Superman on Television

Smallville: Episode Reviews

Season 9 - Episode 18: "Upgrade"



Reviewed by: Douglas Trumble

Super Short Summary: Lois breaks into a lab where Lady Lex's goons are upgrading Metallo with a ruby colored Krypto upgrade which of course goes wrong leading to Lois going on the lamb with an unstable cyborg, Chloe teaming up with Lady Lex, and Zod-Clone joining forces with a red-hazed infected Blur who thinks it's fun to mess with west coast meteorologists.

Admittedly I wasn't too keen on going back to the Red K well for a story but I have to say I rather enjoyed this trip. Not so much because of the Clark/Blur part of the story but more so because I really enjoyed what they did with Metallo here.

Sure sometimes it's nice to have a villain who is just evil, but not all villains need to wear top hats and twirl their mustaches. Sometimes you can really enjoy the drama of a more tragic villain who's descent into villainy may not be all his fault.

I see that route clearly in John Corben right now and I really think they are doing a good job of it.

First he was kind of a jerk but after you learned what happened with his sister you can kind of understand it. Plus no one could really blame him for going a bit crazy after being lab rat number 2 for a bunch of clones from another planet. I know I get a little crazy every time that happens to me. It really felt like this time he came back with a truck-load of humility that was only aided more so by Lois' kindness towards him. It would have been completely understandable for her to just dismiss him due to his negative actions in their previous meeting, but Lois gave him a chance and let him prove himself and I liked that.

That act was almost Superman-like of her and it's good to see the future bride of Superman having those kinds of traits hidden under her snarky hard-as-steel outer personality shell.

I also really liked the fact that during the confrontation in the Fortress Metallo saved the Blur even after his control chip was knocked off. I don't know how much of that was simply in return for Lois' help or him just deciding to do a good deed, but it shows a deeper aspect to his character. I would have liked to see or hear more of his reaction to there being two Blurs instead of one. Maybe that'll come up sometime in the last few episodes.

It might be different than other versions of Metallo but still well done for what it is. Plus I think Brian Austin Green has done a fantastic job acting the part. Another aspect of great casting by the Smallville staff.

You know I have to say that I honestly think Smallville's biggest success in the 9 years they have been running is their ability to cast the various DCU characters to near perfection (with maybe the one exception of Maxima but then no one bats 1000). Even when the story they were added into wasn't the greatest the actors/actresses have all done very well.

Tom Welling always plays Red-K-Jerk-Clark pretty well and I liked the fact they didn't go too far with him this time. Just a little bit of graffiti on Chloe's wall and some harmless weather mortification was the worst of his actions this time around. No questionable marriages, ex-girlfriend kidnappings, cars driven off cliffs, banks robbed, or Lois getting a tattoo this time around. I call that a win in the keeping Clark honest column. The only real stupid thing was showing Zod-Clone the Fortress and blowing up the Green-K stockpiles. Yet you can't really blame him for taking out the truckloads of Kryptonite and I think they did a good job explaining the motivations for spending quality time with Zod-Clone when Clark explained his feeling of brotherhood and wish fulfillment. Those poor choices were at least understandable.

I was glad to see Clark became understanding to Chloe's Kryptonite backup plan after the Red-K wore off. It goes back to that whole idea that Superman lets Batman hold on to Lex's Kryptonite ring "just in case".

As an added side note I really loved the messing with the weather bit on a personal level. Why? Well as a weather forecaster by trade I find it rather comforting that from now on when I get the forecast wrong I can just blame it on rouge Red-K induced Kryptonian's. That will totally help me in my next performance review, I just know it.

Really there was only one significant down side of this episode and it had to do with the writer's treatment of Lois. I know we joke sometimes about brain damage and concussions with her (see the KO Count) but when knocking her out becomes so common a plot device on the show that you do it THREE FREAKING TIMES in one episode there is a problem.

Seriously? Three times? Are you kidding me?

