Monday, October 18, 2010

Sayonara, Smallville: "Homecoming"

Incredible but true: This year, The CW's "Smallville" embarks on its tenth and final season, making it not just the longest-running Superman TV show ever but the longest-running comic book TV show ever produced. Bananas, right?

To celebrate its final year, we're teaming up our collective powers of dumb DCU trivia, long experience watching and writing about the show and general obsession with serial TV to bring you "Sayonara, Smallville" – a semi-regular feature where we'll review the most notable episodes of the season whenever we can. Everyone is invited to play along.

Ben: I've got a fun fact to kick things off.

Kiel: FACTS!

Ben: Apparently, since the Justice Society two-hour mini-movie last year was treated as one episode by most, this was technically the 199th episode of "Smallville," though it was considered by the show and The CW to be the 200th. Controversy!

Kiel: Hahahahaha! I love the thought that there are some "Smallville" fans out there who are waiting for a "real" 200th episode where some shit blows up and THINGS ARE NEVER THE SAME. Such people probably don't exist though

Ben: This is the "Was 2000 the first year of the 21st century?" of "Smallville," but I'm sure there are people out there like that, Kiel! THIS SHOW HAS BEEN ON FOR A DECADE! If you watched the first episode of "Smallville" with your newborn baby, that child would be in fourth grade by now.

Kiel: Well, regardless of its status as a true milestone or not, I thought we got an improvement on last week's slog through limited budget science fiction. It wasn't the major turning point episode I was hoping for, but I thought it was a solid package all around.

Ben: I'll tell you, though they didn't make a big deal of it in the marketing of it as the 200th episode, I think it suffered a bit from indecision over whether or not to treat it as such by the creative team. Like it was a decent episode, but it felt like the parts where they tried to, for lack of a better way to explain, celebrate the heritage of the show, all they did was highlight the fact that they couldn't do a legitimate 200th episode blowout.

I know I've been harping on it, but not having Kristen Kreuk, Michael Rosenbaum or even Alison Mack (not to mention any of the other original cast members) on hand for an episode that was all about looking to the past outside of flashbacks and whatnot hurt it a bit in my eyes. Grading it separately as just another episode or even as part of the tapestry of this season is one thing, but the half-hearted nostalgia bits fell flat for me and honestly made things seem a bit scattershot and unfocused.

Kiel: Well, I think that you're right on with the idea that the writers (and this ep was written by the show runners, so it's as indicative of the whole seasons issues as a story can be) didn't have the things they really wanted this go round in terms of past cast and other pieces to include...but at the same time, as Clark and Brainiac 5 were jumping through the timestream and looking at different pieces of his fated journey to be Superman, I thought the idea that the past is the past – both unchangeable and unattainable – was a solid one.

I mean, Lana Lang isn't just part of the show's past in terms of the character having once been a major player, but her role in the Superman mythos is literally to be "his high school girlfriend" – so having an episode where Clark is confronted with this idea that she's gone and he won't be getting her back worked emotionally even when I knew it was because of casting complications.

Ben: Yeah, I think you hit on something there in that the writers/showrunners actually found a way to make the absence of original cast members work thematically, and from that standpoint, it was actually a pretty good episode. It was definitely a significant touchstone episode in the Superman evolution. Ultimately my quibbles are more from the marketing/hype side of my brain than the storytelling one. That part says that if they knew the 200th episode was coming (and obviously they did) they should have made more of an effort to do something worthy of a 200th episode, but the other side is just happy we got a good little journey and the characters progressed. Of course it's all moot if Lex Luthor returns in next week's REAL 200th episode.

Kiel: Maybe they're just fucking with you!

Ben: They could well be! The thing I was most pleased with was that they straight up told us what the potential "inner darkness" within Clark was, he knows it, he acknowledged it, and hopefully he moves on. That alone made it a landmark episode and also addresses a lot of the concerns we had last week about the show getting stuck for too long on him being a loser and everybody telling him so, but never telling him why. That said "darkness" was the inability to let go of past mistakes was also, as you said, a nice metatextual comment about the show's early years being gone as well as the bigger tradition in the mythos that Clark Kent can't truly become Superman until he leaves Smallville/Lana/stuff he did wrong as a kid behind

And centering it all around the death of Jonathan Kent as the moment where Clark began to skid towards the dark was a really smart decision on the part of the showrunners as even a pretty casual viewer like myself can think about it and concur that the tone of the show definitely shifted around then and moved towards the death of Lex, losing Lana, Doomsday, Clark wearing the Matrix get-up, etc. Good to draw that line in the sand and now say "Ok, time to turn around and head back towards the light now." And of course it gave John Schneider's appearance in the season premiere even more weight (although perhaps they should have saved THAT scene for here).

