Superman on Television
Smallville: Episode Reviews
Season 9 - Episode 16: "Escape"Reviews:
EscapeReviewed by: Douglas Trumble
Super Short Run-on Sentence Summary: Clark and Lois take a weekend getaway for some alone time only to find out that Watchtower and the Arrow had the same plans but neither super couple can get in much quality time together after Lois accidentally sets loose the Silver Banshee on the quiet little Bed and Breakfast.
Welcome back from the winter break. Smallville is back for the run to the finale.
How do they do that? With an amazing super charged action filled main plot driven episode? Nope. Just your average random filler episode.
Sure we had a DCU villain tossed at us but not exactly A-list material.
There were things I liked and things that were only so-so, but the biggest knock against this episode was simply the fact it was just average.
The Silver Banshee? Meh. She didn't look bad for the most part even if she did look more like something that should be fighting an S-Mart employee rather than Superman, but her body jumping did lead to a few laughs.
The shower scene? Well we all know there was probably someone with their "how to raise ratings by showing skin" checklist on hand but I still found it very funny. Tom Welling does such a great job playing shocked and I love how he plays Clark with no clue what to do in such an awkward situation.
Even better was the scene with Oliver and Clark at breakfast. Very funny. I thought the two actors did a fantastic job playing off each other. There was a seriousness in the situation but also a lot of humor and that kind of thing can be tough to pull off right. Kudos to both Justin Hartley and Tom Welling on that one.
Beyond the humor there was a bit of romance too, which was nice. I think that is what I liked the most about the episode. How they treated Clark and Lois. They were still needling and tossing barbs at each other like they did from day one, but they still showed some tenderness and obvious feelings/attraction to each other. I also think they did a wonderful thing by showing that a real couple can spend the night together on a weekend away and not have it be just about sex. You know sleeping together with out "sleeping together" which is something real couples do often.
I know they were somewhat vague on whether the two planned to consummate their relationship at some time during the weekend but the fact they did not just jump into bed and start going at it like bunnies really says a lot in my book. The trip wasn't about getting it on. It was about being together. I liked that and I say good job Smallville. Finally some positive handling of Superman in a relationship. Now if they just hold off until AFTER Clark tells her he's from another planet before they do start... you know... I think they will have hit it out of the park. (I am not going to hold my breath on that one really but for now I am pleased).
I also liked how they used the Oliver/Chloe relationship as sort of a counter weight. I think it did a good job to highlight the difference between a couple on a positive track and a couple who are kind of just in it for the physical right now.
Not that there was anything wrong with Chloe and Oliver being on a trip like that. They are consenting adults. I do liked that they showed Oliver and Chloe are not just one night standing each other. Sure their relationship has some qualifications and might be a fling in their mind but they are both up front and honest about it. It feels like a real believable relationship even if it might not be the most healthy one. I can't imagine Smallville is going to re-con their Green Arrow from the DCU and have him not end up with Black Canary, so I know it will likely not last. Yet I'm okay with Chloe and Oliver having some history together. I'm interested to see how it plays out anyway.
One more note on physical relationships... I do like the fact they took a moment to point out that Clark can have a physical relationship with a human. It removes any doubt on whether Lois and Clark can have a future marriage that works. Plus it kind of shows us how far Clark has come in controlling his powers, so a double plus. Even better was the fact that his talk with Chloe on the subject was worth a chuckle or two. So is that a triple plus? Not sure but at least they didn't just ignore past comments on it being dangerous for him, and that at least is worth noting.
I had some issues with the Blur/Banshee showdown at the end but nothing that ruined it. The effects with the sound scream and heat vision worked well enough but I did lose track of Lois in that final confrontation. Did the Banshee jump out of her and take its own form or what? I saw the Banshee go up in smoke when Watchtower re-banished it but I didn't see Lois until after they were back in Metropolis. What happened to her? What happened to Oliver? Did he only get half sound blasted? Kind of iffy editing in the final confrontation in my opinion. Hard to follow and keep track of all the players. They also cut away from it too soon leaving us to wonder what happened to Oliver and Lois until a scene or two later.
