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Ten Thoughts On Superman & Lois‘s “Waiting For Superman”

By | June 29th, 2022
Posted in Television | % Comments

Well, here we are. After a whopper season full of twists and turns and delay after delay after delay, we find ourselves with Superman & Lois‘s second season finale. Around this time last year, Tal-Roh was ready to sacrifice Jordan in order to resurrect his father and complete the Eradication process, while the town of Smallville was fighting back against the occupation by the DOD. Now, we’re thinking bigger as Ally Allston begins the final process of merging the two Earths in her pursuit of finally feeling whole.

How did that all turn out? Let’s find out and dive into Superman & Lois‘s sophomore finale, “Waiting For Superman.” As always, massive spoilers below.

1. The End In View

One thing we’ll get into as we delve further into this finale is the scale of the problem set up by Ally Allston’s newfound power and plan to merge the Earths. It is an enormous scale for a story, one in which it should be conceivably bigger than any one person to solve and… yet. Well, we’ll get to that. As we open, we hear Chrissy’s message to Smallville (or, the world? It’s unclear) that the merging is not only real, but it is happening. This is the end of the world. Without Superman, there is no hope. Without Superman, all we can do is pray. Without Superman… hang on. Really? This is the tone we’re going into this finale with? Without Superman at full strength, all hope is lost?

I know he’s one half of the title, but one of the things that has made this show unique thus far – not just in terms of being a Superman adaptation, but as a cape show in general – is that it has rarely relied on Superman to be the one thing needed to save the day. I thought it quite gutsy to have Clark going into this finale depowered in the hopes that the episode would revolve around what the ordinary people could do in the face of such a savage parasite who is doing everything they can to rip the comfort of the world we know away from us. Who knows, it might just, y’know, feel a bit relevant to the week we’ve been having. Instead, once things got moving and I saw that it was just there to set up the big return later in the episode, a horrible feeling began to dawn on me.

2. Being With The Ones We Love

I don’t want to spend this entire rundown comparing this finale to last year’s because it won’t just be unbearable, but I’ll end up losing sight of the things I actually enjoyed about this episode. This is not one of those thing. C’mon, people, you went through all of that to make Lana the goddamn Mayor Of Smallville and all she can do in the face of armageddon is drive around town cluelessly trying to find Kyle, despite already knowing what the deal is with the merging, and it takes until she gets to the bloody fire station for someone to pipe up and suggest he got blipped to the other Earth? Which, honestly, won’t even make sense in retrospect because, spoiler alert, once all this is over, it becomes clear that Lana’s drive to find Kyle and ensure his safety was driven purely by… what? Instinct? Adrenaline? It’s certainly not the moment she decides to try again with their marriage, that’s for sure. This is bottom of the barrel filler content. This time last year, I was calling the Cushing/Cortez subplot “one that contributes to the tapestry of what makes this finale something special” and this? This is a waste of time and money.

It’s a theme that will run through this episode, but up until Clark gets his mojo back, pretty much every non-powered character seems entirely frozen for want of something to do that isn’t just reiterating how crazy everything is and how they don’t understand what’s happening despite it seeming pretty self-evident? It’s all rounded out by the realisation of why this show has continually shoved Sophie into the background because woof. I don’t know if it’s a case of Joselyn Picard having to play younger than she is now that she’s aged out of being a precocious child (she’s standing next to Inde Navarette’s Sarah and is the same goddamn height) or what, but every line she spoke was the most inane, monotone garbage that felt like the writers had to come up with what a kid would say in a situation like this in-between takes. Every time they cut back to Lana, Sarah and Sophie, it felt more and more like the writers had trapped themselves in a corner by making the scale of the problem too big for any of the human cast to do anything about, but still needed something for this characters to do to fill forty minutes. Compared to the relatively tight focus on how ordinary people banding together in times of crisis is what made the difference during the last season’s finale, this just felt hollow and completely underwritten.

