Superman on Television

Smallville: Episode Reviews

Season 10 - Episode 12: "Collateral"



Reviewed by: Julian Finn

The purpose of the cliffhanger has become lost over the years. A cliffhanger was a reference to the short serials that were shown before each feature, and which almost always ended on a moment that was overly dramatic or life threatening to the hero of the serial. The point, you see, was to encourage audiences to come back each week to find out what happened next. The happy byproduct of that was, of course, increased ticket sales for films in an era that had no television or internet to use as advertising mediums.

With the birth of television and, eventually with it, the concept of programming breaks, the cliffhanger was put to good use ensuring that viewing audiences would be invested in picking up where they'd left off after weeks or months of no new content. And, much like with the movie serials, fans came to identify which shows deserved continued viewing through the magic of quality storytelling. Shows that delivered on their cliffhangers by providing a legitimate payoff to the tension they'd created were rewarded by continued viewership. Shows that didn't quickly lost the loyalty of their fanbase. In recent years American television in general has gotten much worse at delivering solid payoffs to the cliffhanger. The proliferation of formulaic dramas and sitcoms that don't function well with high levels of change has produced a landscape of increased laziness in the production of our entertainment. Genre programming however, because it is far easier to change the rules of a narrative when you're already playing in a much more fantastical sandbox, has often been the exception to this rule. Shows like The X Files, Lost, Star Trek TNG, Battlestar Galactica and Fringe have all come back from mid season and end of season breaks with radically game changing episodes that deliver well on the promises of their dramatic cliffhangers. Smallville too has had its share of good payoffs; the beginnings of Seasons 3 and 4 spring immediately to mind.

"Collateral" though...well, if we were deciding whether a show deserves to stay on the air based on the strength of its follow through on promises, Smallville should immediately be shoved in a burn bag and promptly forgotten.

"Icarus" left us with a mystery. Who tracked the heroes to Egypt and managed to incapacitate them so easily? Was it Darkseid? Slade? Maybe a last minute new addition to the chaos?

"Collateral" took that mystery and started off by answering it with a new one; why would someone go to all that effort to capture Clark and Co. just to release them into the wild again.

Man, I wish I'd taken the blue pill.

I would really like to know who on the production team thinks it's a good idea to keep doing Smallville versions of much better properties. Other shows, when they reference pop culture, tend to do so in a facetious fashion. Often those references are plays on breaking the fourth wall and are usually completely self aware; both the characters and the audience are let in on the joke. Or, sometimes, they can be an homage; respectfully referencing someone else's story to draw on ideas that would otherwise require miles of exposition to explain. Usually the references serve the story in some way. Or they're used to point out the farcical nature of something (I'm looking at you, Scary Movie).

But there's two common threads between all of those scenarios.

They're references. Good writers know how to take someone else's idea, nod to it and build it into their own story while making it very obvious that they're deliberately referring to someone else's work. They don't just steal something wholesale and play out a straight version of it within their own construct.

There's a purpose behind the use. Story elements aren't just thrown in because someone thinks that they'd be cool. There are reasons for things to be happening.

"Collateral" was guilty of violating both of those rules.

What we got, after weeks of waiting, was a straight up Matrix rip-off that had no discernible purpose. It was lazy writing at its worst and I wasn't shocked to see that Jordan Hawley, the man responsible for another episode I felt was without purpose, "Hostage," was behind it.

Oh, Smallville. I know it can be confusing sometimes. You've got decades of source material to work with, a mandate to actually acknowledge that this version of Clark Kent is in fact supposed to become Superman and a network that has apparently decided this year that it's okay to embrace the full on craziness that the DCU contains and is willing to let you throw whatever comic book madness you want at primetime TV. I can see how you could run out of good ideas (no I don't). But why would you come back from a cliffhanger that could have had real consequences and immediately immerse us in a world that has none?

Also, the first Matrix was the only good one. A third sequel was really unnecessary.

What Worked

Precious little this week, sadly. I had let myself look forward to some resolution and, well, I'll get to that.

