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Superman & Lois finds a new spark as it heads to high school

Illustration for article titled Superman & Lois finds a new spark as it heads to high school
Photo: Katie Yu/The CW
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“With great power comes great responsibility.” It may be a motto from a different comic book universe, but it very much applies to Superman in general and this iteration of the Man of Steel in particular. The Clark Kent of Superman & Lois is burdened by the responsibilities of marriage, fatherhood, community, farm ownership, and, of course, worldwide heroics. But he’s also burdened by ethical questions about how to use his superhuman abilities to do the most good while causing the least harm. It’s a metaphor for the burdens of trying to be a good person—and, more specifically, trying to be a good parent. How do you protect your kids without limiting them? How do you check-in without overstepping their personal boundaries? And how do you do all that when you literally have the ability to listen in on their entire lives if you want to?

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After two episodes that essentially functioned as a two-part premiere, “The Perks Of Not Being A Wallflower” digs into the meat of what Superman & Lois will look like as a weekly show. Captain Luthor is put on the back-burner this week as the show turns its attention to Jonathan and Jordan’s high school drama and adds a superpowered element to Lois’ investigation into Morgan Edge. There’s a bit of a choppy, overstuffed quality to this episode, particularly with the Lois stuff. But, on the whole, “The Perks Of Not Being A Wallflower” makes some smart choices for the series moving forward and eventually lands on a tone that blends the show’s gritty small town realism with the more lighthearted vibe of a classic Supes story.

Like his father, Jordan is grappling with the burdens and responsibilities that come from having powers. “The Perks Of Not Being A Wallflower” clarifies that while Jordan’s abilities are limited and intermittent, his newly enhanced strength seems to be a full-time thing. That inspires him to try out for the football team—first to get revenge on the jocks who keep bullying him, and then because he genuinely likes the sense of confidence and camaraderie it brings him. Clark is more than a little concerned about Jordan getting reckless with his abilities (the whole thing is essentially Dash’s subplot from The Incredibles). But it’s Jonathan who helps his dad realize that Jordan might be looking for more than just a power trip. “What’s the point of having something special if you’re not actually allowed to be special?” Jonathan asks, as he stands up for his brother’s right to play football.

Jonathan continues to emerge as one of Superman & Lois’ most intriguing characters—and Jordan Elsass as one of the show’s most winning performers. Jonathan may not have superpowers, but he clearly takes the responsibilities of trying to be a good person just as seriously as his dad does. Though he’s jealous of Jordan encroaching on his athletic turf, he’s willing to set aside those frustrations for the good of his brother. While Jordan inherited their father’s physical abilities, Jonathan clearly inherited Clark’s superheroic sense of empathy.

Illustration for article titled Superman & Lois finds a new spark as it heads to high school
Photo: Katie Yu/The CW

The way that Jonathan and Clark work together to figure out what’s best for Jordan is a really interesting depiction of both sibling dynamics and parent/child ones. But it also feels a little bit like Jonathan stepping into the co-parenting role you’d expect Lois to play within her own family. While Lois gets plenty of investigative journalism screentime this week, I worry that Superman & Lois is falling into the trap of trying to make her a “strong female character” by defining her mostly by her career—which leaves her too far removed from the family aspect of what’s first and foremost a family-focused show. Superman & Lois hasn’t forgotten about motherhood entirely; Lana and Sarah get a tense yet ultimately incredibly sweet and hopeful throughline that parallels the Clark/Jordan one. I hope that Lois will eventually get the same sort of specificity in her relationship to her children, rather than just serving as a font of advice for Clark’s more nuanced dynamic with his boys.

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Still, “The Perks Of Not Being A Wallflower” offers a vast improvement to last week’s episode by tying its climatic action scene to something more central to the series. Lois’ investigation leads her to a woman named Sharon Powell, whose son Derek disappeared after making an ominous deal with Morgan Edge’s local mining company. When Lois tries to learn more, however, she gets her car blown up and then finds herself ambushed by a superpowered assassin. Thankfully, she’s got her own superpowered backup on hand. While the motel room rescue could feel like a classic damsel-in-distress scenario, instead it effectively conveys the idea of Lois and Clark as equals. They understand their (literal) strengths and weaknesses as individuals, and they’re unafraid to ask for help when they need it—or to listen when the other says they’re okay. It’s refreshing to see Clark serve as Lois’ bodyguard without feeling the need to take control of her investigation once it gets dangerous. The motel fight is a cool-looking scene that doubles as character building, which is exactly what a good action scene should do.

Illustration for article titled Superman & Lois finds a new spark as it heads to high school
Photo: Dean Buscher/The CW
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Superman & Lois still hasn’t gotten the balance between comic book plotting and family drama entirely right yet. There’s a weird lack of fallout from the game-changing things that happen to Lois this week. Even if she and Clark are used to her job being dangerous, it feels like it should be a bigger deal to discover that seemingly safe Smallville is actually filled with its own nefarious threats. But, on the whole, “The Perks Of Not Being A Wallflower” is a step in the right direction for the burgeoning series. Lois’ investigation is a more relevant action-driver than the Captain Luthor storyline, and this episode smartly ties its adult characters to their kids’ high school world by making Lana the cheerleading coach and Clark a volunteer assistant for the football team. (It’s a move that also allows Tyler Hoechlin to deliver some really fun bumbling-Clark-Kent comedy). Best of all, “The Perks Of Not Being A Wallflower” strikes a nice balance between realism and optimism. The episode may feature several scenes of Superman saving the day, but it argues that the biggest act of heroism is parents being willing to listen to their kids, even when they try to push them away.


Stray observations

  • The whole opening of this episode is great, from the sweet paint fight to the bridge rescue in Guizhou, China.
  • On the one hand, Clark jokes that he can leave his keys in the car because “it’s Smallville.” On the other, Lois’ car is blown up by a Molotov cocktail and nobody in town even seems to bat an eye?
  • I feel like it would make a lot more sense for Lois to get a freelance or remote job at a more prestigious (and well-funded!) newspaper, rather than conducting her entire investigation through the Smallville Gazette.
  • Emmanuelle Chriqui and Inde Navarrette are really great together in the scene where Lana and Sarah discuss life in Smallville and their respective mental health struggles.
  • The episode ends with the introduction of a villainous woman with heat vision named Larr (Stacey Farber). A Kryptonian, presumably?
  • “That’s what Grandpappy told us at Elsa’s ice castle!”
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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.