REVIEW: Superman & Lois – Season 3, Episode 9 “The Dress”

Superman & Lois feels like its old self again in “The Dress,” a fantastic, character-driven episode that strikes the most human chord this season has yet. Lois’ cancer is front and center again, but it’s handled much better than it had been previously, in an honest way that humanizes three characters. Meanwhile, the Bruno Manheim storyline makes a good man question how far he’s willing to go to protect his family.

Lois’ doctor prepares her for the last stage of her cancer treatment, and the prognosis is good, but she’s less excited than Clark about being done with it. John Henry takes drastic measures to protect Natalie from Intergang. Bruno Manheim negotiates with the DOD to see Peia. Jordan and Jon are still at odds. Natalie misses Matteo.

“The Dress” begins with Lois receiving her last chemotherapy treatment while the doctor tells her and Clark to prepare for Lois’ operation: a double mastectomy that will finally rid her of the cancer that’s been plaguing her all season. Clark is elated, but Lois seems melancholy, dancing around Clark’s suggestion that their lives can get back to normal once the operation is over. And when they begin gathering old items for a homeless drive Lana has organized, Lois shows Clark a clear sign that she isn’t alright – she hands over a red dress. This is handled perfectly because, until the flashbacks, nothing is said aloud; we don’t understand why the dress is so important, but Clark’s look tells us it is. It’s one of those things a couple shares with each other that no one else gets, but the tension is palpable. Given the rest of the season, I was prepared for this to go wrong in any of a dozen different ways, but the episode only gets better.


The dress in “The Dress” is a gift that Clark gave Lois while they were engaged so she could wear it to an awards ceremony she didn’t want to attend. Lois was nominated for the first time, and while she wanted to skip it – ostensibly out of derision for the award, but really out of fear she wouldn’t win – Clark insisted she go, that she show the world what he sees in her. Now, she’s afraid the world will never see that in her again. She knows Clark will always love her, but she’s scared of losing part of herself after the mastectomy, and that’s why she wants to get rid of the dress. This is so much more effective than another shouting match; it uses the language of a visual medium, and it feels more human in its tangibility. Here is an object that means the world to Lois because of who gave it to her and why, and it says what she can’t because when you say it out loud, it becomes real.

The rest of this plotline is getting Lois to get past the dress and make what she’s feeling real, and this, too, is executed well. When Clark tells Lana he feels he can’t broach a subject Lois doesn’t want to talk about, he’s not berated or ridiculed; Lana recognizes that he’s right and offers to step in, being a friend to both of them, doing for them what the cancer won’t let either do for the other. The scene between Lois and Lana is perfect, wonderfully honest, and feels like a real conversation between two people who get the issue in a way someone of the opposite sex can’t. The result is Lois finally being able to talk to Clark, and they feel more united than ever in their determination to beat her cancer together. In this instance, Lana Lang is the hero Superman can’t be, and this is all communicated through their actions. When the characters are written like this, they’re stellar, and we’re reminded of why Lana is integral to the series. This was also the way they should have presented the cancer plotline all along; it would have helped keep it from getting tedious.

Superman & Lois The Dress

The dress is so important because the conflict it creates informs the rest of the episode. Lois’ fear drives her to do something that hurts Clark. In the same way, John Henry’s fear of Intergang coming after his daughter causes him to lie to and trick his friend, use a cancer patient as a bargaining chip, and even kill a man. What makes all of this so great is that all of his decisions are understandable, and not only because he’s afraid of a man as dangerous as Bruno Manheim. Peia may be dying of cancer, but she’s also a dangerous criminal who shouldn’t be trusted. Superman was right to visit Manheim and appeal to his humanity, but it makes sense why John Henry wouldn’t have faith in that outcome. And, as he correctly tells everyone who asks, Henry Miller was going to kill him, so his fatal hammer blow was self-defense. But in the eyes of those around him, he’s losing his mind – and, frankly, everyone is right in this instance.

That goes for Bruno Manheim, too. He spends “The Dress” in fear for his wife, of having her die in a government facility where he and his son can’t say goodbye. He swears to Matteo that he can cure Peia, but his demeanor throughout the episode proves he isn’t so sure. This is what makes him such a great villain: not only are his actions understandable and even sympathetic, but his motivation is similar to the heroes. He’s as scared as Clark and John Henry are, and he’s got as much on the line as they do. And they’re all reacting to their fear in different ways. Clark won’t let his fear turn him into a monster, while Manheim has made peace with doing evil to save his wife. John Henry is caught somewhere in the middle, not going completely over to the Dark Side yet but flirting with it, and making Clark worried that he’ll go all the way if he thinks it’s the only way to save his daughter. A good man’s soul is on the line, and it’s going to take all of Superman’s will to save him.

Superman & Lois The Dress

All of these plots are so compelling that the detours “The Dress” takes with the kids are a bit of a distraction. It isn’t bad, and I like that Nat and Matteo are able to see things from each other’s perspectives so quickly by doing the opposite of their parents and being honest with each other. I’m also glad Jon is the one to put them together, albeit after inadvertently insulting Nat; once more, while Jordan has Clark’s powers, Jon has his heart. It’s also good to see Jon and Jordan making up, although I could have done with Sarah’s annoying “God, boys are so dumb” nonsense. But overall, this is good stuff, too, if less interesting than the grown-ups.

But maybe my favorite thing about “The Dress” is that it has a reference to Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, one of my favorite shows ever, and a very personal one for me. While Lois is in bed, she’s reading a book called Wanda Detroit Lives! In Lois and Clark, Wanda Detroit was the name of a character in a novel Lois was writing; when Lois got amnesia (because of course she did), she believed she actually was Wanda Detroit. And so, a great episode became even better.

Superman & Lois – "The Dress"

Plot - 9
Acting - 10
Progression - 9
Production Design - 9
Themes - 9



“The Dress” is an excellent character-driven episode that ties the heroes and the villain even closer thematically while putting the most human face yet on Lois’ cancer journey.

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