Spoilers for Krypton Season 2 Episode 5, “A Better Tomorrow,” follow below.
In the world of television, the idea of a prequel can often be a daunting one, even when a series is based on a wildly popular original concept. On the one hand, an existing story does provide a built-in, known universe within which to operate and, hopefully, a ready-made fanbase to get behind the effort. However, how exciting can a story really be when we already know the ending?
Granted, we don’t know the broad strokes of how a given show’s narrative journey will progress, but no matter what happens, we’re all already well aware that Jimmy McGill becomes Saul Goodman, that Norman Bates grows up to become a mass murderer, that young Bruce Wayne will one day don a cape and cowl. The trick, at the end of the day, is to figure out how to use that foreknowledge to help tell a story that matters. And at the moment, very little on television is doing that better than the SYFY series Krypton.
Ostensibly the story of the planet that gave birth to iconic hero Superman, Krypton focuses on the life of Man of Steel’s grandfather, Seg-El, and by all rights should be little more than a countdown to the inevitable explosion of the El family home world. Yet, the series has grown into something much more complex and complicated in its second season, a drama that’s unafraid to confront its own mythology, and shake up the expectations of its fans. It takes genuine risks; consistently swings for the fences, narratively speaking; and trusts its audience to come along for the ride, wherever it may end up.
As a result, Krypton no longer feels like a place-holder series that’s just killing time until Kal-El’s fated arrival, but rather a necessary and important story in its own right. And its vaunted connection to Superman has never seemed less relevant to the story it’s telling at the moment, as evidenced by midseason episode “A Better Yesterday.” This installment not only kills off a major character during its final scene, but also breaks dramatically with what our understanding of what this show is trying to do.
At the end of this episode, Lyta-Zod, one of the series’ female leads who also happens to be General Zod’s mother, is brutally murdered by a resistance leader fighting to free Krypton from Zod’s authoritarian influence. The Game of Thrones–esque sequence is not only gruesome and difficult to watch, it serves as a pointedly uncomfortable reminder that no matter what we may think we know about the future that’s still to come, it’s the story that’s happening right now that matters.
After all, if it’s possible to kill Dru-Zod’s mother, anything can happen in this universe, right?
As storytelling goes, it’s always a fraught decision to write out a major character. Particularly one like Lyta, who isn’t just likeable, but who plays such a crucial role in a series’ emotional core. Krypton is a show that has consistently relied on its female characters – an array of strong women with frequently competing personal agendas – to both drive its stories and anchor the more complex narrative issues at its heart. Lyta’s messy-but-genuine love affair with Seg, as well as her complicated relationships with mother Jayna and son Dru had her character firmly entangled in almost every major plotline. And her subtle embrace of tyranny in the name of the greater good during Season 2 – whether influenced by Dru’s brainwashing technology or not – placed her at the crux of the battle for the soul of a planet and the future of a people.
The idea that Lyta may not be part of that story’s conclusion is a gut punch, though one that clearly illustrates the role her character has played in the world of Krypton at large. Shock character deaths, when done correctly, reverberate outward, and illustrate the impact that one person’s life can have on many others. The loss of Lyta herself is tragic enough for its own sake, but it’s made all the more devastating by the way her death will affect everyone else in her orbit. Seg couldn’t save his love, despite fighting his way back to Krypton from an inter-dimensional prison. Dru loses the one thing that appeared to still ground him to his humanity. Jayna never gets the chance to make things right with her daughter, following their dramatic and violent rift last season. And Val-El must now protect what is left of his rebellion, after his second in command committed murder in cold blood on what is essentially live TV.
Meanwhile, Seg’s still carrying around the consciousness of the villainous world eater Brainiac in his head, Adam cracks jokes while trying to figure out if they’ve broken the timeline in which Superman exists forever, and Nyssa Vex – who is, let’s admit it, probably Jor-El’s mother – walks a knife’s edge between warring factions as she fights to reclaim her kidnapped son.
We’ve come a long way from the series’ pilot, is what I’m saying.
Anyone possessing even a passing familiarity with science fiction and comic book stories is probably already wondering if Lyta’s death is genuine. Or whether we’ll see the character again in some form – this is, after all, a show that features time travel, clones and the concept of a multiverse. And then there’s the whole question of why Dru didn’t just crumple to dust or vanish forever, if Lyta were truly, irreversibly gone. (Wibbly wobbly timey wimey, and all that.)
But no matter whether Lyta turns out to be alive or dead or a clone or something else altogether, her death has established that Krypton is something more than just an action-packed summer TV timewaster. It’s that rare science-fiction series that actually has something to say – about power, justice, duty, love and everything in between – and it does so in a way that makes us take a fresh look at the iconic mythology we all thought we already knew.
As a series, Krypton has outgrown many of the restrictions placed on it by its initial premise, and doesn’t necessarily need the idea of a vague future Superman to drive its stories any longer. But whether the show turns out to still exist in a timeline that includes the Man of Steel or not, it still has plenty of Krytptonian heroes around to show us the way to a better tomorrow.