Kiel: Well, what I did like about this episode on that bigger conceptual level was that it addressed the two, slightly annoying character points I was worried they'd spend all season harping on: the idea that Clark could be pulled down by this "inner darkness" bullshit and the idea that he couldn't let people (i.e. Lois) into his life for fear of hurting them...And yeah, both the idea that Clark can't carry around his past too much and the idea that he can't worry about the future that hasn't happened to him were beaten straight over the audiences head by Brainiac 5 with ZERO subtly in the traditional "Smallville" style. No shocker there. But I did like that they turned this moment where Clark realizes that what's most important to being a hero is what's happening now in the present to Clark himself to figure out. It was all a little on the head, but it felt earned in a basic story way so good on them. I think we can move on now to other shit in the season.

Ben: Agreed. And I did like that one of the crucial moments was Clark seeing his dad's death, blaming himself per usual, Brainiac essentially saying "Shut the fuck up, your dad made a choice and he was awesome" and Clark getting it. Pa Kent is such a bad ass on "Smallville."

On the matter of the on-the-head stuff, I actually thought it was far more palpable here because of who it came from, as if anybody in the DC Universe is going to be the character who will straight up tell you what's up and not be fancy about it, it's Brainiac 5. Even beyond that, James Marsters is the perfect actor for that role because that's basically what he did on "Buffy" for years as Spike too: say the shit everybody else is beating around the bush on. He's a fucking alien robot/bad boy vampire: he doesn't have the time/patience to play games.

Kiel: I thought he did a fine job, but I think the stuff I liked best about this episode had very few or only tangential ties to that whole sequence/lesson. My favorite stuff was all the dopey funny shit they threw in, which I'm not sure qualified as 200th ep material, but it was all very welcome after last week. I mean, the episode opens up with the fucking WORST "I'll get my revenge on you, Clark Kent" set up ever with a VooDoo doll-holding psycho guidance counselor, and I thought "this can't be a real fucking plotline" but then Brainy shows up, pokes a computer finger into her brain and essentially says, "Bitch, calm down!"

Ben: Haha, that was fantastic! It was a nice callback to when the show WAS about ridiculous freak of the week stuff too.

Kiel: Every moment in the whole episode that was indicative of "Smallville's" earlier seasons – the "turns out to not be a threat" meteor freak, the cornball Americana high school stuff, etc – was intentionally played as "that goofy shit from our past." Props to the creators for acknowledging some of the dumber parts of the show rather than treating them with some kind of false gravity like "One Tree Hill" or whatever would.

Ben: Yeah, absolutely. For me it felt like the perfect homage to how the show started and didn't detract from the more important stuff. I would wonder if more hardcore early season Smallville fans tuned in and were pissed off, but I doubt there were droves. One thing I did find myself wondering and you might be able to answer this as you watched the show more often in the early days than I did: Were characters like the guidance counselor and any of the students Clark/Lois recognized and had conversations with, particularly the guy at the end who claimed Clark had saved him, actually actors from the early seasons?

Kiel: Yeah, the guy who showed up and said Clark saved him was a meteor freak who they teased at the "Previously on Smallville" bit at the beginning. He was like a bug kid or some shit? I wouldn't have even recognized him if it wasn't for the reminder, which was funny because I've been thinking a lot leading up to this episode how much older Tom Welling looks in season 10 than he did in the earlier years. Part of that is the way they're dressing him and doing his hair, but brother has aged a lot over the course of the show, and it ended up working to this episodes benefit...which is crazy because he was like 27 when the show started.

Ben: Oh man, I totally did not catch the "Previously On" on my DVR, so I'm glad you told me that. That's actually pretty cool that they showed that, presumably building the tension of "Will this kid seek revenge?" throughout. I had no idea who he was until Clark said something. I thought he was another Darkseid avatar, which would have felt really out of place this episode. And yeah, that flashback with Lana REALLY showed how much Tom Welling has aged...Aged well, I should note, as I pray I look a tenth that good when I get to my mid-late-30's or wherever he's at.

