Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Krytpon Thus Far

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Spoilers for the first six episodes of Krypton Season 1

Ohhh Krypton. What even is this show? Well, it’s a couple things. First and foremost, it’s a Game of Thrones knock off. I don’t feel bad saying that, the trailers and marketing are pretty shameless on that front. But yeah, this is right in there with Emerald City, Westworld, and Gotham (maybe. I confess I have no idea what tone or style Gotham is trying to pull off). This is a show set in a dark and gritty world with lots of scheming characters, a distant looming threat, and lots of death. It’s pretty blatant about what it wants to be.

But, having said that, I would actually argue that it’s the best of the shows trying to ape Game of Thrones. Hell, given how things have gone in Game of Thrones since Season 3, I’d argue it’s even better than Game of Thrones. And I want to talk about it. But, given that the seventh episode airs less than a week from when I’m writing this, we obviously need to play a little catch up. So, let’s try to summarize and see if I can keep this anything close to short.

Overall Plot

Our show is set in the universe of DC comics two hundred years before the birth of Superman on his famously doomed home planet of Krypton. A time traveler from Earth named Adam Strange (played by Shaun Sipos) arrives in the domed city state of Kandor to recruit help from Superman’s grandfather, Seg-El (played by Cameron Cuffe) because he has learned that an enemy of Superman has gone back in time and will prevent the birth of the universe’s greatest hero.

I like this as the central plot, the trunk of the show as it were. It’s neat and relatively simple, with a definitive endpoint, at least from the characters’ viewpoint. The writers have said that they have four to five years of plot planned out, so we’ll see what they do. For now, the focal point of the series is compact and relatively linear.

So, with that being said, let’s take a look at each episode, what happens in them, and maybe a few character beats. Given that the show hasn’t concluded its first season yet, I will try to withhold judgement on the characters and wait until the finale to voice my thoughts.

1) Pilot

We open in the past of the past that the show takes place in, when Seg was a child, as he watches his grandfather, Val-El (played by Ian McElhinney) be tried for treason. It turns out that Kandor is a theocracy, ruled by the Voice of Rao (played by Blake Ritson, who also plays Brainiac), and that Val’s warnings of a threat from another planet is considered treason. As a result, not only is Val executed, but the House of El is stricken from the records, Seg and his parents being cast down into Rankless sector, a slum where those on the bottom of Kandor’s highly enforced caste system.

Years later, Seg is running scams with his bartender friend Kem (played by Rasmus Hardiker). When he returns home, he finds that his father (played by Rupert Graves), who works as a servant in the Lawmakers Guild, has forgotten his medicine. Seg goes to deliver it and when he arrives, he spots and stops a suicide bomber, a member of the terrorist group Black Zero. In doing so, he saves the lives of the Voice of Rao and the Chief Magistrate, Daron-Vex (played by Elliot Cowan), the man who passed the sentence on Val. As a show of gratitude, Seg is elevated to the position of Ranked, to become a member of the House of Vex, and betrothed to Daron’s youngest child, Nyssa-Vex (played by Wallis Day).

At the same time, we see scenes involving another main character, Lyta-Zod (played by Georgina Campbell), sparring with her mother, Primus Jayna-Zod (played by Ann Ogbomo) in front of a group of city guards in the Military Guild. Jayna promptly defeats her daughter and begins hurting her while demanding that Lyta ask for mercy. When Lyta eventually gives in, Jayna responds by lecturing the assembled guards on the importance of never asking for mercy and then stabs Lyta in the hand. Given that in the five episodes subsequent since the pilot Lyta has never brought this up, I have to assume that this isn’t the first time her mother has stabbed her.

At any rate, when we return to Seg he is wandering through the Rankless slums. He then encounters two other characters. First, Lyta saves him from a group of her fellow guards, dragging him into an alleyway, and we learn that the two are dating. How did they meet, seeing as he is the grandson of a convicted traitor with no rank and she is the daughter of the head of the military you ask? Good question! I don’t know. It still hasn’t been brought up yet. Maybe they’ll explain soon. Regardless, the two have perfectly adequate chemistry. Not as good as Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy in the Amazing Spider-Man movies, but better than Thor and Jane Foster in the Thor movies.

