Monday, November 8, 2010

Sayonara, Smallville: "Harvest"

[Programming Note: Things got a little crazy during Halloween, but we haven't forgotten our favorite decade-long superhero drama. Look for back-to-back installments of "Sayonara, Smallville" this week! - KP]

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 are you all caught up?

Kiel: I AM! It's crazy doing a double shot of Smallville in one day. It makes you realize how they push these stories together sometimes and make it feel like all this shit happens to the characters right on top of each other.

Ben: I guess I need to experience it some time.

Kiel: "Fight off a cult, have sex, eat Thanksgiving dinner." That's a busy ass week.

Ben: HA!

Kiel: I guess my initial take on this "Harvest" episode is that it's the latest example of what I see as the primary sea change between the Millar/Gough years of the show and the Peterson/Souders era.

Ben: Do tell.

Kiel: When the creators were running the show, they very much adhered to the kind of general high school tone they had built into the series, and all threats conformed to that milieu in one way or another. Since Peterson/Souders took over (which took place a little while before they "officially" got the promotion), "Smallville" started to do a lot of what I like to call genre costumes. One episode would be like a J-Horror movie, one would be a wacky work romantic comedy, one would be noir mystery, etc. We've run a bit low on possibilities for costuming but the "Wicker Man" horror genre works just as well as any other for this kind of thing.

Ben: That's definitely true as far as "Harvest" being very much a riff on a trope (and however many other words I can get in there saying "it's a rip-off").

Kiel: Sure. and even though rip-off is a fine phrase to use on these despite the fact that tons of TV shows take a similar angle on storytelling, I think the real problem here is that this episode like others in "Smallville" history that have done such a thing falls a little flat. Essentially what this episode was about was solving a story problem: "Lois doesn't always want to be saved by Clark." I think that's a problem for the show both because it's kind of an artificially created problem for the character to help make the episode kind of Halloween-ish, and because the episode as we got it didn't REALLY solve the thing they were fighting about in the car as the episode opened up. What did Lois really do to save the day? Not fucking much.

Ben: Beyond that, that "Lois doesn't always want to be saved by Clark" angle is one more from the comics than the show. On "Smallville," she's never really had any problem being saved by The Blur even when she knew it was Clark. It seems a bit like an attempt to conform Smallville Lois more towards comics Lois. Although I guess certainly her attitude in the comics about being reliant on Superman changed a bit once everything was out in the open between them. The episode definitely didn't succeed in making either Lois or Clark look particularly competent though. However, if there's a silver lining, the idea that they had to work together to ultimately solve the jam they were in was a nice coda to the big revelation and at least a slight dynamic shift even if it didn't totally put Lois over. Clark definitely needed her help, she just didn't do it all. It keeps pushing the idea that he needs her in order to be Superman.

Kiel: Yeah, I suppose that makes sense. It really is more of a team dynamic with both those actors taking the lead in the show these days – more akin to "Lois & Clark" than the early seasons of "Smallville" ever were, and honestly, I think I prefer Lois getting equal billing in almost any iteration of the Superman mythos.

Ben: It makes the show appealing in a way you don't realize until it's in full effect. Lois Lane is certainly an infinitely more interesting character when she's not simply the damsel in distress.

Kiel: I remember the point I had to jump ship from "Lois & Clark" was in a later season episode where they did a montage of scenes where Teri Hatcher would be in a freefall in front of a green screen and scream out "Help! Superman! It was SO cartoonish, and I knew that as a 7th grader or whatever.

Ben: Durance is much more early seasons Hatcher than later seasons, which is the way to go. However, I would say that Erica Durance also plays Lois with a vulnerability you don't always see in the character that makes her version one of my favorites. I actually liked when Clark told her to shut up during that great scene at the end of the high school reunion episode and she did, and not just because I'm a raging misogynist.

Kiel: Durance adds a lot more depth to the portrayal, which is I think another answer to the "How has this show lasted 10 seasons?" mystery.

Ben: Oh I don't think there's much question Erica Durance's addition to the show and slow burn promotion to Clark's love interest added several years to its shelf life.

Kiel: But it has to be said for this episode, one of the worst examples of lame villainy we've seen on "Smallville" in quite a while. On one hand, we had the uber-evil preacher leader who was just a shit all the way through. On the other, we had the nice little girl who's eventual and predictable "yeah, she's in on it too" was as boring as it could have's kind of sad when "the sheriff who is playing his hidden villainy in a real telling way" is the most complex bad guy of the piece.

