Superman on Television
Smallville: Episode Reviews
Season 4 - Episode 5: "Run"Reviewed by: Neal Bailey
I did some talking with folks about Smallville, and we've kind of figured out what's going on, we hope. Usually, the show starts off with a bang that tapers off by about the tenth episode, then there's a lot of filler episodes until the last few, when they ratchet it up. This season, they gave us one really good episode, took a few off, and now they're going to start ratcheting it up for sweeps. I guess I can forgive that. They can't all be winners (they say, I say they can be, if they just make less shows and make the ones they make REALLY count), but this episode, it would go into the win category.
So the idea is that though it started with the episodes usually reserved for mid-season, maybe they'll pay us back by making the mid-season quite a good bit more stricken with quality. We shall see!
On a strictly aesthetic level, this is the first Smallville in about 10 episodes that has less than three to four pages of notes. There are only two and a half pages, which usually is a good sign.
A reader recently wrote in questioning how filled with sarcasm my reviews are, how I can never just sit back and write out the good things about the show, and that's just true. This review isn't necessarily about the good points (because, being a writer for the Superman Homepage, you all know I watch this show out of love for the character), but about what can be improved. It's like, every time I could say, "Man, John plays a GREAT Pa Kent", but I figure you guys know that's how I feel. But having Clark throw a car right in front of a bunch of people, that's out of sorts for the show, so there's much more to comment on there, much more to say. And it leads to more humor.
This show, there's less to say, because all around it sticks to a good formula.
No freak (not really, because Bart didn't go homicidal, even though he did a subjective wrong).
No real Clanas (though we came close, I'll get to it).
No Kryptonite save in its "Neal approved" use, taking Clark down a peg as a weakness and not as, say, a way to make your hammer pound nails faster or something.
And we even have choice and powerful interactions between all characters.
What continually perplexes me is that you've gotta know the writers, producers, and actors all know which episodes are going to be great like this, and which are just going to be suckfests filled with crummy devices and bad concepts. Why do they not make all episodes like "Run"?
Well Neal, they have 22 episodes to fill. It's hard to come up with 22 episodes of top-notch entertainment!
Look, don't give me that. They are exorbitantly paid, they have multiple writers, there is no reason they can't, particularly if I could, and I can. And you know what? There are a lot of fanfics out there that have as well.
What frightens me? I think they actually think people like episodes like last week and the week before.
What frightens me more? They must be right, or they'd be going out of business. Food for thought.
That's the past, I know, but seeing an episode this good really makes you think about why you sat through the bad.
We opened up with a few previews, as is typical, but I don't think that I can watch them any more without a little sense of anger. Last week, as you may know, they gave us ten seconds of remembrance for Chris Reeve, few would deny one of the best actors to appear on Smallville, and then three minutes of face sucking with a nameless teenager. I'm still mad about that.
Eh, so more of the past, but waddaya want for nothing, a rubber biscuit? It's my first note!
"Be there like a Flash!" (at the fence). Good god, shoot me, I'm choking on cheese. But it's just a line.
It's a good opening, with Pa and Clark getting ready to finally take Lex up on that Sharks game, and they have a guy go homicidal and crazy in a real life way that I've seen and experienced, drunk driving. He nearly kills Pa, but enter The Flash, screaming in there and saving him, but for a price, with some GREAT stop-motion effects (see, we CAN have effects for reasons other than showing something cool, but because it makes sense in the plot!).
Bart steals Pa's wallet after he saves his life, and spends it in an immoral way (IE not the above), he goes and wastes it on a room. Clark moves in there and tries to redeem him. Oh, no, the same plot again! But no, it's not like that, because when they use a plot again that stinks (some kind of control makes characters act wacky who are normally reserved), it stinks, but when they use one that rules (Clark as a Christ-like redeemer of the fallen and the falling), it rules.
If stink, then stink, if rule, then rule. Eat that logic, Derrida!
Or deconstruct it, putz. Talk about a device I never want to see again. English flashbacks!
Now, this is an early note, but it's a relevant one. I wrote down, "Will they make any Rosenbaum/Flash jokes?". See, Rosenbaum is the voice of the Flash in the "Justice League Unlimted" cartoons (I know, duh, but some people might not know that yet), and it would have been funny to have them make a little parlay between the two or some inside joke, but they dropped the ball.
Flannel posse in the city! Clark and Pa just stuck out like sore thumbs. It was great, because I just went camping yesterday and had the same feeling, a flannel wearing guy in the middle of thug city. Good mise-en-scene. (Does that get a hyphen? Don't you hate that, when you know a term but you can't figure out if you're using it right? Eh, you guys are cool, you'll understand if I screwed it up.)
I realize, especially with this episode, that after all of the stupid stuff is gone, the reason why this show is working, and why it's working so well, at least for me, is that it's Ultimate Superman. Like the Ultimate Spider-Man comic books, this show takes parts of the myth that we all know and love, and it extrapolates them across time and demographics, and condenses it.
