Superman & Lois has had an uneven third season, so it’s fitting that the finale, “What Kills You Only Makes You Stronger,” follows suit. Most of the episode is great – percentage-wise, more than the season – but parts of it either don’t make sense or grate on your nerves, leaving you with some sour feelings amid the high of an eventful closer.
As everyone in Smallville moves on with their lives following the tumultuous year, Lex Luthor plots to destroy Superman once and for all.
The first half of “What Kills You Only Makes You Stronger” feels more like a season premiere than a season finale, with everyone happy and hopeful, planning their summer and taking the big steps in their lives. Lois is accepting her new good health, as well as the cost it came with, and is ready to be intimate with Clark again. Jonathan and Jordan are helping set up a Smallville event to watch a meteor shower. Sam begins seeing a woman he met on the dating app Jordan set him up with. Kyle and Chrissy learn that they’re having a baby. (I love that the show immediately knows we’ll assume Chrissy is pregnant when she rushes to the bathroom to vomit; this has become TV shorthand for pregnancy.) John Henry gets a big job offer from the DOD. Everything’s coming up Milhouse for the good guys, and all seems right with the world. So we know trouble’s a-brewing.
And trouble takes the shape of Lex Luthor. Unlike everyone else, Luthor can’t move on with his life because a big chunk of it was unjustly taken from him. That’s not something even a normal man could accept, let alone someone as driven and vengeful as Luthor. He’s mentioned early in “What Kills You Only Makes You Stronger,” and he looms over everyone’s good time like a dark cloud, a storm waiting to descend on their party. Everyone but Lois brushes him off, too intent on living after she came so close to dying, assuring her that Superman and the DOD will head off anything Luthor has planned. But Lois – who’s had a section of her life hijacked by an outside force – knows better, and she’s right; Luthor has spent the last month experimenting on Bizarro, discovering that he has a hidden ability: every time he dies, he comes back to life even stronger. (This explains how he was alive earlier in the season.) Using an array of Kryptonite-powered weapons, Luthor kills Bizarro over and over, slowly building up his strength and resistance until he becomes a monster capable of killing Superman.
What’s interesting about “What Kills You Only Makes You Stronger” is that the universe appears to be trying to let the characters know that all is not as well as it seems. Everyone’s happiness comes with an unexpected price, much like Lois’ did. John Henry gets the opportunity to use his technical know-how to give Natalie a good life, but he has to move to Metropolis, and this happens just when his relationship with Lana is taking off. And Lana gets the closure she needs with Kyle just as the man with whom she wants to move on tells her he’s leaving town. Sam finds a woman with whom he connects, only to learn as he’s being kidnapped that she works for Lex Luthor. (Given Luthor’s other henchman is Otis, should we assume her real name is Eve Tessmacher?) Jon’s efforts to get the town to like him again are in vain, and Coach Gaines makes it clear he’ll never forgive him for ruining the football season. Jordan is forced to be a bystander when danger arrives. These are harbingers of the coming darkness, the evil lurking below the surface, just as Luthor is in the bowels of Metropolis.
That darkness is personified by Doomsday, the final form (at least that we’ve seen) of Bizarro once Luthor is done killing him. This is a somewhat different version of him, although retaining some of his abilities. It’s a cool way to bring him into the show, and it puts a new spin on Bizarro’s first appearance, which was designed to make us think Doomsday was coming; I wonder if that was the plan all along. Doomsday’s fight with Superman constitutes the final ten minutes of “What Kills You Only Makes You Stronger,” and it’s very cool. They begin in Smallville, head to Metropolis, shoot into space, and finally land on the Moon, using visual shorthand to demonstrate Superman’s values and intentions. He takes every opportunity to keep innocent people out of harm’s way, from leaving Smallville to bringing Doomsday into the air to realizing the monster is so powerful he’ll have to kill him to finally taking the fight to the unpopulated Moon. The episode ends just as Superman and Doomsday are about to clash once again, and it makes me wonder if they’re about to do “The Death of Superman.” It would certainly save some money in at least the first couple of episodes, or however long they keep him dead.
What makes the Doomsday fight even better is the reason behind it. The show’s version of Lex Luthor continues to be a compelling villain, and Doomsday is his masterstroke, only part of his plan for revenge. Luthor knows he needs to get certain people out of the way if he wants to get to Lois. Sam is one, and he removes him with a honey trap, effectively eliminating the DOD at the same time. That leaves Superman, and while his Kryptonite arsenal suggests that he had a plan for dealing with his arch-nemesis, Doomsday is an opportunity he simply can’t pass up. Now, he’s got no one standing in the way of his vengeance, and I won’t be surprised if season 4 begins with him targeting her as Superman fights Doomsday. In two episodes, Superman & Lois has justified the buildup to Lex Luthor; I hope he sticks around for the entire season next year.
Where “What Kills You Only Makes You Stronger” falters is in its treatment of Jordan. It begins okay, with him still being restricted from using his powers. But when Clark announces a trip to Italy and suggests that he and Jordan fly everyone there, it falls apart. Jordan points out the hypocrisy in keeping him from helping people while using him as a travel service, and he’s absolutely right. Clark and Lois argue that it makes sense because he’s a glory hound when being a hero, but that doesn’t make sense; they’re trying to use his powers for selfish reasons. He has to leave disaster victims to die, but he can save his parents money on plane tickets? How does this teach him anything? And it doesn’t seem like something Superman would do, especially when he’s trying to teach his son about restraint and responsibility. I didn’t like Jon making a remark while Clark offered his half-assed defense, either; the brothers should remain each other’s confidants, and a moment like this undermines that.
I also don’t like how Jordan had to apologize to Sarah; I get teaching him not to humiliate her in public, but putting the entire thing on him is wrong because Sarah was awful to him before and after she left him. I was glad he finally stood up for himself, and Sarah got some pushback for the way she treats people, but of course, that couldn’t stand nowadays. And, finally, it feels wrong to have mentioned Bruno Manheim without having him appear. He was the main villain this season, and his arc was excellent. I understand not wanting to ruin that, but he should have been a part of the episode. This is why I think, as much as I’ve liked these last couple of episodes, they should have been the first two of next season rather than the final ones of season 3. Ending it with the close of the Manheim/Intergang plot and Lois’ mastectomy, along with the promise of Lex Luthor being let out of prison, would have been perfect.
Overall, though, I liked “What Kills You Only Makes You Stronger,” and while this season was bumpy, this is a high point.