“The Best of Smallville” hones in on the Clark family drama in another well conceived, considered episode.
This recap of Superman and Lois season 1, episode 5, “The Best of Smallville”, contains spoilers.
In a way, I feel like Superman and Lois episode 5 is the kind of installment that was envisioned while the show was still in a conceptual phase, just a bunch of ideas on a whiteboard. The show has always been atypical for a superhero adventure since it’s primarily a family drama, but it’s also an unpacking of the Superman mythos itself, which is felt more acutely in “The Best of Smallville” than it has been elsewhere. Imagine that whiteboard, and the lines connecting Superman’s upbringing with the history of Smallville to Jonathan and Jordan’s current desire to leave home as their father once did. Imagine some asterisks next to key details that have been subtly reworked, like Martha hurrying Superman along the path to his superheroic destiny instead of his Pa. It’s familiar storytelling given a jolt of subversive energy by being essentially the same but sneakily different in several ways that matter.
Most integral, I think, is the sheer dorky enthusiasm of Clark Kent – consider the early scene when he’s trying to big up the Smallville Harvest Festival, or the late one when he immediately concedes ground to Lois when she checks him about not having had to endure 27 hours of labor in giving birth to Jordan and Jonathan. He’s just such an earnest, nice guy, and he treats fairly standard, mundane aspects of parenting and being a husband with the exact same energy as natural disasters and supervillain threats. Clark and Superman aren’t two distinct personas, but the same guy pulled in two different directions, and I struggle to recall another version of the character that has captured this aspect so capably.
But the secret weapon of Superman and Lois episode 5 is the kids. Their struggles, with each other, themselves, and the wider world, build off of Clark’s unwavering dork-dad persona. They don’t look alike, but they unmistakably come across as his kids. They have the same competing allegiances, the same inherent desire to do right by each other and those around them, and, powers or not, they accomplish a superheroic feat in being kids with relationship problems and petty romantic jealousies that are somehow not remotely annoying. The reason that Jordan has taken a lot of the limelight thus far is that the show’s writers can trust that Jonathan, despite circumstances forcing him to act out a little, isn’t going to become a tired, contrived antagonist because he’s not the brother with superpowers – or, as of “The Best of Smallville”, who gets the girls.
Not that Jordan is a ladies’ man either, but you get the point. To put it simply, I trust these two to be brothers, and to be sons, without being contorted by the needs of a script that doesn’t know what to do with them. The writing and performances are exactly right. And this episode cleverly weaves what’s going on with the boys into flashbacks of Clark as a gangly teenager leaving home much too young, which he has come to regret. The brief scene of his fledgling vigilantism, during which he pimp-slaps a bullet out of mid-air, isn’t just designed to look cool; it’s a deliberate contrast to how difficult he finds grappling with his feelings and making the decision to leave. Again, Superman being so powerful is not a bad thing as long as the story’s focus is on things that his powers can’t help him with.
With this stuff forming the meat of Superman and Lois season 1, episode 5, it’s the investigation into Morgan Edge and the development of Captain Luthor that feels a little shoved into the margins, which is weird since the major reveal of the episode is that in Luthor’s world Lois was married to him. It’s an intriguing development slightly overshadowed by the show’s obvious focus on family drama over typical Superman stuff. I’m not sure how that balance will shift as the season progresses, but I’m certainly interested to find out.