Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sayonara, Smallville: "Isis"

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: So I am doing something significantly different for this edition of "Sayonara, Smallville."

Kiel: Whazat?

Ben: Normally, I go in my bedroom and shut the door for these so as not to bother my wife. However, as of this week she has begun watching the show and requested I remain out in the living room and let her know what we were saying, so I'm going to give it a shot.

Kiel: Hi, Megan!!!!!!

Ben: To give a bit of back story, Megan has always scoffed at "Smallville" and left the room when I've had it on, in large part because she hated Alison Mack and Kristen Kreuk, but she happened to watch the 200th episode and found the last scene "super cute," so now she's in for the final season (until it sucks).

Kiel: I think that "until it sucks" phrase will be one that lives in CKT infamy, but for now we shall move to the nitty gritty.

Ben: Yes, let's get to the TRUE 200th episode of Smallville! It was...different, to be sure.

Kiel: Yeah, a much more "traditional" episode of the show, right down to the villain of the week plot and odd plot gaffs thrown in. Here's my question to start the week...did I miss when they said why Lois was dressed up in a pseudo-Egyptian dress/sandals combo BEFORE she was possessed by Isis? I wasn't paying super close attention at the episode's beginning, but it seemed like she never said, "Well, here's my Halloween costume" or some shit.

Ben: Megan: "They DID address it. She said she was going to the party being held by Green Arrow Man and that it was some sort of costume affair. Get with it, Kiel."

My response would be that they did cover that, but very quickly during the first scene with Cat, and not very clearly. For sure, no reason was given during the initial scene of her wearing it at the apartment, so it was pretty weird. But then, "Smallville" Lois Lane loves few things more than wearing weird, kinky costumes

Kiel: And there are few things the majority male audience loves more than that too, I'm sure!

Ben: You can definitely see the audience demographic shift over the series we've described in the past just by noting the ratio of shirtless Tom Welling in early seasons to kinky Erica Durance in recent years. I'd like to talk about Isis herself to kick off, if that's cool.

Kiel: Please do! Do you have any experience with her outside of 52?

Ben: She was in JSA for a little bit, but yeah, 52 would be the main reference point. However, I know the character has a history predating 52 which I'm not totally clear on. What her appearance here really meant for me though was demonstrating how closely "Smallville" is working with DC in general and Geoff Johns in particular. It's one thing to bring in The Flash or Aquaman, but certainly you don't get much more obscure than Isis. And beyond that, they really went with the Geoff/52 take on her, both visually and as far as her big motivation being doomed love.

Kiel: I mean, I agree that the basic underpinnings of the character came straight outta Johns comics, as did the core of the Hawkman portrayal (which he wrote himself for the show, so duh), but I think the actual costume here is actually pretty close to the Isis TV show from the '70s...

Ben: Yeah, I'm looking at that now...How well do you know the pre-52 Isis? From what I'm seeing, the TV show and 52 costumes weren't too too different aside from 52 having a bare midriff.

Kiel: Yeah man, that bare midriff is a staple of modern superheroines...ugh. Anyway, I have never seen that show and know nothing more about it than that it played with the "Shazam!" show on Saturday mornings (thanks, Wikipedia!), but it appears that the producers here wanted to give a visual flashback to that series (particularly with the amulet's design) so they could get another write-up on TVGuide.com saying "Smallville is bringing back some shit you might vaguely remember!"

Ben: Yes, that seems pretty accurate (we're reading the same Wikipedia entry). And good on "Smallville" for bucking the [costume] trend. They'll dress Erica Durance up like a fetish model every week, but a bare midriff is where they draw the line! I was wondering why Osiris was her lover here when in 52 he was her brother, but according to Egyptian mythology, he was both. So there you go.

Kiel: Gross. Beyond that, what did you think of how all this played out? Like I said, it was as "Superhero TV 101" as it gets in terms of plot this week, but when these "action" episodes only come few and far between I kind of enjoy them.

Ben: I was split. On the one hand, it was a good action episode, like you said, and the "traditional" structure you mentioned was a nice break from the super arc of the season, particularly since Clark had a breakthrough last week and I was glad not to be hammered with more "There's an inner darkness in you, blah blah blah." On the other hand, the "lesson" I guess Clark was meant to learn about trusting Lois in order to prove his love (and we'll cover the conclusion later, because it merits its own section), didn't seem to jive with the rest of the episode. Like, I feel like they wanted the Isis plot to be some sort of motivating force to get Clark to take that plunge, but I didn't see why that experience would help him at all.

