July 31, 2021

Superman on Television

Smallville: Episode Reviews

Season 9 - Episode 20: "Sacrifice"

Reviews:

Sacrifice

Reviewed by: Douglas Trumble

Super short summary: The Bur and the Green Arrow agree to a super hero team-up in order to find a super-powered Zod Clone and Lady Lex breaks into the Watchtower setting off the suped-up security which all leads to Checkmate finding the clones, Arrow and Zod-Clone going toe to toe, Zod-Clone killing his wife-clone and child-clone and some nice girl bonding moments between Lady Lex and Watchtower Girl.

This one seemed to go by pretty fast for some reason. Maybe there were too many different stories going on in it causing each one to feel on the short side. I don't know but when it was over I really had to double take on the clock because it didn't feel like I just watched a whole hour's worth when it was all said and done.

Still fast doesn't mean bad. There were definitely some things going on in this one that you really want to make sure you see.

I think the biggest thing beyond the apparent end of the black and white sections of Checkmate was the fact that Clark and Zod-Clone threw down the gauntlet on each other. There is no turning back from confrontation now. It is basically open warfare at this point on. You could argue that Clark took the first shot when he sent Arrow on his mission, but then that would ignore all the activities Zod-Clone has done up until this point.

Who ever started it... it's on now.

I really liked how Clark took charge in the matter. He determined something needed to be done, he wasn't too proud to ask Oliver for help, and he made sure to demand it was done on his terms.

Arrow was the first to go up against Zod-Clone in actual combat and didn't hold up too badly against the Kryptonian. Sure he's going to have a wicked scar now and did end up "losing" but the fact he was able to get a shot in and disabled Zod-Clone for at least a time speaks highly of the Arrow's ability to be a weapon in this war.

Clark got a nice shot in on Zod-Clone too in this one. Sadly that confrontation was just about as long as the one with Doomsday but then this was just the first round. Personally I wasn't expecting Clark to do anything physical so I was rather pleased when he knocked the jerk into a building.

Even though Zod-Clone hunted her down and took her out later, I was glad Clark saved Waller when he did. They need to show Clark saving even the bad guys at times. I am not too happy with Waller's apparent death but since it wasn't 100% confirmed I will not fret about it too much at this point. People have come back from worse in the comic book world.

Zod-Clone was just nasty cold in this one. I mean killing your wife and unborn child is pretty evil and all that but to not even try to revive her once he discovered the child? Then to blame Checkmate for the death without blinking an eye? Dude is Evil with a capital E. (Not that I expected anything else but this was brutal cold).

The no flight rule for Clark is getting well beyond its due date. This time it really made him look bad. I understand that Kryptonians raised on Krypton have better/more natural access to their powers due to how they were raised and taught, (that's been well established), but to have an entire room of Kryptonians take off while he stood there? Dude. Start making some jumps off the barn roof or something. It's time to try and figure it out.

Lady Lex and Chloe's part of the story was very interesting. I get the feeling these two are bonding in some perverse anti-social way. It'll be interesting to see where they end up. Didn't buy into the whole locked into the Watchtower deal though. I found it a big leap to say that Chloe couldn't turn it off from the inside. Also speaking of the situation, why could the uplink in Tess get through to Checkmate when Chloe said all signals going out were blocked?

Plus if you are going to rig up something that extreme wouldn't you just add an auto page to a few of the super-powered meta humans on the payroll to come give you a hand when the doors clamp shut?

Tess? Seriously? You let yourself get low jacked again? Girl... you really need to start going in for weekly full body C.A.T. scans or something. (Seriously Smallville peeps... Did you need to go down that road again?)

Let's just say I found the whole set up a stretch.

But as hard to swallow as that stuff was, I still have something else for the WTF moment of the week. This week it goes to Green Arrow. Why? Well not only did he turn his back on Zod-Clone after just putting one Krypto-dart into him... He took his mask and costume off? Why? I mean seriously every time the dude is in a fight he takes his mask off and this time he stripped out of the upper half of his costume. I know he was fighting someone with X-ray vision, and I know Justin Hartley is a very handsome man who's face they want to show, but isn't the de-costuming in the middle of a super-villain fight becoming a little absurd? Especially now that it's the entire upper half of the costume? No wonder Clark didn't wear one for so many years. The ones that actually have them never keep them on.

So great 'Attack of the Clones' development in this one with Clark taking action and both sides facing off. Checkmate is hit by Zod-Clone and Oliver ends up on the bad end of some heat vision. Still some issues here and there and a bit of an iffy B-Plot with Tess and Chloe's situation bring it down. Plus with Checkmate stuff also going on there just seemed to be too many juggling plot threads. Sure they were intertwined well enough but I still think it would have been better to focus a bit more.

