Superman on Television
Smallville: Episode Reviews
Season 9 - Episode 19: "Charade"Reviews:
CharadeReviewed by: Julian Finn
There, was that so hard?
This week we were given a little tiny piece of forward motion on the overarching story line of the season, a ton of solid progression on the Lois, Clark and Superman love triangle, a (finally) not entirely clumsy and contrived tease and conceal moment for Clark's secret, a new and morally complex villain and, best of all, almost none of it felt like it was shoehorned into place by an angry fascist cobbler, hell bent on the destruction of all shoes, everywhere.
Now, if only it had been split into two episodes.
When I was a kid there was very little in the way of non-comic book Superman media available. I probably wound up watching Superman I-IV a combined total of NINE BILLION TIMES before the very first episode of Superman: The Animated Series ever aired. And so, as you can imagine, I was thrilled beyond words when Lois & Clark first aired in 1993. Here I finally had a live action version of the character I loved and I didn't have to wait years for each new instalment, only one painful week at a time. But there was something wrong with L&C, something it took the 14 year old version of me about a year to figure out. True to its name, L&C wasn't about Superman, but rather the romance between the two title characters. L&C used the Superman mythos as a springboard to sell a soap opera; the actual Superman components of each episode were almost always campy to the point where I sometimes found myself expecting the on-screen onomatopoeia we all associate with the Batman TV series of the late sixties.
This first half of this episode was almost that. There was the kind of light fluffy music and bounciness that I always associate with L&C or the Schumacher Batman films; we got a Lois in bunny suit moment that was far more derivative than it was exploitative, and we were given an 'aw shucks how are they going to work it out' foil plot in the form of the 'only one of you will get to keep your job' challenge. (Really? I thought I was done with set-ups like that one once I was old enough to stop watching Saved by the Bell).
What saved Charade from being empty, emo pap was some strong writing from a team responsible for some of my favourite mythology oriented episodes of the last few seasons, and an even stronger second half that very neatly (if conveniently) addressed and dealt with one of my all time pet peeves with the Superman mythos.
The reason I say I wish this had been two episodes was because they crammed so much in here that there was no time to address some very important consequences of last week's deus ex machina bulk sale. My biggest problem with Charade was not anything that went into the episode but rather what was left out.
Let's say you're a borderline psychotic Kryptonian military leader. Go on, imagine that's you; close your eyes and really get into a headspace where you believe you could confidently tell people to kneel before you while referring to yourself in the first person. Got it? Ok. So you're Zod, and, after months of being forced to simper and hide and glad hand amongst humans, you finally have the power you've been craving and with it the means to carve out the kind of existence you feel that someone of your stature deserves. Not only that, but you've discovered the means to give all the soldiers under your command those same powers and thus you now have allies who can help you shape the world in your image. Add to all that the fact that you've just been shown (kind of questionable but still) evidence that the one person on this strange planet that you've let yourself trust a little has been trying to steal your people away from you and is, in essence, a giant piggy traitor to your designs of Kryptonian dominion.
All of this has happened to you and you've sworn vengeance. And really, you're the kind of guy for whom the opportunity for a good swearing of vengeance is the cherry on top of your best-served-cold Rao and chocolate Sunday. This is the kind of Shakespearian drama you were cloned for in the first place. Do you:
a) Gather up your posse of very well trained, very xenophobic and very, very powerful soldiers and take them out for a day trip to pulverize Clark Kent so badly that he will have to change his name to the Smear, or do you:
b) Spend this week feeding ducks in the park, ignoring the incessant cell phone calls of a woman who you've been setting up for some master plan for weeks now, and generally just let bygones be bygones until, you know, next week you don't?
I don't care what network executives think. This isn't great pacing to build tension before the final showdown; this isn't the same as when you switch the focus from one group of castaways to another for this week's episode of Lost; this is, plain and simple, jettisoning momentum, characterization and internal consistency for the sake of ensuring that you really maximize every last second of potential ad revenue. There have been some fantastic shows in the last couple of years that racked up staggering ratings (therefore much higher revenue per minute of air time) after shortening their number of episodes in a season. Why? Because it allowed them to focus on what really matters to an audience; telling a good story that doesn't get bogged down in filler.