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3. Lost In Space

On the other hand, Natalie and John Henry’s storyline in this episode is, arguably, the strongest of the finale. Compared to literally every other thread running through this episode, Natalie is given a focused, achievable goal that has an incredibly high risk with a compelling motivation as to why she is putting herself at risk in order to achieve it. When her world was ending, she didn’t get the chance to have one last goodbye with her mother before her death. In the face of this world ending, she’s not about to let the same thing happen again with her dad and after seeing Jonathan and Jordan step up to defend their dad last week, she’s ready to follow their example. It’s tight, emotionally clear and resonant and gives these two characters not just something to do, but a moment to reflect on their relationship as it has evolved over the season.

John Henry and Natalie have rarely been given their due this season and it’s been such a shame, because not only was Wolé Parks the MVP of the first season, but Tayler Buck is a fantastic young talent and their chemistry is great. When the show really gives a damn to explore it, the layered dynamic they have as father and daughter is incredibly compelling, yet they’ve consistently played second fiddle to a overarching plot that became increasingly insular as it focused almost exclusively on Superman and his immediate family. Natalie getting her own warsuit and the resulting dramatic confrontations it created for her and her dad did feel like a Hail Mary to give them something to do, but what this episode needed more of was characters who had something to do.

4. Stranded

Speaking of characters with nothing to do: Lois! And Jonathan! And Sam, too, for good measure! Christ, where to begin. Well, the premise of this episode’s first ten/fifteen minutes is that the two Earths are close enough in the merging process that objects and people are starting to glitch or blip back and forth between the two, right? Well, Lois manages to be one of those who gets blipped over. And what does she do about it? Absolutely hee haw. Well saying this episode is titled “Waiting For Superman” because it’s the only thing you’re going to be doing for the first half of this episode.

I mean, c’mon, you have Bitsie Tulloch and the best material you’re going to give her is giving Kyle a wee pep talk before he blinks back? You had an opportunity to use Lana and Lois as ground’s eye views for the kind of chaos caused by an event like this and have it contribute to the growing senseless of hopelessness when they know Superman isn’t there to save them, and instead of having these women that you have built up to be fearless leaders actually do something to communicate something that could be done on the ground level, you just have scene after scene of them looking glaikit while everyone panics around them.

Not only that, but you managed to give Bitsie nothing to do twice They made such a big deal of Bizarro Lois showing up on “our” world only for to stand in the background of the rest of the scenes she’s in without saying one bloody word before she disappears completely when Ally is defeated and she’s never seen again. What an absolute waste. You can’t give our Lois anything to meaningfully contribute to the story, and you can’t even be bothered to follow up on Bizarro Lois in the wake of all of this despite it all being kicked off by her family being torn apart in the first place! I really didn’t want to be this harsh on this finale, but sometimes you have to rip apart the thing that you love when it stops working.

5. Fighting For You

While Kyle got the most improved trophy of last season, I think this season it has to go to Uncle Tal. While I don’t think his inclusion in this episode was entirely up to what I’d hoped we’d get, getting him to this point still counts for a lot. I said in my recap of last season’s finale that Tal might end up being this season’s Vegeta and we’ve definitely got him to that point. Episodes like “Anti-Hero” and even what we saw of Bizaroo Clark and Tal’s relationship in “Bizarros In A Bizarro World” did a lot to bring more depth to the character, and it really touched me to see that his motivation to help here wasn’t simply to be the same kind of do-gooder that his brother is, but because he wants to save this family and this Earth in order to prove himself worthy of being a part of it. He’s come along way since being under the thumb of his father and Adam Rayner continues to be a joy to see on screen each and every time.

