neighborhood and scanning faces one at a time is meant to draw out the underground terrorist organization that has evaded you for years. Again, like an elderly school teacher, Krypton is very good at explaining its major points but cannot do the heavy lifting.

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This flaw is much more glaring in Seg, Adam Strange, and Kem’s search for Brainiac’s sentry. (It came to Krypton in a casing, also known as a shell.) The story had a ton promise, “who can we trust” paranoia plot that borrowed a bit from both The Thing and Night of the Creeps. But as the episode chugged along, Nadria Tucker’s script started to actively contradict itself.

Brainiac sends a lookout to each planet he’s considering collecting, a parasite that inhabits a local host, which it uses to “gather information about whatever planet it’s on.” Here, the sentry...doesn’t really do that. It spends a majority of its time chilling in its case-within-a-case, uses the body of Seg’s friend Rhom to kill a few Sagitari and cause property damage over the time it takes to find a USB outlet, and finally contacts Brainiac to let him know Krypton is chill enough of a place to either collect or completely destroy. (It’s unclear which, at this juncture.)

If this sounds dismissive, know that Krypton does a pretty good job by itself be rendering most of that moot anyway. Seg incapacitates Rhom with an electrostatic discharge grenade—given to him by Lyta, defying her mother’s orders on several levels—but fails to stop the sentry from sending out its beacon. Brainiac is officially on his way. “Krypton, your world is at an end,” the Collector of Worlds says, the first taste of Blake Ritson’s voice we hear. Like everything else strictly effects related, it’s superb, a perfectly comic-book blend of menace and camp.

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But it’s such an odd storytelling moment to use as a cliffhanger, or any sort of development for that matter. Wasn’t the basis for both episodes before “The Rankless Initiative” that Brainiac was coming to Krypton? Wasn’t it the reason Adam Strange traversed space and time? Hell, Val-El predicted it fourteen years ago and they killed him for it. It’s barely a notch past the ending of last week’s episode. We basically used an hour of episode time to definitively switch Brainiac’s Facebook RSVP from a strong maybe to definitely.

There are great bright spots in every early episode of Krypton. Here, it’s both the setting’s ability to use sci-fi to comment on real-world issues and that brief, gloriously weird scene of sentry-Rhom going full “there is no Dana, only Zuul,” a glimpse at a Krypton that lets loose and gets truly kooky. But overall, it’s moving at a snail’s pace, almost an inevitability when your entire story is a prequel to an apocalypse 75 years in the making.


Stray Observations

  • Lyta’s storyline—still the strongest on the show by a wide margin—would be even more effective if she wasn’t the single, solitary member of the Sagitari that wasn’t the same shade of cartoonishly bigoted asshole. It’s like she keeps interacting with the same character wearing a different face.
  • I do feel like the show needs to define what exactly Brainiac does. It feels counter-productive for the Collector of Worlds to “lay waste” to civilization. You don’t throw your baseball cards into a blender before buying them.
  • It’s getting harder with each episode to ignore the fact Adam Strange traveled through time to tell Seg-El he needs to save his entire planet but is also offering no suggestion as to how.
  • Did anyone else spend a large chunk of this episode’s first half waiting for Rhom’s daughter, Ona, to be Brainiac’s sentry?
  • I am glad that Seg actually had to use the EDG, and Rhom didn’t just snap out of it at the mention of Ona. That would imply that on all the planets Brainiac has visited, there haven’t yet been parents that just like, loved their child a lot.

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