Superman on Television

Smallville: Episode Reviews

Season 10 - Episode 10: "Luthor"



Reviewed by: Julian Finn

"Nothing says, 'sorry my evil doppelganger from a parallel earth tried to kill you', like flowers."

"I think they make a card for that."

And so the bar is set, Smallville. For those who've been paying attention, there are two types of episodes of this show that I rate highly. First, and out of all the episodes I've reviewed positively these are the most frequent, there are the big event episodes. Smallville typically does epic well. "Absolute Justice", "Legion", and "Homecoming" are all flawed but fantastic examples of what this show can be when it really embraces its comic book roots. It's ultimately easier to turn off the critical eye when you're seeing live action representations of your childhood daydreams on your TV screen. The second types of episode I've typically enjoyed are the ones like "Patriot"; highly entertaining, pushing the major beats forward and yes still flawed, but comically so. What I have not enjoyed, traditionally, are the filler episodes, especially for the last six seasons. Apparently, someone in the Smallville writer's room has convinced everyone else that filler is synonymous with garbage and should just be ploughed through because, obviously, you can't tell a consistently interesting and high quality story for twenty two hours. Typically the filler episodes (and I'm looking at you "Ambush") are rushed together messes that nobody (apparently not even the actors judging from the lack of effort on their part) is remotely interested in. Except, you know, those of you who for some reason feel like defending them on highly questionable grounds. "Luthor" has changed all that. Moving forward "Luthor" will be the episode that I judge the remainder of the season by. For the first time in years Smallville has produced an hour of TV that made me want to drag my friends over for repeat viewings. And it was a filler episode. I've watched it three times now and, while it's not perfect by any stretch, on sheer quality "Luthor" has earned a spot on my list of top five favourite episodes. And it was a filler episode. Let's take a moment and appreciate what we were given this week.

  • A plot that, for the most part, made sense and didn't leave massive steaming piles of plot hole in its wake.

  • Somehow, miraculously, dialogue that made me laugh because it was funny rather than terrible. CK's line to Lois about her misspelling of words had me in tears, not just because the line was funny but because Welling delivered it so well.

  • And while we're on the subject, what the heck happened to Welling? Did Kelly Souders stand over him the entire time screaming, "It's okay to use your facial muscles when you act, Tom!"? I was blown away by Welling's performance this week. I think maybe I was wrong; it's not that he's a terrible actor; it's that he's been horribly miscast in this series. I want to see an Ultraman spinoff. Turns out Tom's fortes are menace and creepiness. Who knew?

  • References to both Oedipus Rex and King Lear. And both of them made sense. On Smallville, a show not usually known for its use of or interest in the highbrow.

  • Genuinely complex character relationships. The relationship between Clark Luthor and Lionel in particular, even though we never see them onscreen together is powerfully felt and deeply disturbing.

  • I didn't hate Tess. And that was just weird.

  • Beautiful visuals. This was one of the prettiest episodes this show has ever produced; the hyper stylised overexposure of the film in the Earth 2 scenes gave everything a sickly and depressed feeling which contrasted nicely with the primary color palette of Earth 1.

  • A subtle off screen resolution to the drama and damage caused by Clark Luthor on Earth 1. This is not a show that typically does subtle well, if at all. The fact that they trusted the audience to fill in the blanks was a rare show of confidence in the series' audience that we don't receive all that often.

  • And finally, but certainly not least importantly, they found a way to bring back Lionel that didn't suck. In true comic book fashion the import of an alternate universe version of a character was played pitch perfect (although Lionel's breaking of the fourth wall at the end was an odd if fun, moment) and, as a result, we now have one of the best character actors this show ever had in its stable on hand for the big finish.

    It wasn't all love and puppies though. The first five minutes in particular were especially groan worthy.

    Clark's overly hostile assessment of the Luthor family in general was very conveniently timed given the issues Tess has been wrestling with since "Abandoned". It felt like a whole lot of set up to get that particular juicy tidbit out into the open and dealt with. It was, in short, the serve before the extremely unwieldy moral delivered in the final scenes between Clark and Tess (Lutessa?).

    Likewise, the introduction of this week's McGuffin was just weirdly shoehorned into place, with a whopping dose of expository dialogue. (And on that note, let me be clear. There is a difference between the expository crap we got at the beginning of the episode, "We were all surprised when you turned out to be Lionel's heir" and the information that was delivered by the same means by Lionel and Tess in the opening moments of the Earth 2 exposition. When you're establishing a new status quo and you only have minutes to do it, verbal delivery of exposition is helpful. When all you're doing is reminding your audience of things they already know, it's asinine.) Why did Lionel have the device? Why did the Kryptonians even design it? It raises the boom tube question I asked at the end of "Salvation"; why, if the Kryptonians had this type of relocation technology, didn't they use it? Sure, all the people they transplanted from Krypton 2 would die (and I'm hoping the device would be geographically tuned to whatever planet you're on otherwise the "why" questions really start to pile up) but nothing about the depiction of Kryptonians on this series has led me to believe they were anything but ruthless. Anyway, it gets introduced and Clark somehow doesn't mistake it for a perfume bottle (though, in Tess' purse, it really, really looks like one) and he proves his colossal lack of common sense once again, by fiddling with it. Sigh.