Ben: You're not wrong.

Kiel: I don't know...did you like anything about the plot stuff? I guess maybe the scarecrow masks were kind of creepy?

Ben: It was a group of villains that may have worked during the freak of the week days, but not now when we've got Darkseid's goons running over here and the Suicide Squad over there. I really described the only stuff I liked, and that was that Lois and Clark worked as a team at the end. That's really it. The rest I could have done without. And of course as a nerd it drives me crazy the Blue Kryptonite does anything other than strip Bizarro of his powers! Blasphemy!

Kiel: HA! See, I have no idea what all the colors of Kryptonite are supposed to do, so I was at a loss there. For a while, I thought the Blue-K would give Lois some powers and really obviously flip that dynamic of her saving him, but it wasn't meant to be.

Ben: I remember distinctly finding some old Superman Encyclopedia in my high school one day that was all about the pre-Crisis Silver Age stuff and one of the things burned into my mind was what each kind of Kryptonite does: Green kills, Red causes weird transformations, Gold takes away powers, Blue takes away Bizarro's powers and White kills Kryptonian plant life (not joking)...The only thing I don't remember is what Jewel Kryptonite did, but I remember it existed. And that's one to grow on!

Besides the plot not being very good, there were also holes you could drive Clark's car (which preumably they never went back for) through. First and foremost being why the Blue Kryptonite took Clark's powers away up until the last fifteen minutes where getting a vat of it in liquid form dumped on him did zilch

Kiel: Yeah, Jami was watching with me, and at the end, she went, "So why are his powers back? Because they backed up enough?"

Ben: They really didn't think through the power-on/powers-off situation.

Kiel: The thing that really burned me about the cult though had to do with the increasing visibility of the writers' politics in the show this season. I mean, I get that "Smallville" is written by a staff of flaming liberals, and I'm actually all for a show just owning its political ideas in a big way (I always liked that "24" was the show that my conservative cousin was way into for some reason), but it sucks when you use those politics as a crutch.

Here, they thing back woodsy Christian religions are dangerous...oooooooo, big commentary that rational people will have a hard time getting behind there. Rather than beating around the bush of calling these folks extreme Amish or some such though, I would have rather had them tie the cult back into the bigger story. Wouldn't it have been a cool twist if the god they had been praying to this whole time was Darkseid and not just some perverse interpretation of Yaweh?

Ben: That would have been fucking awesome. And also nice because I miss the Darkseid subplot in general. I'll just say that with all due respect to the staff of Smallville, they should know better than to think their show is the place to tackle organized religion and its implications and leave it at that. They're actually doing way better with civil liberties than I thought they would, but there's more of a blueprint for that with this kind of genre, and I think they overreached here.

And Lois quoted Pulp Fiction, not the Bible, right?

Kiel: HAHA! I don't know, but at a blind guess, I'd say you're right.

Ben: Also, when Clark showed up with that shotgun, did he shoot a guy? I was pretty fucking sure he did.

Kiel: They made it purposefully vague. Just another part of the ongoing practice of making the show more violent to appease the fanbase of comic and genre fans who swallow things like his guts getting cut up by a scythe and that grody burn on his back, which didn't quite do it for me...but we don't need to get into that again. I for one am curious to see how this civil liberties thing plays out, but we'll get to that for next week's talk. In the meantime, what did you make of the Tess/Alexander stuff from this episode?

Ben: Y'know, I have to say I did appreciate creepy kid Lex taking the time to reiterate pretty much word-for-word my assessment of Tess from last week. It felt nice to be validated.

Kiel: I know!

Ben: Again, there were some major holes, which I'll get to, but it did accomplish both filling folks in on who Tess is and exactly what motivates her as well as hammering home the point that you CAN'T rehabilitate Lex Luthor. The kid who played young Lex was very good, I thought – perfect amount of menace.

Kiel: He grew on me in the episode. At first I thought he was pretty weak, but that scene in the barn flipped it well. Overall, I think this is the best they've done with that thread all season...though I thought Tess' choice at the end wasn't committed enough to either side of her internal debate to give me a solid character moment.