After Seg leaves Lyta, he is quickly pinned against another wall by another character, this time the time traveler Adam Strange. Adam attempts to explain his mission, but a glitch in his time travel device causes him to start to fade away, only having time to give Seg a crystal key and telling him to find ‘the fortress’ before disappearing. Understandably confused, Seg shows the key to his parents, who very poorly try to claim that they don’t know what it’s for before sending him off for a meeting with Nyssa. They both let a machine take a drop of blood, from which said machine starts work on making a baby for them.

No, really. Kryptonian babies are apparently produced and carried in pods. You might remember that plot point from Man of Steel, which makes sense given that this show as intended to be a tie in for the DCEU (DC Extended Universe) in a similar vein to Agents of SHIELD. Of course, it’s not a tie in anymore, but oh well. After that scene Seg goes to Lyta, and he laments that they can’t marry each other before having sex. This being SyFy, obviously there’s no nudity.

On his way home, Seg is caught violating curfew and runs away from the guards, eventually being rescued by his mother in a stolen hovercraft. She takes him to Val-El’s secret hideout, the Fortress of Solitude, and reveals that it’s unlocked by the key Adam gave him. She tells Seg a bit about Val’s work, then they leave. They are then attacked by the guards, with Seg’s mother letting herself be arrested to protect Seg, who’s watching from hiding.

The next day Seg goes to his mother’s trial at the Lawmakers Guild with his father. She’s being tried for treason it turns out (apparently the government of Kandor takes carjacking very seriously), but the ruling council don’t believe that she was acting alone. In order to further protect Seg his father claims to be the mother’s accomplice, and both proceed to commit suicide by cop, getting killed by Jayna after they pull guns on Daron.

Seg, understandably upset, gets Kem to get him a hovercraft and goes to the Fortress of Solitude, where he finds Adam Strange again. Adam tells him more about his mission, and as evidence pulls out Superman’s cape. In a very nice touch, the cape serves as the ticking clock for the series, slowly dissolving as time runs out. When the cape is gone, Superman will cease to exist. Adam also reveals the name of the threat that both he and Val warned of: Brainiac.

2) House of El

Seg refuses to listen to Adam. He does not care about Adam’s mission or warnings. Instead he seeks revenge, deciding that he will kill Daron, even though doing so will almost certainly result in his own death. Adam suggests that he hold off on killing Daron, and instead use his position as Chief Magistrate to access the city’s sensors and look for evidence of Brainiac’s coming. Seg is at first resistant to this, but after a brief conversation with Daron changes his mind and officially joins the Science Guild, resulting in him getting a Kryptonian iPad to look for evidence. He gives it to Adam and Kem (who’s been brought up to speed by Adam while Seg was away), and issues an ultimatum: find evidence of Brainiac in two hours or Seg will kill Daron.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that the two looking for scientific evidence of an alien spacecraft are a bartender and a person from another planet, Seg and Kem don’t find anything, and Seg leaves in a huff, procuring a knife from the black market. When he heads to the Lawmakers Guild to carry out his plan however, he is stopped by Nyssa. Due to his parents’ status as traitors and terrorists, Seg was told he wouldn’t be allowed to carry out funeral rites for them. Nyssa however, has procured their ashes for him inside a black urn bearing the sigil of the House of El. This prompts him to head back to the Rankless slums, to his family home to think.

At the same time, Lyta is having her own issues. The House of El were apparently loved by the Rankless, and the deaths of two of the three remaining members of that House has caused a great deal of unrest, stirring up the ruling council’s fear of more Black Zero activity. As such, they’ve ordered the Military Guild to go to the Rankless slums armed for war and root out Black Zero. More to the point, nobody seems much concerned with the prospect of killing a bunch of innocent bystanders, claiming that the fact that the Rankless haven’t already given them Black Zero on a silver platter is proof that none of them are innocent.

Lyta is treated with suspicion and derision for her concern with the problems that this plan will cause. Seeing no other choice, she challenges her commander to a fight to the death over control of her division. She has a brief conversation with Jayna, in which some of Lyta’s mommy issues are hashed out, followed by a conversation with Dev-Em (played by Aaron Pierre) her fiancé and a very loyal guard. He’s confused and frustrated that she cares so deeply about this, but assures her that he believes she can succeed. And she does. The fight is brutal and bloody, but she does manage to win, taking command.