    I get it, body swapping parallel earth trips are hard to write into a plot without some serious groundwork being laid so a few corners had to be cut, but this was just lazy. Couldn't this have been some sort of plot on the part of Darkseid and Co.? Or possibly a well timed return by Mxyzptlk? Failing that, couldn't we have been given some consistency in the way the mirror box worked? When CK arrives in Earth 2 he arrives in the same spot that CL left; why was the inverse not true? I also had one fairly substantial issue with that subtle resolution to the Earth 1 storyline that saw Clark Luthor about to be riddled to death by kryptonite arrows. Both Welling and the script itself did such a tremendous job selling CL as a murderous, ruthless bastard, that I didn't believe he would leave Lois, Tess and Ollie alive long enough to get the drop on him. This is someone who has all the powers of Superman, none of the moral restraints and enjoys both violence and the causing of pain; how did he not just heat vision them all to death before super speeding through the local branch of the SPCA in a murderous sprint? Also, I know it's been said, but why would Lionel name CL Clark? I guess trusting the audience only goes so far; calling him Leroy Luthor would have caused mass confusion and the sun to drop out of the sky, apparently.

    But these are, in the grand scheme, minor quibbles. Every relationship in Luthor was well articulated; Lionel and Clark are caught in a desperate battle of wills with each other that has each bound by fear as much as family ties, Lois and Ollie make sense as a couple in this reality, even Clark and Tess make a twisted sort of sense when seen in the light of rebellion. CL is invested in doing things to stick a proverbial knife in Lionel's back and Tess finds love and validation in the arms of the only family member that has a use for her.

    The acting, for a change, was mostly terrific. Welling, when playing CL, was at his absolute best although even as Clark proper he delivered his lines with more feeling and a better sense of timing than I've seen since the first three seasons. Cassidy Freeman finally found a way to convey emotion nonverbally and in a way that doesn't make every facial expression an exercise in aggressive annoyance. The CK and Lois of Earth 2 scene on the rooftop was a revelation; both in its comic timing and the sincerity of the performances. And John Glover... I'd forgotten how much I loved having a ruthless, sadistic and genuinely scary villain on this show. The scene where Lionel is whipping Clark with the belt was one of the few moments in this series' history where they really went for it when delivering the menace. The dynamic was a terrifying analogue for an abusive father beating his child and was so much more effective than some of the James Bond style villain plots we've seen in Smallville's past.

    So yeah, I really dug this one. There's a lot more I could probably prattle on about, but bottom line this was a fantastic job.

    And, all that being said, this episode has provided me with a problem. I'm tempted, now that we've seen what the series is capable of, to go back and modify my scores for the other episodes in this season down. "Luthor" was not a case of a wildly talented guest writer being dropped into the writer's room like a talent bomb, a la "Legion" and "Absolute Justice"; rather it was a series regular (Brian Q. Miller has been a constant staple of the show as a writer or story editor for much of the last two seasons) working in tandem with one of the show runners to produce one of the highest quality episodes in the show's recent history. Now that we know what's possible, how can we be expected to accept mindless drek like "Supergirl", "Isis", or "Ambush"?

    Those of you who have, in the past, taken affront to what you felt was overly harsh criticism of the show's weaker outings on my part should take note. "Luthor" is an example of a very good episode. Good plotting, good characterization, solid acting; this is now the bar that Smallville has set for itself for the rest of the season. There may be more exciting episodes; there may be wildly fantastic fan service cameos; we may even get to see Clark in the costume for a few seconds. But if the writing isn't comparable or if the acting doesn't deliver on this level I won't be as forgiving. And this was a filler episode.

    Welcome back Lionel, and Smallville be warned. Deliver or else; you've got no excuses anymore.

    5 out of 5

    Incidentally, did anyone catch the Superman: The Movie Easter egg in the scene between Ollie and CK in the moments before Ollie turned on the Kryptolamp? Ollie delivers Clark's line from the movie, altered for perspective:

    "All those things you can do, all your powers..."

    Subtle and fantastic.



    Reviewed by: Douglas Trumble

    Super Short Summary: Lady Luthor suddenly gets the rest of Daddy Luthor's estate which turns out to be a Kryptonian doohickey that ends up sending Clark to Ultraman's Harem while Sending Ultraman back to the real world to give another reason why everyone should carry Kryptonite with them at all times.