Interesting development with Zod-Clone and Lady Lex. Is she playing him? I think so. She seemed so anti Clone before so I can only assume she seduced Zod-Clone to try and control him. It's not a good thing she tipped him off to the Kryptonite though.
The last thing I didn't like was Zod-Clone calling Lois pretending to be The Blur. Not that he did it and she fell for it. Those are just drama and I am cool with that but it does bring up the fact that the phone calls were kind of dropped out of the story for a while and that is what I didn't like.
Sure they mentioned them a couple of times here and there but they have been gone since the Wonder Twins were in town. It was a fantastic twist on the Superman/Lois relationship and I am very disappointed they didn't build on it more. It's like oh yea we kind of dropped this plot point but now we want to use it again so let's just toss it back in the mix like it never went away. Phewy on that I say. I was really holding out hope they would get back to it but now I don't see how they can with Zod-Clone mucking it up like this. Interesting drama sure but it'd been 100-times better if they had been developing the phone relationship all along and hadn't dropped it sometime in 2009.
This week's WTF moment: Lois' luggage. She has a suitcase for any situation ready to go and they do just that. Go... and gone. Funny sure, but is she really just going to leave 5 suitcases behind in the busy news room? Seriously? I don't think so.
Not terrible but not great. A few good scenes and some chuckles and laughs. Really no big movement on the overall plot so if you missed it you wouldn't be missing much. The only pertinent info I can see is knowing that Lady Lex is taking rides on air Zod-Clone and now Clark and Lois are aware of the Arrow climbing the Watchtower. Not exactly must have information. Just know that Zod-Clone called Lois pretending to be the Blur and I think you'll get along just fine until you can catch it on re-run or stream it on iTunes/Xbox live.
So almost by definition it was total filler.
I give it a 2.5 out of 5. Maybe just a 2 but my wife made me give it another .5 because it's been a while since Tom Welling went shirtless so 2.5 it is.
Welcome back and I will see you next week.
EscapeReviewed by: Julian Finn
"Smallville follows the adventures of Clark Kent, who resides in the fictional town of Smallville, Kansas, during the years before he becomes Superman."
Remember that quote; I'm going to come back to it later.
I prejudged Smallville.
I was living in Halifax when the show debuted and, being a devout Buffy and Angel fan at the time, I was well aware of what the WB's "normal" demographic was. Having been a lifelong Superman fan, I had no interest in watching a version of the character that I felt would more likely remind me of Dawson's Creek than the movies that had made me so happy as a child. (I wore a red cape in public until I was 10. I'm not proud of this; I just thought you should know.) For almost two years I managed to avoid it.
And then, as happens occasionally, I came upon a dark day of the tube. I came home from work one night, tired, cranky and bored on a level that maybe only the Greek gods could have understood, and there was absolutely nothing on TV that I wanted to watch. (This was, I should mention, at the height of reality TV's rise in popularity, a period of time I like to call The Dumbening). So I sat down and watched an episode of Smallville with my then girlfriend, who we'll call Jen. I loved it. I thought the acting was great (especially the Baum), the story derivative but great (derivative of comic books is almost always great and therefore okay) and more than that, I could genuinely see the seeds of Superman in this version of Clark Kent. And that was the nicotine soaked cherry on top that made the addiction stick; after all, our track record of live action Superman renditions has been spotty at best. I was hooked; the next morning I went out and bought the season 1 box set and set forth to watch the whole thing in one sitting.
Two things went wrong.
First, as Jen and I watched, I kept making Superman references and she kept shooting me weirder and weirder looks from across the couch, which culminated in her asking me what the heck I was talking about; we were ten hours in and she didn't realize that we were watching a show about Superman. Which was bad.
The second thing that went wrong was the arrival of Hurricane Juan, which trapped me in my tiny two bedroom apartment with no power and a girl who didn't know that Clark Kent is Superman. For two weeks.