Back with Seg, he goes to the Fortress of Solitude and manages to activate a computer. This brings up the obligatory ‘holographic advisor in the form of a dead relative’ that all adaptations of Kryptonian heroes apparently require, in the form of his grandfather. The Valagram (Val + hologram) tells him that yes, Brainiac is coming. Seg goes back to Kandor and tells Daron that he will do everything Daron wants…except join the House of Vex. Daron begins to get angry, but the Voice of Rao cuts in and declares that Seg will instead wear the sigil of the Science Guild itself. Apparently both the Voice and Daron want to control Seg, though for different reasons.

The episode ends with Seg going back to his place to find Kem and Adam. The two went out into the wasteland to try to find physical evidence of Brainiac and managed to find some. Namely, a pod that Brainiac uses to transport his sentries. And it’s empty. Brainiac isn’t coming, he is already on Krypton.

3) The Rankless Initiative

The government’s plan to send troops into the Rankless slums proceeds, leaving Lyta forced to try to carry out the mission in a way that won’t cause further conflict despite the fact that most of her soldiers would happily kill the Rankless regardless. At the same time Seg, Kem, and Adam try desperately to find the sentry drone before it can infect anybody. The sentry’s method, you see, is to inject nanites into people, possess them, and have them broadcast information to Brainiac’s ship. As it turns out, the sentry has already infected somebody—Rhom (played by Alexis Rabin), Seg’s friend and a single mother.

This not only causes emotional turmoil for Seg and Kem (Adam of course doesn’t know Rhom), but havoc for Lyta. First, one of her soldiers shoots an already shackled and unarmed Rankless man, claiming that she feared for her life (…yeah, I’m just going to let that stand for itself. I’m going to make an actual analysis article once the series is done, don’t worry). And then, after Lyta sets herself up for trouble by arresting said soldier, the sentry activates inside Rhom, turning her into a remarkably unsubtle and super strong killing machine who kills several guards and attacks a databank.

Seg finds Lyta and convinces her to let him into the building but keep the guards out; he also convinces her to give him a weapons grade EMP. Using said EMP, Seg manages to disable Rhom and get her out before Lyta is forced to send the guards in, but it’s too late; Rhom already transmitted the data to Brainiac. Sergey Portnov.

4) The Word of Rao

The Rankless Initiative did not work out. Unrest among the Rankless is higher than ever, escalated by the murder of one of their own, in broad daylight, in front of a crowd. To make matters worse for the government, Rhom’s rampage cut everything short and meant that they didn’t find any Black Zero members…provided that there were any to begin with, which we don’t even know if there were. As such, the Voice of Rao decides to take new steps. Because Kandor is in a dome, the weather and time of day are controlled by him, so he makes the night day and declares that the Nova Cycle, an apparently important holiday in Kandor that is never really explained on the show, will begin early. In addition, he orders Daron to find the nearest available scapegoat, someone high ranking—Lyta.

Interestingly, not a single named character outside of the Voice of Rao is happy about this. Jayna is upset because Lyta’s her daughter; Dev and Seg are both upset because they love Lyta; Kem and Adam are upset because Seg’s upset. Even Daron and Nyssa aren’t happy about it. Throughout the season thus far, we’ve seen occasional scenes where Daron and Nyssa are planning something, and now we learn what. They want to pull a coup, deposing the Voice of Rao. Unfortunately for them, ensuring that this works means that they need to keep both Jayna and Seg happy, as Jayna controls the military and Seg is popular among the Rankless.

It takes Seg and crew a bit to learn about what’s happened to Lyta though, as they’re preoccupied with Rhom. Technically speaking Rhom is still alive, so back in the Fortress of Solitude Val and Adam work to try to save her. At the same time, back in Kandor, Seg and Kem struggle to try and figure out how to tell Rhom’s daughter, Ona (played by Tipper Seifert-Cleveland), that her mother is probably dead. Lyta’s arrest prompts Seg to leave Kem and Ona. He attempts to visit Lyta but is prevented by Jayna. Lyta is being charged with treason, both for arresting a guard who claims to have done nothing wrong and for not immediately entering the databank Rhom was hacking. And, since Lyta didn’t enter because of Seg, Jayna blames him for her arrest.

