Monday, October 4, 2010

Sayonara, Smallville: "Shield"

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.

Kiel: So...where to start this week? Big story stuff or little story stuff?

Ben: I think the place to start is mentioning you interviewed Keri Lynn Pratt. What was she like?

Kiel: Oh yeah! It was fun. I'll totally admit to having a crush on her annoying voice.

Ben: Haha. Dude, she was on Brad Meltzer's show "Jack & Bobby" for its one season back in 2004-2005.

Kiel: I totally asked her about Meltzer! But she had no nerdy stories about him, just a word that he's a nice dude and a good writer. I didn't even unclude the quote in the final story because it didn't add anything.

Ben: It's funny, because Matt Long from that show played young Johnny Blaze in "Ghost Rider," Logan Lehrman was almost Spider-Man and now she was Cat Grant. And half the cast is on "Mad Men" now, but that's neither here nor there.

Kiel: With actresses on shows like this, it's hard to ask anything that's big picture either in terms of the broad story (which she'll have no clue on) or the mechanics of how the show is made stuff (which she barely interacts with), so mostly you have to hope they put some thought into their character, which she seemed to do in the form of reading up on the comics and then completely not playing up the "dragged through the mud" life Cat Grant's been given in the comics.

Ben: Anyways, she's popped up on a bunch of shows I watch like "Veronica Mars" and "Brothers & Sisters," so it was interesting to see her here, interesting to read your interview and interesting to hear a little about the mechanics of it.

Bot now, I guess I'd segue that into what you'd call the "small stuff" of this episode, that being a bit of what we touched on last week with how this really is almost a live action Justice League Unlimited now, with Cat, Hawkman, Deadshot and the rest of the Suicide Squad all putting in appearances this week, plus a quick nod to (presumably) Glorious Godfrey to further along the Fourth World/Darkseid stuff. Want to hit those characters one at a time?

Kiel: For sure. To start with Cat, I wasn't even aware until I did my interview that they HAD a character on the show called Catherine Grant last season for one episode, which is to my mind the third time "Smallville" has twice introduced a Superman cast member with the second time being the more acurate portrayal.

Ben: Huh, I definitely did not know that either. What were the other two? Is one the whole Jimmy Olsen mindfuck?

Kiel: Oh man I guess that makes four! HAHA!

Ben: Explaining that deal to people is crazy, yet it was also one of the most brilliant swerves ever.

Kiel: The other two were Dr. Emil Hamilton who was a burnt out LuthorCorp scienctist who helped Clark discover the secrets of meteor rocks in the early seasons before being killed. Now we've got the helpful Dr. Hamilton who works at the hospital played by dude from "Battlestar Galactica."

Ben: Oh yeah, I remember original Doc Hamilton. I always figured the new guy was Hamilton, but since they only ever call him Emil, I wasn't 100%. And I never watched "BSG," so your reference means nothing to me.

Kiel: Then there was fake Kara/Supergirl who showed up played by the chick from "Friday Night Lights" in like Season 4 who eventually was replaced by the real Kara (AKA the chick from "V" who I met once at Fan Expo) who will again show up later this season.

Ben: Yeah, that Supergirl thing was a blatant swerve. Anyways, as much as I thought Keri Lynn-Pratt gave her all, I was not a fan of this incarnation of Cat Grant. It was a pretty clear case of the writers needing a character to convey a plot message ("People are turning against super heroes! Clark needs to emerge from the shadows!") and just tacking a familiar name on her.

Kiel: I thought the twist of her actually stealing the name from the TV personality but being more like the "real" Cat in having a kid and all was a little interesting, but that was more plot manuvering than it was real character work, which she needed pretty bad.

Ben: Yeah. She was clearly a one-episode character brought in to move the plot along, which is fine, but I was a little bummed out both because it was an actress I liked, and the character is generally cool (I confess I had no idea there was a previous Cat Grant until you just told me). And to be fair, nobody will ever match up to Tracy Scoggins' one season of brilliance as Cat on "Lois & Clark" way back when.

Kiel: Oh man! Season One "Lois & Clark" is the best "Lois & Clark" for sure. I hated new Jimmy.

Ben: I tried re-watching season one a few years back and felt like it didn't hold up, but I really want to give it another shot maybe after this ends. I loved that show. And for some reason Deadshot being on this week reminded me that Antonio Sabato Jr. was a weird version of Deathstroke on that show. Random.