And that's what Charade was; filler. It was great filler, but filler nonetheless, and I would have loved this episode all the more if the first half had happened earlier in the season.
The Front Half
The first five minutes of Charade felt absolutely out of sync with the tone of every recent episode except Escape. We're dealing with a silly villain, a silly set-up and that oh so annoying plot device, the 'let's figure out how we got here.' Lois jumps out of a cake and socks Clark a good one and I sighed because:
a) I smelled unnecessary drama a-brewing, and
b) Lois's hand should have broken.
I watched this scene about six times just to make sure and I know that when we see this shot again later in the episode, Lois doesn't actually connect but, say what you will, in this scene she does, complete with sound and accompanying fury. Her hand should be paste, but because of an elaborate cheat and complete reshoot later on, we're not supposed to care.
Chloe plays relationship counsellor to both Clark and Lois. This is pure One Tree Hill territory, only worse because no one over the age of 15 talks like this.
'If we L each other...'
Seriously? My mother used to tell me, 'If you're not old enough to talk about it without giggling, then you're not old enough to be doing it.' By that measure Lois isn't going to be old enough until sometime around the centennial of the internet. It's almost like the producers realized that they'd messed up on the action to goo quotient for the last couple of episodes so they ordered up some extra schmaltz this week.
I love that Chloe, in the middle of her 'previously on Smallville' monologue to Clark, actually says what I'm thinking, namely, 'hey, what about Zod?'
In under two minutes of argument, Clark goes from telling Chloe that he's, 'not telling Lois anything,' to belligerently arguing that if Lois is going to share her secret, maybe he should share his too. Pretty much midsentence. I can almost see Chloe preparing to headdesk and it's possible that she did but I missed it while performing my own.
The pounce on each other moment in the elevator could have played out as kind of icky but, thanks to a bit of well placed overkill on the swoop and lean, it came off as more of a hokey nod to the black and white romances of yesteryear and actually worked quite nicely.
And then they ruin it with this,
'Sometimes I swear you have more than two hands.'
Why, Smallville? Why must you take a cute moment that kind of skirts the edge of taste and then kick it into the slop? I don't need to think about the ramifications of what a supergrope might look like; you can keep that effect to yourself.
This whole subplot of Lois and Clark's jobs being up in the air is just meaningless tension for the sake of propelling this particular story and, as cute as it is, it sucks because we know where it's all leading. Look, tension is only tension if it's genuine; we know from the spoilers that Perry White is going to be coming back very shortly; does anyone truly believe that he won't be installed as the new Editor and immediately hire both of them back? Anyone? Even if we knew nothing about upcoming episodes, we still have the foreknowledge that both of these characters have long, illustrious careers working at the Planet; Henry James Olsen aside, do you really believe the writers and producers of this show will follow through on this kind of mythology meddling? The point is, for some reason, these people believe that you will, which is why we keep getting treated to crap like this.
And now for something completely different...
Chloe is lurking around in Luthorcorp. Why?
Oh, it's because we need another Tess scene. This is now the second time in two episodes that Chloe has asked Tess really snidely what she's doing above ground. Only this time it kind of played as a death threat, which, since it's Chloe and she's gone a little dark side this season, I'm totally ok with. The thing is, this scene doesn't belong in this episode. At all. What purpose does it serve? We already know Tess is dumb as sand, so the fact that she's now hanging around one of the two places (work and home) that anyone searching for her would absolutely have staked out is more a kind of indication as to Checkmate's toothlessness than anything else. We already suspected that the Chloe/Tess super team up was a onetime affair so do we really need all the catfight foreplay?
Really, all we're getting here is a set up for next week's Chloess cage match; kind of like a mini trailer. But it also served the purpose of setting up the tonal shift for the back end of this episode, which I didn't see coming.
