Superman on Television
Smallville: Episode Reviews
Season 10 - Episode 6: "Harvest"Reviews:
HarvestReviewed by: Julian Finn
'Harvest' was a rarity for Smallville. An episode neither drowning in its own inconsistencies nor attempting greatness by trying to plug in to the greater Superman mythology, 'Harvest' is simply a reasonably solid if silly hour of TV. Granted, it didn't do the Amish any favors (or the Hutterites, conservative Mennonites, Old German Baptist Brethren etc.) but they're not watching anyways and besides, they're scary. Right?
And there's the other thing about 'Harvest'. Most of the time Smallville veers away from making heavy handed cultural or political statements, but here we were given a positioning point for a story that's begging to be discussed and, while I disagree with the basic premise that the story was built upon, I'm slobberingly grateful that this bone had some meat on it.
So here we go.
The A plot of 'Harvest' had, aside from some fantastic character interactions between Clark and Lois, nothing original to say. One part Children of the Corn and one part The Village; we've all seen or read variations of this story before. To be clear, this doesn't mean the A plot was bad; it was just built upon a story that has been told so often that it's become archetypal.
When Stephen King published The Children of the Corn in 1977 he was undoubtedly paying tribute to the original, 1960 release of Village of the Damned or the book it was based on, The Midwich Cuckoos, by John Wyndham. King, however, chose to frame his story within the cultural context of religious extremism and the distrust that existed between strict agrarian societies and the outside, technologically advancing world. Also, the kids were bug nuts.
At the time, a horror story built into that backdrop was extremely compelling. The technology boom that has yielded marvels like the iPad, terabyte hard drives and the Internet was just starting its exponential rise and there was just as much fear of technology on the part of those who were embracing it as on the part of those who'd long since abandoned it.
The perfect example of the mindset of those King was writing for are movies like War Games or Superman III. In Superman III the villains aren't Kryptonian or real estate crooks; they're computers and all the unlimited things they can do in the wrong hands. This was a recurring theme in science fiction all through the late seventies and into the eighties with movies like Demon Seed, The Terminator and Blade Runner.
At the same time (and probably not coincidentally) the western world was becoming much more secular and more embarrassed and uncomfortable by things that felt superstitious in nature. So yeah, 30 years ago, The Children of the Corn, with its juxtaposition of these two issues combined with a fear of religious extremism and isolationism, was a perfect recipe for telling a relevant horror story. Now? Not so much.
'Harvest' chooses to fuse that story with the one told by M. Night. Shyamalan in The Village, a movie about a modern family that creates a technologically devoid society out in the wilderness and uses fear and superstition to ensure that none of their children ever leaves and discovers the outside world. The movie was a critical and commercial failure in part because this is a story that is no longer relevant. And that was almost 7 years ago.
The theme in 'Harvest' suggests (especially by its positioning right before Halloween) that cultures that reject the outside world and cling to their religious convictions are fundamentally terrifying, backwards and ultimately prone to superstitious nonsense. But the way these people are presented is so black and white that it's impossible to not see the entire community and the lifestyle they represent as a reaction to the rabid polarization in North America between secular liberalism and religious conservatism. 'Harvest', at its core, is painting religious conservatives as being malicious, evil, intensely stupid and credulous to a point that's patently ridiculous. That level of credulity is especially weird if you catch the throwaway line that establishes that this community was established a little more than two decades earlier by the man now leading a torch bearing mob. That we're expected to believe that a community founded by people who were raised in the modern world could be driven to superstitious madness and community homicide in less than a generation strains belief.
Not being anything near a religious conservative myself, I can understand the inclination to use the current culture war as a pool to draw fear and tension from, but the case was made so simplistically that it felt kind of inappropriate for a show and especially a character that's supposed to have mass appeal. There was a propagandistic tone to the episode that felt vaguely uncomfortable.
But I still kind of liked it.
At its core, 'Harvest' is an episode about fear. Clark's fear for Lois' safety after telling her his secret, Lois' fear of being marginalized and denied autonomy by dating "a god, or Bono", Tess' fear of Lex, Lex's fear of Clark and the superstitious fear of not following through on actions that you feel have had a profoundly positive effect. That last fear is still fairly prevalent in our society; it's why people still make wishes when the clock rolls around to 11:11, why baseball players will wear the same pair of "lucky" boxers for 13 games in a row or why people still knock on wood when they're worried about invoking bad luck by saying that something bad hasn't happened yet. Those are all micro examples and the ritual sacrifice of a symbolic virgin (and wasn't it kind of funny that, honoring the great horror movie tropes, Clark and Lois got all groiny immediately after the danger had passed?) to stave off disaster is kind of macro but the principle applies. We, as a species, are scared of deviating from routines that feel beneficial.
As an examination of fear right before Halloween, 'Harvest' did the job that Halloween episodes are supposed to do; put familiar characters in off center situations and let general creepiness shape the audience reaction. Unfortunately, for a show about Superman, that has its own internal logic for storytelling, there were a pile of plot issues that made no sense whatsoever.