It's also worth noting that you can see James Marsters finally start to show signs of mortality, but only in that it seems as though he's gone from being eternally 27 to around 38, when in fact he's over 50 by now, I believe

Kiel: That's insane!!!!!

Ben: Never mind, Marsters is 48. He still looks great. I just got interrupted by a phone call from our erstwhile blogmate Rickey Purdin! He had the following contribution to make: "I totally meant to watch this week's Smallville but forgot to tape it and then was in the city when it was on, so I missed it. I was excited for the 200th episode! Oh well, I look forward to reading you guys' report."

Kiel: Hooray, Rickey! My other comment for this week on Welling was how it was nice to see him show a little range this week too...My favorite moment from the whole episode was the bit where they mentioned how everyone was so pumped to get high school hero Clark Kent back in school and we quick cut to him with the Homecoming King crown on amidst throngs of fans looking like someone just took a shit in his Fruit Loops. Legitimately funny moment.

Ben: That was great. I have to say though, I laughed when that girl handing out the name tags was like "What happened to the clumsy nerd?" Did they seriously ever try and sell super-charming underwear model Tom Welling as being a dork even during season one?

Kiel: I'm not kidding you that it worked at the time!!!


Kiel: Like, part of the whole hook for the show was that whenever Clark got near Lana's Kryptonite necklace he got weak in the knees, and that totally worked for him being shy and clumsy around her specifically
Kiel: And I believe there were all sorts of wacky mishaps with his powers where he'd embarrass himself but have to keep his true abilities a secret, blah blah

Ben: Ok, I get/remember some of that, but if that girl working the name tag table or the chick handing out the punch didn't think in high school "Wow, Clark Kent sure is clumsy, but he looks like a fucking Greeg god and I want to jump his bones," while I just don't understand fictional teenage girls the way I thought I did
Ben: How much of a bitch was punch bowl girl to Lois by the way? That was hysterical

Kiel: Lois' whole "Why won't anyone remember me because I went here for three weeks" thing was actually funnier than I expected it to be by a country mile.

Ben: Oh man, that was because Erica Durance was fucking putting in the work this week, man. The lengths she is willing to go to sell that character is incredible admirable. She's not just talented, she's seriously unselfish, and I'm being 100% sincere there. I hope she does well when this show ends. And again, that gag was another nice "We know the early seasons were contrived, let's have a laugh together" wink.

Actually touching both on your point about Welling's range and mine about it being a bit absurd that he was considered a nerd, I really enjoyed the bit where Clark meets his future self and has the little under his breath comment about "I'm destined to be nerdy and uptight..." or whatever. I dug how even in that little moment Welling was able to make future Clark notably different from the usual Smallville version and more like the one we're familiar with. I also liked it because it felt like Welling and the writers winking to me "Yeah, he was never a nerd on this show," but that's just me.

Kiel: That whole Daily Planet/Superman/Clark in the future with glasses sequence was the highlight of the episode for sure. It's nice now that they're finally able to come out and confirm what certain parts of the classic mythology will be included in the show's future now. Both Welling and Durance played their married selves well, we got just enough of a tease of an actual Superman show that it felt different than what we've had on "Smallville" to date and it played right back into the "moral" of the episode. It made me want them to get it over with and put him in the suit even more than before.

Ben: It really did make me want to see Welling and Durance on their own "Lois & Clark" show. They've really earned it if they wanted it. It's almost a bit disappointing we'll never get to see them in those roles for an extended period. Like I'll actually be a bit resentful towards whoever gets cast in the new Superman movie because they haven't "earned it" like these two have. At the same time, it's pretty likely the last thing either wants to do after this season is continue playing any version of Clark Kent or Lois Lane.

Kiel: Yeah, it's weird. You can tell Welling would like to have moved on to a movie career. Durance is married to a dude on one of those Stargate shows, which makes me feel like she's much more comfortable in the "cult nerd TV" career track, but that's total blind speculation on my part.

Ben: We need to book them for an interview as the grand finale to these.

Kiel: "Excuse me, CW publicist...but my friend and I have a blogspot blog with potentially dozens of readers..."

Ben: Oh I'd just get Jeph Loeb on it. He loves me.

Kiel: The Loeb knows all! Did you know he was on set for this episode?

