Lois & Clark & Chris & Ronnie: “Strange Visitor”/”Neverending Battle”

Ronnie: Hello and welcome to Lois & Clark & Chris & Ronnie, a weekly-ish effort to appraise Lois & Clark through a 2021 post-superhero boom lens. With these episodes, the second and third, we’re still not at what a “regular” episode of the show will look like, due to housekeeping required to set up Superman’s relationships and his place in the world. For instance, the second episode (“Strange Visitor (From Another World)”) opens with government agents barging into the offices of the Daily Planet, demanding Clark and Lois give them information about Superman. The government doesn’t yet know Superman is a friendly presence unaligned with any world power and friend to all children. Wait, no, the last part is Gamera. Sorry. The two sides reach a sort of compromise that allows the pair to keep their computers as long as they take lie detector tests about Superman. Here’s where I whine about how the lie detector is bullshit, not admissible in court, and so on. I can believe a man can fly, but a lie detector being key to an investigation? Come on.


Clark likes his chicken spicy

So the lie detector leads to some hijinks, like Clark blowing on it so it reads as him lying or the thing indicating false when Lois says she doesn’t have a crush on Superman, but more importantly it turns out these guys are rogue operatives and not government agents at all. Only rogue elements would trample on the 1st amendment! “Strange Visitor” is a lore-heavy episode in that it introduces Clark’s spaceship and other artifacts of his landing on Earth, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for what I term “stupid shit”. Like Cat insinuating to everyone she and Clark are knocking boots, or Jimmy trying to get dating advice about Lois’ sister Lucy. Even Perry gets into it with a long, rambling story about Elvis. Nobody’s thinking with their right head in this episode.

Chris: It’s interesting that the show decided to make Clark’s origin a mystery to him as well as the audience. That’s a device that I don’t remember seeing before this and that gives a little more weight to various antagonists’ suspicion of him as well as a little suspicion on Clark’s part towards himself. For all Clark knows, he is some kind of Battlestar Galactica style sleeper agent for an invading civilization or genetic time bomb set to go off and wreak havoc to human civilization. It’s a nod to the more action/sci-fi oriented end of the series that gives Clark a little moral anxiety that’s also completely undermined by the slapstick of the lie detector scene. In a vacuum, seeing Clark sweat like Nixon and tug on his collar and stammer while being mildly questioned by his co-workers about the possibility of his being connected to Superman is all very pleasantly Silver Age, as is his blowing on the detector to fuck with the reading. It all suggests that this isn’t a show that wants us to take anything too seriously. But it’s also working against the more quote-unquote adult aspects of the narrative.

In Superman: The Movie Superman emerges from the Fortress of Solitude pretty much fully formed as a character and Byrne’s Man of Steel miniseries compresses five or six years of his early career into three issues. L&C is actually trying to show Clark and Superman growing and figuring things out on the fly, and it wants us to feel for him and think about his status as an outsider, even from himself. That’s the stuff the show’s nailing so far. They deny him knowledge of his origin, stick him in that shitty rathole apartment and make him the clear subordinate to Lois at the Planet. It’s all relatable, humbling and humanizing for a character who’s basically a god, and it’s not yet co-existing comfortably with the homina-homina-homina style comedy of shitting bricks over a lie detector test and sex-farce misunderstanding. If we’re supposed to relate to these characters as humans, they need to behave a little more like relatable humans.


Familiar voice: this guy was The Lizard on Spider-Man: The Animated Series. There’s a surprising amount of cross pollination between the two series…

Ronnie: While this episode is nominally important for its contributions to the show’s mythology, as an hour of television it isn’t very good. What the show is doing with Cat Grant confounds me. Because on the one hand she’s subverting expectations–when she takes Clark to her apartment, she puts on something “more comfortable”…and it’s a sweatshirt. Clark marvels that her apartment is full of books, having assumed she’s a maneater who has no time for the written word. Clearly the lesson to be learned is that people contain multitudes and not to judge a person based on their surface demeanor. But then she insinuates to Lois that she and Clark slept together. I don’t know what purpose this serves other than to sow chaos and tee up Lois to make a number of slut shaming jokes like “Cat’s bedroom has more comings and goings than Metro station”. How weird is it that the subplot in the second episode is the hero loudly proclaiming he didn’t have sex?

