Friday, December 10, 2010

Sayonara, Smallville: "Luthor"

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: Hey, before we get to this week's episode, I wanted to start by asking if you'd seen the Clois people freak out on Mark Millar.

Ben: No...What? I never thought I'd see/hear you use the term "Clois" let alone in the sentence you just did.

Kiel: I guess he made some comment on Twitter in the past week about how Brandon Routh was a great Superman but how Tom Welling and "Smallville" in general suck so people should stop saying he get cast in the movie.

Ben: Just to clarify, Clois=Smallville fans who like Clark and Lois?

Kiel: Oh yeah, you haven't heard of that? I've been seeing a lot of this terminology while getting screen grabs each week.

Ben: I thought I had, but I wanted to make sure I was right on...Clois sounds like a disease. Or a gross word for an organ or something.

Kiel: From the looks of it, it is a disease.

Ben: Oooh burn.

Kiel: So anyway, somehow the Tweet got out and the Clois people went apeshit and started tweeting obscenities at Millar....who in turn retweeted the best of them to his followers:

@rmmitchell: "Tom Welling and Erica Durance are the only two for these roles and I feel like saying that I hate Mark Millar too!!!!!!!!"

@dogstar85: "I personally don't care who they cast at this point but I hate Mark Millar and I feel like saying so."

@Y_istheskyblue: "@mrmarkmillar Im so angry with you it makes me want to do a super shit on your snowy door step. Without Lois&Clark there wouldnt b The Wire"

@CloisForever23: "@mrmarkmillar and I wish I can meet u one day and kick you in the balls "

Ben: What the fuck would Ollie and Chloe be? Other than a bad idea! *rimshot*

Kiel: Zing! I'd want to say "Chollie" but that's either a poorly spelled dog or some kind of racial epiphyte.

Ben: Would Clark and Chloe just be Chlark? That sounds like an alien from "Legion of Super-Heroes"...This is a fun game!

Kiel: Somewhere, there's a Chlark fansite who just got their first Google Alert and is very upset with you.

Ben: Why would they be upset? That's the closest I came to complimenting one of these names!

Kiel: Because you didn't finish the expression with "4 Evah."

Ben: I'm sorry Chlark fans...but that's not gonna happen.

Kiel: So hey...this week! I feel like I super built up your expectations for this episode with my Friday night text messages before you realized your DVR had flubbed. What'd you think once you saw it?

Ben: It's true the combination of your hype and then an extra two days of anticipation built expectations for this episode to probably impossible levels, but darn if it wasn't quite possibly the best of the season thus far.

Kiel: I know, right??

Ben: And if "Patriot" was a textbook on everything to wrong with this show, "Luthor" was Bryan Q. Miller's master class on how you can totally get it right. Seriously, there were many great things about this episode, and we'll discuss them, but it really does all come back to the writing. In "Patriot" – and generally – these characters are written more or less as metaphor-spouting parodies, but here, Miller actually treated them with enough respect to have at least half their speeches make sense and sound like normal human speak, and it made a world of difference.

Kiel: Yeah, I think the best broad statement I can make about this episode is that the Miller's script was so on that the normal things that jump out at me as plot holes or inconsistencies just didn't matter AT ALL.

Ben: Right. There was a real care taken with the script. You could feel it.

Kiel: Well, let's look at that "metaphor-spouting" thing first.

Ben: I'm jumping ahead here, but that last exchange between Clark and Lois where he makes the joke about "Nothing says sorry my evil doppelganger tried to kill you like flowers"? I feel like in any other episodes that would have been such a dud, but fuck, what a killer hilarious line!
Please expand.

Kiel: The thing that struck me about this episode is that it's a great example of a situation that is a metaphor rather than using a situation to force some metaphor into the conversation. And the funny thing is that the episode's metaphor is an old standby: "a parallel earth where the hero has instead been raised a villain"...but Miller never pushes any of the scenes into an opportunity for everyone to sit around in the barn and discuss this idea ad nauseum. Every scene had a purpose in terms of the story at hand, be it Clark trying to figure out what the hell was going on or Tess trying to keep evil Clark at bay in the "real world." Nothing every stopped being about the problem at hand, so the idea of looking at the Luthor effect on a child worked its way in much more subtly.