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However, this was the point I knew that the show had breached the upper limit to what it can pull off in terms of superpowered action. See, this show’s visual effects have always been just on the better side of what the CW has been putting out in recent years, and has often been strongest when it isn’t relying on CGI, but on its strong direction and production design. Here, things look pretty ropey, and it really highlights how stretched thin the writing is. Y’see, for being the season’s big bad, Ally spends the entirety of this episode’s first half (and, let’s face it, most of the last two episodes) floating in space doing her world merging. Last episode, John Henry had his swing at her and his big plan was just to fly right up to her and swing on her. Weird, I thought, but it wasn’t exactly out of character for John Henry to bulldoze his way through a problem. The problem is that, here, Tal-Roh does the exact same thing. He just flies up right at her and takes a swing and when he doesn’t immediately knock her out in one swing (metaphorically speaking), she turns around and nearly kills him by draining his powers. Sure, it’s nice to then see Jordan step in to save his life, especially after all the shit Tal put him through last finale, but like… really? That’s the best we can do? That’s the reason we’re waiting for Superman, because he’s the only one strong enough that when he takes his turn to run up and swing, he can knock her out in one punch? Brother, gimme a break.

6. A Better Idea

Ally Allston was a good villain. Starting out as a sinister cult leader with more going on behind the scenes than we realised, an agenda that was pieced out over a half dozen episodes until we realised, truly, what the scope of her plan was, was good writing. It made room for Bizarro to be this tragic crusader figure trying desperately to stop the woman who tore his family apart, and galvanised our Clark to be better at it than his doppelgänger. Now, though, the problem is that Ally merging so early put her on a level that the problem of her attempting to merge the worlds is on such a massive scale that characters are having to make massive leaps in logic just to come up with any way of posing a threat to her completing her plan. Cue Clark’s idea to be thrown into the sun in order to kickstart his powers so that he, and only he, can be the one with a chance of stopping Ally.

Y’know, I was almost hoping Clark would find a way of defeating Ally without his powers, whether it was by relying on the strength of others, or simply coming at her from a place of kindness and trying to talk her down. Something that would stick to the stakes set up by her draining his powers to such a degree and force him to think outside the box of punching really hard. Instead, the show just undoes the limitation it put in Clark’s way and, well, we’ll get into the punching next time. Christ, I’m not even going to think about how Clark was even able to survive the seven minutes at the speed of light journey to the Sun or his little talk with Tal because that moment really was one of the few moments of good writing in this finale. I just don’t see why you’d put Clark in the position of being completely depowered in the face of such an insurmountable threat and not have him solve the problem without physical action. It’s on the wrong side of wanting your hero to feel desperate and backed into a corner because instead of coming out swinging with a tight plan of action, they’re making massive Hail Marys just to do something.

7. Parasite War

Anyway, Clark gets yeeted into the Sun and hits his limit break and comes out all glow-y and uberpowered and it all just feels really… hollow? Never mind the fact that he defeats Ally with the same stupid Take it all! method of dealing power drainers that we’ve seen since Ang Lee’s Hulk, but… why have this all come down to Superman? Why make him the one and only way of defeating Ally? The entire point of this season was showing how fallible Clark can be in the face of threats he isn’t ready to face in order to raise John Henry, Natalie, Tal and even Jordan up to his level so he can be surrounded by help (not to mention the on-the-ground help he could get from Lois, Sam, Lana and, hell, maybe even Jonathan could get something to do!), but instead we fall into the most rote Superman writing I’ve seen in years. This feels like the rushed end to a half-baked story in the comics, not the sophomore season finale of a show that, at every turn, has shied away from the idea that any problem they introduce can be solved by having Superman just punch it really hard.

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And how they do they solve a problem like two Earths literally being inside each other? Oh, Superman just punches it really hard. He expends what excess energy he had left after overloading Ally and flies into the ground and it’s just fixed now. Cue celebration. No, we won’t follow up on what life is like on Bizarro World now that Ally is out of the picture. We won’t even gesture about what happens to a world that was ruled by one woman who had convinced every person on its face that they were incomplete. We’ll just move on like nothing happened. It’s a shame, really, because a big reason I was so evangelical about this show is it that actively went against empty storytelling like this and instead focused on the character drama at the heart of the conflict. The big superhero action came second. This is everything I did want from this finale, and it is so deflating to have waited so long for this finale and for this season to have swung for the fences so many times only to stumble and break both its legs crossing home plate.

