Superman on Television
Smallville: Episode Reviews
Season 10 - Episode 4: "Homecoming"Reviews:
HomecomingReviewed by: Julian Finn
For me, Homecoming was a bittersweet episode.
On the one hand, it was quite possibly the best all around outing of Smallville I've seen in over 5 years; on the other, it highlighted in detail some of the flaws that have made the series so painful to watch for those of us who loved the early seasons but felt the show lose focus as it went on.
I want to deal with the positives first though because, on its face, this was a near perfect hour of genre TV.
I loved that, although this was an episode whose message was, "Let go of the past," all of its strength lay in exploiting the emotional connections each character had to their past associations. Even Brainiac was given profoundly simple motivations that worked on a deep character level (although some might argue that what was done to the teacher in the name of healing wasn't very different from abuse).
While about a third of the episode felt like that most heinous of television abuses, the clip show; the payoff from the Christmas Carol conceit was truly epic. We were given a glimpse into the future that delivered a much bigger payoff than the one shown in last year's finale, as well as (hopefully) an end to the Clois yoyo that has plagued the series since these two first started down a romantic path.
Each step of Clark's journey in Homecoming was beautifully orchestrated. The weight of returning to High School to try and measure up to the expectations of your peers played nicely into the ongoing theme of the season, which has been the exploration of Clark's feelings of inadequacy. I questioned, at times, the logic of having all of the peripheral female characters retroactively swooning over him, but I'll deal with that in a bit when I get into the meat of my main criticism of the episode.
Likewise, Lois undergoes a mirror experience to her own feelings of inadequacy and irrelevancy. How can she expect emotional reciprocation from a man whose destiny is so much greater than her own if she can't even be remembered at a high school reunion for anything more substantial than her former romantic association with Green Arrow? Lois' determination to matter, to Clark in general and under the memory of Lana specifically, beyond all else, is handled quite effectively and makes a nice counterpoint to Clark's discomfort at being thrust into the limelight.
The level of pathos present in the first ten minutes of the show, especially coming from a series that so frequently messes up character motivations, was wildly refreshing. And then we rolled into the actual A plot of the episode.
Whether Homecoming works for you or not really comes down to an ability to swallow certain lines of thinking.
Are you okay with that last one?
The payoff was glorious. We get to see Erica Durance fill out the role that she's really started to own lately, in a way that completely blew away my expectations for her range in playing this character. Little things, like her wild gesticulations when admonishing Clark for not wearing his glasses, are near painfully brilliant in their execution. Clark's interaction with his future self in the elevator is, minus some stilted overacting from Welling in the two roles, a truly excellent exchange that does the job of kicking Young Clark in the backside. Superman controlling a nuclear explosion is suitably comic bookish in its execution and I, for one, didn't really have any lingering disappointment with the fact that we didn't actually get to see him in the suit.
The helicopter scene was a beautiful nod to Superman: The Movie and Lois knocking out the pilot to cover for Clark was quite possibly the best abuse of the KO system ever. Moving into the end of the episode, Clark finally turning up at Ollie's side, the barn scene and the resulting inadvertent flying, all felt organic and well played out. My only real point of detail issue from the whole episode was the question of why Clark was wearing the faux Superman costume at Jonathan's grave. Also, why would he walk away, in that outfit, in broad daylight, rather than using superspeed?
And it wasn't just the characters and story that resonated. I noticed it in the finale last year and it really stood out during the future sequence in this episode, but everything from the music to the lighting to the moods of the entire supporting cast just felt lighter. In fact, there were moments where the show was verging on the bounciness of the Otis scenes in the Donner films and, especially with the explosion scene, felt dangerously close to veering off into absurd territory. But, it generally worked, and I found myself smiling more often than I have for any episode of this series going back to season 3.
(And those of you who have been sitting there wondering whether married life has made me lose my critical thinking abilities may all breathe a sigh of relief now.)