Anyway I am going to give it a 3.5 out of 5. Good and necessary but not great.

Just a couple more left this season.

Doug



Sacrifice

Reviewed by: Julian Finn

This was the season finale that wasn't.

I said last week that some shows gain an uptick in quality by shortening their season lengths; "Sacrifice" proved to me that Smallville would be one of those shows. I don't know if this episode was the result of earlier plotting that was trying to take into account the possibility that this might be the last season or if the writers just realized that they only had a couple of episodes left to tie everything together; either way "Sacrifice" just felt too full. That's not to say I didn't enjoy the episode; there was tons to love here and one moment that actually made me stop, stare and rewind so I could experience it again; it was just that, along with the great, there was some mind-numbingly stupid as well and it was the stupid that could have been excised without detracting whatsoever from the story.

"Sacrifice" really did feel like the kind of season finale we've come to expect from this series. First we got the epic recap of all the major threads of the season followed by a rollercoaster of drama, emotion and a strong upping of tension. It had a violent conflict that wasn't and a cliffhanger ending that will probably turn out to be both ill served by the storyline of next week's episode and more rewarding than the resolution to the real finale. There's no rule in TV writing that says you must end each season of a genre TV show with an epic battle whilst putting to bed everything you woke in the last 20 episodes; some of the best TV I've ever seen built a continuous storyline across multiple seasons and this would have been a perfect opportunity for Smallville to join those ranks. The non-filler episodes this season have given us continuous threads which all culminated here; it would have been stupendous to leave the season with that image of Zod and the Kandorians flying out of the Fortress, Checkmate in tatters and really powerless to fight against an army of Supermen and all of Clark's efforts to halt the many forces arrayed against him falling to pieces because he's still trying to do it alone.

Can you imagine the season 10 that would have set us up for? I can. And, while it's possible that we'll get some kind of follow through on these themes into the final season (I'm thinking specifically here of Checkmate so long as Martha Kent doesn't dismantle them next episode) the need for season to season resolution is so ingrained in this show's history that I fear we will get an all-too-neat conclusion this year followed by a new threat in the next. Pre-judging, I know, but I'm doing so based on nine years of precedent; If I'm wrong I'll happily eat these words in my review of the finale but I somehow believe I'll be snacking on something else that night.

On with the review...

Disclaimer: My comments about the early portions of this episode, specifically the Chloe/Tess love-in inside Watchtower, will probably upset and alienate those readers who prefer their reviews to be partial and entirely positive. I will nitpick, I will mock and I will generally drip disdain all over my keyboard. For those of you who'd like a prettier picture, I'd suggest skipping down to the giant asterisk that precedes the more positive portion of this review.

"Sacrifice" was a committee penned episode. Writing credits go to Justin Hartley, Walter Wong and Bryan Q. Miller. Having sat through a couple of agonizing episodes by Mister Miller in the past year (I'm looking at you, ECHO, HEX and WARRIOR) and only one half decent one, I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that the elements I loved in "Sacrifice" can be credited to Misters Hartley and Wong. Please, Justin, hang up your ridiculous arrows and write full time next season. I could be wrong but, when you see things in an episode that a show has never contained before and said episode is partially credited to a new writer, it's usually a safe bet that the new guy is the one who introduced the new stuff. Savvy?

The entire first third of this episode is so riddled with plot holes that you could easily float the entire city of Kandor through it without ever touching a side. The Tess and Chloe lockdown a) makes no sense other than to shoehorn more of Checkmate into the episode than we actually need or want, and b) is filled with impossibilities, statistically improbable death avoidances and a too quick resolution once it's no longer relevant.

We start with a throwaway scene that is basically Chloe patting herself on the back while describing, in code, her work to a newsrack guy. This reminded me so much of the 'isn't Lana fantastic and wonderful' era that I actually cringed a little. I get that Chloe has now become the 'MUST BE AS IMPORTANT AS THE MAIN CHARACHTER AARGHH' character for Smallville; I don't actually need the smug gloatiness contained within these types of exchanges.

The elevator scene is very cool; the visual juxtaposition of the classic architecture with the paranoid technological enhancements was incredibly well rendered. It was ruined five minutes later by the complete avoidance by Tess to mention the need for both a genetic match and a spoken password but, once they established how hard it was to get into the building, I guess the writers had no choice but to cheat. Besides, none of us will notice, right? Right? The "vocal" portion of the "vocal and bio analysis confirmed," thing must just be to placate Chloe's inner Bond.