Jen and I didn't last long after that (for reasons that mostly have nothing to do with Smallville) so I found myself with a whole lot of extra time on my hands to get caught up on the show. And I genuinely loved it. Sure there was a lot of shipper garbage which felt like time wasting filler; anyone who knows the mythos knows that Clark and Lana don't wind up together, so all the will they/won't they crap really bored me to tears, but, in general, the first four seasons were magic. Did I give it a few passes on storytelling, characterization and consistency, just because it was about my favourite literary creation ever? Absolutely. But that's almost fair because we're always more forgiving of the ones we love. Was season four a little too MacGuffiney? Sure, but then it's superhero fiction, which relies to greater or lesser degrees on coincidence and random quests from time to time. No matter what anyone said, I loved it.
And then came season five. And the vampire episode. And the heavy handed light switching of Lex's moral compass. And the acceleration of Lana's descent into mind numbing, amoral turpitude while the writers were telling us that really, really, she was the best thing ever. And Clark increasingly using "accidental" lethal force to take bad guys off the board. By the end of season six, I was done. I wrote a blog entry about how much I was done with the show and why. But, sure enough, season 7 came and there I was watching Smallville. It took awhile to figure out why, but what it came down to was the fact that it was still a Superman show, and I love Superman. And by this point there was a slight change in creative direction that kept me interested. It was as if the network and the writers had realized that it wasn't just the Jens of the world that were watching, we (fanboys) were too. Suddenly it felt like the writers were trying to make up for the last two seasons by genuinely turning this into a show about Superman. It was heavy handed at times, stupid occasionally, but there was a feeling of forced pushing to line up what had come before with the character that we all knew this Clark Kent was supposed to be.
Sure we were still stuck with an outlandish amount of cheese; lines like "I'm you, just a little more bizarre," should never be forgiven or forgot nor should the focus of the show shifting from Clark to Batm...I mean Green Arrow. But it felt like they were genuinely trying; a little too eagerly at times and with about as much subtlety as a Batmobile to the face but the attempt was still being made. And that's where we are now. Smallville has become something... schizophrenic; an at times fun, at times painful fusion of the show it was and the show it wants to be but can't quite morph into. It feels trapped at times by the threads and bungles presented in earlier seasons but, aside from the odd major blunder ("Persuasion," I'm looking at you) it feels like the writers actually like Superman even if they don't always understand him.
Which brings me back to the quote at the top.
That quote comes from the IMDB and Amazon descriptions of Smallville, Season One. More importantly it is a direct quote from the Variety press release which announced the show's premiere way back in 2001. There has been a lot of discussion, argument and outright vitriol over what exactly this show is in recent years. People have thrown terms like Elseworlds and alternate history around to combat the naysayers who claim the show has lost its way. I don't buy it. I think we have to assume that what the creators intended when they marketed the series has to stand as the canonical interpretation. Smallville is about this version of Clark Kent becoming Superman. They don't say a character like Superman. They don't say Bizarro, Ultraman or Ubermensch, they say Superman. And that's how I'm going to judge the show; not on their interpretation of Green Arrow, or Kandorian clones or Chloe as Oracle; that's all just window dressing meant to entertain and I'll treat and review those elements as though they were present on any other show, with how well they stand up to scrutiny. But I'm going to judge the show on how well it succeeds or fails in syncing this version of Clark with the core of who we know Superman to be as a character.
For as long as you and Steve will let me.
And now, the review.
I narrowly avoided hating the first episode I had to watch critically. "Escape," was written by Genevieve Sparling, and, while I know that the writing process for a show like Smallville is done by committee with one writer assigned to put all the pieces together, this one shares too many of the soap opera-esque qualities of her earlier outings to give her a pass on responsibility. Of Ms. Sparling's three earlier episodes, the only one that didn't feel ham handed and emo in some way was her first, "Progeny."
There was a lot to dislike here and I'll go through it all in sequence but ultimately there was enough fun to make it watchable. Filler, but just, just watchable.
