RTF Review: “KRYPTON – Season 1, Episode 1”
By: Adam Basciano
“Set two generations before the destruction of Superman’s home planet, Krypton follows Seg-El, the legendary Man of Steel’s grandfather — whose House of El was ostracized and shamed. With Krypton’s leadership in disarray, Seg-El encounters Earthly time-traveler Adam Strange who warns he’s under the clock to save his beloved world from chaos. Fighting to redeem his family’s honor and protect the ones he loves, Seg is also faced with a life and death conflict – save his home planet or let it be destroyed in order to restore the fate of his future grandson.” (SyFy)
The pilot episode starts with a voiceover of Seg-El, telling his future grandson, the hero we know as Superman, that the story of Krypton and his family, is not how it died but how it lived. As this voiceover comes to an end, we see Seg-El’s grandfather, Val-El on trial. He is convicted of sedition and treason. He and his family are stripped of their rank and he is sentenced to death. He is forced to walk through a portal of darkness, before glancing back at his grief stricken family and ultimately falling to his death. So many of these scenes are peppered with call backs to Superman moments we remember. Val-El’s plea to the law guild that they are wrong, and that Krypton is under threat, and is doomed if action is not taken, is reminiscent of Jor-El’s warnings of the planets destruction, in both comics and films. When the Law Guild sentences Val-El, shouting out his crimes of sedition and treason, any Superman fan will get chills, and have flashbacks of Zod’s conviction. Both version from 1978 and 2013. Right now this is just a theory, but I’m willing to bet, that the dark portal Val-El was sent through, before seemingly falling to his death, is going to be a precursor to the Phantom Zone. I find it very interesting how your family name and rank can be stripped from an entire family for one man’s crimes. The name and rank has shown to be important in certain versions of the comics, but never to this extent in live action before. Ian McElhinney is very composed and true to his beliefs as Val-El. He’s almost a prototype to Marlon Brando’s version of Jor-El. Look wise, his white hair and goatee reminded me of Jor-El, in the story Superman: Last Son, written by Geoff Johns and Richard Donner, with art by Andy Kubert.
When we pick up Seg-El’s story, 14 years have passed., We see him picking a bar fight. Turns out, he and his friend are running a scam, where Seg gets into fights, after being caught “stealing” money, meanwhile, his friend, the bartender/owner, places bets with the patrons on how long Seg will last in the fight. If the bartender is right, than he and Seg, split the profits. Sure that doesn’t seem like something befitting of Superman’s lineage, but I’d much rather see Seg earn back and grow into his family’s reputation, then having him be a carbon copy of his grandson from frame one. Besides, when you realize that he’s doing this to help his mother and father make ends meet, you can sympathize with the guy. It turns out that being ranklees on Krypton, doesn’t offer people opportunity for advancement in society, or for work. We also see Seg, step in and save a rankless homeless man, from a beating at the hands of the military guild. So you can see, his motives and some of his actions, do blaze a trail for his famously heroic grandson. In fact, Seg-El as played by Cameron Cuffe, gives off vibes that offer a hint of Superman, and a pinch of Han Solo within. Things really get going for Seg, when he meets human time travelling superhero, Adam Strange. He warns Seg, that someone from modern day Earth, has hatched a plan to go through time to kill Earth’s greatest hero, Superman, his grandson, by ending his lineage entirely. First off, this show referring to Superman as the greatest hero ever, hits me with all the “feels”, as they say. Secondly, this show is clearly going a Terminator style time travel plot here, which I’m absolutely fine with, because when done well, the results are great. Seg is highly skeptical, so Adam Strange tells him to find the Fortress of Solitude, and hands him a sunstone key, with the House of El glyph on it. I can’t really make a determination on Shaun Sipos as Adam Strange yet. There wasn’t enough of him in the pilot of Krypton, and for this episode, he was assigned to be the audiences proxy into the world of Krypton.
Krypton then transitions away from Seg El’s main plot for a bit, giving us a glimpse of other guilds. We are taken to the military guild, where the House of Zod rules. Alura Zod, is the leader and trainer of the military guild. She is played by Ann Ogbomo, as someone who is stern, dominant, and dedicated to the mission of protecting Krypton, at all costs. I don’t know what relation she will have to General Zod, but you can definitely see where he gets his traits from. You can see her ruthlessness when training with her daughter, Lyta Zod. She forces her daughter to yield in the fight. When she eventually does, her mother stabs her in the hand for yielding. It seems to me that Lyta struggles with the tough as nails personality needed to be part of the medical guild. I’m assuming that something will happen on the show, that will make her more aggressive and ruthless. Lyta does have a secret hidden relationship with Seg-El, that seems like it’ll be an on and off affair. They definitely fit the star-crossed lovers motif, which could play into her turn eventually.