Jay Garrick, Wally West, Barry Allen, they become Bart Allen, an amalgamation of the three and Impulse (all characters from the comic books for those not in the know). The backpack with the lightning. The "club or league" joke. It kills redundant continuity which doesn't have to plague a good story because it simply doesn't exist, and it has the qualities of the characters we all know and love. You can argue that that waters down the total myth, but they're not taking away the Superman comics (the debate as to whether THEY are watering down the myth is another column), and if you think the character of the Flash is now undefined, that's why Smallville exists. To continue to define it.
Ma Kent turns Pa Kent down for work. Time to break out the old Lee and go and impress her, old man! Or maybe, just maybe, bring out Daisy Duke as a pheromone succubus who can make an interesting triangle... yeah!
That make-out scene was the most awkward and boring make-out scene I've ever seen in my life. I understand (and I've been having discussions to it since discussing Clark's sexuality last week) that this is a series where Clark and Lana can not really go "all the way" without besmirching their characters, and on consideration I agree although our society no longer stigmatizes sex like it did when Clark and Lana were declared wholesome. Nonetheless, what gets me, I realized upon thought, is not that Clark WOULD go all the way before marriage, but rather that the writers shouldn't even put him in a position where it would occur to simply titillate post-modern cynics like current TV viewers wanting "boobies" (because Clark shouldn't, being of that ephemeral and false fifties "All American" where we're good Christians who don't have sex until marriage, don't drink, etcetera)(while hiding homosexuals in the closet and beating our wives and hating people of "other races", it's a double edged sword, those "good ole days"). So Lana gets to stand and make-out with Jason while he rubs her back and kisses her, and we're supposed to believe that this is all that they're doing, but at the same time it's a 17 year-old dating a 19-24 year-old, and it's as adult as a night of sex.
It's like watching Aunt May kiss someone because the Spider-Man TV show is boring without sex sex sex.
And to add to the insult, it's outside of the mythos, with Clark and Lana (which I don't want to go back to in this show, but nonetheless), he's a Lana-centric character with no purpose except said titillation (he's a sex symbol, nothing more, and she's little more than that on this show save in the most extreme of situations), and it broaches the idea of sexual politics in a show that doesn't need it, at least not until college, and then with kid gloves, because this is Superman we're talking about.
So I see them making out, and all of this goes through my head. It's like, "What's the point? Do we need sex in our fiction that badly?" I write adult stories, so I have no qualms about the presence of physicality in our works, but I know also that there are shows where it makes sense. For instance, 90210 is a teen drama centered around characters who had to confront sex in their teens.
But Superman is the story of a guy who, fairly asexually, becomes the powerful father figure that is the idol for us all.
So they break from this, and he asks Lana about the tattoo. And of course, she lies. Why tell the truth when you can lie and make forced, bad drama.
And then she gets mad at him for asking about her tattoo, when a tattoo is immediately relative to Jason. After all, Jason has to be attracted to Lana, so marring her body is an issue that it is fair of him to ask about. If your wife is svelte when you meet her and suddenly gains 500 pounds, it changes how you look at her, though love conquers all, and it makes sense to ask her about it.
So she turns to him and says, "What was I supposed to do, ask your permission to get it?"
Which is several things, if you examine it. First, it's a passive aggressive guilt trip. It makes Jason feel bad for asking a perfectly reasonable question, and second, it's a bald-faced lie. She's telling him something that makes it an assumption that she went out and got it, which is not the case.
It'd be like if some fan came up to me on the street, (ha!) and said, "Hey Neal! You don't have a Mohawk any more!"
And the reason for that is firstly because it's hard to Elmer's glue your hair every day, and secondly because I want some long hair for the next Great Shave this year.
But imagine I just turned to that person, who has asked me a perfectly reasonable question, and because it's about my appearance (like it was with Lana), I just say, "What was I supposed to do, ask your opinion to cut my hair?"
And then add into that hypothetical that somebody had forced me to start growing my hair out again, and you'll start to see the level of ridiculousness we're dealing with here, and how I would be a total munch if I said something like that to someone.
What I really should say is "Jason...er, excuse me, fan. Thank you for noticing that something is different about me. This is why I did it, and this is how it happened."
And if they don't like it, "Sorry we disagree. Here's my rationale."
Not, "There are some things I'm not comfortable sharing with you yet."
Because trying to get me to buy the fact that it's okay to have secrets in a relationship is bogus. You cut ties with anyone who lies to you. That's what I do, and it makes sense. Until people can be truthful, cut them free. Give them a chance to explain (Clark and Lex), but don't abide by chicanery. Only the dude abides.
Clark and Lana, in one step.
"I can't tell you my secret, Lana." "Okay. Bye."
