“Girl… You’ll Be a Woman Soon” is my favorite kind of episode. It uses what seems like a self-contained story to significantly advance the season’s main plot. (Buffy the Vampire Slayer was masterful at this.) Here, the centerpiece is Sarah’s quinceañera, an event that reveals secrets from several different characters – some we knew, some that come as complete surprises.
As the Cushing family – who are going by Kyle’s original family name, Cortez, now – prepares for Sarah’s quinceañera, Superman asks for Lieutenant Anderson’s help in tracking Bizarro, Jonathan helps Jordan train, and Lois and Chrissy investigate Ally Allston’s cult separately.
“Girl… You’ll Be a Woman Soon” begins with two scenes about family, one warm and one cold. In a flashback, Ally Allston meets with a lawyer following her father’s death, under the guardianship of what appears to be an uncle. She’s left with an estate that will provide for her for life, but she must agree to keep and watch over a pendant, something her uncle asks her to decline despite the personal cost to her. Of course, Ally accepts, turning away her last remaining family for wealth and power with a coldness that is particularly unnerving because it comes from a child. Immediately after, the episode switches to the Kents at breakfast, with Lois making banana muffins as everyone starts their day. In comparison to Ally, everyone is sunny and upbeat, with Clark joining his boys in lamenting that the muffins are for Natalie. (Note the contrast between Clark and Ally in these scenes; Clark is a grown-up who retains a certain amount of childish innocence while Ally is a kid who has banished hers.) There is also the announcing of responsibilities; Ally must continue her father’s work while the Kents must go about their various tasks, and they all get a reward – wealth for Ally, banana muffins for Clark and the boys. (I think I’d take the pendant.)
These early scenes also set up the rest of “Girl… You’ll Be a Woman Soon,” both in their structure and the information they convey. Lois is going to the newspaper to look into the cult; Clark is visiting Tag in the hospital to investigate Bizarro; Jon and Jordan are staying behind, unsupervised, to help prepare for the quinceañera (the important part being “unsupervised”); Ally learns how to use the pendant. But they also revolve around something seemingly unrelated – an estate distribution in one case, banana muffins in another. That is how this episode plays out; these stories are all important to the main plot, which is now taking shape after introducing the various threads in the first few episodes, but they all revolve around the quinceañera. Lois and Clark are hosting the party for the Cushings, so they’ve got to run their errands with as much haste as they can muster. This leads to problems, like Clark having to put off pursuing Bizarro to pick up the dry cleaning (I hoped he would look at the ticket and, in a slightly sardonic tone, say, “This looks like a job for Superman”) and Lois brushing off Chrissy’s legitimate concerns about her behavior. The results are Chrissy being drugged and semi-brainwashed by Ally and Bizarro killing Dr. Faulkner in gruesome-for-the-CW fashion.
The quinceañera also leads to Jon and Jordan’s section of “Girl… You’ll Be a Woman Soon.” With both of them hanging around waiting for the guests and party favors, Jon is able to see Sam arrive to “hang out” with Jordan, and because he’s not an idiot, he doesn’t buy Jordan’s attempts to brush this off as normal. Now, Jon knows that Jordan is training with Sam, and he tags along to help. (“You’d make a terrible spy” is my favorite line of the episode, and possibly the series.) This is where the show’s excellent writing kicks in because I thought I knew exactly where this was going. Based on virtually every scene between the Kent boys so far, it seemed obvious that Jonathan would be an asset to Jordan’s training, understanding his brother in a way Sam wouldn’t because of the bond even their parents don’t share with them. Instead, the opposite happens; Jonathan is jealous of the attention Jordan is getting and spars with him, showing off his physical capabilities and derailing the training session. Jordan knows something is wrong, and while he’s satisfied with the lie that Jon is developing powers naturally for the time being, it won’t be long before he finds out what’s really happening. This is how you “subvert expectations” the right way; it’s a twist that’s rooted in character and plot. Jon’s not able to serve the function he normally does because he’s doping himself, and it’s hurting Jordan too. This episode may have failed to sell me on banana muffins, but it’s an effective anti-drug parable, and the storyline isn’t even complete yet.
The other big plot point is so directly related to the quinceañera that it occurs during the party: Kyle’s hound dogging comes to light. It turns out that paying a visit to the co-dependent alcoholic with whom you cheated on your wife isn’t a great idea, and the crazy broad shows up at the quinceañera to tell him how hurt she was that he didn’t abandon his family for her. She also mentions that she told her best friend about the affair and that Mayor Dean’s campaign is willing to pay top dollar for the story. But Kyle misses the opportunity to tell his family about his transgression because Sarah and Jordan overhear everything. This is one leg in Sarah’s journey to adulthood, the essence of the quinceañera. Throughout “Girl… You’ll Be a Woman Soon,” Sarah slowly grows up; she urges her parents to change their last name back to its original version, Cortez (the mayor’s response to this is hilarious), she puts on a complicated and uncomfortable dress (the show juxtaposes her acceptance of the dress with her sister whining about having to wear one, making the point further that Sarah is no longer a little girl), she discovers that her father is even more flawed than she thought, and she maintains her composure for the duration of the party when all she wants to do is cry over her crumbling family. Her adulthood is reflected in other characters’ perceptions of her: Lana lamenting that she’s no longer the little girl who needed her mommy, Jordan noticing her body for the first time (at least as portrayed on-screen). This is all wonderfully done, never too obvious even in a superhero show, and it shows that Sarah can be a good character if she has the right story.
What makes “Girl… You’ll Be a Woman Soon” even better is that, amid all this drama and plot building, there’s an excellent superhero action scene. Finally locating his mysterious doppelganger as he’s trying to murder Ally, Superman and Bizarro have a bone-crunching fistfight that starts on the ground, continues in the air, and finally lands in a barn. It’s a great fight, highlighting the inverted nature of Bizarro as he displays the opposites of Superman’s powers, and it was nice to see Superman finally win one after being on the ropes for most of the season. With AI Lara’s help, Bizarro finally gives up some answers; he’s here to save our world and his from Ally, who is evidently the true villain of the season. Bizarro talks in terms of a war, citing the necessity for casualties, and that if Superman isn’t willing to dispense with his morality, his family is going to die. This, again, is the show demonstrating that it knows how to humanize Superman and exploit his weaknesses. Superman could kill Ally; he could even just let Bizarro do it. But he won’t because he doesn’t believe in murder. But others will pay the price for those principles, including Lois and his sons. There’s plenty more to come from this, but I love where it’s going, and I love this episode.