Character - I loved, in a big way, how Clark and Lois behaved relative to each other this week. There was the neat mix of awe and apprehension that Lois displays on the drive out to the country, coupled with resentment that Clark kept her away from a better story to protect her. (And I shared that resentment, I would have much rather watched the episode where they cover the anti-hero rally and Lois gets kidnapped and tortured by Leatherface than a retread of The Wicker Man) Lois' innovation when Clark is powerless; both freeing them from the Stepford farmhouse and scaring the villagers far enough away that Clark's powers could return. (Though a bit more on that later). The interaction between the two of them now that Clark has nothing he's holding back was really refreshing, in a way that was never reached with the Lana and Clark reveal. Maybe that has something to do with the fact that Lana was being a conniving tool and forced his hand, but here everything felt more organic.
Blue Kryptonite - Yes, this kind of felt like a retread of Kryptonite Kook-Aid, but it was still a fun use of Blue K and one that created a horror story out of something that would have ordinarily been a two second fix for Clark. It was also nice to humanize him to Lois so soon after she finds out how human she isn't.
Lois as Jules from Pulp Fiction - My wife didn't think that this was funny as I did and she poked some fun at the fact that Lois saying that Superman would strike down with furious anger all those that stood in his way was wildly inappropriate for the character she was describing, but I maintain that since she was trying to use fear to make the villagers back away to a safe distance, it was a fair and funny gambit.
Lois' description of faith in the face of those driven mad by it - Lois using words passionately to try and sway the opinion of the Believers was fantastic. It's the first time we've really seen this aspect of a character who's supposed to win a Pulitzer someday for writing an incredible article and something sorely lacking from the way she's been written thus far. Was the speech a little hackneyed? Absolutely. But it was still a decently powerful moment for a character who is supposed to be Superman's emotional equal.
Mini Lex - I loved the kid they had playing him this week. There were a few moments when he was speaking about Clark that it felt like he was actually channelling Rosenbaum. There were a few elements that I took issue with but the performance itself was great.
What Didn't Work
The plot - Nothing made any real sense this week. Creepy Amish girl sneaks up on them from an isolated bush in the middle of nowhere and Clark doesn't immediately put two and two together? Weak. Lois, who also should have had some suspicions chooses to stay behind and drink lemonade (which, you know, fantastic substitute for Kool-Aid on the cult juice front and which almost caused her death) to spite Clark rather than telling the girl to beat it so they can get back on the road? That one was a character moment that only existed to move the plot forward and therefore is terrible, lazy writing. The Believers developing into a murder cult in under a generation makes zero sense from a sociological viewpoint; yes the Manson family built up to that level of insanity with lightning speed, but they didn't start out as an isolationist religious community that just wanted to slow life down. The Believers were inexplicably evil and that point is made by the young girl who lures Lois to sacrifice. Could she have been cowed by her Father into setting that trap? Sure. But when Lois gets up to leave and the girl says to her, "We'll never let you leave! This was your last supper! Mwah ha ha ha!" That's evil. She's got those gleaming maniacal Red Rum eyes going on and, unless this will be addressed at some point in the future (it won't) and Blue Kryptonite is explained to have both healing and mentally destructive effects on humans, this was just bad characterization, again for no good reason other than to serve plot.
Blue Kryptonite - As cool a use for Blue K as this was, the writers plotted themselves into a corner by making the Kryptonite too pervasive and complete a threat to Clark. It's in the water supply so everyone is infected! But only as long as he's within 10, no 8, no 12 feet of someone infected. It's in the water supply, but somehow isn't it in the soil that Clark is buried in! Blue Kryptonite makes him completely mortal but somehow Clark can survive having a flaming bucket of it poured on him, kind of like that time he fell to his death with a Blue K knife in his chest but didn't smoosh! It was a buffet of stupid drowning in arbitrary sauce. Why did the Blue K stay enflamed for twenty years? Why would the Believers believe that the giant flaming ball of smurf poo was a deity that demanded blood sacrifice rather than a piece of rock that tragically killed one of their own? Does Blue K infection have an IQ dropping side effect? There was a stupefying amount of dumb on display here.
Tess - How many birthday parties has she had for Alexander in the last four weeks? Why wouldn't she just kick the flimsy door down when he locks her in his room? It looked like a strong fart would have knocked it over. Why would she lock him back in a room and then leave him with an electric razor? Don't you typically want to keep psychopaths away from sharp objects? Tess is making less and less sense to me with her continued existence, other than as a point of reference for the audience with respect to Alexander inevitably becoming the bearded Australian Lex clone from the Death of Superman. This I could do without.
Mini Lex - As good as the performance was this week, the whole subplot of a clone retaining its original's memories is just (and yes I'm going to do it) a little bizarre. From a story telling standpoint it's especially weird that he's retaining all of his memories, specifically the ones about Clark. Wouldn't this be a fantastic opportunity to reintroduce Lex without him knowing that Superman is Clark Kent? Apparently critical thinking skills are not a prerequisite to getting a Smallville staff writing job.
