Superman on Television

Smallville: Episode Reviews

Season 10 - Episode 19: "Dominion"



Reviewed by: Marc Pritchard

"You are not the president." - Terrence Stamp as Zod

What Smallville tends to get right above all else is casting, principal and supporting roles alike. So it is (and was before) with Callum Blue as Zod, returning in "Dominion" once more to seek but not to find either solidarity with, or the cold destruction of, Kal-El of Krypton. Blue does violently, sociopathically homesick well, and from a real-world-career perspective can be pardoned for agreeing to return to this role for a final curtain. But as none of us could have had any idea that that particular curtain was even open, the attempt to exploit any available mystery around Zod's role as Clark and Oliver's Phantom Zone captor (cf. the slow lifting of Zod's shrouded head at the moment of revelation) simply exposes what Smallville tends not to get so right: building plots illogically on the ragged edges of inconsistent character behaviors and motivations.

On the whole, this short-coming is partly the fault of marketing - all the advance clips and stills and whatnot that prevent the device of dramatic surprise from ever getting to work its magic on its audience. We see Welling and Hartley act as though Clark and Oliver are surprised at the revelation of Zod's presence, but much of the real drama we could have enjoyed is lost because we all knew it was coming and, what's more, we'd known about it for days (if not weeks). I'd even go so far as to call it tragic in this case especially because using Zod, in what is at root a filler episode to serve what is at best a supplemental function, would otherwise have been a real surprise.

The threads, they do hang

When the Zod of Donner's Superman II utters the line quoted at the head of this review, it serves a dual purpose - to further the story (e.g. presenting a milestone in Zod's campaign to rule the world) and to develop Zod's character (as e.g. brilliant, cunning, etc.). Everything you need to know about Zod is communicated elegantly and economically in that scene.

If only the Smallville team would figure this out.

In "Dominion," not much is elegant, and almost none of it is economical. We have a plot with a two-fold concern: first, to set Oliver on a path to rid himself of the dark mark (because, fair enough, his emerging fully victorious is part of Clark's final triumph, as well); second, to build momentum to the wedding, which though of interest I'm sure to some viewers is utterly irrelevant to me. What's more, this pair of story-telling objectives hardly needed a full episode to set in motion.

I am, in any case, interested in Oliver's story. All the jokes about Pseudo-Batman and contractual obligations involving shirtlessness (not to mention complaints about the lack of goatee) aside, Justin Hartley admirably pulls off the acting demands made on him most of the time. But Oliver's appearance in this episode is basically as contrived as Zod's own, except that it advances the business involving his "infection" (which, yeah, we were wondering about, and are invested in) and how, if not quite whether, he can be free of it. In other words, Oliver joins Clark on this improbable mission not because it makes sense for Oliver to join but because Oliver is needed at the other end of his arc before the finale.

Similarly, we are treated to Zod not because it makes sense to resuscitate him but because he affords an admittedly logical (and unique if otherwise altogether, as mentioned, uninteresting) way to direct focus onto the upcoming nuptials - namely, Krypton. To wit: the fact of Clark's alien heritage has always been the central divide not only between Clark and everyone around him (more or less) but also between Clark and his own full potential. His coming to terms with, and embracing, this central fact has all along been the driving force behind this show, especially this season. So, using Kryptonian Zod to bring this to the fore is an appropriate, if monumentally superfluous, way to trigger a decision by Clark to bring Lois to the Fortress in search of Jor-El's blessing - an attempt, through custom and ceremony, literally to bridge the divide not only between him and Lois but between him and Earth. And as much as I don't really care about the wedding per se, I will suggest that marriage is a generically appropriate tool with which to bestow upon Clark just enough of the stable emotional normalcy he's always wanted for him finally to be confident enough to don the tights and take the flights we've always been denied. So, fine. Let's just get on with it already.

Beyond wedding plans, of course we do get the conclusive wrap-up that Zod is now a singular entity, no longer both the earlier phantom incarnation that had inhabited Lex and the replicant/clone stored in that sphere from season eight. A once and forever Zod, if you like. Which is great, but one less job for Superman and miles away from what's worth caring about at this point in the telling of this story. (Note to producers: Worse than having Clark defeat all the main villains before even becoming Superman is having them defeated decisively, perchance never to return.)

It's the problem that Julian Finn correctly identified in his review of "Homecoming": That the effort to sync Smallville with a "collective unconscious" steeped in Donner's Superman in particular forces the creative team to make the kinds of choices that those of us who come to the show from our love of the source material have such a hard time excusing. Like "Mikhail Mxyzptlk."

Because, look: this whole season has been about everybody around him doing their bit to push Clark through that final gradation separating shadow from light - between Just Clark/The Blur and Superman. No other long-standing character has any more growing left to do, and the ones that were introduced this season (good guys, at any rate) have tended to hit their respective strides within single episodes, the exception being Clark Luthor (who anyway would have needed a full series to earn redemption convincingly, so let's never mind about him).

