Friday, November 19, 2010

Sayonara, Smallville: "Abandoned"

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 hey...this episode! I actually really liked it despite itself.

Ben: No lie, I really really liked it. It was the balance of mythology building/character development and straight up fanboy service the last few were lacking.

Kiel: Sure, and I think they landed most of those elements really well even though the mix of so many moving parts made for some large plot holes. But where shall we start? Tess?

Ben: Well I wrote a whole separate entry on Tess following this episode, so that's a good place to start for me as I'd like to get your thoughts.

Kiel: Well, my first question is this, because I forgot and haven't looked it up since our last chat: Was Tess ever romantically linked to Lex Because that would be FUCKED UP.

Ben: Haha! First question Megan asked me as we were watching too...And I should note that Megan is becoming more of a "Smallville" fan each week. It's quite remarkable.

Anyways, nothing was ever explicitly stated about Tess and Lex, to the best of my knowledge. I'm pretty sure Ollie made some suggestive statements about how she got the keys to the kingdom, but they can certainly fall back on never having officially confirmed. I'm fairly sure they didn't have this endgame in mind for her when they brought her in, so they're very lucky to have danced around the issue just enough. That said, working from the end of the episode, the revelation that she's Lex's long lost sister is actually pretty cool...but way too late. With roughly half a season left, you're really throwing out what could have been an interesting dynamic that you can't really develop fully now.

Kiel: It made for a good twist in this episode, though. I mean, I didn't see it coming until right when they started the last flashback, and by then I was totally on board.

Ben: I had an inkling when it was mentioned her parents were powerful people, but it still felt surprising.

Kiel: And yeah, this could have come way earlier and helped the writers avoid some of the problems we've discussed in the past with Tess, but at the same time I view this like Geoff Johns' revealing that Superboy is a clone of both Superman and Lex – it kind of crystalizes a lot of the conflict in the character. If Tess' story has been all about here ocilating between villainess and heroine, this puts that conflict very much in the literal makeup of the character, which is always fun. Also: it makes me wonder what their game plan is for the clone – both if they get Rosenbaum back and if they don't.

Ben: I do agree that it somewhat explains her inner conflict, though there's a nature vs nurture argument in there somewhere since she wasn't actually raised by the Luthors...though she was raised by Granny Goodness for a bit (which we'll get to momentarily). Still, I would have liked to have seen more than I think we're going to get as far as Clark figuring out if he could trust and work with Lex's sister as opposed to just Lex's protege. Still a good twist though.

And it's interesting you bring up Geoff's name, given that bringing Lena Luthor back into continuity last year in "Adventure Comics" was his doing, making me wonder not for the first time how much influence he has on the final season of this show in his new role.

Kiel: And isn't Lionel confirmed to be back this season somehow?

Ben: To answer your questions: I have no clue what's going to happen with the clone. And yes, Lionel is coming back. I actually read the how in a synopsis and don't want to spoil it for you. Bottom line is that it's a good twist for Tess, but also a possibly a combo of too little too late AND too much already...She's now a Luthor in addition to being Green Arrow's ex, a Checkmate agent and a fledgling Female Fury.

Kiel: I've got to say, the thing that gives me the most faith in the character is Cassidy Freeman. I came around to her this week.

Ben: She does well with what they give her. As we've said before, Tess has to be the toughest character on the show to portray as an actress given how frequently her direction and motivation seems to change, and Cassidy Freeman rolls with it

Kiel: Though one last knock on this character in this ep...LUTESSA?!?!? I'm personally opposed to keeping the LL idea alive if you can't find a real L name.

Ben: Haha. Did they really need to give her a name that had Tess somewhere in it? She couldn't just be Lena and her adopted parents didn't like that name so they changed it?

Kiel: For real!

Kiel: But moving on to a related topic, the Fourth World stuff worked for me this week in a way it hasn't before...

Ben: Oh man, it really did click this week, didn't it?

Kiel: I get now how they're playing all the Darkseid stuff regardless: creepy horror movie villains. I can get on board with that in general and specifically when the villain is creepy orphanage owner who straps you to a rust electric chair and steals your memory of your parents. Whoever that old lady was they got for this did a fine job. Reminded me of Faraday's mom in "Lost" in a way.

Ben: The actress who played Granny was phenomenal! And I can totally see that.

Kiel: And overall, the idea of Darkseid when worked best is one where he comes in and totally rewrites your entire sense of self. She really pushed that idea across in dealing with the little kids where she was arguing that losing everything that's mattered to you in life is the only way to obedience and by extension happiness. Good, weird shit for a TV superhero drama if they play it up right.

