Superman & Lois takes a big step in the right direction with “Uncontrollable Forces,” an episode with more fun, better-balanced plotlines, and a clearer picture of the themes that look like they’ll be central this season.
Lois and Clark head to Metropolis to interview the judge who released Henry Miller from prison before his super-powered rampage. Jon convinces Jordan to go to a party in Metropolis – unaware that Natalie and Sarah are going to the same party. Lana gets a disturbing phone call from the former mayor. Tortellini night is ruined, and every Italian in the audience weeps (which I can confirm).
Last week’s “Closer” ended with Lois finding out that she isn’t pregnant, but something else is causing physical changes in her. At the beginning of “Uncontrollable Forces,” she’s acting strange; she’s distant, unfocused, seemingly in her own little world from which Clark occasionally has to bring her back to Earth. Something is wrong, but nobody but Lois (and her doctor) knows what it is, including us. It’s worrying enough for Clark to suggest he go with her when she interviews Judge Tara Reagan, who approved Henry Miller’s parole. I like how this happens quickly; Clark knows Lois well enough to sense that she’s not herself and needs help, but he also knows not to push her for answers. This is a mature version of the character, one who knows when to act and when not to – just as he’s trying to teach Jordan – and he knows what kind of action to take in different circumstances. The joke about the tape recorder is funny, too, partly because of how earnest Tyler Hoechlin is as Clark. (“One time!”)
Lois’ medical problem is just one of several plot points that tie into the title, and how people deal with them is the theme. “Uncontrollable Forces” also refers to Judge Reagan being forced into helping Intergang, Jordan wanting a girl he can’t have, Natalie trying to recreate a world that doesn’t exist anymore, Bruno Manheim growing up in a neighborhood without hope, and Lana listening to a man die with no way of helping him. All of the plotlines tie into this, and the characters find ways of overcoming their feelings of powerlessness through each other. Lois hasn’t been able to tell anyone about her illness, but seeing the desperation in Judge Reagan as she contemplates suicide gets her to finally say it, even though the person she’s been keeping it from is in earshot (although he kind of always is because he’s Superman). This is Lois at her best, sacrificing her privacy to help someone else, being a hero in whatever way she can, and her courage rubs off on the judge, who gets down from the ledge.
To lesser degrees, the kids are experiencing these trials as well. Jordan can’t stop thinking about Sarah, and whenever they happen upon each other, he desperately tries to get her to go out with him again. It’s sad, the kind of story where you wish the guy were real so you could try to talk some sense into him. But Jordan’s got his brother, who encourages him to get over Sarah by pursuing other girls, with a party in Metropolis the perfect venue to meet someone else. But, of course, Sarah is headed there too; she’s trying to help Natalie find an Earth-1 (is this Earth-1? Who knows anymore?) variant of a guy she was attracted to on her world. This is good because it finally puts Sarah in a positive light, having her go out of her way to help a friend. Jordan and Natalie are both disappointed – Natalie’s crush turns out to be a jerk, and the girl Jordan bumps into is Sarah. But they both get past these setbacks by, as Lois tells the judge, fighting. Jordan decides to be friends with Sarah instead of avoiding her (bad idea, but we’ll see what happens), and Natalie finds a potential date with another guy who’s interested in her.
The inverse of Jordan’s problem is afflicting Jonathan. He’s been chatting with his former girlfriend Eliza – the one from Metropolis who dumped him when he left – and meets up with her again at the party. (Her disappointment at Jordan’s presence is funnier than it was probably intended to be.) But he misread the situation because Eliza wants to be with Jon, and she doesn’t care that he has a girlfriend now, offering herself up as his side piece. Jon is the outlier of “Uncontrollable Forces” because he’s put someone else in a situation they can’t control. But unlike Sarah, Jon realizes how destructive this is for Eliza and leaves her alone, apologizing for leading her on. I like this a lot, and it shows tremendous character growth for Jon, who acted selfishly and without considering the consequences to others last season. Faced with that again, he does the moral thing and leaves this poor girl alone.
Lana and Bruno Manheim represent opposing versions of the theme as well. Lana is dealing with things beyond her control now that she’s the mayor, from losing time with her daughter(s) to hearing former mayor George Dean be assassinated by Onomatopoeia while not being able to help him. This is the life she chose, the life she fought for, and which cost her her marriage (well, Kyle kind of cost her that too, but it came out because of her campaign). She doesn’t even have time for a proper dinner anymore until John Henry convinces her to take Natalie’s place at tortellini night (which, in true Superman fashion, is saved just in the nick of time). And that small act of regaining control spurs her to investigate Dean’s murder, to act in a situation in which she felt she couldn’t.
Conversely, Bruno Manheim was born into helplessness and a loss of control, growing up in a slum where people were so hopeless they started committing suicide, a place that didn’t even find its hope when Superman showed up to save the world. Bruno learned the lessons of “Uncontrollable Forces” a long time ago, refusing to let the hopelessness consume him and making himself the savior of his neighborhood. There are shades of Vincent D’Onofrio’s version of the Kingpin in Bruno, and it’s hard not to root for him as he justifies himself. We know he’s up to no good, but I’m excited to learn his motives and what he’s actually trying to do. Chad L. Coleman plays him perfectly, with righteous indignation without verging into annoying, self-righteous territory. He could end up being a great villain.
Finally, there’s Superman. This is a classic dilemma to put him in, one reminiscent of him having to watch his father die. Lois has breast cancer, and despite having the powers of a god, Superman can’t do anything to fix it. All he can do is what he always does: love her and support her. The scene where they tell Jon and Jordan is great, with Clark preparing the boys as best he can, then just sitting beside Lois as she takes control. (The way this plays out is perfect, with the boys not saying a word, just getting up in unison to hug their mom.) This won’t be an easy road for him, or for any of them, and I’m looking forward to seeing the show capitalize on the drama inherent in this set-up. Hopefully, Superman & Lois is back on track.
“Uncontrollable Forces” is a stellar episode with laughs, sadness, and the ever-present hope that Superman always brings, which sets up the third season’s storylines and themes better than the premiere.