Ben: Very well-put, my friend. And without even explicitly stating it, this episode reinforced another element of what makes Superman Superman, and that's the Kents. I like that on the slow march to Clark actually becoming Superman they've been reviewing or laying down the building blocks of what comprises a Man of Steel, like getting him to fully accept Lois as a partner or being at peace with his Kryptonian heritage. Here, he learns the lesson that he has the capacity to be a shitty dude, but he lucked out and was raised by good people; it showed him that nobody is born good or bad, it's the influences you get and the choices you make.

But like you said, we're never beat over the head with that...even Clark's final scene with Tess where he more or less spells that out to her is eloquently handled with restraint.

Kiel: Yeah, I the end the "purpose" of this episode was to show that Clark accepted Tess even though he now knows she's a Luthor who was hiding shit from him, but it's amazing that A) that conflict is one that actually makes sense for him to be upset about rather than the more contrived meanings we normally get and B) that by the end I believed Clark would give Tess a pass on that because the flipping of the two worlds was such a harrowing experience for him on screen.

Ben: Absolutely. Both things made total sense. He wasn't acting like a crazy person in either instance...Remarkable! But there's so much else to love about this episode.

Kiel: Let's start with the alternate reality itself. What did you think of the way it was done?

Ben: The mechanism or the portrayal?

Kiel: Mechanism first.

Ben: Eh, it was a way to get it done. I'm sure if I broke down the idea that Kryptonians had a device like this I'd find a flaw to it, but at the end of the day, that's pretty much the standy plot device to set up situations like this on this show.

Kiel: Yeah, that's one of those things that would typically throw me off – "We never knew there was this magic world-hopping device until this week!" – but once the world got going and Lionel was back on screen, I honestly didn't care how we got there.

Ben: Exactly. The shift in color and the fact that they maintained it all episode was great.

Kiel: I was so shocked I liked that!

Ben: I gotta say, as much as we're praising Miller's writing, the director did a fantastic job this week as well. It was very well-shot. In fact, I have to go look up who directed this because they deserve a name drop...

Kiel: Totally. I mean, I think I've said it before, but the Souders/Peterson era for me seems to start with the "Noir" episode from a few seasons back where it was supposed to be like a '40s detective movie starring Clark's birth mother on earth or whatever, and that came off super cheesy.

Ben: I either missed that one or it didn't make an impression. I'm going to say the latter because I'm pretty sure we were watching the show for Wizard at that point.

Kiel: Ever since then, they've done stunt episodes here and again with genre clothing made up by camera effects, but this washed out feeling to the proceedings made the whole world seem legitimately different. It wasn't just "the same set with a bunch of windows broken."

Ben: Well what do you know: Kelly Souders directed this ep!

Kiel: Hot dang!!!

Ben: The effect wasn't overpowering, but it was pervasive, if that makes sense.

Kiel: Totally makes sense.

Ben: And of course since "Smallville" is all about colors (that's how you know who's who in the Justice League), muting them really made a difference.

Kiel: But the other thing I wanted to mention about the directing was that the moments that could have been played in a cliché way weren't. Do you know what my favorite scene in the whole episode was?

Ben: I think it's fairly obvious that I do.

Kiel: HA!

Ben: No, so what was it?

Kiel: The scene where evil Clark attacks Lois and Tess in the Watchtower

Ben: Oh that was dynamite
And let's give credit here: Beyond the technical stuff, part of what made that and many other scenes is that Tom Welling is at his fucking best when he's playing evil Clark, something we've known since early on in the series
He's really really good at playing a bad guy

Kiel: For sure! but for me what pushed that scene over the top was that it was played totally on the performances. No music at all in that whole bit, cheesy or otherwise...

Ben: That's a good point. It was all about the moment, not the window dressing.

Kiel: Add that to the fact that the stunts were really impactful and brutal (I mean, this is the only time I can recall on this show Lois getting thrown across the room and actually being hobbled after), and everything about it worked...then they pulled the rug out form under us and went right back to Earth-2.

Ben: The Miller/Souders combo definitely seems to be the Smallville dream team. They really gave the cast a chance to show what they are capable of at their best this week, and three in particular really seized the moment there in my mind, that being Clark, Tess and the returning Lionel.

Kiel: Tess was great! She legit held her own as both Earth-2 slut and under duress normal Tess.

Ben: Megan liked Tess in this episode!

