After a strong start to Season 3, Superman & Lois dive into the worry they hinted at in the premiere–something that’s been bugging Lois. It’s the kind of problem Superman can’t punch, and it hits pretty close to home. Spoilers follow for Superman & Lois Season 3, Episode 01, “Uncontrollable Forces.”
Clark (Tyler Hoechlin) and Chrissy (Sofia Hasmik) both notice a small crack in Lois’ (Elizabeth Tulloch) game face. Meanwhile, Sarah (Inde Navarette) and Jordan (Alex Garfin) have an awkward encounter. Lastly, Lana (Emmanuelle Chriqui) receives a panicked phone call.
Part of what makes Superman & Lois special is that it’s about a side of Superman we don’t usually get to see. He’s still Superman in all the important ways, but he’s a father and a husband who works hard to be the best he can be for the people he loves. But that means that along with the Superman-sized problems like Tal-Rho and Bizarro Superman, there are lots of problems he can’t punch or shoot lasers at.
This week, he and Lois face one of the most un-punchable problems out there. Lois has been very authentically characterized throughout the show as a strong, self-sufficient person both in her family and at her job, but in this episode we can see her holding something back after a painful-looking procedure at the doctor in Metropolis.
Lois hangs onto her pokerface throughout the episode, and it’s only at the end when everything comes out. She and Clark head to Metropolis to interview the judge who freed Atom-Man. When confronted, the judge looks as if she’s been handed a death sentence and sends the journalists away. When Lois finds her later, the judge is readying herself to jump off the courthouse roof. The judge says that the moment they asked her about Atom-Man, she knew that that was the day she would die.
Lois gets the judge’s attention by confessing her own hopeless battle: she has an aggressive form of inflammatory breast cancer. Bitsie Tulloch has been great at making Lois just as bullheaded and determined as you’d expect without draining her of humanity and making her a trope. She’s vulnerable here, and it’s painful to watch. It hits especially close to home as someone who just lost a parent to a very fast-acting form of cancer, and I’m unsure of whether I don’t like the storyline or don’t like that the storyline feels a little too close.
On the one hand, cancer generally isn’t the kind of storyline people tend to want from their superhero stories unless it’s cancer caused by Kryptonite or Nth Metal or something like that. We’re typically here for Superman doing Superman stuff. On the other, cancer is a foe that puts Lois at the center instead of Superman and gives her something that only she can fight. It also does all of that without making her a victim or damsel in distress–without somehow having to explain how she managed to debate Metallo to a standstill or something.
The key will, of course, be in how the story actually plays out. It seems ripe for a magical Kryptonian wand to get waved in the eleventh hour, as it’s hard to imagine the show killing off Lois or having Lois lose all of her hair from chemotherapy. The show plays it right tonally, which can be difficult in a world as heightened as this one, and that’s a good sign moving forward, but it’s hardly a promise.
Bruno has a point
After Lois and Clark talk to the judge, Clark changes outfits and takes to the skies to look for Mannheim, who walks out onto his balcony and just summons him by calling out his name. Superman pointedly asks Mannheim if he’s responsible for the super-powered Atom-Man that he had to fight, and Mannheim turns it around on him.
Mannheim dodges the question and talks about how bad his neighborhood was when he was growing up, and how he couldn’t take it and decide that if they couldn’t get a hero, that he would be their hero. He points out all the injustice his neighborhood experiences, essentially trying to guilt-trip Superman into not asking questions.
I love Chad Coleman for this role; he has a forceful personality and intensity that both make him perfect as a guy who intimidates through words rather than violence (he has other people to do violence for him). The thing here is that, on the one hand, Mannheim has a point–people in poverty are often left to fend for themselves while society forgets about them. But we know for a fact that this dude is the leader of one of the world’s most dangerous and violent criminal organizations. It’s all a smokescreen to cover up his bad deeds.
I can’t help but think of Wilson Fisk in the Netflix Daredevil show. He was similar in that he had that quiet, scary intensity, but the show took a lot of time to make you believe that he believed what he was saying about Hell’s Kitchen. It wasn’t until Daredevil really started to push back that Fisk began to crack. Mannheim is someone we already know to be a dangerous person, so this stuff rings really false.
The show also spends some time with Jonathan, Jordan, Natalie, and Sarah in Metropolis, and with Lana and John back in Smallville. The Kent boys end up at the same party as Sarah and Natalie, with moments for each character to remind us who they are. Jonathan demonstrates that he has his father’s moral compass despite tending to float toward the more popular clique of kids. Sarah can’t be bullied, and is as ready to step in front of even the somewhat-invincible Jordan if it means protecting someone she cares about. Jordan’s powers automatically cure his social anxiety, and he’s still struggling with just the act of talking to people like so many people do. Natalie, meanwhile, continues to have trouble adjusting to being on literally a completely different earth.
Lana and John’s storyline, meanwhile, seems to do the most work to advance the plot, though. Mayor Dean has a fatal encounter with Onomatopoeia, leading the not-yet-couple to investigate and end up in their own nearly-as-fatal encounter with the creepy-looking villain. Hints have been piling up suggesting that John will have a bigger role in this season, and it seems like Bruno Mannheim has a vendetta against the dead Earth-Prime version of the character.
It seems like Lois’ cancer is going to be as much a part of the story as Bruno Mannheim, and I hope the series can keep it engaging enough to not lose those of us watching for the superhero stuff.