I guess my first question has to be, has Chloe lo-jacked every criminal in Metropolis?
I get what they're trying to do with Chloe, I do. By turning her into a fill-in for Oracle, the creative team is trying to give the one character left on the show not directly tied to the Superman mythos a feeling of purpose. Which is great. I haven't really liked what's been going on with her character this season, but that doesn't mean that mistakes are being made by the writers, just that her grieving process is taking her personality into uncomfortable terrain. For a show that tends to ignore the wounds of one week come the start of the next episode, it's good to see an emotional scar that lasts. That being said, if you're going to try and make a character relevant you have to do it in a way that makes sense. Chloe, in this scene, isn't filling Clark in on crimes she's hearing about on a police scanner. She's literally using some sort of tracking program that's alerting her to crimes in progress. This is impossible and therefore terrible.
Things that defy common sense for the sake of giving someone something to do are just distracting and annoying, not cool. This is not tech; it is magic, so, unless I missed the episode where Zatanna hexed all of Chloe's computers with some sort of Crystal Ball OS, this was just lazy writing that stuck out, eight seconds into the episode. I also take issue with Chloe telling Clark to go ahead and take a weekend off. I understand the whole, "weight of the world on your shoulders, you can't be there for everyone all the time," logic that they're trying to get at but this is not Clark taking a vacation from catching bank robbers. There is an army of Kandorians wandering the streets of Metropolis being led by a freakin' Zod clone.
Zod! Not the Parasite, not the Toyman, Zod. And Clark knows that Zod is trying very hard to get his and his people's powers back. I get that maybe Clark feels like he accomplished something by torching those towers but this is really probably not the best time to be going out to the country looking for a little love.
But, speaking of Zod, almost all of that is forgiven by the little snippet we're shown of him using super-hearing from a rooftop and showing genuine frustration at the way people love The Blur. I dig this, I really do. Here you've got a guy who has a pretty singular purpose. He's not yet the villain we know he'll become, in the same way Clark isn't the hero we know he's destined to be. Zod is alone with his people on a planet of six billion strangers and he has to hide his ability to protect them because the one person who should be helping him and his followers chooses to protect humanity instead. Seeing that frustration is great and the not so subtle aping of Clark that he's doing in this episode is, I think, a nice piece of foreshadowing.
Sadly though, all of this is too brief and we're back to the A-plot. This episode really flip-flopped on Lois for me. I really liked the bursting with excitement/packed bags for four different vacation types moment, it felt natural and carried the kind of energy that Clark would be amused by/attracted to. But then, the next time we see her she's been written as this overbearing twit that wants to force someone out of their room so she can get what she wants.
I don't understand why the Smallville writers don't get this. Yes, Lois Lane has to be a "strong" character. Yes, she has to be emotionally tough and borderline brilliant in order to attract someone like Superman. Her strength makes her stand out. But why, oh why, do the writers equate acting like a cow to complete strangers with personal strength. I didn't see a tough woman forging her own way in the world here, I saw a whiny, overgrown toddler browbeating someone because she was the one who wanted to make stops along the way and so was late for her reservation. Yuck. I hate how this show can make me love and hate the same character within minutes. There's zero consistency.
I didn't know a lot about Silver Banshee so I looked her up on Wikipedia. It turns out they got most of her origin pretty spot on (I suspect their research to have been Wiki based, in fact) but I don't know where they got the body jumping from or the man-hate curse. I didn't dislike it, it just felt odd. That's the problem though with introducing some of these villains. Someone like Banshee would, by very reason of her compulsions, be a fairly well known figure round those parts, so they have to introduce her as brand spanking new; hence the centuries old painting acting as a shield over a portal to her prison in the underworld that has miraculously never been damaged until Lois bangs into it. I get why they have to come up with something like that, I just wish it was a little less convenient.
And speaking of convenient, heeeeere's Chlollie.