Anyways, I did like the subtle introduction of Godfrey and the fact that they're seemingly going to use a rough adaptation of the plotline from Legends, which appropriately is where the Suicide Squad was introduced. I like that there is an impetus not only for Clark to be a hero more publicly, but one who inspires trust and doesn't dress like he's in "The Matrix."

Kiel: I didn't even catch the Legends reference! But that makes sense. It was really weird. I know that "Smallville" has taken to doing kind of "one off genre" episodes in the Peterson/Souders era (noir, J-horror, soap opera, etc) and this one felt like they wanted to turn Deadshot's stuff into a kind of "modern Western" thing, which was kind of lame, but the broader story turns around it that you mentioned all worked for me so I went with it.

Ben: I have to say that "The public distrusts vigilantes and thus Clark must become the hero they can look up to" appeals to me way more as an uber arc than "Clark must overcome an inner darkness in order to become Superman."

Kiel: Agreed.

Ben: Because really what sets Superman (and I guess Captain America) apart from most heroes is that they do need to be concerned with their public image as opposed to just doing their job. So if that's the direction this season ultimately goes, it definitely feels like a very appropriate way to segue everything that has come before on "Smallville" into the true beginning of Clark as Superman.

Kiel: And I think that this thread for Clark is one that (as they started to develop here) puts him in a position where he has to choose the job or Lois, which is something they can get more done with over a 22-episode season or however long this will last.

Ben: The Clark and Lois stuff is actually probably what's working least for me two episodes in, so let's touch on that. My first problem is simply that I'm confused. Number one, I'm still unclear why Lois ran off to Africa rather than be with Clark. She's afraid of overwhelming him with questions? She feels like she'll get in the way more now because she knows? I don't feel like it's been adequately explained. I'm also not sure who knows what. Hawkman said Clark doesn't know Lois knows, but Lois knows Carter Hall is Hawkman, and Hawkman knows Lois knows...I'm a bit lost there.

Kiel: I don't know if she knows he's Hawkman, but I haven't seen all the Hawkman stuff from last season. I think that she just put together that he works with Clark when he was like, "So you know about Clark's powers, huh?"

Ben: I'm definitely concerned Lois knowing the secret could hurt the flow of the season. It feels like she should have ended the show still not knowing so Clark would have to make the choice you mentiooned earlier. I'm blanking on what Lois was up to in the JSA episode last year, but when Carter Hal showed up in Africa, she definitely seemed to recognize him. I don't know if that's because he's a famous archaeologist or what.

Kiel: And as for why she left, the way i read it is that she got rejected...plain and simple. He didn't say he wanted her there so she decided to move on with her career. I know she's got all these mixed feelings to work through about knowing Clark's secret, but I don't think one necessarily has to directly influece the other if that makes any sense.

Ben: Ah, ok, that makes sense. So since he's not ready to tell her, it's tough for her to be around him. I can get that a little more (I still don't love it).

Kiel: What I did feel tonight was the idea that by the end of the season, they may not end up in the classic "Lois and Clark...they don't know each other's secrets" thing as much as it may become what it is in the comics: they're a couple, and he's a superhero.

Ben: That will be interesting to see. It could certainly go either way.

Kiel: It'd be a big choice for them to make, but it's not like we haven't already gotten years of the "Will they, won't they?" interaction in this iteration of the characters.

Ben: Or she'll die and we'll learn that her younger sister is the real Lois Lane.

Kiel: Not impossible!

Ben: Seriously man, that Jimmy Olsen thing was fucking genius and I appreciate it more all the time.

Ben: Can we talk Hawkman a bit?

Kiel: Go!

Ben: Michael Shanks/Hawkman was my fucking MVP this episode. In the JSA episode last year, he was all "I'm angry!" and just yelled at Green Arrow a lot, but he totally nailed the aggressive side of the Hawkman character. Here, he still had the gruffness, but he definitely tapped into the suave and worldly Carter Hall stuff and his dynamic with Lois was great. It was clearly an encounter she needed as a character, but as a viewer, I felt like I needed it too, and they delivered. He gives a helluva pep talk.

Kiel: I'll admit...I thought he SUUUUUUUUUUCKED last year in the JSA episode. Not only was the costume fucking redonkulous, but it was a text-book example of how dialogue on a comics page can make perfect sense coming out of a drawings mouth but sound awful when spoken by real human beings (though Geoff did a good job with Stargirl and Fate) but he was much better here: actually likable and showing off a little range. I'm wondering if I'll like him as much next time he puts on that dopey chestpiece.

