Superman & Lois 1×12 Review: “Through the Valley of Death”

Through the Valley of Death
Pictured (L-R): Elizabeth Tulloch as Lois Lane and David Ramsey as John Diggle — Photo: Bettina Strauss/The CW — © 2021 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved

After a hiatus of several weeks, leaving us stewing on that monstrous cliffhanger from “A Brief Reminiscence In-Between Cataclysmic Events”, I honestly felt that “Through the Valley of Death” was a bit of a letdown. It felt like a lot of buildup for very little payoff, and I was expecting a bit more from the promised Diggle cameo.

That isn’t to say “Through the Valley of Death” wasn’t a good episode, because it was. In fact, there is a lot about this episode that I legitimately loved. I think I would have enjoyed it more without the three-week break, during which I hyped it up to heights it couldn’t possibly have achieved. The issue for me primarily was that it felt like the entire season had been leading to this moment, this confrontation, and then it was just kind of over without much conflict.

Superman & Lois has primarily been character-focused rather than action-focused, which I consider a good thing. I’m a massive fan of the MCU, but I think in a lot of those films, character is sacrificed for the sake of plot (even when the plot doesn’t make any damn sense, looking at you, Old Steve). I like that Superman & Lois doesn’t do that. But sometimes, I do wish for a little less conversation, a little more action, please.

Clark spends almost the entirety of “Through the Valley of Death” struggling against the Kryptonian consciousness that Edge implanted in him, which we later learn is Zod. While he fights to maintain control of his own mind, everyone back in Smallville is trying to decide what to do. John Henry and Sam are both on the side that Superman must be taken out before he becomes a threat, while Lois, Diggle, and the boys are on the side of stopping Superman from becoming a threat in the first place.

This show has been trying to frame Sam as a villain since the beginning, and I can understand why. Going up against the eternal optimism of Clark and Lois, anything else would seem antagonistic. But Sam has a perfectly defensible ethical position. He’s in a very tough place and has to make hard decisions, and he can’t just put the wants of his daughter above the needs of the planet.

Through the Valley of Death
Pictured (L-R): Wolé Parks as John Henry Irons and Dylan Walsh as General Samuel Lane — Photo: Bettina Strauss/The CW — © 2021 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved

Still, it is Lois and Jon who eventually convince John Henry to give Clark a chance to break free on his own. Both of their pleas were extremely heartfelt, with Jon telling John Henry what a great dad Clark is, and Lois admitting that he’s the love of her life. That speech sounded a lot like the one John Henry had when talking about his Lois. It could have come across as contrived, but it didn’t. It felt genuine.

In the end, even Clark himself is telling John Henry to kill him, but he decides to trust Lois and convinces Clark to keep fighting. And I was right in my prediction however many episodes ago it was when I said that Superman wouldn’t turn because of his family. The Superman on John Henry’s world didn’t have a family, but this one has something to fight for, and that was enough. Also, it was lovely that he won not because he’s Kal-El of Krypton, but because he’s Clark Kent from Smallville.

It was utterly terrifying for those few minutes, though, when Zod was in control.

Now, my disappointment stems from the fact that they essentially just talked the villain out of being a villain. But in retrospect, maybe this is a good way to handle this. Zod is the stereotypical Superman villain. It’s been done. With Zod being a thing and then suddenly not, it opens the show up to do something different. And Morgan Edge is still in play, having seemingly absorbed at least one other Kryptonian consciousness when he apparently blew up the Eradicator. No matter how high security that prison is, I doubt it’s able to hold him.

And I suppose it’s a good thing that “Through the Valley of Death” revolved solely around Clark struggling to keep his own mind, and that they stayed completely in the desert and that he didn’t hurt anyone else. I don’t need to sit through an arc where Superman needs to gain back humanity’s trust. In that sense, I’m glad this ended so anticlimactically. (However, the promo for next week implies we might not be so far away from that.)

Diggle’s cameo was a little too lackluster. I’ve seen in discussion threads that his appearances on the other Arrowverse shows seemed to be leading somewhere, but “Through the Valley of Death” didn’t do much with him, other than give Lois another voice in her argument. Still, as Superman & Lois is more removed from the greater Arrowverse (this crossover is the first indication it’s still in the same universe at all, it’s been twelve episodes and still no mention of Supergirl), I suppose it does make sense that this cameo should have been a standalone.

Through the Valley of Death
Pictured (L-R): Alexander Garfin as Jordan Kent and Jordan Elsass as Jonathan Kent– Photo: Bettina Strauss/The CW — © 2021 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved

I waffle back and forth on whether or not I want Jon to get powers. “Through the Valley of Death” has me leaning more towards not. I still think the show may be heading there, but I kind of like the balance it has now, with Jordan mirroring their father, and Jon mirroring their mother. Jon’s superpower is apparently puppy eyes and pep talks, because he was able to convince Jordan to keep trying and John Henry not to kill his dad.

This is a CW show and as such could so easily slip into cheap melodrama. But it doesn’t. Jon and Jordan’s relationship has remained rock solid throughout the series, even with all of the times they’ve been angry at each other, and I honestly think that Jon is the biggest catalyst to Jordan’s powers. They first emerged to save Jon, and then again at the party when they were being harassed. Now it’s Jon’s doggedness in not giving up that causes Jordan to control his abilities.

The theme of Superman & Lois seems to be, “There has to be another way”. Don’t jump to the nuclear option when there are still things you haven’t tried. This was the crux of the argument over how to handle Superman, but it also applies to Jordan’s abilities. He is always so ready to give up when his first attempt doesn’t work. (I think this may be an anxiety thing – I’m the same way. “Ope, tried once, didn’t work, never going to.”) Jon won’t let him, reminding him that he has to keep trying. You’ll never get good at something if you don’t practice.

One last note on the Cushings in “Through the Valley of Death”. I like seeing the consequences of Kyle’s actions. None of this is his fault, obviously, it’s not like he knew Edge was going to implant everyone with alien consciousness. Nor did anyone other than Lois seriously object to Edge coming in – not that we saw, anyway. Everyone ignored Lois’s concerns, not just Kyle. He did have good intentions. But people are hurt and scared and lashing out, and Kyle is the easy target. I am interested to see what he’s like when he isn’t diametrically opposed to our leads.

That said, the scene where they were washing the graffiti off their house felt out of place in an episode like this. The transition was jarring, and having the happy music with everything that was going on just felt wrong. If the intent of that scene was to show that the Cushings would be able to get through their troubles as long as they had each other, I feel like the pancake scene did that well enough.

What did you think of “Through the Valley of Death”?

Author: Jamie Sugah

Jamie has a BA in English with a focus in creative writing from The Ohio State University. She self-published her first novel, The Perils of Long Hair on a Windy Day, which is available through Amazon. She is currently an archivist and lives in New York City with her demon ninja vampire cat. She covers television, books, movies, anime, and conventions in the NYC area.

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