I was actually okay with Chloe and Oliver up until this episode. I liked that this was a relationship that took place mostly off screen and was just hinted at. Smallville is not a show that does subtle very often or very well so this was a refreshing change of pace. Is it useless shipper pap? Definitely. But we have to remember that this is a show straddling two very different demos; for everyone of us that wants less of the who's sleeping with who nonsense and for Clark to just grow a pair and start leaping off buildings, there are at least two fans who just want a little more kissing and flowers mixed in with the heat vision please. The fact that we haven't had to endure months of Chloe and Oliver making doe eyes at each other for eighteen minutes out of every episode is a shocking departure and a welcome balancing of the show's priorities. At least it was until we found out the nature of the relationship in question.
In the spoilers concerning this episode there was much fanfare made of the "maturity" of this budding romance. The fact that said maturity is then shown to be the exact opposite is kind of a letdown. Do I care if two people have this kind of "friends with benefits" arrangement. Not at all. I've had them myself and they have their own perks. And it does make sense for these two characters; they're both incredibly damaged (I'd argue Chloe more so than Ollie but that's subjective) they're both lonely and they both have a lack of time to develop healthy attachments. But let's not confuse this for maturity. This kind of relationship almost always ends badly, nobody is empowered here (despite the attempt to portray Chloe in that light) and the whole "we're not attaching a label because we're beyond that," thing stops being edgy before most people graduate high school.
Be that as it may, the combination of Chlollie and Clois stuck together on their respective vacations away from one another is where the few truly fun elements of this episode come into play.
The breakfast and everything leading up to it? Good. The awkwardness of the four of them together at the table was priceless and might have been some of the best character acting on this show in many a season; it was only slightly ruined by Clark getting too serious during the whole "big brother" moment when he gives Ollie the traditional, "if you hurt her, I'll..." which, come to think of it, would be a whole lot scarier coming from a guy with heat vision. And Lois' delivery of, "Look Chloe, there's food," had me loving Durance again, if only for a little while.
While I was watching it I almost got the appeal of this show for the shipper set, Smallville truly does do soap opera better than superhero most of the time, and this scene really shone.
Meanwhile back at Kent farm...
I have multiple notes on this section but it boils down to two core ideas:
Clark really needs to install a security system on the farm. You know those robots he has in the Fortress in the comics? He needs to have them on this show and move them to the farm, right now. How many times has the farm been crashed? Lex practically lived there, Doomsday fell through the roof, I think Tess might actually have a key and every Kryptonian that visits the planet has valet parking at Chez Kent built into their travel package. Clark, I say this with all the love in the world, get better locks.
I hate Tess Mercer.
I really, really do. I have come to loathe her almost as much as I hated Lana, and here's why. She is the most completely random and inconsistent character to ever be introduced on this show.
One week she wants to help Clark, the next she wants to kill him. She's an environmental freedom fighter, no wait now she's a member of Checkmate. She's evil, she's less evil, she's good, she's really evil, hey look, now she's shtupping Zod. Feel bad for her, love her, hate her and now, because Zod, who looks down at humanity at best and feels outright contempt and hatred for them at worst, will sleep with her, we're supposed to want her. She's now hawwwwt.
This is not a subtle and mysterious foil for Superman you've created, Smallville. This is a psychotic rambling mess and I'd like you to plant her in a field, post haste.
Her presence here is made worse by the fact that she's now become the mouthpiece for the show's worst habit; expository dialogue. Do you remember back in seasons 2-7, when Chloe was beside Clark at every turn and most of her dialogue was like this?
"Hey Clark. Say, do you remember how last week you stopped that meteor freak and discovered that he was actually connected to the larger story arc of this season in a much bigger way than anyone could have anticipated?"