Once in the explosion, once by Lady Lex's goons on the bus, and once by Chloe of all people. Sure maybe only once was due to physical trauma but I do not think a chemical knock out solution is all that healthy either. Give the poor girl a break shall we? It's just sad to see in an episode where Lois really shined that they had to resort to knocking her out so many times to avoid covering certain situations.

Some might be bothered by Clark tracking Lois' movements and I do understand and share that thought but I also know that Lois has a bad habit of getting into things over her head. With that in mind I am not too bothered by it at this point but I say that with some reservations. I don't think Clark thought she was doing something dishonest or negative in regards to their relationship so he wasn't following her for jealousy reasons or anything negative like that. He thought she was doing something dangerous and was worried for her safety, so that is why I'll let it slide (FOR NOW).

My reservations are because it is a tricky slope for them to take Superman down. One minute it's just worry for her safety and then the next minute he'll be hovering outside her house using his hearing and X-ray vision to spy on her and her family in the privacy of their home... and that is not good. So hey there Smallville powers that be (who I know are totally reading this), you need to be careful there. Let's not tread too far down that road okay?

I hope they cover Zod-Clone's little screw up in his Blur impersonation. It didn't come up this time but he screwed up when he didn't deny saving Lois in the lab explosion. Lois now knows John Corben saved her and not the Blur so I hope they remember to have her ask about that the next time they show her talking to Zod-Clone on the phone.

Pretty chilling (in a cool way) ending with Zod-Clone giving powers to his Clonetroopers. This is going to be the biggest challenge Clark has faced bar none. I know Doomsday had all the hype along with the boney protrusions, but honestly an army of Kryptonians charged up by a yellow sun are a slightly bigger deal in my opinion. Especially since Zod-Clone and Clark blasted all of Chloe's kryptonite stockpiles. I am sure they can find more, but their ability to fight back has taken a beating. Hopefully John Corben waits a bit to change to the Red-K heart. He might come in handy.

By the way let me just take a moment to ask this. What would happen if Zod-Clone was exposed to Red-K? If it turns a good guy into a jerk would it turn a jerk into a good guy or just make him more of a jerk? Interesting possibility. Too bad they didn't explore that idea a little bit. You know random thought just popped into my head. Zod-Clone is technically the evil clone of an evil guy right... Shouldn't that actually make him a good guy?

Anyway, speaking of Red-K and Zod-Clone...

That leads me to what I am sure you all have been waiting for... The WTF moment of the week:

This week's award goes to Major Zod-Clone. He didn't know Clark was under the influence of something right? (I am assuming he doesn't know about Red-K since Lady Lex also did not know). So why exactly did he run when Metallo gave Clark the Green-K hug to short out the Red-K? He wouldn't have known Clark was suddenly back to being responsible right? The fight was still on right? Sure maybe he was hoping Metallo would finish Clark off for him but I have a different theory. He's a big fat Chicken-Clone. Yeah, I said it. What the Fudge Zod-Clone? Take that!

Honorable mention goes to Chloe simply because I hope to God that she found that chloroform in the lab somewhere and wasn't actually carrying that around with her. That's just too disturbing of a thought.

So anyway I'm going to give this one a 4 out of 5. Call it maybe a 4.5 but I am subtracting .5 for knocking Lois out three times.

See you next week.



Reviewed by: Julian Finn

In the interest of full disclosure, I have a bias to confess. I loathe red kryptonite. A lot.

Imagine you're reading a book. The main character, Todd, is extremely well rendered. He has well defined moral parameters, you can tell what kind of stimuli will cause him to react in particular ways and you really start to get a feel for what this guy is all about. Then, you come to the middle of the book, and you realize that the writer messed up horribly. In order for the conflict that will propel the plot through to the climax to occur, Todd has to behave in a way that is...un-Todd-like. Curious to see how this will be addressed, you read on. Todd goes about his day as usual and the major threat of the story rears its head, cackling with glee because it knows the writer has pooped the bed on this one. This book should never have been written, the bad guy is going to win, all will be lost and all because every possible action available to Todd and his established behaviours will result in his death. The end. Todd is done for but...there are still two hundred pages left. So then you get treated to something not unlike this;