Lest I be entirely negative, I do like the show getting into the nitty gritty of actually writing for a newspaper. Little scenes like Clark correcting Lois on the second paragraph of a story may not amount to much, but in conjunction with other scenes it creates the sense that the Daily Planet is a pivotal part of the series and not just a means for Superman to hear breaking news stories that he can then go off and resolve.

Chris: Here’s my guess as to what’s up with Cat: I think they’re insinuating that the vampy sex-pot we see at the Planet is no less a construct than the comfy gal she shows Clark back at her apartment. I think they’re setting up the idea that Cat is a performative person who dials up her sexuality at work in order to make an impression and distinguish herself from (and antagonize) Lois, the only other woman working at the Planet. Imagine you were Cat for a second. It must be hard to compete with Lois Lane, a woman who is A. brilliant, B. looks like a 1993 Teri Hatcher, and C. seems to harbor a wild irrational hatred for you; but she’s a little uptight and repressed so you compensate by dressing and behaving in a fashion that would embarrass your average Whitesnake groupie.


Replace Marge with Tracy Scoggins and Homer with the wardrobe department.

L&C (and this plot in particular) seems vested in the problems of being a working professional woman. It’s obviously a very 90s show, and Cat seems to be an avatar for the flashy 80s Madonna Material Girl type who was starting to fall out of fashion in the crunchier, grungier 90s (there’s no way L&C’s Lois digs Madonna, but you know she has every 10,000 Maniacs album and had a lot of feelings about Natalie Merchant and Michael Stipe’s relationship). Tracy Scoggins is eleven years older than Teri Hatcher, and that age difference and tension that comes from the different ages is manifested through competing for Clark’s attention/respect. Cat does it sexually and Lois professionally (though she does smooch him so). How well that tension was handled in a dramatic fashion and how regressive or progressive those ideas are is an entirely different conversation, but that’s what I think they’re going for and I think it’s interesting. This isn’t a standard Betty and Veronica catfight over a boy so much as two different perspectives on how to behave and survive in an environment that’s not hospitable to you.

Ronnie: That makes sense to me, especially since the show was developed by a woman. Deborah Joy LeVine obviously has a vested interest in depicting the trials and travails of being a woman in a male-dominated workspace. That doesn’t mean it’s working for me, at least not yet. Let’s move on to “Neverending Battle”, shall we?

Chris: I gotta say, I thought “Neverending Battle” was really pretty good, certainly a step up from “Strange Visitor”. The episode is mostly concerned with Lex Luthor setting up various crises around Metropolis to test the limits of Superman’s powers and then, when his machinations are uncovered by Superman, giving him an ultimatum: leave Metropolis or Lex will keep putting innocent people in harm’s way, guaranteeing someone will eventually be hurt. It’s a more interesting problem than last week’s mostly because it involves Lex but also because it’s about the broad impact Superman has on Metropolis as opposed to a threat to his secret identity. We know there’s no chance that Clark’s secret will be exposed so early in the show, and we also know the third episode won’t end up with him packing up his costume and leaving town. But this problem leads to him interrogating his motives and forces him to accept his limitations as well as the reality of collateral damage resulting from his presence.

This is also the episode that finally throws some of that sweet, sweet fanservice we fans crave, namechecking a few creators (the Carlin building on 3rd and Ordway, for instance) and having Lex verbalize Superman’s whole “Faster Than a Speeding Bullet” spiel, but they don’t underline it and Shea’s delivery of the dialogue is breezy and fun. I kind of liked it. I actually felt, Ronnie, like the comedy in general in “Neverending Battle” worked better than in the first two episodes. It focused more on situational comedy specific to the genre and Superman instead of the broader more anonymous shit in “Strange Visitor”. Clark struggling to change into his suit in a public bathroom stall and accidentally putting his elbow through the metal door was solid, as was a bit where Clark talks to his mom about cleaning his costume after an explosion (Martha: “is it a dirt stain or an oil stain?” Clark: “I don’t know mom, it’s a… bomb stain”). Having secrets and sexual shenanigans are the sort of material you find on every nighttime dramedy, but this is more focused and idiosyncratic. These felt like situations written for Superman instead of tired situations that he gets inserted into.