But since Lana is a passive aggressive amalgamation of everything that is bad and wrong about the fairer sex in multiple ways, we have to deal with her madness girl ranting and ravings and subtle plays of moronic power.
And though I can't remember exactly the name of the reader who sent in the "Affirming Dialogue" theory (write me again, I'll credit you, hombre), here we have a spectacular example of that. For those of you who don't remember, it's when a character wants to be passive aggressive but the writer still wants them to look friendly, so they have an "affirmation BUT disagreement" linguistic formation.
To Jason, "The last thing that I ever want to do is hurt you, BUT there are just some things I'm not comfortable sharing with you yet."
Which, when not flowered up (like ethnic cleansing for ritual race slaughter), it's "Jason, I like you, but I'm going to hide something from you."
Which any rational human being would respond to with contempt.
But Jason, being as empty a character as my bank is of cash right now, just smiles, laps it up, and loves the heck out of Lana.
And I'm sick of scenes like this. In a show like this, it makes no sense. Fill that time with a tribute to Reeve or a scene with Pete, and bring to a close this nonsense. It is for this that this otherwise fine show is knocked down a full point in my review.
There is one plus for Jason, at least. Despite little character, he does call Lana on her passive aggression, and makes her face her problem. That's good. But it doesn't justify having to sit through it again in the first place.
I'm sick of those scenes. So sick of them. Gough put it mildly in his interview with me when he said, "It gets kind of wearing". Yes, yes it does. He says that, because he doesn't want people to think less of his writing staff, but I, who have no hope at all of getting into that game, simply say the truth. "It makes you want to stop watching the show."
Now back to the good, because there is a lot. Like I said, bad notes breed a lot of writing, good notes go quick. It's the nature of criticism, and I apologize for it, though I didn't create it or foster its popularity over thousands of years...
Finally, after five episodes, we jump right back into the mysterious path Clark or Kal must follow to get to the storehouse of knowledge, with Lex right in the fray. It's well played that Clark and Lex, finally back together as friends, decide to work together to figure it out. It shows a great leap of character on the part of Lex, and it also enmeshes Clark in a situation where he has to be a liar to a man who is teetering on the brink of evil, while trying to save him. THAT is drama, not whether or not Jason approves of Lana's tattoo and whether Lana approves of it.
We get a new villain and hero team across history, beyond Naman and Zegeeth, and it's historical. It talks of final battles, mysteries, all of the things comics draw from. This, I can't emphasize more, is a masterful construct on the part of the writers, and when they do torque it (which is increasingly rare, but they do), it's what makes the show for me. Not only do we get the coolness of the Flash, the subplot just really works too. Good work.
How amazingly cool is the fact that Flash does the water-walk. You know Loeb's gotta be somewhere behind that. That's just a great nod to the fans. What I want to know is why Clark didn't try to follow him. Now THAT would have been cool. Still, just a great effect.
Then having him in the Kent farm, just great pacing, great character, it's just a great scene, hands down, almost a blood rain quality sequence, one of those you just open the show to watch that scene and then close it because of how cool it was.
I claim ignorance to a lot of The Flash (he's never been my favorite, but I know him in context. It's always been a "Oh, he can go really fast? Well so can Superman, but Superman can shoot fire from his eyes. NEXT!"), not because I don't like him, but it's always been like, "Waddaya want, kid? A Flash comic and a Superman comic, or two Supermans?"
Hmmm...let me think.
So I know that in the comics Barry died in "Crisis", I know about Impulse in his early days, but other than that, I'm fairly ignorant. So I'm not sure which Flash they took the origin from, but it was kind of vague, likely purposefully.
New subject. It's hard not to identify with Bart's desire to steal.
See, that's something that The Elite and all these other superhero killers that a lot of people dig in comic books bring to the fray that I've never liked. Harm for good. The ends justify the means. But with Bart, it makes some sense. You save someone, you take their cash. Or, you need to survive, you take something that insurance will cover. Blah blah, it raises the price for everyone when you steal, but here's my tacit endorsement. You starving? Go ahead and steal food. It's moral. Try to get a job, but if you live in a system where you cannot eat because you're hungry, it's not immoral to take food from people with too much. Put it in another context. You are on dialysis, if you don't get your blood changed you will die, but they cut you off because of insurance reasons. Is it morally wrong to force someone to change your blood to save your life? Hard to deny. Though I'm sure some of you will.
But many will argue, as Clark has, that's not the point. Not when you make mistakes in your morality and buy classy hotel rooms.
So I'm saying that I identified with Bart's need, I mean, how often do the poor consider robbing a bank, but if you can avoid it, if you can make yourself a better person without it, Clark's mentoring, for instance, it's a great play of character and a human dilemma most of us understand. It got me thinking, and I like that.
Going to Miami was great, and it shows that Clark has a human side, and we miss that a lot. I still think this has horrible ramifications for the whole Pete argument (that Clark can see him any time he wants), but it was a fun scene.
