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Five Thoughts on Superman & Lois‘s “Fail Safe”

By | July 21st, 2021
Posted in Television | % Comments

Welcome back! After last week’s disappointment, I was a bit apprehensive about going into this episode. Had the magic left Superman & Lois? Had it finally come off the rails? Well, thankfully, things seem to be back on this week as the show settles back into the swing of things. With the finale right around the corner, how does Superman & Lois deal with the fallout of the worst thing that could possibly happen to Superman?

Well, read on to find out what we thought about Superman & Lois‘s “Fail Safe” in our Five Thoughts down below! Oh, and spoilers below. Obviously.

1. A Reckoning, Or Where To Go From Here

Let’s get this out of the way: yes, I still think last week’s episode was bad. It was everything this episode isn’t; it felt truncated, easily solved a problem that the entire season had been building up, and felt like most of it was shot on green screen pick-ups. It didn’t have the thematic nuance or any of the depth of characterisation through dialogue that I’ve come to expect from this show. It felt, frankly, like an average CW episode. This episode, thankfully, picks up a lot of the pieces leftover from last week’s episode and finally sets things back on track. I theorised last week that part of the reason that the show had to fly through the entirety of Superman being turned, being a threat and then being saved in one episode was because what makes the show what it is couldn’t hold up under the idea of stringing out an evil Superman storyline for much longer. After this week’s episode, I don’t think I’m entirely wrong, but I’m also not mad that I’m wrong.

See, I like this show when it’s slow, introspective and when it’s having fun spending time with it’s characters just spending time together and that’s what this episode is all about. After a rampant escalation in stakes, a break was needed. A proper break this time, not the bait-and-switch of the flashback episode. And that’s what this episode is, a collective sigh of relief in the face of the absolute crisis that has gripped Smallville. Everyone gets a chance to reset themselves, put themselves back into a sort of new peace, and look to how they will move on from all of this. It’s strange because it feels almost like the show did the obligatory, dumb CW finale and then gave themselves three episodes to really explore the fallout, something I genuinely appreciate because it’s what the show does best. Doesn’t stop last week’s episode from sucking, but it gives me something to talk about this week.

2. The New Normal, Or Nobody Gets A Win

I do kind of love that this episode is all about our characters settling into their lives again and the show still manages to throw drama their way. Whether it’s the Cushings continuing to feel pressure from the people around them as they’re blamed for Edge’s invasion or it’s Jordan and Sarah getting arrested or Jonathan striking out with the girl he likes or Lois having to sacrifice her integrity for her family or Clark having to reckon with what he’s been through, no one comes out of this episode with a w. Things may be back to normal, but that doesn’t mean that world isn’t still falling apart on a weekly basis. This is where this show works the most, for me. Is these moments away from the cataclysmic Superman stuff where it focusing on the small, human drama that surrounds and elevates it.

What has set this show apart from your regular superheroes on CW fare is that they didn’t surround Superman with a bunch of tech-y nerds who constantly talk in his ear in order to make them feel important when the stakes are raised by the villain’s actions. Instead, it surrounds him with normal, everyday people with normal, everyday problems. Jonathan striking it out with the popular girl is just as important Lois covering for her dad or Clark deciding to give John Henry the keys to 7734. Okay, maybe not as important, but it gets to live shoulder to shoulder with the rest of the episode’s subplots and that’s what makes this show work for me. Everyone’s problems have the same level of narrative weight as each other, regardless of the actual stakes involved. Which is why it was a shame to see last week’s episode weight the entire narrative so heavily in the favour of dealing with Clark and Clark alone.

Continued below

3. Steel Begets Steel

Speaking of which, last week kind of fast tracked Clark and John Henry right into the realm of working partners in a way that, by the end of that episode, I was honestly disappointed. John Henry was introduced with the singular purpose of wanting to kill Superman to save the world. That was it, that was his entire character. Everything we’ve learned about him so far was in service of making that want come from an honest and understandable place. So it was a little disappointing to see them go from such a loggerheads to uneasy allies to best of friends in such a short space of time. We’d built up every reason John Henry would want Superman dead for so long only to turn it entirely on its head in just one episode? It just… fell flat.

That being said, much like with most of what disappointed me last week, this episode manages to salvage it just enough to make it work. I mean, this was partnership we all expected to be a focus in the finale episodes so actually seeing Superman and Steel suit up together and take out Leslie Lar was actually really sick. Hell, that fist bump at the end is genuinely my highlight of the episode. But it was Clark’s decision not only to keep the weapons from Project 7734, but give sole access to them to John Henry that sold it all for me. As Clark puts it, all John Henry ever wanted was to protect the world from Superman and now he gets the chance to. It’s a far, far more satisfying resolution to their conflict than simply having them be best friends just because John Henry knows Superman is a dad now.

4. When The Man Comes Around

Lois Lane is right. Lois Lane is always right, right? Well, not always. She’s human, she’s the most human character in this story. She is the lens through which we see Superman’s humanity and, by extension, how he sees all of humanity. So there’s a lot of narrative weight on her shoulders to be this constant arbiter of truth, justice and everything Superman has ever stood for. Putting her in a position where she has to compromise her morals, values and integrity in order to keep her family safe? Now, that’s juicy drama. That’s good television. And, once again, Bitsie Tulloch plays a blinder as she juggles her own shame at herself and her anger at her family as she desperately tries to keep things from falling apart.

Lois Lane is this show’s rock and it’s nice to see this episode use that to explore a sense of fallibility. She’s not perfect, she sometimes compromises and when she’s weak, things around her begin to crumble. There’s only so much weight she can shoulder before something has to give and with everyone around her looking for ways to lash out as they try to cope with everything that’s happened recently, seeing Lois trying desperately to get it together and actually failing felt important. Again, this was something that went a long way towards rehabilitating what a misstep last week’s episode was.

5. Eradication

Tal-Roh’s a weird nut to crack. For one, the reveal that Morgan Edge was secretly Kal-El’s half-brother the entire time and was simply using that as a cover to implant Kryptonian consciousnesses into human hosts so completely turned the show on it’s head, that it’s almost like dealing with two different characters. For another, we’ve been dealing Edge’s planning for the better part of the season so when it felt like they had simply thwarted and sidelined in the previous episode, it felt like quite a deflated conclusion. Hence, the comparison to a rote CW finale. Thankfully, much like with the rest of this episode, giving the characters some downtime to reflect goes a long way in making that rather truncated conclusion feel like an important stepping stone towards the finale. Simply giving Kal and Tal a chance to talk, to reflect, to decompress did a lot to make it feel like the fifteen minutes Kal spent under the sway of Zod’s consciousness. Having that outburst, that moment of sheer character dissection as Tal sees right through Kal and sees the freedom he felt in being able to let go.

Having all that escalate to the point of Tal becoming the Eradicator genuinely felt like it was earned here because of that space for decompression. While I never expected Tal to be imprisoned forever, I’m glad they used it sparingly and effectively to ramp the threat he poses to new levels. I’m still overall disappointed by how the whole evil Superman turned out last week, but the way it’s been used as a stepping stone to the Eradictor somewhat makes up for it. So long as they manage to stick the landing with two episodes left.

//TAGS | Superman & Lois

august (in the wake of) dawn

sworn to protect a world that hates and fears her, august has been writing critically about media for close to a decade. a critic and a poet who's first love is the superhero comic, she is also a podcaster, screamlord and wyrdsmith. ask her about the unproduced superman screenplays circa 1992 to 2007. she/they.


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