Really the only thing that stood out as "good" this week was the teeny tiny bit of forward character progression we got with Clark. It's rare that we get any real insight into Clark's psyche, he usually (and this might be a combination of the iconic nature of the character coupled with a lack of vision on the part of the writers) comes off fairly two dimensional and serves most often as a living embodiment of PLOT. Here we got a genuine peek behind his motivations. It makes sense that Clark would want to embrace the digital world as the real one; here he has no powers, he's not different in any significant way from "normal" people and, as such, he can abandon his responsibility to the world at large. We also got a fairly decent explanation for his lack of flight to date; again, he wants to embrace the things that make him human and soaring above the clouds is very much an act that would place him outside the spectrum of normal. To escape the digital world he didn't just have to believe that it was fake, he had to actually come to terms with what he is.

It was interesting that, in service of that point, everyone else affected by the VRA seemed far more interested in getting back to normal than Clark. Dinah in particular was incensed on the subject but I really believed that Clark would have been happier with the status quo. It's not a mindset I'm particularly sympathetic to; I think the reluctant hero schtick is out of place for Superman, but at least it showed character consistency.

Things like the return of Chloe and the Lois and Clark flight should have been standout moments, but they were utterly marred by factors that I'll discuss below.

That being said, the Chloe and Oliver scenes were very emotionally powerful. They have a relationship that is eminently more believable than anything we see from Clark and Lois (maybe because it wasn't artificially accelerated to fit the plot). BUT...when you have two characters that are that emotionally invested in each other, it becomes the height of tacky to throw nods to future continuity in the form of knowing glances (knowing what, I'm not sure because none of that groundwork has been laid yet) between Ollie and Dinah made behind Chloe's back. It was a significant enough pause in the show's narrative that I noticed it and, while the fan in me had a moment of, "Hey, that's neat because they're going to get together later on and this is the birth of one of the EPIC DC ROMANCES," the human in me shook his head and said, "That's just gross."

Again, it was the type of moment that happens all too often on this show, where common sense is thrown out the window in favor of cool factor.

Also, I have to give credit to the visuals of this episode. At least in part. Yeah there were a couple of really hinky effects moments. Chloe walking through the wall was poorly rendered, and the scene near the end of the episode where she plucks the floating knife out of the air was laughably bad. But this is the CW, I don't expect an effects extravaganza from a network that perpetually shocks me by staying afloat financially. That said, I've really noticed that they've stepped up their cinematography game this year. The use of overexposure and slightly odd shooting angles for the digital world did a great job of making you feel that something was perpetually just not right.

The trailer for next week's episode was also pretty awesome.

That is all.

What Didn't Work

The Plot:

The entire execution of "Collateral" was just bad. The same group of stormtroopers that couldn't hold onto Clark and Co. suddenly have the tech to not just incapacitate them but force them into cyberspace comas where their environment is set up and constantly maintained by a program that monitors and links all of their subconscious minds in a uniformly perfect replica of the real world?

Yeah, I'm going to have to go ahead and call shenanigans. There are nitpicks I could make about the levels of technology at play here, but it seems insane to go into that level of detail for something this transparently bad.

Flat out this was just a bad idea, from top to bottom.

I was expecting a real threat, not the cyber equivalent of leaving your prisoners in a tank of water infested with laser equipped sharks. Who rounds up the Justice League, hooks them up to a Playstation and then goes out for tea?

Smallville villains, that's who.

It would have been a bad enough resolution without all the Matrix thieving. Chloe wearing the inverse colors of the standard trendy Matrix wear? Bad. Bullet time fight scenes and manipulation of the digital world? Not even an attempt at originality. Constant droning about the nature of belief and reality but dumbed down about 50 IQ points? Well, you get the idea.

All of this was better when we first saw it 12 years ago and there was no real point to any of it here. Yeah, we got that little bit of movement on Clark's character, but that could have been accomplished any number of different ways, years ago, and no one would have had to play the part of The One.