Our first exposure to the Law Guild, sees Seg El tackling a terrorist bomber, who wanted to wipe out high ranking members of the guild, in the name of the Black Zero terrorist group. Following this act, which would make his grandson proud, Seg-El is rewarded by the man he saved, Daron Vex who betroths Seg to his daughter Nyssa-Vex by binding (marriage equivalent), which would restore Seg-El’s rank. Binding to Nyssa, would allow Seg to join the science guild, as had been pre determined at his birth. While not to happy with the decision, over the impact it will have on his relationship with Lyta-Zod, he begrudgingly goes along with it. The next time we see the newly formed couple, they are at the Genesis Chambers. After what look like some sort of finger print/DNA scan, they are shown a holographic rendering of their child, told his name, how long he’ll live, and what guild he’ll belong to,. Krypton has really carried forward the idea laid down in Man of Steel, both the film an John Byrne’s 1986 comic book miniseries, about Krypton’s genetically engineered birthing. Nyssa even comments on how long it’s been, since the last natural birth on Krypton. Even the look of the Genesis Chamber is a hybrid of Zack Snyder’s 2013 film and John Byrne’s design for the Birthing Matrix in 1986. Also, it seems pretty obvious to me, that naming the terrorist organization, who’s plot Seg-El helps to stop, the Black Zero, is a nod to the prison ship that functioned as the Phantom Zone, in the first Henry Cavill starring Superman film. One more note on this segment of the show; I really like Nyssa-Vex, played by Wallis Day. Attitude wise, her air of superiority and sense of confidence, reminds me of the Faora/Ursa character. Look wise she’s a mix of Antje Traue and Margot Robbie! Not going to lie, that combination alone, will have me tuned in to Krypton every week anyways!
Back to Seg-El’s main plot, finding the Fortress of Solitude. When Seg asks his parents about Adam Strange’s claims, and shows them the sun stone with the House of El logo, they shrug it off and deny any knowledge of it. Seg pretends to drop the subject, but doesn’t. After Seg is caught out past the curfew set for unranked citizens, he is chased by guards from the Military Guild. He is rescued by his mother, who commandeered a flying craft. As they make their get away in the ship, his mom admits the Fortress is real, and takes Seg there. I love that the terrain is an arctic landscape. It’s a nice nod to the comic book Fortress of Solitude, and Donner’s version. The planet of Krypton looks very expansive, even though we’ve only seen three locales so far. Kandor is a glistening metropolis with it’s skyscraper type buildings shining under the red sun. The slums of Krypton, where the unranked live, are the seediest parts of the world we see. The interior of the El home, gave me callback’s to Luke Skywalker’s home, prior to embarking on his journey to becoming a Jedi. The interior of the Fortress of Solitude on Krypton, had elements of the scout ship from Man of Steel and the 1997 animated series version of Superman’s Kryptonian hideaway. The conceit for its purpose on the show was smart. Val-El used it as a secret scientific lab to test and research his theories and findings, on other world’s and life forms, when the Council lost faith in him. The fact that he seeming had specimens of other creatures and species encased in glass in his fortress, was a nice bit of foreshadowing, to the zoo Superman may one day have in his. When we first arrive at the Fortress, we hear a slowed down, reworked version of the John Williams Superman theme. We hear it again at episodes end and it gave me chills. Honestly, the theme was used better hear, than it was in Justice League.
Stealing a ship from the military guild of Krypton, gets Seg El’s mother into hot water. The military guild tracks them back to her home and arrests her. Before they arrive, she tells Seg to hide, and then slip away when they leave. To distract them from searching the house, she lies and tells them she is part of the Black Zero terrorist group. At her trial, she is sentenced to death. To try and save his wife, Seg’s dad also lies, saying he, not she, is part of Black Zero. Things get a little out of hand, leading Alura Zod to shoot and kill both Seg’s parents. Sadly, this will give Seg-El another thing in common with Kal-El. Watching their parents die and being helpless to stop it. The agonizing scream of sadness Seg lets out in this scene, is something I consider another reference to Superman (78), when Kal finds Lois dead and Man of Steel, when Clark watches as Jonathan Kent is swept up in a tornado and does. Seg- El retreats to the Fortress of Solitude, just has his grandson has done many times in all forms of media, to be alone and clear his head. Seg is joined by Adam Strange once again, who tells him that a evil from Earth’s future, is coming to destroy Krypton and Earth, by eliminating the House of El, before Superman takes his first breath. At this point, Adam Strange hands Seg Superman’s cape, which is slowly disappearing. If he and Seg don’t act, when that cape disappears, their time is up. Krypton, Earth, and countess other civilizations will be lost. The pilot ends with our first eerie shot, of the most comic book accurate Braniac, we may ever see. When we see the Superman cape, complete with the S on the back, I absolutely lost my fanboy mind! Yes, I know we saw it in the trailer, but context adds so much to the scene. Same goes for the reveal of Braniac. Yeah, we saw it in the trailer but when Braniac, on a TV budget looks better than, Doomsday, Steppenwolf, and Ares on movie budgets, that deserves an extra round of applause.
I was predisposed to liking Krypton because I love Superman and his mythology. Having said that, I’ve grown up with Superman on TV. Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman was my first exposure to the character, followed by Smallville. I saw both of those, before ever seeing a Superman film! I even watched reruns of George Reeve’ The Adventures of Superman, as a way of bonding even more with my mom, who grew up watching that show. The thing is, I absolutely love the Krypton pilot, more than I thought I would, or could. After Man of Steel’s opening sequence, I wanted more of the doomed planet. I wanted to learn more about the culture, and I wanted to see more than one area of the planet. Sure, the show’s version of the planet isn’t the exact same as the film, but it is giving me everything I wanted of more Krypton, after just one episode. Not being tied to any one single take on Superman, allows Krypton to cherry pick from this lore’s rich history. In a way, the pilot is a celebration of Superman’s 80th anniversary. The show is both a prequel and origin story. Though we know how the story ends, the time travel aspect, allows for interesting twists and turns. That, coupled with a likeable lead, film quality set design and visuals, and my vested interest in this mythology, ensures I’ll be making a return flight to Krypton!