Everything about the back half of this episode requires you ignore that Smallville, as a series, has not earned the payoff they delivered.
I grew up a big Star Trek geek. I lined up for the movies, watched every episode; I even owned a few of the comics. (It was a sickness, I know). So, when JJ Abrams and company produced the new Trek movie last year, I was, on a surface level, thrilled with it. They'd managed to distil everything I'd loved about Star Trek growing up and turn it into a Star Wars homage that had mass audience appeal and breathed new life into a dying franchise. Except, you know, for the giant cheat.
The entire film fell apart for me when Kirk basically called dibs on his captaincy and everyone let it pass because, you know, that's his destiny, and you don't screw with destiny. The writing team couldn't figure out an organic way to hit all the story beats they wanted in the timeline they'd established, so they just waved a magic fate wand and made it so.
Here's is the thought process that goes into that kind of decision:
We know that Kirk eventually becomes CAPTAIN KIRK. We know that the audience needs to see that transition. We know that the general expectations and knowledge of the audience with respect this character will allow them to fill in the blanks if we just skip a few steps. So let's skip those steps and just let audience expectation become the destiny of the character.
That same thought process has been more and more evident in the last three seasons of Smallville and, ultimately, Homecoming gave us a glimpse of the kind of borderline "Choose your own Adventure" writing we can expect from the rest of the final season. And the sad thing is, from the second Clark erected the Fortress of Solitude, way back at the end of season 4, this was the train track the show was doomed to chug along.
Smallville began as a concept that always should have been limited to Clark's high school career. There are too many iterations of the Superman origin story that all tread the post graduation ground and it was inevitable that Smallville would gradually become less about innovation and more about imitation. How do you keep your audience engaged once your characters start to run smack into established continuity? Apparently you just run full tilt down the pandering slope and completely abandon your own through line of internal logic.
This is a show that could have done the self contained, 5 season arc thing; much like Babylon 5 or Lost. Tell the story you set out to tell and get out before you start to run into the snare of audience expectation. The problem is that the show became a relative commercial success. So, instead of an organically plotted, self contained and logically consistent narrative that told the story of Clark Kent before he becomes Superman, we got the weirdness of a Superboy TV show, updated for the Dawson's Creek generation of viewers. It became very apparent halfway through Season 5 that Gough and Millar didn't have any idea of what to do with the property anymore but, unlike Tim Kring after the first season of Heroes, they didn't have the testicular fortitude to man up and admit that they'd lost interest. Instead we got a never ending litany of, "Confused? Stay tuned!"
Enter Souders and Peterson and a completely new creative direction. It was evident from the beginning of Season 7 that the new team was going to focus far more on the superhero element than all of the melodrama of the prior two seasons. The problem became untangling the mess they'd been left and simultaneously bringing a story that should have always been an Elseworlds interpretation of the Superman origin into line with the general consensus interpretation of the character.
Why am I dumping a play by play of the show's history on you, you ask? Because that last step was a mistake that has ultimately resulted in us (the audience) being asked, much like Clark in this episode, to ignore the past, not worry about the future and just focus on the now. Souders and Peterson could have embraced the changes that Gough and Millar originally made to the mythos; instead they trundled right along trying to fit round pegs into square holes. They've taken forced liberties with characters introduced too early and now they're asking us to turn away while they suggest that Brainiac psychically lobotomizing anyone who knows Clark's secret is not only an adequate solution to one of the show's most glaring problems, but is also a sign that Brainiac has become heroic as a character.
In short, you're being asked to lobotomize yourself and let go of past mistakes. You're supposed to remember Clark in high school as being the alpha male that every woman wanted because, hey that's what Superman is so he couldn't possibly have not been that in his youth. Hey presto, destiny wand. And remember, all of these mistakes are kind of your fault anyway; Smallville was just trying to give you what you wanted.
