Now that The Flash has gone on hiatus till the spring, the up-for-sale CW has brought back its other big DC gun with the season premiere of Superman & Lois. When it debuted last year, this show breathed new life into the network’s waning superhero slate with a take on the Man of Steel that felt at once classic and fresh, anchored by lead Tyler Hoechlin, who makes for a stellar Superman. Last night’s episode, “What Lies Beneath,” is a standard-issue season premiere; not the most exciting entry, with a lot of time spent catching up with the characters and setting up the interpersonal dynamics and plot elements, but with some tantalizing seeds planted for the rest of this run.
Lois has been irritable and withdrawn since Natalie’s arrival. Clark faces a hostile new military liaison. Jonathan and Jordan experience different developments in their respective romantic entanglements. Lana joins a mayoral candidate’s campaign. A series of sharp audio pulses related to seismic events rattle Superman. Natalie finds adjusting to life on a new Earth difficult.
A chill has engulfed the Kent household, but it isn’t some new supervillain doing the freezing. Lois begins “What Lies Beneath” by snapping at Clark and the boys over nothing, and the implication is that she’s been this way for the three months that have passed since last season’s finale. Clark can’t seem to say anything right, and Lois won’t tell him what’s bothering her; it’s enough to make even Superman start to lose his cool, and while he never does – nerves of steel indeed – he’s clearly working overtime to maintain his calm. Instances like this are when the subtleties of Tyler Hoechnlin’s performance become apparent; he’s able to convey how frustrated Clark is with small tics and glances while never breaking the easy-going demeanor he won’t lose to support his wife. He hits just the right tone when responding to her sniping comments as well, keeping his voice even while trying to make her see how nasty she’s being.
Lois’ icy mood is one of three manifestations of the title theme. “What Lies Beneath” refers to characters who are troubled but refuse to tell their loved ones why. For Lois, it’s her guilt over her reaction to Natalie, which was a non-reaction. She let a scared little girl leave without a word of comfort because she was thrown by a stranger calling her “Mom.” Her shame and fear that she’s becoming her own mother – who abandoned her and her sister when they were children – keeps her from telling Clark and letting him help her. Kyle is in a similar boat, lashing out at mundane things like people selling Superman merchandise by the side of the road. He’s stewing because Lana is working for Daniel Hart, a mayoral prospect challenging the incumbent. He dances around it when discussing it with – or, more accurately, venting to – Clark, but it’s obvious he wonders if there’s something more than work going on between his wife and her boss. And, finally, Sarah has returned from summer camp (teenagers go to summer camp?) but doesn’t seem particularly eager to see Jordan; in fact, she treats him as an annoyance. But, like her dad and Lois, she won’t say what’s wrong with her.
The solutions to these problems are all different, and all in keeping with each of the characters and their unique traits, both those with the problems and those wanting to help. Clark waits, biding his time until headstrong Lois is finally willing to talk to him, which she does after being so unfair towards Jordan that she realizes how she’s been behaving for the summer. After Clark makes himself her sounding board and cheerleader, Lois gathers the strength to forgive herself and finally talk to Natalie, ultimately letting her and John Henry Irons stay with them till they find better living conditions than John’s RV. Not only does this speak to Lois’ need to figure out her own solutions to her problems, but to Superman’s ability to bring out the strength in others by acting as an example. Lana, on the other hand, takes the opposite approach with Kyle, telling him that she knows why he’s upset and promising him that she’d rather be at home with him, that her family is what’s important to her. And that’s the reassurance he needs to be comfortable with Lana being away so much. Again, it’s an example of someone understanding their spouse and how their mind works, and while it seems like a simple throwaway plot point, it’s good character work that makes the supporting players come to life.
The outlier is Sarah. She’s so dismissive of Jordan, so bothered by his presence, that something has to be wrong with her. But she won’t say what it is, and is content to let Jordan walk off and wonder what he may have done. Kyle, in a bit of “Do as I say, not as I do” parenting advice, tells her to be honest with Jordan instead of bottling up whatever is bothering her. (That he is incapable of following his own guidance makes Lana’s resolution to their problems even more poignant; she gets him, even if he doesn’t quite get himself.) But Sarah doesn’t listen either, and instead of having a frank discussion with Jordan, she ghosts him, ignoring his texts when he asks to see her. Whatever is at the root of Sarah’s behavior, I suspect it’s something bigger than Lois’ and Kyle’s issues and will be a bigger part of the season. Wisely, “What Lies Beneath” takes advantage of this stalled thread to use it to illustrate the bond between Jordan and his brother. Jon tells Jordan what he needs to hear: Sarah’s behavior is suspicious, and he should start getting ready for a bomb to drop. The Kent boys don’t have much interplay this week, but what’s there counts.
Elsewhere, Superman is having a tough time with his new military liaison, Lieutenant Mitch Anderson. Anderson is less sympathetic and understanding than Sam Lane was, and appears to be less enamored with Superman than the rest of the world. He sees him as a government instrument to be used as the military sees fit, and he doesn’t take kindly to Superman rescuing a North Korean submarine, especially when he neglects to steal the sub and surrender it to the brass. But Superman is more interested in saving lives, and he doesn’t particularly care who has a problem with it. This is refreshing after years of Supergirl allowing herself to be a tool of the state and Green Arrow coming under city government purview. Superman has a healthy distrust of government, and that is proven correct when Anderson starts using trainees as government-sanctioned superpeople, replete with a Kryptonian S on their chests. I’m looking forward to seeing where this goes; Anderson is a potentially interesting villain.
But there’s an even bigger villain waiting in the wings if that final teaser is what I assume it is. “What Lies Beneath” is not just indicative of the episode’s thematic throughline; there’s something big pushing its way up from under the earth, something powerful enough to be causing earthquakes that mess with Superman’s super hearing. Is Doomsday on his way? That would be one way to up the ante from Morgan Edge and the other evil Kryptonians. It’s early to speculate, of course, but imagine if Anderson tries to get Doomsday under his thumb, figuring a mindless beast would be easier to control than Superman. And I assume the mayoral race will figure into the main plot somehow. “What Lies Beneath” is a subdued episode, but we’re likely in for some exciting stuff from here.