“O Mother, Where Art Thou?” is a mostly good episode, but it has Superman & Lois’ first stumble in presenting Superman’s story as it should be (outside of the absent red shorts). It actually feels almost like a season finale, or at least the episode before the mid-season break – and judging by its placement, it may have been intended to serve as such.
Superman, Lois, and Sam race to find a way to stop Morgan Edge from enacting his Kryptonian takeover of Earth. Lana is desperate to save Kyle and keep her family together. Jon and Jordan offer their shoulders to Sarah.
It’s pretty obvious where the episode following “Loyal Subjekts” would begin, and “O Mother, Where Art Thou?” doesn’t tease. Morgan Edge delivers a villain monologue that explains who he is and why he’s turning humans into Kryptonians. He is Tal-Rho of Krypton, Kal-El’s half-brother from a previous marriage of Lara’s, and he arrived on Earth before Superman. He was also met with a less-welcoming reception, and he’s ready to supplant humans with the perished Kryptonians using an Eradicator, the same technology that allows Superman to talk to Jor-El. It’s essentially Zod’s evil plan from Man of Steel, and I can understand people being disappointed by that. I didn’t care for Man of Steel, and the plot makes more sense here, so I don’t mind it that much. And it all ends in a quick fight across the desert, which isn’t as exciting or visually arresting as most of the previous super-battles on the show. But it serves as a stage-setting for the climax of this season so far.
Edge’s origin and reasoning for his conquest of Earth work because “O Mother, Where Art Thou?” used them to show how important the Kents were to Clark’s morality and how badly things could have gone for us if he were discovered by humanity’s worst rather than its best. Edge was found by people who immediately tried to kill him and was captured and experimented on by the British government for most of his childhood. It’s no wonder he sees all the faults in mankind and wants to correct them with annihilation; it’s also no wonder he clings to nature while Clark embraces nurture. Morgan Edge doesn’t see himself as the villain but as the savior of his people at the expense of a monstrous race that tortured a child because he was different. To him, Superman is a traitor who sides with Edge’s tormentors rather than his own people. The ideological conflict between hero and villain is more interesting than the physical one, and the pain that turned Edge into a monster makes him relatable, even sympathetic. The show is forcing us to see a would-be mass murderer the way Superman would: as a lost soul who never had a chance. Even in someone this evil, Superman can find the good, and that’s what separates him from Edge or his doppelganger from John Henry Irons’ world.
Where this fails is in the unnecessary and wrongheaded decision to make Edge Superman’s brother. Krypton had a tradition of arranged marriages, and Lara was paired with Edge’s father. Later, she fell in love with Jor-El and left her first husband – and child, I suppose – behind to start a new family. This doesn’t make Lara look too good. Superman is now the result of a broken home and an abandoned child; swell. And he doesn’t even seem to mind when he finds out; there’s no question or judgment as he happily learns more about his mother. And none of this had to happen. Edge’s father could easily have just been a scientist who worked with Lara and helped her develop the Eradicator; maybe he could have been in love with her and jealous of her marriage to Jor-El. Their shared Kryptonian blood would have been enough to bond Clark and Edge; the House of El didn’t need to be diminished to do it.
Aside from her familial shortcomings, it’s nice to see Clark finally get to meet his mother and have it be woven into a story about the sacrifices mothers are willing to make for their families. “O Mother, Where Art Thou?” not only returns Lara to Clark but does it through the other mother referred to in the title: Lana Lang. Lana is losing her husband to Edge’s experiments, and she’s close to losing her daughter as she tries to keep her family together. A human can’t do much in a battle between Kryptonians, so, like Sarah, Lana is forced to watch from the sidelines and hope that Superman will save the day in the end. That’s why she jumps at the chance to serve as Lara’s human vessel; she’s finally found a way to proactively help her family, not to mention save the world. And while putting her own family back together, she manages to rebuild another in allowing Clark to have a piece of his mother again. Superman & Lois takes a lot of care with its supporting characters, and Lana has turned into a great one.
To unknowingly return the favor, the Kent family helps repair Lana’s too. Jordan and Jon spend “O Mother, Where Art Thou?” comforting Sarah as she faces a loss of faith in and respect for her parents, but like Lana, they grow restless just sitting there and doing nothing. Jon chooses to tell Sarah the truth – or enough of it, anyway – and let her stop resenting her parents, and then the boys take her to the military installation to see what’s become of her dad. Jonathan is becoming the embodiment of his father’s heart in the way Jordan is getting his powers, and his commitment to truth is the biggest indicator of that. Truth is what’s keeping the Kents/Lanes close through adversity, and the lack of it has splintered the Lang/Cushings. All it took was a moment of honesty to repair it, and in recognizing that, Jon is his father’s son as much as the superpowered Jordan is.
The ending of “O Mother, Where Art Thou?” surprised me in its decisiveness. I wasn’t expecting the Kryptonian-possessed humans to be cured so quickly. Leslie Larr is still around, and Edge seems to see this as a hiccup more than the destruction of his plan, so clearly, there’s much more to come this season. I’m not sure if I was supposed to grasp the significance of him walking towards that mountain. (It reminded me of a Spike quote from Buffy: “It’s a big rock. Can’t wait to tell my friends. They don’t have a rock this big.”) But whatever he’s up to, he can go about it unencumbered for a few days because Superman is down for the count after expending so much energy to save Edge’s test subjects. As I’ve been from the beginning, I’m looking forward to seeing where the show goes next.
“O Mother, Where Art Thou?” has some great moments, and it examines Superman in still more fascinating new ways – despite lifting its villain plot from Man of Steel – but it also needlessly complicates Clark’s backstory and casts a pall over his parents without seeming to realize it’s doing so, and is probably the weakest episode yet for that.