Yeah, I know, Pete kind of didn't want to see Clark any more, but if Clark won't give up on Lex, Perry, or Bart, why would he give up on Pete?
Oh yeah! Ratings. Sigh.
I didn't translate that tablet, because frankly, it's slow work translating that tablet, and what happens is I usually do all the work, then someone sends it in, and I feel stupid. Or hey, if they don't, it's usually online somewhere. Stay tuned for more on it next week in business.
It's a neat device, and it's cool that they're tying it in to Superman all around the world. They'd better make it cohesive, explaining how Jor-El skipped across time and why Superman is intrinsically related with the rest of the Earth's history, but I like it now, as it's playing out.
"Nobody gets that rich playing it straight." From Bart. Amen, that's all I have to say to that. Go working class. Personal hurrah moment, because it's true.
The dilemma I mentioned earlier, of Lex having to make Clark lie, plays itself out well. Clark has to say he doesn't know who took the piece, even though he does, and Lex just really tears it into Clark, telling him that he trusts him, he knows he wouldn't lie.
This despite the fact that Clark has managed to break into his house in the middle of the night. That's two B and Es this episode that didn't have to happen, by the by.
First, Clark karate chops Bart's door open when he could have just knocked, probably, and he breaks into Lex's house when if he had said, "Lex, do you mind if I look at this for just a second more" (which is all it took him later), Lex would probably have let him, no problem. Instead, he breaks in. Which is passive. Don't like it. But it fosters good story, so I forgive it this time. Plus, it's not so frequent with Clark as it is with Lana.
But come on, man. Lex has cameras. He'd look at them. He'd have to know Clark broke in, and came in at super-speed. That counts as a time using powers in front of people not in the know.
Ah yes, the scene where Lana tells Ma Kent how to run a relationship and a business.
Do I even need to go into this? How horrible that is?
Yes, girl who took a business at 14, you know much more about business and even relationships than I do, even though you and Clark were a bust, your parents were non-existant through your childhood and a hippie, respectively, who never cared for you, and you know just what it takes to keep a relationship straight.
To the point that Ma Kent even tells her the trip to Paris has made her "insightful".
I guess, in the Zen sense that building an outhouse makes you a more intelligent man, but good God, who's in charge of coming up with the logic of this scene? Backwards Man? Backwards Man? Backwards Man writes Superman, they have a fight, Backwards Man wins, Backwards Man! Backwards Man.
If you get that one, you rule. Pat yourself on the back and check your millennium hand while guessing what I was listening to while writing this.
Such insight, telling Martha that not being home means she's not at home enough. You know what? Me calling Lana a moron means I think Lana's a moron. There's some insight for you.
Cut to LEX FU! Yeah, he goes into a scene with a fence with a gun, calls the cops on him, and then proceeds to kick the crap out of them. This I believe, this is in character, this I like. Of course, Lex should have had a backup plan when he got cold-cocked, like he opens up that overcoat and there's one of those punching glove buttons like in Goonies, but then, he had to get cold-cocked for several reasons. One, it's so that he doesn't have to bloody his knuckles too much (because soft hands, man, that's important), and two, because Lex has an even grander plan in mind. Retaining superiority in the Knockout Count, which he almost blew totally by letting Lana get the drop on him. All part of the plan, all part of the plan. Well played, Lana, with the mirror and the lesbian kiss, and the picture that knocks people out with tattoos, and with Emily and the gas, but I see that and raise you a goon thumping, a bad brandy, and about FIFTY DIFFERENT TAZERINGS! TAKE THAT! Unnnn! (with thrust).
Anyway, Clark comes in, and the guys see him, and yet he's still okay with tossing the guy up THROUGH a roof and into a camper. Yeah, they're not gonna remember that one. So it's powers in front of people.
I know that the guy won't know Clark from Adam, and that there's no way he can get a name, but still, it's like a robbery. You never forget the face of someone who changes your life or questions one of your essential truths, and if some dude threw me through a roof I would remember his name and face and perhaps look into him a bit. Certainly, I would know who he was when he returned to my city in leotards ten years later.
Still, gotta concede, that effect was cool. It rocked.
And then we have the Return of the Jedi scene, just like in last episode. Only this time it's, "Bart...I know there's some good in you!" And oddly enough, Lex is there again, only he's not Vader this time, he's basically knocked out. What that does to my metaphor is...well, okay, it kills it. But the dialogue makes sense for comparison.
Then we cut to another one of those scenes, Lana and Jason in the cave, where they come to the dramatic realization that the symbol on Lana's back is in the cave! Which she already saw in a photo, but hey, who's paying attention.
She then tells Jason that he uprooted his entire life and followed her to Metropolis because she thought the caves would unravel the mystery.
His immediate response, "Oh, I love you Lana. I'm not going to condemn you like Clark did." (in as many words).