Suddenly, when all hope seemed lost, a bright green leprechaun monkey from the third ring of Terra Stupifica appeared as if from nowhere, hovering above Todd's left shoulder. With a gleeful chortle it flung a turd of rainbow coloured monkey dung into Todd's eyes and vanished. As everyone knows, the multi-coloured feces of a leprechaun monkey have the effect of reversing one's aggressions back upon oneself and so, with a vigour that startled even the terrible Wreestly Snitch waiting patiently to devour our fearless hero, Todd proceed to beat himself unconscious. Later, waking in a hospital bed, Todd was informed that, at precisely the moment he passed out in a broken heap, the Snitch had vanished; clearly, Todd now realized, the Wreestly Snitch was a manifestation of his own personality and one that could be dealt with finally. Todd would save the ending his own life. Dunh dunh dunh.

That, dear reader, is red kryptonite. And it's not Smallville's fault; the precedent for this was set in the comics, and followed through by the writers of Superman III. Sometimes you just can't write your way out of a wet bag and, in order to make your characters line up with the plot you have in mind, you have to pretend that your audience is comprised entirely of fourth graders with the collective attention span of a tornado.

In general, I have hated the use of red K on this show, the exception being the use at the end of Season 2 and the beginning of Season 3. The difference there was the fact that there was no reset; the things Clark does while on red K have long lasting implications that directly contribute to the death of a major character. Yeah, it was still kind of weak sauce, but I forgave it because the writers followed through on delivering consequences for Clark's actions on red K. So, with that in mind, I went into this episode with as much of an open mind as I could possibly muster; the trailer looked great, I loved and continue to love BAG as Metallo and maybe, just maybe, we would get a cool setup for many consequences to come.

Ironically enough, it was just about everything else about the episode that drove me up a wall; red kryptonite almost didn't rate at all.

So, the theme of this episode turned out to be behaviour and how almost none of the characters on this show possess anything resembling consistency.

Lois is on assignment for the Blur (Zod) who has found out that Tess has pinched the remains of Metallo and is rebuilding him for some nefarious purpose. So... apparently when Tess says she's going underground to hide from Checkmate, what she really means is she's spending millions of dollars on a secret Frankenstein project and is so bad at covering her tracks that civilians can find and infiltrate her secret lair using really, really shoddy fake identification. Checkmate is going to find her and skin her in four seconds flat. With the edge of a chess board.

Unfortunate explosions and pandemonium ensue, resulting in one of the silliest scenes I've ever seen on television. And it only works here because this is a show based on Superman. Lois runs away from the fire, which is inconsiderate at best in its mad pursuit of her, leaps into an elevator shaft as the fire hits her, and falls at least three stories down to land safely in the arms of a very conveniently placed Metallo. Lois, on any other show, would be a very crispy, broken in half, marshmallow. BUT...

Long ago I loved and accepted the, "You've got me, who's got you?!?" scene in Superman: The Movie. It went completely against the laws of physics; the reality of that scene would have been Lois being violently trisected by Superman's arms as she's intercepted by rigid objects while in free fall. We all know this and continue to love some of the wackier elements of this character's modus operandi even when they don't necessarily make sense. So, while I cringed a little at the total lack of realism of Lois not only escaping unburned but also not breaking every bone in her body upon her landing, I am forced to accept it as not being Smallville's fault. This is a fundamental element of a Superman story that we just have to take at face value; I just wish it wasn't so blatantly over the top.

Lois wakes up in her bed, unaware of how she got there, with now-creepy stalker Clark kissing her shoulder. Fainting during that fall I can understand, I don't, however, believe that anyone would then sleep a calm restful sleep for the rest of the night.

And, yippee! Lois lies to Clark about what she's been up to. Not even a good lie; this was more along the lines of a woman staggering into a hospital with multiple fractures and a concussion and then claiming she just ran into a pidgeon. And, thankfully, Clark doesn't buy it. There is a delicious irony here; you've got a guy who has lied both directly and by omission to this woman about who he really is, and he has the chutzpah to actually chide her for keeping secrets. I know it's a necessary evil of the Superman mythos, but it's one I've always had a problem with. Relationships are built on trust and these two people have none.

