Superman on Television
Smallville: Episode Reviews
Season 10 - Episode 14: "Masquerade"Reviews:
MasqueradeReviewed by: Julian Finn
Friday afternoon I was on a bus coming home from Edson, Alberta and I started to get a movie craving. But I couldn't decide. Did I want to watch Date Night, Mr. And Mrs. Smith, or Seven.
Silly me, why should I have to choose?
I've constantly bemoaned the tendency of Smallville to occasionally commit open plagiarism. We've now moved beyond the occasional and into the realms of dependency. This is the last season of a show that has 75 plus years of story to mine; I'm really starting to get chuffed at the fact that I'm being subjected to Readers Digest versions of movies that are no longer or never were culturally relevant. You know, instead of Superman stories.
I especially wasn't expecting it from Bryan Q. Miller.
That being said...
I didn't altogether mind the episode. There was more fun, in the 10 or so minutes of Clark Kent time we got in "Masquerade", than in the total combined last two episodes. Nothing really made any sense and Chloe and Oliver were pretty much execrable in the bulk of their scenes together, but still, there was some fun.
And I'm glad that Smallville finally drew a line in the sand on whether Clark or Superman is the real identity. It's a moot distinction at this point, but still.
On with the rev...
I want to address something first.
In the comments last week someone brought up the idea that I try to apply too high an expectation of reality in my analyses of Smallville. The argument essentially was that, since Smallville is a show about Superman, who exists in an unrealistic world, then the writing cannot be judged on whether it meets a standard based in reality. In other words; the man can leap tall buildings in a single bound, why are you quibbling about whether or not a popular election is possible in the U.S.? The commenter also made the point that, since Clark, Lois, Ollie et al, are all well defined, preexisting characters in other mediums, I couldn't reasonably expect anything resembling character development or growth. The argument is that these are archetypal characters so the usual rules against light switch behaviours can't apply; when Lois hits a benchmark in her timeline, it just becomes time for her to act in a new way.
I'm paraphrasing heavily there but that was the gist.
I was going to respond in the comments but I decided to see if this week's episode would give me an opportunity to tackle this issue in depth; I've seen this argument before and I wanted to have some firm, current examples to refute it with.
First, to the commenter in question, even though I disagree (and not just a little bit) with your points, I want to tell you that I thoroughly appreciated that you framed your argument civilly. About ten minutes before your post I received my first piece of legitimate hate mail since starting this review and, while that elicited a chuckle and got forwarded to the bulk of friends for mass mocking, I certainly got to think more about your points, as you clearly had something more articulate to get across than, "Why don't you just die?"
All genre fiction contains either fantastical or elements of heightened reality. The fact that it's consumed in mass quantities is a testament to the fact that people connect to that kind of material. It's simple escapism. But science fiction, horror, and all manner of speculative fiction also present an interesting way to examine the human condition; how will a person react to the stimulus of facing an actual dragon?
The key that makes good genre fiction successful is the acknowledgement that, while certain fantastical elements exist, the characters, their relationships and the choices they make have to remain consistent with core sets of rules. In other words, you have to pay attention to the details. It doesn't matter if your story is set on a spaceship or a different world or an alternate England, you have to establish the rules of the environment and then loose believable characters into that environment that behave in a human and relatable fashion.
And that last part is crucial. If your characters don't interact with their world in a believable fashion, or their world and the rules governing it are constantly in flux depending on the needs of the plot, you wind up with a mess that makes no sense. Kind of like "Masquerade".
As to the question of the characters being archetypal; if that were the case no one would watch the show. The thing that causes these characters to endure is the fact that they constantly evolve as things happen to them. You know, the way people do. For example, the build up to Infinite Crisis was full references to the way all of the DCU principals; Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, etc. had become darker as a result of recent events.
These aren't static characters always behaving identically; the plot causes the characters to react in certain ways and those reactions shape the next layers of plot. That's how good writing works.
Besides, these versions of the characters have had their backgrounds and timelines so thoroughly messed about that, as is always pointed out to me, they should almost be treated as Elseworld's versions of themselves, which makes the idea of the archetypal character set moot.
Now, this week on Smallville...
"Masquerade" could have been fantastic.
You had broad strokes of meta-plot involving Darkseid and the Omega symbols, Clark finally starting to establish his secret identity, and Green Arrow getting involved in the kind of comic booky adventure that non-powered adventurers always seem to find themselves in when there isn't a massive event happening.
But none of it made any sense.
Again, this episode had a level of energy to it that made me want to forgive its flaws. Clark suffering through Lois' interpretation of how she thought his costume should look was brilliant. There was a missed opportunity here to openly mock the hoody and sunglasses look that has become the de facto superhero costume on this show, but I'm going to pretend that the look of sheer disgust on Clark's face was actually meant to be a dig at Smallville's costume design.
Likewise, Welling's channeling of Christopher Reeve at the end of the episode and burying himself under that meek facade was shockingly well done. I'll discuss further down why it's utterly meaningless, but the performance deserves kudos.