But surely there are uncountably better ways to get Lois to the Fortress where she can be the recipient of yet another of disembodied old Jor-El's spectacular manifestations of deus ex machina. Hell, just starting the episode there without all this week's set-up would be in no way bewildering from this show. Not that that coming powers-transference romp is in any way necessary, as Lois needs neither any more convincing nor any further perspective.

But if Clark doesn't get anything from the pending experience, I finally just might.


Stand-alone: 2 out of 5. Good performances, especially Blue. Frankly I'd had enough of Zod on this show by the end of season nine, and don't for a second feel that his return achieved anything necessary, but I can dig Callum Blue's interpretation of the character. Otherwise, the episode doesn't really work as a stand-alone, what with so little of consequence resolved and so much time spent looking around the coming corner. Meh.

As a chapter: 1 out of 5. The very definition of filler, all forward motion offered here could have been worked into other episodes. Seriously - what in this episode either moved the story forward or built on character development other than the scene between Oliver and Tess toward the end and the bit where Clark talks about sometimes following his compulsively controlling Kryptonian-side? I'll tell you what. Nothing. Lois, who is marrying Clark (!), has used death threats in service of her attempts to protect Clark before (see "Patriot"). Even when her motivation is clear, Tess is always caught in the middle. Zod himself hasn't changed (except for the triple knot holding together his spirituo-physical merger thing) but now has an improbably well-groomed beard and, conveniently, he knows that Oliver has the dark mark. Oh yeah, and Oliver has the dark mark.

Can do better. Must do better.



Reviewed by: Douglas Trumble

Super Short Summary: Clark's turn at judge and jury comes back to haunt him when word gets out that Slade has returned from the Phantom Zone. To be sure there are no more phantoms on the way Oliver and Clark travel to the Zone only to come face to face with Zod-Clone who has merged with the phantom of the original.

I would not have called the Zod-Clone story line a hanging thread myself since I believed the situation was taken care of when he was sent off with the other Kandorians. So with that in mind I kind of wondered why they would waist one of the final few episodes on bringing him back. I found myself pleasantly surprised by the turn of events when I learned that the phantom Zod that Brainiac put into Lex's body and the more recent Zod clone were now merged into one being. As much as I thought the story left him in a good place they one upped it and took their version of Zod to a whole other level. Now when thinking of enemies this Superman will face in his future we will no longer have to distinguish between Zod and Zod clone. This Zod was both and that was a pretty good turn of events.

I loved the few moments spent covering Clark and Lois moving in. The fact that Lois wanted to do it slow and not let Clark super speed it was fantastic. In fact I think Lois' reactions to what was going on throughout the episode where the highlight of it all. Not only with the unpacking but with her response to finding out Lady Luthor was going to blow the gate to the Phantom Zone. Lois' unwillingness to let Clark do the easy way of unpacking, her unwillingness to give up, and continuing to settle into their lives as if nothing was going on shows us that Lois understands perfectly what it will take to be the spouse of a superhero. They did a great job of using this situation to show her in this way.

The action in the Phantom Zone was fantastic. They may have trouble on the show showing Clark in a battle with powers but they do a great job when he has to fight powerless. I like that Clark was shown to actually have skills and could hold his own. Sure the fight with Oliver was a set up but Clark took the first guy down on his own. Plus that outfit was awesome with the dark red cape and Roman armor. The only thing that would have made it more awesome would have been if they put an "S" on the armor chest plate. They even avoided having Oliver shirtless. While yes, it was a violation of Justin Hartley's contract stipulating time spent topless, I found it a pleasant change of pace.

Got to give them props for a smart use of bringing Oliver with. Makes sense if Superpowers do not work in the Zone that you send someone whose abilities doesn't come from powers. Also makes sense that Clark would not allow it, so I was glad to see Oliver had to sort of "invite" himself.

Clark's confidence even when powerless was fantastic to see. I also liked that he was willing to risk a mortal wound to trick Zod and get the crystal back. Sure if it worked he'd be fine but if it didn't that wound he let Oliver give him would have killed him for sure. Gutsy.

Oliver seemed to overcome the Darkseid brand on him this time around but it's obvious they are setting him up to perhaps betray Clark or the League. I am personally just not sure if Oliver knows he is marked or just fears it? I don't think they made that clear. If they did I missed it.

The WTF moment of the week goes to General Zod. So like his body has the ability to operate Jor-El's escape hatch from the Phantom Zone. Okay, makes sense. Clark did give him a bit of his DNA to heal him. So... General sir? Why exactly are you still there where you are powerless and not leading an army of Zoners to take over Earth? Because Darkseid told you too? Seriously? What The Fudge General? Since when did you start taking orders from Darkseid?

Good episode that gives us a nice final twist to the Smallville version of Zod and takes a moment to show Lois shining as a Super Spouse. Toss in a few action scenes and Clark in a red cape and I am sold.

I give it 5 out of 5.


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