Speaking of, the fact that Chloe was both an analogue for Neo and, at the end of the episode, Agent Smith, was kind of nea...

Wait, no. No, it wasn't. It was pointless, remember? If anything, Chloe becoming MultiChloe, calling Clark a superhero, and just kind of being meekly menacing just reaffirmed Clark's lack of belief in the digital world and forced him to fly out of sheer desperation to escape her inane nattering.

All told this was right up there on the unnecessarily dumb scale with the adaptation they did of Saw a few seasons back or this year's "Harvest" (which in hindsight seems less insulting now).

Chloe blackmailing the Suicide Squad doesn't really play.

"I told them I could either report them to the government or they could report to me."


These guys were actively acting against the government, or at least one division of it. Also, their name is the Suicide Squad not the namby pamby please don't tell our mommies squad. I really don't buy that the same people who casually blow up buildings housing civilian protesters would really bow and scrape to Chloe Sullivan just because she threatens to report them to the authorities.

Psst. Chloe. I'm pretty sure the authorities already know who they are.

It's just...gah.

The fact that she's only present here because we're expected to believe that this whole plot thread is somehow viable utterly ruins her return. It's a shoe horn explanation for a logically inconsistent turn of events.

And that's the whole plot. Superheroes are trapped powerless in the Matrix and Chloe blackmailed the bad men who kidnapped her and now they're kind of good. Oh, and lies can be good if the intention behind them is good. Or something. Also, Ollie's "equilibrium" counts as a superpower somehow and they took it away from him so he should be unable to walk.

Utterly pointless.

The Characters:

Everyone except Clark is a piece of paper in this episode. Lois is dutifully worried and supportive in equal measures. Ollie acts the way a person in a straight jacket acts, solely because his character has been put in a straight jacket (in the world's weirdest padded cell. To my knowledge psychiatric wards are not set up like the zoo with giant plexiglass observation walls). He's not really crazy, the world just doesn't make sense to him so he lashes out, gets committed and then starts making with the hyperventilation and crazy eyes. Dinah is...well, she's just pretty unlikable.

She's even more aggressively conservative than the last time we saw her, up to and including the fact that she basically implies to Clark that he should just kill Chloe. She speaks in horrible platitudes and espouses a black and white world view throughout that just makes me cringe. In short, she's not human. Which I guess makes it okay when Lois starts busting in on her with the Tea Party references, 'cause you don't feel bad making broad sweeping generalizations about someone who clearly has no feelings, but otherwise makes her screen time a little more than excruciating.

Rick Flag and Deadshot are suddenly making with the aw-shucks sheepish reluctant hero trappings, which I guess is supposed to make us forget that they're really really bad guys. And, for no other reason than the fact that he's now playing on the side of the angels, Flag walks out into the bullet spray of a dozen stormtroopers and starts casually picking them off. 'Cause shooting from cover is for girls.

And oh dear, what is up with Lt. Trotter? She had zero personality in "Icarus" but here I kept expecting her to start cackling maniacally. Dear Smallville writing staff; people, not even incredibly awful people, think of themselves as evil. Everyone tries to justify their actions. Except Dr. No. And, apparently, Lt. Trotter and the entire staff of the VRA. If I don't see Omega symbols on the skulls of every single one of these goons, I'm going to call this out as the laziest example of villain writing in the history of the English language.

And when did the Vigilante Registration Act, become the Vigilante Registration Agency? Why would you even need a separate agency? Aren't there only a dozen or so active vigilantes at the most?

Resounding Headdesk.

The Flight:

This deserves its own section just because of how grievous a slap it was. Clark, not Kal-El, but Clark, finally flies, with Lois, and it's not real.

I'm going to let that sink in for a second.

Not only is it not real, it's all but implied that he's shed his final mental block to actually flying and then he follows it up with;

"Who knows? Maybe one day we'll get to fly in the real world."



I'm calling it now. I had hoped that we would see a back half of this season where Clark was in flight and maybe a couple of episodes with him in the suit. I've now lost all of my optimism. I think we'll see him change into the suit in the finale and take flight for a couple of seconds. And that'll be about it.

