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Lois & Clark & Chris & Ronnie: “Through A Glass, Darkly”/”Big Girls Don’t Fly”

Chris: Hallå my friends, and välkommen once again to Harriet & Max & Chris and Ronnie, the internet’s number one destination for trenchant analysis of the works of Ingmar Bergman mixed with Seinfeld references. Today, we’ll be looking at Through a Glass, Darkly, Bergman’s 1961 treatise on madness, faith and lust. It’s the first film in what’s commonly called the Bergman Trilogy, followed by Winter Light and The Silence, both of which were released in 1963. Interestingly, it’s also the first of his films to be filmed on Fårö Island, who’s name would become synonymous with Bergman’s as a result of the number of films he made there. Darkly is the story of Karin (Harriet Anderson) and Martin (Max Von Sydow) a married couple who, along with Karin’s brother and Father, travel to their summer home on Fårö Island in order to celebrate… I’m sorry, what? This is the wrong Through a Glass? I’m supposed to be talking about an episode of Lois & Clark with the same name? Can’t I just talk about the Bergman movie instead? Because one is a film by one of the greatest directors to ever live and the other is an episode of a Lois & Clark: the New Adventures of Superman. Yeah but- No that’s true I’d just really rather- fine, fuck it.

01

That sure is a lot of letters and numbers.

In “Through A Glass, Darkly” Lois Lane and Superman are supposed to get married but some bullshit with Justine Bateman and some boring guy I didn’t recognize and am not going to bother to look up pushes the wedding off a little longer. Bateman and the Boring Guy are mysterious strangers who act all normal when they’re around other people and then when they’re alone talk stupid like aliens from a movie from the 1950’s. Because they are aliens. Surprise. They’re aliens from Krypton the same Krypton Superman is from and they’re testing him to see if he’s worthy to do something either they haven’t said yet or I forgot. Justine Bateman thinks Superman is good and the Boring Guy thinks he’s bad. He’s jealous of Superman because he thinks Justine Bateman wants to fuck him. But she doesn’t. They set up a bunch of tests and Boring Guy is all “bet he fucks up” and Bateman is like “bet he doesn’t” and she’s always right and he’s always wrong. Then they fly away and it says To Be Continued. Also, they want Superman to leave the planet.

Look, you can name your episodes whatever you want. And I have no doubt that many of the writers of Lois & Clark have forgotten more about cinema than I’ll ever know. But come on, what are we doing here? Why make this association? Not only does the plot of “Through a Glass Darkly” have, like, nothing to do with the film of the same name, it isn’t even a good episode. Of LOIS AND CLARK. If, for instance, that last episode, the one with everyone getting shrunk, had a title that referenced Fellini, say “8 ½ Inches Tall” or something, I would have been like “hey that’s cute.” Because the episode was cute and there’s something vaguely Felliniesque about all these tiny people living in a dollhouse in a fishtank. But this, this is just a poke in the eye because the episode itself is so lackluster.

Justine Bateman is good, I guess, when she’s acting like a human person. But when she and Boring Guy are doing their cold aliens bit it’s just stiff and dull. And the sets are so cheap looking. I’ve made peace with L&C’s budget limitations, you do what you can with what you’ve got. But the big effects sequences of Superman saving a space station look like sub-par CD-Rom games from the same era, and the alien sets have serious “BBC in the late 70’s” vibes. We’re into 1996 now, and the summer of Twister, Mission Impossible, and Independence Day. It would be madness to expect production on the level of those movies, but it’s also hard not to imagine some dork in 1996 watching this and seeing a commercial for one of those movies and thinking “why am I watching this again?”

02

Don’t ask.

Ronnie: I, on the other hand, guiltily use my Ingmar Bergman Criterion set as a load bearing set holding up all manner of other DVDs, so don’t expect a whole lot of clever references from me. Uh, I know Wes Craven ripped off Virgin Spring for Last House on the Left, and I drunkenly watched Persona one time… anyway, in classic Lois & Clark fashion these two episodes have had no foreshadowing, no build up, no indication they were going to happen whatsoever. I for one appreciate it, because it indicates anything can happen any week on this show. You want Jimmy Olsen’s secret agent dad one week and an alien invasion the next? You got it. Hey, Chris, you wanna know why Boring Guy Jon Tenney is in this show at all? He was married to Teri Hatcher at the time. They married in 1994 and these episodes were shot in 1996. He did triple digits on The Closer, he’s a fine workman actor. You don’t go to him for the razzle dazzle, you go to him because you need exposition delivered in a competent-ish way with occasional flourishes to evince there’s characterization behind those dead eyes. Giving work to whomever you’re schtupping is a Hollywod classic, a cousin to the nepo baby. I fully approve of it. Without that practice, we wouldn’t have gotten the weird Julia Roberts episode of Law & Order.