After his visit is thwarted, Seg goes to Nyssa, asking her to use her influence to save Lyta. Nyssa asks why, and after attempts at deflection Seg admits that he loves Lyta. Nyssa takes this declaration that her fiancé and the technical father of her child is in love with another woman rather well, and agrees to take on the role of Lyta’s advocate. After briefly speaking to Lyta, Nyssa speaks to Jayna, offering to force her father to drop the charges against Lyta in exchange for Jayna’s aid in their coup. It wouldn’t be difficult to arrange, the fact that the Voice of Rao forced this issue on Daron and insisted that it happen fast means that the evidence against Lyta is shabby at best. Still, Jayna is torn, forced between her love for her daughter and her honor.

At the same time Seg is captured by two strangers in soldier gear and dragged out of the city and into some tunnels, where he is forced to endure torture from an insurgent group. Curiously the leader of said group (played by Colin Salmon) laughs at Seg’s assertion that he is a part of Black Zero. He mocks the group for worrying about the Voice of Rao because he knows that Brainiac is coming and is trying to prepare. That’s why he had Seg grabbed; he knows that Seg knows the location of Brainiac’s sentry and wants to destroy it before it can do more damage.

Seg manages to persuade him to make a deal, saying that if the leader will break Lyta out of prison he will take him to the sentry. This seems a bit…odd, given that he already made a plan to get Lyta out and has no proof that Nyssa will fail, but oh well. Of course, the minute the leader leaves the room Seg beats up the guard and escapes, thus completely derailing a second plan to free Lyta but…oh well.

Back at the Fortress of Solitude Rhom dies, but not before telling Adam to stop Ona, much to his and Val’s confusion. In Kandor, we see the Voice of Rao personally conducting a religious ceremony for the Nova Cycle in the Rankless slums. Ona manages to get away from Kem, going boldly to the Voice. She bears a small statue of the god Rao, and asks the Voice to accept it as an offering to make sure her mother’s soul finds rest. The Voice is surprisingly touched and not only does he accept the statue, he takes Ona in and has her made a nun, ensuring her education and welfare. But unfortunately, we learn at the end of the episode that the statue was a Trojan horse, made by Rhom. It infects the Voice of Rao in his private chambers, bringing him under the control of Brainiac.

5) House of Zod

This episode begins with flashbacks to Jayna as a child sparring with her brother while her father lectures. Jayna is massively conflicted throughout this episode, as we see that she had the importance of loyalty and duty above all else violently drilled into her by her family. So much so that she was forced to leave her brother to slowly die from a lack of oxygen out in the frozen wastelands of Krypton as a rite of passage.

Back with Seg, we see him run through the tunnels that the group that kidnapped him makes their base in, eventually coming across a woman who’s been chained up and obviously tortured. He frees her and the two continue through the tunnels. Seg notices a strange metal door, one emblazoned with an odd sigil that looks to be a fusion of the El and Zod House sigils. Given that there’s no way to get through the door, he moves on.

Eventually he comes across the woman’s community, followers of a god other than Rao. Upon realizing that he is an El they react negatively, healing his wounds but also imprisoning him and declaring that as an El, Seg has the power to destroy everything. Seg manages to convince the woman to let him go, pretending that the House of El is still powerful and that he has relatives that will soon be along to rescue him. Given that the group has no presence in Kandor, having been forced out by the theocracy, she believes him and gives him a small oxygen mask before sending him away.

In Kandor, we learn that Daron is in fact in a relationship with the female guard who killed the Rankless man, the one who gave false testimony to frame Lyta for treason. He promises her that she’ll be out of jail soon before kissing her. At the same time, Jayna and Nyssa argue over what Jayna’s course of action will be, with Nyssa arguing that family trumps honor.

Lyta’s trial goes forward, but is stopped literally at the last second (she was set to be executed by beheading and Daron ordered the execution to stop just before the blade hit her). Jayna and Lyta speak, and Jayna bitterly states that Lyta is her greatest love, but now also her greatest shame. We then see that as part of clearing Lyta’s name, Daron was forced to have the female guard killed in a fake suicide. We also learn that he genuinely loved her.

Adam, meanwhile, receives a distress signal from Seg, along with a last message from him for Lyta, as Seg isn’t sure he’ll survive. Adam rushes to the Military Guild and delivers this message to Lyta, who promptly responds by taking a squad out into the wasteland to find Seg. She and Adam manage to find Seg, who was recaptured by the insurgents who originally grabbed him. Adam works on freeing Seg from his bonds while Lyta chases after and fights the leader. As they fight however, Lyta’s pendant becomes visible, and the leader reveals that he has the exact same pendant, a Zod family heirloom, that he received from her in the future. He is in fact her son, Dru-Zod. Or, as non comic book readers are more likely to know him, General Zod.