So hey, we not only get a scene of Lana making moronic conclusions, it's also one where she bags on the focus of morality in the show for being a jerk. Smart move.
Backwards Man, Backwards Man, hit on the head with a frying pan, bad plot joins the fight, bad plot winds, Backwards Man.
When I can finally afford City of Heroes, that's not my character name. So there. Backwards Man.
Look, you've just pulled up all of your roots and estranged your father for a seventeen year old. Said seventeen year old tells you the reason she did this is because she was magically infused with a tattoo and there's a picture of the tattoo in a cave back home. Your response is:
A) Good detective work, Detective Lang! There can be no other possible way to unravel this mystery! (Then cue the sentimental music, and the words, "Produced by Al Gough and Miles Millar").
B) Well, I admit it's a bit of a longshot, but if indeed you have been given a magical tattoo, odds are just as likely that this cave will explain it as anything else.
C) Lady, you just pulled me up from Paris, FREAKING PARIS, to follow you across ten thousand miles to tell me you left me because you saw a tattoo in a photo and wanted to LOOK AT IT because that would somehow solve the problem of your "oh so desired" body being marred by a scar? You didn't even check the library where the tattoo was put on in the first place? That's it! I'm taking you off my buddy list! DIE! (And then Jason commences Lex-Fu, not Lana-Fu)
D) Well, that's dumb (CLICK), ah, look! LOST is on!
My point being, yeah, you gotta get from A to B about the tattoo, but why with a Lana centric, silly excuse?
And what to call the Jason Teague, Lana Lang love fests. It's not really an amalgamation like a Clana or a Lark, because it's really one-sided, it's all Lana, all the time (but then, so were the Clanas). Still, Clark at least had some character to it. Tana, Langues, Jasana, and Tang all sound a bit off.
So instead, since they're replacing the oh-so-annoying Larks with Lana and Jason, I'll be calling them Crapanas.
I think Crapana is much more fun, because it takes it out of that whole "Who is with Lana" concept and focuses it back on how stupid it is to focus on an empty, everything to everyone character in the first place.
Ah! Lex lies about the tapestry, but then, so does Clark. Nice back and forth, and now we have the map to build on next episode (and I hope they do, because to go back to the nonsense, it's just nonsense. That's a real Lana conclusion there.).
And another example of good storytelling, this week. I didn't even notice that it was odd how Clark showed up in the middle of nowhere (usually I see weird stuff like that) but then the writers go out of their way to explain how he found a fence and did some investigation. Very well done, and out of the blue. It also gives them a reason to say goodbye, and that final scene, where Bart walks backwards and is outpacing Clark, it just rules. Flash was all around well done in this episode, for the most part.
So we have a crapana this week, but no Lark, which is good, and no freak, no kryptonite as a stupid device, good writing, great scenes, the only downfall, as ever, being the fetishizing of Lana.
Other than that flaw, this is about as good as episodes get, so I'm sorry to have to knock one and make it a 4 of 5. I'd even say 4.5 of 5, but this Lana crap has got to stop or be royally censured by the fans.
SUPER SHORT REVIEW:
Backwards Man sez that Lex Fu rules, but the Lana Fu is not strong. The Flash rocks across the water, with the Fence, and in almost every way. Lex has some good backup plans and his character is spot on. Lana Lana Lana Lana, so what else is new? Ma Kent and the mid-life Crisis meet Bo Duke. And finally, when you don't have something nice to say, it's easier than saying nothing at all. Reviewers, of all people, know this, so be glad that outside the Super Short Review, this review is short. 4 of 5, penalty for High Lanaing.
BUSINESS (ER...SORT OF):
With business I've been going all over the place with the restructuring. First a few words, then the Caption Contest, then the rest of business, eh. It's kind of tiring. So since the Caption Contest has become popular, every review after this one will have a separate caption contest section right after the review, and the Letter of the Week will get a special spotlight just before the start of business, because it's where a lot of business springs from.
A good bunch of entries this week, though a few of you naughty types were still bordering the line, though there wasn't anything too bad. There was that guy who instead of a caption put a link to a political advertisement, and whatever you do, I would not email him and private message him telling him just how opportunistic and unacceptable that is, because that would just be...well, funny. So don't do it. I admonish you not to in my official capacity.
Sarcasm Man, Sarcasm Man...
Captions. Yes. This week's winner was a tie, because I just couldn't decide which was better:
Lana: "It's called the Five-Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique. Now hold still."
"Kneel before General Pink, Son of Steve Martin."
Some notable runner ups:
Lana: Stop! In the name of love. Before you break my heart.
Lana and Clark, appearing this week only in the Smallville Little Theater production of Invasion of the Body Snatcher! Here, a plant-clone of Lana tries to put Clark to sleep with her dreary emotions and tiresome passive/agressiveness so he can become one of them, while her fellow untransformed plant-people look on.
