Superman on Television
Smallville: Episode Reviews
Season 9 - Episode 21: "Hostage"Reviews:
HostageReviewed by: Julian Finn
Wouldn't cigarettes blow up in an all oxygen environment?
Probably. But, you know, it's an easy fix. One line of dialogue: "Thank God we created the, you know, whatever device."
"Thank you for Smoking"
You know Clark, this could explain why our favorite Alien Nation has gone AWOL, I mean maybe Zod and the Kandorians are trying to track down the Holy Rao Grail before we do.
One of those two quotes is a biting and ironic commentary on some of the abject silliness that goes into the production of movies in Hollywood. The other is, well let's face it, it's what the Smallville writing team considers, "an easy fix."
Smallville's writers know that this episode shouldn't be here. They flat out know that it makes no sense to be having a bouncy little L&C, "oh, those silly kids" episode between the events of "Sacrifice" and the upcoming finale. But this is clearly just menial work to them and they have plot threads that they have to cram in before next week so that the setup for Season 10 goes smooth. And that is why, thirty seconds in, we get this insulting drek delivered by Chloe, who's still trying to shore up the damage done during the more mind numbing portions of last week's show. What makes this so insulting is it's blatantly obvious that they expect us to just swallow it.
"Hey guys, remember last week when all that epic stuff happened?"
"Well, it did. And Chloe, who you'll notice is sifting through the wreckage of Watchtower, thus highlighting that things actually did occur last week, has come up with a completely plausible reason for the delay of the apocalypse that the aforementioned things were so cheerily slammed together to provide. So, if you'll kindly just turn your brains off for a second, we'd love to present you with this stunningly intricate homage to garbage. Um, taa daa!"
Here's the thing, I know that some of you will think that I went into this episode biased. I made reference to the fact that I wasn't expecting much from "Hostage" at the end of my review of "Sacrifice".
I wouldn't continue to watch and write about this show unless I enjoyed it. I don't want it to suck. I want to be able to go into work on Monday morning and say, "What? You didn't watch it? But it was awesome!" So I went into this episode determined to enjoy it as its own thing, regardless of how nonsensical it was to insert a fan servicey filler episode in the middle of the race to the finale. I said, "Hey, you know what? I know you're cheating on me, Smallville but, so as long as I'm infected now anyway, we may as well be infected together. Let's just make the most of it."
But I couldn't enjoy it because it was utter and complete shenanigans. We were given, essentially, 40 minutes of uncomfortable foot shuffling; a break-up we know will be meaningless, a character reveal that makes no sense, and a restoration to the status quo that was temporarily derailed in "Charade".
And hey, no Kandorian Operation Scorched Earth because, of course, Clark had to find the Book of Rao first.
Opening scene of the episode. Seriously, the first second? You couldn't even get that right?
Why is a man who has the ability to see through anything punching holes through the walls of his family home? One of the major underlying themes of this episode was the attachments that Clark has to his upbringing; specifically his parents and the home they raised him in. So why, for the love of Rao, did anyone think that it would be a good idea to have Clark tearing his house apart looking for an eleventh hour Macguffin which, it turns out, he absolutely needs to have in order to fight his new "family." It's symbolically absurd and begs the question, just how much cheaper are break-away panels than CGI?
Lois, of course, has somehow snuck into the house, undetected by Clark's superhearing and has chosen to wear earplugs while rummaging through his cupboard because otherwise she would probably notice the sound of crunching wood from one room over. "Thank God we created the, you know, whatever device."
Cue a wonderful secrets and lies moment; Lois, quite rightly, is trying to get Clark concerned about pseudo important things like finding employment and paying bills and Clark just stammers and allows his relationship to crumble around him because no one in the writer's room could figure out how relationships actually work. This is actually somewhat better than the usual, Clark-blurts-out-a-ridiculous-cover-story-that-he's-never-called-on, manoeuvre but it still smacks of Lana-esque meh.
Enter Ma Kent and Perry White and the shattering of Clark's mind.
"I don't know why you need all these clothes; with my help you won't be wearing any."
If I were Clark I would have Doomsdayed the roof of the house while simultaneously tossing tractors.
