Well, today was a good day for TV.
If you haven’t already, I recommend watching Supernatural and then catching the review on this very site. Tremendous episode with some fantastic revelations. And, making my job easier, Smallville followed suit with a damn good episode.
How good was it?
It featured Michael Ironside heavily. He got a much better role this time around than he did back in the early parts of Season Four. The show allowed time for a conflict to grow between Sam Lane and Clark, revealing that the two of them have more in common than they thought. It essentially boiled down a series of two-handers, Michael Ironside delivering jingoistic dialogue so convincingly that his character came across sympathetic and less ‘insert wrong opinion’ than you’d expect. This was a refreshing twist, as I was a little worried they’d beat us over the head that Clark’s point was clearly the better one, showcasing Sam Lane as a crotchety old buffoon who was bossing Lois around.
Granted that is kind of the case, but the character had layers. Ironside forced them to come to the surface, and as a result we got some mature writing after the Halloween hijinks of the last episode. It harkens back to what Smallville does best, which is characters engaging with each other on a level beyond hyperbole and abilities. While some sections of the fanbase showed frustration during the S8 finale Doomsday, for example, I loved the fact that the character dynamics between Clark/Justice League and Clark/Chloe took pride of place. The show is blessed with some rather underrated regulars and guest stars, having them do what they do best (namely act in two-handers) results in far better context than mixed metaphors and ‘what form of Kryptonite takes down Clark this week’ antics.
This episode demonstrated that without fanfare.
It also gave some lovely material for Lois. Her relationship with Clark is rock-solid, but TV requires conflict. Prior continuity establishes Lois as someone who loves and respects her father despite their differences (or similarities, as the case may be), so I can buy that she wouldn’t want to cause conflict or a scene. It’s not that she agrees with her father, it’s that she’s the glue holding them together. While it’s never mentioned, in Season Four Lois left to track down Lucy and reunite her family. There’s clearly still shaky ties there, so connecting the dots suggests that Lois is still fighting to keep them all together. This builds nicely, as we later find out that Sam and Lucy weren’t grilling Clark to see if he was good enough for Lois – they were grilling Lois to see if she cared enough about Clark to stand up for him and their relationship. The fact that Lois met their challenge suggests she has changed a lot since she started on the show, morphing from a muffin-peddler to someone who knows what she wants from life and will take it. It’s effective writing, and at the same time allows for Lucy (the charming Peyton List) to have a mini-arc of her own.
This episode can also be seen as characters taking on new roles. Lucy becomes Lois throughout the episode, fighting to protect her father and keep the family together at any cost; Tess becomes Chloe 2.0, most obvious in another beautiful scene where Oliver tells her they’re essentially family; and Clark comes to a mutual understanding with Sam Lane. It’s not that Sam hates superheroes, it’s that he believes that you should have to undergo strict tests to take on the role of protecting civilians.
While the episode, once again, does not feature Darkseid, it does bring the issue of hope and vigilantes to the forefront. On the one side we have Clark and co, who have managed to bring Tess and Sam Lane around to their way of thinking. And on the other side is Rick Flagg and the Suicide Squad, who seek to scare people into action. It’s a little disconcerting, then, that their actions are muddled. The Suicide Squad is a good idea in theory, and in practice do provide some conflict, but their methods seem a tad convoluted. A similar point was raised about Checkmate last season, yet I felt they worked because their was a clearer goal in mind and Amanda Waller (brilliantly played by Pam Grier) had an authority that played into the seasonal arc. You could buy her matching wits with Zod. Rick Flagg, as a character, doesn’t really have that. One gets the sense he’ll be pushed to the side when Darkseid shows up and eaten alive. Maybe literally.
Those quibbles aside, this is a much stronger episode than last week. We’re moving inexorably towards Clark getting his life sorted out. There will be hurdles, but the subtle maturity of the interactions between Clark and Sam harks back to the way that Clark and Lionel interacted. It also has the undercurrent of Clark existing to prove that humanity doesn’t have to be morally grey, that they can rise above themselves. And if you throw in that Clark and Oliver, when storming Rick’s truck, show no trepidation and come across as truly iconic heroes, it’s a good sign that the show can recover from missteps like the previous episode.
So I’d say the mix of subtle continuity, well-written scenes featuring the main characters, and Michael Ironside tearing up the screen, all combine to form the second best episode of the season.