Enter Tess, who should, again, still be "underground," and who is anything but.

"How did you find out my secret?"

"Well, uh, Oliver twitched or something and, uh...dang it Chloe it's just in the script, go with it!"

Garbage. Much like the fact that Chloe, who obviously designed Watchtower to be the ultimate paranoid fantasy, somehow left out the ability to override the system from within. People who are paranoid on this level cover every contingency, they don't just skip the really, really big ones. But, of course, if there was an easy way out of this, Checkmate wouldn't have time to find them using the tracking device that they've implanted in Tess. You know, the one they put there on the super off chance that Tess will lead them to Watchtower or the Kandorians or both, because that's what a trained superspy does when she's on the run.

Cut to passive aggressive exchange of insults between Clark and Ollie.

"Um, you know Clark, Chloe has this building full of..."

"No! That would ruin the plot, so I have very carefully come up with a contrived excuse to not go to the place where Chloe is currently trapped."

"That's a great idea. That's exactly what I was thinking when I helped design the mega security system protecting that building without any sort of external alert letting me or Chloe know when it's been breached. Aren't contrivances grand? To Luthor manor!"

Headdesk. Headdesk. Headdesk.

Cut to:

Instant death or maiming scene that isn't #1

Tess empties her clip, from a direct angle, at a steel door. We see the ricochets, Chloe comments on the ricochets, but the ricochets not only manage to avoid hitting both women but also anything else in the room that can be damaged. Clearly everyone involved in this scene missed that day in school when the magic bullet theory and why it's ridiculous were discussed.

Chloe and Tess are now dead to me; the characters purporting to be them for the rest of the series are zombies.

Ooh, ooh! Zombie Chloe asks what we're all asking;

"How did you get in, Tess?"

"Um, my iPhone has this nifty DNA app and..."

"But what about the vocal..."

"Stop talking, the floating bullets might hear!"

Aaaand cue super awesome edgy moment.

"...but I didn't realize that you're Zod's little bich too."

Ouch, that was sharp. For the life of me I just can't figure out why this kind of language isn't used more often in the Superman comics. Doesn't it just scream heroism and importance? Sigh.

Enter Checkmate, hunting for Watchtower (because that worked so well for them last time) by using Tess (who they have no reason to assume will be anywhere near Watchtower, until, you know, she is) and headed by a very angry Agent Campbell doing his very best No. 2 impression and not seeming so much like a hippy hacker anymore.

I maintain that we do not need Watchtower to have this heavy a presence this season; they were introduced late but effectively and all we really needed were a couple of moments to set them up as a great foil for the Justice League next season. Instead they're being thrust into the middle of the Kandorian storyline, which makes a little bit of sense as written but ultimately means that there's too much going on at the end of this season. This whole plot thread feels forced and really only serves to give the Kandorians an absolute reason to follow Zod in his plans for Kryptonian dominion.

But the eyepatch is cool, so there's that.

The Kandorian flower ritual is a beautiful scene and the fact that Clark stands to one side and watches from the shadows is a fantastic characterization moment. You really get the sense here that Clark is feeling like an outsider of two worlds, and the following moment when the Kandorians disperse while kind of warily eyeing him while Faora tells Clark that following him was a mistake, goes miles to reaffirm that feeling.

The confrontation between Zod and GA is awesome, BUT it leads to:

INSTANT DEATH OR MAIMING SCENE THAT ISN'T #2

Zod punches Ollie at superspeed into a hardwood panel. Ollie should be a) dead, b) paralyzed from a spinal injury, c) incapable of speech due to multiple broken ribs puncturing his lungs, d) have a nasty case of the splinters or e) b, c, and d.

Instead Ollie props himself up on his elbows and says, "Bulls eye," which, you know, would probably infuriate Zod enough to get him to finish the job, but now he's got a kryptonite dart in his leg so he can't.

And we're back to Watchtower and the brilliant (read psychotic, would never, ever in a million years work) escape scene.

This is the kind of thing that used to piss people off at the drive-in during the forties and fifties, back when they used to play serials before every show. You've got the hero stuck in an impossible situation (Chloe trapped with only minutes of air left) when, suddenly, he/she/they realize that they have the only thing on Earth that could facilitate their escape (the liquid nitrogen tanks that Chloe uses to cool her computers, without which the universe will superheat and explode) sitting in the seat right beside them!

There is so much wrong with this scene that I could probably write a treatise on how to abuse the laws of physics on it, but I won't. Instead I'll simply point out that there are two humongous, very big, very bad problems with this escape.