It’s been a while since alien elements of Superman’s backstory intruded on his life, or at least it feels that way. Even Kryptonite is rarely deployed relative to how often it cropped up in Smallville. Before all of these revelations about Justine Bateman and Jon Tenney being Kryptonians it’s a lot of wild goose chasing that requires the show to stretch its budget with the action sequences. He has to find and defuse a number of bombs in “Through A Glass Darkly”, more than he has had to in a while. On another note, why is Tenney named “Ching”? Did they intend an Asian actor but he dropped out so they had to press-gang Teri Hatcher’s hubby on short notice? Because it’s weird to keep calling this white guy Ching. It’d be weird to call an Asian guy Ching too, but we could at least chalk it up to “those were the days”.

Chris: I actually think your Ching theory is a brilliant encapsulation of the entire L&C ethos. Invent a character, give them a lazy, racist name, then, hire a dull actor who isn’t from the ethnicity being referenced/slurred (because they’re fucking one of the stars), and don’t bother to change the name. We obviously don’t know if that’s what happened here, but print the legend. I feel like we’ve really struggled, Ronnie, to find much of anything interesting to say about a lot of this season. And I think that’s in large part because the people making the show have so obviously been treading water until the season finale and (hopefully) actual, factual, wedding of Lois and Clark.

03

This special effect is so bad I thought I was watching Thor: Love & Thunder.

The first half of the season had its moments because it was exploring how L&C’s relationship changed and grew as a result of Lois knowing Clark’s secret. We got to see Lois making excuses for Clark so he could do cape shit, and Clark better utilizing his powers to aid their work as journalists. There was also Lois struggling with the knowledge that Clark had been deceiving and (kind of) lying to her for the entirety of their relationship as well as Clark fearing that his revelation would put Lois into even more danger than she usually was. That’s solid shit. And if the whole false wedding/Clois/Lex/Wanda Detroit dodge wasn’t particularly convincing or thoughtful, it had a breathless pace and manic intensity that almost elevated it to OC level self-aware-overkill and also managed to inject some genuine pathos into its climax.

But man, those high points are decisively overshadowed by the rest of the season’s accumulated gaffes and bad puns. We had two, two, nonthreatening competitors for Lois’s affection, the scumbag therapist and the scumbag Irishman (redundant, I know). We met Jimmie’s dad the C- Bond, and witnessed Lana Lang’s good name being dragged through the mud. And then there was the revelation of Sam Lane’s disturbing robot fetish, which somehow managed to be more upsetting than that phrase suggests. The next episode brings the third season to a close, and brings us to the last lap of this idiot relay we’ve assigned ourselves. Season one and two both delivered solid finale’s that both summed up the themes of their respective seasons and introduced new complications for what was to come. Neither was, like, great television, but they did leave me interested and almost excited to see what came next. I’m kind of doubting that will be the case this time.

Ronnie: Whenever I think of Ching I think of the Eagleheart episode that establishes Chinese people don’t actually exist; they instead serve as a topside cover identity for protectors of a subterranean ruby. That would be far more coherent than most of the mythos established at the tail end of this episode of Lois & Clark. I like to think of Eagleheart because it’s a show I greatly enjoy as opposed to an obligation I’ve wedded myself to that has resulted in a slow burn feeling of resentment towards my writing partner. Anyway, back to this shitshow. This isn’t so much bad as it is disappointing, because the majority of the episode concerns putting Superman through his paces that we’ve seen before, primarily from Lex Luthor. Oh, will Superman save two things in different places and saving one will cause the other to explode? Of course he will. That dilemma’s sell by date is past. Having Kryptonite appear via a force field? Also tired.

04

“Nothing can look cheaper than Babylon 5.” “WATCH ME”

Let’s see, what else can I talk about. I could talk about the Dexter episode “Through A Glass, Darkly”, the Season 5 finale that wrapped up things a little too neatly (Quinn is dead to rights implicated in Peter Weller’s murder but a good word from Dexter gets him off?) but did provide a satisfying end for Jonny Lee Miller’s Jordan Chase. Do you think Michael C. Hall cheated on Jennifer Carpenter with Julia Stiles like it’s been reported? Look, I could do this all day. Celebrity gossip is far more entertaining than Teri Hatcher’s nobody boyfriend trying to kill himself to prove a point to Superman. Really, it’s only in the last couple minutes that things become noteworthy, as Lois openly speculates the pair of annoyances might’ve been from a different planet, given their ability to poorly fly in a manner suggesting the special effects department took off early. Cut to Sarah and Ching drinking from snowglobes, talking about how Kal-El is a chosen one who must leave Earth forever. We know that won’t happen purely from a budgetary standpoint. Lois & Clark literally cannot afford to render locations beyond “apartment”, “newspaper office” and “street” for longer than 5 minutes. There’s no suspense. They try to lend some by having a let’s say overly confirmed bachelor-ish voice out of nowhere tell Sarah and Ching he’s found Clark too and they’ve just signed his death warrant.

