“Complications” is one of those episodes that feels like it should be the season finale but comes a couple of weeks early. There are still two more episodes left in season 3, but this would have made a satisfying endpoint. The main plotlines come to a head – one better than the other – and some major characters come full circle while the subplots vacillate between compelling and filler.
Lois’ friends and family help her prepare for surgery. Peia experiences complications from Bruno Manheim’s cure. Jordan loses control when his mother’s condition overwhelms him. Sarah descends into despair when hit with the mess she’s made of her life. Kyle is astonished when he learns a long-held secret.
The first act of “Complications” leans heavily on the slice-of-life family side of the show, as most of the season has, with the Kents and their friends gathering to have a party for Lois before her surgery. They get chicken wings from Bazoombas, a Hooters/Twin Peaks type of place (one assumes; no busty waitresses are shown as evidence), as a gag; they talk, they laugh, and they act like people who care about each other. This sequence works, especially the stuff with the adults (I’ll get to the kids later), because there’s no high drama or phony conflict; it’s just people being people, coming together when times are tough, and getting each other through it. It’s what makes the Smallville setting so great, and it’s Superman & Lois at its best.
This storyline has its ups and downs in “Complications.” Lois goes to Metropolis for the surgery, and while it begins normally, the electricity suddenly shuts down thanks to a series of city-wide power surges. After a few of these, Sam confirms that the power grid in the area is down, and the hospital is running on generators, though half of them are out, too, so power will be sporadic. Clark makes the sensible suggestion that Lois postpone the surgery until the hospital can keep the lights on and stuff, but Lois angrily (because she has no other emotion) dismisses this, saying it took her too long to prepare for her to put off the surgery. Of course, we’re meant to applaud this with a string of “You go, girls” for good measure, but think about how stupid and irresponsible this is. Lois is determined to have a surgery that can be safely rescheduled even though the hospital is losing power, and this could kill her. She’d rather die than wait an extra couple of days. That is the mentality of a child, and her constantly behaving this way is getting tiring, as is the vilification of anyone who disagrees with her.
Fortunately, everything happening around Lois’ surgery is more interesting and handled much better. The other main plot is the travails of the Manheim family, and “Complications” continues to tie this in with Lois’ cancer quite well. As the Manheims plan to flee to a tropical island, Peia’s body begins rejecting the cure Bruno developed, and she loses control of her powers, emitting devastating bursts of her sound powers, which are what cause the power surges that cut the electricity at the hospital. But even better than the direct ties to the other plot are the thematic connections between the two. While Lois’ family has accepted that all they can do is wait and hope, Bruno Manheim has been conducting dark experiments to control the outcome of his wife’s cancer, killing people along the way, and now he’s finding that it was all for nothing. His miracle cure was an illusion, and Peia’s death will be even worse than it would have been, with many more innocent people dying. The tragedy of Bruno Manheim is finally being forced to accept how powerless he truly is, something Superman did a while back.
Everything comes full circle in the Manheim plot, and it works. Bruno and Matteo realize that there’s no saving Peia, that they must accept the horror of a disease they can’t fight with all the money in the world. Moreover, they must do what Lois did and rely on the kindness of those who want to help, even if that help is as futile as a chicken wing party. Manheim wondering aloud if Superman will be able to help Peia is the perfect ending to his arc, hoping for a miracle from on high even though he knows it’s in vain, accepting that it’s out of his hands. And Peia ends her struggle and chooses to give in, just as she told Lois many must do; the Intergang enforcer who took so many lives now lays down her own to protect the innocent. And John Henry, who had no sympathy for the Manheims, becomes their last means of support, a guy who lost his wife comforting a man he despises who’s about to lose his. For all its faults, season 3 played this incredibly well, and “Complications” has us sympathizing with the monsters, just as John Henry finally does.
The other major development is Jordan discovering a new power at the worst possible time. As Lois is prepping for the operation, he suddenly runs out of the room, covering his eyes. Clark deduces that Jordan’s X-ray vision is manifesting, and he’s under so much stress that he can’t control it. Once again, it’s Jonathan who saves Jordan, reaching his brother in a way no one else can and calming him, getting him to regain control when he feels like the world is crumbling around him. (The X-ray vision kicks in just as Sam wonders about Lois asphyxiating for a reason.) One of my favorite aspects of Superman & Lois is the bond between Jon and Jordan, how they can relate to each other better than anyone else, and this is another great instance of it. It also displays the different aspects of their father each twin got; Jordan has his powers, and Jonathan has his heart. And it comes in handy when Lois almost blows up because of her moronic decision to go ahead with the surgery, and Jordan, thanks to his X-ray vision, is able to save her and the doctors she put in danger without a second thought.
Jordan may be the MVP of “Complications” for another reason, too: during Lois’ party, he finally tells off Sarah, who’s deserved to be read the news for a while. She’s awful to him (and pretty much everyone else), belittling his feelings, insulting him in public, and just generally a bad person, and even someone as devoted as Jordan can only take so much. When she rushes to apologize to him, Jordan lets her know that he doesn’t believe she’s sincere and still wishes they’d never gotten together. It’s beautiful, even more so because she simply leaves, hopefully at least in part because she knows he’s right. Of course, the show spins this into a subplot about her and her attempted suicide because Sarah has to be the victim, but it plays out well, with Kyle relating to her through his alcoholism and the harm it’s caused him and those he loves. Earlier in the season, Kyle tried to give Jon some purpose and direction, and now he’s doing the same for his daughter. Adultery aside, he’s a good guy, and while the other subplot about him being mad at Chrissy over harboring Clark’s secret is dumb, I like how the show handles him.
All in all, “Complications” is a good, satisfying episode, but it’s hard not to wonder where the season goes from here. Obviously, Bizarro will be the threat in the final two episodes, and I know they set up his return, but it feels tacked on after this week. The Manheim plot is over and had a great conclusion; why not simply end the season there? Bizarro’s resurrection should have been the tease for next season. I know the show is in flux right now, but that would have been better than forcing two more episodes just to fill the thirteen-episode order. Regardless, I’m glad we got “Complications.”