1) (and allow me to preface this with the fact that I spent the last couple of years working intimately with steel; cutting it, grinding it, and basically using all available methods to mould it to the uses I needed it for) That quantity of "a special mix of helium and nitrogen" would do this; it would permeate the first few sixteenths of an inch and freeze them to a brittle point but only within, at most, a few feet of the point of contact. That door was at least a few inches thick which means that, when Zombie Tess and Chloe shove that giant (and shockingly light) boardroom table at it at high speed, the result would have looked more like what happens when you knock frost off of a windshield. And then the table would have stopped and quivered while the remaining two and three quarter inches of solid steel laughed at it. And then Zombie Tess and Chloe would have died again from either oxygen deprivation or embarrassment.

AND

2) This was a can of compressed gasses. The shock of a bullet hitting the can would have caused the gasses to explode violently out in all directions, not just the one most convenient to them. People are generally much softer than steel and so, when the spray inevitably hit them, Chloe and Tess would have frozen solid (or at least parts of them would have) and they would have crumbled into several pieces, which makes this:

INSTANT DEATH OR MAIMING SCENE THAT WASN'T #3

But, mercifully, the escape works and we come now to the giant asterisk:

*

(The part of the episode and therefore my review where things got much less punitive.)

Clark shows Faora Jor-El's journals telling of the final days of Krypton and she reacts the way any sane person would. She's appalled at the fact they've been following someone this destructive so blindly but she's also terrified because she's carrying Zod's unborn baby and she knows what standing against him will mean. This is a very (pardon the expression) human moment with Clark explaining his reasoning for keeping the information secret and Faora moving palpably from emotion to emotion.

More awesomeness between Zombie Ollie and Zod where GA quite honestly replies to Zod's question about why he's not killing him with genuine frustration as he defers to Clark's methods. I don't know if I'd have been as merciful in the same situation; Zod represents a potent threat to all of humanity and, as Ollie finds out moments later, Kryptonite only works so long as you can keep the bloody stuff on a Kryptonian. So now all he's done is make Zod mad. So Zod brands him and leaves him for dead. Great stuff, and one of the few times that this show has done DARK really well.

We also find out that the Book of Rao is not so much a book as it is a technological device of potential doom. This makes it a late entry into the Smallville Macguffin sweepstakes, but it's an infinitely more interesting one than the 'Stones of Unknowable Purpose' from season 4.

Now that Tess and Chloe are free of the Deathtrap of Doom and Pain and Blaargh, they're much more interesting together. Tess asks Chloe why she's helping her remove the tracker and Chloe gives her a very solid reason in wanting to protect Tess and her knowledge of the JLA from Checkmate. Really though, I think the real reason is that, out of the three episodes since Tess "went underground" she's shown up in Chloe's orbit three times. If I had someone stalking me that intently and they had a government implanted tracking chip feeding their location back to people who had kidnapped and tortured me, you know what? I'd want to make sure it was removed too.

On first viewing of the scene where Checkmate rounds up all the Kandorians, I was left somewhat satisfied. At least we have a decent excuse for the newly powered Kryptonians to be anti-human (and therefore anti-Clark) beyond just following Zod's orders. Watching it a second time though, raised a question; the Kandorians are supposed to be soldiers, right? Soldiers trained by a civilization thousands of years more advanced than our own? So how come, powers or no, they got their butts handed to them so easily by human storm troopers? Shouldn't they have been able to take out a few of them at least? Were the enemies of the Kryptonians sub-feral kittens? I'm confused.

But that confusion is wiped away by the following moments when the Kandorians are kneeling and black-bagged, a scene thoroughly reminiscent of some of the creepier moments in V for Vendetta. That's high praise from me since I view that movie as the only successful adaptation of an Alan Moore book. Some people are going to take issue with the fact that Clark's rescue happens off camera; I think that's a brilliant concession to the show's budget and does an admirable job of showing the rescue from the perspective of the would be victims; to them the rescue really is just that quick sound effect.