That, friends, is the show making the assumption that we are all idiots. Did anyone not get that the reason Tess was feeling Zod up was to see if his bullet wound had miraculously vanished? Did we need it explained after she shot him, Scooby-Doo style? I say we did not. On the flipside though (and I know I'm giving a lot of credit here that this was done on purpose) I absolutely loved the homage to the Donner cut of Superman II here. The whole, 'shoot him just to see,' element was great, especially with how they're playing at Zod as a mirror of Clark. Zod's Lois (Tess) uses real bullets instead of a blank which makes it evil genius instead of just genius. Which is appropriate and good characterization. But I still hate Tess.
"In every relationship one person stands while the other one kneels." Is this more of Smallville's new and more mature relationship theme? I tried this line on my fiancé last night. I got laughed at. Again, planted in a field please.
Oliver tries to give Chloe a present. She gets angry and leaves. More relationship goodies, though this one may be good for my wallet. Note to self, no more presents. Ah, but she's only leaving so she can get possessed by the Banshee and kill Clar...wha? Silver Chloe wants to jump Clark in the shower? I had to rewind to make sure but yup, the aforementioned curse upon the Banshee was specifically to kill all men. So this scene is designed just to cause arbitrary drama. Also we obviously need to see Lois in her role-play fetish outfit of the week. Which is hot and all, but really, since she didn't know where they were going for the weekend, the fact that Lois is carrying around the Scottish equivalent of a French maid's outfit is a little weird. But at least the Banshee gets right back into character after jumping into Lois by immediately trying to kill Ollie. I am now worried about the status of Clark's manhood.
In my notes I made this remark when Chloe brought up the whole Clark sleeping with humans issue;
"Yes! Chloe addresses the sex issue!"
This was immediately followed by a headdesk at Clark's explanation.
Let me get this straight. Clark has been continuing his training off screen? Check. Jor El, has not taught Clark how to fly? Check. Or the trick with the cellophane S-shield? Check. Not even the psychic, memory erasing kiss? Check. So...what has Clark learned lately? That's right, how to safely mate with humans. Oy.
I'm not as much of a stickler for Clark not having a stance on pre-marital sex. I think if you're going to update the mythology its okay to update the morality with it. BUT, considering how much Clark dragged his heels over his training with Jor-El and how against human attachment Big Daddy has been, this makes absolutely no sense in the context of the show's own rules. It's a throwaway explanation for something that doesn't need to be addressed yet since they're obviously going to tease us with will they/won't they scenes for the rest of the season anyway. This should have been handled differently.
I liked the effect of the Banshee's wail as well as the creature design itself, which I wasn't expecting. This was a good lesson in not prejudging how something will look based on a still picture. I'd like to know though, why did the Scottish mystics who imprisoned her portal behind the second painting not just set it on fire? It took Chloe all of two seconds to figure it out and she's not a Scottish mystic. You'd think, rather than leave vague clues behind, that they would have just dealt with it. This was another case of Smallville paying surface fan service by introducing a character from the comics and then snatching the cool away by hitting the erase button in a way that made no sense. Also, it would have been nice to see Clark deal with the threat rather than just get hit in the chest once and then watch her burn. It was all just wrapped up a little too neatly.
We end with more ZodBlur, which is great. I'm really enjoying the parallels and the obsession here; Zod describes Tess in almost the same language that is usually used to describe Lois in the comics but here it's false flattery; a means to an end rather than genuine admiration. And then contacting Lois as The Blur, taking advantage of the fact that Clark doesn't trust Lois enough to share his secret to gain advantage over a woman who knows his...it's just a really nice use of duality.
Unfortunately the bad far outweighed the brilliant this week; there was too much shipping and freak of the week fan service to make the episode enjoyable and Clark's forward momentum to becoming Superman took a backseat, but it did have its moments.
I mentioned above that the show feels schizophrenic to me; there are two distinct personalities at war with each other each week and so I've decided to score my reviews in a parallel vein. I'll be judging each episode on a pass/fail basis. An episode passes if it achieves some momentum towards the original mission statement of the series or if the non-mythos elements are well written and make sense within the greater fabric of the whole series, and it fails if it misses either of those requirements in a significant way.
This week's verdict: FAIL
Let's hope Checkmate brings its A-game.
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