Ben: I have to praise "Smallville" for the way they're taking pretty sacred nerd stuff like Kirby's Fourth World and making it totally palpable for people who don't know/care who Jack Kirby was and can't necessarily appreciate the crazy shit we love.

yeah, as much as I'd love to see a truly Kirby-esque TV show or movie rather than an utter failuer (cough*riseofthesilversurfer*cough), I understand how hard it can be to pull that off

Ben: Like, the mannish screaming Granny Goodness from the comics is campy fun and kinda terrifying for us, but somebody encountering her for the first time via live action TV may just be confused. But nurturing, sweet old lady who can turn on a dime and be both crazy and totally fucking indoctrinated in this nihilistic way of life works perfectly here. It's a solid re-imagining that doesn't lose the core of what Granny should be (the corruption of youth via taking advantage of and breaking down childhood insecurities).

Kiel: What did you think of the furies?

Ben: First, again, having the Furies be disenfranchised humans that Granny corrupted rather than just ship in a bunch of chicks from Apokolips both worked in the sense that it got across the insidiousness of the threat and also kept it so we'll see New Gods slowly trickle in and thus their reveals be more effective

Kiel: To me, the Furies were the one kind of let down on that whole tract this week for two reasons: 1 - despite a really valiant effort from Justin Hartley's wife, Mad Harriet fell flat thanks to some of the worst villain dialogue the show has had in a while – never, ever, never have people say things like "our weapons, tempered by this green meteor flame" or whatever in real life.

Ben: That does undercut the "they're humans" thing a bit, I suppose.

Kiel: 2 - as much as I liked the design of the characters and a bit of the action, I was taken WAY out of the story when the resolution of the whole plot thread was "they bad guys disappeared." I mean, honestly, Clark leaves Granny in the basement, and the Furies disappear after lashina hanged Tess?

Ben: That bugged me more with Granny than the Furies.

Kiel: We never even learned if they saved that little girl or if Clark just left her in the closet there!

Ben: Oh man! That's right! Shame on you, "Smallville" writers. The bit with Lashina was pretty funny though. That's pretty much how I imagine any Superman vs Lashina fight would go down.

Kiel: Oh sure...that character was made to fight Jimmy Olsen and shit. But still, the Furies looked cool, and I'd like to see more of them. STOMPA!!!!

Ben: I'm both steeling myself for the possibility we won't see the more wonderfully outlandish New Gods like Stompa and Kanto while keeping hope softly alive. Lashina had a great run in the Suicide Squad, actually. She was a total bad ass. But again, Captain Boomerang is not Superman.

Personally, I though the Furies were fine for a better than average gang of henchladies, but that was definitely a big plot gap with their getaway. And the Kryptonite weapons thing was weak, even if it actually makes sense in this case that Darkseid would make sure Granny had access to Kryptonite
Mrs. Justin Hartley had some skills though. This was not solely a nepotism casting, I like to think.

Kiel: Yeah, I was confused for a minute on who has been on earth doing for how long with the Darkseid cronies, but they can explain that later as Mrs. Hartley kicking ass was needed this week. One last thing on the New Gods this week that bothered me: Is this the first time we've met Desaad here? Because him coming in and totally undramatically being the one who finally called Darkseid by his name instead of "Our Dark Lord."

Ben: I'm pretty sure that was Desaad's first appearance.

Kiel: The actor was all right (though I didn't see what was particularly Desaady about him, but whatever). Overall, I like so many elements about this episode and that plotline in particular, but like I said, I think they tried to cram too much in here so certain things were just way out of place/off balance.

Ben: My line of thinking was they wanted at least one younger, more typically CW type amongst the Darkseid heralds trio, so they made it Desaad, even though he'd be a creepy old man if they wanted to hew closely to the comics. And even if he didn't seem like Desaad, he, Granny and Godfrey have a good balance to them. Three distinct ages and personality types, all working to a common goal.

Kiel: Yeah, I can watch those three do more evil shit.

Ben: And I like that Granny doesn't seem to enthused to be working with either as she's clearly the senior partner here and because Darkseid's minions never get along in the comics. Despite the nonchalant drop of "Darkseid," I still got chills and thought that was a good scene. It definitely made it feel like "it's on."

Kiel: YEAH! All Apokoloptian New Gods need to be kind of spineless to work, and I'm more pumped to see this thread take prescedent in the weeks ahead.

Ben: But yeah, along the lines of your cramming too much thing, this definitely could have been its own episode, with the Tess thing as the capper, but we really had a whole separate episode going on...

Kiel: Oh boy did we!

Ben: Ok, sounds like I need to let you go for a bit. Have at it, hoss.

Kiel: Like, OK...I was down for this entire stunt. I was down for a Teri Hatcher cameo, and I was down for that cameo to be a non-cameo of tapes left behind by Lois' mom. And in terms of actor execution, both ladies killed it. Good stuff from Hatcher, who's very underappreciated because she does quirky "I got locked out of my house naked" humor so well, and great understated reactions from Durance who really nailed the vulnerability you were talking about last time...BUT.