Kiel: It was so strange that the episode was somewhat about her but focused so much on Clark...a great balance.

Ben: She mostly liked Earth-2 Tess, but it's a start.

Kiel: Heh.

Ben: Tom Welling and Cassidy Freeman really put the work in this week. They both had a lot of screen time, played two characters, and most of the episode hinged on their chemistry in three separate relationships. They did great stuff.

Kiel: I also really liked the scene where Clark talks to Earth-2 Lois about how much he loves her, and I have no idea why...usually that stuff is played so dumb, but here it really snapped.

Ben: That was certainly the least likely scene to be any good, but again, it showed how if you give these actors quality dialogue and not bullshit, they will make you care. I will say that most of the dumb moments of the episode came from Earth-1 Clark adapting to Earth-2, but they were the moments you had to have because it's still fucking "Smallville." That he pretty much has the entire situation sussed out by the time he runs into Lois and is still shocked that she's not thrilled to see him is just vintage Clark.

Kiel: Yeah. And I also found myself asking questions like "Wait...what exactly does Earth-2 Ollie do and why?" but like I said, the good stuff swooped in and carried me away from worrying about that at every turn.

Ben: Yeah definitely. But we wouldn't be us if we didn't at least make passing mention of it.

Kiel: We're keeping them honest!!!

Ben: We need to talk about Lionel.

Kiel: Oh yeah!!!

Ben: I have missed that guy. I don't even mean this is an insult to "Smallville" or anybody on it, but John Glover is so above this show and it lends such a credibility to it when he's on. That's not a knock on Tom Welling or anybody, just praise for John Glover. Great actor.

Kiel: It's crazy because I spent all week building up to the episode watching "Scrooged" on AMC and realizing how he's been playing variations on this rich ass hole theme for YEARS but Lionel seems to be the meatiest version of it, which is so strange.

Ben: I don't know what it is, whether it's being motivated by a young cast or maybe the freedom to go over-the-top to his heart's content, but he has always been gold as Lionel. I'm also glad we got away from the wishy washy semi-good Lionel he became before his death and back to the pure dickhead.

Kiel: Yeah, he did seem to be the only person in the whole Earth-2 universe who was just the same as he'd always been, which is how it should be.

Ben: Well he was more or less the catalyst for why Earth-2 was different at all, so yeah, it made sense for him to be the same guy
If anything it just pushed him back towards how he was early in the series.

Kiel: And for a minute there, I was wondering if he'd have any bigger significance than just being a dick in another world, but then at the end when Clark was twisting the gizmo in slo-mo to take him back to the real reality, I saw Lionel and knew what was coming.

Ben: Yeah, I saw it coming and then had my fingers crossed. Admittedly I knew John Glover was cast for more than one episode this season, but I still wasn't 100% sure how they were going to pull it off.

Kiel: Yeah, but even once you knew what was coming...that last scene was so AWESOME!

Ben: That last scene really did typify everything that's great about Lionel. He's this horrible, soulless jerk, but he does everything with class and poise. Somebody who reads our stuff asked me on Facebook my dream scenario for Darkseid's host (presuming he has one) and it is absolutely Lionel...who then has to face the Clark-Lex team-up pretty much pre-ordained since the first episode of "Smallville."

Kiel: Yes. After this episode, I'm finding it super hard that Rosenbaum won't be back and that Lionel won't play a huge role with Darkseid. They must have this all locked away contractually, because anything less than that cast would be a big disappointment.

Ben: Oh yeah, once kid Lex went missing, I thought game on with Rosenbaum for sure.

Ben: He's so swept up in his own idea that he adheres to a strong code of honor. It's great.

Kiel: Lionel really is the only person in this show who acts with a real plan. Everyone else is all emotion all the time, which can be frustrating

Ben: Yes. He's a predator. And unlike Slade or Zod or any of them, nothing guides him except the lust for power. He has no political motivation of any sort. No lofty agenda. It's all about him

Kiel: Look out for #1!!!

Ben: That's why I didn't really dig when they threw him into all that Kryptonian prophecy bullshit and made him Clark's surrogate dad. It rang false.

Kiel: Yeah, for a while when they were trying to play with the "Jor-El might be evil" stuff, they were spinning their wheels because they didn't want to make it a full-on Superman show, but once they turned that page, it was for the better. But yeah, my only complaint against this episode is that it came so early in the season. I'm mega worried that this is the best Smallville we'll get until the end. And that's fine, but still.