After some really awkward banter and some serious passive aggressive behaviour from Clark (who, over the age of 15, gets that upset at having an unplanned romantic encounter interrupted by their partner's career?) Lois stumbles upon a near dead John Corben in one of Smallville's seemingly endless supply of creepy basements.

I really dig BAG in this role. He brings with him something that we haven't really had on this show since Lionel did his swan dive; screen presence. Some performers elevate everyone else around them by sheer force of talent; we've now had two 90210 guest stars on the show and, while Tori Spelling dragged everyone into the muck with her, BAG has a way of making every scene he's in shine.

Oh, and it turns out I was right in my first review; Chloe really has lojacked everyone on the planet. Clark uses the tracer Chloe snuck on Lois's keychain (?) and finds Tess' secret lab/lair.

For me, everything about a red K episode hinges on how Clark gets exposed. Clark puts a red K ring on deliberately in order to live a more impulsive and worry free life? That I can dig. Lois accidentally buys red K lipstick and lays a wet one on Clark, thus infecting him? Not so much. With that in mind, I was curious to see how they would work it in this time. And what did we get?

The aerosol version of kryptonite Gatorade.

This was just...yuck, really. It wasn't even an attempt at subtlety or intelligent plotting. I know I nitpicked a lot about some poor characterization in last week's episode, but I gave credit where credit was due; it was written by someone who takes plot and consequences seriously. This, by contrast, was just insulting.

A man shoots a bullet into the air two miles away from you while you're out for a jog. You stop to pick up a flower and, just as you do, that bullet curves down and hits you in the center of the spine, paralyzing you for life. That's what was forced, biting and kicking, into this episode in order to get Clark from point A to the Fortress with Zod and Metallo in tow.

What was interesting to me was, except for a couple of minor instances (like taking Zod to the Fortress for a chat with dear old Dad) Clark didn't behave all that differently on red K than he has been for much of this season.

Knocking around mere mortals in fits of rage? Check.

Burning his tag into private property to leave vague messages? Check.

And hold on, why does Clark stop at burning the S symbol into the wall? If, as he says, Chloe and him are now at war, wouldn't it make sense to, I don't know, use that heat vision to destroy Chloe's war room? He doesn't, I suspect, because that would be a lasting consequence.

Clark, after taking time to dress up in his crime fighting best, shows up at what we can only assume is the closest of Chloe's kryptonite stockpiles, just in time to find Corben shooting up. But before he can so much as say, "I'm a bad guy too," Zod swoops in and torches the cache and Metallo with it.

Clark tacitly approving of a character (from his perspective) dying through means indirectly linked to him? Check.

Just when I thought it was gone forever, Chloe treats us to some more of that wonderful, "Just in case you didn't tune in last week," dialogue with Tess. Nobody in the real world talks like this. And, not for nothing, but Chloe knows that Tess was complicit in her kidnapping and near death just last week. So, of course she's now carrying around a pistol for self defence and, when happily coming upon the architect of her torture she pulls it out and...bah? Not only does Chloe engage in some meaningless banter and exposition but did she just actually tell Tess what red K does to Kryptonians? Is this like the Oliver thing? Did Chloe and Tess start dating off screen and no one bothered to tell me? I think this might just come back to haunt us before the season's done.

And see?! Metallo walking the earth being kind of puppy doggish and hurting no one, really (did Smallville get my memo about more complex villains and run with it, or what?) is the direct result of Clark dangling Tess off a building last week. Tess tells Chloe that, because Clark has proven himself not to be the knight in shining armor she was hoping for, she had to build her own bodyguard specifically to protect herself from him.

I'm still loving the dynamic between Zod and Clark; now that they're face to face as equals, Zod gives Clark some seriously good reasons to join up with him and the Kandorians; it's almost too bad that the decisions Clark makes here will be reversed once the effects of the red K have elapsed.