'Half of being in a relationship with Lois is having to protect her from herself.'
I wanted to jump through the screen and strangle Clark with his tie. Who says stuff like this and still dates the person they're talking about? If you have that much contempt for her, Clark; don't date her. Just gross and it really shows that what these people think of relationships comes directly from the other shows this network has built its fanbase on.
The scene with Lois and Sacks is pure gold; this is what Lois Lane has always done, in every medium; she rushes headlong into danger and hopes for the best, all in the name of getting the scoop or, in this case, flushing out a threat to the Blur. Sacks, on the other hand just seems like someone who loves prison; why else would he jump at the first chance to kill someone mere days after his miraculous release?
Lois pouring her heart out to the Blur in the alley is glorious and nicely sets up a complimentary scene later in the episode.
Clark doing the full-on stalker boyfriend scene? Not so glorious. I get that he's trying to get his message across without actually pulling his shirt open to reveal the emblem underneath, but he does such a terrible job of it that, from both his tone and his body language, I actually expected him to backhand Lois across the street. This was just a clumsily written scene that created arbitrary drama which was completely glossed over by the end of the episode. In real life this would have been the end of the relationship and possibly the start of a restraining order for Clark.
This was also the scene where the mid-episode tonal seizure happened and we found ourselves watching a different show for twenty minutes.
The Back Half
I love the fact that Clark is getting frustrated with Lois' dual relationship with him. In the past, and in other mediums, this was always addressed as a jealousy issue, which I never liked because Superman is supposed to be above that. Here we get a genuine scenario where Lois' priorities are preventing Clark from protecting her; he's not upset because she's overvaluing one aspect of his life; he's freaking out because she's so dedicated to protecting him that she's placed her own life in danger and he can't do anything about it. Superman is a truly fascinating character when he's placed in a situation where his powers are worthless and this was one of the best such moments this show has ever pulled off. It was small but extremely powerful.
In the second version of the bunny punch scene we get a far away shot of the punch and Lois is obviously using it as an excuse to get to the deliver guy so she can 'accideath' his phone to pieces. It still sucks though because we don't have Alzheimer's and so we actually remember how the scene played twenty minutes ago.
'Oops, sorry about your million dollars.'
Once again Smallville takes me from loving Lois to wanting her bludgeoned to death in mere seconds. No one likes a gloater; it doesn't make her witty, it doesn't make her strong, it just makes her a vicious twit, undeserving of anyone's praise or affections. Bad Smallville.
Post firing, we get the teary dressing down that Clark deserves after his arbitrary bull in a china shop routine of the night before. Which, of course, presents the perfect opportunity for Lois to be kidnapped while Clark tries to respect her obvious desire for space. I have a question. If Sacks knows that Maxwell Lord can gank people's memories AND he knows that Lois has had a lot of contact with the Blur, why in the name of Zeus does he not have her kidnapped the night before instead of trying to kill her???
I love the introduction of Maxwell Lord; mid mind-rape in a room that looks uncannily like something off the set of either Dollhouse or BSG. Depowering Lord and limiting his abilities to the extraction of information is a good move and makes sense within the parameters of this show. BUT...
We're now getting the term 'metahuman' bandied about quite a bit on Smallville, and it's not just the meteor freaks anymore. In the comics, Maxwell Lord's powers are the result of being exposed to a metagene bomb that affects thousands of other humans as well. I'd like, sometime before the end of the series, for the writers to address where all of these superheroes are coming from in some kind of tangible way, beyond just telling us they've always been around.
What I really liked about the exchange between Lord and Sacks was the fact that, while Lord is obviously at odds with what Clark and the JL are about, he can't be considered a villain; his motives are the same as Clark's (at least he claims they are) he's just using more extreme methods and he's a little more black and white in his threat assessments. I hope that he doesn't descend, in future episodes, into the kind of cackling, evil monkey villain that we've been given time after time.
