Lionel and Clark come to an uneasy understanding about keeping his secret.
Smallville rips stuff off.
This is pretty common knowledge. It's one of the chief criticisms of the show, and particularly of this season. This season there has been a LOT of appropriation. Almost every single episode is a ripoff of some major story convention in a movie.
Is this for familiarity? Is it writing laziness? Is it to resonate with pop culture?
I don't care if it's to save the whales. It's annoying, lazy, and offputting.
Of all the Smallville episodes I've seen, this episode has the most blatant ripoff yet. They even take actual lines from the Saw movie. It's not as bad, maybe, as when they take the actual SCENE from Terminator 3, which they've done, but when you have a character, in a mask, at a remote location, playing games where the mains have to PLAY A GAME in order to survive, a game that is often sadistic and dangerous, where the remote villain is in a HOOD and talking in a voice changer in a particular tone (the same as in the movie Saw), and the goal of the game is to redeem some character flaw, you have a very, very clichéd ripoff of the movie Saw. There's even a scene where a character is abducted from a parking garage (Martha). The "Hell of your own making" line and concept. The videos of people who have failed the same test, just like in Saw. There's homage, and then there's stealing.
If you look, just what I've mentioned above (which doesn't note the trap similarity, the use of the villain who knows the main and has a small cameo early on, etcetera) tells us that this episode is just blatant plagiarism.
Even the line: "I WANT TO PLAY A GAME!" is lifted. They don't modify it at all. Not, "LIONEL, I'M JUDGING YOU... WITH A TRIAL OF WITS!" No. They lift STRAIGHT from the movie.
This is unconscionable. If I were the creator of Saw, I think there might actually be merit to a suit. I don't particularly prefer using litigation in matters of intellectual property, but I mean, how much more obvious can the theft of an original idea get?
But that's not the whole episode. While the ripoff of Saw, while the THEFT of someone's good idea is enough to make you spit nails, when they move past this horrible appropriation, character shines through, particularly toward the end of the episode. A number of nagging dilemmas were solved, a number of steps toward resolution began to take hold, and frankly, it was pretty enjoyable.
Onyx syndrome, for those of you who recall. Only instead of OOOOH! Awwwww, it was Awwwwwwww....OOOH!
All of that aside, I have less than two pages of notes. That's the first time in forever...fewer notes by the week. This means less Lana, which is a bonus, and less to pick at, which is even better.
They also solved a number of the nagging Martha and Lionel problems, which is even better. There's still no reason they'd be cool with hanging around a convicted murderer who's tried to kill their friends and families, but now at least there is some small reason, and a little bit of rationale for some of his abilities.
By the episode:
We start with a newspaper that Lionel is reading. It says "SENATOR KENT REVEALS FINANCE PLAN" on the cover of the Daily Planet. This, to my mind, cements the fact that Martha is a U.S. senator. IE, one of the two every state sends to the capital. The senior of the two branches of the bicameral legislature. Not the local schlub.
Why? Simple. No major metropolitan newspaper reports on the doings of a local senator. Like, ever. Even members of the U.S. House have a hard time getting in the news. It took Tom Tancredo saying that we ought to nuke Mecca in order to get him a back page mention in national papers, to give you an idea. One would assume the Daily Planet is a national paper, given that it is essentially a proxy for the New York Times.
To make the front page of the New York Times, you'd almost have to be one of New York's two state senators. Think about it. How often is Hillary Clinton on the front page of the Times? It's rare, and it takes an extremely important event.
State, or local senators, hardly ever get there. I think the confusion comes with the fact that the show obfuscates with the term "State" senator, which can mean the local senator, or the U.S. senator. This, coupled with the fact that a local senate race would probably not mean fame OR power to Lex Luthor and he would thusly not compete for it, leads me to believe that Martha's seat is national now. I was leaning toward local. The debate continues over something one simple line of dialogue could fix.
My guess is that even the writers don't know. Or think about it. Being a politics kinda guy, though, I do.
In my notes I have a big exclamation and nasty face for the fact that Lionel is on the phone talking as a representative of Luthorcorp again. So we have this line of logic: Lionel goes to jail for killing his parents, and in revenge blows up Chloe and her father, and poisons Lex. Everyone knows he did it. Chloe comes back, isn't afraid of him and even works with him for some reason. He becomes insta-good because of Clark. In the process, he becomes a penniless beggar living in a homeless shelter. He then becomes insta-bad again, for no apparent reason, and lives with Lex despite scheming against him. He then seeks the stones, gets one, becomes Jor-El. He then has money again. Despite being a convicted murderer, he is desired by a bunch of companies, which he consolidates to try and buyout Luthorcorp. He refuses to do so to remain near Martha. He learns Clark's secret, and Martha lets him hang out with her because she's feeling vulnerable despite knowing all of the above.