Look, I know it's been a few years since Jonathan died so I'm not saying that Martha shouldn't be dating. But, really? You come home for the first time in years, ostensibly to visit your son (but really to kidnap and pistol whip Tess) and you decide to break the news that you're dating someone by inviting your new beau to stay in the family home of your dead husband?
Martha Kent, for me, has always been the moral backbone for Superman. She's the one who anchors him to humanity and instils the moral code that results in him fighting his never ending battle. This is definitely not that.
Immediately following the opening credits we are reminded of how wrong all of this is by Martha herself, wandering around the barn, obviously close to tears and reminiscing about Jonathan. I was glad to see that the writers avoided the typical, 'son throws fit at mother over new relationship,' nonsense that they could easily have worked in; but the poignancy with which Martha recollects her first date with Jonathan makes it all too clear that she's not ready to be with anyone new yet. Which we all knew.
The Lois and Perry scene played much better; I've always loved the relationship between these two characters in the comics and, as much as Perry's presence here was a total Deus ex Red K, it was neat seeing the foundation of that relationship being built by these actors. I absolutely loved Perry's delivery of, "This is your lucky day, kid. You get to write a story with Perry White."
I don't remember Tess being captured by Maxwell Lord; this must have been one of those important things that happen off screen and that we're left to infer from the actual events. Normally I wouldn't be at all upset by that; I actually prefer it when some things aren't explicitly spelled out, highlighted and then recited by Chloe like some barely tolerable form of Vogon poetry, but here the lack of background is just funny. Tess has been wandering around with impunity after pissing off her superiors; now, after she's had the tracker that Checkmate was ignoring for weeks fried out of her, now she gets bagged, tagged and tortured? All offscreen? Well played, Smallville, I can only assume we'll experience the same thing with Clark's flying someday. Clark will leap into the air, glide for a bit and then stare into the camera with a 'What? Don't you remember? I could always do this,' look.
But all is forgiven watching Tess take the beating she's so richly deserved all season. I thoroughly dig how menacing they've managed to make Maxwell Lord. Even knowing that this is all going on inside Tess' head, you still get a definite impression of rage and purpose; he's proactive and immediate in his use of violence in a way no other character on this show has been.
Watching Annette O'Toole alone onscreen for that few seconds before Lois walked in was pure bliss. I didn't really realize how much the show has suffered from the absence of its more seasoned actors. I was never a Schneider fan, but there was always something about the sheer presence that O'Toole and John Glover brought to the show that simply elevated everyone around them to greater heights. Watching Martha here, seeing the range of emotion that she experiences in something as simple as bringing herself to putting on her old apron; it was impressive enough that I almost forgot what she had actually been brought back for and found myself completely lost in the moment.
I've never had quite as much problem as some with the whole, 'Martha Kent, senator,' thing. Sure it was a silly set up and it swept Annette O'Toole off of the show quicker than you'd tackle a piece of excruciatingly annoying belly button lint, but they'd always dropped little hints here and there about Martha's past in this version of the mythos and how removed from her old life Smallville really was. So, for me, Martha becoming a State Senator wasn't really a huge stretch for this version of the character, it was pointless but quasi-believable. This exchange between her and Lois where she talks about how she found purpose and meaning in a simpler life is truly brilliant and is one of the rare bright spots in this episode; it very neatly bridges the two divergent lives of this character and serves as a perfect example of how Clark Kent becomes Superman in the first place; he inherits his sense of purpose just from having been constantly exposed to this influence.
And then we're back to Watchtower for more 'rub our noses in it' goodness.
"Listen, Clark, the Kandorians are still MIA."
Just because I'd forgotten how ludicrous it is for Clark to be hangin' at the farm with Mom, stepdad and arbitrarily temporary ex-girlfriend. (Yes, I know they haven't technically broken up by this point but I've always sided with Ross over Rachel on this one; saying, "We're on a break," is the same as breaking up. Clark is now free to create arbitrary drama by cuddling with Chloe).
"Thank God we created the, you know, whatever device."
"Red Queen? Chloe that sounds like Checkmate!"
At this point I smacked myself in the face with my keyboard and begged for mercy. I never realized that stating the bloody obvious was a super power.
