While we all know the story of Superman and how he came to Earth from Krypton, an entire series set on the Man of Steel’s home planet has never before been done in live-action. Syfy’s Krypton looks to change that. Following the story of Clark’s grandfather, Seg-El (Cameron Cuffe), the series is stronger than initially expected, has a lot of world building, interesting characters, but is also bogged down by a dark tone and storyline.
Krypton is ruled by an oligarchy, run by an elite religious group called the High Council who serve the Voice of Rao. After being convicted by the High Council of treason for wanting to explore worlds beyond their own, Seg-El’s grandfather, Val-El (Ian McElhinney), is sentenced to death. Afterward, the head of the High Council, Daron-Vex (Elliot Cowan), strips the El family of their title and rank and banishes them to the underground where the poor, lost, and downtrodden dwell. As an adult, Seg-El spends his nights scamming people for money, much to the chagrin of his parents, and being in a secret relationship with Lyta Zod (Georgina Campbell).
An unexpected stranger, Adam Strange (Shaun Sipos), appears with the El crystal–the key to Val-El’s work and the fortress of solitude. Adam warns that there is an all-consuming threat headed towards Krypton and they must act immediately or face extinction. Seg, however, is reluctant to believe him. Meanwhile, Seg has been selected by Daron-Vex to marry his daughter, Nyssa (Wallis Day), join the High Council, and take on the Vex name. He must fight against what he’s being molded into, fight for his family name, and also to protect his planet so that one day his grandson, Kal-El, can be born and bring hope.
As a planet, Krypton is painted as a contrast in setting in comparison to the constant sun and openness of the Kents’ fields and even the lighter color palettes used for Metropolis. It looks like Krypton will be relegating most of its action to only one of the planet’s major cities, Kandor. There are class wars, an introduction to the Voice of Rao and the invisible chains the religion and heavy militaristic rule has on Krypton’s society and how this unfair treatment fuels the more powerful members of the council. These are issues and storylines no live-action version involving the Superman mythos has ever truly touched upon. Beyond the mention of Kryptonians worshiping the sun god Rao, they have rarely been given a platform as a people. Krypton grounds its characters and gives them far more weight and depth. As a people, Kryptonians are shown to have wants, needs, and belong to a society that exists beyond being just the birthplace of Superman.
The unfortunate parts of the story involve Seg-El falling in line with what we’ve come to see as the stereotypical male superhero, which includes no sense of optimism and an excessive amount of brooding and aloofness. Krypton has a very dark tone, which is enough to squash any budding sense of humor from any surrounding characters. The one exception seems to be Adam Strange, who is unbothered by Seg-El’s down and out personality, something which is further cemented by the tragic events of the episode. For those who are used to watching superhero shows that have an abundance of people with superpowers, Krypton is not the show for you. In terms of having no powers, it’s more along the lines of the early days of Smallville, only darker and with more of an “end of the world” storyline that sets the series’ course from the start.
Despite what is an excessively dark tone, Krypton isn’t all doom and gloom and has a bit more going for it as well. Cuffe as Seg-El sells his role and the weight of the responsibility he feels to restore his family’s honor and name. The already established romance between him and Campbell’s Lyta Zod is one of forbidden love and intrigue. The pair have good enough chemistry to carry their story forward so long as the writers are willing to stick with their plans for it. It’s being set up as a Romeo and Juliet kind of romance in which Seg and Lyta’s families are seemingly on opposite sides and have different worldviews. There aren’t enough scenes of Lyta and Seg together in the first episode, but by the second episode Lyta’s loyalties and reasons for her actions are made more clear.
Separate from her storyline from Seg, Lyta is fighting against becoming a hardcore cadet in the Kryptonian military, led by her eternally strict mother, Alura Zod (Ann Ogbomo). In Alura’s eyes, Lyta must try harder, fight harder, and be better than what she is if she’s to withstand being in the military and serving the High Council. The mother/daughter dynamic is engaging and Ogbomo and Campbell’s scenes together are some of the more intriguing aspects of the pilot.
As of the first episode, Seg is a very reluctant hero and wishes for nothing more than to restore his family’s honor. He isn’t interested in trying to save Krypton from an unknown threat. The pilot focuses more on family legacy than on any kind of heroics and this may turn people off, depending on which aspects of the superhero genre they’re more interested in. One of the more uninteresting parts of the episode is the arranged marriage between Seg and Nyssa-Vex. She is clearly on her father’s side and believes this marriage could be used to their advantage. Still, this storyline is underwhelming and unnecessary, most especially if this will be used to introduce an unwanted love triangle between Seg, Lyta, and Nyssa.
Krypton is a much stronger pilot than expected and there are plenty of fascinating story beats that will propel the narrative forward. Sans powers, Krypton feels more like a grounded superhero story that benefits from a fictitious place, which parallels certain aspects of our own society. The threat isn’t as palpable in the first episode as it is in the second, so it’s obviously more setup than a full-on exploration of Seg-El and his family. There’s a tragic scene in the episode that doesn’t need to happen as all it does is bring unnecessary shock value and man pain without leaving the intended impact. Still, Cameron Cuffe, Georgina Campbell, and Ann Ogbomo are especially good in their roles and the series has a lot of potential to build on what is presented in its premiere.
Krypton airs Wednesdays at 10/9c on Syfy.