Well, all of that is confusing, convoluted crap, and I hate it. At least, after Lionel being thrown in jail. That was the last truly good use of his character.
Now, in one episode, everything is lined up again. Lionel is working for Luthorcorp because Lex invited him back for knowledge. I buy that. He has money from the job. I buy that. He even has power again. Okay. Now that's all explained.
Clark comes clean, and tells Martha that he knows about Lionel. Martha tells Clark that she lied. Okay, so it sucks that both have not learned, by now, that there is a lesson in inaction. And I don't mean the George Bush style of "lesson of inaction" in the mushroom cloud sense, I mean the Smallville cliché of a character, for no real reason, not telling someone information that would help them in order to get to a finale. Here we are, though, at the finale, so things fall into place. And that's vital. Clark tells his mom, mom tells him, both realize their respective stupidity, blah blah blah, I hate it, but now we move forward. So why hang out with Lionel? Well, now there's a reason, and it's not the BLASPHEMY that is Lionel and Martha flirting, it's the fact that Lionel now has Machiavellian goods over Martha and Clark.
He's back on character, and he's back in action. THAT I buy, and that I love. I hope it continues. It's classic Smallville, and though this season has struggled, it's working to bring back the old magic. Though this season is hit and miss, at least it's half hit, unlike season four, and if we continue in this vein of dragging the characters to a respective UR point, next season might be as good or better as the previous years, especially if they start ENACTING that destiny and bringing in that Fine action.
But then, SAW RIPOFF. Oy.
Lionel's vehicle stops in front of a train, the doors lock, and Jigsaw appears. For those of you who haven't seen it, Jigsaw is the baddie in Saw. I never caught the name of this week's freak, so I'm just calling him Jigsaw, because there's no difference. Live with it.
What really sucks about this scene is not the peril. In fact, the explosion of the limo was pretty awesome, and Lionel's frenzied reaction was fun to watch. What really sucks is that it's overshadowed by the stealing. That, and, well, butter knives.
Imagine Smallville started off with Clark Kent stirring in his bed. He's having a dream, but he's being chased by a guy with Orlando Bloom's complexion in a red and green striped shirt. Bloom finally catches him, and holds up a hand. The hand, instead of fingers, has BUTTER KNIVES! It's Teddy Booger, come to get you, Clark! Cue the little girl with a nursery rhyme in the background (another Smallville and cliché horror convention).
Where do I get that? Well, that's what taking the premise of Saw, which is actually quite nuanced and gruesome, and replacing it with the perils of playing...
Not HANGMAN! Lords! Save us! He wants to play a game of...HANGMAN!
In Saw, which was a GOOD movie, the terms of the game are that you cut off your leg or you die. Not play hangman. Or you shoot your buddy. Or poison your mom. Or walk across broken glass. Real, gory, horrible perils.
I mean, cripes. If you're gonna rip it off, why go so safe?
Because it's TV, Neal! You can't show gore on TV!
THEN DON'T RIP OFF A CONCEPT THAT HAS A CENTRAL TENET INVOLVING THE EXPLICIT CREATIVE USE OF GORE!
There's also the fact that I don't buy that the limo driver would be so complicit. Why aid the guy who's trying to set up Lionel Luthor when in retaliation Lionel will either kill you, or, if you tell him, likely reward you handsomely and take the guy out. I mean, would you rather risk the wrath of Jigsaw or Lionel Luthor? Personally, I go with Jigsaw. Jigsaw can kill you, but Lionel will expose your soul, eat it, and then make you shoot yourself. He's dag nasty evil, not just game-obsessed.
That and, well, you know, he could have just kicked out the windows of the limo. But that would have been too easy.
The Daily Planet set is improving. Either that, or I didn't notice before today just how cool it was. If you notice, the establishing shot doesn't do the typical flyover but instead shows the front door, which is almost a carbon copy of the one from the Superman Returns preview. INCREDIBLY awesome and indicative of the genius of the prop department. I've been hard on them of late, but it's really hard to forget, when it comes down to it, how truly awesome the mise en scene in Smallville is because of them, eventual failures like the pine needle Honduran forest aside.
The elevator, too, if you watch, is just like the one in the video diary. TOTAL awesomeness, and I wonder if the sets will match up. That would be a wonderful treat, even though it's not necessary for either to work.
Also, there's a picture of Atlas holding the world on his back, which may be a subtle reference to when Superman catches the Planet globe in the preview images. Subtle, and cool.