How does Zod suddenly know that Clark has a map to all of the kryptonite stashes, which I also wasn't aware he knew about?

Also kind of sad is the fact that we know, by this point in the episode, that the only reason Metallo is in the story at all was as a means to have a plausible reason for all this red k inspired Zod-bonding to happen. Calling this episode, "Upgrade," and teasing it as the return of Metallo, is being almost as deceptive as Shakespeare was when he named his play, "Julius Caesar," instead of "Brutus." Fitting that, one week after an episode dripping with chess pieces, we get a repeat performance from a great character reduced to the importance of a pawn; Corben is moved so carefully around the board in this episode that you can almost see the strings. (We actually get a Terminator command screen instead, but you see my point.) He gets spirited away here by Tess's agents just in time to be put into play for the endgame in the Fortress. This whole situation feels mechanical and forced and is a real wasted opportunity for this character.

And why, oh why, does Tess have agents working covertly for her when she's supposed to be on the run? Is this not akin to sending up giant Tess shaped smoke signals for Checkmate to descend upon? How is she financing this without detection? Underground means hiding in a hole, Tess, not tossing money, agents, and radioactive space rocks around your home town like confetti.

There's a truly great moment here with Clark and Zod. I almost believe that, even without the influence of the red K, Clark would be falling for Zod's pitch. Why wouldn't he? He's lonely, doesn't know who to trust and, now that the whole, keeping the Kandorians unpowered thing, is completely out of his hands, I can see this season's Clark hoping that Zod might be an ally after all. It would be incredibly short sighted of him, but it would make sense in the context that we've been presented.

I love (sarcasm) that Chloe, in a mostly destroyed secret lab, somehow has a working, detailed, Doppler screen up, with which she uncannily determines that a freak snowstorm in Seattle must be the work of Clark. Deductive reasoning and luck of the devil must be her two new superpowers. Which she then uses to manufacture the S shield teleport stone from her purse to give to Metallo on a "hunch" that Clark and Zod might be headed to the Fortress.

Look, I get it; coincidence is a necessary tool of this kind of narrative. But every single major event in this episode takes place as a direct result of the kind of lottery-winning-odds-against set ups not usually found outside a Loony Tunes episode. Did the target audience for this show shift overnight to the gullible moron demographic? Do none of the rest of you feel like your intelligence was seriously called into question this week? I just don't get how this made it out of the writer's room intact.

I love Lois' line here.

"...this is the least secret, secret lab I've ever been in." Classic. Chloe being the one to incapacitate her, not so classic. And I just know that there will be no consequence or follow through on this scene whatsoever. Lois is a journalist, she would definitely write a story about a secret lab being used for illegal human testing; but by next week she'll have forgotten, because one of Chloe's new superpowers is the ability to create amnesia inducing chloroform and pristine white handkerchiefs to administer it with.

Great power use in the next scene from Clark and Zod, which conveniently knocks the V-chip off of Corben's neck. Which, you know, has to happen, otherwise Metallo can't save Clark by stabbing him un-fatally, and then teleport home for his red K upgrade.

The scene with Lois and Corben was one of the few emotional pieces this show has ever produced that really hit home for me. It makes sense that he would fall for Lois; she sees the man, not the monster. Lois delivering her assertion that Clark is the one for her, while forced and a little premature at this point in their relationship, still felt like a defining moment for her.

By contrast, Tess ratting out Clark to Zod makes no sense and felt like an excuse for manufactured drama. She can't hide from Clark; her insurance plan against him is on the run (and is probably better at that than she is) and Clark has already shown twice that he's willing to be very, very mean to her; does it really seem like a good idea to keep deliberately poking that particular hornet's nest? I would say no, but after this week's Kryptonian love in, they need an excuse for Zod to actively begin his move against Clark before the finale. So...

A great performance by BAG and a second straight week of great effects use was not enough to save this episode from some of the worst plotting and characterization offences I've ever seen this show commit. Not to mention, I kind of hate that Clark has fallen so low this season that there's almost no significant behavioural differences between his default personality and the red K version.

Verdict: EPIC FAIL.


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