What does it all mean? I’m not going to bother speculating. Put on the next experiment, Mads.

Odds & Ends

-You guessed it: Perry mentions Jurgens, Binder and Swan, all of whom worked on Superman comics over the years. Jurgens was the most contemporary, being the guy who wrote Superman’s death.
-Who do you think owns Luthor News Network now? You’d think they’d rebrand considering their founder was outed as a supervillain.

Chris: Remember in The Fugitive where Joe Pantaliano asks Tommy Lee Jones if they can dye The Chicago River green for St. Patrick’s Day, why can’t they dye in blue the rest of the year? That’s how I sometimes feel about season finales vs the rest of the season. “Big Girls Don’t Fly” is far from a perfect episode of Lois & Clark, it’s overwrought and clunky, has the usual dubious-at-best action and manages to kick the fucking can down the road again on the marriage (at this point I don’t see why the writers don’t just lean into farce), but it’s also got a solid dilemma with genuine stakes. Also Roger Daltrey plays a blue assassin from space who sticks his tongue out a lot. So it’s got that going for it too. It turns out that Justine Bateman and Boring Guy are emissaries from an entire Kryptonian civilization that was off-world when the planet exploded. They need Clark because there’s a power struggle happening and being an El makes Clark royalty and thus able to settle the conflict. Sort of. Turns out that the manner in which he can settle the conflict is to marry Justine Bateman. Sort of. Turns out they were already married as babies and he just needs to, like, fulfill his baby obligation.

06

Character Find of the Year: HIV-Positive Joker

Side note: One of the most “It’s the 1930’s And We’re Not Taking This Too Seriously” elements of Superman is the notion that a super advanced civilization that had mastered space travel wouldn’t have outposts all over space and also somehow lacked the technology to determine that their planet was in imminent danger of spontaneously combusting. That logic lapse made room for all sorts of wacky “surprise” Kryptonians popping up from time to time. Anyway, Justine Bateman needs Clark to come back to New Krypton and rule with her, and whoever the usurper that’s threatening to take over has sent Roger Daltrey to kill him. Daltrey’s space assassin is a shapeshifter who also eventually develops Superman’s power set? Or something? There’s a pretty funny scene early in the episode where Daltrey has disguised himself as Martha Kent and she keeps unsuccessfully trying to brain Clark while his back is turned, but later in the episode he’s punching him through walls.

I tend to enjoy stories that are either completely bugnuts, or are rooted in some kind of interesting ethical dilemma. In “Big GIrls Don’t Fly” Clark has to weigh the fate of an entire civilization against life as he knows it. It’s not just that he wouldn’t get to marry Lois, it’s that he’d have to abandon Earth entirely, his parents, his friends, his job, his name. He would have to stop being Clark Kent and Superman (New Krypton is under a red sun, so no powers). That’s a pretty big sacrifice. But if he doesn’t, what’s left of his species could die in some kind of Space Nuclear War (the details of Lois & Clark are like gossamer, and one doesn’t dissect gossamer. Or retain it for more than an hour or so). And it turns out that Justine Bateman and Boring Guy are in love, but would have to abandon that love just like Lois and Clark. It’s a good narrative twist because it makes them both more sympathetic and also unites the four characters in loss. Justine Bateman isn’t some shrew like Lana or genuine romantic competition like the ADA from last season who’s name I’m not going to take the time to look up. She’s a woman putting her people above herself and doing a very important job. You gotta respect that.

Ronnie: Can we start by admitting this Superman stops some pretty penny ante bullshit? In the opening he’s saving a couple from a housefire, which is something any trained professional firefighter can do. Denis Leary or Steve Buscemi could match Superman’s feats. I know, I know, budget, but that still doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel cheap. Onto more pressing matters. Zara, who had been disguising herself as “Sarah”, and Ching explain they hail from New Krypton, a rock with no fast food or situation comedies. Not sure how living on a rock would create an environment inhospitable to Cheers, but what do I know. It’s your classic dilemma: you want to get married, but it turns out you’re already spoken for in the cosmic sense. Isn’t that what Mormonism is about, space wives?