The atropine (or big damn needle scene) is also inspired; first you're placed in a scenario where one paranoid individual asks another to literally trust her with her life whilst menacing with a big damn needle and then you follow it up with the first of two genuinely brilliant moments in this episode. I absolutely loved that Chloe initially shows no intention of reviving Tess; LOVED it. Why? Because it's so human. Tess has been an absolute wretch to everyone with any sort of positive motivation on this show, even Checkmate. Worse than that, she's interfered as recently as the first half of this episode with the only people capable of lessening the impact of a full blown Kryptonian assault. Beyond the fact that she's one of the two most annoying characters ever introduced on this show, she's also a traitor to her species, literally sleeping with the enemy. So yeah, a big part of me was rooting for Chloe to just walk away. An even bigger part though was relieved that she didn't; Chloe has become the stand in for the pragmatic and even blood thirsty streak in the viewer; Tess should die as she's likely to remain a threat, but Chloe is still someone influenced by Superman and so she chooses to do what he would (accidental homicides aside) do and is even horrified when she thinks for a second that she's actually killed her. Even though you know how it'll play out the delivery is still awesome and, even though it's a riff of Pulp Fiction, the emotion here makes the act more potent somehow. Less awesome is Tess's delivery of the, "you'll just have to trust me, mwah ha ha," line. (All mwah ha has are mine and, while indicative of general villainous tone on Smallville, should not be taken as direct quotation.) But Tess is just about the opposite of awesome so...

Waller, Faora, Zod and Clark. This was such an energized scene. You know except for:

INSTANT DEATH OR MAIMING SCENE THAT ISN'T #4

Waller should just be brain dead paste at this point. This is worse than Ollie into wood; this is a woman with a lot of mass flying at something around terminal velocity into a pane of shatterproof glass. Who walks away from this? Characters that are needed for at least another few episodes, that's who. Blegh.

But, Zombie White Queen or no, the rest of this scene is awesome; we get a little bit of physicality in the form of a mini fight between Zod and Clark; both men make simply stated cases for their actions and Zod floating down from the wreckage of the wall is a taunt that you can tell Clark is feeling. (I don't know how this epic showdown is going to play out if Clark doesn't get things sorted on the whole flying thing. I have a terrible mental image of the world's deadliest game of monkey in the middle being played).

This brings us to brilliant scene number two. And, for my money, the culmination of the Zod/Faora confrontation is the darkest moment in the history of this show. This scene showed us more about Zod's character than we've seen before; to me he's become a villain of necessity rather than a simple light switch. He's convinced that his people's wellbeing rests entirely on his shoulders, and he furthermore believes that his people should not be forced to eke out a survival, they have the means to rule, they're more advanced than those they live among and their duty is to restore the supremacy of their dead planet. Everything Zod does (except for sleeping with Tess) is in aid of this, including the execution of Faora. This moment was far more powerful than Lex pitching his father out a window; in part because you completely understand the motivation behind the act (Zod feels that Faora has betrayed the Kryptonian cause and is simply carrying out the penalty for treason) but mostly because there is an immediate and unforeseen consequence to the act. Zod did not know that Faora was carrying his child and his grief when that realization comes makes it impossible for you to dismiss him as purely evil; this wasn't murder, it was execution and so the death of an innocent Kryptonian harms him, the way the death of an innocent human harms us. His choice to lie and use Faora's death as a motivator to rouse the Kandorians that Clark had gotten through to is just good strategy; he's taking advantage of a terrible situation that he caused and using it to fulfill his obligations to his remaining charges.

I've had problems, at times, with the handling of Zod as a character (specifically how easy it is for him to plug into our society and accomplish goals that most zillionaires would have difficulties with) but the last couple of episodes and this scene in particular have done something for him that hasn't happened with any character on this show for a long time; he's become genuinely interesting. I truly hope that we don't see the end of him in two episodes.

I was kind of peeved that they chose to keep Waller alive only to roast her alive in the episode wrap up. I think we can assume that this is a fake out; Amanda Waller is a semi-pivotal character to the DC Universe in general and she's too new a toy for the producers to have put on the firing squad all ready, but it is possible that she was simply introduced as a raise-the-stakes piece of fan service, to be discarded when things really get going. We'll see.

I'm curious as to how Chloe's satellite is still feeding her footage of the Fortress; unless I'm mistaken Watchtower melted into Superman III compucheese and, since the satellite had to have been using Watchtower as a server...never mind, the important thing is we got to see a dozen Kryptonians planting a flag in Clark's living room, declaring war and then taunting him again by being far more competent with their powers after mere hours than he is after years of use. Gotta love that "no tights, no flights" rule. Griping aside though, this was a great hopeless moment and I would have been fully satisfied had this been our season cliffhanger.

All told, the sheer suckatude of the episode's A plot (which I think was supposed to be the catfight in the panic room) was entirely forgotten by the end and, since my asterisk kicked in at just under the halfway point the verdict is:

PASS (but mostly because Zod now scares me).

Stay tuned next week when Martha will pack heat, Perry will ensure that our intrepid reporters will resume their gainful employment and the apocalypse will take a one week hiatus while everyone kind of lives their lives.

Julian



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