The scene with Clark and Perry had that nice balance between, 'I like you,' and, 'I kind of want to cave your head in,' awkwardness. Clark's pseudo growl at Perry's water glass is kind of funny and it's one of those nice flashback moments where the writer's trust that we understand the reference. Smallville is not a show that often trusts its audience; this almost felt like I was being patted on the head and given a cookie.
Less fun was the dinner scene.
This was clearly an attempt to capture lightning in a bottle twice. People responded really well to the awkward table scene in "Escape" so they figured, "Can't hurt to try again, right?" Oh, so wrong. The scene in "Escape" worked because you were dealing with four equals who had, in the attempt to get away from each other, in fact wound up stuck together. It was funny and light and easily accessible. This scene, by comparison was just painful.
Awkward, 'Mom brought the new boyfriend home for inappropriate romping in my dead father's bed,' tension? Check.
The young 'uns lying to the old folks, just to keep up appearances? Check.
Horrific, meaningless break up drama that will be resolved either next week or in the Season 10 premiere? Double Check.
All of it, just bad. The whole time I found myself wondering how anyone (except for Perry) has time to be at this table, shuffling their shoes and basically behaving like shamed toddlers. At the very least Martha and Clark both have much more important things to be doing and so, for that matter, do we.
Cut to the inside of Tess's head. Even though we kind of knew that this whole setup was happening only on a mental level from the shaky, greyscale cam in the last scene, the dead giveaway would have been Ollie appearing with his Zod inflicted wound from last week still not just intact but actually bleeding. This is a realistic consequence being shown and therefore must be imaginary.
Oh, those sneaky devils, trying to throw us off the Martha trail by cliffhanging a scene where Ollie accuses Tess of being the Red Queen. Which makes absolutely no sense in hindsight, because none of this is actually real; Ollie isn't Ollie and Max, Martha and Tess all know that Tess isn't the Red Queen so..."Thank God we invented the, you know, whatever device."
Martha urging Clark to come clean with Lois is weird on several levels. First, because she was always the most psychotically devoted to keeping anyone from finding out, and second because she's keeping a major secret from Clark. This is another fantastic example of butchering character to service plot.
Clark apparently decides he doesn't actually have time for filler and so he suddenly leaves his mother alone (and really, if he hadn't she wouldn't have had time to go and finish up her...whatever it was, with Tess) and manages, somehow, to find Valla, even though we've been told twice that the Kandorians are nowhere to be found which, you know, is why the Earth isn't ending.
At this point I seriously contemplated throwing my laptop through my TV but then I realized that, if I caved into that impulse, the terroris...I mean, the Smallville writers have won.
"But someone called the Red Queen keeps blocking all of his moves."
Sigh. Do Kryptonians even play chess? Whatever, apparently no one can resist a good pun. Valla tells Clark that the Kandorians believe Tess is the Red Queen, but that also makes no sense because, if that were the case, Zod would have tortured her for information weeks ago. You know, after they had their hookup of self loathing. Obviously this is thrown out there for the three people still watching that have any illusions as to who the Red Queen is. Isn't it nice that they give us this much credit?
Tess figuring out that everything happening to her is mental was kind of a cool moment, and it nicely underscored the fact that Lord's powers are purely limited to the mind. Once Tess shatters the illusion she overpowers him easily, which is fantastic when you consider how effective he made himself within her head. I don't know if the disparity between the real world and the psychic one was done on purpose but either way it was a neat touch.
Lois and Perry on a stakeout, waiting for the Red Queen? Kind of priceless actually, and made doubly so with a Star City reference. The Red Queen actually taking the time to show up for the rooftop meet and greet? Not so priceless. Who would, after decimating both sides of a major intelligence organization in an attempt to protect her son (who's mostly invincible) stick her neck out like that? Apparently it doesn't matter though, because the whole A plot of the episode (Lois and Perry working together to expose the Red Queen and salvage both their journalistic careers) exists solely to set up Lois' realization that she can do good all by herself and to give Perry a chance to say "Great Caesar's Ghost." I know this because they never actually get to the meet part of 'meet and greet'; apparently Martha just showed up to teach them some kind of vague lesson.
Clark saving the crowd of people from the falling sign and sticking around long enough that everyone could get a quick look at him was epic and was a nice nod towards the end zone for this series.
And then (and I love this, I really, really do) Martha, because she's so committed to keeping her secret from her own son (who, let's forget, is forced to trust her with his own) actually doses him with Kryptonite to facilitate her escape from a scene she shouldn't have been at in the first place.
