Superman is pulled in all directions in “Haywire”, another solid but slightly busy slice of superheroics.
This recap of Superman and Lois season 1, episode 4, “Haywire”, contains spoilers.
If you’d have told me months ago that a Superman show on the CW would turn out to be one of my favorite things that anyone has done with the character in ages, I’d have said you were ridiculous. But here we are, I guess. As I’ve said in previous recaps, the point of Superman isn’t that he’s all-powerful, but that when he’s not Superman, when he’s husband and father and assistant football coach Clark Kent, he’s all-human. He has the usual responsibilities to his sons and his significant other and his in-laws that all of us have. The difference is that those responsibilities are magnified. His sons aren’t just growing up and getting hormonal, but developing burgeoning superpowers of their own. His spouse isn’t just a reporter, but one who meddles in the affairs of incredibly dangerous men and won’t take no for an answer. And his father-in-law is a military general with an acute idea of how integral Superman is to the safety of the world.
In Superman and Lois episode 4, “Haywire”, that idea manifests as interference in how Clark and Lois are parenting the boys since he knows that Superman needs to be on-hand to deal with Intergang prisoner transfers and not busy interfering in high-school disputes, even if one of Jordan and Jonathan’s classmates spends the entire episode exhibiting obvious signs of becoming a Speedster. That’s a step too far for Clark and Lois, who’re trying to find the right balance between Clark’s responsibility to the world and to his family. It also leads the boys to be reluctant to call for their father’s help when they’re in trouble.
And trouble is brewing everywhere in this episode – the specific feeling is of spinning plates. As well as everything going on with Superman himself, there’s Lois’s refusal to leave Morgan Edge alone and his closing of a deal on a mine outside of Smallville. “Haywire”, if anything, runs the risk of being too busy, having too much going on. But there’s a delicacy to the writing that helps to knit all the story arcs and themes together. The boys delaying on summoning help is just one example, but you can see it elsewhere in how Lois navigates a legal threat and Superman’s lack of obvious presence out and about pushes a prisoner transfer – it’s Thaddeus Killgrave – to happen. Clark is being pulled every which way, and you can just tell that he’d rather sit at home with his family, but the show really nails that sense of conflicting responsibility, and the characterization of Lois is near-perfect. Their arguments don’t feel like the petty products of lazy screenwriting but genuine outgrowths of the drama. You never get the sense, and this is absolutely crucial, that Superman and Lois don’t love each other and their children very much. When you think about it, it’s very rare you can say that about any show, much less a superhero one on the CW.
All of this relatable human drama does indeed occur at the forefront of a superhero show though, so Superman and Lois season 1, episode 4 has the obligatory action beats and surprisingly decent special effects and secretive government contingency plans and mines full of kryptonite. It’s a tricky balance to achieve and it’s a wonder that the show is able to maintain it so well, even if it occasionally threatens to lean too far in the direction of silliness and too-broad characterization. One thing I’m not buying, for instance, is the idea of Sam’s heel turn this early in the season, and the formation of Project 7734, which is namedropped right at the end. I get that the show is trying to say he’s concerned about Superman’s priorities leaving Earth vulnerable, but it occurs right on the back of a classic argument with the in-laws, so reads as a kind of childish payback scheme, like he’s just sulking at Superman for being a better dad than he was. Some of the characterizations here could definitely be neater and more efficient. But it’s a minor complaint in what was otherwise another very strong episode of a show that continues to do great, welcome work with the character of Superman.