The Donner movies have become, love them or hate them, the most iconic representation of Superman for the vast majority of two whole generations. Smallville, with episodes like Homecoming, is starting their final push to try and sync their 9 year origin story into the box of that particular collective unconscious. And it just doesn't fit.
So. Where does that leave me?
Independent and taken completely out of the show's context, this is hands down the strongest episode I've seen (with the exception of Legion and Absolute Justice, which don't count) since the front half of Season 4. It gets a 4.5 on sheer quality and delivery of concept and characterization.
Taken in context, it's an episode that doesn't make a whole lot of sense; both for the paradox and weak solution presented and the blatant shoe horning into a mythology that the show has only ever made a passing attempt to pay respect to, giving it a 2.5 for internal consistency and nonsensical plotting.
I'll meet you in the middle.
3.5 out of 5
My apologies to anyone who was waiting for my review of Supergirl this week. Post wedding activity ate up all of my free time and the demands of my job just took a massive spike. I promise I won't miss another until the series is done and, if enough of you would like me to write up my analysis anyway, I'd be willing to write it up during the winter hiatus. Let me know.
HomecomingReviewed by: Douglas Trumble
Super Short Summary: The Brain-I.A.C. returns to Smallville to pull a Christmas Carol like intervention on Clark's Super Scrooge and after a visit to the ghosts of Superhero past, present, and future Clark is set straight by none other than Superman himself.
Or is it himself himself? Time travel, yikes... Where is Doc Brown when you need him?
Okay, this week I am starting out with the WTF moment of the week... Seriously, I just have to and it goes to the Smallville writers and story producers.
What The Fudge people? Where the HECK was this kind of story telling mojo back when you were sitting in the writing room coming up with ideas like Super Lana Girl power episodes, Kryptonite Gatorade, and Kryptonite powered race cars? This kind of story telling mojo should have been able to witch-slap those story ideas into oblivion where they belonged.
THIS! This is what I am talking about! If you'd have done stuff like THIS the whole ten years... Well. Maybe not... Had they all been this good the universe just might have exploded due to too much awesome.
Oh well. It was worth it. All the not so great episodes are officially forgiven because they are worth sitting through just to have this one solid hour of pure Superman-like perfection. I don't even care anymore that last week's was out of place and shoe horned in after this one. This could very well be the finest hour Smallville has ever put to the small screen.
First of all I loved the Charles Dickens inspired story. The whole past, present, future thing was well played and well placed in the overall story of Clark's journey to become Superman. It is just what Clark needed when he needed it most. It almost makes all the questionable character choices they made for Clark in the past work more than I ever thought they would by making this episode all the more powerful.
Using Brain-I.A.C. 5.0 as the Jacob Marley of the story was genius. First of all it gave us a well established time travel device to make the story happen but it also gave us someone strongly connected to Clark's past. Sure it was not an old partner like in the Dickens tale but an old nemesis, yet I think the connection was just as strong. Showing a major villain that was "saved" by Clark's actions was a great way to bring this about. Showing us and Clark that his way actually does work from time to time allows a proper reason why he should never give up on it. Had he listened to the Legion and just killed Chloe and the Brain-I.A.C. inside her this new hero from the future would have never been there. A point showcased even more by having a Season One Freak of the Week expressing gratitude for Clark's intervention. I felt that was a nice touch bringing Bug Boy back for a day.
Oliver and Lois seemed to both fit the Bob Cratchit role in the story with Clark seeing how his present doubt and emotional distance is hurting the people important to him. I almost cried when they showed Oliver sitting there desperate for a phone call from Clark, and Lois alone at the dance. The short scene with Oliver did such a good job showing how important Clark is to the growing hero population and the respect they have for him. I loved Brain-I.A.C. 5.0's line about "would it hurt to just call him?". It was delivered with a bit of sarcasm as we expect from the big B but James Marsters delivered it with sort of a soft compassion as well that was spot on perfect. Same goes for his line in regards to Clark trying to protect Lois, "How's that working out for you?" Spot on.