Ben: You absolutely will not, but that's OK. I hear you. It's hard not to look like a jackass in that costume, but he did as well as he could. But yeah, I dug out-of-costume Carter Hall probably a lot more than Hawkman. And I love the fact that he almost kissed Lois because like every super hero on this show goes after Lois. It was funny because back when Lana was around and Clark-Lois wasn't an option, she got with Aquaman and then Green Arrow. I wish comics Lois had torrid affairs with the rest of the Justice League before settling down with Clark.

Kiel: it would make those Thanksgiving dinner issues WAY more interesting.

Ben: Right?

Ben: One of the 52 Earths needs to be a swingers world. Just putting that out there...and now backing away.

Ben: Deadshot! I had mixed feelings on this one. He's a character I really love in the comics, so it took some getting used to here. I wasn't expecting him to show up in red an yellow, but the "modern day cowboy" bit as you described it threw me for a loop. By the end I thought it was pretty OK. The guy who played him did a good job the few times he got to talk. Obviously he wasn't a very credible opponent for Clark on his own, but I guess he did get his job done.

Kiel: My entire history with Deadshot amounts to: "Villains United," that one "Batman" arc Geoff did with Scott McDaniel and an issue of Peter David's "Aquaman." From that, I surmise he's an assassin that maybe sleeps around a bit? There's still room on the show for him to mack on Lois is I guess what I'm saying here.

Ben: HaHa! Well-played. He's been played a bit different in recent years, but his Suicide Squad deal was always basically that he was a super slick killer who you never quite knew if he had a death wish or not, which made him interesting. And also, Batman always claimed he "pulled his shots around him," which was a curious aside John Ostrander wrote in.

Kiel: But here's my question for you:

Ben: Shoot

Kiel: Is that weird skull and bones sigil thing an actual logo for the Suicide Squad, or is it something invented by the show? I spent the entire second half of the episode trying to figure out if they were teasing the Squad or the New Gods before realizing a general audience wouldn't care until the final reveal anyway.

Ben: I was actually going to comment on that! It is a logo that has been used exactly once for the Suicide Squad "reunion" mini that Ostrander did a couple years back. It never existed back during the book's long original run and is not only a new thing, but one that's barely been used, so that caught me by surprise but I definitely recognized it.

I'm beginning to think that the Suicide Squad and Checkmate are going to be that "third way" group that Sean always raves about how much he loves like Destro on G.I. Joe or The Rat King in Ninja Turtles. They're going to be the JLA's enemies for the bulk of the season, and then they'll all need to team up to take down Darkseid and friends. That's my prediction. And I wouldn't be shocked if Chloe ends the series joining them as a version of Oracle or something.

Kiel: That's actually a pretty solid theory. Want to hear my big prediction/wish for the end of the season?

Ben: Please.

Kiel: OK, so originally the thing they always teased with "Smallville" was "no tights, no flights" meaning he'd never wear a costume or fly in the show. That went way out the window a few years ago when the shift towards DCU/JLA went full blown, but I remember going to a panel for "Smallville" back at San Diego in like 2003 when I went where the producers said the final image of the show might be Clark in the costume for the first time, taking a leap off the Daily Planet building and flying out over the city...I thought that would be a really nice, poignant image for them to wrap on all things considered, but now I think that won't work at all.

So my new prediction or at least my hope for how the show ends is that they just say "Fuck it" and put him in the Routh costume with like five or six episodes left and end the whole shebang with a full on "Superman Vs. Darkseid" mini event type story. We've already seen him do everything BUT fight as Superman. Why save it until the very, very end?

Ben: So no "last image of the show" prediction, but you think he'll don the suit to fight Darkseid?

Kiel: I think that if they don't do that, it's a MAJOR missed opportunity at least.

Ben: I wonder how much they're going to use the "new" costume that debuted at the end of this episode as a stopgap to hold off on the Routh suit until the finale. I could see that thing getting shredded in battle with Darkseid and he needs to switch to the real deal.

Kiel: I don't know. Like you, I like that better than the Matrix shit (reminds me of the "Kelly/Ferry" Superboy outfit) but its inclusion is a bit weird to me.

Ben: It surprised me. The logical side of me (which I really need to put away when watching this show) wonders how Clark acquired such a slick red leather jacket with his fucking symbol on it, but I guess Oliver could have made it for him. I'm definitely suspending disbelief quite a bit more even than I did in the early days of the show as far as everybody not getting his secret identity when he's saving Cat or knocking out Deadshot or whatever.