"Wow, new Diet Clark feels just like regular Clark...with only half the carbs."
Clark: Lana, the scarecrow is watching.
M. Night Shyamalan's original "pink" design for the aliens in "Signs" was deemed much to terrifying for movie going audiences and was therefore cut from the film.
Lana: Hold it right there Mister... What do you mean you don't notice any difference between my new look, and my old one?
DIRTY DANCING - SMALLVILLE NIGHTS
Lana: Shh... Did you hear that? I think there may be a shark lurking in these sunflowers...
"Stop! Before you may cross you must answer these questions three! What is your name?" "Uh, Clark, No, Kal-el." "What is your quest?" "To fight for truth, uh no wait, to rule the world?" "What is your favorite color!" "Red, no Blue!" "forget it, just get out of here!
Bass Voice: Here we have Chloe Sullivan demonstrating how not to be seen. Chloe, would stand up please? Chloe Sullivan has mastered the first rule of Not Being Seen: Never Stand Up. Thank you, Chloe
Clark: Lana... you had me at passive aggressive manipulative whiny self-centered hello.
Lana: No Clark, back off. I've become an uninteresting character who doesn't like you this season. Remember?
"Stop it, Clark! You know we can't get physical until sweeps week!"
Clark: Indiana Lex, help me - she's trying to pull my heart out!
The contest grows by the week, and you all are making it as great as it is! Thank you!
LETTER OF THE WEEK:
I usually like complaint mail more than any other, because it challenges me instead of bolstering me. I go on because I get fan mail, it helps me feel worthy, but email that tells me how much I suck makes me want to just go on all the harder.
This week's prime letter was a little of both. A little brave open criticism coupled with a deadline and a conspiratorial air. I didn't know how to take it, so I simply met the challenge. The letter of the week is what became of our correspondence.
Steven Hutton wrote:
Having read your latest Smallville review. I hereby challange (sic) you to come up with, quote: "a completely original Smallville plot that has nothing to do with Kryptonite, teenaged homicidal super-villains, or even Lana. Or I'll even take it a step farther. I can start characterizing Lana and make her human, real, not a fake stupid construct designed so that we can oogle her mystery." You have one week.
To which I respond:
Okay, Steven. Here's your plot.
Act One: Clark is playing football with the football team on a practice day. They start ragging hell out of him for being the new guy, really giving him hell. They continue to play, and Clark shows that despite the ragging he can still throw better and think faster than any man on that team (without his powers). Resultantly, when they head back to the locker room, the jocks ambush him, pull him into a corner, stuff him into a locker, shut it, and lock it. Clark starts crying for help. Cue credits.
Act Two: Cut to a scene later in the house. It's Ma and Pa, and Clark has to explain to them what happened. He explains that despite the fact that he's a good leader and a smart man, he's continually assailed for being the best possible person he can be. Ma and Pa console him, and Pa has a serious talk with him about whether or not he should continue playing for the football team. Clark, being ever the optimist, tells his father that he will follow his example and show them what it is to be a good person through optimism, not violence, because that's the coward way of the jock.
Clark goes to the Torch and has a conversation with Chloe about the incident. Chloe offers to write him up a column in the school paper about the harassment and embarrass the jocks for being such opportunistic bastards, but Clark turns her down, tells her that he wants to do this his own way. He thanks her for being a friend and tells her to please not tell anyone, because it would embarrass him.
Next scene is a big game. Clark continues to show his prowess and accuracy, and we show how he plays football without his powers, for instance, we see him sacked, and we see him purposefully fumble. After the game, the jocks take him, tie him to a pole with his shirt off, and start throwing footballs at him. Clark tells them how horrible they're being, but they just laugh and continue. Scene ends after the footballs start being tossed.
The next scene is Martha and Chloe talking about what happened to Clark the week previous in the Martha-run Talon. They share a coffee and talk about how despite having all of the idolatry of the school, jocks still have to take a little pound of flesh from just about everyone. As they do this, the head jock, give him any name you'd like, I'll just call him head jock, enters with his girlfriend and orders a coffee. He acts like he owns the joint, ranks on Martha for how quaint her little outfit is, both in the figurative sense and the literal sense (meaning her body). He is asked to leave, but he does only after smashing some glassware. Not enough to call the police, but enough to cause trouble.
Act Three: In the Kent home, Clark comes in bedraggled in the hair (because his aura protects his clothes) and explains to Ma and Pa what happened after the game. Pa explains that he had no idea this was happening from the stands or he would have stopped it, and Ma apologizes for having to work at the Talon. Pa tells Clark that he's going to have to stand up to that boy in a way that doesn't involve powers, and if he doesn't, he's going to end up exposing himself, because the lead jock will get violent and find out that Clark is invulnerable, because when the beatings get severe, Clark won't bleed.