It was a fun adventure, but I didn't like that they tried to make it seem like it was more than that, you know? Not every bad guy Clark fights needs to teach him a lesson about himself. Also, to be frank, Erica Durance was kinda not so great as Isis, and as she's generally the strongest actress on the show, that was a minus. She didn't seem to balance the camp with the seriousness the writers wanted. If she could have gone full camp, I think it would have been better.

Kiel: It's tough. I think maybe the problem here was the writing as much as it was the performance. Like I said, "She's been possessed by the spirit of a goddess who's dead set on bringing her ancient husband back from hell" is pretty boilerplate, so everyone has to work hard to make something like that entertaining...In general, I thought there were a few nice touches here. I liked that the whole "Cat Grant is convinced that Lois is the Blur" plotline, which again is as predictable as they come, was played for laughs every fucking time it came up. And I thought the costume and the effects were nice. And really, I think Durance did a nice enough job changing her tone of voice and physical presence to match the idea of being possessed by an Egyptian goddess, but ultimately none of those single factors rose above and made this any more than standard fare.

Ben: It's interesting that you bring up her changing her tone of voice, as Megan was just saying how she hated it. She thought it sounded unnatural and awful and took her out of the episode. I told her that if a deep voice takes her out of the episode, she may have some trouble watching "Smallville."

Kiel: hahahahahah

Ben: Yeah, I agree with you that it was a very middle of the road episode as far as quality, albeit with some pretty significant high points. One being that I think it was probably Justin Hartley's best episode of the season to date.

Kiel: Yeah, I was going to say that for a non-starter episode in terms of the bigger arcs, we got more supporting cast love this time out than we've had all season. I love that they're making Green Arrow the liberal dick he is in the comics, and Hartley's pulling it off really well.

Ben: That's really how it should be with these kinds of episodes. By necessity most weeks are going to focus on Clark, to a lesser extent Lois, and of course the big bad, so it's nice when we get a "down" week to give Green Arrow, Tess, etc. a chance to shine. This week went to show that if you give Green Arrow something to do beyond mooning over Chloe being gone, Hartley will rock it. And yeah, the move towards classic GA vs Batman Lite has been nice to see. Once again, I didn't so much care about Ollie's "lesson" where he figured out he didn't need to throw himself into being a spectacle, mostly because it didn't really seem like he was that into it. I more dug him as Clark's action sidekick and the burgeoning team with the two of them and Tess. And the super hero team-up at the end with Ollie firing the arrow to knock Isis' amulet into Clark's heat vision was just dope.

Kiel: It was a nice moment, but the whole "this shriveled heart I'm holding will turn into a real beating human heart during the ritual" moment just before it was RIDIC....

Ben: Yeah...the phrase "You take the good with the bad" was pretty much invented for "Smallville."

Kiel: I mean, superhero fans are complaining about things like Geoff tearing the arms off of Teen Titans in Infinite Crisis or the Bendis slaughter of Ares in Siege, but holy shit...I really think there's every bit as much over the top, gory violence on TV dramas rated PG as there is in comics. I bet TV would do more eviscerating if they had the budget for it too.

Ben: You're talking to a guy who generally watches "Gossip Girl" and "Grey's Anatomy," so I may not be the best to talk to about gory violence on PG TV, but I've never really seen Smallville marketed much towards kids, so it didn't really bother me. It started out as a teen soap more or less and still remains mostly about whether or not Superman and Lois Lane are going to have sex, so the heart thing really budge me aside from being hokey. I could also just be numb to it though. I do wonder if the writers were given a stack of the last few years of comics featuring Black Adam to prep for this episode though, which would explain the casual gore to some extent.

Kiel: Possibly. And the casual gore doesn't really bother me in the sense that I'm a prude as much as the willful ignorance of folks who complain about it when it comes to comics, if that makes any sense. Still, that's a whole 'nother blog post.

Let's talk about Tess for a minute, huh?

Ben: Yeah, I'd be curious to read that post, but let's move on to Tess. She's a polarizing character/actress in the Morse household.