Clark hems and haws with Chloe about his mother. Chloe states the obvious when Clark reveals his idiocy with his mother, "So what stopped you?" His reply, "I didn't want to give her one more thing to worry about," (after Jonathan's death). Mighty kind of you, Clark. Guess it'd be better if she were dead so she could be with him, huh?
But anyway, this episode resolved it, and the scene was brief, so I'll forgive the idiocy.
Lex and Lionel have a couple of great scenes. It doesn't matter if they're talking about cooking recipes, the two have chemistry, and I think the show is starting to realize that again. Granted, Lionel has no real reason or evidence to assume it was Lex beyond the fact that he's done the same thing so many times, but the scene works regardless.
And for monkey's sake, I know I haven't mentioned it as much, but Lex calls it LuthERcorp about five hundred times in the scene. I KNOW that Rosenbaum knows how it's really pronounced, because I watched "Justice League Unlimited", and his characters always get it right there. What's the deal?
Martha goes to a "Civil Liberties" fund raiser. I don't think it's a stretch now, given last episode, to assume that she's a Democratic candidate. I say this knowing multiple parties support the idea of striking back against the abridgements of civil liberties in the name of the war on terror, but assuming that only the two major parties could potentially win in a major senate race, generally speaking.
Despite the fact that this stands for something that I believe in, I still disagree with the plot direction. Making Superman or his family of any one political direction or affiliation is detrimental to the character, for previously mentioned reasons I'll reiterate. Say you believe that freedoms should be abridged in order to fight the terrorists. Now, Martha Kent, who is supposed to represent the typical, wholesome, Middle-American mother, is suddenly against your viewpoint. In other words, the archetype becomes a polemic. Even if you agree with what that polemic is, like Clark with pre-marital sex, it's still bad for a large portion of the viewing audience.
I'll put it in a more typical American perspective. Imagine if they made Clark Kent convert to the Muslim religion. Is there anything inherently wrong with this? No. And why would there be? It's just a system of belief like most other systems of belief, right? But the rub lies in the fact that if you're a vehement Christian, Clark now represents a wholly different system of beliefs and is harder to relate to. By keeping Clark and his family's political affiliations and sexual practices off camera, you make them more relatable characters, in that they are supposed to generally represent us all.
I've mentioned that a ton of times, but they keep taking steps that make me have to again.
I like Clark mentioning that they have to handle the situation like Dad would. For the first time, and I am amazed by this, a character that dies on this show is not only remembered, but his memory is a part of every show. Maybe it's just that Clark and Martha care for their loses and Lana doesn't give a solid crap about Adam, Whitney, or Jason. But then, what about Alicia? Bad past writing, good current, in that regard.
Here's my next note:
WRITER SENSE TINGLING. MAN SEARCHING FOR BUGS IS JIGSAW. DUR.
Gee. How could I ever have seen it coming? Maybe because he's the extra with the line, and because Lionel focuses on him when he wouldn't. Oblivious to the tension, the writers critically fail to rip off here, because in Saw, it's HARD to tell who the baddie will be. Here, it's handed to you on a DUR platter.
One thing that kind of struck me in this episode was the one alteration they made to Jigsaw. The Jor-El face. Any of you notice that? The mask looks a lot like the Jor-El face in Superman: The Movie. Symbolic of Jor-El's role in the show? Nah, likely just a coincidence. But still, funny, if you think about it.
Lionel has a gun hidden in his office. I know they've used the convention of hidden Luthor guns all the time, but I love it. It's awesome. I have an note here that's immaterial to the review, but all the same:
GET THAT IN THE DREAM HOUSE.
I don't know if you all know, but my basic way that I support myself is through construction. I move into a house, fix it up with knowledge that I earned through six months of construction work at three bucks an hour (learned to build a house top to bottom), and then refi, or sell, or whatever makes the most money. I'm almost financially solvent through it, but anyway, the point of this tale is that the ultimate goal is to build and move into my own house in the far-flung woods, building continual additional houses on the property to house family, friends, and starving artists working toward a common goal, like a commune, but without the fruity crap.
At the center of this is the dream house, which is a two story lofted A-Frame a la Woody Creek to house my eventual publication company/headquarters for real literature for real people. The television couch has a button that launches a trapdoor straight into the bathroom. There is an "Ashcroft hatch" which will basically be a Batman like chute leading straight from my writing desk to a hidden underground tunnel into the woods in the event that my writing becomes too dangerous for the political elite. There will be a winch operated bed that ascends to the roof through a skylight. All kinds of goodness, because it's my house, and I don't give a *%$ how Roark people think it is (Roark being used as an adjective).