Ben: I believe I did. Either he or somebody else at Marvel told me. He's got a real soft spot for this show. Always speaks of it so fondly. Makes me feel like it was probably a great place to work. Back to the ep for a sec, that future scene was great, but the final scene in the barn was pretty fucking sweet.

Kiel: Oh man! that last scene nailed the idea that they failed so utterly with last week with that "listen to the butterfly" bullshit. I was rather surprised they found a way to make the "do it by trying not to do it" angle work for flying

Ben: I didn't even think of that! Wow! My wife, who both thinks this show is awful and who thinks I'm way too sappy and romantic in general when it comes to TV and movies and such, was studying while I had this episode, and even she started watching during that last scene and said "Ok, you know me and how I feel about this show, and even I thought that was fucking adorable."

Kiel: I guess my only question was why didn't he tell Lois his secret right then and there? Future Lois said that when he told her, it was "the most romantic night ever" or whatevs. It seems like the show has set itself up to fail by not using that really sweet moment to get it all over with.

Ben: I was SHOCKED he did not tell her there. I guess he didn't feel any anxiety or rush now since he knows he does it eventually, but yeah, there's no way they'll create a better moment I don't think. I'll tell you, I wouldn't be entirely shocked if next week they just treated it like they've both acknowledged that she knows and there was "something in the moment" where he said it without saying it or whatever, but that's highly unlikely on this show where they spell out every little thing. Like, I'd give them a pass on that, but I know they won't do it.

Kiel: I think that'd be great, but yeah...don't see it happening.

Ben: Man, I love that scene even more now after what you said about the flying.

Kiel: HA!

Ben: It was perfect Lois & Clark stuff too in that he's the only one who can get her to shut up and have it be sweet. You know, I almost feel bad for the guy because this is two weeks in a row we've relegated him to at or near the end, but...Green Arrow? Honestly, he had a pretty great scene there on the talk show as well.

Kiel: Yeah, I had almost forgotten about his whole "Fuck the Republicans and their shady politics" speech at the end, but I thought Hartley played it well, and I was happy the writers really embraced the political side of the character Denny O'Neil-style for his storyline.

Ben: Yeah, that was absolutely the most like classic Green Arrow he has ever seemed, and Hartley nailed it. That he just needed Clark showing up and having his back to be that guy seemed a little odd, but also nice. And man was that interviewer lady a horrible, horrible person. The writers built that scene perfectly as I could not wait for Ollie to verbally annihilate her. It like watching the end of "Rocky IV."

Kiel: That is such a Ben comment, I honestly have no response

Ben: HA! The only thing I didn't care for in the Ollie scene was how he and Chloe have become emblematic of a problem I have with a lot of CW-type shows in particular where a character's latest romance is always their greatest and most important regardless of if it really wasn't. I'm just not buying that she was the great love of Ollie's life or vice versa

Kiel: Especially when they've already had Black Canary on the show, so that's hanging out there.

Ben: Yep.

Kiel: In the end, the Chloe issue will be really interesting because you know she's coming back, and it's the one piece of the whole mythology where they can do whatever the fuck they want with it and fans will accept it. Potentially the most dramatic angle of the show.

Ben: The whole Ollie-Chloe romance really felt like it was because they had two regulars and nothing to do with them to me, but I guess it's not that relevant at the moment. Oh absolutely. Part of you feels like they have to kill her if for no other reason than because they can, but on the flipside, since she had such deep dramatic ties to every major character, it would end things on such a downbeat, and this show really needs to end on an uplifting note/

Kiel: Yeah...mysteries abound! But until they're resolved we just get to wait for next week's left field DC cameo: Isis!

Ben: How much you want to bet they wanted to use Wonder Woman and just found out David E. Kelley's show is in development? Or not, I guess...that doesn't really make any sense. Also, Tess is back next week! It shouldn't feel like that big a deal, but she's one of four series regulars and hasn't been on the show for three episodes, so I'm actually excited.

Kiel: Good point! Let's see if they actually do use 200 as a turning point in the story or time!

Ben: Final thought: Watching this episode, I thought it was kind of unfocused and average, but having sat back and talked it through, I really think I dug it now, how well it walked the line between acknowledging the past and setting up the future plus all the really neat character moments and progressions plus some solid performances from the actors who needed to deliver. Thanks "Sayonara, Smallville"!


Brendan said...

sweet name-dropping, Ben

Ben Morse said...

I do what I can.

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