    Lionel is back BABY and we are talking vintage early seasons mean son of a female dog Lionel too. Not that whipped into shape and made a good guy by Superman Lionel either.

    Look. I loved Lionel's story on Smallville. The transition from hard core evil to someone who at least wanted to redeem himself after being shown the light by our Superman was fantastic. I don't want them to change that at all but I would be lying if I said Lionel as a villain didn't make for some fun TV. John Glover is just fantastic as evil Lionel and to have the chance to see him a few more times before the end is just a treat. Sure it's not the same Lionel but in a way this one is even worse. This one wasn't cured or changed by Superman... This one CHANGED Superman in to Ultraman. Sure I know it underscores the contributions of the Kents to Clark becoming Superman but I also think Clark has an innate goodness that outclasses his inner darkness and this Lionel managed to squash that.

    This isn't no Toy Man we're dealing with here. Now that he's loose on Earth-1? DANG! I know Darkseid is coming but part of me cannot help but wonder which would be worse?

    Lady Luthor's part in this episode was great. I really liked the friendship development we saw between her and Clark in this episode. Clark has good reason to miss trust Luthor's in general and while I know his words cut deep and were mean on the outside they were understandable. Yet once Clark learned the truth and saw how Lionel could corrupt even him he made things right with Tess as soon as he got back. He came to her and showed her compassion and forgiveness and admitted he was wrong for what he said. That scene in the mansion at the end was my favorite of the episode. Clark didn't stand over her and pass judgment or toss accusations over little Alexander. He listened and forgave, sitting down next to someone he now sees as a friend and ally and openly admitted his mistakes.

    Great scene well acted by Tom Welling and Cassidy Freeman.

    I really got a kick out of Lady Luthor's emergency response to finding out Clark was switched with a not so nice version. She gets a lot of points in my book by pushing the panic button, calling the league and getting Lois to safety ASAP even if it would expose her duplicity to the rest of the league. That says a lot about what side she is really on to me. The scene with Lois and that other guy's cell phone was certainly worth a laugh or two but they do need to be careful going down the big brother route with the justice league. There isn't

    Now don't get me wrong. This episode wasn't perfect even if I did enjoy some of the plot points and scene throughout...

    First of all I am not exactly keen on the idea that the Lex Luthor of Superman's future is a just a clone of Clark's teenage friend. Now I am not 100% sure that is where they are going but it seems more and more that way from this episode and I couldn't help but feel a bit disappointed by it. I know the comics have done the Lex clone thing before and it was still the "real" Lex in the clone body and all that but still...It is a little disappointing.

    I didn't like how Earth-2 Lois seemed to be so material. I know the whole soul mate thing and connection between her and Clark is there and I get that but I do not like how she was made to look like she was with Oliver-2 simply because she hadn't found anyone better. Part of me knows that is not exactly what they were going for but it did come across that way to me. I suppose maybe it just shows that without Clark in her life she wouldn't be exactly the best person either so I can forgive it but it was on my mind so I figured I will mention it here.

    I was a little disappointed we didn't see Clark face off against Ultraman but I guess that wouldn't work with the nature of the device used to move between dimensions. Still I would have liked to at least see the two talk to each other. A verbal face off over ideology if anything.

    Why was Clark-2 still named Clark? It just doesn't seem like a name Lionel would give a Luthor? Is there more to the story there? Was Ultraman found by the Kents-2, named, and then Lionel-2 took him from them? The Kent-2 Barn seemed to hold some meaning to them being a place Lady Luthor-2 and Ultraman met for "Quality" time. Maybe since Lionel-2 is going to be around a bit we will get the answers to that.

    While part of me would have liked to see the battle between Lady Luthor, the Arrow, and Lois-1 against Ultraman, I have to admit I found the way they did it very humorous. Having Clark return to a destroyed watchtower with everyone pointing Kryptonite at him wondering what the heck was going on here was almost laugh out loud funny. I do like that Clark's friends can hold their own against Ultraman.

    The WTF moment of the week goes to the Earth Two Lionel. Why? Well as far as I could tell a person using the "Mirror box" switches place with their Earth 1 counterpart when they use it. Thus Lionel-2 would have arrived in place of Lionel-1 right?... Well last time I checked Lionel-1 was under 6 feet of dirt on a hill in Metropolis. So... How exactly did Lionel-2 get out of that grave? Plus just out of morbid curiosity did a half decayed corpse show up in Ultraman's mansion? What the Fudge was up with that?

    So anyway. Lionel is back even if it's an alternate Lionel, Clark knows Lois doesn't hold alternate realities against him, Lady Luthor's secrets are all out and Clark has forgiven her, and lastly Bamby and Mamby have been paid for their "services".

    So I am giving this one a 4 out of 5!


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