I kind of dug the way Clark suddenly has tons of respect as a reporter. Again, it was a bit light switch, but he's a minor celebrity now and people do have a tendency to act a bit starstruck around the famous.
On the surface the Chloe and Oliver A plot was tons of fun; you know, aside from the fact that it blatantly cobbled together the plot elements of the three movies I mentioned up top and dared to give someone writing credit for it; but it totally fell down on the first level of critical examination.
Honestly, there wasn't a ton here that stood out as positive, but I would still watch this over and over again before ever thinking to re-watch "Collateral". Maybe it was just that the actors seemed to be having more fun, or maybe I was just in a fantastic mood and the fan service moments hit home a bit harder; I can't really tell you.
I know I didn't turn off my TV frustrated.
What Didn't Work
The actual plot(s).
So Clark is randomly super-speeding around the world, apparently for the purpose of mugging for cameras. Cause, you know, he's supposed to be lighting up the darkness, or some such. And it's getting caught on film that ultimately causes him to put the whole secret identity plan into action. As mentioned above, and by Lois in the episode, and pointed out by that annoying little forensics guy, Clark has a somewhat famous face now so he needs to make sure that he's not recognized.
Read that again.
Now, follow the bouncing ball.
The only reason the rest of the Clark action in the episode actually happens is because Miller and the rest of the Smallville writing team have decided that Clark must be written as a complete moron to cover up nine years of not planning ahead.
Clark literally stops and allows himself to be videotaped before he's put together his secret identity. I get that when the general populace think about Superman the first things that come to mind are the flying and the super-strength, I really do, but must we assume that he's a dumb jock just because he's strong and fast? And shouldn't the writers of a show about Superman know better?
Clark uses his new celebrity to access crime scenes and do other things that he wouldn't normally be able to do. Which is douchy on two levels. One, it's Superman being elitist and taking advantage of other people's willingness to break the rules for him. But more importantly, he could easily stand 20 stories above the crime scene and use micro-vision to examine everything!
Now, you may be asking yourself, "Self, that's an excellent point, why would he put up with annoying CSI guy when he could just use his powers to investigate from afar?"
Ah, but if he did that, he wouldn't be able to rescue annoying CSI guy after he basically accuses Clark of being the Blur, and do it by using superpowers. In public.
No one is this stupid.
Except for maybe the writers. Because I'm thinking that the only reason they've started pulling crap like this is that they've finally realized just how much hammering it's going to take to get this story to sync up with anything that resembles Superman with only 12 hours left. There is a lot of damage to undo and, if Clark has to develop a temporary mental disability, then that is apparently something that is just going to have to happen.
There's a lot of this in "Masquerade".
And then there was the whole mess of Oliver and Chloe. But mostly Oliver.
As an aside, can I tell you how ridiculous I find it that, in the back half of the final season of Smallville, which is ostensibly about Clark Kent before he becomes Superman, we just watched an episode where the A-Plot featured Green Arrow and Chloe rather than the main character?
Oliver isn't a fugitive anymore. The VRA was magically repealed last week. So he doesn't need to hide or dye his hair and wear sunglasses or whatever.
But, be that as it may, he was a fugitive last week. A big one. America's Most Wanted big. So nothing else that happens for the rest of the episode makes a lick of sense.
First, in the Date Night portion of the plot, Chloe and Oliver get sucked into a whack-a-doo kidnapping scenario through the benefit of the most unlikely and fortuitous coincidence in the history of terrible plotting. Really? We're really expected to believe that they just happen to steal the reservation of a pair of FBI agents who are working on the exact same case as them? How many millions of people live in Metropolis? Wouldn't that be the equivalent of winning the Power Ball six times in a row while being hit by lightning and catching a home run ball?
And then, and this is my favorite part, when they're let out of the trunk and are being questioned by their captors, who are FBI agents, trained to be generally perceptive and, you know, investigate stuff, the agents don't recognize Oliver. None of them.
Oliver, who until last week was so wanted by federal authorities that now, even though he's not on the lam anymore, he still thinks he needs disguises in public. Apparently he could have walked around freely this whole time because, despite the fact his face was being circulated on the back of milk cartons and wanted posters all across the nation, a half dozen federal officers don't recognize him.
And then, just to make it that little bit worse, after Chloe goes missing from outside the building that they're pretty sure is Desaad's headquarters, Oliver doesn't bother going back into the building to check and see if she's been taken inside.
Things like this occur only because the writers have determined what the plot must be and there's no time to go back and rewrite the whole thing before shooting starts. There's no justification for any of it, there's not a drop of intelligence behind these sequences; it's just a case of plot ruling and internal logic and character behaviour being thrown along the wayside.
The scenes where Chloe is being put through the Se7en, pardon me, seven sins trial could have been really creepy and effective. Except, once Chloe figures it out and blatantly tells Desaad that she's figured it out, it all feels a bit forced and ineffective. Although, I have to say, the Chloe vs. Chloe scene detailing her pride was very well done and didn't remind me at all of the Fight Yourself rounds of Mortal Kombat.