"Thank God we invented the, you know, whatever device."
But then we get treated to an honest to goodness moment of genuine character development. Chloe breaking down and confessing that she....could have been a bit more helpful but doesn't really want the responsibility anymore was a great and truly human moment. I think we were always meant to assume that Watchtower was Chloe's way of burying her grief over Henry Olsen in her work. Now that she's got Ollie she realizes that she's got more to live for than snappy comebacks and threatening to delete people's Facebook accounts. Clark's speech here is truly fantastic and is another nice piece of progression for him; he's starting to become the leader that he's destined to be.
But then Chloe has to ruin it with this week's moment of headdesk.
"Clark, I just want you to know that, even when I hurt you, I was trying to protect you."
Did Smallville just endorse the "I only hit you because I love you sooooo much," justification?
And.....wait for it.....HEADDESKHEADDESKHEADDESK
Love that Tess has hidden the Book of Rao in the same wine cellar where Lana first caught Clark using his powers. Nice accidental symmetry.
But now we come to the make it or break it scene of the episode. Martha Kent, in the wine cellar, wearing a Black Dahlia costume and packing heat. I had a whole rant prepared about this but really, it's not worth it. You were either okay with this or you weren't. I wasn't. As I mentioned above, I've got no problems with most of the changes they've made to this character over the years; in fact a lot of them added necessary depth to an archetype that had gotten a little dusty. But that's the point; Martha Kent is an archetypal character. She serves a very specific function to the Superman mythos and all of this cloak and dagger, behind the scenes, let's make her edgy by giving her a gun crap is so completely at odds to that purpose that it begs the question; why even use this character? There are a million different ways they could have reintroduced Martha and Perry; if this was the best one they could come up with then maybe it's time to do a little house cleaning in the writer's room.
As I predicted at the end of "Charade", Perry serves his purpose here by getting Lois and Clark reinstated at the Daily Planet so, if nothing else, this episode served as a giant reset button. Hopefully this wasn't just stunt casting and we'll see more of Perry around the Planet next season as Editor in Chief.
Martha's explanation of what the Book of Rao actually does was as underwhelming as I'd thought it'd be; this is the Traveller storyline all over again and makes about as much sense. The Kryptonian receptacle for all knowledge and power in the universe has one primary function and it's to... banish any Kryptonians sharing oxygen with the device to a different dimension?
And headdesk number I don't know how many this week.
Verdict: Total abject FAIL. Ten out of a possible ten Tess Mercer's.
HostageReviewed by: Douglas Trumble
Super Short Summary: Clark and Lois are having a fight when Mamma Kent and her new beau Perry White show up to ruin a perfectly good down dip on the Smallville relationship rollercoaster while at the same time Lady Lex finds herself trapped in a mind meld nightmare in an attempt to get her to spill her secrets.
Mamma Kent is back and she brought Perry White with her? I call that a win.
Let me get this out of the way first, since I know it might bother some folks. I have absolutely no problem with the idea of a widowed Martha Kent dating Perry White. Is it a new twist? Sure. It's different and new but if they are going to go the route where Jonathan is dead, then I have no problem with them finding a suitable companion for Martha. The trick to make it work is finding someone who is suitable for her both in our minds as fans and in the fictional mind of he who will be Superman. When looking at the DCU there are really only a few choices that fit the bill in regards to already established characters. Sure the Ben Hubbard idea has been dropped in the movies and that is fine but with some more well known characters I can really think of no one better than Perry with perhaps just the exception of Alfred Pennyworth, but that's really expanding out there. So I guess what I am saying is some folks might have their fists in the air over this pairing, I for one have no problem with it. Perry is someone Clark will grow to respect and admire. Someone who will be a father figure in his life.
Plus I think they did a real good job showing Clark's feelings on the matter. No anger or even resentment but he seemed to be reasonably uncomfortable at the news. Tom Welling continues to impress me in how he can relay Clark's thoughts and emotions just by body language and the look on his face.
Everything in this episode was awesome. The bringing back of Martha and Parry, Martha's part in the story, Perry and Lois teaming up, Lois finding her inner hero and Clark letting her, the fun twist with the Red Queen, and even the little bit of relationship rollercoaster drama with the super couple all clicked. (Especially since it felt more natural than forced, which on this show is a blessing).
