Although last night’s Superman & Lois finale completed the story in a more-or-less satisfying manner, it doesn’t really alter our feelings on the series overall: it is still more interesting in family drama mode than in its superhero mode.
We admit that may stem from being a certain age and enjoying Clark (Tyler Hoechlin) and Lois (Elizabeth Tulloch) more as people who happen to have this superhero thing in their lives than as heroes constantly fighting someone like Tal-Rho (Adam Rayner) or Lex Luthor. That said, it seems clear to us the family drama is the element of the series the producers and writers seem more invested in even as they gave a lot of time to the Tal-Rho and the Eradicator as a physical threat to Superman.
Take a look at the way Jonathan (Jordan Elsass) wavers in his support of brother Jordan (Alex Garfin). Sure, in terms of series drama, it looks like inconsistent characterization, but it is also a shockingly realistic portrayal of brothers. It is entirely possible for Jon to be proud of Jordan joining the team one week, then get annoyed that he’s stolen his “thing” the next. Similarly, look at the fits and starts in Jordan’s relationship with Sarah (Inde Navarrette). It strikes a tone which feels realistic even if it dips into TV melodrama every now and again, like their cornfield confession of love.
Meanwhile, it is interesting to see Lois and Clark deal with more grounded issues like brotherly fights and Jordan’s emotional problems with the dedication and compassion they give to their jobs. Lois as a mother, in particular, is one of the best aspects of the show — and though she’s been a mother for sometime in the comics, it still feels fresh for television. In fact, her strength as a mother is the reason for Zeta-Rho’s (A.C. Peterson) defeat. As long as the production can find a way to make this element strong and visual, we’d like to see more of Lois’s nature with her boys next year.
Also, anytime we get to see Lois and Lana (Emmanuelle Chriqui) interact as friends is awesome and we hope Season 2 will have more time for that friendship to develop. It’s a far cry from the characters’ rivalry in the Silver Age and we enjoy seeing them going for drinks or creating united fronts against the threats to Smallville.
That said, Lana’s family still presents some missteps to us. Kyle (Erik Valdez) was such a strawman opponent to Lois in the early episodes that the decision to give him the beginnings of a redemptive arc felt unearned. Also, as alcoholism is an aspect of the character, we are annoyed he did not relapse after the town turned against him. The realism of Jon’s inconsistent support of Jordan is lacking here and though it is probably good in the long run for Sarah to have a little faith in her father, we wish the show would acknowledge just how close the Cushings came to imploding before Tal-Rho supercharged Kyle. Also, the barbecue scene at the end of the finale proved the character still has some value as a town leader and, perhaps, that will guide his character progression in the years to come … just as long as his weakness are also addressed.
So let’s talk about the superhero thing. While the fights on the show are generally well-executed they seemed out of place — particularly the notion of a Buffy style big bag. The ideas behind Tal-Rho were great, right down to the House of Rho representing a colonizing streak we know exists in (some) Kryptonian histories. The concept also put in relief one of the great aspects of Superman: he was raised by good people who modeled a heroic level of compassion. Without that, it would be so easy for a Strange Visitor to end up like Tal-Rho, so the dark mirror villain is a worthy concept — but the way it was illustrated across the season lacked for energy or cohesion with the rest of the program. We’re not entirely convinced he was meant to be the Season 1 big bad, for one thing. In the early episodes, Morgan Edge seemed to be positioned as Lois’s adversary while The Stranger (Wolé Parks) would stand against Superman. The twist on those initial elements, while interesting, suggests a major restructuring of the season. Consequently, Edge/Tal-Rho ultimately felt underdeveloped and his two major defeats across the year were double-beats even if the pandemic-related hiatus dulled some of that repetition.
And on the plus-side of that twist, Parks is much more compelling as an alternate Earth John Henry Irons than a Lex Luthor Jr. type character. The way his story unfolded suggests more of an intention in the reveal of his identity than the way the Tal-Rho’s story played out. Nevertheless, there is the unavoidable feeling that both Parks and Rayner were not originally intended to play these characters
That lack of intention is forgivable, of course, as this is the program’s first season and it was produced in the middle of the plague. It is impossible to guess how much production realities compromised the show — beyond the absence of Kara (Melissa Benoist), of course — but we hope the producers will note the strengths of the program and emphasize the Kents as a family over Superman or Big Bads. Sure, the program may feature his hero identity in the title, but it doesn’t need to be a mission statement. And if the show really wants to set itself apart from its earlier Arrowverse siblings, letting go of someone the superhero tropes may be the best option.
Superman & Lois returns in 2022.