Ben: I dunno, I'm feeling good that this could be the doorway to some solid stuff. No, we won't have Miller writing every week, but we do have Lionel back, and hopefully this episode gave the cast a kickstart in terms of showing them what they're capable of.

Kiel: Fingers crossed.

Ben: And of course we got some great fanboy stuff this week too. We got Ultraman! It would have been easy to just have evil Clark be evil Clark, but making him Ultraman was a nice touch. Just like actually having Lois refer to the other Earth as Earth-2 was.

Kiel: Yeah! It's so crazy that all that was there, but it wasn't even central. I think a big difference with how Miller wrote this was that the fanboy stuff was window dressing if you caught it rather than being made to sound really important for no reason.

Ben: Right. And it wasn't Lois saying Clark's faster than a speeding locomotive and then practically winking at the camera or something, it was well-used trivia dropped subtly in where it fit well. Remarkably what I think made this episode work best was in fact its subtlety and restraint.

Kiel: I think sometimes the writers think the only way they can prove to the geek audience that they care is to wield the trivia like a sledgehammer, but Miller obviously knows the comic book crowd much better, and gets that this goes a much longer way.

Ben: Oh, I remembered something I promised I'd tell you.

Kiel: What's that?

Ben: So you know when Lionel ambushes Ollie with the pipe or whatever on Earth-2 to save Clark?

Kiel: Yes.

Ben: I totally thought it was Earth-2 Lois. Megan made so much fun of me. But it was seriously because John Glover's hair is fucking glorious!

Kiel: Hahahahaha! It's all that Vidal Sassoon.

Ben: I guess we would be remiss if we didn't note Miller's one dickhead moment of showing us the "five minutes later" of an awesome battle with Ultraman vs Kryptonite arrow-wielding Ollie, Tess and Lois, but I actually feel like he deserves a pat of the back. It was a clever kind of FU with love.

Kiel: See, I liked that!

Ben: No, I did too! That's what I was trying to say...It was a funny wink.

Kiel: Oh, I got ya! Like I said, sometimes the show get so involved with doing the fan service stuff like action for action's sake, but here they knew the story was Clark in the parallel earth.

Ben: Yeah, exactly. It was a nice dig.

Kiel: It also made me feel like they could pull off a big "Metropolis is falling" battle by season's end without stretching the budget too much

Ben: What, by sending Clark to another dimension and then he comes back and Metropolis wrecked but Ollie killed Darkseid with an arrow?

Kiel: Let's hope not!!!

[SIDE NOTE: We didn't get to it in our chat, but I'd just like to state for the record that the scene with the coffee shop dude had noting to do with the rest of the episode, and I couldn't have loved it more. Shit was funny!]


AdamT81 said...

I whole heartedly agree that this was the best episode of the season so far, even passing "Homecoming" in my eyes. This episode was very integral to the growth of Clark into Superman and also illustrates a Lionel that never had Martha Kent in his life.

Ben Morse said...

Great catch on the Martha factor, Adam, didn't even think of that.

Jason Kerouac said...

As the guy who questioned your choice for Darkseid's host, I'd like to say a couple of things:

1) I totally agree with the evaluation of this episode

2) I can't wait for more

3) As for Darkseid's host, we now have four potentials...

General Lane: Just so we can hear Michael Ironside do the voice again

Tess: Because she's conflicted enough to hold Darkseid at bay just long enough for the heroes to trounce him, and because she HAS been touched by Granny Goodness in the past

Lex: Because what's more evil in a Superman story than a Lex Luthor/Darkseid team-up?

Lionel: The Earth 2 Lionel has no shred of morality. To serve as the host and allow Clark and Lex to team up against him, as Ben suggests, may well make the most sense.

I still think it'll be Lex, though. Lionel may be used as a preliminary host, but be somehow unworthy. I just can't imagine this show ending on anything other than a Clark vs. Lex note.

I also love how they're continuing to build up the "need" for a heroic figurehead, so that the eventual appearance of the suit will be more than just fan service, but an actual plot point. There's no doubt in my mind Darkseid will have humanity in his grasp, but the appearance of Superman to symbolize hope will turn the tide! said...

To my mind everybody have to glance at it.

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