The only problem or complaint I had is just something I've had more than once over the years watching, enjoying, and reviewing this show. There was just too much awesome for one episode.
Seriously. The Perry/Lois team up? You could fill half a season with that fun. Martha's ploy as the Red Queen to protect her son? Seriously that could be a show by itself.
Two huge things crammed into about 42 minutes of screen time is just...well... somewhat disappointing. Could they not make that a two-part episode at least? Sometimes I am baffled by the choices made on what story lines to focus on from episode to episode. I can think of several areas that could have been cut to keep the same number of episode and do more with this story. Even without adding a whole lot more screen time for the guest actors involved. Would it really have broke the bank to have Annette O'Toole and Michael McKean around to film a two part episode?
Okay, enough of that, because this episode was doused in awesome sauce and I don't want anyone to think I felt otherwise.
I loved the twist with the Red Queen being Mamma Kent. It was a shock I didn't see coming. I was convinced it was Tess but then I guess that was too obvious seeing they played that up in the episode. Yep, they got me on that one. I admit it. Good job!
When I think about it, Senator Kent learning of Checkmate and having to adopt a secret identity to protect her son, makes a whole lot of sense. A heck of a lot more sense than any other option for the Red Queen's identity. It also validates Senator Kent a bit more as well. She might have been off the show but we're learning that she wasn't just out of the game. In this version she was still working for her adopted son, doing very important work that kept him safe.
I even found Mamma Kent's little Red Queen outfit amusing. Dude/Dudette... Even Superman's mom has a costume now. That's awesome.
Annette O'Toole is just pure awesome in her part as Martha Kent. I am not sure how many actresses could pull off being doting mom in one scene and 'I am going to shoot your face off Tess' in the next and have it still feel like the same character. Oh if only she could be around more often. Well at least we got her here and hopefully they will find a way to bring her back a few times next season as well. This really gives me hope for that.
Michael McKean has a more soft and friendly take on Perry White than we've seen before but I still rather like it. I like that he is still a well known freelance reporter and they took the time to show he has major pull at the Daily Planet. Maybe a perfect version would be to have him already working there but I'll accept this as a decent version. It is setting him up to be slid into the Editor-in-Chief spot at some point. The fact they had him "even" with Clark for what happened way back when is a good thing too. When Perry becomes Clark's boss there shouldn't be anything Clark has to hold over him so it's good they cleared the slate so to speak. Plus it also brings us to a point where now Clark and Lois have their jobs at the Planet because of Perry which I think is important for the future relationship between the three to work in a similar way we expect. Even if Perry isn't there right now they have their jobs back because of him. I might not have liked the obvious short-lived firing earlier, but I do like that it ended up with this little twist on the matter.
I was very impressed with the choice to have Clark stand by and let Lois save Perry. Obviously he would not have let Perry fall to his death so I don't see it as a 'not doing his job' type situation. I see it as a Superman with a good knowledge of what his lover needs, trust in what she could do, and a good chunk of humility, something that is always nice to see in whatever version of Superman is in progress.
I liked how they shot the dream world Lady Lex was stuck in by Max Lord. That otherworldly lighting and sort of muffled sound worked to tell us as viewers what was going on. I actually thought it worked to make it obvious from the start it was a dream/mind control situation. Sort of told us right away anything could happen. I was also impressed that Mamma Kent had no problems using Max Lord to mind probe Lady Lex. You just don't mess with a mother's child.
Lastly I like that they came up with another option for getting rid of the Kandorian Clones. Up until now I was dreading that they would all be tossed into the Phantom Zone or killed at the end. Sure Zod-Clone and a few others have that coming but there are plenty of others that don't deserve that. Having an alternate plane of existence to go to might be a bit sci-fi technobablish but it works for me. It even brings back the idea of Kandor being a bottle city in a way, so that's pretty cool actually.
So, good episode with some great returning characters and fantastic movement on the series story line. Only complaint is a common issue with this series where too much is crammed into too short of time. You do not want to miss this one.
I give it 5 out of 5.
Next week is the finale! The Clone Wars come to Smallville and you don't even have to pay-per-view!
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