On paper, a television series about Superman’s grandfather is a silly idea. It’s like going back to the well before there was even a well to draw from. But SYFY’s Krypton managed to turn its concept into something worthwhile by bending the concept of a prequel series almost to the breaking point. Rather than watch as a group of faintly recognizable characters play out a drama whose ending brings about perhaps the most famous superhero origin story of all time, the high-concept sci-fi/superhero series plays with the notion that the future — one where an infant Kal-El is rocketed into space before his home planet explodes and later becomes the universe’s greatest hero — is not at all set in stone.
With that premise, Krypton was given what so few prequels have: actual stakes. And as the series progressed, it managed to move beyond the somewhat abstract idea of an as-yet-unborn child/savior of mankind by introducing the audience to the very complicated social hierarchies of Superman’s home, and where his grandfather, Seg-El (Cameron Cuffe), fit among the various other houses — Zod, Em, Vex, Da, Ur, etc. — that ostensibly controlled the planet, and its city of Kandor. The result was an entertaining sci-fi drama tangentially related to the greater DC Universe, one that explored Superman lore by playing around with some of his greatest foes, like Brainiac (Blake Ritson), General Zod (Colin Salmon), and in season 2, Doomsday.
For all it’s “gotta save the Big Red S” conceit, Krypton showed a remarkable willingness to tinker with Superman canon, effectively turning it into an Elseworlds tale, one where Seg-El is Zod’s father, making him Kal-El’s half-uncle, and turning the Kryptonian despot’s journey to the past into a delightfully convoluted family squabble. Those problems are increased ten-fold by the overly complicated manner in which Kryptonians reproduce, meaning Seg’s other child, the one he had with Nyssa-Vex (Wallis Day) is also present in Kandor, and, to add yet another layer to the now bewildering family tree, the show made it clear Nyssa is a clone of her former self, who perished in an accident years ago.
None of this should work, yet, for some reason, Krypton does. It’s an entertainingly soapy sci-fi adventure that plays fast and loose with several canonical concepts, all while throwing a giant kryptonite wrench into the nearly century-long machinery that is Superman’s mythology. The series bends the idea of what constitutes a prequel and that, combined with a willingness to bring in some of DC’s big guns, like the Czarnian bastich Lobo (Emmett J. Scanlan), as well as the aforementioned Zod, Brainiac, and Doomsday, helps the story along (or distracts from its prequel-ness altogether), establishing season 2 as more concretely its own story and not a very long preamble to Kal-El’s arrival on Earth.
In the season 2 premiere, ‘Light-Years From Home,’ Krypton picks up several months after the events of the season 1 finale, which saw Zod secure his power on the planet, while Seg-El and Brainiac were whisked away to the Phantom Zone. While Zod is busy ruling Krypton with an iron fist and preparing an armada for galactic domination, Seg is beset by Phantom Zone-y visions of a possible future, one where Zod is strangling his own mother, Lyta-Zod (Georgina Campbell). That’s before he’s tricked into using a crystal to escape the Zone along with Brainac, planting them on a distant planet filled with lush green forests, and, as luck would have it, Lobo.
For the most part, it’s a fairly standard season premiere, as most of the hour is spent getting caught up with what’s transpired since the series last aired. The changes are significant, but not too surprising, with Lyta working alongside her future child, while Val-El (Ian McElhinney) and Jax-Ur (Hannah Waddingham) introduce a recently returned Adam Strange (Shaun Sipos) to the small resistance that’s been set up on a mining moon to combat Zod’s tyrannical rule.
While much of that is an expected bit of table-setting for the episodes ahead, there are a number of interesting unknowns as well, starting with the whereabouts of Doomsday, who has gone missing after his escape from a storage unit (how’d they even get him in there?) late last season. While that’s the Kryptonian equivalent of a million thermonuclear warheads running around without proper supervision, it would seem that the series is setting its Superman killer up to be what he’s meant to be: a terrifying agent of chaos that will presumably make things difficult for both sides of the central conflict. That also appears to be the case with Lobo, but with a greater degree of calculation on the part of this particular chaos agent. Lobo’s introduction is all-too brief but intriguing nonetheless as he effectively sets up a parallel narrative that puts Seg and Adam on a quest to return to Krypton from, well, light-years away.
The most interesting unknown, however, involves Brainiac and Seg, and what transpired between them before Adam Strange’s arrival and Lobo’s interruption. These unknowns are key to making a prequel series more interesting and entertaining than it has any right to be, and Krypton seems intent on keeping them coming. As a result, the series gets season 2 off on the right foot, taking this Superman prequel to some exciting and unexpected places.
Krypton season 2 continues next Wednesday with ‘Ghost In the Fire’ @10pm on SYFY.