Ben: My pick for final shot of the show? The pretty iconic bit we've seen many times over the years where Lex Luthor is sitting in his office and Superman taps on the window to do the "I'm watching you" bit. I'd end on Lex--played by Michael Rosenbaum--looking angry but then smiling after Superman leaves, knowing the neverending battle has begun, and then Tom Welling flying off into the sunset. Those characters, those actors. Bring the show full circle.

Kiel: Another great pick. Man, let's hope they don't screw this up

Ben: Fingers crossed.

Kiel: One other thing I wanted to mention: I'm pretty sure you didn't notice this, but the whole "Let's discuss Clark's fate by bringing up Nietzsche" is TOTALLY a callback to the pilot (or at least one of the first three episodes) where Clark and Lana had a very similar discussion
Kiel: I just love how this show can now play off its own mythology as much as DCU canon in telling stories.

Ben: Oh I certainly had no idea. That's great though. Yeah, ten years of continuity is a lot. I still can't believe this is a show that started off about a kid in high school and now he's getting ready to fight evil space gods.

Ben: I've got just a few more quick things, mostly in regards to the Suicide Squad; the first being that after this week I'd say I'm 99% sure that guy who tortured Ollie and sprung Deadshot is Rick Flag.

Kiel: For sure it is.

Ben: Which is cool by me...the second is that I could not be less thrilled that jailbait Plastique is still in the mix. Not one of my favorite characters.

Kiel: HA! Was she in the show before now?

Ben: She was introduced in her own ep, which boggled my mind because it's fucking Plastique, and then she led a proto-version of the Squad I think the season before last against Doomsday (it didn't go well). She's just kinda annoying. That said, their exist strut with Flag's line about the Suicide Squad showing them how it's done is great.

Kiel: Yeah, solid ending which I think will pique the interest of non-fans,

Ben: I was worried the Squad's inclusion in this season would feel tacked on with all the returns of old characters, intros of Fourth World stuff and push towards the end in general, but it's actually fitting in really nicely.

Kiel: The long-term potential was set up much better by this ep than the premier, I think.

Ben: That there are these darker vigilante types out there does a nice job creating the environment Clark needs to transcend as well as planting the seeds of discord between him and Ollie given how Green Arrow has always wanted to be more pro-active. It fits into the long-term stuff because it creates the kind of more morally grey world where Darkseid can be a real threat. And sets Clark up to finally take that plunge into full-on Superman mode because he sees where the other path leads. I really do credit the crew for either using Legends as the perfect source material here or just coincidentally hitting the same story beats.

Kiel: Yeah, I get the feeling that the Darkseid stuff won't blow up big until a good six or seven episodes in, if that, and I'm more than happy to wait for it to creep up while the public is tearing itself apart over the vigilante thing.

Ben: My one totally nitpicky thing was whether or not the Squad tagged other heroes besides Clark, Ollie and Hawkman in scenes we just didn't see, or if for some reason they just went after the three of them. Because if they don't have tabs on like J'onn, Impulse, etc., they're gonna be pretty fucked.

Kiel: Yeah...I bet we'll get another "wall of TV screens" check in on the other Leaguers from one side or the other really soon.

Ben: That would make sense. Of course I have to end on the fact that Chloe seems to be gone from the show for the time being, and the one time overflowing cast list at the front of the credits is now down to four. It's crazy that the regular cast of Smallville is now Clark Kent, Lois Lane, Green Arrow and original character Tess Mercer.

The Kents, Lex, Lana, Lionel, Jimmy, Zod, Doomsday, fucking Pete Ross--all GONE.

Kiel: "Featuring a cast of dozens of budget DC superheroes"

Ben: Haha. Again, how far we've come. And as with Kristen Kreuk last week, I'd love to know what was so important that Alison Mack couldn't hang in there for 20 more episodes or so, but I suppose so it goes

Kiel: But yeah, it's crazy they've held it together...testament to the casting of Clark and Lois, i think.

Ben: Absolutely the strength of Tom Welling and Erica Durance in their roles is really something. And not to be undersold is how much juice Justin Hartley has given the show. I'm sure it was at least a discussion over whether or not adding Green Arrow as a regular cast member to a Superman show was a sensible idea, but man, that gamble paid off huge.

Kiel: They will have booths at Wizard World Comic-Cons for as long as they want them.

Ben: Tom Welling has "Hellcats" to produce, Kiel, he has no time for signings. Anyways, strong episode this week in the long term set-up department, some good stuff with Lois-Hawkman as well as the Suicide Squad, and the Cat stuff wasn't perfect, but that's still a pretty decent batting average. Next week: Supergirl returns!

Kiel: Oh God, I'm going to have so much fun with that!


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