8. Miracle Monday

Last year, after everything that the town of Smallville, seeing something so simple as a neighbourhood barbeque with All Right Now playing in the background felt so earned. It was the perfect way to leave off a show that had put its characters and its setting through hell. The sun was shine. Meat was grilling. It was all right now. When this episode cut to a Miracle Monday banner over Main Street, I sighed. I felt deflated. My disappointment was immeasurable and my day was ruined. The celebration of Superman saving the world felt so hollow, so empty because the situation that had been set up going into the finale forewent any possibility of any normal person doing anything in the face of the end of the world. What feels like the biggest slap in the face isn’t just that they had Clark depowered so you could have that exact scenario, but the episode completely neutered every other character without powers so that all they could do was stand around and watch… waiting for Superman.

I can’t even really bring myself to care about Clark and Lana having their little reunion or Chrissy finding out the Truth about Clark (remember when Chrissy fully almost went through the portal with Ally just because she was pissed at Lois kept using her power and influence to keep the secrets she didn’t want getting out from getting out? Yeah, I don’t think this resolves that, narratively) or Lana rebuking Kyle’s apologies or Jordan and Sarah starting over (again, Jordan spent the entire season being weirdly possessively yet distant after the break-up and it’s on Sarah to apologise? Nah) or even the flash of Jonathan and Candace still together. None of rang true after the half-baked resolution to the Ally Allston stuff.

9. Alone But Not Lonely

Speaking of which: why the hell did Ally even do any of this? The most we ever saw of her early life was one (one) flashback to her childhood where she inherited the pendant from her father, and then the next thing we know she’s running a cult on both Earths, taken over the entire planet on Bizarro World, and then using her power draining abilities to merge those two Earths. This finale not only whiffed on using a depowered Clark to seek a solution to the merging through means beyond the physical, but in having the final conflict with Ally come down to one punch before the merging is stopped robbed her (and us) of a last chance of iterating why she is the way she is. Who she was and where she came and what broke her so bad to push her to this point. It’s a shame, really, because Ally was an interesting antagonist and the journey she took to get to this point was engaging, but without something, anything to put the button on it here, it retroactively feels rather empty.

The best we get is Lois showing up to the two Allys being held by the DOD asking Ally if she every truly felt complete when merging and I suppose when the answer is no, it’s supposed to feel bittersweet. Like she did all of this and ruined so many lives and came close to destroying both Earths for nothing, but then… how am I supposed to feel? I sat through fifteen episodes over nearly 30 weeks for nothing? Gimme a break.

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10. The Beginning

Well, that’s that. I really wish I hadn’t had to rip this finale apart. It really wasn’t what I wanted when I woke up this morning. I was really hoping this finale would make up for the awful scheduling and the somewhat rocky season plotting, but, in the end, this was another season of Superman & Lois with some of the highest highs in superhero television as well as some of the lowest lows. The only big difference is that last season at least managed to wrap things up with a strong finale leaving me feeling galvanized that we’d get something even better next time around. Now, instead, I’m hoping for a third season to reign things in. The final image of this season is of the Kents, together, looking forward to a new beginning as the new Fortress rises out of the ground. Clark has his powers back. Lois didn’t have an arc after the sixth episode. Jordan is a more confident young man learning how to control his powers. Jonathan is apparently promised some kind of Kryptonian warsuit. I don’t know.

I miss the heady heydays of this shew eschewing traditional superhero storytelling trappings for a tight character drama. I liked the football, man. I know there’s no real way for the show to turn back the clock on everything this season has pushed forward, but I want to see that focus on character drama over spectacle return. I think we’ve seen here the limits of what this show can do in spectacle and especially the pitfalls when it’s not supported by that tightly written character drama. Reign it all in. Start afresh. Get down on the ground level with the characters and only escalate the scale of the storytelling when the emotions are heightened enough to support them. Most of all, don’t end the season with potentially world-ending stakes. Bring it back to Smallville. Bring it back to the characters we fell in love with, let them flourish naturally. And put this shit on HBO Max so I’m not waiting six weeks between episodes again.

//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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