1. Man, I’m Really Happy This Got Renewed
I rather enjoy the works of Greg Weisman, but if there’s perhaps one slight problem with his work – besides it getting canceled far to early most of the time – it is that, as a storyteller, he isn’t one for ending things. Sure, a chapter will end here, but that just sets up the next one. “What Kills You Only Makes You Stronger” doesn’t even end on a Weisman-esque tease. It isn’t a cliffhanger. The episode just ends with Superman charging this series iteration of Doomsday on the moon. Showrunner Todd Helbing and episode producer and co-writer Brent Fletcher could’ve ended things on a cliffhanger, it’s Superman vs Doomsday, after all. Though, for that reason, it might actually function as one. If this was the final images of Superman & Lois, I would be applauding the gutsy choice and complaining about how obviously unsatisfying that ending is. I mean how can you end on that! It’s such a fleetingly satisfying moment.
As a fight sequence, it was very well done and one you can tell the show had been building towards in terms of budget allocation. After watching The Flash in theaters, and admittedly not hating the VFX and virtual production work at least in theory, this sequence is just a reminder of what smart planning looks like. This is the kind of smart B movie style production logic that makes the Arrowverse work. The fight is set largely at night which means you don’t have to worry about overall coverage lighting. That instead allows you to play with cool silhouettes and with the asymmetrical design of Doomsday, it looked really cool. Sure the color grading with Superman in the subway after the fire was a bit much, but overall the lighting, blocking, and staging of this sequence was great. It evoked the blockbuster scale of Batman v Superman, on 1/10th the budget, maybe.
Part of the key to that evocation is how it fits within the visual language of Superman & Lois setpieces. Mainly the use of panning and dolly to move the camera through space and follow the action. Those choices, when mixed with the handheld touches throughout the episode, give it a Man of Steel-lite texture and gives the audience a reason to see why the camera is just a little slow and cannot fully capture the action at times.
2. About that Renewal
The near non-renewal of this show is due entirely to WBD and CBS divesting the CW, breaking the vertically integrated chain that had been the governing logic of each company since they launched the syndicated networks the WB and UPN back in the 90s. With CW’s new owners, Nexstar no longer connected to that economic logic, in the position to play a more classical role with a license fee and attempt to make money on advertising, Superman & Lois was nearly not canceled. Despite it being among the network’s top programs, but the logic of Nielsen ratings has changed with audience drift, digital advertising rising, and ownership being the determining factor in 90% of cases these days. (Thanks to deregulation and the removal of Fin Sin rules in 1993.)
In response to that shifting environment, Superman & Lois was renewed but they have had to go through a steep round of budget cuts. The shows, admittedly too large, the main cast is reduced to just the Kent family and Michal Cudlitz’ Lex Luthor next season. Everyone else will be a recurring or guest spot if they can make a deal. Dylan Walsh, who plays Samuel Lane, has already confirmed his exist from the show. It is unknown at this time if Valdez, Navarrette, Parks, Walsh, Chriqui, Buck, and Hasmik will return in some capacity. Hopefully Wolé Parks and Inde Navarrette will. This sort of cast reshuffling is getting to be more common. Blue Bloods had the cast take an average of 25% pay cut to get a renewal. Bob ❤️ Abishola cut most of its cast to recurring or guest spots with only 4 main cast members to structure the show around.
It will be interesting to see how the show returns, these cuts will reinforce the show back to its roots as a family melodrama. But without the large ensemble, is it even worth staying in Smallville?Continued below
3. Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)
The actual year of Luthor’s incarceration is somewhat fuzzy for me, but I wonder if at all during his 17-year stint he listened to “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” by Kelly Clarkson on repeat.
Another sign of how much larger the budget was for this episode is the fact they licensed not one but two songs for the episode. “N.W.O.” by industrial metal band Ministry and Soundgarden’s “Blow up the Outside World” this a pair of musical choices that gave the show a very 00s WBtv feel.
This version of Luthor is like the meanest leather daddy, all about domination and pushing people to their limits for his own use. He used Otis as human furniture for who knows how long. The sadistic torture of Bizzarro Superman, who has the ability to regenerate and incorporate that which kills him, was just so homoerotic and kinky there’s no other way to put it. The image of him screaming in Bizzarro Superman’s face for “MORE” it’s the most intimate relationship he’s ever had and perfectly captures the duality of the two characters. How he never seems to realize Superman looks exactly like that dweeb Clark Kent is beyond me, but maybe this one doesn’t really care whose under the cape.
4. That’s a Very Horny Opening Act – but in a good way.
I wouldn’t call what Luthor did to Bizzaro Superman “healthy,” but it was one of several highly charged erotic sequences in this episode. The opening act of this episode features the outcome of Kyle and Chrissy having unprotected sex. John Henry and Lana flirt and eventually hook up later in the episode. And finally, Lois is at a point where she wants to become more intimate with Clark, so he whisks her off to that Italian villa. I kind of wish they had stayed more on the scene between Lois and Clark as it is the first such scene I can remember, at least on broadcast, and was a good just example of how trust works in those kinds of situations.
5. What to do with Superboy?
Alex Garfin as Jordan Kent has become a really underrated part of the show. He’s a real screw up dirtbag teenager at times, and that’s before you consider he has the powers of a Kryptonian. I’m glad they didn’t magically fix or heal his relationship with Sarah. The pair instead part ways as not quite friends, yet, but who knows. It’s some of the most realistic drama in the series. With the show reorganizing around the Kent family in the next season and the likelihood of Tyler Hoechlin being out of action for at least a little while there is plenty of room to see this Super Boy mature and come into his own. And hopefully, wear that leather jacket outfit.