And, once again with the chess pieces. I can see Checkmate using Sacks to lure in Clark, I really can. He's crooked and therefore malleable and he's got an axe to grind against someone that they're very interested in pursuing. Making him an asset, however, makes no sense whatsoever. I think the writers realized this because, no sooner does Sacks start gloating over the phone to somebody about how he's been tapped than Clark shows up and body checks him into a wall at superspeed. I really think Jor-El should have focused on the old ethics training, rather than giving Clark dating advice.
I really dug the confrontation between Maxwell and Clark, and the culminating shot of Clark leaping through the almost complete image of himself was another great effects moment. I would, however, love to know how Lord managed to sneak away when Clark was moving at superspeed. Oh those annoyingly convenient escapes that necessary characters make, just because.
And then we came to the scene that did it for me. This moment where Lois is talking to Clark's reflection is what, for me, elevated this episode beyond the mistimed filler that it mostly was and made it a brilliant addition to the Superman story as a whole.
My biggest issue, in any medium, with the Lois and Clark romance, is all the secrets and lies. In a real relationship what actually happens is this:
Her: 'Why do you smell like smoke? You told me you'd quit.'
Me: 'Uhhhh, I was hanging around someone else who was smoking?'
Her: 'And were you also making out with them? You taste like an ashtray.'
Her: 'If you can't tell me the truth, it's over!'
Me: 'I need a smoke.'
Throughout the Superman mythos, Clark, for years, repeatedly lies to Lois' face about not being Superman; he lies by omission, and he finds ways to discredit and humiliate her whenever she gets too close to proving the connection. Sometimes, in the early years, he would even break the fourth wall and wink at us about it, making us complicit in the lie. Years later, when he finally comes clean, Lois forgives him and buys his excuse that he was doing it all to protect her from his enemies.
Who would forgive that?
At the very least Lois would be offended to death at the sanctimonious way he removes her choice of whether or not she wants to be exposed to that danger; at worst she would blend him up a kryptonite milkshake and run off to a speed date with Lex Luthor, cackling maniacally about the arrogance of men and slinging racial slurs against Kryptonians. But we're expected to believe that she not only takes it, but chooses to marry him anyway. What relationship could survive that level of mistrust?
What makes the approach in this episode so brilliant, by contrast, is the fact that Lois is the one who chooses to stay in the dark. She obviously wants to know who he is; she's dying to turn around and Clark is flat out ready to tell her because the lie is really starting to wear on him, but she chooses to stop him.
'...but you can't protect us if we know who you are.'
There's so much going on in this scene, both on an emotional level and in the images we're being shown; that floating S in the reflection behind her is one of the most powerful and iconic shots I've ever seen on this show and Durance does an amazing job showing the conflict her character is experiencing; but that line is my favourite. It's Lois not just speaking for herself, but for all of humanity; she's saying that the idea of the Blur is more important than the facts of who he is.
The fact that it's Lois making the call also absolves Clark of any guilt down the road when he finally shares his secret with her; she can't mistrust him when she's the one who told him to lie and so it solves a problem that should have seen them stuck in couple's counselling for at least a decade.
The wrap up is mostly good; Maxwell Lord gets gangland abducted by the red queen who, judging by the fact that they're keeping her face in the shadows, is going to turn out to be either Lana, Martha or Tess (guess who my money's on). Clark goes a little too whiny over Lois' mixed emotions for his two personas but ultimately gets past it (how Lois winds up getting past Clark's 'roid rage behaviour and goes all apologetic about her emotional two timing is mystifying) and we got (hopefully) an end to the Zod/Blur/Lois triangle before we really knew what the point of it was.
In the end, an episode that could have been really infuriating for its derailment of any forward momentum was ultimately saved by some decent character work, the introduction of an interesting new player, and the inclusion of a brilliant twisting of tradition that very neatly solved one of the very few moral black holes that Superman contains as a character.
CharadeReviewed by: Douglas Trumble
Super Short Summary: An evil lawyer who tried to kill Lois is given a 'get out of jail free' card which sends Lois and Clark on an investigation that leads to them losing their jobs, outing Lois' secret relationship with The Blur, puts the couple face to face with Max Lord, and exposes Zod-Clone's moonlighting as Clark's alter ego to the Watchtower and her superfriend.