Lois and Clark making sweet, sweet love - I'm still irked by the fact that Jor-El, rather than teaching Clark how to fly, chose to teach him how to mate safely with humans. Neal made a fantastic case for why Superman shouldn't be having premarital sex right after Clark and Lana slept together, and, while I won't recap it here, I agreed with him. Having a physical fear of hurting his romantic partners was a great way of not having to address the issue and taking that away for some unnecessary titillation is brains in a frying pan stupid. I realize that this is a CW show. I realize that the Lois and Clark romance is epic and wonderful and the stuff of power and romance fantasies for young lads and lasses the world over. But the demographic for this show is no longer the shippers; the spike in ratings for episodes like 'Absolute Justice' and 'Homecoming' should be proof enough that the viewing audience has shifted to one that tunes in to see insane Jack Kirby references on prime time TV, not the same audience that wants to see what's happening on Gossip Girl. This was just poor, poor execution of unnecessary sexual content in an episode that was already loaded up with inanity.
Despite the plot making no sense and there being one horrendous blunder with respect to character interpretation, I was still pretty entertained by 'Harvest'. Not, you know, watch it over again entertained, but I didn't want to poke out my eyes like I did after 'Isis'. Not quite a win, but if you have to have filler, you could do worse than this.
2.5 out of 5
HarvestReviewed by: Douglas Trumble
Super Short Summary: Clark takes Lois out of town on a failed attempt to protect her which allows them some time to discuss his other worldly heritage. Things turn for the worse when the couple run into some escapees from a Stephen King novel who can negate Clark's powers thanks to drinking Blue-K laced mineral water for several years.
Ahh Smallville's annual Halloween episode. In the past we've had Kryptonite Vampires, Kryptonian Virus Zombies, Dean Cain as Jack the Ripper, Saw rip offs, serial killers with Kryptonite bracelets, and as far back as Season 2 a sort of Hulk/Frankenstein creature on the loose. Smallville has had its share of dipping into the October fright fest over the years and this year... the final year... we get Kryptonite power hillbillies.
As funny as that might sound, personally I find that idea terrifying. Yet this is Smallville, not a Burt Reynolds/Ned Beatty movie so I am not sure it really worked for me as a scary deal.
Still despite my blah feelings on the plot there were some things I really liked in this episode.
I was very pleased to see Clark opening up to Lois and telling her EVERYTHING and I do mean everything. His gift to her of Dr. Swann's journal at the end was in my mind the highlight of the episode. It made the love making afterwards mean so much more. I've said in the past that I was very disappointed that Clark didn't tell Lana he was from another planet before they had a physical relationship. It just seems like one of those things you should tell someone before becoming that intimate with them, powerless or not. This time they did it right and I was very pleased to see that.
I loved Lois' reaction to Clark one arming the car while changing the tire. It's fun to see a reaction like that by someone. It felt so right because you know if this was real pretty much anyone would have reacted the same way. Yet to make it even better despite her little fangirl squeal Lois stayed Lois and didn't back off her feelings about being "protected". I found it very amusing that after Clark left she started making plans to get her way back to Metropolis. That is so Lois. Getting in over her head.
There were some problems though that brought this episode down. I know I said I had a blah feeling about the Krypto-billies but that was just minor compared to some other problems.
First of all they were extremely inconsistent in how the Blue K affected Clark this time. It was just in the people right? If Clark got his powers back after they stepped back from the sacrifice alter then how come his powers didn't come back when he and Lois were in the house? He was at least that far away from the people then. He could have easily powered past them using super breath or heat-vision from a distance.
Second there was a very poorly edited scene when Clark came to Lois' rescue. Clark somehow ended up with a shot gun and fired it off in the air to get everyone's attention. That is fine but the way the scene was shown I first thought Clark had shot one of the guys in a scarecrow mask in the back. We had to rewind it and watch it more than once to realize that Clark fired in the air and the scarecrow was just stepping aside/turning to the noise behind him. I have to think there are a lot of viewers out there who could have had the first thought I had that Clark just shot someone.
I have no problems with Superman channeling Jonathan Kent and firing off some buckshot when necessary but not into a person and certainly not into a person's back. Very poorly edited/filmed scene.
I also didn't like the part where Lois started playing up Clark as a god or someone sent by God. Not so much that she was saying it but the fact Clark went along with it. I know they needed to escape so I get why. I just think they should avoid having Clark play that card.
The WTF moment of the week? How did they drive over a board of nails and blow out their BACK two tires and not the front? I'm trying to picture how that would work and just cannot. Seriously Clark... What the Fudge? Were you weaving all over the road or something?
So really a mediocre episode with a couple of really great moments you might be sorry you missed. I will give it a 3 out of 5... call it a 2.5 but a bonus for Clark giving Lois the Swann journal.
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