 05

“You’re Roger Daltrey, one of the biggest music stars on the planet. What do you do with your fame.” “Why, guest appear in shoddy episodic television, of course!” This is more embarrassing than when Pete Townshend went down for “book research”…

This is an odd choice for Lois & Clark, especially as it coincides with DC’s decision to clamp down on the number of Kryptonian survivors, to the point that Supergirl was no longer an Argo City survivor but a protoplasmic matrix and then an angel I guess. (Look, comics are weird.) It’s the gritty realism-ish of the 90s meeting Silver Age wackiness, and it’s not done that great. Some of it seems like Clark is having a midlife crisis and rediscovering his 1/4th Jewish roots. You don’t care about your ancestry, Clark, you just need a new haircut and a newer car. Justine Bateman needs Clark’s hand in marriage because otherwise she’d be betrothed to Lord Nor, who would enslave everybody if he had his druthers. I love how Lois keeps wondering if they’re lying, as though this is a whole scam to sell insurance or something. They cooked it all up as part of a land scheme, duh.

Chris: I don’t know about you, but  feel like we’ve covered the episode enough.It’s fine. Way better than last week’s entry but below the standards of the last two season finales. Let’s move on to more general comments about season three in general and maybe stuff about what we’d like to see moving forward? This is the first season that I can confidently say I disliked. There were some good episodes, especially closer to the beginning of the season, but man, they really are milking this wedding for all it’s worth aren’t they? I’m on the record as not being terribly invested in this iteration of Lois and Clark being married or not because the show is so perversely sexless that I don’t feel like their eventual marriage would change their status quo in the slightest. I wouldn’t be surprised if we learn that they sleep in single beds like Rob and Laura Petrie (ask your great grandparents, kids). But Jesus, there are other stories you can tell that aren’t specifically about L&Cs wedding. I think the only post false-wedding/Wanda Detroit episode I enjoyed was the one with Lois’s high school reunion, which is also the only episode of the last nine episodes of the season that weren’t directly about the wedding.

08

You can almost see the strings.

The other reason this season didn’t work as well for me is I feel like this was the year Dean Cain crashed into the ceiling of his talent. I mostly enjoyed his work in the first two seasons, and on the Superman Scale, where one side has Christopher Reeve and the other has that guy from the first season of Superboy who seemed to actively resent delivering dialogue, I’d have put him squarely on the Reeves side. His Clark was reasonably charming and affable, much more relatable than the bumbling doofus persona that Reeves was so good at. And that’s good, right? Because Superman is barely in this mother fucker. But as season three progressed and Cain was tasked with a little more emotional heavy lifting, his limitations really started to shine through. He’s supposed to be genuinely frightened when Lois leaves him and then loses her memory. Twice, somehow. But he comes off more petulant, and in “Big Girls Don’t Fly” he seems more confused than stoic about the prospect of leaving Earth forever. Hatcher obviously has the goods, she managed to play three distinct different versions of the same person, sometimes in the same episode, with what seemed like ease.

Anyway, that’s it for Season Three. I’m frankly gobsmacked that L&C still haven’t actually gotten married and the idea that the show abandons that whole plot and focuses on the politics of New Krypton intercut with Los trying to put the pieces of her life together and move on seems pretty unlikely. We’re almost certainly in for more of this tedious bullshit. What are your closing thoughts, Ronnie?

Ronnie: We’re into what the show is instead of what the show is trying to be, so judging it on that I have to say Season 3 was mostly not good. The preamble to the wedding was tedious, the wedding itself and the resulting storyline was a bullshit bait and switch, and now there’s this. The question of whether Clark will stay on Earth or go to New Krypton isn’t appealing because we can’t afford to glimpse at an actual New Krypton; in all likelihood, it’s a cheap shitty set populated by two other people. Why would Clark wanna go there? At best he feels an obligation to his people, but that’s pretty minor. I know the point of the story is for Clark to be drawn into a political affair not of his own making, but it really feels like he got imported into another story entirely, as though we started our coverage of Krypton early. (Tune in for THAT next time, during our customary between seasons break!) I really don’t have much more to say. Justine Bateman looked cute? Since when did Kryptonians use telepathy to communicate with each other? Is Lord Norr a half-measure reference to Non, the non-speaking dude from Zod’s gang in Superman II? I’m tired, guys. So tired.

07

“Jimmy, Perry. Over the years, I’ve come to regard you, as… people I met.”

Odds & Ends

-“Okay heads up, people, we’re losing the Superman Shield logo at the top of the cold open. No we’re not going to keep it for the last episode of the season, Larry! It’s dead, cut it.”
-Apparently Jonathan and Martha marched for civil rights back in the 60’s. As a general rule it makes me uncomfortable when cartoon characters get written into events with actual heroic people. Especially when they’re events in the past. If there was an actual issue of Adventure Comics from 1965 where they were a part of the march on Selma that would be one thing, but making it something they DID as opposed to something they’re DOING is weak sauce.
-On the other hand, it’s much more palatable than establishing they marched AGAINST civil rights, which is what was established in the Boston-set version of Lois & Clahk that exists somewhere out there in the multiverse.
-What is Roger Daltrey supposed to be? He’s specifically stated not to be Kryptonian. How many other alien species are there in the universe of Lois & Clark?

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