They did it! They really did it!
I couldn't be happier.
I feel like dancing in the streets and singing hallelujah until the cows come home.
Ok, maybe a tame somewhat reserved happy dance but still I have to say SWEET! THEY DID IT!
What am talking about?
Max Lord's introduction to Smallville? Naaa. He was really just a small almost insignificant part to this episode other than a plot device to get into Lois' mind. Any random freak of the week with mind powers could have filled that spot.
The Red Queen's seductive secret legs and Lois jumping out of a cake in a bunny outfit? Naaa. I might be your average male but it wasn't that either.
Lois staying conscious throughout? Nope. She was out at least once this time as well, so it wasn't that either.
My expressions of admiration and glee are completely and totally related to something they managed to do in this episode that no other version of the Superman/Lois/Clark love story has managed to do. Ever.
I've spoken before in my commentaries about a bi-product of the Lois/Clark/Superman love triangle for two that has always been an issue for me personally. In short I feel that there always seems to be a point in the relationship where continuing to keep Lois unaware of Superman's true identity starts to become cruel and can in many ways diminish both characters. Basically Clark ends up looking like a jerk and Lois ends up looking like a fool.
To this point on Smallville they have avoided the issue of Lois being fooled by the glasses by having this "Superman" not show his face to her so in that regards they did something new and believable but I am not talking about just that. It's a part of it sure, but with this episode they have also gone way beyond that. Smallville was rapidly approaching the point where continuing the deception made Clark a real jerk. (Debatably they had already reached it.) In this episode they did something really awesome that totally solved the problem in a way that wasn't just telling her the truth and thus ending the triangle for two. They did it in a way that puts Lois on equal footing with Clark and avoids the Clark is a selfish jerk aspects of the story.
By having Lois be the one to choose not to know and asking Superman not to tell her she becomes equal partners with Clark in the continued deception in their relationship. Clark is no longer the sole choice maker in the decision to keep the information from her and Lois is no longer unknowingly being duped by her closest friend. Sure she will be entitled to some anger when she learns the truth but it is no longer a situation where Clark is just lying to her. I think by having her an equal partner in the decision shows some great respect for her character and sends a positive message about the couple in an area that isn't always their shining moment in other versions.
Plus by bringing in Max Lord to use a mind probe on Lois they were able to do something else I really liked. Something that helped bring this whole thing to yet another level. Showing us that Lois subconsciously really does know the truth gives even more strength to her character and further puts her on equal footing with Clark in this matter.
NOTE: I know it probably can be debated whether the hologram turned to Clark's image before he jumped through it or if it changed because he jumped through it but the wife and I both were sure it did change first so that is what I am going with until told otherwise. I just mention this in the interest of full disclosure.
I have to give credit to the acting here too. Both Tom Welling and Erica Durance were on top of their game in this episode. Tom was able to sell Clark's desire to share his secret with the woman he loves without a word in the moment he stood behind her after saving her from the mind probe. I loved that scene in so many ways. It was my favorite. Sure the thing with the hologram was cool but what was even better was the way The Blur stood behind Lois and put his hand on her shoulder. I found it very touching.
The fact she could see the S in the reflection but stopped herself from turning around was nothing short of an epic moment for Lois Lane on Smallville in my opinion. One of her best moments on the show so far. Erica Durance did not disappoint with her acting in that moment and really sold Lois' pain and conviction in the choice she made.
Both actors also nailed it during the phone booth scene. I was sad to see the calls come to an end but since it was not used as much as I wanted anyway I am ok with the development. It's not like once Zod-Clone's deception is revealed to Lois that they can't come back to it.
I could keep going on and on about this relationship development but my next step would be to point out how having Lois beg not to know really sets her apart from Lana who demanded to know and was angry not to know thus highlighting why Lois is right for Superman and why Lana is not... But that would be me just kicking the dead horse so I won't... Or maybe I just did... whoops. Oh well. So I did.