Let's just say I cannot say enough how well Mr. Marsters knocked this one out of the park. Not to get too side tracked on that but the way he played B-5.0 was amazing. There was no doubt we were dealing with the same character yet there was a total lack of malice to his voice and presence that was always strongly felt before. Not something easy to pull off since most of the time when characters have a change of heart/redemption they often come off as completely different people afterwards. At least as far as how actors usually play them. Good job avoiding that.
As much as it seemed to follow the Christmas Carol tale origin it was also completely opposite but in a way that made it even better for this story. The visions of the past were not of happy times of youth but of something dark that Clark had yet to let go and forgive himself for. The future was not of darkness but of light and actual real happiness for Clark and for Lois, something I do not think present Clark believed was possible. This tale wasn't about avoiding a future before it was too late. This was about embracing that future and making it happen.
The Ghost of the future was none other than Superman and what an inspired choice that was. They risked a lot by showing Clark in the Superman time of his life this soon. It could have backfired but it was perfectly played. We see Superman blurring into action but not so well that we are spoiled for the true reveal. Tom Welling did a fantastic job playing public Clark Kent mode. The scene between past and future Clark was fantastic. I loved how Superman/Clark was so poised and confident yet still playful enough to slip in a few snarky comments to his younger self.
Still as awesome it was to see Superman/Clark and watch the spinning blur stop the explosion it was even better seeing future Lois. I loved how they have her acting as Clark Kent's keeper. Her constantly reminding him to wear the glasses with that laugh out loud funny finger movement, scolding him for wearing blue at the office, and her reaction to the possibility of Clark being exposed to various forms of kryptonite were all simply priceless.
Best of all I really loved how this wasn't some dream of a could-be future or an alternate reality/future. For Superman this already happened and he was there waiting for his past self to show up. Nice. It makes it all the better knowing it's not retconned out or something that only one person remembers.
Great scenes in the follow up with Clark saying goodbye to Jonathan and promising to be the man Pa Kent knew he could be and Clark being there for Oliver at the interview. It was a great moment when Oliver started sticking up for himself and the other supers.
Lastly that final scene in the barn? Holy cow was that fantastic! Romantic, touching, and perfectly placed. The idea of him floating came to my mind initially but then I thought, "No way are they going to do that" and then they did and it was awesome. It is a moment that may very well be my favorite moment of the entire series so far. The romantic move by Clark that Lois needed, the dual confessions of love, the peace/calm/love allowing Clark to finally defy gravity on his own... Perfect... Simply perfect. Epic even.
Like Kara told him last week; "Focus on one thing and make it your whole world." How cool is it that the thing he chooses to make his whole world is Lois? I don't know if Clark knew he was floating or not. I don't even care. That whole scene was perfectly timed, written, acted, and filmed. Best barn scene EVER hands down.
The whole theme being played out here is simple. Lois is the key to Superman and I love that Smallville is playing it that way. In the future she's the one keeping his dual lives in check, giving him an inspiration to do what he does, and guarding his secret so he can focus on other things. In the present she is the one giving him hope for a happy future and companionship he desperately needs. She is just as big a hero to the story as he is and that is awesome.
What do I grade this one? This episode is so essential to the series that the only down side is it makes you wonder why all the other episodes were not as good.
I give it an 8 out of 5... and no that is not a typo. 5 out of 5 with 3 bonus points for... well... just about everything. It's my review... I can do what I want. DO NOT MISS THIS ONE!
God bless us, every one.
PS. Congratulations Smallville cast and crew for hitting 200 episodes. Who would have thought when this ride started so long ago that you would make it to 200 hours of TV. Some of those hours might not have been my favorites but many more were an absolute blast with this one being the cream of the crop. No one can deny the overall success you achieved here. Well done! I am totally looking forward to how you wrap it all up.
Back to the "Smallville: Episode Reviews" Contents page.