There's lot's more that would qualify as minor quibbling; Desaad doesn't really come off as an archetype of perversion, just kind of sleazy, the idea that Darkseid needs to elicit tacit consent from his victims is a bit weird, Clark being held in place just long enough for Ollie to be corrupted and then inexplicably freeing himself was just more heightened convenience in an episode ripe with it, but you get the drift. If the characters had acted at all like people actually do, 34 minutes of this episode wouldn't have happened.
But the one that really sticks in my teeth is the secret identity.
Was it cool to see Clark make that transition? Absolutely. But it was utterly ruined by the fact that it took place after he's been working at the Daily Planet for over two years. His whole stated reason for disguising the Clark portion of his identity is that he's been spotted as the Blur and he needs to find a way to live a normal life in addition to being a Superhero. But he's already a minor celebrity as Clark Kent. His face is plastered beside his byline on the most read newspaper in a major American city. And his coworkers all know him in the way he's presented himself every minute of everyday for two years. The glasses and slouching disguise is hard enough to believe when it's set before he gets to Metropolis; are we really expected to believe that an entire building of people; a staff that is populated in part by investigative journalists, is really not going to notice that Clark Kent is suddenly acting like a complete tool and has developed an overnight astigmatism?
I can hear the tin drums of the plot gods clanging happily in the background.
2.5 out of 5
And it only gets the extra half point because they made fun of the hoodies.
MasqueradeReviewed by: Douglas Trumble
Super Short Summary: The Blur ends up on Youtube drawing the wrath of Lois while Watchtower and the Green Arrow steal someone's dinner reservations, beat up a bunch of FBI agents, and end up in trouble with a serial killer from Apocalypse.
It was fun to see Oliver and Chloe out on the town and growing their relationship. Too much of their relationship had been based on physical activities with their shirts off, so it is about time we see them actually out on a date. Sure their date ended up with them assaulting Federal agents, Chloe kidnapped and Oliver mind-whammied by one of Darkseid's goons but then that is kind of what you would expect from those two. I certainly enjoyed watching Chloe outsmart the visions trying to tempt her.
It will be interesting to see where they go with Oliver being marked by the Darkness. Are they in control of him now or is it just something that will allow them to control him or use him in the future?
Despite being the over all main plot of the episode however, the stuff with the darkness and Chloe's kidnapping is really not the best part of this episode. While Oliver and Chloe were off doing their thing we had some really cool developments going on between Clark and Lois.
The fact that Clark ended up on the internet was perhaps the most realistic way a Superhero in modern society would be "outed".
I also found it hilarious how many people already suspect him in some way. I found it very interesting the way all the police at the crime scene treated him. Not just the fanboy CSI tech but even the regular cops were showing him a respect beyond what you would expect them to show a reporter. Even a good honest, law enforcement friendly one. It's reasonable to assume there is a high chance Dan Turpin already knows Clark is the Blur and you could even argue that Maggie Sawyer should at least suspect it after all her encounters with Clark. I find the idea that many officers do know or suspect fun and interesting. Especially considering they obviously did not do anything about it during the Vigilante Registration Act.
Superman has always been a hero that works openly with the Metropolis Police. The fact they may already be "not following up leads" to his identity at the moment out of respect for what he does is nice to see. The CSI tech's reaction to Clark saving him was really funny.
Lois' "prototype" alterations to Clark's costume were just drop down funny. Especially when you consider all the internet traffic where people were worried Clark would adopt the hoodie and sunglass look as a costume. It's fun to see them play with that a bit.
Most of all though I just find it fun to see Lois working with Clark developing the Superman persona. The fact that in the end he chose to do the glasses thing, an idea that originally came from her, was a highlight of the episode.
Another fantastic moment was Clark explaining to Lois about what he saw in the Morgue and on the photo. When Lois ripped on him about calling it "micro-vision" and he said the line "it's my power, I can call it what I want." I had to pause because I was laughing so hard I couldn't continue to pay attention. That could very well be the funniest exchange of the season.
It was a little disturbing seeing all the dead bodies hung up. Don't really expect that on a show like this. Still it is understandable. We are dealing with Darkseid and his minions here. Not Kitty Galore. Just be warned there are a couple of scenes that might be wise to look away from if you are squeamish about such things.
The WTF moment of the week goes to Lois and her Barbie Dream Chapel. So she's in the news room planning her wedding. Ok I get that. She has little figures for all the guests so she can plot out who's going to stand where and what not. I get that too. But there is one thing I do not get. Does anyone else think that by having figures of Superheroes in costume in her set up she might be exposing them to discovery by anyone else in the newsroom who happens to see her doll house and then goes to the wedding? Seriously Lois, What The Fudge!? You're the one who has been riding Clark about identity discipline.
Good episode with Clark finally taking the step to put on the glasses and some decent movement on the Darkseid plot.
I give it a 4 out of 5.
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