Kiel: Well, like we've discussed before, I missed over most of the early Tess episodes, so I don't have much of a handle on her as a character. At first, my impression was that she was just supposed to be "the female Lex" and was more or less a bad guy. Here I get the feeling that she's distrusted by the heroes as though she was that bad in the past, but I can't really get a sense on whether she's been SUPER EVIL in the past or if they writers just don't have a good hook for her right now.

Ben: Right. When she first showed up, she was played as somebody whose life Lex had saved and was basically so indebted to him she'd do anything for him. So she essentially was the female Lex. Then we learned she had a past with Ollie and was a big part of what inspired him to become Green Arrow, so she was a good person once upon a time, but something happened. The tipping point was that we learned Lex had implanted ocular cameras in her eyes to more or less continue running his schemes after he vanished but didn't tell her. She was super pissed, removed them, and gave a big "Fuck Lex Luthor" speech. Since then, she's been pretty shades of grey. She's known Clark's secret for awhile and has protected it. On the other hand, she worked with Zod last season. She has the capacity for good anf bad and you're never quite sure where she'll land.

She's a tough character to get a handle on because in only a few seasons, the writers have layered in my opinion way too much stuff onto her (connection to Ollie, connection to Lex, she knew shit about Clark and Doomsday, she was in Checkmate, and so on). It may be another case of her not existing in the comics so they feel like she's more malleable, but it's hurt the character to some degree.

Kiel: So does her current status of "I may turn good if I'm truly loved and accepted by my peers and/or the rapidly aging clone of Lex I stole" read at all as an honest character to you, or is it just another random wrinkle in the character who needed to replace Rosenbaum?

Ben: I think if you try and cram in every little detail and piece of history I just went over, there really is no sensible take on the character because she's riddled with contradictions. However, if you just pick up from she had a near death experience in last season's finale and it's motivated her to reset to try and be the person she first was with Ollie way back when, it works ok, I think.

Kiel: But Megan thinks she sucks ass, right?

Ben: Yes she does. She more doesn't like the actress than the character. She thinks she's incredible "flat" from an acting standpoint. I see it sometimes, but I don't think she's all that bad, particularly considering some of the ladies she's replaced.

Kiel: For sure, though I think your wife the actress will always be a bit harder on these young women than you or I would...you know, for professional reasons.

Ben: Yeah, she generally sees acting first and character second since she got her degree in theater and we got ours in nerdery. The scenes of Tess getting made a member of the team then needing to go in the hall and get choked up then the last bit with clone Lex feels as earnest as the character has ever been. I thought they were well done. I also think her and Hartley have great banter. Even Megan agreed on that one.

Kiel: Yeah. Like I said, the best week for the two supporting players of the whole season. I'm curious to see how they fold this pair back into the New Gods stuff and to a lesser extent the Checkmate stuff (as that plot move will be a bit more obvious)

Ben: Megan had another thought on Tess, mostly that after I just read back all the character stuff I typed to you, from an acting perspective, she can see Cassidy Freeman being put in a tough spot trying to reconcile all that, so the "flatness" may just be her trying to make sense of it all. She's giving her more of a pass now. I do think we're potentially in a better spot for Green Arrow and Tess to be more central to the bigger plots now since they've established a new core team. Ollie is no longer off moping and Tess has been given the keys to Watchtower, so hopefully now they will be more partners and resources for Clark, rather than cameos. Honestly, I just want Ollie to be over Chloe, at least for a bit. I hate that relationship. It drags him down.

Kiel: And speaking of relationships, I think the last bit to tackle in this episode was "the reveal" where we got to see Clark tell Lois his secret. In short, WEAK.

Ben: Oh wow. TOTALLY disagree. I loved it. Why did you dislike it?

Kiel: Like I said, to make the moment better for me than the end of last week's episode, they needed to really bring it. Especially with the whole thing of future Lois last week talking up how "Clark couldn't have picked a better, more romantic moment to tell me his secret." What we got was an awkward delivery in a supply closet. Meh.

And there were some cute bits in the scene, don't get me wrong...the bit where Durance tells him she already knew without coming out and saying it was super cute, but it didn't top last week's episode. In the end, I get the feeling that the producers went, "Fuck what happened in episode 200, we need a whole episode devoted to why Clark tells Lois his secret, and Isis is the perfect excuse to do that now." Didn't work for me.