Ben: I honestly don't think she's committed to either side of her internal debate, and that's not just me being glib. I think she'll be a character looking for her moral center all the way through the end of the show, and that's ok with me because I think her figuring herself out at this point would feel hollow. I also think it's going to make her perfect cannon fodder in the final episodes, but that's neither here nor there. They really need to get Michael Rosenbaum back at this point though or they're painting themselves in quite the corner with this Lex subplot.

Kiel: yeah, right now it's obviously spinning its wheels both in the reality of the series and in the reality of wearing my patience thin on whether they can sign dude for a few episodes.

Ben: I know you don't follow this stuff, but I did read where he gave a comment that he's pretty sure he'll be back, they're just ironing out the details. That there are details to iron out amaze me, but what can you do.

Kiel: Oh good! In the meantime, I'm just ignoring the fact that Tess let this little kid who will be old enough to drive in a number of weeks off the hook in terms of everything while she goes and gets drunk with Ollie. It's "Smallville." I'll get over it.

Ben: How did she let him off the hook?

Kiel: I mean, she neither put him in cold storage or gave him the cure so he continues to age rapidly but is also capable of doing whatever he wants. Or did I miss a plot point in dialogue with the doctor?

Ben: She definitely said more or less lock him up and throw away the key. Speaking of which, another loose end was they made it seem like that doctor was somebody significant or had a compelling reason to help Tess out, but then didn't really expand on that at all. And I don't think it was somebody we were supposed to recognize. But then they also had a birthday party full of kids who were supposedly friends with this rapidly-aging sociopath. I'd assume Tess paid some actors, but again, like you said, "Smallville."

Kiel: yeah, I think they rely far too much on the idea that Tess has all these connections that we're supposed to accept because she's a big shot businesswoman, but it never feels legit. And I TOTALLY wanted a shot where one kid leans over to another and went, "This free cake is worth this creep cancer patient, right?"

Ben: Hahaha. You should be writing this show. I guess we should address that final scene before we wrap this one up?

Kiel: SEX!!!!!!!

Ben: For the record, I do not believe this was the first time Lois and Clark had sex on Smallville. They built it that way and I have no documented proof to the contrary, but I just don't buy it.

Kiel: Honestly, the thing running through my mind during the whole scene was "Gossip Girl CW sex is WAY better."

Ben: Aside: Megan and I watch Hellcats with two of our friends around here. It started out with us wanting to find a show we could all bust on for laughs, but of course it's become a guilty pleasure. Anyways, since we watch all three, Megan and I definitely imagine there is a running CW competition for who can sneak the most slyly graphic sex scenes on network TV." Aside over.

But yeah, they have nothing on Chuck and Blair. I don't believe it was their first time simply because they were together and serious for a significant amount of time last year and these characters as established in the Smallville Universe do not seem like the type who are so chaste as to wait for any sort of big moment. "Smallville" Clark Kent does not seem like the type who is any way concerned about his Superman sperm harming his mate in any way.

Kiel: Yeah man, the "Mallrats" paradox is not in full effect here.

Ben: I think there may have been one episode way back when he thought about but got over it pretty quick. So in that regard, I think the producers/writers/whoever wanted this to be a "landmark Lois & Clark moment," but it certainly did not feel that way at all for me. They were just doing it. Perfectly natural.

Kiel: I think you're right. It's sounding more legit the more you say it. Ultimately, I think the whole scene is a reminder that when they write the show to get to cornerstone moment rather than letting them develop, they feel really out of place. But at least it gives us a perfect transition to move to this week's ep!


Panels on said...

That this show so directly apes so many movies - "28 Days Later," "Saw," etc. - really causes it to lose its own voice. The straight up Smallville stuff is - usually - the best part of the show. Hartley as Green Arrow, Durance as Lane... they make it for me.

But I agree whole heartedly and had the same thought... those cultists NEEDED to be worshipping Darkseid.

AdamT81 said...

I agree that this episode on the whole was a bit of a dud. That was their "first time" though. The season 9 episode "Escape" references it when Lois and Clark went away together but never actually did the deed

Ben Morse said...

I bet it was their "official" first time as far as the show would have us believe, but me, I'm sticking with it happened off camera, Adam.

Anonymous said...

I don't have anything of great substance to add but just wanted to tell you I really love reading these. They're really fun and snarky without being mean.

Ben Morse said...

Aww, thanks, Anonymous!

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