6) Civil Wars

Alright, I’m just going to say it, episode six is magnificent. I truly and utterly enjoyed it. Most of why is down to themes and characters, so I’ll try not to get too into it here, but just know that as someone who felt episodes two through four were rather meh, episode six makes them all worthwhile.

We open down in the tunnels, with Adam putting a rifle to the General’s head and telling Seg not to trust him. This is rather weird for me. Normally I, and most fans I believe, just call him Zod, but he is one of three Zod characters in the show now. And I’m not calling him Dru, because that just makes him sound like an accountant.

Anyway, the General reveals that he has also traveled back in time, but not out of any villainous intent. No, he’s here to save Krypton. You see, when Brainiac comes to a planet he takes a city, shrinking it and putting it in a glass container for him to study at his leisure. Comic fans will have recognized the name of Kandor as a Kryptonian city that Brainiac usually has in his collection, hence why this series is specifically set in Kandor. They will also likely know that the exact cause of Krypton’s destruction tends to change with each retelling of the Superman story. In this universe, it’s destroyed because the abduction of Kandor destabilizes the core.

This revelation causes a few problems, and not just the obvious ones. First, the fact that Brainiac is the cause of Krypton’s destruction, and was always meant to show up on Krypton at this point in time, means that he isn’t the enemy of Superman who traveled back in time, General Zod is. Apparently, Adam didn’t bother to check which specific enemy was coming, he just found out about it (we still don’t know how) and went back in time. The second issue is that he never actually told Seg about the fact that Krypton is doomed in two hundred years. And remember, Kryptonians can live for over a hundred and fifty years, so that is actually pretty soon for Seg. He’ll be dead by then, but his son won’t be. Understandably, this upsets Seg and causes tension between him and Adam.

That tension is only made worse by the third point. Stopping Brainiac and saving Krypton means that Kal-El will never be sent to Earth, if he’s ever born at all. Saving Kandor means quite probably dooming the hundreds of galaxies—not lives, not planets, but whole galaxies—that Superman has saved. For Adam, this is a major moral dilemma. For Seg and Lyta, not so much, and the fact that Adam is considering not saving Kandor only widens the rift between him and Seg.

The General has a plan though. There’s a reason he’s down here in these tunnels. That group Seg met in episode five? The reason they don’t like Els is because they’re guarding a weapon of mass destruction, one that was made by the Houses of El and Zod working together. Zod plans to unleash that weapon and use it to destroy Brainiac. Only there’s one problem, which they learn when they eventually open the vault. The weapon is Doomsday, kept frozen in a cryo pod. And holy crap he actually looks like Doomsday! We only see him from the torso up, and he never moves, but holy crap he’s gray and spiky and how did the TV show get right what the movie couldn’t?

Back in Kandor we soon learn that things are going down. The time has come to enact the coup, with Jayna recruiting Dev into her plans. The plan is simple: detonate a bomb during a private audience the Voice will be holding with some of the city-state’s elite in order to minimize casualties, but do so in a way that can easily be blamed on Black Zero. At the same time, we watch Brainiac, still operating incognito as the Voice, offer to reunite Ona with her mother. Ona turns down the offer, deciding to stay on Krypton and serve who she thinks is the Voice. Brainiac is genuinely surprised by this, and it results in a nice scene of Brainiac contemplating the pleasantness of not knowing everything.

This response messes with the coup however, as Brainiac decides that he wants to learn more about the Kryptonian people, leading him to open the previously private audience to the public. To do so, he orders Dev to bring in as many people as possible. This results in the assassination via bomb being canceled due to too much collateral damage. Instead the guards, including Jayna and Dev, attempt to kill the Voice via firing squad in his private chamber. The episode ends with Brainiac revealing himself and attacking the majority of the guards with tentacles to the head.

So…that’s Krypton thus far. I quite enjoy this show. It has its problems to be sure, but also its very high points. If you like the sound of this, I do recommend you watch it! See you soon for my review of episode seven!

Images Courtesy of DC Entertainment, Best Brains Inc, and Warner Bros

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