Ben: I actually do agree with a lot of what you said. First and foremost, it didn't top last week, you're right. Second, I forgot about how much future Lois hyped it, and that definitely doesn't match up. And lastly, like I said, I don't think anything that happened in this episode or with Isis proved why now was the time for Clark to do it, so it did feel like it was tacked on at the end of what couldn't have been a more random episode.

Ben: I just thought it was brilliantly acted and executed though. Erica Durance in particular was just perfect. That smile she got when he FINALLY told her and the fact that she pounced him was awesome. It really sold how awesome Lois is to me for some reason; that this is the most powerful being on Earth, but he can still totally get bowled over physically and emotionally by her. I guess that their love literally knocks him over was great to me. And Tom Welling did a wonderful job too.

Kiel: He did. It was a well-acted scene and good for the characters, I just don't think it met the hype the creators laid out for it in advance. Much like you with all of last week's ep.

Ben: He was so perfectly awkward and square-jawed and kept making you think he was not going to pull the trigger, just like he hasn't a hundred times before, but when he managed to force it out, it felt like such a great and earned moment. I will admit I did in fact cheer. So no, it didn't really live up to the hype. On the other hand, I'll say this: I like that we got both the quiet moment last week and the very loud moment this week. Kinda two reveals for the price of one if you will. And if they kept dragging it out many more weeks after the flying moment, I would have gotten really frustrated.

So my final analysis would be it was an oddly-placed and poorly-hyped moment, but the acting totally redeemed it. And the writing for that matter. It felt like it was a scene from a different, better episode tacked on to fill the last five minutes of an average one.

Kiel: Sure. And I am glad that we're going to get so much of both of them being in on the game for the rest of the season. It raises my hopes that we'll get a full-on Superman for a few episodes to wrap the show.

Ben: On that note...did you get my text earlier this week that the producers said in an interview they're receptive to a season eleven?

Kiel: Yeah...I don't even know how to respond to that. I mean, it's reaching Brett Farvre comical territory at this point.

Ben: Haha. The interesting thing for me is that they're considering it because the ratings are up this season. They've got to realize a big part of that is probably all the hype they've done that this is the final season, right? They announce it's not the final season, a lot of those viewers may go bye bye.

Kiel: I think they'd be way better spinning Hartley off into a "Green Arrow" show or some such move.

Ben: I'd watch that. Megan thinks they could make it work if they changed the name of the show and made it more like Lois & Clark from the 90's. Kinda a "Saved By The Bell: The College Years" with Superman. Also worth noting: Both Entertainment Weekly and People did polls on who should play Superman in the Zack Snyder movie last week and in each Welling scored over 50%.

Kiel: I know that he's got his fans for that, but it'll never fucking happen. Same thing with me and my eternal flame for Brandon Routh. They won't hand that movie role to anyone who's been anywhere near the franchise before, which is kind of a shame really, because they're blowing tons of brand recognition there. But when do fans ever agree with the accepted common logic of movie execs?

Ben: I myself am kind of torn. I can't really seen Welling meshing with any sort of vision Snyder or Chris Nolan have, but I've also developed a real affection for and loyalty to him, and that feeling that he's "earned" it. Oh well, we've still got "Smallville."

Let me get Megan's final thought.

[Pause of a few moments from the chatting.]

She has none.


"Not that I have no thoughts...don't make me sound retarded! I just have no final thoughts on friggin' Smallville."

MY final thought would be that this was an odd episode in which the parts may have been greater than the sum of them (or however that should work). Not the best overall show, but some fun action, good progression for Green Arrow and Tess, and I liked the ending. Like you, I'm psyched to have Lois and Clark both on the same page finally and think that plus the establishment of the JLA 2.0 mean we can start really cranking on the big picture stuff. And I'm sorry we didn't talk about you much this week, Cat Grant. You were good comic relief.

Kiel: And cute to boot. Until next time, kids!!!


Adam said...

I thought the episode was just okay, with the Oliver stuff and the Lois & Clark ending the best parts of it. I think just based on Clark actually putting himself out there and telling Lois is a huge step for him and shows he's actually moving on and really learned something from "Homecoming". It was brilliant, I just hope that a more in depth conversation happens next week between them. I have a feeling it will have happened off-screen.

camobel said...

A lot of helpful data for myself!