Ronnie: I agree with you in large part. Lex is far more interesting than some off the books agency investigating alien threats and John Shea evinces more menace than the group of schlubs from Section 39 or whatever it was. He actually reminds me of John Glover’s Lionel Luthor on Smallville. Both portrayals are gregarious, calculating and sporting an awesome head of hair. Lois & Clark perhaps overdoes it with Lex’s characteristics. There’s a scene in which he’s implied to be about to fuck a cheerleader (of age, one hopes), and in his final scene of the episode he’s got his hawk on his arm with the intent to hunt pigeons. It’s almost too much. Parcel out the quirks, you know? Save some for other episodes.

Can we talk a bit about Lex’s crew? It’s pretty odd. Usually Lex has a lackey or a bodyguard, such as Otis and Miss Teschmacher in the movies or Mercy in Superman: The Animated Series. Here he has a veritable gang to help in his scheme. There’s a guy in a turban, a black guy, an old man, and a woman. The black guy says of Superman: “he can really jump…for a white guy”. The woman is coerced into doing the ol’ “jump off a building to get Superman’s attention” trick despite a fear of heights. And the old man, well, he’s an old man played by prolific voice actor Tony Jay. He was Baron Mordo on Spider-Man: The Animated Series! I have no idea if they ever appear again in the series, and despite the randomness of their presence I like the fact that Lex has a panel of consultants/minions he uses for his schemes. It deepens the character. The turban guy alone raises so many questions.


Just the worst looking billboard.

Some subplots advance, like Clark moves from a shithole apartment to a new shithole apartment, where the guy who played the landlord who had Kramer’s jacket on Seinfeld is the landlord. He’d make a good recurring character but apparently this is his sole appearance. Clark also teaches Jimmy to stand up for himself because otherwise Perry just has him doing odd jobs around the office instead of journalism. It’s unclear what Jimmy’s job is at the Planet. Is he a reporter, a photographer, some orphan owned by the paper? In any event, the subplot leads to a long spiel furthering Perry White’s Elvis obsession and Jimmy throwing a Billy Mouth Bass in the trash.

I should also mention this is the last time we see Lucy Lane. She reappears one more time, albeit played by a different actress, and then she’s gone forever. I don’t know why she was cut out of the series; her scene in this suggests she’s an all nighter party girl and maybe the producers thought two liberated women (Lucy and Cat Grant) was too many.

Chris: I knew she couldn’t have lasted too long, and while she’s basically a throwaway character at this point, I’m still a little bummed that she’s going. At this point there are four prominent female characters on Lois & Clark who are all, if not distinct, then at least slightly different from one another in vaguely interesting ways. I guess what I’m saying is, it’s not like there’s any Autistic-ish Goth Hacker Girls or Sassy Hip Grandmas or whatever. (Ma Kent may be grandma age, but she doesn’t rap or anything like that.) Like with Lex’s crew, characters such as Lucy give the show some eccentric scope and depth, crucial components for a series that’s supposed to take place in a busy, cosmopolitan city. So far L&C has vacillated between decent and lame without really hitting any highs or lows yet, with solid performances and decent plotting fighting against inconsistent tone and wonky characterization. I imagine that cutting Lucy was done in the hopes that reducing the frankly considerable cast of characters would lead to a tighter focus and therefore better execution. I don’t want to get too into spoiler territory, but it won’t be the last time it happens. As to how well it works, well I guess we’ll have to keep watching to find out.

Ronnie: Find out we will next time with “I’m Looking Through You” and “Requiem For A Super Hero”. I won’t reveal too much of what’s behind the curtain, but this pair finally introduces superpowered threats for Superman to face.


Who knew Lex was also Will Forte’s The Falconer character.

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