And now, because of this episode, there will be panels all over the house that, with a simple touch, will reveal a loaded-for-battle handgun. And maybe, just for fun, one with a prop replica kryptonite, in case Superman ever goes Dark Knight Returns.
Lex has taken up chess in this episode, which is a minor point in the Lionel and Lex conversation, until it shows up later on. Lex, apparently, is trying to teach novice Lana to play chess.
This isn't really that funny, until you remember that Lionel essentially told Lex that he sucked at chess. So if a dude that sucks at chess is the INSTRUCTOR for Lana, what does that say about her logic skills?
Room for improvement. But anyway. That's some fitting characterization, and I have to compliment the succinctness of it, even if it wasn't intended and was subconscious.
Lana again can somehow afford the gas to Smallville and back. That's forty more bucks on a budget that's now characterized, as of the use of her savings, as FLAT BROKE.
Part of what took me out of Jigsaw in this flick is that he's just Lionel's little schlub. Knowing that early on, I was able to spot a lot of potential flaws the casual viewer wouldn't notice. Like, say, that he can rent what appears to be a forty, fifty story underground warehouse for his sick games. I can't hardly afford my house rent on minimum wage. Had I lost my job in a merger that happened six months ago, I hardly think I'd be able to afford the tech or the lease space.
But the worst thing was all the prop TVs that he had around. In the burn room, he has THREE LCD screen televisions that he just burns. What, he couldn't use a tube TV with a VCR? It's stylistic, yeah, but here's an example of the prop department failing after I just complimented them, because it pulls you out of the scene.
Another step toward redemption. It's mentioned that there are no cameras in Lionel's offices for shady deals. So okay, it doesn't explain away the hundreds of other times Clark would have been caught on camera, but it certainly explains a few away.
Clark actually uses his x-ray vision, a power, in this episode, which is a pleasant surprise. He even doesn't just flaunt it, he uses his deductive logic to find an excuse for why he has to smash the statue. Excellent. I half expected him, given past characterization, to simply lift the statue and smash it for no real reason, and get away with it because there was a camera inside, without explanation.
But then, they kind of waste the good will earned there by having Lex get a phone call from Lana right as he's trying to make nice with Clark, and Clark, the man who can hear a mosquito rubbing its feelers together on Pluto, doesn't hear Lana's familiar nasal tone? Wasted opportunity, and implausible scenario. You've gotta assume if it's in the vicinity, Clark will hear it. I know there is a response to that criticism, that he has to focus to hear things a distance away, but I liken it to the Hilltop sixth sense. Living on Hilltop in Tacoma, there's a very good chance your car or house will be vandalized, or you'll have someone do a snatch and grab for drug cash. So you put the ear out, listen for anything that sounds like a jimmied lock or a smashed window nearby, and you don't always hear it, but if it's nearby, you can often catch someone breaking into your car, go out with a gun, and scare them off.
I believe super-hearing would work on the same premise, and Clark, though he might not catch the entire conversation, would be attuned to Lex conversations, and listen for known voices nearby.
Either way, it was just a wasted opportunity.
Jigsaw prompts Lionel and Martha to move upstairs after the overly dramatic anagram. He drops electricity into the water, which, though it electrifies the whole floor and makes it impassable, somehow doesn't travel up the metal staircase and fry Martha and Lionel. Sigh.
But is that the true crime, or is the true crime the fact that they follow up the precarious, dramatic, tense game of hangman with...AN ANAGRAM!
I want to play a game, Neal.
No! Not a game!
Yes. A game. We're going to do...a SUDOKU! Or lizards will suck on your toes.
Yes, mwu ha ha ha ha! 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8...what goes in the last box?
STOP! I can't TAKE IT ANYMORE! I'm a bad person! I'll change!
Yes, but first you must solve the riddle.
But...that's the combination for my luggage!
Lionel and Martha get on the infinite elevator. And I mean that because they have an extended conversation in the elevator that shows that they're somewhere in the core of the Earth, to travel that far and for that long. It's like in Star Trek when they're on the turbolift for about a half hour with the lights going by on the outside. Particularly funny on Enterprise, where there were what, fifteen floors?
The scene is also critically flawed in that, if you watch, you can actually see landmarks in the background as they shake the cage while Lionel and Martha talk. Meaning, they make lights go up and down to give the illusion of motion, but if you watch the sides, you can see that the cage is static. That's just a rank amateur set mistake.
In fact, I timed the scene to see just how far they went. It took about five seconds to go up roughly a story, and elevators typically get faster than that first story jaunt as I recall, but anyway, assume a story a minute. They start rising at 26:44, and the elevator finally stops at 28:19. That's 95 seconds of rise, or a 19-story rise.