So anyway, in short, Lois is the one choosing to have Clark/Blur keep his identity from her and deep down she really knows the truth. Clark isn't a lying jerk without reason and Lois isn't looking like a fool. Both characters remain with integrity intact and have equal parts in the continued deception. This is even better than when they found a way for Clark to give Lois permission to choose his superhero name.
I still think the time for Lois knowing is coming soon but what they did here in this episode does solve all major issues I had with the Triangle for two. It is something I honestly think is better than any other version and I actually hope to see it incorporated in future versions of the character in a similar fashion.
Nice job Smallville! You did what I honestly thought couldn't be done.
On a related note they get extra points for confronting the Super Spying issue with Clark coming right out and saying exactly what I was hoping he would. (Hey maybe they do read my commentaries... Ok Maybe not...anyway... moving on.) He clearly pointed out to Chloe that while he fears for Lois' safety he can't just keep using his powers to spy on her and he was absolutely right. I've been waiting for that line to come out of his mouth and I am so glad they did not make me wait too long.
The extreme situation with someone impersonating the Blur lead to him stealing her phone. Wrong in a way but understandable and his statement of remorse and distaste for that action is good enough for me to accept it as it was. Nice job!
I know I am not saying much about the main plot of this episode but really that was all secondary to the relationship progress. You could almost call this one filler but there were some small significant steps taken in both the faux Blur plot and the Checkmate plot so that really wouldn't be true. Still, none of those developments are anything you'd be lost over if you missed it.
Clark now knows Zod was impersonating him with Lois, the Black King is Max Lord, and the Red Queen is a real person. That's all you really need to know out of this one. That really takes backstage to the fact that Lois asked the Blur not to come clean with her and also subconsciously knows that Clark is the Blur. That could be the biggest bombshell of the season.
Speaking of the Red Queen, I am finding the mystery to be not all that enticing. It's either someone we know already which wouldn't be a shock or it's someone out of the blue which also wouldn't be a shock.
I don't want to speculate on her identity at this point.
I guess I am just not expecting her identity to be a big deal. Hopefully I will be wrong and it will be a wholly cow moment but I am not on the edge of my seat about it.
There is a matter of both Clark and Lois being fired from the Daily Planet for letting their relationship interfere with their job, but I don't think any of us expect that to be a long lasting situation, so I don't see that as a big deal either.
One thing I will say about this episode is that in addition to some great acting by two of the leads and great drama in the main love story, it also had some fantastic visual moments. The shot of the Blur on the roof top with the moon and the S on his chest standing out while Lois looked up from below was fantastic. Also loved the shot of the city in the background while Lois and Clark had their talk on the Daily Planet rooftop. Maybe not as visually spectacular but still pretty cool was the shot of Clark jumping through the hologram a moment after his face materialized. Not to mention that Erica Durance jumping out of a cake in a skimpy outfit is never, ever a bad thing.
The 'WTF Moment' of the week goes to Lois and Clark's romantic dinner for two on top of the Daily Planet. Loved the scene, loved the acting, loved what was said, but the location? That was totally WTF. Seriously, how likely is it that a company would let two employees who were just fired still have roof access? Plus star gazing in the city when you have a home on a farm outside the city to do it at? Do the words "Light Pollution" mean anything to you? Might be a great shot with the city in the background and all that, but still having roof access is certainly a "What The Fudge" moment. Hate to say it but this is one time where the loft would have made way more sense.
I really can't give this one any less than 5 out of 5. Maybe in reality it would be a 4 for the plot tying everything together but they get a +1 bonus point for pulling off a miracle with the Lois/Clark/Superman identity issue. That deserves a 5 all on its own and there was nothing to take away from it. Even Lois being unconscious AGAIN wasn't enough to mute my glee over that accomplishment.
So 5 out of 5 it is!
We're coming to the end. Only a few more left before the big finale. Things are looking good for a sweet end to season 9.
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