Outside, Pa decides to let Clark vent. He points to a ratty fence, looks around and says, "We need to take that fence down, son. Make yourself feel better. I know life is hard. But remember, it's better to let your frustrations out in a constructive way." So Clark plows through the fence at super-speed as Pa watches for people, and brings it all into a refuse pile. Pa has him light it on fire with his heat vision, and as they watch it burn, it starts spreading to a nearby field. Clark gives the old "uh-oh!" And starts running down there and beating the ground with his hands, at first normally, and then he turns to his father and says, "It's okay, dad! I can pound it out on the ground level with super-speed!" But Pa Kent shakes his head. Lana has arrived in her new vehicle, an 80s knockoff car. Clark groans and starts to panic. Pa turns and heads for the barn, explaining that he's going to get a hose. Clark shrugs and worries, Lana's almost around the corner now and she's about to be able to see what they're doing. Comically, he shrugs and blows at the fire. Cut to the fire to see that it is miraculously going out. Clark's eyes widen.
Pa returns as Lana walks up, and Clark tells him, "Oh. I guess the fire wasn't as bad as we thought it was, Dad."
Nonetheless, Pa Kent starts using the extinguisher on it anyway. They share a moment, and then Clark heads off to the barn.
Inside, Lana explains the new car. Because of all the financial expenditures she's been making, Nell had to tell her to cut back, so she drives a beater now. Lana tells Clark that she's just heard about the jock incident. Clark gets angry with Chloe, saying that she's told Lana, but Lana shakes her head and hands him a copy of the Torch. It's worse. The Torch has an expose on the attacks. She explains that Chloe felt morally obligated to do something, and that this was the only way she could think of, the only power she had. Clark nods, explaining that he understands that you use the powers you have in the only way you can. And then he starts burning again, because he says that you should use your powers in an appropriate manner. Lana hugs him and tells him that he's a good person, he doesn't have to worry about these rotten people. Clark looks to her with a bit of understanding, and Lana gives a powerful monologue on how it felt to be popular, and how you always wanted to lash out at people because of the pressure. Clark gains a deeper understanding of his enemy and we start to see Lana blossom from the popular girl to a more introspective woman, a process we'll build over coming weeks, culminating in the Lana crisis of character episode.
Act Four: Cut to Lex (speaking of using power in an appropriate manner). He's on the phone, talking to a man about having to bring more profit to the plant or he's going to have to fire ten workers. He doesn't want to, and there will be a potential return to work in a few months, but with the economy the way it is and with production failing, Lex needs to cut corners or cut workers. His servant comes up, hands him the Torch, and tells him essentially that this paper came up when doing the routine checks of the morning news for relevant items, and because Lex is Clark's friend, the servant figured he might like to see it. Lex nods, and looks at the paper. His eyes widen.
The next day at practice, Clark shows up, and the team goes out of their way to give him hell. They slam him down and sack him, and even his defenders let them through. Clark looks down, and in a panic, notes that his body is leaving impressions. The coaches laugh, but Teague stands up for Clark, yelling at the boys and making them do laps. The lead jock tells Clark he's read the article, and he's going to get him, right as he leaves for the laps.
After practice, in the locker room, Clark stands defiant in the center of it, waiting for the jocks. The lead jock comes in, and he's wielding a bat. "Okay, Kent," he says, "Here's what you get for being truth and justice.". As he's stepping forward, Lex Luthor steps from behind a locker near Clark and says, "I wouldn't."
The jock pauses. "Why not?"
"Because as of right now your little power ring is over. I've just spoken to the Principle about the funding I've put into this team, and he has agreed that though Clark is a fantastic new recruit to this team, you and your little band of lackeys have been hazing Freshmen since you were sophomores, and it has to be put to a stop. You're off the team, and anyone who gives Clark any more problems that he doesn't deserve will answer to me."
The jock, enraged, charges Lex, and Lex shows Clark his kung-fu, taking the guy and slamming him into a nearby locker, taking his bat. The jock, phased, leaps up and runs away, crying. His friends laugh at him as he leaves. The other jocks walk out, nodding to Clark. It's not over, but at least the ringleader is gone.
"That should make life a little easier, eh?" Lex tells him. Clark tells Lex that he's not sure, because they'll just come back, and in greater numbers. Sand people rules. And he also says that it wasn't Lex's fight, but Lex nods and comes to his side, explaining that he knows it wasn't his fight, but sometimes, people are powerless, and the people who have power need to step up and come to the aid of the people who have no power, like, for instance, Clark. Clark hugs his friend, nods, and they walk out of the locker room together, joking about the smell of the socks.
Act Five: Clark finds Chloe, who winces, expecting to be in trouble, but Clark tells her thanks for encouraging his bravery, and says that though there were better ways to get the message out, her way worked. He then offers to buy her dinner, and she accepts.