I hope I'm wrong.

So that's my first full year writing for this site. I started right after the break in season nine and here we are at the rundown to the series finale. It's sad that it has to start on such a downer.

2 out of 5



Reviewed by: Douglas Trumble

Super Short Summary: Chloe returns channeling her inner Morpheus to get the heroes to take the red pill and escape their virtual prison but first she has to get them to believe there is no spoon or else they will go splat on their way back.

Welcome back. Here we go on the final stretch to the great big finale.

There were some really good things this week but I find myself without a lot to say about this one. Maybe it was due to the cliffhanger wrap up feel but I just didn't get a whole new episode feel to this one. It felt more like the ending of the previous episode. We saw their capture... and now their escape thanks to Chloe coming back to rescue them. That is about it. Have to admit the "Magic Mask told me to leave" excuse was a bit weak. Can't say that worked for me.

Also I get why Chloe took over the Suicide Squad but you would think one of the JLA members might have a talk with her about lethal force. Maybe they will later. I know Canary did bring it up in the virtual world but it was not mentioned after they escaped and I did see plenty of lethal force being used by Chloe's team. I am not going to jump all over it yet because I am hoping it will be covered in future episodes but it does need to be said.

Anyway other than that I really enjoyed the episode.

Plugging the heroes into a computer was a great way to keep them from trying to break out. I liked that and found it fitting to the Smallville universe. We've seen similar things before and this way of doing it made a lot of sense to me as one of the few "prisons" that would work for more than an hour or two for the world's most powerful people.

Chloe was just all kinds of cool. I loved her entrance. Very stylish. Sure they went a bit over board on the Matrix homage but that's ok. It was fun. Her kung fu was awesome when she and the Canary went toe to toe.

It was good to see Oliver and Lois quickly come to trust Chloe. I found that very fitting to their characters. I also like how Clark showed some doubts. It's good to see our Superman struggle with real human emotions and responses and work them out in the right way. When Chloe first left, Clark did put his trust in her choice but you cannot tell me there wouldn't be some lingering doubt. Anyone would have some. I think this episode explored that natural human response in a good way without making Clark look like a jerk. I also really liked what Lois said to Clark about what his mind was saying versus what his heart was saying. That was a very nice scene.

Clark finally going Neo and taking off was really cool and a great visual even if it was just a virtual flight. I like that Superman didn't just jump off the building. No. He and Lois left the Matrix in style. Clark needs to get his mind off what he feels is impossible for him to fully take flight. Being in virtual land helped him in this instance and I am hoping that will help him get the mind set he needs to fly in the real world.

I was very touched by the Chloe and Oliver scenes in this. They did not just hug and kiss and move on. There was some lingering baggage with Chloe leaving that needed to be properly addressed and I for one was pleased with how they laid it all out in this episode. Clark's lingering distrust was understandable as I said but Oliver had even more reason to feel hurt and betrayed.

The WTF moment of the week this week goes to Chloe. Call it my welcome back present. As I understood it the bad guys had all superheroes on ice right? So exactly why did Chloe and her goons stop at just three and Superman's plus one when freeing them? I didn't get that part. I understand that actor availability dictated what they could do here but it left a very large logic hole in this story.

Why exactly would you stop trying to free Superheroes after Black Canary? Sure. I get that Clark was the logical first choice after Chloe freed her boy toy but Clark wasn't bending the spoon just yet so it makes sense she move on to someone else. But Black Canary is your next choice? Nothing against her personally but you would think Manhunter with his mind powers or Cyborg with his built in USB ports would be a bit higher on the priority "to free" list than the ninja girl with the suped up vocal cords. Seriously Chloe... What the Fudge?

So anyway. It wraps up the pre-holiday cliff hanger with style using maybe just a little too much inspiration from a Keanu Reeves movie. And with the exception of a weak excuse for Allison Mack to take time off it was a very solid episode.

I give it a 4 out of 5.


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