You're telling me that a goon on a simple salary could somehow cordon off and set up a 20-story structure? It's like the House of Wax ripoff episode where the kid somehow gets a whole warehouse.
The best part of this protracted scene, however, is the blank look on Lionel's face. Great character moment. He tells Martha that he's testing and training Lex to be strong. She says, "You ever try talking to him?" and he gets this blank look that lasts for a few protracted seconds. It's good, and it works as a serious moment, but as you're watching, you can see him thinking, "You just...don't...get it, do you Martha?" in a Doctor Evil voice.
Clark and Lex drive together, which eliminates another Clark insta-disappearance. Good. It's later totally forgotten and botched, but at least before they did it right. I get the feeling two writers worked on this episode. One that sucked and did the Saw thing, the other that knows a thing or two about character.
Lex asks Clark if he wants to wait, and he says that he doesn't. Lex draws his gun and blasts the door in. Awesome moment. Very cool. Very fun.
Lionel and Martha have to kill someone. Lionel chooses to end his own life rather than kill Martha.
You remember season four? Now, I hate to dredge the old swamp, but remember when Lionel, as a plotline, decided to go GOOD? Well, magically and instantly converting him through a MYTHICAL STONE is NOT a good way to do it. Forcing him to realize that his evil hurts the people he loves and having him choose to end his own life over another person's is EXACTLY the good way to do it. They didn't go that way with this plot, but in retrospect, this just shows that there is a way to do it, and a good way, and that, as I stated, season four didn't show it.
The elevator goes. Turns out Jigsaw was going to kill them after all. Well, grand.
Clark arrives, catches the elevator, and eases it down. After falling forty floors, they'd likely be at terminal velocity, so an instant stop would crush them both. Lionel and Martha are dead.
But hey, I guess they aren't, somehow. Sucky moment.
Lex realizes that Clark stopped the elevator, AND that he ran across town in an instant. Lionel just blows it off, but that's important. VERY important. He knows Clark has some powers now, or has a friend with powers, at least. Will this ever be mentioned again? I doubt it. But it's vitally important. And that sucks.
Lionel calls Clark "Son" again, very pointedly. This is their "succinct" way of revealing the fact that Jor-El is still hiding in Lionel, along with the destiny speeches and all that. At least, that's my guess. We'll see. Either way, though that dialogue is forced, the confrontation with Lionel in the end was incredible. Tense, and showing Clark in a finally justified moment of extreme anger and righteous wrath. He scares Lionel, which is hard, and he scares me, which is even better, because he's right to do it. He finally takes the stand against the guy with his mom. Will it stick? Let's see. But excellent scene.
Cue Lionel getting a headache and writing again, likely Jor-El inspired. We'll see. Excellent sub-plot.
Next week? Another Lana shower scene, a somewhat decent looking across the street effect, and what looks to be a freak of the week story in the middle of what should be the rising action for the finale. Still no word about Brainiac. We'll see.
This episode had the single worst rip-off of Smallville's run. BUT, it also had a TON of great scenes and a lot of character. A LOT of recompense for former continuity failings, as well. I give this one a 3.5 of 5.
SUPER SHORT REVIEW:
Lionel is explained away, which doesn't fix his past faults, but moves us to a position where we can go forward. Alas, this involves a blatant, horribly obvious rip-off of Saw that could easily be used as a grounds for litigation. BUT, there is no Lana in this show, not really, and nothing too extraneous. We also have some great moments and character. 3.5 of 5.
Hey, guess what?
I GOT A BOOK DEAL.
Better than that. I got a TWO BOOK DEAL.
Poetry. In three to four months, the book will be released, followed by another at an undetermined date.
I know you all have heard me harp on my books before, but this is different. Being ASKED to have your work published, to the publishing world, is like getting "made" in the mafia. You may never get to Capo, but someone will vouch for you, and that means that New York will listen.
Actually, that's a pretty good metaphor for the publishing industry.
But at any rate, it's all thanks to you guys, for helping me keep up the faith and the strength and the belief that it isn't about the money, it's about the art.
When I started trying to get published eight long years and two-hundred fifty rejections ago, I thought it would take, at most, a year. I took faith from the film The Shawshank Redemption, still one of my favorite films. I relate to the character who is trying to do the best he can with his life, but is unjustly beset on all sides with things that drag him from his life and dream. He has two things, patience, and time, and he uses them. With logic. With faith. With friends.
He crawls through a river of $%#% and comes out the other side a free man. It was the theme of my first novel, and it's what's helped keep my hope ever since.
I'm drawn to a particular quote from the movie. This quote: