Monday, November 29, 2010

Sayonara, Smallville: "Patriot"

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: Let's do this! So we're covering "Patriot" this week?

Kiel: Yeah!

Ben: Ok, I'm going to just open right up with this:

Kiel: Hit me.

Ben: In my opinion, this was the worst episode of Smallville this season. Thus far...Worse than "Isis." It wasn't 100% bad, but I really struggled sitting through it.

Kiel: Well, I'll let you run on why in a moment, but I'll make a guess up front that it was the flat performances and dialogue that sunk it most?

Ben: Far, far more of the latter. This episode was incredibly poorly-written. Obviously, a hallmark and joking point when it comes to "Smallville" is the crazy reliance on forced metaphors in dialogue – I mean that was basically 90% of Chloe's character – but this episode felt like it maybe had three lines in it that weren't a metaphor, cliche, analogy or simile of some sort. It was painful.

Kiel: It was like 84,000 bad military puns with one or two "what are true hero?" speeches thrown in.

Ben: Exactly. That conversation between Lois and Ollie was like water boarding before they got to the actual water boarding. There are other nits to pick, sure, but I'm pretty sure if the dialogue was better they could have been overcome.

Kiel: Well, what got me the most was that Michael Hogan from "Battlestar" was brought on to play Slade, and that should have been a perfect match. But all of his lines from the very beginning read like a twelfth rate NY Times story about in fighting at the State Department. Just blah blah blah "ends justify the means" blah blah.

Ben: I have never seen an episode of BSG, but even from early on, I could see what a slam dunk that dude as Deathstroke should have been. But then he started talking. There was so much that could have gone right with this episode, which made it all the more sad that poor writing tanked it.

Kiel: And really, the whole superhero registration act is the worst plotline of the season because if anyone thinks about it for five minutes, superheroes should be registered in some way, but the series writers never A) give a compelling reason why our heroes would push against it outside of "We think that they might be wanting to hurt us with this law" or B) clearly define what said law is, what it will do or whether it got signed into law.

Ben: Super hero registration is such an old chestnut that writers get lazy with it.

Kiel: And it's a real shame because a continuity-heavy, hero-heavy episode should be the kind of thing that works best in this season of this show

Ben: It's an issue with plenty of complexity just waiting to be explored, but it always just gets the short form of "Scary government guys want to ruin the lives of your favorite heroes! Bad!" I remember during "Ambush" we agreed how great it was that General Lane was presented as a rational argument FOR registration but was also open to hearing the other side. Slade this episode was like somebody heard us and decided they couldn't have that.

Kiel: But I think maybe this will be the end of that thread for good? I hope?

Ben: I doubt it. Given the Omega sign on Slade's skull and Godfrey's position as an anti-vigilante rabble rouser, registration is key to Darkseid's larger plans. And yeah, like you said, an episode with Aquaman, Mera, Deathstroke and all the big plot landmarks here should have been much better. Deathstroke ain't dead, so unfortunately, I don't think we've seen the last of it.

Kiel: Yeah, you're probably right. But at this point the show has pretty much declared for its own purposes that registration is totally evil, so with any luck we won't get any more episodes where the writers Liberal tendencies become literal talking points on the show.

Ben: It's too bad. They really have handled Darkseid so well on some levels, so it's a shame to overshadow him with this registration garbage. It's also too bad, because if they're using Legends as their framework, they've got the right way to do this right in front of them.

Kiel: Well, I've got a few thoughts on Darkseid this week in a bit, but I will say on the larger character issues that the one thing I DID like about this episode was just seeing all the crazy pieces of the DC Universe together on one board. In fact, what I liked the most was the "Previously on Smallville" bit where we saw clips of like five name DC heroes and Deadshot and Flag and everything. If they can stick the landing on bringing those threads together, I think it may overpower the bad

Ben: Oh absolutely. There's an undeniable coolness to seeing all that laid out regardless of individual episode quality.

Kiel: I do wish Aquaman would have been handled better this week....Actually, let me take that back. I wish MERA would have been handled better and through her all the big Aquaman ideas.

Ben: Interesting. Elaborate.

Kiel: I mean, no offense to the young lady they tapped to be the sea queen, but it really felt like she got the part only to walk while swinging her hips in that "Va-Va-Voom" fashion. I know the dialogue was not ideal here, but she didn't bring one reading to a line that made me think she had any character at all. It was just vomiting out fan service lines about how Aquaman's real name is Orin and shit...though Aquaman himself was still a dick here, which is how I see the comic version, so that was good.

Ben: Oh yeah, totally. There is no question in my mind that the casting notice for Mera was "hot chick." Who knows if there was even an audition process – and to her credit, she filled out that notice – but she had way too much dialogue and important stuff at that for somebody (to use an appropriate metaphor here) who was in way over her head.

Kiel: Oh, she looked fine, but that even bored me after a while. But again, the plotting on this episode was WAY off in terms of what was shown. We never saw A.C. get kidnapped. Never saw how Clark was rescued. Just a lot of gaps in the action where maybe we never really need to see the connective tissue to get the plot along, but it feels off.

Ben: Aquaman here was actually way more how I'd imagine him being on Smallville than his first couple appearances where he was just kinda a laid back surfer type. He should absolutely be an aggressive dick.

Kiel: I noticed Welling himself directed this one, and I wonder what drew him to wanting to shoot it as I assume he's got his pick of the assignments.

Ben: Yeah, I dunno. I'm tempted to say the producers kicked him one they figured wouldn't need much directing finesse because there were lots of guest stars and explosions, but I feel like he's actually proven himself directing-wise in the past.

Kiel: I did kind of like that we got Smallville Aquaman and Hartley, who would have been Aquaman had "Mercy Reef" been picked up, in the same scene. I'm a sucker for that.

Ben: You saw the initial Justice League episode, right?

Kiel: Yeah, but I'm spacing...did they have a special bit for those two there?

Ben: They had a little aside about how they both slept with Lois. Which I'm thrilled to see was picked up here by Mera. But yeah, I like when they have exchanges. Honestly, I don't fault the actors here all that much for this episode's shortcomings. Not even Mera. I think the shitty dialogue and the stuff you mentioned above with key shots not making it in were hurdles they were never going to overcome even if the cast of "Mad Men" subbed in this week.

Kiel: No, it was poorly written from top to bottom, which is a shame because in a lot of ways it was a crucial turning point episode. For one, they had a nice opportunity to lay the whole "can Lois trust Clark to be honest" thing to rest, but it was fumbled at every turn.

Ben: Yeah, that was important, darn it! As we've noted before, Clark acknowledging he needs Lois in order to become Superman is so key and it was handled really poorly here.

Kiel: I actually think (as usual) that Durance did the best with what she was given, but it wasn't much. I DO like the fact that she's in the clubhouse again, and because of that Clark doesn't have to get super emo about worrying whether he'll be absorbed by darkness.

Ben: That scene where he brought her to Watchtower was actually probably my favorite of the show, but everything up to that was just bobbled. Also, we've had a lot of guest characters coming in to teach Lois and Clark key lessons this season, which works when it's Lois' dad or Kara or something, but Aquaman and Mera being the ones to hammer home the "You need to trust each other" point came off weak to me.

Kiel: The stuff between her and Tess was cute too, if slight.

Ben: And yeah, I liked the Lois/Tess stuff as well. Durance brings out the best in Cassidy Freeman.

Kiel: Yeah, from top to bottom this episode came off like one that read great in a pitch meeting – "Not one, not two, but THREE DC characters colliding in a big turning point actioner!" – but fell apart in scripting. And really, the worst scene of all for me was that last one where Clark lays out the Darkseid stuff to the rest of the crew.

Ben: Yeah. When I said my favorite scene was Lois coming to Watchtower, I more meant my favorite moment was when she walked in and looked around. It went rapidly downhill from there.

Kiel: And I hate to nitpick AGAIN, but did they really need to have Clark just put together that this darkness came through the rift when he fought Zod AND that this entity is causing the big civil unrest AND that it can infect anyone AND that it's set to take over the world all by his lonesome in one fucking scene? Those are some HUGE leaps of logic for a character to make, meaning the fact that they'll prove true comes off as even more ridic.

Ben: He's had a lot to deal with, Kiel. Those Blue Kryptonite cult members weren't going to stop themselves. But yeah, I get that they needed to kind of give a summary of the season to date, but again, clumsy writing killed the scene.

Kiel: HA! I guess what disappoints me most about this is that I like the concept of how Smallville is working in Darkseid a lot. I like this notion that the way he's taking over the world is through ideas and emotions, preying on the worst in people. It's a super strong meataphor and a solid way to use big Kirby stuff on network TV, but they've never once nailed that idea. Every time they skirt around it, they get very nail on the heady and all that. I want them to do better by their own ideas, but I have little faith they'll pull that one off.

Ben: As much as I'd love to think it's all part of the plan, I really do feel like they kinda stumbled backwards into that
I'm hoping they either seize on the mistake or continue to trip the right way

Kiel: I don't know. They get part of that idea I think, but we'll see. Honestly, if the superhero shit really picks up in a cool way as this develops, I'd be happy even if they're totally pulling this out of nowhere.

Ben: Agreed. By the way, what did you think of Slade having the giant Omega symbol on his forehead? It was actually a bit ominous, if ridiculous...better than the Suicide Squad logo tattoos.

Kiel: I'm totally torn. I hate when bad guys are bad guys because some mysterious force just made them do it, but they seem to not be saying that here. It really depends on how it plays out and who gets turned by Darkseid. If Tess or someone gets turned and then that complicates the hell out of the cast, I could be on board.

Ben: I still think Tess as Darkseid would be the wrong move. She's the obvious choice, but she's just got so so much baggage already. Chloe would be a more interesting choice to me, but I don't have faith in Alison Mack to pull it off. I don't feel like anybody is attached enough to Tess for it to matter, despite the lip service that they are.

Kiel: Yeah it'd be overload. It's weird to think that somehow this whole registration/Darkseid/will Clark publicly accept his hero role stuff will eventually cross over with the dangling "what's up with Lex Luthor" at some point. This may be that opportunity

Ben: I'm actually kind of hoping the Lionel Luthor angle is Darkseid animating his body and Clark needing a returned Lex to help him out. Clark did see Lionel as a surrogate dad, so it would work, plus John Glover is dynamite.

Kiel: Yeah, I was about to ask: Have they announced anyone as playing Darkseid as far as you know?

Ben: Not that I know of. And at this point, I do feel like we'd know.

Kiel: Mysteries abound! But I guess that's it? I feel like we should have made fun of this episode more

Ben: There's the rub: We were so disappointed by the dropped balls we didn't even get to mocking Clark escaping the Kryptonite prison with no real effort or Ollie getting water boarded mere weeks after you dared the writers to water board somebody
An episode like this doesn't just hurt the show, it hurts this feature, and that's more than we can abide

Kiel: I think I'm going to make myself feel better by calling the show fat....Smallville, you're fat. Eat a fucking salad.

Ben: I don't really think you can get away with that the week size negative one Mera made her first appearance.

Kiel: Well, at least she was gratuitously naked for four seconds in the middle of an otherwise useless scene?

Ben: She's welcome back any time! Honestly, I'm not even trying to be chauvinist guy here, but that girl made Erica Durance look frumpy...which is ridiculous. I want to sit her down and talk to her about her diet. So maybe your fat taunt was the opposite direction from where you need to go. Mera needs an eating disorder intervention.

Kiel: These are the kind of women who are just hanging out in Canada, Ben! "Smallville" makes their unhealthy choices possible!

Ben: That steady diet of maple syrup and bacon is the key to a killer figure, kids! And that's one to grow on.


Carlos said...

I thought the girl who played Mera was a fantastic actress. I'm kinda shocked that anyone would think otherwise. She was sooo alien and regal in the way she presented her dialogue, which is 100% what Mera is supposed to be! She is the Queen of Atlantis, she is not used to earth or earth people or anything, so she is supposed to be this fish out of water...I though the actress did an excellent job bringing that across...I read on her twitter that she is a huge comic book fan...and i thought that really showed in how accuratly she was able to portray she was HOT!! said...

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