Later, after dinner, Ma talks with Clark about how his friendship with Chloe is blooming nicely, and about using his breath to blow out the fire. Pa wonders with Clark if he should quit the team. Clark explains that quitting never solves anything, and that bullies will be there no matter what he does. They agree he should continue. Clark blows on the fire in the fireplace from ten feet away, and the logs pick up. They all look on incredulously.
The phone rings. Clark picks it up. It's a disguised voice, but he identifies himself. It's Morgan Edge. "Remember me, kid? I'm going to find you. You don't know when, but I'm going to find you. You'll find that war makes strange bedfellows, and Lionel and I, we have plans for you. And your powers."
Click. Dial tone.
There. A great plot, and it only took me twenty minutes. I could have a script in three days, but then, I think I've proved my point.
Please note that the above is not intended to belittle Steven, but rather show that I agree with him, if I make such a claim, I should be able to produce, and so I have. His letter is in this column because it was the most inspirational this week, and for that he is not to be joshed, but applauded. Thank you, Steven.
The invariable problem with changing the nature of this part of the review (paring it down) is that people will always either overstate or misunderstand the changes at hand. I got a lot of letters asking why I didn't want people writing to correct me any more (not so), and a lot of people who just went ahead and sent stuff for business that doesn't work any more, so I'll briefly clarify...
Business is mainly for speculation, rumors, ideas based on the plot, or explanations of why a certain character might have done X. It is not for why Neal is so wrong about X. That doesn't mean I don't want you to write me if I'm wrong about X, (I love ANY correspondence, please, don't stop), it just means that it won't make business. That's all.
And due to the nature of the new rules, I've less of a business this time, but that's kind of the idea. I answered roughly 50 of the 100 letters last week, it's a constant game of catch-up, and here's what made the cut:
Mike Cooke writes in about how odd it is that Clark can stand right next to a plastic cooler filled with Kryptonite, then drink it, but is somehow unaffected. It has been argued that the K was diluted, but if it's strong enough that a simple swallow would make Clark bleed, it's strong enough that being near it would get him, I say.
Mike also notices that Pa Kent gave Clark a kind of look at the end of the game, a worried look. I thought, ah, another case like Chloe and the jealousy, but nonetheless, it's there. They sneak all kinds of stuff in on us...
Daniel writes in and noted that the age of consent, when a relationship is legal, is different in varying places. In France, it's 15, and in Kansas, it's 16. He referred me to this site. So I guess that means what Lana and Jason are doing is legal.
I still think it's a henky and over-fetishing, and if my sixteen year old sister dated a grown-*%$ed man, I would peg him a good one. There's just something about manipulating a mind that is not yet fully matured with the seasoning of adulthood to get physical pleasure that kind of bugs me.
Jeff Rozner wonders what happened to the green necklace? I mean, it's harmless now, but Lana never wore it because it was green, she wore it because it reminded her of her parents, right?
I made a joke about not being read in China last week (or the week before?) because I was probably banned there, and lo and behold, I got a letter after Reeve passed from a young man in China.
It's all you, Madagascar? What are you waiting for, huh? Chicken? Come on, I dare you, Madagascar! WRITE ME!
Michael writes me with something so funny, I had to quote it verbatim:
Oh, I forgot. How's this for a Chloe theory: Lionel cloned a replacement! Next show: Lionel gets locked up in a big glass box. I know, it won't happen. But any stupid old thing would be better than Chloe surviving that explosion. I'm real annoyed about that. I think I'm going to start pretending to myself that Chloe did die and Allison Mack is back, playing Tasha Yar's daughter by a Romulan general.
Neal again here. I tell you, if you get that last joke, you seriously need to go out and see the outside. I did, and you know what I saw? This horrible, painful gaseous ball emitting some kind of light. On second thought, just stay inside. Likely Smokey and the Bandit is on some Turner channel, and barring that, Columbo.
Now it has also come to my attention that I misspelled phynyletheylythelatumamine. My response to that is all Ash. Yeah, so maybe I didn't get every single little syllable of the word right, but I said it, basically, yeah. Now get me home.
Further, I notice that we have only seen one Lark this season. I shouldn't have said that, because now it's coming back like a freight train, but my thought? It's like fairies and Peter Pan. But DON'T CLAP! Seriously. If you clap, that annoying fairy will come back.
And for saying that, I feel like a bit of a fairy myself. The fairy of LEX-FU, BICH! Now all I need is a pleather bikini.
And finally, GradGuy writes in noting that in the field on Devoted, Clark wore a 7, but in the loft, he wore an 8. That's odd. I remember wearing a different number on the field than in practice, but that was just because the school didn't have my number in the play jersey. But with Lex Luthor funding, you'd think they would.
And that's it for now! Click in next week for more!
I missed the chat this week because of a personal thing, and I apologize for that, guys...but this week, right after the show on Wednesday (Pacific), come visit in the chat room and don't forget to hit the KO Count!
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