How in the world could it make any sense to anyone that in the FIRST TAPE of many to her daughter, Mrs. Lane jumped right from "this will help you in life" to "by the way, when you fall in love with the tall, dark handsome man of your dreams..." dialogue. It was a perfect example of them just writing the dialogue they needed to get the episode's "point" across without worrying about whether it made sense for the character.

Ben: That's true. I guess I didn't see it as being as much of a stretch when watching in part because I was really enjoying Teri Hatcher nailing that scene, but certainly after a heartfelt first portion, that speech did descend into "This point needs to be made for the show, so the character currently speaking will say it" territory. It didn't ruin it for me as much as it sounds like it did for you, but yeah, it was sloppy.

Kiel: And it would have been SO EASY to fix that! Couldn't they have just faded in and out of video clips to show Lois watched a bunch of tapes? They did that on 30 Rock!

Ben: Personally I didn't understand why she only used like five minutes of one tape and then I guess moved on to the next. VCR tapes weren't cheap in the 80's, man! Also, the Kents have a pretty spiffy and new looking VCR for 2010. But I'm digressing...

Kiel: HA! Maybe sometimes I watch this show with too much of a critical eye rather than letting myself get caught up in the fun of it all.

Ben: That's why we balance each other out, as I miss all the gaping characterization holes and you get to point them out to me. All in all, I'd say it was a less than perfect scene held up nicely by some dynamite acting from both ladies. And it was really cool to see Teri Hatcher not only did this part, but clearly took it seriously. And she had her Lois & Clark hair!

Kiel: Yeah, even the soft light made the video tapes look right. An excellent use of shitty production.

Ben: It's an FX crew's best friend...That was pretty much the last Lois scene I enjoyed in this episode, though.

Kiel: Really? What grated you later?

Ben: The stuff with Jor-El felt hamfisted to me. Like, there was no reason for Lois to be so resolute about Clark needing that closure. She was a force of nature in terms of getting those two to make up, which is true to her character, but the idea that they needed to reconcile seemed a bit out of left field to me.

Kiel: For sure. I don't think I would have enjoyed an entire "Lois convinces Clark to reconnect with his robot father" but as a subplot that paid off with a Jor-El and Lara cameo, I could stand it. I'm not 100% sure I got what the resolution was either.

Ben: Me either. See, the thing for me is that Clark has always had a contentious relationship with his asshole computer father. But he had a great one with his awesome adoptive father that got affirmed twice already this season. So I question how necessary this was.

Kiel: I guess they needed to fix he Jor-El relationship in some way, but they took the wrong way to do it. It would have been better maybe to go the "Superman II" route where when villains attack the world, he has to ask for help and screams "FATHER!!!" in the Fortress

Ben: If they had done a better job convincing me that Clark really needed Jor-El's validation all these years, I would have bought this, but it really didn't even seem like Clark cared. Not in a being tough and male way, but he seriously didn't seem to need it. Him getting all choked up when they reconcile felt to me like he was just going through the motions so Lois would feel better about herself and leave him the fuck alone. It just seemed a completely unnecessary side quest for Lois that she got crazy motivated about in an episode that had enough going on.

Kiel: I did kind of like how the scene with his parents played, though. Another example of a good bit in an illogical plotthread.

Ben: I guess the problem is that the Teri Hatcher cameo couldn't support a whole episode so the Jor-El parallel was added but that couldn't support a whole episode so both got tacked on to another episode.

Kiel: Sure.

Ben: So we had Clark super speeding to Antarctica to tell Lois she was right rather than checking on that little girl he locked in the closet.

Kiel: It'd be great if the next episode started with a Daily Planet headline "Little Girl At Orphanage Starves To Death" and Clark was like "Fuuuuuuuuuuuck."

Ben: HA! But yes, you're right, the Lara/Jor-El cameo was a nice treat to get in the end regardless of how we got there, I do question exactly how many people Clark needs to tell him how great he is before he just Supermans up already. I will say between this and the 200th episode I'm very confused on whether Clark is supposed to be forgetting his past, embracing his past, letting his past go, using his past to build his future...I'm just confused.

Kiel: Yeah, they're pushing it further and further. My call is for a full on costume by sweeps. But one last observation on that last scene: Helen Slater is looking pretty bangin

Ben: Ha!

Kiel: Little 9 year old Kiel had a total crush on her thanks to repeated viewings of "Secret of My Success" so that was a nice cherry on this episode.

Ben: Time has been good to Supergirl.Annette O'Toole has to be pretty pissed that she was considered old enough to play grown Clark's mom while Teri Hatcher and Helen Slater both get to be flashback moms.

Kiel: Hahahahahahahahahaha! Holy shit, that's brilliant.

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